Super Teacher Tool: Worksheet Works

When my nine year old daughter forgot her Language Arts homework at school today, she thought she’d scored some free time. WRONG! I hoped on the Internet and found this amazing site, Worksheet Works, which lets you make customized worksheets on tons of different topics.  And not only does it create nicely formatted worksheets and puzzles, customized to your specifications, it delivers up an answer key too!  Everything is generated in a downloadable, printable PDF.

Worksheets sure have gotten a bad rap lately, but I bet most teachers would agree that there is certainly a time and a place in the classroom for a good worksheet. Sometimes,  skill drills and practice, practice, practice is exactly what is needed to drive home a lesson.

Worksheet Works is definitely worth checking out.

Teachers are Held to a Higher Standard

In a recent post, Teachers Speak Out at Their Own Peril, Walt Gardner relates two recent incidents in which teachers were summarily fired for making racially insensitive remarks. One teacher’s remark about “Zionist Jews” running the banks and federal reserve was made off-campus during an interview with a local TV reporter. Another teacher’s verbal slip-up came in the form of  a  joke to his two African-American students about how he might not be able to tell them apart.

Thanks to our many technological wonders, we all live in a fishbowl these days and the line between public and private speech is blurry at best. Gardner gives this sage advice: “If there’s a lesson to be learned from these two incidents, it’s that teachers in K-12 need to be eternally vigilant in what they say. They cannot invoke their right of freedom of speech as a defense and expect to prevail.”

Technology aside, I think educators have always been held to a higher standard than folks in other professions. Years ago, my very fist principal gave me a very valuable insight into the role educators play in their communities. He explained to me that teachers are role models for kids and parents alike, and being a role model doesn’t stop at 3:00. Whether we like it or not, educators are semi-public figures and we play by slightly different rules than other people in less visible or socially exposed occupations. Its just part of the job.

I think most people would agree that educators play an extremely influential role in the lives of their students (or at least we hope we do). The flip side of being in and influential position is carrying an extra burden of responsibility for your words and actions. After all, to whom much is given, much is required.

Can a school district really “make money” by over-identifying ELs?

Towards the end of her recent blog post for Ed Week, Is California Identifying too Many Kindergartners as English Language Learners?, Lesli Maxwell reports that one reason CA districts might be over-identifying ELs is for financial gain. Supposedly,California has a racket going on where the Home Language Survey so loose (Any student who has a language other than English used in the home must be tested for English proficiency. Sound familiar?) that districts are compelled to over- test. The testing is too rigorous for little kids, so they don’t do well and are consequently identified as limited English proficient.
The financial gain part comes in thanks to a five dollar incentive/reward the district receives for each kid it tests. Then, once identified as LEP, the student (and district) is eligible to receive Title III funding.

At first glance, I’d jump right on the I-can’t-believe-those-greedy-school-districts bandwagon. But then my brain kicked in.

Even without the aid of a comprehensive cost analysis, I am willing to bet that is cost more than 5 bucks to process a new EL student. If you take into account the whole process from reviewing the HLS to administering the two hour test, to analyzing the results of the test, to officially enrolling the student as an EL, I imagine that costs a lot more than five dollars. Consider  the tests themselves (whether they are online or on paper, there is no such thing as a free test). Consider the cost of labor involved in administering the test and the results. Consider the opportunity costs: what else could the person who is giving the tests be doing that would better enhance the district’s bottom line?

As for gaining more funding through Title III, the district itself would not “grow richer” by virtue of having a bunch of ELs who receive Title III funding. That’s because Title III funding is very controlled and tied to only certain activities that directly benefit EL students, not students or the schools in general. Plus, Title III funds hardly equate to a windfall of any kind. There is not a lot of money for ELs and what there is it pretty tightly controlled.

No, I don’t believe California school districts have a financial incentive to over-identify ELs. EL education is inherently NOT cheap.

Now, it does sound as though the English proficiency test California uses (CELDT) has some issues.

Best Links re Alabama Immigration Law and Effect on Kids, Families

More Updates as of November 03, 2011:

The U.S. Department of Justice is requesting all Alabama school districts to provide information on who – exactly – has withdrawn from school and the date they withdrew

Alabama Attorney General won’t give the U.S. Department of Justice any enrollment information unless and until the Feds can furnish any legal authority permitting their request.

Department of Justice sends letter to Alabama school boards reminding them of their legal obligation to enroll children regardless of their immigration status and to provide language learning programs for non-English speaking students.


