Teaching English Learners Lesson and Reflection

posted May 29, 2013, 5:39 PM by Dawn Gernhardt
After teaching this ELD lesson, I reflected on my practice.
Additionally here is student work: English learners and special needs

Teaching English Learners

As a teacher of English learners, I videotaped myself teaching a lesson where I put emphasis on choosing SDAIE strategies to infuse the lesson with ELD supports and considerations. I taught the lesson to my whole class, including students who are learning English and students with special needs. I watched my video-taped lesson to analyzed my teaching and students learning based on the below criteria. My reflections are also included. Please also see the lesson plan that accompanies this report and the video.

Information about the whole class

The linguistic backgrounds and cultural considerations and interests for the class are as diverse as the class. The class is an ethnically diverse group.  Hispanic and white or Caucasian students make up the majority of the class.  The remainder of the class comes from African or Asian cultures. Two students are from Hispanic backgrounds and are English Learners. Nine students are fluent English proficient whose families’ have Spanish, Mandarin, Farsi, Kanji, or Korean as their first languages. Thirty students are English-only, native speakers.

Implications for my teaching

It’s important to honor diverse cultures by providing multicultural examples, texts, examples, and topics. Students need help with navigating the invisible curriculum of school and society, at the same time they need help with the apparent curriculum included in my lessons, activities, and assessments.

I help students make connections to the real world. I use this information to differentiate instruction, stay on topics for as long as possible until every student masters the material, and cover material thoroughly. These students prefer to have writing and reading choice of topics and texts. Therefore, I give them as much autonomy as possible.  

For Silent Sustained Reading, students can bring in any books they want. We also make trips to the library and discuss authors from all nations. I also provide books in a variety of languages in our classroom library.

Interest in the content and academic language abilities

Students’ interests in English literature, which includes reading and writing; however, my students tend to excel in either one or the other, not both. I have five students who consistently do not complete the work and struggle every day. Thirteen of my students have told me that they lack any desire or interest in reading at all.  About half of the students said they struggled with writing, while the other half said they struggled with reading. Of the books my students read on their own during Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) or during our class, they like to read mostly fiction (for example: Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the Bible, Hatchet, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, Perks of Being a Wall Flower, Narnia, and 13 Reasons Why.

Implications for my teaching

I’m grateful for the all students and empathize with those who struggle with reading or writing. It’s important to remember that just because I love reading and writing doesn’t mean that all of my students do.

Student interests in the world, workforce, education, learning, and life

All of these students see themselves going to college. The arts, medicine, and sports were the top career choices, with job titles running the gamut, ranging from ” international traveling pediatric cardiologist,” to a “pro surfer,” to a “teacher,” to “scientist,” to “artist,” to “lawyer,” to “undecided.”

Students interests included wanting to know more about leaders, other cultures, topics in English and literature, topics in art, music, entertainment, and the sciences. Many students are interested in travel. Many students were drawn to Europe, while others chose Africa and Asia. Students vacillated predominantly between understanding the culture of their predecessors and history or beauty of a location.  

Implications for my teaching

It’s important to honor diverse cultures by providing multicultural examples, texts, examples, and topics. Students need help with navigating the invisible curriculum of school and society, at the same time they need help with the apparent curriculum included in my lessons, activities, and assessments.

Students told me what they need, including help with connection to the real world, differentiating instruction, having smaller class sizes, staying on topics longer, covering material thoroughly, and reducing homework. The most reoccurring requests and preferences had to do with writing and reading choice and autonomy. Most students preferred to write and read about what interested them more than sticking to the assigned topics and texts.

Physical, social, and emotional factors

It’s essential for educators to understand teenage brain development—teenagers take more risks than children and adults. They’ll do almost anything to impress their friends and gain independence. Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, in her Ted Talk entitled “The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain,” compares the prefrontal cortex in adolescents to that of adults, to show us how typical teenage behavior is caused by the growing and developing brain.

As scientists and educators try to understand adolescent behavior in terms of the underlying changes that are going on in their brains, they find that teen behavior is no accident. Grey matter in prefrontal cortex is still developing until people are in their early twenties. Therefore, “adolescent brain activity, the network of brain regions in the medial prefrontal cortex, causes teens to want to have more active social interactions.” However, “strong synapses are improving while weak synapses are pruned away” during this time of development. Teenagers’ brain and grey matter cause them to “feel self-conscious, make it hard for them to: control their impulses, make decisions, see other people’s perspectives, and prohibit them from saying something inappropriate—overall they are less self-aware.” All the while the “limbic system during this time is hypersensitive to the good feeling teens get from taking risks.”

