Sunday, April 30, 2017


By Katie Pasvankas

As a 4th grade ELA & Social Studies teacher, teaching these subjects at a STEM school was a at first a daunting task. Incorporating technology and PBL in a meaningful way is not always as easy as incorporating through the disciplines of math and science.  Our ELA team has been able to refocus lessons, using many of the ideas and activities we were currently implementing in order to align with STEM. I’d love to share our latest one with you: #30secondbooktalk.

The idea actually came from our awesome county STEM Coach, Brenda Eason. Brenda shared it with the teachers in our school and the idea took off! First, teachers were divided into brackets: 4-5 Fiction Fanatics, 2-3 Thrillers, K-1 Wonders, Special Edition, Team Book-Heart (after our principal) and The Mystery Team.  Each teacher (4 in each bracket) created a 30 second book talk video. We used Photo Booth and even our phones to record the videos. The final product was made with iMovie.  It was simple to do, fun and the kids LOVED it!

Teachers chose a book they felt would get kids fired up about reading. Everyone had a different style which made the videos so cool to watch. Some teachers chose to dress up as a character in their book or add music while others videos featured students.  I channeled my inner Grand High Witch into my first video for The Witches by Roald Dahl and several characters, Kissin Kate, Stanley and Madame Zeroni from HOLES by Louis Sachar.  These choices were easy for me as I’ve enjoyed reading these books for years and have had plenty of practice emulating voices of the characters!

After the videos were released, a voting frenzy began. Mrs. Eason posted the videos on her YouTube channel and created a Google form to make voting simple and easy to tally. We had thousands of votes and suggestions for future book talks! We posted the links for videos and voting on social media so parents, students, and the public could vote.

Then, the winners of each bracket went on to create another #30secondbooktalk and the new videos were shared with the students.  We had some 4th and 5th grade students introduce the first round of book talks.  Our SciGirls, a club at our school, introduced the second round of books and announced the winner of the final round.

In the end, Mrs. Spencer, our AIG teacher, pulled out the win!  Of course, the other victory was that the students were super excited about the books featured on our #30secondbooktalk videos! Soon after my second video, I started reading HOLES to my classes and they have been hanging on my every word, and that’s a huge win in my book!

Check out all of our #30secondbooktalk videos at this link.

Katie Pasvankas has been a 4th grade teacher at Patriots since it opened in 2010. Prior to that, she taught at R. Brown McAllister, also in Cabarrus County,  and in New York. For the last few years, she has been happily teaching ELA and Social Studies so she’s able to focus on bringing her two favorite subjects together and bringing history and characters to life with her animated teaching style. You can follow her lifestyle blog at

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Working With ELLs - Part 2

By Rosalie Pereda

This is the conclusion of last week’s blog post “Working with ELLs” where we will continue the discussion on how to best help our English Language Learner students to learn and meet with success.

Now, armed with all of this information and data on your ELLs language proficiency levels, how do you make it work?  Well, their scores on the WIDA assessments let you know what your ELLs are capable of doing in each language domain, so I would use that information to group my students either homogeneously based on their needs or heterogeneously to allow my ELLs to interact with and learn from their peers.  Also, I would adjust my questioning to challenge my students accordingly based on their language levels and how they are able to answer my questions.  For example, if I have an English Language Learner who can understand my math lesson and get the right answer but does not have enough English language vocabulary to explain how he got his answer, then I would not require that student to explain his answer to me as he would be incapable of doing so at this time based on his language level.  I would however, work with him to develop the necessary language skills to be able to do so at a later time.  I would also use the multiple intelligences and various other differentiated instruction techniques to allow my English Language Learners to answer questions, provide feedback, and demonstrate understanding using a variety of activities so that they will feel comfortable and meet with success.  

“If a child can't learn the way we teach,
maybe we should teach the way they learn.” 
― Ignacio Estrada

ELLs do best when you use these particular techniques:

  • Build Background Knowledge
  • Modeling (Writing, Think Alouds, Reading, Group Work, etc.)
  • Increase Wait Time
  • Verbal and Written Directions
  • Checking for Understanding
  • Graphic Organizers
  • TPR (Total Physical Response) to interact with vocabulary
  • Read Alouds
  • Sentence Frames
  • Visual Cues/Visual Support (Pictures with Vocabulary Words, Word Walls, etc.)
  • Anchor Charts
  • Use of technology and hands on centers
  • Encourage use of native language at home (Ex. Reading in L1 at home to transfer skills to L2)
  • Do not forbid use of L1 at school but do encourage use of English