UPDATE (Friday, October 14, 2011): 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rules Alabama schools can no longer check on immigration status of students

Since the whole “Alabama thing” began last month, I’ve been collecting stories that highlight the affect of the state’s new immigration law on students and families.  Here’s what I’ve got so far:

How Alabama immigration law is affecting students – from National Public Radio’s Morning Edition 10/6.

Hispanics flee Alabama   – from National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

Hispanic parents worried, leaving – More than 2000 students didn’t show up for school on Monday, most of them ELs. Wild rumors flying around. Kids crying, afraid parents will be deported while they are in school.

Hispanics Leave School in Face of Alabama’s Tough Immigration Law – from the Christian Science Monitor (I got this from Colorin Colorado)

Alabama Immigrants making contingency plans for their children

Utilities crack down on illegal immigrants – prove legal status or no more water

For some background on Alabama’s law, check out this story, Judge Won’t Block Key Parts of Alabama’s Immigration Law

To stay updated, follow All Things LPAC on Facebook. 










The Bilingual Table Week 3: Was our initial vision too ideal?

Things seem to be taking shape for our little bilingual conversation club. We seem to be settling on a method or game plan that works for our group and each of us seems to have developed enough trust in the each other to feel comfortable taking those huge language risks necessary to make  some real progress.  Even our normally very passive and quiet members are coming out of their shells.

Potential Issues: We seem to be relying quite a bit on our bilingual facilitator for instruction and explanation. Granted, it is convenient for any of us, Spanish or English speaking, to be able to turn to our facilitator when we are having trouble communicating. Too much of that, however, will quickly turn our facilitator into an instructor, and I’m afraid that will really undermine one of the fundamental goals of our program: that we teach each other and learn from each other through organic, authentic communication.

I can see why it is happening. We are a group of beginning/low-intermediate Spanish learners and English learners, and for one or two of our group, this is the first foray into actually using another language. We need some linguistic support and instruction in order to be able to say anything at all. We need translations, sentence stems, and grammar instruction. But how much instruction and support is too much before the driving pain of necessity that really compels one to take risks and reach out when learning is removed?

What I am beginning to realize is that my initial idea that all of us would be sitting around glibly chatting in English and Spanish with bilingual dictionaries on our laps and questions and explanations being tossed around the room was probably pretty unrealistic. That’s an ideal or a goal to strive for. Honestly, as green as we are, we need more support to communicate even the simplest ideas. Its going to take quite a bit of instruction in English and Spanish to get most of us to the point where we can have more spontaneous communications. And, that’s okay. We can still hold true to our goals of allowing everyone to bring to the table their knowledge and skills, and having an “everyone is a teacher, everyone is a learner” approach.

Here’s what we did this week:

1. Greeting activity – Using the target language, each person stated their name and one or two things they did over the past weekend (using some past tense there!) and one or two good things that had happened since we had last met. Those two discussion points were written in English and Spanish on the white board, and actually each of us was supposed to have prepared our answers to them during the week (our tarea).

During this time we had some impromptu lessons on the difference between porque  and paraque and the fact that Spanish has a lot of reflexive verbs that just don’t exist in English.

2. Vocabulary/Verb conjugation activity – Earlier in the week two of us had selected some key nouns, phrases, and verbs from the Spotlight reading text we are using. We wrote down them down in on slips of paper, English on one side, Spanish on the other. At group, we put them into bowls, verbs in one and all other in the other bowl.

On the white board we drew the verb conjugation T chart with I/yo, you/tu, etc. We demonstrated how to use the T chart with the verb To Be/ Estar / Ser. As a group we went through the conjugations of each.

Each of us then selected a verb and a noun/phrase. In turn, we pronounced the noun/phrase in English and Spanish, then we conjugated the verb in English and then in Spanish. We discussed the differences in conjugation  for  -ir, -er, and -ar verbs in Spanish. We also paid attention to correct pronunciation, especially the ‘s’ on the third person singular in English. We also tackled the past tense version of some of the verbs.

3. Spotlight Reading – Although we still had a ways to go on the lengthy Spotlight text, “The Human Face” we decided to finish it so we could move on. First we read in English listening to the audio recording online. Next, we read in Spanish. Each took probably 5 minutes to read through and I was surprised at how exhausted I was at the end of reading the Spanish text. It took so much effort to read, think about pronunciation, and word meaning simultaneously!

