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Nine Strategies for Reaching All Learners in English Language Arts

Edwards Middle School

Grades 6-8 | Charlestown, MA

Hassan Mansaray

English Language Arts Teacher, Edwards Middle School
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Edwards Middle School teacher Hassan Mansaray works with one of his students in his English language arts class.

Not satisfied with students' progress on district- and state-mandated tests -- and after careful deliberation by administration and staff -- the Edwards Middle School implemented the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time (ELT) Initiative in the 2006/07 school year. ELT has since become an integral part of the school day, where students receive an additional 60 minutes of support instruction in some core academic classes like English and math, and 90 minutes of electives in arts, sports and music, and other enrichment activities.

In order to maximize the benefits of ELT for students, I looked for ways to fine tune my approach to teaching individualized learning in my English language arts classroom. One of the instructional models that informs my approach to teaching individualized learning is the Readers and Writers Workshop. This approach proved very helpful in optimizing ELT.

Readers and Writers Workshop: An Instructional Model

The workshop model for English instruction combined with an extended 60 minutes of ELT support for my struggling students provides an excellent springboard to plan and implement individualized instruction in my class. Readers and Writers Workshop is an instructional model that focuses on students as learners, as well as readers and writers in practice. As readers and writers, students are mentored, working in a supportive and collaborative environment with their mentor on touchstone texts. There is an inherent reading-writing connection with this instructional delivery system that includes the following phases:

1. Mini-lesson (10-15 minutes)

This phase involves a teacher modeling a reading or writing strategy for the students to practice. It could also involve a "do now" to tap into students' prior knowledge. Students might build a schema around a specific strategy that the teacher had modeled previously -- or do an activity to see what they retained of the day's lesson. (See a a sample lesson plan (PDF).)

2. Guided or independent student practice (40-45 minutes)

This is a student work time allocated for practicing the modeled strategy. During this phase the teacher circulates the room conferring with individuals and small groups. He takes notes, makes informal assessments, and provides one-on-one support to struggling learners.

3. Reflection (5-10 minutes)

This phase allows the whole class to regroup and review the lesson objectives, share learning, and reflect on what worked or did not work.

The workshop model provides for both independent and collaborative learning, and thus fosters student ownership of the learning process. This approach strongly emphasizes a student-centered approach to learning.

Reaching All Learners in the ELA Classroom

As a middle school ELA teacher, I continue to collaborate with my peers in the building and across the school district. I participate in planning and designing instruction, inquiry-based studies, and collaborative coaching and learning. These activities have provided me with a repertoire of research-based best practices to engage the readers and writers in my ELA classroom. I teach four core ELA classes Monday through Friday, and one support ELA class Monday through Thursday. Two of my core classes are inclusion, with a third of the students in each on individual education plans (IEP). I co-teach with a specialist who supports the students on IEP. The specialist and I also plan instruction to ensure that all students are able to effectively access the curriculum. We provide frequent check-ins and modify instruction to meet everyone's needs. Our instruction is focused on building stamina in reading and writing to produce critical thinkers and life-long learners. We use the following strategies:

1. Encourage independent reading

From the first day of school, we encourage students to choose the books they read. We model how to choose and review a book for reading. We also encourage students to choose books at their independent reading level rather than at their frustration or difficult level. Students read for 30 minutes daily and complete an entry on the reading. (See sample reading questions (PDF).) Students are not only expanding their knowledge as good readers, they are also building reading stamina.

2. Design product-driven reading and writing instruction

Plan units that are product-driven. (See a sample lesson plan template (PDF).) Have a key or an essential question that instruction seeks to address in the unit. It should become the epicenter of instruction, thus allowing for mastery. Students become stakeholders when they know the instructional objectives and learning outcome.

3. Pre-reading and pre-writing strategies

Infuse pre-reading and pre-writing strategies to build schema. "What I know, what I want to know, and what I learned" (KWL), quick-writes, and vocabulary activities before reading and writing are very useful for tapping into students' prior knowledge and making connections in learning. Quick-writes also provide excellent seed ideas for writing. Expand students' word choice by previewing text vocabulary before reading and providing opportunities for students to find at least three synonyms for unfamiliar words.

