Teaching English Language Learners in the Classroom

The English as a Second Language (ESL) guidelines don’t fit exactly with the students that I teach. As in many classrooms, there is a range of students at different levels and a lot of these students have been exposed to English to varying degrees before entering my class. There are some that have been exposed to English for two or three years but are still in pre-production. There are also students that have been exposed for only three years that have already achieved intermediate fluency. One of the keys in my classroom is that all students speak Korean, so there are a lot of instances for peer work to help interpret what we are discussing in class.

With that in mind, next semester I will teach a unit on the basic concepts of Economics to a fourth grade class. The key objectives are: 1) To understand the difference between goods and services, 2) to understand the difference between needs and wants, and 3) to understand the difference between consumers, producers, and service providers.

To introduce all lessons, I will write the core vocabulary on the board and continue to add key academic vocabulary as we build upon previous lessons. I will also use visuals such as the supermarket, a famous Vietnamese market in Ho Chi Minh City, a toy store, a Vinasun taxi, and a massage salon. These references will cover the core vocabulary as well as call on the world around them. This will introduce the concept to the whole class and allow them to draw from their own pre-existing knowledge of what they know from each visual.

Pre-production: Jae Yong
Jae Yong is a new student to the school that has been introduced to English academic subjects for 3 months. He has limited vocabulary and is still in “the silent period.”

While working with the visuals, I will have the students talk to a partner about the words they already know. As Jae Yong does not have the vocabulary to discuss in English, I will allow him and his partner to speak in Korean, drawing on his personal experiences and helping him to interpret what we’re discussing in class. My seating plan pairs pre-production students with students that are a range from speech emergent to advanced fluency.

The power point to follow will have each word shown with a visual and as we go through, as well as basic definitions. I will ask students to read aloud the text from the power point, and then, speaking slowly, have the whole class repeat the words and definitions after me. I will continue the same process when explaining services.

When I work with Jae Yong one-on-one, I will allow him to point to pictures/images in the textbook or power point to show that he understands the key words. I will also allow him to draw answers instead of writing in English. I will leave visuals up on the power point with an example of goods and services with the word underneath the visual to help him use what we just learned from class. He will struggle with all objectives when calling on his own experiences, but should be able to identify key vocabulary through pointing at pictures or drawing.

Early Production: Yeo Min
Yeo Min came to our school last year and has been learning academic subjects for one year and three months. He has limited vocabulary but is now able to express answers to yes/no questions and can say simple sentences with grammatical errors.

With Yeo Min, I will point to pictures and elicit key vocabulary for objectives 1 and 2. I will also ask yes/no questions using visuals in the book or power point as an aid. I will also ensure that he is repeating core definitions but will not correct grammatical or syntax mistakes. He will aslo be able to identify goods and services through graphic organizers that separate the two, as well as create his own through drawing. For objective 3, he should be able to identify the difference between a consumer, producer, or service provider through pictures but may not be able to explain the differences using English.

Speech Emergent and Beginning Fluency: Eun He
Eun He is on the border between speech emergent and beginning fluency. She has been taking English academic subjects for two years and has excellent conversational skills. She still struggles with putting complex answers into full sentences, but can generally explain her overall meaning.

During each of these lessons, Eun He has been given the opportunity to speak more freely through “Think, pair, shares” with her partner or small group. She has also now used more academic vocabulary to describe her own personal experiences with examples of goods and services, or when she has been a consumer, meeting all objectives.

I will ask her to complete fill-in-the-blank activities, ask questions that require her to call on her own personal experience and give her the opportunity to process the language and concept, and I will only correct errors that interfere with the meaning of key concepts and vocabulary.

Intermediate Fluency: Sung Joo
Sung Joo is a strong intermediate fluency speaker, listener, reader, and writer. He has been taking academic English classes for two years and has taken additional English classes after school.

Similar to Eun He, Sung Joo has been been given the opportunity to reflect on each visual, key vocabulary through “Think, pair, shares,” and has been answering questions throughout each lesson. I will also ask him to present his findings after “Think, pair, shares,” with his small group to the class.

After completing worksheets or textbook activities, I will ask him to walk around and help other students that are struggling with some of the concepts by re-explaining what we have covered. He will also use Korean for students that are still in pre-production or early stages to help interpret the more difficult topics that we have covered. As Sung Joo generally finishes activities more quickly than other students, I will provide him with additional activities such as creating a mind map to categorize the information we have learned in class.

