This month we interviewed Kari Free, ENL teacher from Oswego City School District, and Lori Dotterer, ENL teacher from Jamesville-Dewitt Central School District, about their high school teaching experiences this year. They reflected on some of their biggest successes and share a few of their greatest learning experiences.
Please share a short bio with us about your background and experience.Kari:I teach English as a New Language (ENL) at Oswego High School. This is my seventh year teaching high school students; I spent my first five years as an Itinerant ENL teacher traveling between the middle and high school.Lori: I am a second year ENL teacher covering for a teacher’s two year maternity leave at Jamesville Dewitt High School. Prior to teaching, I was a pharmaceutical/healthcare sales representative for over 20 years. I love my new career teaching English as a New Language (ENL)!
OHS’s ENL ClassroomWhat are some of your biggest success stories this year?Kari: Last year, a student from Ethiopia with interrupted formal education (SIFE) arrived halfway through the school year. I was initially nervous, because I had not taught a SIFE student before. In a little over a year, he has made so much progress! The student is successful in many of his classes, and he has friends in and out of school. He also plays sports in the fall, winter, and spring semesters.Another success story is we will see three of our ELL students graduate on time this year!Lori: At JDHS, our seniors have a 15 hour volunteer requirement for graduation. I started a new program where the seniors could volunteer in my ENL classroom to meet that requirement. Some of the students volunteered during our class time, and others tutored ELL students’ in content areas after school. It has been very successful in so many ways! The students’ social and academic language has blossomed, and most are performing very well in their content classes. The most meaningful result of this program is the relationships these students have made with each other and the social/emotional growth in all of the students. In one Entering/Emerging class, each ELL student was paired with a volunteer. With training from me, they worked together on a music related project. From research to presentation, one could see the pride of the volunteer as “their” student was working and presenting. When I tried to switch up the partners, none of the students wanted to change! I hope this program continues to grow and flourish in the years to come.
Did you do some things that you would consider innovative with your students?Kari: When our SIFE student first arrived from Ethiopia, our school staff met together to learn about the student’s background, create a collaboration model across the academic departments and discuss the plan for the rest of the year. Administrators, counselors, classroom teachers, support staff and his parents all worked together. We gave our SIFE student some basic assessments to determine his current skill levels. Then the teachers and I created scaffolded activities for him that would help him learn and advance in both language and content. At times, he was able to get one-on-one instruction, and we were also able to have a Teacher Assistant work with him for one period a day. In addition, we used community resources to help us! When SUNY Oswego was in session, he was in their Mentor/Scholar program where he met with his mentor (an Amharic speaker from Ethiopia) every Tuesday and Thursday after school. Because our student is a hard worker and really tries, he fits in well and he has native English speaking peers who often help him.
JDHS’s ENL ClassroomLori: Most of the lessons in my ENL classes are based on Project-Based Learning (PBL). It allows the students to focus on the required content while maintaining an authentic learning environment as well as targeting their interests. Projects allow my ELLs to experience language and content through using their prior knowledge. For example, I had a class of Entering level students who, well…, were not that motivated. I tried to find content-based authentic learning for them in the areas of their interest. For one project, the students chose a hobby or sport that they liked which connected to one or more of their different content areas. First, they chose a leveled article and answered comprehension questions. I provided tools for scaffolding language structure and function like sentence frames, sentence starters, word banks and graphic organizers which helped my students to break down the language. Next, they found related photos and wrote captions. Then, they researched their topic and prepared a Google Slides presentation, which they presented to the class. Each student was also required to ask at least one question to the presenter. Throughout these projects, the students learned content–area vocabulary, key concepts, and small group discussion skills. It was a great learning experience for all of us!
Were there some important lessons to be learned this year, and if so, what will you do differently next year?Kari: I learned that co-teaching can be difficult when an ENL teacher is co-teaching in four different classes with three different content teachers per day and yet no co-planning time. I would like to have a common planning period with my co- teachers next year, but that is not always possible to schedule. We will meet soon to discuss the best ideas for collaborating and planning lessons for our ELL students’ success in the next school year.Lori: As with any second year teacher, there are many things that I learned this year! I learned that with ELL students I need to be prepared to diverge from the plan and be extremely flexible! Because PBL was so effective with my high school ELLs this year, I plan to learn even more about teaching ELLs using this strategy for next year by reading the resources on this website created by the Buck Institute for Education.
Can you give any advice to other ENL teachers based on your experiences during this school year?Kari: Be the best you can be for your students. Put yourself in their shoes when you feel frustrated. If you recognize that the students need a five or ten minute break, let them have one by transitioning to fun collaborative learning games and activities related to your lesson. When ELLs have work to do related to their content classes, support them through vocabulary, visuals or close reading, but don’t do it for them. ELLs can complete their own assignments with the right support and scaffolding!Lori: Please, please, please pay attention to your students’ social and emotional needs-especially in high school. I understand that academics are important, but I promise that academic success will follow when your students’ social and emotional needs are met!
Diane Garafalo is an ENL Consultant on special assignment with Mid-State RBERN through SupportEd LLC.