‘Tis the Season for TESOL and MORE!

Come TESOL with me! Let’s make it a VERB!

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m past president of NNETESOL, and I teach in Burlington, Vt. This year, I applied for (and was chosen!) TESOL Ambassador for 2018!

My name is even on the website! Click that link above and see! I’M SO EXCITED!

So I’m going.

And I’ll be tweeting and blogging attending as many sessions as I can.

I’m also going as your representative to TESOL. Each year, our organization sends a representative to TESOL to find out about the latest in the field. And I’ll be going to represent you and to bring that information back. Because this isn’t always the easiest time for people to get away to go to TESOL.


If you’re going to Chicago, please let me know. President-elect Sarah Forbes and I are hoping to get a lunch together (and we’re also presenting, so you can come support us!) for NNETESOL people. Another session you can support is Elizabeth Hartung-Cole‘s:”Engage in Strategies That Move Adolescent ELs Beyond Intermediate Fluency”. She has presented at our conference in the past, and her session was chosen to be Best of Affiliates–and get this–representing us!!! That is beyond exciting.


And then in April, you can come hear all about TESOL and what we learned. We’re inviting anybody who would like to join us for the Saint Michael’s College Student Conference on Language Teaching. This is the second time we’ve joined with SMC to provide NNETESOLers some PD in the spring. This is a fairly new partnership, and we’d love to see it grow.

Which brings me to my next point…


If you want to present, here is your chance. The deadline for proposal submissions for the Saint Michael’s College Student Conference on Language Teaching has been extended to Sunday, February 18. To submit a proposal, click here. Share what’s happening in your neck of the woods and what is working within your teaching and learning community!

The conference is small, but growing, and we’d love to have you join us.

The morning will feature a selection of presentations on language teaching, and the afternoon is organized by NNETESOL. There will be a panel of 2018 TESOL Convention attendees and presenters sharing news, highlights and resources from the Chicago convention, followed by break-out facilitated roundtable discussions on hot topics in our field.

Get in touch! And get excited! There’s so much to learn…

ACCESS Testing Season

ACCESS Testing Season

By Sarah Forbes

This blog post was first published at http://www.sarahtesolhub.com/ on 2/7/2018.


This is a hectic time of year for any ELL teachers in states that administer the annual WIDA ACCESS English language assessment. This standardized test, used by states in the WIDA consortium to monitor English language learner (ELL) progress from year to year for school accountability purposes, is time consuming and challenging for students.  Recently, the test is administered via chromebooks or iPads, which means there are added layers of technology requirements and bugs. However, it also offers teachers an opportunity to see student progress in action and monitor student needs. This informs instruction and provides families and classroom teachers with useful information about individual language development.


Initially, when the WIDA test window rolls around, you will hear a bit of groaning around my school. There are materials to order and organize, trainings to brush up on, technology to procure, and most importantly, schedules for shared space and time to master. In a district where ELL teachers have more than 25 students on their caseloads, the test can take between four to six weeks. In kindergarten, the test is still administered one-on-one and takes between 45 and 60 minutes per test. This interrupts normal ELL support services and means that ELL teachers live and breathe ACCESS for this time period. We say the same script over and over again, encourage students to do their best and to work through things they don’t understand. It can be overwhelming for everyone involved.


I have sat in on test review sessions with WIDA, and I know there are many areas of concern for test item writers and reviewers. Most of these center on potential bias, and ensuring that test items provide adequate verbal and visual content information so that students are focused on language as they work through sections that test skills in all four domains: listening, reading, speaking and writing. While the test is meant to be adaptive, there are multiple choice items that students sometimes accidentally select correctly without understanding. This means students who aren’t necessarily able are often put into tiers above their level of proficiency and confidence. On the other hand, capable and even fluent students can often be anxious about the new test format and not perform at their best, and they are put into tier below their ability level. As a test administrator, and teacher, watching this unfold can be frustrating.


In addition, in my observation, I find the reading test far to difficult for an average first grader. Students are asked to read at a level that is above what is expected of them in first grade at this time. Text is small and often lacks visual support. It is rare that in first grade students are asked to read without visual support, or read text heavy paragraphs without teacher support. Unfortunately, even when students are placed into a lower tier there is no way for them to show their knowledge of sound-letter correspondence or growing sight word vocabularies. Most students faced with a clump of text they can’t read just guess an answer and move on. This means scores don’t accurately reflect student ability. Can you imagine if you were taking a foreign language reading test and didn’t know 90% or more of the text? You’d probably do the same. It is the defeated look on their faces that worries me, and I always try to say “You are a reader! You are where you need to be, don’t worry about this!”