For All
At the end of the unit, mixed ESL level groups will create role plays of going shopping and present them to the class. They will be allowed to use both English and Korean to interpret all objectives. Not all students must have a speaking role, but all students will participate in the role play in front of the class.


Haynes, J. (2014, June 5). Six Strategies for Teaching ELLs Across the Content Areas | TESOL Blog. Retrieved from


Robertson, K., & Ford, K. (n.d.). Language Acquisition: An Overview. Retrieved from


Six Key Strategies for Teachers of English-Language Learners. (2005, December 1). Retrieved from



Special Education: Where we are and where we need to be.

To learn more about the special education system, and more specifically the referral process, I interviewed three colleagues who shared their insight into the proceedings. There are a few things to keep in mind.

I work at a Korean public school in Vietnam, so there are different national laws at play and how they fit together can be, well, interesting.

Additionally, their perspectives towards special education for certain difficulties and/or disabilities is not aligned. For example, ADHD is recognized in Korea as a learning difficulty. In Vietnam it is accepted as normal behavior among primary school children.

Keeping this in mind, here is the account of a grade one Korean teacher in Vietnam.


Her Story

Imagine you’re teaching in class and all of a sudden, you hear crying. You immediately run over to the student and ask what is wrong. She tells you that her partner, the boy that sits next to her, has just punched her. Not only as he punched her, but he has punched her so hard that her front tooth is broken. You send her to the nurse to make sure she’s OK and now you have to address the boy. Yet, where is the boy? He has already begun playing with someone else. Unfortunately, you’re not surprised because it is a student that has consistently caused disruptions in class and you’re wondering what you need to do next.

This was phase one for Ms. Lee, recognition that there is a problem. Ms. Lee recounted similar stories of one her students. A lot of her stories happened within the first week of school. She quickly learned that her student had difficulties and so she began the process of assessing what was happening, and how to work with the student to improve his behavior and learning abilities (J.S. Lee, personal communication, December 8, 2015).

How did she identify that her student needed special attention and what were the signs of this student struggling?

In this case, Ms. Lee could see that this student’s behavior was different than others. In first grade, students have a lot of energy and spend a lot of time “fooling around” or off task, but this student showed extreme signs of disobedience. He spat on the bus and in the classroom. He would play in the toilet for 15 minutes and not return to class. He would hit other students, and even, jump out of the bus window.

When it came time to learn, he seemed to shut down, especially during his English classes. He would regularly refer to being too cold and asked to be moved, only to play around wherever he was put. She asked the student to read and he didn’t know how. She asked him to complete math problems, and again, he didn’t know how. The information she was teaching was going in and seemed to get lost, while the rest of her class performed well.

When he went to extra language classes in English and Vietnamese, he acted out even more.  He would simply refuse to sit and learn. He threw things around the room, and again, hit other students. And this behavior happened daily.

Ms. Lee quickly acknowledged that this was a recurrent problem and needed to meet with the students parents to address his behavior. However, within our school system, there is a specific process that we need to go through. (J.S. Lee, personal communication, December 8, 2015)

So, I asked, can you send a student to the counselor without parent’s consent?

Ms. Lee explained that at our school, we cannot send a student to the school counselor without the consent of the parents. So, in the beginning of the year, all of the teachers send out a consent slip for the parents to fill out. In her class, all of the parents sent the contract back signed, except the parents of the student that was having difficulties.

This seemed really odd to her from the beginning, but it all seem to click when she saw the student’s behavior within those first few days of school. The parents were not acknowledging their child’s behavior, at least not with her.

She was in a predicament. She needed immediate help but she didn’t have the “right” to send her student to get the attention and help they both needed. She eventually decided that it was in the student’s best interest to go to the counselor. That way the student could have someone to talk to, and she could have a better idea of what was happening. She also then called the parents and set up a meeting with her and the school counselor to discuss the student’s behavior and ask if this hyperactivity was typical at home. She was trying to gain a better sense of her students needs and also, what she could do at school to help him.

And so began our school’s version of a response to intervention (RTI). (J.S. Lee, personal communication, December 8, 2015)

Meeting with the parents, what did you find out?

She found out a lot.

When Ms. Lee met with the parents, she learned the student goes to a private education center where he works on his behavior three times a week.

She also learned that his parents have heard of his in-class behavior before. The student attended a private English international school previously and was punished regularly by being left in the gymnasium on his own. The teacher said he was unable to control the student.

