Providing effective feedback to students is a teachable skill that can be acquired and improved through practice and coaching. Read on to learn about what great feedback looks like and teacher tips for becoming a feedback pro.
Summer is the perfect time to recharge from the past school year and plan for the year ahead. One of the most effective ways to keep your teaching skills sharp is the same thing we encourage our students to do over the summer: read. This guide, compiled and curated by The Graide Network, will allow you to explore all the professional development options for reading this summer and decide which books will help you grow the most.
This is the perfect place to begin your summer reading journey. NCTE is famous for their well-chosen book lists, and this list of favorite books doesn’t disappoint. Check out classics like bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress and books fresh off the press like Embarrassment: and the Emotional Underlife of Learning by Thomas Newkirk.
This eclectic compilation of education recommendations has something for everyone, and it even throws in a few popular teaching blogs at the end to expand our sense of what can be considered summer reading. If you need just one recommendation? Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits was recommended by the most teachers.
Personal learning networks? Blogging for education? The writers over at TeachThought have 20 cutting edge recommendations for proud techie teachers or teachers who want to dip their toes in the waters of ed tech.
If you’ve been having trouble getting into your students’ heads lately, here are some books that can help! Talks with Teachers has 15 books that can help you better understand everything from the science of motivation to the benefits of introversion.
If you’re an ELA teacher looking for books focused on writing and reading, this is the place to go. The team at We Are Teachers has five books that will get you (and your future students!) excited about topics like mentor texts and argumentative writing strategies.
If education guru Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy could only recommend a single book to teachers, it would be How to Talk So Kids Can Learn. Check out this video to find out the six other books she recommends and why she loves them--you’ll feel like you’re in her living room chatting about your favorite books.
Widening Your Perspective
Many middle and high school teachers are realizing that teaching Young Adult fiction can motivate students to read more and can spark deep conversations about our society. Even if you don’t include YA in your curriculum, this list of the top YA novels from the past year will allow you to answer the question “What should I read next?” with confidence the next time a student asks.
When teachers are intimidated or bored by poetry, students can tell, and they often follow suit. The founder of the hashtag #TeachLivingPoets has all the resources you need to expand your poetry curriculum beyond Dickinson and Frost this fall: a collection of her students’ favorite slam poems, a master list of great poets writing today, and more.
If you’re an elementary school teacher wanting to incorporate new voices into your classroom library, don’t miss this amazing resource! Scholastic recommends 50 stellar children’s books written by Native American, African American, Asian American, and Jewish authors that can serve as “mirrors and windows” for students.
One simple way to expand your students’ literary perspectives is to pair canonical American and British books with books from other countries. NCTE has great examples of pairs--from picture book pairs all the way to The Great Gatsby & Let Sleeping Dogs Die--that might inspire you to read and teach in a new way next year.
This HuffPost list of 50 books written by black authors in the past 5 years includes hilarious memoirs that you’ll want to read by the beach in July and thought-provoking novels that you’ll want to teach in September--and everything in between. These books have won Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, and the hearts and minds of many who have read them.
“Diversity” is sometimes a code word for race, but many teachers are committed to showcasing as many kinds of diversity in their curriculums and libraries as possible. NCTE recommends 5 picture and chapter books about topics like divorce, poverty, and belonging that will surely get you thinking about the range of experiences that your students bring into your classroom.
Education World asked 20 principals from around the U.S. about the most important professional book they’ve read and why: the answers ranged from inspirational books like Tuesdays With Morrie to the 600 page fieldbook Schools that Learn. This list is worth checking out for the principals’ quotes alone!
Maybe you have a specific goal for your reading this summer: your school has a great culture but your assessments could be giving you better data, or your leadership is inspired but school-wide discipline has become an issue. ASCD’s book list, organized by topic, is perfect for narrowing down your choices and selecting the book that will make the best use of your time this summer.
Capterra scoured Amazon, Goodreads, and Education World for the 10 most read and reviewed books for school administrators and compiled them here. Although these books will stretch and challenge you even if you’ve been in education for years, these recommendations are particularly helpful for early career principals; one reviewer said of the last book on their list, “I wish I had read this 10 years ago.”
School leaders will always be educators first, but we can learn a lot from leaders outside the education industry, and this list makes it easy to do so! The Harvard Business Review’s Making Every Meeting Matter can make your meetings with parents more productive, Gary Chapman’s The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace might be a game-changer for your relationships with teachers, and Daniel Pink’s Drive will unlock keys about motivation that will help your whole school thrive.