WIDA admits that the ACCESS test “serves as one of multiple measures used to determine whether students are prepared to exit English language support programs.” This is true, and in my own teaching I maintain data of student progress not just on the ACCESS test, but on grade level assessments including reading benchmarks, wordlists, math tests, etc. However, I wonder how the test’s language and literacy expectations can be so far removed from what is considered proficient in the classroom. Is our school so different from others across the nation?


Despite all of my concerns and frustrations, I do find value in the testing process. In kindergarten, as I administer the test on-one-on, I get unique insight into each and every student’s language development. I get to hear how much they’ve learned from the beginning of the year. I get to listen carefully as they complete test items and identify the things that they still need help and practice with. This year, in grades one through five, we also decided to administer the speaking section of the online ACCESS one-on-one to allow students space so they don’t feel nervous about speaking in front of other students and there is no interference between devices in our small testing rooms. Similarly to kindergarten, I’ve been able to learn a lot about where my students are at. This knowledge helps me to form pull-out service groups that best meet the needs of my students. I can use this information to justify and expand on my language curriculum. I can also consult with teachers and help them know what their students might need extra help with in the mainstream classroom.  

I think educators who are in classrooms with kids will always be baffled by a “one size fits all” test, because we are trained and encouraged to see students as individuals and meet them where they are at. Standardized tests serve their purpose to compare among students and examine student growth overtime, but they are only one peice of the puzzle, and I wish that other factors could be more clearly taken into consideration on a district, state and even federal level. There are some places, like Chicago, that are trying to figure this out. In the meantime, I do my best to power through testing season, and enjoy the rare one-on-one time with learners.

ESL Parent Teacher Conferences: What Are Your Strategies?

Check out this interesting article about parent teacher conferences with parents who speak little English. What do you think? What are your strategies for working through conferences with parents who speak little English?


A Resource for Teaching About DACA

Check out this interesting article that speaks to how schools should work to hold classroom discussions about current events, specifically DACA, and how these discussions can benefit students in addition to the school community.

Teaching about DACA as a current event

Second Annual Student Conference on Language Teaching at St. Michael’s College

Dear TESOL Colleagues,
We are pleased to announce the Second Annual Student Conference on Language Teaching to be held on Saturday, April 14th, 2018 at St. Michael’s College. This conference will be co-hosted with Northern New England TESOL (NNETESOL).
We are also happy to announce that our opening plenary speaker will be Shawna Shapiro, an associate professor at Middlebury College. You can read more about Shawna and her work here. This year, in addition to an opening plenary, we will end the conference with a closing plenary given by our own Professor Elizabeth O’Dowd–not to be missed!
We would like to invite proposal submissions on a range of topics related to language teaching and learning.  The aim of the conference is to bring together practitioners, researchers, and policy makers to share ideas, build community, and make important connections between theory and practice. Please see the attached call for proposals for more information and a link to our submission portal. Deadline for proposals is February 1st, 2018.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our conference organizers via email: smctesolconference@gmail.com

We look forward to seeing you there, so mark your calendars and save the date!
Rai Farrelly

The Power of Two: Co-Teaching to Support ELLs

Written by Sarah Forbes, K-1 ELL Teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary in Winooski, Vermont, and NNETESOL President-Elect. 
Sometimes, when I’m co-teaching, I feel like my fellow teachers and I can read each other’s minds. There are times when one of my co-teachers and I actually say the same word or phrase simultaneously. Our students find it amusing. As a team, we provide consistent, yet creative instruction, often offering each other a welcome perspective shift or a different way of approaching a subject that makes it more engaging and accessible to all of our students. We learn from each other, and model what that looks like. We provide a safe space where one of us can address a problem with an individual student, while the other carries on with the instructional goals of the day. We can offer each other reflective insights into students we might not know well, or ask our co-teacher to take over when we feel we’re not able to help a student through a rough moment. This magic takes time and effort to conjure, but it is so worth it!

