Revoicing: A Tool to Engage All Learners in Academic Conversations

kids talk nissenAt a session at the Washington Association of Bilingual Educators conference I attended last month, the speaker, Sarah Ferris, is an ELL Coach in the Bellingham Public Schools, presented her teaching tip article called Revoicing A Tool to Engage All Learners in Academic Conversations. I found it very helpful in naming some of the work and research I’ve been trying with teachers this year to get ELLs talking in the classroom. I linked it above in hopes that you will find or be reminded of some helpful ways to increase talking in your classroom through teacher revoicing, paraphrasing and questioning strategies.

Remember, if students can hear it, read it, and say it, they can write it and that will translate into comprehension and application!

This school year I’ve been lucky enough to be in a position where I am able have time allotted in my day to research, plan, co-plan, collaborate and co-teach best  and next practice lessons with teachers to work toward getting students of differing levels of English language proficiency contributing to the classroom conversations. It has been a blessing to be able to set goals to actually get students talking in classrooms instead of trying to get them to be quiet enough to get anything done!

Now you might think I’ve completely lost my mind but I assure you, kids talking in class, and I mean talking about the things we want them to be talking about and using the language we want and they need to be using is actually really good! We know that in order to understand and communicate what we learn, we do that through the vehicle of language. To be able to understand what we read and learn, to communicate in oral or written word, to process, comprehend and communicate complex thinking, we need to have the language to do so.

Here is an example. ELL students do plenty of inferring all day, in all situations of their lives, not just school.boys talk nissen The newer they are to the English language, the more they have to infer about what is happening around them to function, fit in, navigate life and ultimately to survive, let alone learn. Yet until you explicitly teach students what inferring means, how, when and where we do it and name it, they have no idea that is what they are doing all day. We have to provide the language, the structure of how and when to use the language, and to then help them identify how using inferring gets to deeper levels of thinking and understanding.

Part of the process of language learning is the act of using the language in all domains of language acquisition. The domains are reading, listening, speaking and writing. Reading and listening are receptive language functions and speaking and writing are productive language functions. They all go together. If students are listening and reading and taking information in, that is good AND they also need to be producing language in the forms of speaking and writing to really understand and go deeper in their application.

Understanding all of the above leads me to this…We have to get our ELL students
involved in academic discussions in our classrooms all day in all content areas!
This year I have been working with teachers on ways to get ELL students engaged through sentence frames, sentence starters, and learning tasks that involve students posted framestalking to each other in whole group, small group, and partner work. We have been finding our ELL students making gains in their writing as a result of the explicit instruction, scaffolding, and increased talk time for all students. Sentence frames have provided access for academic language and how and when to use it and discussion frames have promoted real conversation and dialogue.


Happy talking!

Rhonda Walton

ELD Specialist, Marrion Elementary

Recommended Reading about Personalized Learning:

students at the center book cover

As we learn more about the Evergreen vision for Personalized Learning, I have found this book to be a great resource. Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda write with a clear and practical voice for easy reading. This text is helping me better understand Personalized Learning and it’s purpose.

If you are and ASCD member you may already have the book. If you want to preview it before you buy by clicking this link.

I also highly recommend subscribing to Allison Zmuda’s blog to get regular updates and other resources.

See a sample from chapter 5:

chapter 5 students at the center





Opportunities for Sheltered Instruction PD for Secondary teachers!

We are offering another round of SIOP Training for Teachers starting on May 3rd  

Here’s what teachers have to say about the training:

“It was a great PD, I learned a lot of tools to use in the classroom as well as recognized things that I was already doing in the classroom.”
“Great training! I gained skills that I’ve been using in the classroom!”
“The material was presented in a manageable way, and was interesting and engaging. I appreciated the enthusiasm of the presenter as well as the carefully planned flow of activities vs. note-taking.”
“As an educator that holds a Graduate Degree in Teaching English Learners, this training was just as good if not better than my courses. Lindsay was engaging and able to capture the essence of SIOP in her delivery. Every educator should be so lucky to attend and be part of this vital training.”
“This was a great training. I’ve been using many of the teaching techniques and my students have responded very positively. Thank you!”


This course is an introduction to the SIOP Model for Secondary classroom teachers. Participants will learn about best practices of Sheltered Instruction which increase academic language development for all learners. Participants will actively take part in SIOP activities that can be applied to a variety of different grade levels and content areas. Clock hours and extra pay are provided for attendance and participation.