Community and More
One of the best ways to get into summer reading is to join (or start!) a teacher book club. Cult of Pedagogy has a few important tips to make sure your book club runs smoothly, from a tech tool that will help you facilitate discussions to a list of goals that will help you narrow down your club’s reading choices. This is a must read!
If you want to join a large virtual community of teachers reading and discussing together, check out the NCTE Reads pick for the summer, Workshopping the Canon. This book will be perfect for you if you’ve been struggling to make older texts feel relevant to your students, and the NCTE Reads format will allow you to ask questions of the author, discuss with other teachers, and create new resources. You’ll be more than prepared going into the new school year.
Summer learning doesn’t have to stop at books! Edutopia has found no fewer than 30 documentaries that address U.S. education reform. You may have already heard of Waiting for Superman or The Race to Nowhere but there are many lesser known gems on here too that will get you fired up about teaching.
Picture this: you are a 1st grade teacher with 24 students, well over the number of students you anticipated teaching in your first year. But there you are with 24 desks, 24 chairs, 24 sets of parents to conference with, and 24 minds to nurture.
In the middle of the spring, another student is added; she is new to the country and speaks only a few words of English. You want to be excited to watch her grow, but you are mostly overwhelmed.
How do you support a student that you have trouble communicating with? How do you help her integrate socially? How do you help her catch up without slowing other students down?
For an increasing number of teachers across the U.S., this is not an imaginative exercise but a reality. The Department of Education reports that English Language Learners (ELLs) “represent 10% of the total K-12 student population,” which translates to over 4 million students.
The ELL population is growing, with increases of over 40% in five states between 2009 and 2014, and it is projected to grow further in the coming years. However, most teachers do not have ELL certification or even training.
This disconnect leads to overly stressed teachers and insufficiently supported students.
As one veteran ELL teacher puts it, teachers who are overwhelmed by responsibilities and sheer class numbers will “often then see an ELL kid as one more thing, as opposed to a person to be included and blended in, who has something incredibly powerful to contribute to the class.”
In order to help you become a knowledgeable and supportive teacher to your current and future ELL students, we have actionable tips for supporting ELLs in every aspect of your classroom—from your mindset to your directions, from your assignments to your feedback.
Supporting ELLs through Language and Mindset
The first way to help support English Language Learners in your classroom is to examine your own mindset when thinking about ELLs and your language when speaking about them.
Are your ELLs just “one more thing” or are they people who can make a powerful contribution to your class? One NCTE guide provides a graphic that you can use to think through your own choices.
Don’t be discouraged if you fall more on the negative or neutral side right now! Unfortunately, you have probably heard the words “challenge” and “problem” associated with ELLs too many times before; you didn’t create these stereotypes on your own.
The most important thing is to recognize where you stand right now and be prepared to change your language moving forward.
The Benefits of ELLs
In order to shift our focus on the strengths and benefits of having ELLs in the classroom, let’s look at what the research has to say about English Language Learners and bilingualism:
Studies show that people who speak two languages approach problem-solving in more flexible and creative ways, a skill that emerges at age 2
“Being bilingual has a positive impact on cognitive flexibility in children”
Bilingual people have increased metalinguistic awareness, “the ability to intentionally think about, reflect on, use knowledge about, and manipulate language”
It’s easy to see how having students in your classroom with increased cognitive flexibility, awareness of language, and creative problem-solving skills could be exciting and beneficial to your entire classroom.
On a more personal level, expert ELL teacher Kim says that teaching English Language Learners can be particularly fulfilling because they can make huge amounts of growth in a single year.
In an interview with Jennifer Gonzalez from Cult of Pedagogy, Kim explained that she’s had students who didn’t even know how to ask to go to the bathroom at the beginning of the year, but by the end of the year, they were having “a debate about the structure of their home country’s government versus the U.S. government.”
This kind of linguistic growth spurt can be thrilling for a teacher to watch and encourage.
ELLs and the Importance of Cultural Background
The Power of Specificity
After thinking through and challenging your general mindset about ELLs, it’s important to adopt an attitude of humility and curiosity when meeting individual English Language Learners in your classroom.
Just as an ELL student is learning about American culture and the English language, their teacher should be learning about their student’s home culture and language to better understand them as a person and serve them as a unique learner.
It’s important to note that it’s not enough to know that a student comes from “somewhere in the Middle East/South America/Asia/Africa.” You likely don’t see yourself as a North American; you probably identify as an American and even more specifically as a Southerner or a Brooklynite. The more you know about a student’s background, the better.
