Teachers prepare for next year's English Language Learners

Colonial School District recently hosted training that will help regular classroom teachers support the District’s 120+ English Language Learners (ELLs) — students who are learning English as a second language. The session focused on a model called Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol or SIOP. 

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“We hold annual SIOP training so classroom teachers feel more confident with academic as well as social language for our ELLs,” said Dr. Katy Giovanisci, Curriculum Supervisor. “The number of ELLs is growing, and we’re seeing the variety of languages grow, as well. So the more familiarly we can build, the more prepared we’ll be.”

What is SIOP

SIOP is a “push-in model,” which means that an English Language Development (ELD) teacher often works with regular classroom teachers and joins the ELLs in the classroom. The ELD teacher supports the ELL's language development during regular lessons, helping the students understand what's being taught in the different academic areas. However, the ELD teachers have several children to support and visit many classes each day.

“It’s giving the teachers, who are going to have my students in their classrooms, the tools to support them when I’m not there,” said Maria Conway, an ELD teacher in Colonial. “They have a better understanding of strategies that work, what best practices they can use.” 

No matter what language a child originally speaks, there are some fundamental things that a student, who is simultaneously learning English, needs in order to be successful with the other academics in the classroom. For example, directions need to be explicit, and teachers need to use appropriate “wait time” to allow a student to process a question before they answer. SIOP covers these techniques and more in an eight-part model.

“My favorite part was reviewing the multiple strategies you can use to increase the success of the ELLs,” said Michelle Gilbert, second grade teacher at Conshohocken Elementary School. “I also enjoyed collaborating with colleagues. It’s great to get ideas and learn from other people’s experiences.” 

Networking and collaborating

Twenty Colonial teachers took part in the training, and for the first time, the District also welcomed visitors from Hatboro-Horsham and Lower Moreland school districts. 

“It was good for networking and seeing how other districts operate when they encounter different struggles or challenges in the classroom,” said Dr. Giovanisci. “We had some nice collaboration and conversations going on.”

The teachers benefited from the expertise of Dr. Theresa Estrada, the consultant that guided the group through the two days of studying and activities. 

“I think sometimes people think that teaching English Language Learners is different. It’s really not. If you think about all the different components that go into lesson delivery, lesson planning and how you assess and review  — it’s just good teaching,” said Dr. Estrada. “Teachers are so fun to work with. They’re so passionate. They love their work.”

The SIOP training is only one of several opportunities that bring teachers back into Colonial schools over the summer. For example, elementary teachers took part in a science workshop in June, and teachers from all grade levels and subject areas have been in reviewing and writing curriculum to prepare for the 2019-2020 school year.