Frontloading

I have facilitated many demonstration “number talks” this year throughout Fresno County.  I even blogged about it earlier this school year.  Talking mathematically in our classrooms is so important that I can’t stop sharing the idea of number talks, even if it is being repeated for some of the teachers that I work alongside.  

A couple of weeks ago I had yet another opportunity to share number talks. The first classroom that I walked into happened to be engaged in the “designated ELD time” for the entire fourth grade.  The California ELA/ELD Framework says, “Designated ELD is a protected time during the regular school day when teachers use the CA ELD Standards as the focal standards in ways that build into and from content instruction in order to develop critical English language skills, knowledge, and abilities needed for content learning in English.” Since I was demonstrating a number talk, the teacher allowed me to do what I had planned.  The number talk went very well, and I had students that wanted to stay after their ELD time was over to share solutions that we hadn’t had time to explore during class.  In fact, this number talk was an extremely effective use of the designated ELD time.  Through content instruction in mathematics, students had the opportunity to develop critical English language skills.  I left feeling excited because the students had been excited!  I didn’t realize the effect this would have on the rest of my day.

As I went from classroom to classroom those same students were now spread out back in their home room classes.  Even as I explored different number concepts in different classrooms, those students who had been in the ELD class in the morning were engaging in the number talks.  They were sharing their thinking and ideas over and over again.  After each number talk the homeroom teacher would pull me aside and say something to the effect of, “I can’t believe how much talking “those ELD students” did today!  They never raise their hands and share out loud with the class.”  It hit home again for me how important it is for us to frontload our EL students so that they have a chance to utilize language and engage in concepts that may be a struggle for them without previous exposure.  When we allow our students the chance to make connections to their previous knowledge, they are able to create new learning structures for themselves.  Then, when given the chance to apply that new learning in a new context, they thrive!  They have access where there was no access before, and there is a sense of joy that they are taking part in discussions that they hadn’t been able to have before.

When we have Designated ELD time where students gather from multiple classes, we need to have a plan as to what they will be exposed to during that time.  Why was it that this day was an original experience for those homeroom teachers?  I think it was because they hadn’t been communicating about what needed to be presented during ELD time that would enrich those students thinking so that they could engage in the homeroom lessons more effectively.  This is a complex process, but something we have to start thinking about and utilizing our PLC or other times to collaborate, to make our ELD classes more effective, and in turn increase all student learning.

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