Next week we plan to follow the same basic game plan, but add to our bowls of nouns and verbs. We are also switching to an abbreviated version of Spotlight, which is slightly less than three minutes in length. That one (in English only) will be available on Spotlight’s Facebook page.


NEW! Bilingual / ESL Program Exit Chart for 2011 – 2012 (Texas)

In Texas, the criteria for reclassifying a limited English proficient (LEP) student as non-LEP and exiting them  from a bilingual, ESL, or other special language program has changed for the 2011 – 2012 school year thanks to the advent of our new state assessment system, STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness).

Here’s the new exit/reclassification criteria in a handy downloadable chart. 

This new criteria is good for the 2011 – 2012 school year only. That’s because TEA (Texas Education Agency) is using the 2011 – 2012 year to establish proficiency standards for STAAR grades 3 – 8. STAAR EOC performance standards will be set in February 2012.  Next year (2012 – 2013) we will be putting out another exit/reclassification chart.

For more info on exiting, check out these posts: Teacher Input is Key in Exiting Decisions ; Exiting from a Dual Language Program; Should This Student be Exited? .

Here’s a list of other helpful EL assessment resources for Texas schools:

All Things LPAC / STAAR

Making State Assessments Best Practice Guide (Texas)

Assessment Decision Roster (LPAC eform)

Individual Assessment Decision Record (LPAC eform)









Uncertain about who is supposed to take STAAR, EOC, and TAKS? You’re not the only one. State assessment in Texas is going to be a little crazy for a while until TAKS is completely phased out, and we all get used to STAAR.

Here’s a little assessment breakdown:

Kids currently in grades 3 – 8 take:

  • STAAR assessments in the subjects required at the particular grade level (grade 3: reading/math; grade 4: reading/math/writing; grade 5: reading/math/science; grade 6: reading/math; grade 7: reading/math/writing; grade 8: reading/math/science/social studies)
  • STAAR & EOC if a student is enrolled in a course, like Algebra 1, that has an EOC. It is up to the districts to decide if the student will also have to take the corresponding STAAR assessment, like math. So, if 8th grade student Mary is taking Algebra I, she will take the Algebra I EOC and STAAR reading, science, and social studies assessments, and, if her district requires it, she will also have to take STAAR math.
Kids currently enrolled in 9th grade take
  • EOCs corresponding to whatever courses the student is enrolled in. If the student takes Biology, Algebra II, and World Geography, and English I, then she will take the EOCs for all of those courses.
Kids who are repeating the 9th grade in the 2011 – 2012 school year take
  • TAKS. However, 9th grade TAKS tests will no longer be available, so a district may choose to administer a released TAKS test, or develop their own test. I’m not making this up!
Kids who are currently in grades 10 and up
  • TAKS in ELA, math, science, and social studies
English language learners
Check out our post about EL assessment under STAAR for changes in exemption policies (as in, there are no more exemptions for ELs), Spanish assessments, and linguistically accommodated assessments.
You can find more information on EL assessment as well as EL education resources and information for Texas LPACs at All Things LPAC. 

The Bilingual Table: Week 2

This week at our two-way dual language immersion class for adults, we had one more Spanish learner, one more English learner, and one visitor who just wanted to see what we are up to with the idea of possibly emulating our program with another group. So our total number of participants was five Spanish learners, six English learners, one bilingual facilitator, and one bilingual visitor. Considering our small meeting area, its a pretty good number.

Unlike our first meeting last week, we went into this one with a pretty well thought-out game plan. We strove to add more structure while also allowing for a lot of organic, learner-driven discussion. We also wanted to put ourselves into a position where we would really have to stretch linguistically. The ad-hoc discussions are proving very challenging for those of us with lower proficiency levels, which actually comprises most of the group.  To meet the needs of the lower proficiency members, we added some overt vocabulary instruction. The guided readings help all of us with pronunciation, sentence fluency, and vocabulary.