This past fall, a few of my colleagues and I presented on a panel that shares a title with this post at the 2017 NNETESOL Conference on November 4th.. We were three ELL teachers, Bill Clark, Kristin Van Fossen, and myself, and one classroom teacher, Nancy Johnson, representing the K-12 spectrum. The room was packed and people were so intrigued they were sitting on the floor and pouring out the door. It is clear that other educators are eager to implement co-teaching, probably because they can see the inherent benefit of teamwork in a often challenging career in teaching. While much of the research on co-teaching was born out of the movement for inclusion of special education students in the mainstream classroom, it is apparent from multiple studies that co-taught classrooms provide positive outcomes for all students and teachers involved. Clark shared, “students in co-taught classes have reported they enjoy school more, have increased motivation, learn more, and feel better about themselves and others” (Walsh & Jones, 2004; Walther-Thomas, Bryant, & Land, 1996). Who wouldn’t want this for their students?


Bill Clark, High School ELL, Kristin Van Fossen, 4-5 ELL Teacher, Nancy Johnson, 1st Grade Teacher, and Me, K-1 ELL at the NNETESOL Conference, November 4, 2017.
In Winooski, at the K-1 level, I co-teach math. At other grade levels, ELL teachers co-teach both math, literacy, and other subjects. This pairing allows us to gain content knowledge and instructional skills from a classroom teacher, while sharing our own expertise in language development and academic vocabulary acquisition. We still maintain small group pull-out sessions, outside the general ed classroom, to help ELLs develop language that supports their success in the classroom. This is especially essential for students at the newcomer and beginning stages of proficiency, because it allows them a space to have repeated encounters with scaffolded language and a risk-free zone for testing out their new skills. While I can see the incredible benefits of co-teaching, I do feel there is a lot of value in this small group model when paired with increased opportunities for collaboration between classroom and ELL teachers and curricular overlap.

Nevertheless, for ELLs, there are many advantages to a co-taught classroom including:

  • Access to peer models of language, through turn and talks, whole group discussion and small group work
  • Flexible groupings that allow for heterogeneous groups when appropriate, or homogeneous groups when a specific language or academic concept needs to be pre-taught, revisited, or practiced more extensively
  • More time with their classroom peers to build relationships and community
  • Integration of home languages (e.g. teacher introduction of counting to 10 in a represented language).
  • Elevated status among classroom peers
  • More individual attention
  • More productive observation and reflection by teachers
  • Increased academic access, able to see content through a variety of strategies and viewpoints
  • Differentiated instruction
As stated above, there are numerous benefits for teachers as well. The relief in sharing the responsibility of planning, preparation and classroom instruction can not be overstated. It does take a lot of relationship building and planning to accomplish. For more about shared planning strategies, please see my previous post on Using Google Docs to Upgrade Co-Planning and Co-Teaching. Honigsfeld & Dove use the handy acronym ESCROW to define success features for co-teacher when planning, assessing and implementing instruction (2010):

  • Establish and stick to set meeting times
  • Start by discussing big ideas and setting essential learning goals
  • Concentrate on areas of special difficulty for ELLs: scaffold learning, adapt content, modify assignments, and differentiate tasks
  • Review previous lessons based on student performance data
  • Overcome the need to always be in control
  • Work towards common understanding of ELLs’ needs (Honigsfeld, A. & Dove, M., 2010, p. 61)

As a new teacher coming into my school, the best advice I can offer in terms of building a relationship with the classroom teacher is to listen intently, ask lots of meaningful questions, be helpful (offer to do some of the materials prep, etc.), be consistent with classroom management, take risks at offering up ideas for improvements or changes, don’t be discouraged when you make mistakes, laugh, and don’t be afraid to interact with the class as a whole. If you are lucky, you will work in a district that has built in shared planning time, but oftentimes planning happens before or after school. I join in on whole grade level team meetings when I can, because it allows me to share accommodations for ELLs with the other teachers that they may not have thought of.
It is important to note the differences between traditional push-in models of ELL instruction and effective co-teaching models. As one of my colleagues, Kristin Van Fossen, pointed out in our presentation, the only real overlap is that they both happen in the mainstream classroom. While at times a co-teaching model may have small groups that resemble push-in, the key difference is in the status of the teacher and the students. Van Fossen explained it well when she noted that in a push-in scenario teachers are often “competing” for students’ attention, and an the ELL teacher and students can end up feeling isolated from the general instruction. It might feel like the ELL teacher is more of a support teacher than a general ed teacher. Co-teaching, on the other hand, awards equal status to both teachers and students. Both teachers are responsible for all students, and both contribute to curriculum review, planning and instruction.
The old proverb that two heads are better than one has been proven true again and again in my work as a co-teacher. Seek out someone who wants to try, take the time to make it work, and I feel confident that your teaching career will be more fulfilling and your students better served.