Also, don’t forget to differentiate instruction by:

  • Incorporating the four language domains (Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing) in your lessons
  • Using the Can Do Descriptors to modify the lessons and expectations based on the student’s English language proficiency level
  • Offering activities such as Cooperative Learning Activities; Think, Pair, Share; and Reading Pairs (Pair up with a fluent reader)
  • Offering appropriate assessments and/or modifications to assessments for ELLs based on their language proficiency levels
  • Visual Thinking Strategies
  • Incorporating Music (Songs/Chants for specific skills, techniques, etc.)
  • Establishing purpose for reading
  • Pre-reading the text
  • Taking a picture walk
  • Choosing one specific comprehension strategy for students to learn and use at a time
  • Pre-teaching vocabulary; select tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 words from target content; use different strategies to teach them

Please keep in mind that there are many differentiated instruction techniques that one could use.  Not all of them could be listed in this blog post.  These differentiated instruction techniques and strategies are best practices for all of our students, not just for our English Language Learners.  As we differentiate instruction, our students are better prepared to access the information and ascertain knowledge.  Our students' self-esteem and confidence will build as they feel more comfortable taking risks and ownership of their own learning.  Motivation for learning will increase, which in turn will give our students the enthusiasm and excitement needed to become lifelong learners.  

I leave you with this very powerful and moving video that has been shared many times in the ELL circuit.  Please watch it in its entirety and think about how you would help the student in the video and what were his difficulties in meeting with success in his class.  

With the help of all of the stakeholders in our ELLs education, they will persevere and learn the language.  They will meet with success as long as they are given the proper tools and time to do so.  We can still set high expectations for our English Language Learners as long as they are pedagogically sound and appropriate.  Together we should be advocates and the voice of our students to give them the best education possible.

I hope that this blog post helps you to have much needed discussions in your schools about how to best meet the needs of our English Language Learners.

Mrs. Rosalie Pereda is currently a First Grade Bilingual and ESL Teacher.  She has taught grades K-8 in various capacities over the years in both urban and suburban districts.  She received her B.A. in Elementary Education and Spanish from Rider University.   She holds certifications in Elementary Education, Spanish, Bilingual Education, and ESL.  She is in her 18th year of teaching, all of which have been in New Jersey.  Rosalie believes in being an advocate for her students and in doing so, helps to prepare teachers to meet the needs of English Language Learners through professional development opportunities.  As a professional development presenter, she has presented several workshops on English Language Learners and differentiated instruction at conferences, including the NCAEE Conference and district in-service trainings.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Working with ELLs - Part 1

By Rosalie Pereda

This is a two-part blog post appearing April 16th and April 23rd.

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, 
but learning another way to think about things.”
-Flora Lewis

Imagine walking into a classroom and not understanding what is being said.  What feels like a million eyes are on you, watching your every move.  You may hear some sneers or giggles as you struggle to figure out what to do and where to sit.  You have no idea how to ask for help, let alone understand what instruction is taking place.  You feel lost, hopeless, and alone. You just want to go home.

Every day, thousands of students feel this way across the country.  Even though each English Language Learners experiences may be different, many feel the way I’ve described above.  Many have just arrived and often feel as lost in our classrooms and schools, as we do in how to help them.  The numbers of English Language Learners in our country are growing rapidly with no sign of slowing down.  Now more than ever, classroom teachers need to be well versed in their teacher preparation programs on how to teach and differentiate instruction for ELLs (English Language Learners).  Teachers in the classroom need to keep abreast of ever changing laws, best practices, and the needs of their students.

Although many teachers have been trained in SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol), many teachers I’ve found lack the basic knowledge about second language acquisition to truly understand what ELLs go through.  Also, many teachers struggle with how to help the ELL students in their classroom to meet with success.  It can seem like a very daunting task that I hope to shed some light on in this blog post.  My objectives in this two-part blog post, will be to discuss some main points to provide some background knowledge about English as a Second Language and ELLs, as well as to provide some helpful hints and tools to assist teachers in differentiating instruction for ELLs in their classroom.

First, it is important to remember that we are all vital to the process of English language learning.  The Classroom Teacher, Special Area Teachers, classmates, etc. are just as important as the ESL Teachers in the language process.  From the cafeteria workers, bus drivers, classmates, and Special Area Teachers, the ELLs will develop their BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills).  BICS is basically our social language that we use in conversations to communicate with others.  When one is learning a language, this is the type of vocabulary that develops first.  Many people are fooled into thinking that a student is proficient in English based on their BICS.  This is a common misconception.  From their Classroom Teachers and ESL Teachers, ELLs develop their CALPS (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Skills), which is essentially their academic language.  Subject matter vocabulary comes into play with CALPS.  For example, one doesn’t usually use words such as metamorphosis at home in conversation.  That would be an example of CALPS or academic language.