It’s also important to understand the physical, social, and emotional factors students deal with directly from the students themselves. All but 5% of the students have an average of two hours per day of extracurricular activity (primarily athletics and the arts—none were job-related). Students’ have busy lives, not to mention the five other courses with teachers who assign daily homework. I will look for ways to reduce what goes home, and try to maximize class time. As a student teacher, I understand the effects and demands of hours of homework every night. It’s important for students to have time to relax, be with family and friends, exercise, and rest. If nothing else, I can empathize and always seek to validate my reasoning for choosing homework.

Most of my students are concerned with “peer pressure,” “disinterest,” “self-esteem,” “bullying,” “bad choices,” the “future,” and “stress” from peers, fitting in, being LGBT, getting good grades (and having too much homework and activities), getting into college, and “becoming adults.” Students want to know more about leaders, other cultures, topics in English and literature, topics in art, music, entertainment, and the sciences.

Implications for my teaching
It’s important that I allow students to be social, through think-pair-share, group work, and independent work. I need to include activities and lessons that help students have autonomy and choice, that discuss brain development and learning styles,  works on controlling impulses, making decisions, seeing from other people’s perspectives, and becoming self-aware. Taking safe risks is also important.

Description of the Lesson
This lesson fits into the unit of study that addresses the below standards. Students find character through the exploration of friendship and relationships in the fiction novel “Of Mice and Men.” Students are asked to draw meaning from a text through reading, discussion, analysis, comparison, listening, writing, and presentation skills. The unit culminates with a character analysis essay and presentation. This lesson is the bridge between reading the book and writing the essay. I unpack the essay writing with this an future lessons with prewriting and drafting phases of the writing process. The Common Core content standards I will cover for this unit of study are as follows.

Writing Standards Grades Nine and Ten
Common Core
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

a. Introduce a topic or thesis statement; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

b. Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.

c. Use appropriate and varied transitions to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.

d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.

e. Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

f. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information (Psychomotor, Cognitive, Affective, Language)

English Language Development (ELD) Standards

Literary Response and Analysis
Cluster 4, Analyze Characters
Advanced: Analyze the interactions between characters and subordinate characters in literary texts (e.g., motivations and reactions). (Cognitive, Language)

Formative Assessment
We are between the beginning and the end of the unit of study. The purpose the assessment is used within this unit of study is for progress-monitoring. Students need to know and be able to do the following in order to complete the assessment. Upon completion of reading the novel, and after having participated in group discussions, students must know how to write in response to questions that require higher-level thinking regarding major topics from “Of Mice and Men” to demonstrate their comprehension of the story elements, big ideas, and characters from the novel. Students analyze and apply their reading to questions that bridge their previous learning to their upcoming character essay writing assignment. Students must understand the vocabulary and academic language used in the prompts, text, rubric, discussions that relate to the history and culture of the 1930s surrounding migrant farm workers, women’s rights, prejudice, The Great Depression, and segregation. Students begin to construct their introduction (including thesis), body paragraphs, and conclusion.

The assessment is based on the content and ELD standards stated in the following ways. The evidence of student learning I will collect is a written response to the writing prompts and essay outline. After students finish writing their big idea, hook, thesis, and topic sentences, students work on body paragraphs and conclusion. The evidence is their ability to read, write, use higher-level thinking to respond to conceptual ideas, speak and listen with their partners.

The evidence documents student achievement of the academic learning goals in the following ways. Students provide examples from the novel that include character and involve the plot and the theme of the text. Students use vocabulary to speak and write about the text. (ELD cluster 4, CC writing standard 2) Type: cognitive, psychomotor and language

When students provide correct responses to the prompts and outline format it proves that they read the novel and used reading strategies that worked for them to gain fluency (ELD cluster 4, CC writing standard 2) Type: cognitive, affective, psychomotor and language

Students’ responses include summaries and context that uncover the meaning they constructed from this text. (ELD cluster 4, CC writing standard 2) Type: cognitive and language

The outline format scaffolds and frames the writing for the essay. The outline and essay prompts help students to bridge their learning from reading to the pre-writing phase of the writing process. (ELD cluster 4, CC writing standard 2)  Type: cognitive, psychomotor, and language

During the prewriting and outline process, students engage in meaningful and purposeful dialogue with a partner and develop their abilities to articulate their ideas and listen to others. (ELD cluster 4, CC writing standard 2) Type: cognitive, affective, and language


