Planning a Learning Unit for Four Different Levels of English Language Learners (ELLs) In One Class

Next semester I will be teaching a fourth grade unit on short stories and within my class of English Language Learners (ELLs) there will be a variety of ability. ELL’s abilities can be defined by using the “6 stages of language acquisition.” My classroom structure is immersion based and the level of my students is quite high. As a result of this we will be talking about the last four stages on the language acquisition scale. My unit objectives will focus on vocabulary building, reading strategies, and styles of literature.

My lowest level student is in the stage known as “speech emergent”. She has around a 3,000 word vocabulary, can speak in simple sentences and write brief stories on personal experience. Upon reading the various short stories I like to implement a strategy know as guided interaction. ( I will lead the conversation by asking questions in an ordered discussion forum.(turn by rotation) For my lower level students I will simplify my questions when it is their turn. An example I would use for this situation would be to ask “Which short story did you like best?’ It keeps them involved in the discussion and it is within their ability. Another example could be, “Who was the author of the detective story?”

The next student is a “beginning fluency” stage ELL, which means they can deal in social situations with minimal errors. For this student I will increase the difficulty level of the question when it is their turn and ask them something similar to this: “What is your favorite story and why did you like it better than the others.” This situation will still be utilizing the guided interaction strategy.

My next student is an “intermediate fluency” stage ELL, which means they can communicate fluently but are confused by certain unknown expressions and have a vocabulary of around 6,000 words. While still implementing the guided interaction I would ask them to talk about the detective story we read and give there definition of what a detective is and does. This will also help reinforce the lesson objective of vocabulary acquisition.

My final student is an “advanced fluency” stage ELL, which means they are near-native in their abilities. For this part of the lesson I will concentrate on the objective of reading strategies and implement another teaching strategy know as explicit instruction. (Effective Instructional Strategies for English Language Learners in Mainstream Classroom, by Susan Wallace)Here I will instruct the class to write another ending to the detective story while working in pairs. I will purposefully pair students of lower ability with ones of higher. I will reinforce the style of literature being developed and also reinforce the use of creative vocabulary. I will start the readings of the different endings with my pre-selected pair of the speech emergent and advanced fluency ELLs. Each will read a sentence at a time helping with the atmosphere of inclusion.

Effective Instructional Strategies for English Language Learners in Mainstream Classroom, by Susan Wallace



Special Education Referral Process in Ontario, Canada

To get this information I interviewed a special education teacher that has also worked in the field as an administrator and homeroom teacher for the Lanark Board of Education.

Questions to people responsible for special education referrals.

  • Question #1 – How is a student identified for special education referral?

For a student to be identified for a special education referral there are a couple of requirements that need to be satisfied. Either a teacher or a parent can start this process. A teacher can reflect on past tests, daily reports, and the overall behaviour of the student in question. If there are definite short comings that are causing the student to regress or become stagnant a referral can be made. If a parent has concern about their child they can write a signed letter that will begin the referral process.

  • Question #2 – Who takes responsibility for the progress of the child before and after the referral?

Before a referral is even made collaboration between the special education teacher, the homeroom teacher and parents are present. This is to ensure that a referral is necessary or not.

After a referral has been made there is a very specific process that follows. The people involved are: principle or vice principle, special education teacher, homeroom teacher, psychologist, and parents. Also, I was informed that if some students have the proper maturity levels they are permitted to take part in these recorded and documented meetings.

  • Question #3 – What is the school administration’s directive for special education?

Referred students that have yet to be identified are in collaboration with either a vice principle or principle. They will be in contact with the students, teachers and parents throughout the entire process. They are also a part of the IEP construction. Generally there are meeting once a year that the vice principle or principle attend to see if the IEP goals are being met, but if there are noticeable problems these meetings can occur as much as three times a year for an individual student.  The administration level is very involved with special education referrals, identifications and follow ups.

  • Question #4 – What provisions are made for students identified for special education?

First, Lanark county students that have been identified as special needs students are qualified to receive a laptop that will stay with them until they finish high school. Second, if they have problems writing they have the option for an oral test. Third, they will be accommodated with an E.A. (educational assistant) that will assist them within the classroom environment. In some cases they are also allotted time outside the classroom for one on one teaching. Fourth, if they have trouble writing they can have the opportunity to use a scribe. Fifth, calculators maybe permitted if a specific disability is present. This is just a small list of available provisions because with laptop capabilities there are many new software programs that are being developed specifically to help students with special needs.

  • Question #5 – What is the level of parent involvement in referral process and special education?

My interviewee said that it is a high level of involvement that is necessary and required for the process to run optimally.  While going through the identification process there will be recorded and documented meetings with required attendance. He also said at these meeting there can be outside sources present as well. An example of this was something referred to as Open-door councillors, which are present if a student has been physically abused, also child welfare services will be present if they are associated with the student. Any outside sources are present during this process.

