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Woodland English Language Learner (ELL) teachers use innovative assignments to help students keep learning during the statewide closure
Woodland English Language Learner (ELL) teachers use innovative assignments to help students keep learning during the statewide closure
Woodland Public Schools
Thursday, May 21, 2020

Students in Woodland's English Language Learners (ELL) program enter public school with little to no knowledge of how to read, write, or speak English and must learn to become completely fluent while also taking the required academic classes a native speaker would take.

The statewide school closure meant Carlotta Propersi, an ELL teacher at Woodland High School, had to innovate like many of her colleagues in order to ensure her students would be able to continue learning the language while not physically at school. “Since our students have Chromebooks with webcams, I assigned the students video assignments where they must answer a series of question prompts with a written script and then recite the script on video,” she said. The assignment gives students more confidence in speaking and writing – two key components of the English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st century (ELPA21) that each of them must pass in order to graduate.”

In addition to the assignment requirements of answering the questions, Carlotta grades the students on a variety of presentation skills to enhance their fluency including proper pacing and volume; and professional appearance and speaking style.

Carlotta assigns prompts such as having students reflect on their experiences during from Friday, March 13, the last day before the statewide school closure; what has changed in their learning and daily lives since the statewide closure and has more in store for future assignments. “I’m trying to keep the projects fun and lighthearted in order to make the best of the situation we’re all in with the Stay-at-Home orders,” she said. “For their next project, students will have to describe the physical characteristics and personalities of their family members, record the video, and, then, show it to their family – it’s a great way for students to listen to themselves speak.”

If it weren’t for Carlotta’s quick thinking, the timing of the statewide school closure could have presented a significant challenge for ELL students, in particular, as the window for students to take the required ELPA21 test closes for the school year on the last school day in March. With schools closing statewide on March 13, many of Carlotta’s students would have been unable to take the ELPA21 this year, which is required for her seniors to graduate.

However, much of Carlotta’s extended family lives in Italy where coronavirus prevention required the country to shut down much sooner than the United States. Hearing what her family members were experiencing before Washington’s statewide shutdown led Carlotta to have a hunch that a similar closure might happen in the United States. “I reached out to Principal John Shoup and the high school staff to ask if ELL students could come to my room to complete their testing over one lengthened class rather than our normal approach of spreading the test over multiple class periods,” said Carlotta. “With the support of the high school staff, all but one of my students (who was absent) were able to finish their ELPA21 tests before the statewide closure on March 13.”

For Carlotta, the school closure has made a dramatic impact on her teaching. “Having access to an actual classroom experience provides me with the opportunity to spend an hour every class to help my students practice speaking, writing, and reading in English,” she said. “With remote learning, everyone’s schedule is different with each student having other responsibilities out of school like some of my newcomers who are working full-time to help their families.”

In order to accommodate all of her students, Carlotta produces hard copies of assignments for students who don’t have access to the Internet which are delivered via the high school’s organized printed materials delivery program. “The high school staff is doing a fantastic job reaching out to students to ensure they can complete their work with teachers coming up with individual plans for students so they can continue learning and pass their classes during this difficult time,” said Carlotta. “For me, the most challenging part of the closure is how much I miss seeing my students each day.”

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