Honigsfeld, A. & Dove, M. (2010). Collaboration and Co-Teaching: Strategies for English Learners.      Corwin.

Ponce, J. (2017) “The Far Reaching Benefits of Co-Teaching for ELLs.” Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2017/01/20/benefits-of-co-teaching-for-ells/.

Walsh, J. M., & Snyder, D. (1993). Cooperative Teaching: An Effective Model for All Students. Case in Point. VIII (2), 20 – 22.

Walsh, J. & Jones, B. (2004). New Models of Collaborative Teaching. Teaching Exceptional Children. Vol. 36, No. 5, 14 -20.

Walther-Thomas, C., Bryant, M., & Land, S. (1996). Planning for Effective Co-Teaching The Key to Successful Inclusion: The Key to Successful Inclusion. Remedial and Special Education, 17(4), 255-264.

Walther-Thomas, C.S. (1997). Co-teaching experiences: The benefits and problems that teachers and principals report over time. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30(4), 395-407.

Vaughn, S., Gersten, R., & Chard, D. J. (2000). The underlying message in LD intervention research: Findings from research syntheses. Exceptional children, 67(1), 99-114.

Explore new resources over break!

The holiday season can be a busy time of year, but it is also a time that gives teachers a break from the classroom. Utilize this break to explore new resources shared by other teachers and experts in the TESOL field.

Have a resource to share? Email us!

PBL in ELL Pull-Out? Yes, it’s possible!

This post was contributed by Sarah Forbes, K-1 ELL Teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary, Vermont, and NNETESOL President-Elect. For more information, check out her website here.
I have long been a proponent of project-based learning (PBL), but have struggled to incorporate it in my limited time with my students in ELL pullout groups. PBL involves framing learning within units of study that build skills and knowledge to be put to use in solving a real world problem or creating an authentic product that is shared with a public audience. The work is collaborativestudent-centeredreflective, and often perceived as time consuming. I only have students for 25 to 30 minutes a day or even on alternate days, which hardly seemed like enough time to carry out a high-quality project. However, after delving deeper in PBL professional development that was offered to us as a teaching staff through 2 Revolutions, I was able to wrap my head around what it might look like, and to carry out a successful project with my first grade ELLs in just 25 minutes at the end of the day!  After going through this process, I’m confident I can do PBL with more of my classes. I’m also convinced that like with most classroom practices and techniques, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. To learn more about high-quality PBL in ELL, read on or, check out the journey map below that outlines the process I used to create my pilot project. 


We began our professional development by looking at what we were already doing, the curriculum we were using and themes we were incorporating, to see where we might rework the classroom experience to include PBL. In ELL pull-out, I work with students on a combination of skills that reflect what’s happening in the mainstream classrooms and help students build the needed background knowledge and language to have greater participation and deeper understanding in their classrooms.  In first grade, my students would take part in a project that centered around a Lucy Calkin’s non-fiction unit, in which they would collaboratively create non-fiction big books about their favorite animal.

Student voice and choice is a key component of high-quality PBL. It is important to think about our learners, and what will inspire them to learn when designing a project. Around the time I was brainstorming ideas for my pull-out project, a first grader, who lacked confidence in his academic skills, came to me to read the book What Am I? from the Fountas & Pinnell leveled readers program. The book contains animal riddles that rely heavily on habitat keywords. As he read each page, he hid the picture from me so that I had to guess the animal. He was so proud of being able to read that book. As I reflected on this, I thought that having students create their own riddles would be a perfect complement to the classroom PBL, and would allow continued exploration of nonfiction text features and content that would help students build much needed academic vocabulary and discussion skills. This would also help them be more engaged when they were working with peers in their classrooms on their non-fiction big books.