What worked is that the writing assessment allowed students to demonstrate their ability to use higher-level thinking to answer questions and complete the essay writing outline regarding major topics from “Of Mice and Men.” The overall class results helped me determine that my class has a good understanding of the skills and concepts taught because they worked independently on this assessment and every student had at least an average and sufficient amount of information in most of the outline sections (introduction, body, conclusion). Most students had sufficient scores, with a few minimal or missing responses. Students demonstrated their literacy skills during the listening, speaking, reading, and writing aspects of this assessment. The assessment allowed for students to demonstrate their academic and technical language and vocabulary to speak, write, and present about the text. Students’ writing showed their ability to construct meaning from this text through summarizing and context clues. None of the prompts or outline format is referred to in the text. Students connected the text to their own ideas. This assessment served as the prewriting stage which will help set students up to write their drafts, organize their essays, and develop their writing skills. Students engage in meaningful and purposeful dialogue in the classroom, developing their abilities to articulate their ideas and listen to others (I witnessed this while circulating, however several students forgot to list their partner’s idea on their assessment. Students responded regarding the mentally challenged man, the abused female, and the African American character—all during The Great Depression. Students discussed universal themes (friendship, isolation, financial crisis, migrant workers, depression/recession, sexism/racism) in writing and verbally. Students are building a draft for their essays.

What did not work is if students did not read the book. If students didn’t read, they struggled more to have detailed and accurate information in the outline. However, our discussions and activities helped build all students’ knowledge of the characters and issues. I would not make any changes to the directions or to the format of the assessment. This type of assessment was best for these students at this time because it was formative, included their opinion so there is no “right” or “wrong” answer which eliminates the students’ test taking anxiety. As long as the students were able to defend their ideas and express their thoughts clearly, the students’ chances were as good as any other student to prove their comprehension in a way that resonated with them.

Student choice was based on their interest and connection. We worked on the history of the 1930s, the financial crisis of the 1920s and today, writing reflections and discussions based on the big ideas (isolation, friendship, dreams, good/evil) in relation to the students’ thoughts and feelings so that they could connect the book with their lives. Students chose any character they wanted to write about. Also, students were able to identify with the big ideas and area of the text they connected to and what resonated with them that they could tie to the plethora of themes and ideas found in Of Mice and Men.  Students are concerned with peer pressure, and one of the major themes Of Mice and Men is isolation. Students are also concerned with fitting in and being accepted, which is also pointed out in the book, in society, and in our schools—how different groups accept certain people, who fits in, who is excluded, what the invisible rules are, and why.  

I chunked the essay writing into an outline format and walked students through one step at a time. All the students were able to complete the outline. Some students were more articulate and accurate than others. Some students are stronger writers with the ability to use academic and varied language, literary/rhetorical devices, clear organization, and varied syntax. However, all of the students completed the work with their rough ideas. Getting started with something accurate and relevant in all levels is the first step every writer must make. We have time and the whole writing process to improve upon the writing. This assessment meets students where they are at.

Modifications I would make the next time I teach the lesson would be as follows. I would not collect different or more evidence if I were to do this assessment again. I feel the amount of evidence I collected was appropriate for where we are in the unit. The evidence collected was exactly what I needed to understand what the students know and how the students have (or have not) connected to and comprehended the text. Through this assessment, it’s possible to see how much the students comprehend and retained from the story. By how the students responded, I was able to know the students’ progress, what they are interested in, if they are on track, where there is confusion, if there were any misunderstandings, if there is any incorrect or missing information, and how their ideas are solidifying. I’m able to determine that no re-teaching, clarifying, additional resources, or enrichment is needed.  I also was able to find that the essay prompts didn’t need further clarity. This assessment helped me understand each student’s readiness to move on to the next step in the character analysis essay writing process—writing their first draft. Not to mention the emphasis I’ll need on grammar, punctuation, spelling, concrete detail, and tenses mini-lessons as we progress.

Since this is the first major essay we will write in this class, I needed build from the previous assignment (reading reflection), and bridge to the essay. Monitoring their outline development helped me to gauge the students’ writing ability, as well as their comprehension and retention of the concepts and characters from the text. I’ll keep scaffolding with the outline and have students build their first draft with the content and structure created from this lesson.

