Skip to main

March 19, 2021

Adjusting Our ELL Course: Watch Out for the Curves!

The Big Tent

The Yakima School District embarked on an adventure in August of the 2015-2016 school year. We began a cohort of teachers who wanted to learn how to use video to improve their instruction of English Language Learners. Like most adventures in education, this looked like a relatively straight road. We soon found out that it was filled with crazy bends, steep climbs, rapid descents, and radical hairpin turns.

The first steep climb was around a puzzle of practice; in fact, just choosing the phrase “puzzle of practice” was an adventure. We didn’t want to call it a “problem” of practice, because that implied there was a problem and it had one solution. Well, anyone who has ever attempted to find the ONE solution in education knows that you are hunting snipe, so we settled on puzzle instead of problem. Puzzle says there are myriad solutions; the trick is to experiment and find the solutions that meet the needs of your students.

Puzzles of Practice diagram

The next crazy bend was around Teaching Channel’s Teams platform and how to navigate it. Technology, even when we sign up for it, is scary, and the idea of recording our classroom instruction is even scarier. We initially wanted teachers to begin interacting with the platform by gathering research and evidence for their puzzle of practice and share it online with their PLC. Our first hairpin turn: our teachers were not in the habit of sharing research and student work in person, so asking them to do it online was one step too far, too fast.

We throttled back, slowed down the pace, and asked teachers to explore what their students needed and what they could do differently to support them. Hairpin successfully navigated. But as I was talking to teachers, I realized that what many of them were doing was trying out strategies, deciding which ones worked the best, and THEN recording themselves in an attempt to get a perfect video. Whoops. Another hairpin turn we needed to navigate.

At the February training, we did some intense discussion about growth and how to use video to document growth. Several teachers volunteered to share their videos and their learning with their peers. The group got to hear about and see their growth through video. We also reintroduced the concept of our growth share out in May, when we would look at what we did as a group, discuss our learning from this year, roll out the plan for next year, and eat pie.

Now we seem to be coasting downhill at a pretty good pace, but it’s still hard to tell what lies ahead on this seemingly straight road. Here are some fundamental changes I would make if I had it to do over again:

  1. Give teachers a specific outline of what we want them to produce
  2. Give teachers a structure for recording their learning
  3. Show teachers what their videos should look like
  4. Give teachers several options for recording growth in their classrooms
  5. Provide professional learning opportunities throughout the year

Our biggest error in this adventure seems to have been giving teachers too much choice and not enough structure for their learning.

Meanwhile, our ELL PD Specialist began offering an amazing training around Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford. We asked the question: What if we used that training to base our teachers’ puzzle of practice, PLC work, and video recording on? Now we have a new map for our road. Embed the video piece into all ELL training and show teachers how to use video as data points in the trainings. Then, offer those teachers the opportunity to continue that work with video in PLCs on Teaching Channel Teams. The road ahead of this adventure looks pretty straight.


Search the K12 Hub

More From Teaching Channel

Want to partner with us?

We’re always looking for new authors! If you’re interested in writing an article, please get in touch with us.

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Get notified of new content added to K12 Hub.

Over 100 New Courses Just Added! Explore Now >>