Here’s what we did this week:

  1. Greeting from Bilingual facilitators in English and Spanish: Remind everyone of goals of club, explain activities for the meeting
  2. Who Are You activity: In turn, each person says in their target language My name is/Me llamo, but do NOT say the name. The class responds with the person’s name and then says in both English and Spanish, Welcome/Bienvenidos ______.
  3. Paired Discussion: Write the discussion topics in English and Spanish on the white board: What did you do this weekend / Que hizo esta fin de semana?  and  What is one good thing that happened this weekend / Mensiona una cosa buena que paso este fin de semana?  We pair up English learners with Spanish learners to ask each other each question and help each other answer each question. We use gestures, bilingual dictionaries, and other members to help us say what we want to in the target language.
    This activity was very difficult for the beginners. We tried to help with that by assigning the two questions as homework. Next week we will have the same two discussion questions, but it should be easier for us to provide intelligible answers since we will have worked on them during the week, theoretically at least (you know how life gets, tho…). In the future, we will provide the discussion questions BEFORE the next meeting.
  4. Spotlight Reading: We are incorporating an English learning program from the Spotlight English Club. Spotlight provides a lengthy, advanced level text in English accompanied by an audio version of it read at a slow pace so it is easy for English learners to follow along (we download the text and audio from their website). We took the liberty of translating the English text into Spanish, so our group has both the English and Spanish versions.
    This week was a continuation of last week’s topic: The Human Face. First we read aloud in English while listening to the audio version. We did this twice. Next, we read aloud in Spanish at a slow pace twice. Most of us are beginners or low-intermediates in our target language and are not really capable of launching a discussion about what we just read like we are supposed to do according to the Spotlight program. Instead, we broke up into diverse pairs (English/Spanish) to talk about vocabulary and parts of the text we did not understand. Again, there was a lot of gesturing and dictionary use.
  5. Verb Work: Most members of our group want some overt instruction in English and Spanish, so we decided to devote some time to learning verbs. On a piece of paper, each person wrote a verb in English or Spanish that he or she wanted to learn. We randomly chose two verbs to work with. We wrote the verbs and their present tense conjugations in English and Spanish on the white board. We did a choral review of each, then in turn, we practiced saying each verb and its conjugations in the target language. The activity sounds very pedantic and boring, but it seems most of our group got a lot out of it. I know I did.
    Our verbs this week were: To play/Jugar   and   To work/Trabajar
  6. Homework: Well, it seems we beginners and intermediates can’t really avoid it if we want to make any real progress. We decided to prepare answers to the discussion questions ahead of time so that at the next meeting, we can receive more instruction on pronunciation and refining our answers instead of spending a lot of time putting together a very simple sentence. We also asked everyone to think about their goals for participating in the group and to share them during the next meeting. That will help guide our future game plans.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         We’ll be back next week with Week 3 of The Bilingual Table.

The Bilingual Table: Week 1 – The First Session

September 21, 2011

We had a pretty good turn out for our first meeting, especially considering we didn’t do a whole lot of promotion. We had five English learners (3 beginners, 2 intermediates) and five Spanish learners (4 beginners and 1 intermediate ) all gathered around the coffee table in the home of one of our Spanish learners. Our facilitator this week is bilingual and did a fantastic job frenetically translating for all of us.

What we did this time

We all were a little nervous at first because what we didn’t know each other and didn’t really know what to expect. Once we got rolling, however, and the objectives of the conversation group were explained and discussed (see our About page for details), everyone seemed to relax. That is, until we had to introduce ourselves and talk about our families in the target language.

During the introductions we quickly noticed that the beginning students needed more linguistic support if they were going to be able to participate at all so we wrote sentence stems on a white board in English and Spanish such as: My name is / Me llamo; I have __ children / Tengo ___ hijos. Very basic but necessary stuff.  One of our group, a young lady from Colombia, gave us a mini lesson in different Spanish terminology for children, i.e.  mujercita/hombrecito, chica/chico.

Once we had learned a little about each other, we turned our attention to the reading and listening portion of the session. Using a script and an audio recording produced by the Spotlight English Club, we read aloud a portion of a text titled The Human Face / La Cara Humana. First we read in English, then in Spanish. The folks at Spotlight do a great job pacing the reading very slowly so beginning and intermediate English speakers can keep up fairly well. We did not have a Spanish audio recording of the text, so one of our Spanish speakers volunteered to lead the Spanish reading.

The Spotlight text is written at the high-intermediate to advanced proficiency level and proved quite challenging to our beginning students. To facilitate comprehension and build vocabulary, we designed a little activity in which each English learner paired up with a Spanish learner. The pairs worked together speaking in Spanish and English to understand the text just read, explaining vocabulary, verb conjugations, and some grammar conventions. This activity was probably one of the most fruitful in terms of using the target language meaningfully and authentically.  Each of us had to really stretch ourselves linguistically and probably several other ways as well in order to understand and be understood.