Question for a homeroom teacher.

  • Question #1 – How do you identify a student for special education?

Most of this has been covered in previous questions but there was more information given about the process I would like to address here. Once a student has been identified for a referral there will be a number of tests given outside the classroom to help with identification process. Some of the academic tests mentioned were the WRAT test (wide range achievement test), the Key math test, and the Woodcock reading comprehension assessment test. An education psychologist will administer tests of this nature to aid in the specific identification of the special need at hand.  He also mentioned that just by looking at test scores you can do a personal evaluation and recommendation if the student is achieving at grade levels below the norm. Once a student has been identified it is imperative that IEPs are followed, and this is something he stressed because some students have IEPs that are not identified.

  • Question #2 – What are the signs of a struggling student?

Any recorded achievement levels that have been documented are usually the first sign, also tiredness, not being active and behaviour patterns with other children on the playground and in the classroom. One thing he did say to be careful about is to make sure that a student is not just being lazy; this can cause a lot of unwanted paper work, time, and cause problems with teacher-parent relations.


  • Question #3 – Are there alternate methods of instruction tried out before referring the student for special education? If yes, what are they?

In the master’s program I am currently taking I learned about RTI levels and modifications that are made before the referral. This is something that has not yet been implemented in the in the Ontario educational system. So these answers are a bit more general than an American teacher would respond.  Seat positions were one simple way to help a student, bring them closer to the front so there will be fewer distractions. Have them sit beside a gifted student, and also communicate with the parents where their student is having difficulties and provide extra work accordingly.



I think any type of assistance that is designed to help a student progress with their schooling is one that is necessary for our educational systems.  The issue is how to implement them in the most optimal way. I like how referrals in Ontario are being made but there is definite room for improvement. We need to look at how Finland is using special education in their system. It is a structure that relies on identifying as early as possible. In Ontario I feel that valuable time is being lost due to the fact that recognition and referral occur when the problem has become far to evident. I also like how the American system uses different levels or RTI for the referral process. I can see though how time can be lost in this evaluation as well. Time is of the essence when it comes to providing proper education for students with special needs. We need special education teachers from around the world to collaborate and design a program that would be optimal for all. I think opinions and structures from across the globe all have insights that can help attain this goal.


The “Flipped Classroom“ is the future.

Hopefully you are pondering what does flipped mean and why is it the future. First, a flipped classroom is a pedagogical technique that encompasses modern technology. The strategy is to use less time lecturing and more time helping students individually. This can be attained by using the internet and mobile devices that today every student can access. (I am currently teaching in Seoul, Korean and am writing this blog with my area in mind.) Teachers will put their lecture in video form so they can be watched pretty much anywhere and anytime. This is where the term flipped comes into play, lectures are done at home or away from the classroom and assignments and homework are done in the classroom. This uses classroom time at its highest potential for learning.There are some great informational videos explaining in detail the above idea in the following link. Information and Video on flipped

Second, this is the future and it is happening now. The top technology school in Seoul, Korea, UNIST, is already implementing the flipped policy into practice. Their is an interesting article I found on the UNESCO website that talks in great detail about this implementation and you can read it by clicking on the following link. UNIST case study This is not only happening in Seoul but all over the world, I found some information on how India and France are using this paradigm as well which, can be seen by clicking the following. India`s shift  /   France This is a policy I think institutions every should be implementing if the technology is available.

A great concept for incorporating technology into your classroom

The main thing I learned in this class was that technology has an exponentially large platform that can be used in teaching that I didn’t even know existed. My eyes were opened to many different tools that where discussed in great detail on how they can be incorporated into the classroom effectively. This was a concept that was emphasized repeatedly since the first class. Their are a multitude of technologies out their, this is something that is obvious in the generation that we live in. But we need to use these technologies effectively so our teaching is not hindered. Their was a quote given in our final class today that really tied what I learned in this class all together, “Mind set, not skill set”. It does not mater how well you are versed in the current available technologies but how well you can incorporate them into your classroom effectively. This was the most relevant and interesting university classes I have every taken.

An amazing tool that will make you a better presenter/teacher.

My favourite tool that I have learned during my master’s media class is an online presentation tool called prezi. It is my favourite because of a few reasons.

One, it has a zooming feature that makes things much more entertaining then just switching from slide to slide. Once you have become familiar with this feature you can really make things much more visually stimulating, especially when you get familiar with embedding. With this program you will also want to be much more focused on your picture selection. This program puts emphasis on the premiss that less is more. You learn to use pics that encompass your ideas and not lines of text. This forces you to become a better presenter.

Another reason is its usability. It makes incorporating videos and pics into one easy step. The formatting structure in this program is impeccable, no longer will you struggle with fitting videos, pics, and text.

This program is very smooth and if you are interested in learning I have posted a link below that will get you started. Open an account and follow along with this video step by step and you will be on your way.