SIOP Training for Teacher dates:

Introduction to Sheltered Instruction – SIOP Session A Wednesday 5/3/2017 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm Covington Rm 156
Introduction to Sheltered Instruction – SIOP Session A Saturday 5/20/2017 8:30 am – 11:30 am Green Large
Introduction to Sheltered Instruction – SIOP Session B Saturday 5/20/2017 12:30 pm – 3:30 pm Green Large
Introduction to Sheltered Instruction – SIOP Session B Wednesday 5/17/2017 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm Heritage Room 118
Introduction to Sheltered Instruction – SIOP Session C Wednesday 5/24/2017 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm Covington Rm 156
Introduction to Sheltered Instruction – SIOP Session C Saturday 6/3/2017 8:30 am – 11:30 am ASC Green Large
Introduction to Sheltered Instruction – SIOP Session D Saturday 6/3/2017 12:30 pm – 3:30 pm ASC Green Large
Introduction to Sheltered Instruction – SIOP Session D Wednesday 5/31/2017 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm Heritage Room 118

To register for SIOP Courses in GoSignMeUp:

  1. Go to
  2. click on “ESL/Bilingual Education”
  3. click on SIOP Training and the list of available SIOP Training dates will appear
  4. click “Add to cart” for the dates you would like to attend (please choose one of each: A,B,C,D so that you are registered to attend each session in alpha order)
  5. you should get email updates and confirmation of your registration from GSMU

If you have questions about registration please don’t hesitate to email me, and my clerk, Cindy Shufflebarger, we are happy to assist you!

It’s testing season! Special considerations for ELLs and computer based assessments.

ell computer testOne of the biggest challenges for students in adjusting to computer-based assessment that we cannot overlook is the “digital divide” that exists between students from low-income homes (currently two-thirds of ELLs nationwide¹) and students whose families can afford access to technology in the home. These divides also tend to exist in terms of students’ more limited access to technology in schools which serve low-income neighborhoods.

Computer-Based Common Core Testing: Considerations and Supports for ELLs

This blog post focuses on a different angle of the assessment debate, which does not directly involve the content of ELL tests but rather considerations that are important for schools and districts to address in planning their assessments. It first examines various initiatives taking place across the nation in terms of CCSS assessments for all students and takes a peek at field test results for ELLs. It then provides an overview of accommodations on CCSS content assessments and of English language proficiency assessments for ELLs. Next, the post explores which aspects of computer-based assessment might prove to be especially challenging for ELLs and ends with some resources to support ELLs’ success in computer-based testing.

Try curation to ramp up students’ higher order thinking.

I have recently fallen in love with a blog by Jennifer Gonzales, “boss” of Cult of Pedagogy. This blog seems to strike a chord with me almost every time I see her posts in my Facebook feed. This latest post caught my eye because of the a recent SIOP Refresher session I offered, that had a focus on higher order thinking.curation clip

Jennifer Gonzales writes:

“Higher-level thinking has been a core value of educators for decades. We learned about it in college. We hear about it in PD. We’re even evaluated on whether we’re cultivating it in our classrooms: Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, a widely used instrument to measure teacher effectiveness, describes a distinguished teacher as one whose “lesson activities require high-level student thinking” (Domain 3, Component 3c).

All that aside, most teachers would say they want their students to be thinking on higher levels, that if our teaching kept students at the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy—simply recalling information—we wouldn’t be doing a very good job as teachers.

And yet, when it’s time to plan the learning experiences that would have our students operating on higher levels, some of us come up short. We may not have a huge arsenal of ready-to-use, high-level tasks to give our students. Instead, we often default to having students identify and define terms, label things, or answer basic recall questions. It’s what we know. And we have so much content to cover, many of us might feel that there really isn’t time for the higher-level stuff anyway.

If this sounds anything like you, I have a suggestion: Try a curation assignment.”

In this post she describes several easy to implement ideas that promote higher order thinking in creative and personalized ways. I hope you enjoy reading her post as much as I did.

See the post about curation by clicking here.

NGSS and Language in Elementary Classrooms

I was recently at a PD and we were discussing the NGSS. One of the comments made in the presentation was that the NGSS were written so there wasn’t so much language for students to learn and understand. As an ELL advocate, I thought that sounded like a wonderful idea! Let’s concentrate on the Scientific behaviors, thinking, ideas, enthusiasm and creativity that our ELLs bring to our classrooms during our Science Workshop Labs and take some of the burden of adding yet more vocabulary into their learning day.

