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One of the biggest contemporary challenges of teaching is a classroom that is not only significantly overcrowded, but also packed full of students at all levels of learning abilities, English language speaking and reading skills, and emotional maturity. Mix all that together in one classroom and any teacher, new or veteran, has the potential to become very intimidated by the differentiation task ahead of them. One of the strategies developed for teachers to help their English Language Learners is called SIOP: Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol. SIOP strategies are not only valuable for classrooms with ELL students, but for all classrooms where the teacher is looking for ways to creatively assess and (at the same time) differentiate for students at a variety of levels. The kinds of assessments available through SIOP can not only enhance the teaching for the students, but can offer a huge relief to an overworked teacher.
Assessment can be one of the trickiest parts of lesson planning. Because assessment traditionally comes at the end of a lesson, a lot of creativity and ideas have been used up in the preparation, layout and actual teaching of the lesson. Teachers can find themselves falling back on the same old assessments for every unit. The problem with this, beyond lacking creativity, is that it can become very burdensome for a teacher to grade the same sorts of quizzes or essays every week or every few weeks. And let’s be honest, it can be as boring for the kids as it is for the teacher. SIOP takes the idea of concept distribution and digestion to a new level. When you scaffold your lessons with active assessments built in, you create a foundation of basic knowledge and skills from which your students can build their own understanding.
Including assessments that have a variety of objectives, test a variety of skills, and allow for a variety of levels of learning ability can transform your teaching (and your energy levels)! While you can’t remove all forms of traditional assessment (especially if you teach a subject that includes mandatory high stakes testing) SIOP strategies will add new ways for your students to grasp the material. In a basic (very streamlined) step-by-step process, to get to the different assessments available, you might want to set up your lessons like this:
Step 1: All lessons should be presented with an already available content and language objective. In the most basic terms: demonstrate and display for your students what concepts they will be learning, and what vocabulary they will know by the end of the lesson or unit. This works at every level – from first grade up to and including high school AP classes. This empowers kids with a big picture, allows them ownership of their own understanding, and sets out an end-game for them to grasp from the very beginning. To accomplish this, I have used everything from a complete vocab list that they will know by the end of the unit, to a variety of graphic organizers that can be enhanced throughout the unit. Other strategies might be:
- Word Splash
- Word Walls
- Four Corners
- Word Associations
- Mnemonic tips.
Step 2: Tie together their background and their pre-knowledge. This gets easier the more you get to know your students as the year progresses. The more you take the time to get to know where your students come from, their home life, their interests and values, the easier it is to craft lessons that relate to them and draw from their own experiences. Pre-knowledge simply has to do with making sure what you’ve taught previously is sticking around and is useful and applicable moving forward. Try to sprinkle in some background/pre-knowledge assessment strategies like:
- An Anticipation Guide
- Carousel Brainstorming
- Concept Mapping
- Four Corners
- KWL Charts
- Flip Books
- Fishbowl Discussions
Step 3: Use the foundation you’ve created with the previous scaffolding and weave more cooperative assessments into the lesson itself. Allowing students to work with and help each other towards understanding can really open up new possibilities for their accessing the information. Some cooperative assessment strategies you can use during the teaching of the new lesson:
- Give-one, Get-one
- Partner Cornell Notes
- Small Group T-Charts
- Roam the Room
- Round Robin
- Cooperative Concept Maps
- Text Recall
By interspersing these quick and fun assessments into the lesson itself, you have ways to assess where the students are in understanding the material. This allows you to adjust your teaching if necessary, it gives you an idea of what the different learning paces are, and it allows you to feel confident about what is being grasped so you can move on. Using these strategies can really help the students build and retain their knowledge base, and this will even show up on traditional assessments like quizzes, exams or essays.
**All during Steps 2 & 3, you are returning to the preparation you did in Step 1** You are checking back on that same vocabulary. You are returning to the overall concepts and the big picture. You are connecting the early information to what will come later and back again. Instead of simply teaching along a straight line, small and creative assessments along the way, weave a beautiful web of knowledge, connecting the points for students in their minds in ways unique and useful to each of them.
Step 4: Review and Assessment. Here is where you wrap up your lesson/unit and tie together the anticipated items they knew they would be learning (vocabulary, concepts) with all the additional good stuff they learned along the way! While final assessments can be very effective as traditional methods, you can still insert different strategies to allow students to convey their understanding from their own framework. This will not only help them to integrate all that they are learning into their experiential knowledge, but it will allow you further insight into how they learn and what they are retaining. Some final closure assessments might include:
- A Flash Card Deck
- Startling Statements
- Concept Map
- Diner Menu
- Cloze Sentences
- Mix & Match
- Ticket Out the Door
Assessing a class full of students who include English Language Learners, students with IEPs or 504s, students above or below the necessary academic skills level for the class, and numerous other differences, can be intimidating. Sprinkling in the variety of small assessment strategies through this abbreviated SIOP method of scaffolding your lessons can help the students better build and retain information, and can give you more room for creativity and getting to know your students. You might begin to find that by the end of a lesson or a unit, you already know where each of your students is because of the small assessments you’ve been using throughout. You won’t need to stop for formal quizzes or tests all the time in order to know what’s next, and you can be more flexible as a teacher and craft your lessons in a more seamless flow.
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