After I had decided my direction, I focused on my driving questionHow are animals suited to their habitats? This content focused question would allow for engaged exploration and a plethora of language in context. Next, I determined my measurable student outcomes, and pulled from the WIDA Language Development standards to see what language use and production would look like for my multi-level first grade group.



Having established my project goals, I was able to plan out activities that would scaffold student work and build background knowledge in the content area, while encouraging language development in listening, reading, writing and speaking. My class was a multi-level and multi-lingual group of students, who I knew would need explicit models and expectations throughout our work. I built on students’ own excitement and knowledge of animals by extending their thinking to include animal habitats and adaptations. I used the student-read text as a mentor text.

Interacting with students in class provided me with more information to shape the day-to-day activities. We began to look at nonfiction texts on habitats using students’ questions from a KWL as a springboard. I highlighted some of the nonfiction features as we read. In order to draw students into the research work, we watched the real life video clips in The Planet Earth Season II Trailer. They were transported into this world of animal habitats through the dramatic music and shots. We followed this with a animal habitat sort I created using photographs. Students first labeled the pictures of different animal habitats using nonfiction texts to help them find and spell words. I then had these laminated along with a number of animal pictures that corresponded to each habitat. Through this categorizing activity, some students could see that animals had physical markers that hinted at how they survived in their habitats, and others were able to ask more interesting questions, like “Why does this frog have such bright colors on it?” or, “Where does a flamingo live?” When asked where we could look to find out, we inevitably went back to our store of nonfiction books and students began to search for pictures and words that might lead them to answers. We learned some cool new facts. Background building and discussion meant students were well prepared to embark on their own authorship.

The mentor text was also used to help us create a rubric of expectations for students’ own animal riddle pages and illustrations. I provided the categories for us to consider on the rubric, but students defined what high quality writing, illustrations and riddles that gave key details about the animal would be like. I provided a model of how you might do a first draft of writing and illustrating using my own chosen animal. I knew that students had watched “Austin’s Butterfly” in their classrooms, and encouraged them to give me feedback on my draft using what they’d learned. This allowed me to see if they were able to transfer that learning. We set the norms that students should provide one complement (notice something they like about another’s drawing) and one idea for improving their work. When students had trouble with specificity, I pulled in a resource video suggested by my PBL coach where other students give specific feedback to each other on their snake drawings. This was a huge help for learners who were struggling with giving feedback and improving their own work.


As students progressed through writing and illustrating, I really let them drive their own work. If I noticed a student was getting stuck, I stepped in to suggest resources for continuing. This often meant returning to the books we’d read in the research stage, or finding a new book we could turn to to find features of an animal. Students were able to choose what aspects of habitat and adaptations they included in their riddles, but we used the model text to find sentence frames with sight words. After everyone had a first draft, students were paired up for feedback, everyone had that experience at least once. However, I worked with individual students as needed to provide additional feedback to help them improve their drafts until they were meeting their own set expectations.

After students had their final drafts completed, I photographed their work and had them work on reading their writing fluently. We recorded their voices reading, and created an online audio book that we could present to each of their classrooms and share with the school community. Students did a fantastic job presenting to their classmates and it was so fun to see them share their excitement over the mystery of their riddles with everyone. I had students complete a short self-assessment of the their project work and I used the collaboratively created rubric to score their riddles.

Working through such a detailed plan for this project was helpful in highlighting elements of high quality PBL, and more importantly following the plan, adjusting as needed, helped me facilitate in a way that honored those elements and kept students engaged throughout the work. I was wary of completing a project in a pull-out group, but now I feel like it’s not only doable, but complementary to the thematic work I already do in class.

​Students finished ebook is below.

TESOL Community and Family Toolkit: Developed by TESOL National Association

Working with the families of English learners and building strong communities is one of the biggest challenges that many English language professionals face. Recognizing this, TESOL International Association developed the Community and Family Tool Kit, a resource for English language professionals to use at all levels to connect with families and build strong communities.

In addition to the Community and Family Tool Kit, TESOL has gathered other resources from various organizations that may help in building relationships and working with families of English learners.

Looking to gain more lesson planning skills and strategies?

Check out Coursera’s free online class titled “Lesson Planning with the ELL in Mind”. You can either join the class online for free, or pay to receive credit/credentials. For more information, check out these reviews.

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