All in all, the session was a success. The fact that most of us didn’t have enough proficiency in our target languages to carry on a conversation didn’t seem to have too much of an impact on our enthusiasm, but it seems we could benefit from more support such as sentence stems and probably a little overt instruction on certain verbs or grammar points. I, for one, appreciated having the opportunity to push myself linguistically without fear of looking or feeling foolish.

Next week

For next week’s session we plan to:

  • Provide more sentence stems in English and Spanish, pre-printed on a handout
  • Highlight two verbs in both English and Spanish. We’ll briefly go over the present tense and past tense conjugations and then try to use them in our conversations and play a game that will allow us to practice conjugation
  • Continue reading the Spotlight selection on Faces/Caras
  • Have a few discussion topics related to the reading selection that we will use in groups of three or four
I’ll be back next week to let you know how it went.4
We welcome and encourage your comments and suggestions!

~Jennifer Rowe



EL Assessment Under STAAR – Lots of Changes!

8 Changes for ELs under STAAR*

Get ready for a welcome revamp of EL assessment! Under STAAR, EL testing policies are much more streamlined, making the whole process easier on teachers and administrators, but probably more difficult for students. Here’s a list of the major changes followed by links to information resources:

  1. LEP Exemptions: No more LEP exemptions from testing. All ELs will be assessed in reading/writing/English, math, science, and social studies
  2. Linguistically accommodated assessment, called STAAR L,  includes assessments for grades 3 8 and all EOCs.
  3. Linguistic Accommodations: There are fewer accommodations available, but they are available to more students.
    1. Substantial Accommodations: Recently arrived ELs (been in U.S. schools 3 years or less and have not attained Adv. High on TELPAS Reading) may receive “substantial” accommodations for math, science, and social studies tests (bilingual or other dictionary, extra time, text read aloud, clarification in English). Unschooled asylees/refugees may also receive these substantial accommodations.
    2. Limited Accommodations: ELs who have been in U.S. schools longer than 3 years or who have scored Adv. High on TELPAS Reading may receive limited accommodations for math, science, social studies, reading, writing, and English I, II, and III. Limit accommodations include use of a bilingual, ESL, or standard dictionary, extra time, and clarification in English of words in prompts or OER questions. Since there is no STAAR L for reading, writing, or English I – III, all ELs will be able to receive limited accommodations on these tests.


  1. Math, Science, Social Studies Assessments:
    1. Linguistically accommodated versions of STAAR/EOC, called STAAR L will be available for math, science, and social studies only. These versions will contain substantial accommodations.
    2. ELs who don’t qualify to receive the substantial accommodations of the STAAR L version a test, will take the standard version and may receive limited accommodations.


  1. 5.     Reading, Writing, English Assessments
    1. No STAAR L offered for reading, writing, or English I, II, or II. All ELs, including recent immigrants and unschooled asylees/refugees, will have to take the regular version of STAAR/EOC for reading and writing or English.
    2. ELs, regardless of year in school, may have limited linguistic accommodations.
    3. For ELs who have had three years or less (five years for qualifying asylees/refugees), scores on the English I or II do not have to count toward the cumulative EOC score required for graduation, and do not have to count as 15% of the course’s final grade. ELs may retake the English I or II EOC at a later date if they wish to raise their cumulative score.
    4. The provisions described in “c” do not apply to recently arrived ELs taking the English III EOC. Scores count for those ELs just as they do for non-ELs. ELs taking the English III EOC may have limited accommodations, however.
    5. Spanish STAAR is available for qualifying students in grades 3 – 5. Same qualifications apply as under TAKS.
    6. Online administration of Reading/writing and English I – III beginning 2013 testing year, and will have clickable clarification in English accommodation
    7. What’s Out
      1. Testing over two days
      2. Spanish/English tests side by side
      3. STAAR L versions for STAAR Spanish or STAAR Modified. ELs taking either Spanish STAAR or STAAR Modified will take the standard version of those test; however, ELs taking STAAR Modified may receive linguistic accommodations no matter how long they have been in U.S. schools.
      4. Oral translation or bilingual glossaries except for STAAR Mod.
      5. No “insufficient schooling” or “lack of adequate progress” requirements
      6. No postponement of exit level assessments
*The changes described above are PROPOSED CHANGES only. They have yet to be adopted, which should happen at the end of September, 2011.