The lesson worked for my English learners. I’m scaffolding the essay writing process and the students who are learning English are progressing at the same paces as the native-English speakers. Some of the English-learners have a bit more simplistic syntax and diction, with some punctuation and grammar errors, but not much more than their native-English classmates. I’ll continue to work on mini-lessons for vocabulary, punctuation, grammar, syntax, and diction. The sentence frames seemed to help the English learners the most.

My target English Learner (A.C.) achieved the content learning goals and progressed in the development of English because the writing assessment allowed A.C. to demonstrate his ability to use higher-level thinking to answer questions regarding major topics from Of Mice and Men. He has a solid understanding of the skills and concepts taught because he worked independently on this assessment and he had average and sufficient amount of information in most of the responses to the writing prompts. However, he demonstrated his literacy skills during the listening, speaking, reading, and writing aspects of this assessment. The assessment allowed for A.C. to demonstrate his academic and technical language and vocabulary to speak, write, and present about the text. A.C.’s writing showed his ability to construct meaning from this text through summarizing and context clues. However, this story has complex characters. A.C. did have some difficulty portraying the complex nature of the two main character’s relationship in a clear way. This was important assessment information for me to gather so I know I have to reteach and clarify about the dichotomy between the character’s relationships. None of the essay prompts were referred to in the text. A.C. connected the text to his own ideas. This assessment is helping A.C. to write his drafts, organize his essay, and develop his writing skills. A.C. engaged in meaningful and purposeful dialogue in the classroom, developing his ability to articulate his ideas and listen to others (I witnessed this while circulating). He responded regarding the mentally challenged man during The Great Depression. He discussed universal themes such as friendship and isolation in writing and verbally.


I will use the information from this analysis to guide my planning for future lessons in the following ways. To support the student who need English Language Development, and all students, my next steps will be to have them go through their outlines and highlight the vague and conflicting ideas and words, possibly with a partner or peer review. Then, I would have them edit and chose more specific words and ideas. I would model how to correct the punctuation, grammar, syntax, and diction with students’ essays using the document camera. This would help me reteach the areas that were weak for the whole class to A.C. before moving on to the essay. I will discuss the hard to grasp complexity of friendship and dichotomy of the characters in the text as we continue through the essay writing process. I will analyze and provide models of a variety of essay writing samples to help support the English learners. I will teach mini lessons about grammar, sentence structure, have students create a vocabulary lists for words they often misspell or confuse (his/him, etc.), and work with students to provide rich, accurate, and relevant evidence and analysis for their ideas about characters for the upcoming essay.

The additional information I learned about my students as a result of this experience is what they feel constitutes villains, heroes, hopes, dreams, friendship, and isolation, and how they related the story to their own lives, values, culture, and norms. I better understood the meaning they constructed from the story’s theme, plot, characters, and other story elements. The students were all able to complete the assessment and had read the novel. The responses to this assessment were stronger than some other formative assessments, such as completing the reading guide. Based on the reading guide assessments, it seems many students hadn’t read much—or for some any—of the novella. They had strong opinions about the characters and could support their ideas with reasons using higher-level thinking; however there is room for improvement. They all comprehended the story and had strong enough opinions to move on to the character essay writing assignment that completes the unit. They showed their abilities to articulate their ideas and listen to each other. However, students need a lot of scaffolding and with writing the essay. I need to give some mini lessons on grammar, syntax, diction, pulling evidence from a text and providing reasoning and analysis. This assessment shows me where the students are at. The students did not all get perfect assessments or A grades, but that was not the point. I need to be realistic in my approach.

Professional Development Goals

For continued progress and learning with regard to planning and differentiating instruction for English Learners, I will use a variety of assessments that help students express themselves and their ability to meet the learning goals in a variety of ways. I want to keep researching and completing professional development about assessments, such as Backward Planning (starting with the goal and working backwards) and the Six Facets of Understanding, Blooms Taxonomy, and differentiation strategies to make my assessments as inclusive as possible to all students. I also find it’s helpful to discuss how to practice differentiating instruction for ELs with ELD and ALD teachers that I work with, at online forums, following tweets and blogs, and reading articles about Kate Kansella’s work, English 3D, and SDAIE and SIOP-related topics.

I will also take my own assessments, work with my fellow teachers on common assessments, search for assessments that other teachers use, and continue to consider the perspective of the student. At times I can take the assessments while students are taking the assessment to judge timing, clarity, and more. I can also ask the students for short responses about how the class and assessments are working for them—gain their feedback. It’s important that I continue to reflect on my assessments after implementing them and make continual adjustments and improvements to my assessments. All of these goals will help me to become a more effective teacher.