For example, a lot of Burmese ethnic groups are lumped together when they actually have a long history of violent conflict. If a student chooses to identify not as Burmese but as Karen, allow them to self-identify and do a few minutes of research into what that means.
If you have a very diverse class and it seems overwhelming to research every student’s background, consider this teacher’s approach: he “assigns an About Me paper, which he models based on his own cultural background,” so the entire class participates in cultural sharing at the beginning of the year.
Another way to gather information and get to know your ELL students is to talk to their parents and/or the ELL specialist. The Penn State School of Education recommends bringing this list of questions to meetings:
What kind of prior schooling has the child had? Is the student literate in the home language?
What is the cultural orientation towards personal space? Eye contact when an authority figure is speaking to a student? Touch? Timeliness?
What is the cultural orientation towards work and leisure?
Is the culture more oriented towards competition or cooperation?
There are many benefits to having broad cultural knowledge of the country that your student comes from and more specific knowledge of this student’s academic background. For example, the answer to #2 above could help to explain otherwise confusing teacher-student interactions.
One ELL specialist notes that “90% of [her] students don’t look their teacher in the eye” because it’s seen as disrespectful or threatening in many cultures, whereas for Americans it’s a sign of attention and respect.
Knowing the background of your ELLs will prevent you from punishing them for doing things that they were previously taught to do, and it will show them that you care about them. Not everyone will care enough to cultivate a positive and inquisitive mindset about other cultures; dedicate some time to being someone who does.
Support for ELLs in the Daily Classroom
Routine and Predictability
In addition to supporting ELLs through a positive and inquisitive mindset, you can run your daily classroom in ways that create a more stable learning environment. Luckily, most of these changes are fairly minor on your part, but they can make a major difference for ELLs (and the rest of your students too!).
The first key: routine. For English Language Learners, the more predictable your classroom routines are, the better. According to the Penn State College of Education, here are a few places in your day where you can rely on routine:
Post the daily schedule and keep it as constant as possible.
Use specific morning routines, such as lunch count, turning in homework, putting things away, morning greetings, etc.
Use predictable signals for getting student attention, transitions, lining up, etc.
Use predictable procedures for passing out materials.
If a student knows what to expect when they enter the classroom every day, it makes them feel more comfortable in their environment and frees up cognitive energy for the important and hard work of language acquisition.
ELLs benefit from a language-rich environment, but not all of it should be auditory and oral language. As Melissa Eddington, an ELL teacher in Ohio, puts it, “avoid giving instructions in the air.” If you’ve ever visited a country where you don’t speak the language, you might notice that street signs are far easier to understand than the locals’ conversations.
Likewise, it will make it easier for ELLs to understand the task and stay focused if “instructions—even basic directions for classroom procedures” are “written on the board whenever possible.” In addition, when you are teaching a difficult concept, it may be helpful for ELLs (and visual learners) if you supplement descriptions with graphics, diagrams, and physical models.
There are even ways to be visual that don’t involve words at all. For example, if your students need to work in a grammar notebook every day, ask all your students to use green notebooks rather than simply writing “Grammar” or “Notebook 1” on differently colored notebooks.
Then, hold up the green notebook to indicate that it is time to move to the grammar work for the day. In this way, you are using the visual element of color to stand in for language in a way that even a student with very limited knowledge of English can understand.
There are a number of keys to making sure you are taking your ELL students into account while giving daily directions or lecturing. Ideally, when teaching ELLs, you should speak:
Slower and with pauses
In shorter lectures
Without slang, idioms, or sarcasm
Slower and With Pauses
First, do speak “with a natural tone and rhythm” but slow down your speech to allow students to “process the words separately and form an understanding.” A common misinterpretation of this aim is to speak louder when speaking to ELLs, but this is unhelpful and can be seen as condescending.
In addition to pausing in between words, pause in between ideas and check for understanding. If you ask yes/no questions, it may be tempting for students to nod automatically, wanting to please the teacher.
Instead, ask more substantial questions to summarize the material and genuinely check for understanding at regular intervals; this way, you are both confirming that they understand your language and the course material.
2. Shorter Lectures
Even if you are taking sufficient pauses while lecturing or giving directions, it can still be cognitively exhausting for ELLs to process another language while also making sense of the material. To help with this challenge, shorten your lectures.
