New Year = Goals

We should encourage our students to set short term goals.  I do this a few times a year, using different activities.  This time, I divided the goals into 2.  First,  I asked my students to set goals that are not connected to ELL.  I like Dave Stuart Jr’s term ‘long – term flourishing’ and decided to use his ‘back from winter break‘  SMART goal setting activity.


The second activity was for the students to focus on themselves as English language learners.  I asked them to write down what is working and what they need to work on; a form of feedback I learnt from Jim Burke.


Next my students will go back to their goals and evaluate how they are doing.


Now Where Was I?

I know I didn’t really need permission to continue where I left off; but Elizabeth Gilbert, in her latest book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,  gave me the ‘permission’ I felt I needed.  (Now I know I don’t need it). Towards the end of this gem of a book, Gilbert “urges” the reader to “forget about passion.”  It was then that an aha moment hit me.  How often do I talk about passion in class?  Too often it seems.  Gilbert argues that telling someone to follow their passion may leave the ones who are struggling to find it, “confused and blocked and insecure.”  Rather encourage curiosity.

So when a student is struggling to find a topic he/she cares enough about to write a persuasive piece, I will ask the following:

“Is there anything you’re interested in?


Even a tiny bit?

No matter how mundane or small?” (p.237)

In fact, that is why every Friday

is TOW (Kelly Gallagher’s Text of the Week).  I hope to nudge my students’ curiosity by reading interesting articles, viewing engaging TED talks as well as a powerful image from The New York Times weekly  ‘What’s Going on in This Image’.


How long does it take to reach proficiency in English?

I am reminded of  Jeanne D’Arc’s last line in Bernard Shaw’s Joan of Arc:


‘How long, O Lord, how long?’

I was so happy to read that it can take up to 3-5 years to reach oral proficiency.    We want our ELLs to succeed in their regular classes.  In order to do so, some students may simply need more time.

Thank you to one of my mentors: Larry Ferlazzo.

On average, how long do your students remain in your ELL program?

The Ubiquitous Icebreaker – an Upgrade

I am always searching for a new, original icebreaker to begin the year.

Since identity is a recurring theme in various texts, I like the idea of building  individual and class identity webs as a community builder.

I even have my first writing activity:  to reflect on the identity charts, find differences and commonalities.

My thanks to Sarah Ahmed.

A tweet by Traci Gardner sent me to an interesting article  that gave context to the identity concept maps.  I will pair individual and class selfies  with photographic and painted self portraits. And then … I will let you know next week.

Thank you Traci Gardner.

Do you have a favorite icebreaker?

Just Read

The more I read about reading, the more I am convinced that this is THE key to the freedom, creativity, insight, and success of our learners. (I am not adding anything new to the argument).

So, I do not need to justify the short time we spend every Reading Workshop engaged in what  Krashen calls SSR – sustained silent reading, reading for PLEASURE.

If only I could turn a reluctant reader into a reader…

So here are the books I have added to our class library.


I will order some more titles once I have got to know the passions of this year’s ELLs.

2015-16 sources of inspiration

These books comprise my new sources of inspiration, for now,  for next year.

IMG_0377 (2) copy

My vacation is almost over and I haven’t even begun reading professional books.  While leafing through Nancie Atwell’s In The Middle, the words ‘At the end of our first class …’  jumped at me.  Since I want to teach well on my first class of the year, I will begin reading it.

By the way, I love the whimsical book marks you get with a Book Depository order.


Summer Slide not

But, I prevented my summer slide by reading lots of tweets.  I am amazed at how many teachers continue to post during their vacations.  I am grateful.

I began to fill the July pages  of my new Moleskin planner.


Notes on offline and online learning by David Brooks.  Online is like being part of ‘he greatest cocktail party ever.  Learning offline is ‘like being a member of a book club… solitary, intentional reading’ that takes TIME.

Alex Quigly argues that we should be assessing for progress rather than performance.

I was intrigued by an original metaphor for learning.   Robert Siegler, a cognitive psychologist,  describes learning as ‘a gradual ebbing and flowing of the frequencies of alternative ways of thinking with new approaches being added.”  How compassionate and safe .

I learnt about a downloaded an app called Word Swag.  How could I resist the name?

And, of course, close reading continues to be in the limelight.  I liked Doug Fisher’s definition of annotated reading as being ‘a careful, purposeful rereading of a text.’  Kelly Gallagher’s latest book suggests original, creative doable strategies for deeper, ‘second draft’ reading as he so aptly puts it.

I learnt that students ‘think-tank’ instead of ‘brainstorm’;  using They Say, I Say prompts such as ‘I used to think …, but now I think …’

 Frank Bruni points out that getting enough sleep  is ‘a gateway’ not an ‘impediment to dreams.’  So I will continue to exhort my students to get their 7 hours of sleep.

I am expanding my vocabulary by following HaggardHawks Words on Twitter and this is what I did this summer: I slurged (lazed around) drinking several pints of mahogany (cups of coffee) trying very hard not to look for molligrants  – imagined illnesses.


Raise your glasses…

I read a wonderful post on a short end-of-the-year activity that enforces public speaking skills as well as reflection and collegiality.

However, the schedule for the last day this year is different, so that students spend more time with their peers.  Unfortunately, I could not experiment with the Pop Up Toasts.

However, I plan to  toast  the new academic year in August.  Each student will give a ‘cheers’ in their own language and then continue (in English) with what they’d like to be able to do this year that they can’t do now.

Then we’ll toast and reflect on the end of the year on our last lesson.  Talk about backward design!

Celebrating Poetry Month in April

We returned to our new found space in the library for a couple of activities to celebrate poetry.

Our supportive librarian, Ilan, displayed a variety of poetry anthologies.  The students had to dip in to them and lift interesting, powerful lines and write them on colored note cards.

The students then searched for color, fonts and meaning to help them create Headline Found Poems.

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Ilana proudly taped the final products


Where does student understanding break down?

I really like Gallagher’s idea of first and second draft reading.  I actually use those terms when discussing the process of reading and designing reading assignments.

Gallagher offers several activities to deepen students’ understanding of complex texts and I chose this activity for the following reason.  Last week, as an exit ticket,  I had asked the class to answer the following question: “What did you struggle with today”?  Only 3 students were able to accurately pinpoint where their understanding broke down.  I decided this aspect of meta cognition is worth practicing,  and it also dovetails with revising how to generate dense questions.


Gallagher suggests the students use a bookmark to mark their confusions.  I handed out colorful paint chips (which I use for working with words).


Some students wrote down words that prevented them form making sense of the text.


However, many of the students generated insightful questions about the themes, symbols and characters in LOTF.  I was impressed.

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