ISTE Unplugged Reflections

Title: Teaching 21st Century Skills to English Language Learners
Description: Join this discussion on how to effectively teach 21st Century skills to students who struggle with learning English.
Presenter: Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers), Kristina Peters (@mrskmpeters)
(Cut and paste the link to hear our session)

This was the session information for my first presentation with Angela Maiers. As some of you may know, I met Angela last summer during a Literacy Institute created by my school district. I had never heard anyone talk about education so differently before. I became a convert. I quickly applied what I had learned from her and the Habitudes book in my room. I sought out to teach my students the 21st Century skills that they needed to start developing. As the year progressed I saw how her lessons and ideas worked in my classroom. Granted, there were changes that had to be made to accommodate my English Language Learners. But the conversations were there.

I realize that I only teach 2nd grade and that often times those in education don’t necessarily see the value of starting thought-provoking conversations so young. I beg to differ. I saw the change in my students when I started moving beyond the who, what, where, and when to ask them how and why. Not just the how and why of a story, but the how and why that THEY thought about the author, the writing, and more. Of course language was an obstacle that challenged the majority of my students who are in their third year of instruction in English, never to have been exposed to it until they arrived at the Kindergarten teacher’s door. But it’s amazing to see how those who can’t ask the questions are helped by those who can.

Many of my lessons involved strategies to teach ELL students specifically based on those recommended by the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Activating prior knowledge is the most difficult to do with second language learners because they often have no background knowledge, or schema, to support certain verbiage, history, or information in general. Teaching children how to be curious and ask questions like Albert Einstein did certainly takes quite a bit more explaining to do. Luckily, Google and other technology resources helped me introduce Mr. Einstein to my students. From there, we were able to learn how to ask good questions like him. Interaction is another strategy that is essential for ESL students because they have to be able to converse and work with others who are at varying language levels to understand. The paradigm of education is slowly shifting from individual work to group work. This is great for ESL students who desperately need the interaction and collaboration to progress in their learning.

Many sessions I attended at ISTE discussed project-based learning. This is the most genuine form of learning for ELL students as well. It is simply not conducive to drill vocabulary flashcards as a second language learner. Instead, when learning happens within context, it is captured and permanently placed in one’s brain. Therefore, projects that cross curriculum and content areas are the perfect learning environment for ELLs.

Our ELL students are our most vulnerable students. They spend much of their time being talked down to because they don’t speak the majority language. They acquire conversation language exceedingly faster than academic language. So, it simply takes time, effort, and a commitment to teach the 21st Century skills in nontraditional ways to ensure that they get the same out of our lessons as the rest of the students in our class.

I look forward to working more on these 21st Century skills with my new 2nd graders this coming year and will let you know how the process takes shape…

Thanks to Angela for allowing me to share my experiences in her company and for those that were able to make it to our ISTE Unplugged session.


One thought on “ISTE Unplugged Reflections

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your reflections of the Angela’s session at ISTE and your work. Our ELA group is beginning to research new curriculum and I appreciate your thoughts on project based learning versus memorization/flash cards. It makes sense to me! 😉

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