It takes students 4-10 years to achieve cognitive academic language proficiency in a second language.  However, if a child has had no prior schooling or has no support in native language development, it may take seven to ten years for ELLs to catch up to their peers. (Thomas & Collier, 1995) We must remember that each English Language Learner is different.  Some students may not have been able to attend school at all or may have had interrupted schooling, while other students will come to school well prepared with foundational skills firmly developed in their first language.  The varying degrees of English language proficiency makes it imperative to know the language levels of your students and their needs.

In that respect, it is important to know how one learns a language.  There are four language domains which will be listed in the order that they develop; listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Writing is the last domain and it is the most difficult as it is not easy for one to express him/herself in writing.  Each year, students are assessed using assessments from WIDA (ACCESS and W-APT) which determine a child’s eligibility for English language services and gauges their English language proficiency levels and growth in English language development.  WIDA is a consortium made up of 36 states with standards for English language development and English language assessments.  North Carolina is a member of WIDA.  Teachers in North Carolina with ELLs will receive a report listing the scores of their students in each of the four language domains from their assessment.  This information is crucial in planning and differentiating instruction for optimal success.

WIDA has what are called Can Do Descriptors which will detail what a student can accomplish at each proficiency level and for each language domain.    You can download or order these Can Do Descriptors which are available by grade cluster.  Once you have your students’ scores, you can easily look up what they can do at that level and for that particular language domain.  Don’t be surprised when you see relatively higher scores for the listening and speaking domains compared to the reading and writing domains.  Remember, listening and speaking are the first language domains that are developed when learning a language; they are our BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills).

Click here for more information about the WIDA Can Do Descriptors.

Click here for more information about WIDA, including professional development opportunities can be found here

Laura Castro from has created a wonderful form that can be edited in Word to fit all of your students’ English language proficiency levels on one page to simplify it for you.  Her form can be a quick and easy reference guide when lesson planning and to serve as documentation when being observed to demonstrate knowledge of students in your class.  I like to put the student’s scores next to their name under each language level and domain so I know exactly how my students scored.

Laura’s Classroom Can-Do Template is great for grouping students and for differentiated instruction based on the needs of the ELLs in your class.  Once you have your students’ scores from the WIDA assessment (ACCESS), simply plug them into this form.  You’ll easily be able to tell what types of centers and activities you’ll need to develop or implement to gain understanding of the subject matter.  Please don’t forget that it is also important to take note of what your students will be able to accomplish at the next proficiency level as it should always be our goal and mission to help our students progress and move on to the next level.  Here is a sample of Laura’s Classroom Can-Do Template:

Please click here for a copy of Laura’s free Classroom Can-Do Template on Teachers Pay Teachers.

In next week’s conclusion of the blog post “Working with ELLs” we will continue the discussion on how to best help our English Language Learner students to learn and meet with success.

Mrs. Rosalie Pereda is currently a First Grade Bilingual and ESL Teacher.  She has taught grades K-8 in various capacities over the years in both urban and suburban districts.  She received her B.A. in Elementary Education and Spanish from Rider University.   She holds certifications in Elementary Education, Spanish, Bilingual Education, and ESL.  She is in her 18th year of teaching, all of which have been in New Jersey.  Rosalie believes in being an advocate for her students and in doing so, helps to prepare teachers to meet the needs of English Language Learners through professional development opportunities.  As a professional development presenter, she has presented several workshops on English Language Learners and differentiated instruction at conferences, including the NCAEE Conference and district in-service trainings.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

If I Knew Then...

By Megan Mehta

I have shared the story of the journey my 4th grade daughter on my blog and I have been on since she began elementary school and how it has led me to advocating not only for her, but for all the kids in North Carolina. She was identified as dyslexic and ADD at the beginning of second grade, and I was suddenly dealing with a very real, very common learning disability that I knew little about. As a parent, it was upsetting because I was suddenly in a situation where I didn’t know how to help my child. As a veteran teacher, this was disconcerting to say the least because how many students had I taught that were struggling with the same or similar issues? It was an awful feeling as an educator, so this post will be what I needed over two years ago in the hopes that others will find it helpful.

