This post is about classroom communication and how we as teachers help facilitate communication with and amongst our students. As you probably know, we both have experience in learning a second language. Our experiences as second language learners has enabled us as teachers to better connect with our ELL students. In this post we are going to share some strategies and tools that have been useful in our teaching practice(s) when it comes to creating a comfortable language learning environment for all students. We have found these particular communication tools to be beneficial, not only for ELL students, but for every student in the classroom.
AB partner talk (Meaghan)
This strategy is a commonly used one that I have found to be a great tool across the curriculum. I keep a list of the partners on the board, this year using magnets, in the past I have just written them up. For AB partner talks, each student is either person A or person B and they will get a turn both talking and listening. When we do partner talks I always start with a talking stem on the board so they have something to turn to if they are feeling unsure. We also often use the Coaching Cards from Smart Learning to help guide the conversations.
Some examples of talking stems I have used:
“Over the break, I…”
“My prediction for this story is…”
“The strategy I used for question 2 was…”
Communication Calendars (Karley)
Communication calendars were introduced to me last year by a friend of mine who also happens to be an admirable administrator in our school district. I was feeling like I wasn’t having enough time to connect with each student in my class on a daily basis; I mentioned this to my friend and she suggested to try communication calendars. Essentially the communication calendar is a piece of paper with a teacher writing space and student writing space. Every morning I placed the calendars on my grade 8 students’ desks and as they filtered into the classroom they used the first few minutes of the day to write a little note to me. Sometimes the students wrote about their extra curricular activities, sometimes they asked homework questions and occasionally they confided personal struggles. I collected the communication calendars before our first block began and I responded to every student with a short reply each evening so that the next morning the written conversation could continue. While some of my students groaned about having to write communication calendars, most of them really actually enjoyed the process because of the few moments of connection we had each day. You can find a free template of a basic communication calendar on our Teachers Pay Teachers site HERE. Note: Sometimes we took breaks from the calendars when our days got really busy. I found taking a few weeks off from communication calendars every now and then helped keep the process exciting and the communication genuine.
Shared reading (Meaghan)
While we were doing a novel study this year, my class read the chapters in one of four ways: teacher read aloud, popcorn style, small group reading, or individual reading. One day I wanted to switch it up and I had students do shared reading with their partner instead. Each student read a page aloud to their partner and then they would switch. For my class, this method was absolutely the best. My ELL students were more comfortable and confident reading to one student instead of a group, especially with the buzz of everyone reading aloud. I was also able to walk around and listen to the students read aloud and hear how they coached each other through different phrases and words.
I learned of this communication strategy at the 2014 Heart-Mind Conference, hosted by the Dalai Lama Centre at UBC in Vancouver, BC. This strategy is a teacher-student “check in” type of communication tool where the teacher initiates communication with one particular student for two minutes every day for ten consecutive days. I started using the 2×10 concept in my classroom last year after learning about it at the Heart-Mind Conference. I was losing connection with one of my more vulnerable students so I used 2×10 to try and re-establish a conversation with him. This strategy worked wonders for me as a teacher of this particular student; after only a few days I no longer had to be the conversation starter because my student began to feel that I was genuinely interested in our daily “check ins” (and I was!) I ended up learning more about football through the 2×10 strategy than I could have ever learned on my own! I feel this strategy would be extremely useful with ELL students because of the secure, yet informal, nature of the conversation, which is only between teacher and student. I think it’s pretty incredible what a teacher can learn from a student in a two minute daily check in!
Thank you to Smartling for having us think about our communication practices in the classroom. Fellow educators, let us know of your favourite “communication in the classroom” tools by sharing in our comments section.