Then we were given a Fourth Grade NGSS investigation to try out as a group. As I read the directions of the task, I noticed immediately that I had the wrong idea. Although knowing specific Scientific content language has somewhat been removed as a focus, language itself is a vital part of students being able to think about, talk about, explore and collaborate about the Scientific and Engineering ideas and concepts the NGSS employ. Our students can’t think and talk like Scientists and Engineers unless they have the language to do so. Exploring, designing and investigating all require our students to be able to collaborate, develop, and express their ideas and communicate them with others.  Continue reading “NGSS and Language in Elementary Classrooms”

Supporting our students and immigrant families in turbulent times…

I’ve been in several buildings in the past months and I have seen first hand and heard from teachers in the field, that our students and immigrant families are stressed with the recent increased enforcement of immigration policies.

…And ‘stressed’ is putting it mildly.

No matter what your political affiliation is, supporting our students and making sure they feel safe in their learning environment is a primary concern for any educator. If children, even the big ones, being scared for their family’s security doesn’t tug at your heart strings then at least an understanding of the impact of stress on the learner’s brain should give us pause.

This issue became even more apparent when I attended a recent “Immigration 101” session held at ASC. Families of immigrants were in attendance to hear about their rights and how the latest immigration policies and enforcement are impacting families of students in our community. The thing that stands out when you are in a room full of immigrant families is the level of concern these parents and guardians have for their children. Many families are facing the realities of being torn apart by detainment or deportation. There was talk of creating a safety plan should a parent or guardian be picked up or detained by ICE. Sadly, many families have reached the conclusion to leave their children behind should the parents be deported.

I myself, cannot imagine the daily stress of not knowing if my parents were going to be home when I return from school. Some students, students who are here legally, born in the United States, have been asked by their peers “So when are you going back to (fill in the blank with assumed country of origin)?” Even when these questions aren’t intended maliciously, our students still suffer anxiety. Some high school students who are on a path to graduation and college are having to make difficult decisions. One student is facing a decision to continue on the education path he has worked hard to achieve in order to stop school entirely to work full time so money can be saved for his possible deportation.

So what can you do? What can any of us do? 

Dr. Catherine Carrison, EPS ELL Department Manager, recently gave a talk at the Evergreen Faith Based-Coffee. She shared the following advice to community members:

faith based coffee ELL

  •  Educate yourself so you can tell the “Counter Story” of our children and their families. People who don’t know our families like we do may not know or realize the value our immigrant families add to the fabric of our community. Emphasize the assets our diverse students bring to our classrooms. The media and politicians have their versions of who our students are, but we know them best. Knowing a student means caring about him or her as a human being, a person with a name and a story, not just a statistic.
  • Advocate for multilingualism and multiculturalism. Emerging bilinguals in our schools bring many assets to our classrooms and our community. Diversity in our classrooms promotes diversity and creativity in thinking and innovation. An important new study by economists Quamrul Ashraf of Williams College and Oded Galor of Brown University help us understand the economic benefits of a diverse population. “Cultural Diversity, Geographical Isolation and the Origin of the Wealth of Nations,” recently released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research. It finds that “the interplay between cultural assimilation and cultural diffusion have played a significant role in giving rise to differential patterns of economic development across the globe.” To put it in plain English: diversity spurs economic development and homogeneity slows it down.
  • Promote a message of advocacy and compassion for our children and their families. Be a “safe place.” This goes beyond our schools being safe-havens where ICE raids cannot legally occur without prior consent. This speaks to our attitudes and mindset about how we consistently work to build a sense of community and trust within each of our classrooms. Some great resources on restorative practices and mindfulness have been implemented in our buildings and the impact is evident. Learn more about these resources by contacting Carl Smith, EPS Special Services Assistant Director.
  • Pay attention to your government – WA State has more ELLs than all but seven other states (137,000+ or 10%). The old adage goes: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”. Use your voice and your vote in local elections and government agencies to promote your concerns and values.
  • Volunteer at your local school! As educators we obviously are not ‘volunteering’ our time but we can encourage more diverse community members to be in our classrooms. Contact your community liaisons to recruit  volunteers that can be models for diversity themselves and bring in community members to get to know the diverse learners in our classrooms.

Learn more about information for families and educators by following the links below:

Information for Families of Immigrants

Information for Educators about Immigrant Students