One teacher found that the sweet spot for lectures to ELLs is 5 to 7 minutes long—shorter didn’t allow for enough time to communicate and longer caused frustration and fatigue.
Interestingly, this recommendation is similar to a recent call for teachers to experiment with 1,000-word lectures (about 9 minutes) in order to increase student engagement.
Thus, lectures under ten minutes might benefit both ELLs and native speakers since they allow more time for students to reflect on and apply their learning while reducing cognitive fatigue.
If you are pausing sufficiently during shorter lectures and some of your ELLs are still struggling to comprehend your speech, consider employing technology to give your students another chance at understanding: tape record your lectures to allow for subsequent listening sections at home.
3. Without slang, idioms, or sarcasm
Lastly, it is very important to avoid sarcasm and avoid (or explicitly teach) slang and idiomatic language. Sarcasm is best to avoid because not all cultures use sarcasm like Americans do, and it can be easily misinterpreted or taken literally.
Similarly, ELL students may be confused by slang, idioms, and American-specific vocabulary.
Mount Rushmore, MLK’s “I Have A Dream Speech,” three strikes and you’re out, Coke, raining cats and dogs… teaching ELLs might make you realize just how many common expressions would be unintelligible to someone who didn’t grow up hearing them.
Unlike sarcasm, vocabulary and idioms don’t need to be avoided altogether. Edutopia points out that many ELL students love learning idioms; you might even devote an entire class to teaching them.
Like many of the other tips regarding teaching ELL students, the key is to be intentional, rather than relying on assumptions about what your ELL students might understand based on your own cultural background.
Support through Assignments and Feedback
Assignments for ELL students
Scaffolding with the Native Language
One of the most important ways to accommodate ELLs with assignments is to allow scaffolding with your students’ native languages. It used to be common practice for ELLs to be placed in “English only” classrooms, as it was believed that their native language (or home language) was a “crutch” that would prevent them from learning English as quickly.
However, extensive research has found that “educational programs that systematically incorporate use of ELLs' home language result in levels of academic success, including achievement in literacy and other academic subjects, that are as high as and often better than that of ELLs in English-only programs.”
In fact, some ELL teachers now consider the home language to be an English Language Learners “most valuable resource.”
To help ELLs harness the power of their bilingualism, consider asking them to think consciously about the relationship between their home language and English. The following questions can be a jumping off point for an assignment or discussion on this topic:
How is the home language the same and how is it different from English?
Are there words in the home language that sound the same and mean the same thing in both languages?
Are there words in the home language and English that sound the same but mean different things?
In addition to encouraging your students’ metalinguistic awareness, when you give ELLs writing assignments, consider allowing them to pre-write and brainstorm in their home language.
If you have students who otherwise could not participate in certain assignments, “‘Don’t make them just sit there and do nothing,’ one ELL teacher says. ‘Allow them to write in their first language if they’re able. This allows them to still participate in journal writing or a math extended response, even if you can’t read what they write.’”
In addition to incorporating students’ native languages into assignments, it’s important to allow English Language Learners more opportunities to “preview” assignments. As one ELL handbook explains, “paging through a text ahead of time to look at pictures or headings can begin to activate prior knowledge that helps a reader to both decode words and make meaning of text.”
Also, ELL students usually have different background knowledge than native speakers, and previewing can help put them on more equal footing.
Rather than giving your ELL students the direction, “use this class period to write your own fairytale” on the spot, you might consider giving them the prompt the day beforehand.
Having more time can allow ELL students to familiarize themselves with the “once upon a time” narrative structure that might be more familiar to native speakers who grew up hearing those stories.
Feedback for ELL students
Using Positive Expressions
When your ELL students turn in assignments or participate in discussions, it’s imperative that you have a system for giving them feedback on both the content of their ideas and their burgeoning English language skills.
One common pitfall that teachers sometimes fall into is constantly correcting students’ grammar with negative expressions. This pattern can easily become discouraging to a shy ELL student and can give the impression that a student’s language mistakes are more important than their ideas.
For example, if a student says, “I seen things differently,” instead of correcting with a negative expression, “No, the verb ‘seen’ is incorrect,” you could instead model the correct usage, “Yes, that’s true! We see things differently.”
This kind of teaching method will prevent students’ language mistakes from “fossilizing” while still providing students with a safe non-judgmental space to practice their communication skills.
Giving Focused Feedback
When it comes to written feedback on papers, make sure not to overwhelm ELLs with too many corrections. If an ELL student makes two grammatical mistakes per sentence for a six-page paper, marking every single one will take the teacher hours and will flood the student with too much information.