4. Making meaning

Provide instruction in basic reading strategies using reciprocal teaching practice that includes predicting, visualizing, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing. As students master these strategies, have them read in small groups of three or four, applying the strategies to their readings. Students should be encouraged to rotate roles. As they interact with the text, they are making meaning and comprehending the text.

5. Text annotation

Teach students to mark or highlight text for main ideas and also for answers to specific questions. Text annotation is an excellent method to make meaning and provide evidence to support answers.

6. Ask text-based evidence questions

Challenge students to provide specific evidence to support their answers. Use t-chart graphic organizers to have them identify specific lines from a text and explain their thoughts about the lines.

7. Immerse students in the genre

Provide adequate opportunity -- one to two weeks -- for students to examine text features and structures, and to read and learn from mentor texts and literature before writing.

8. Provide options for writing

As students examine mentor texts in their reading, provide a variety of writing samples for them to learn from. Teach a variety of genres. Encourage learning and practicing the craft of authors through modeling, conferring, and collaboration.

9. Analyze and interpret

Teach strategies that emphasize analysis and interpretation -- examine author styles and use of language through literal and figurative analysis to get meaning from text.

I apply this model to ELT by working with kids twice a day. In the morning class, it is strictly curriculum-driven; students are using the workshop as a means to their own learning. In the afternoon, I guide them to help remediate the skills they need to improve their comprehension.

Have you used this workshop model, and if so, do you have any other techniques for how you've been able to individualize instruction? Please share any questions or experiences in the comments section below.

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Comments (11) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Jihada Ford-Williams's picture
Jihada Ford-Williams
1st grade teacher from Tupelo, MS

With the implementation of common core the integration of subjects is essential. Readers and Writers Workshop is a tool I have gathering information on for a while and a tool/strategy that I would love to incorporate into my classroom. I found the information you provided to be very beneficial. I love the examples you made available.

Kelly's picture
Seventh and Eighth Grade Intervention Specialist, Ohio

Great article with helpful strategies that I can implement in to my classroom. I really need to focus more on the genre selections rather than saying "here is what you're reading" and go through it. Great advice!

Erica's picture

I have been a middle school ELA teacher for a total of 7 years with two of those years in a Specialist positionand I found this article really refreshing compared to other articles I have read concerning student engagement. This article provided sound advice on how to engage students without the need to "entertain" them instead of actively teach them. In an age where "student engagement" it seems as if the fundamentals and foundational skills needed to teach reading has been lost. I do agree that a class does need to be engaging but not entertaining. Students have to understand the process of learning can sometimes be difficult,but offers success once you have gone through the process.

Again thank you for this article.

Bev Supanick's picture

This is a great article and a blueprint for the academic component of my visionary after-school program! Since I am an expert racquetball coach with 16-17 years of coaching experience (and much of that experience is with juniors), I could also supervise the sports part of the program, too. Thanks for this article, now I can also use it to "bloom where I am planted, or where the wind blows me", for the upcoming academic school year.

Alissa Casey's picture

All of the components Mr. Mansaray included are excellent. My favorite by far, however, is #1: Encourage independent reading. Allowing students to choose what they read, and modeling how to make appropriate reading choices, is the key to fostering a love of reading and language. It is impossible to overstate the impact of a rich reading life on a child's learning.

Robert Beckvall's picture
Robert Beckvall
teach and coach special kids

Reading this for special needs in Hawaii. We have a real mixed plate with various islands, various Asian countries, local Hawaii kids, and those from all over the world that settle here. it is often a real mix of ESL and Special Needs, socio-economics, and cultures that mix, clash and mingle. But, the child must have academics, arts, athletcis and spirit to thrive. Thank you for this article to help these keiki.

maddie_alexa's picture

I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I think ELT is a fantastic idea that many students will benefit from. However, I am curious on why you designed ELT to have 60 minutes in common core subjects and 90 minutes in electives?

Kelly Robinson-Graham's picture

Repost : I really enjoyed reading this article . I found it to very helpful . I will be introducing these strategies to my ELA special education teacher this week in our PLC meeting. I can't wait I believe my teacher will find these strategies very useful for our special education students.

Yanglish's picture

So informative and so helpful. Thanks for these incredible strategies.

Mrs.Farah Asghar's picture

Hi...its a wonderful article ....I really like the strategies...
Can you help me in choosing a research topic for class based activities for English language...thanks

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