First some statistics:

(these were compiled by Susan C. Lowell and Dr. Rebecca Felton, coauthors of Basic Facts About Assessment of Dyslexia. I had the privilege of working with Susan in Raleigh recently and she is nothing short of amazing.)

About 37% of 4th graders are considered below basic level in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
This same test finds reading failure in about 67% of minority populations such as African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Limited English Proficient Americans, and impoverished Americans.
Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) make up roughly half of all special education students. Of this group, 80% experience reading difficulties.
Reading research scientists find reading failure in about 20% of the general school-age population. These same scientists predict that all but 2-5% of these students can be taught to read accurately and fluently with appropriate instruction.
I don’t know about you but to me these are sobering figures– especially the last one. All but 2-5% can be taught to read accurately and fluently with appropriate instruction. This shouldn’t all be falling on the shoulders of the teachers of Exceptional Children, and our kids shouldn’t need an IEP to rival a Tolstoy novel in order to access appropriate instruction.

Signs of Dyslexia:

I want to include the typical signs to watch out for, but I also want to point out there are characteristics that should have been giant, flaming red flags to me in hindsight had I known to pay attention to them. Generally, a child with dyslexia will have difficulty with the following (from the International Dyslexia Association Website– link below):

Writing letters and numbers backwards and reading backwards. No! All kids do this at some point– it is not something only people in Club Dyslexia do.
Learning to speak
Learning letters and their sounds
Organizing written and spoken language
Memorizing number facts
Reading quickly enough to comprehend
Persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments
Learning a foreign language
Correctly doing math operations
There are subtleties, too. People with dyslexia often have difficulty rhyming words or pronouncing multi-syllable words. L still calls ambulances “amalances” and though her rhyming skills have improved, she will still occasionally ask if words like “dog” and “done” rhyme. Another thing to look out for is substitution of words that may be in the same category or may have the same beginning or ending sound– this can happen in speaking or reading. An example given from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity cites using “volcano” instead of “tornado”. When this happens with L, she can verbalize that she knows it’s the wrong word and that the correct one is stashed in her head somewhere, but out it comes anyway.

So this is a VERY brief overview– there are organizations that have more exhaustive and detailed lists and I have noted them below. I cannot stress enough how important it is that if teachers are seeing these behaviors, it’s not because the child is lazy or defiant or immature or whatever. It’s also not personal. They. Cannot. Help. It. The more we educate ourselves about this, the better we can meet the needs of our kids and hopefully mitigate any more self-esteem nosedives.


These are just to get you started and the tip of the iceberg. In other words, my thoughts on what I recommend you click on if you find yourself googling “dyslexia resources” (which now you don’t have to do because I just did it for you!).

Decoding Dyslexia NC: great place to find North Carolina-specific info, as well as advocates to accompany you to IEP meetings at your child’s school, tutors, etc. I met one of the advocates, Jeanette Meachem, this week when we went to Raleigh and I wish I had known her two years ago. She is fabulous. This link is to their page on characteristics of dyslexia, but this amazing site has info on the whole dys- family and their cousins: dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, sensory processing disorder, ADD, ADHD and more. I print their math graphic organizers weekly to help L with her homework and they have worked wonders.

International Dyslexia Association: Lots of great info, as well as a self-assessment for adults. I highly recommend checking it out if you had difficulty reading as a child or had troubles with foreign languages.

Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity: I love that they have resources that speak directly to kids here. One thing L says to me frequently is “Dyslexia is my deepest, darkest secret” and it breaks my heart into a million tiny pieces every time I hear it. I am trying hard to chip away at this and some of the things on this site are helping. I’m hoping that the more I show her that there are so many others who face the same challenges and have the same type of incredible brain that she has, the more comfortable she will feel about it. Of course, as her mom I know exactly nothing about anything, so I’m relying on the hope that at least some of it is registering subconsciously…

I find myself thinking of more and more resources as I type this, but I’m going to stop here. This is a beginning– whether you suspect dyslexia in you or your child or student, know someone newly diagnosed, or have been at this a while and are looking for something else that might help, I hope I am able to point you down a path that has some answers. If you have other resources to help families, please share in the comments. I will address places to find things to help in the classroom in a later post– there are a lot of great things out there, but really no website or app will replace a good teacher.

Megan Mehta is the STEM Coordinator at Ballantyne Elementary in Charlotte, NC. She began her career as an educator in December of 2000 and spent most of those years as a 3rd grade teacher. For the 2016-2017 school year, with her principal’s support, she created her current position of STEM Coordinator at her school and has been working hard to define her role ever since. She blogs at