Instead, one ELL resource suggests that teachers “focus on one or two concepts at a time when listening to or reading student work” and that teachers let students know beforehand which concepts will be targeted.
If you are using The Graide Network to get your ELL students even more high-quality and student-friendly feedback, you can let our trained teaching assistants (called Graiders) know which concepts they should concentrate on in their feedback.
Graiders are trained to look at a mixture of larger-order concerns, like argument and organization, and smaller-order concerns, like punctuation and grammar, and they can spend more time commenting on the type of concerns would benefit your students the most.
Giving Students the Reins
A final grading strategy to employ when working with ELL students is to allow your students to correct their own work. As one teacher puts it, “If I correct your English, I improve my English. If you correct your English, you improve yours.”
By the end of the year when your ELL students have more explicit grammar and language knowledge, you could experiment with simply circling any writing errors that you see and letting your students figure out the mistakes.
Often when students are directed toward the right area, they can figure out the right answer with the help of their prior knowledge. If a student still can’t figure it out, it may be helpful to allow students to work together, and you may occasionally need to provide them with the right answer.
Regardless of how the students arrive at the right answer, students can still learn a lot from the problem-solving process.
Ultimately, while English Language Learners are a distinct population of students with distinct needs, accommodating ELLs should not be seen as separate or additional work.
All students come into the classroom with different cultural backgrounds, language knowledge, abilities, and experiences, and many of the tips and tricks that we shared in this article can benefit your diverse group of native speakers as well.
In the end, teaching ELLs well is not a matter of changing everything you are already doing; teaching ELLs well is simply good teaching.
Rubrics play an important role in the assessment process. They provide a framework that helps both students (and teachers!) gauge and understand the level of student performance across different evaluation criteria or rubric components.
The level descriptions for each rubric component give meaning to the score and offer a common vocabulary for understanding the key expectations of the assignment. Further, rubrics guide future instruction (for teachers) and revision (for students).
The two main types of rubrics are holistic and analytic. There are pros and cons to both:
Evaluating Your Rubric
At the start of the new school year or before beginning a new assignment, it's important to evaluate your rubric. Is it well-designed? Does it clearly communicate your learning expectations? Does is adequately measure content skills? Process skills? Are there any grey areas of possible points of confusion?
A strong rubric...
Focuses on skill acquisition, not task completion
Creates a common, consistent language to ensure comprehension and facilitate conferencing (student-teacher, parent-teacher, PLCs, etc.)
Serves as a formative evaluation resource allowing teachers to plan lessons and tailor instruction around greatest areas of student need
Be sure to avoid...
Language that is written in the negative
Limiting student creativity with a pre-imposed formulaic structure / “checklist” rubric
Overly vague, incomplete, or inconsistent language or "grey areas" in the rubric
“Off-rubric” scores, such as adding +/- or half points with no accompanying explanation - this introduces ambiguity and confusion into the score
Watch out for "grey areas" in the rubric. For example, what does “sufficient evidence” mean? Is it a certain number of quotes? The quality of the quotes? This is an example of a grey area that needs to be defined - both for you and your students.
Norming and Calibration
Rubrics alone do not ensure consistent scoring of student work and thus it's important for teachers to norm. Norming is when teachers align their scoring to ensure that:
Every member of the team applies the rubric consistently across students.
Teachers score consistently with one another.
Teacher Tip: Norming can happen at the department or grade level, but it can also happen dynamically with your students. Even if you don’t have a norming session with other teachers for every assignment, you will always want to norm with your students so they are set up for success. Read and discuss each rubric component as a class and encourage students to ask questions or score their own work or the work of a peer.
7 Steps to Successful Norming
Schedule a set meeting time and place.
Distribute and review the prompt, rubric, and student work samples.
Individually score sample student work using the rubric.
Present scores individually and identify common discrepancies as a group.
Discuss the grey areas that led to discrepancies in scoring.
As a group, come to a consensus on how to apply the rubric to student work to ensure consistency.
If available, compare your scoring to an expert’s scoring to calibrate.
Finally, be conscious of your own biases!
Read the prompt. Do you have a strong opinion on the task?
Take breaks. Grading fatigue is real and can hurt your accuracy and consistency.
Accept that some papers will be more challenging to read than others.
Whenever possible, grade anonymously. Even if you don’t know the students personally, gender and ethnicity can affect how you grade.
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