So, it all came together. The parents sent their child to our school without mentioning any of this, though they knew these behavioral issues were present. (J.S. Lee, personal communication, December 8, 2015)

After meeting the parents, what did she decide to do?

Ms. Lee and the counselor suggested that her student should take a special education assessment but the parents refused. They felt that their child did not have a behavior issue. Instead, they thought that he was a late bloomer and just needed time to develop.

This put Ms. Lee in a difficult situation. She still has thirty-odd kids to teach in class while trying to take care of the needs of her student. So, she and the counselor came up with an alternative plan. The plan wouldn’t be called an individualized education plan (IEP) as it did not contain annual goals for the child, any special education related services, or a program of modifications (2). Remember, the parents did not acknowledge that their child has a disability. So, they recommended that the student see the counselor twice a week and a parent come to school during the class times when he is most disruptive – English and Vietnamese classes.

The parents were not thrilled with this idea BUT they eventually accepted.

Now the student’s mom comes to school every day, but only specifically for English and Vietnamese classes. She waits outside the classroom until there is a problem. When there is a problem, she goes into the classroom and helps resolve any issues. That way, she can give him some time to be in the classroom on his own, but also be there to help supervise when needed. Additionally, the student now only comes to school for half a day and leaves after lunch, to spend time with his family or go to the private education center. (J.S. Lee, personal communication, December 8, 2015)

In the end

The whole process essentially stopped at phase three, a referral to special education (1). That is, for now. After speaking with the counselor, I learned that the student will most likely enter the school’s special education program once he reaches grade three, as he will not be ready for a homeroom setting.

There are positives and negatives to draw from this situation. This student is getting a lot of the least restrictive environment (LRE) experience, which results in a lot of interaction with peers and teachers. However, is this time really beneficial for him? From the description of his behavior, I feel (as did Ms.Lee) that the student would benefit from time with a special education teacher and in a special education classroom.

We know that he is attending a private education center, but we don’t have a clear idea of what he is doing there. That’s because all of the information related to those classes is confidential. And, the private education center cannot release information about the student.

The parents have chosen to send their child to the private education center to keep it that way. Again, they are reluctant to admit that their child even has learning difficulties.

Where we are based, in Vietnam, the school can’t do anything more than suggest that this student needs additional help. In speaking with the Special Education teacher, Ms. Park, I found out more about the process.

At the moment, she works with two full time students and one part time student. All of these students have significant cognitive and/or physical disabilities. Two are unable to spend time in their homerooms but the part time student spends most of his time in homeroom, and only works with her twice a day.They are all unable to speak beyond sounds but can understand language.

I asked her how student is identified for a special education referral in Vietnam and in Korea?

Ms. Park said that it is different in Korea than it is in Vietnam. In Vietnam, a student needs a note from the doctor that details that a student must have special education. A school assessment means nothing. Only a doctor’s note does the trick.

In Korea, a student needs either a doctor’s diagnosis, special education certificate, or a Special Education assessment from the school. In both Vietnam and Korea, it is up to the parents whether the student does any of these. At our school, a student can enter the Special Education program if a student has a disabilities certificate or if they have a doctor’s diagnosis. (Ms. Park, personal communication, December 7, 2015)

How is the significance of a difficulty and/or disability a factor?

I’ve found from speaking with Ms.Lee – the grade one teacher – that most parents that send their students to our school are hesitant to label their students with a learning difficulty and/or disability. Most parents will privately help the student while sending them to public school to be with the rest of the class, even if the difficulty or disability is apparent. For example, aside from the student discussed here, she has two other students who also attend the private education center for emotional and behavioral aid. She only found this out after her meeting with the parents of the student with ADHD.

We also have one student in attendance who is physically disabled. He is unable to climb stairs, carry anything heavy, or play sports with the children. His parents have also refused to send him to the special education program as they want him to spend his time in homeroom classes only. It’s great that he spends time in homeroom, but we don’t have the staff to provide aids or helpers for those types of students in need.

It ends up putting a huge strain on the homeroom teacher as he has to ensure everything is available to the student through the help of other students. It also takes a lot of his attention away from other students as he needs to be by the side of the physically disabled child regularly.

What needs to change?

For one, the stigma needs to be removed from the culture here. With the proper guidance and help. these students could feel just like every student that doesn’t have a difficulty and/or disability. They just need an individualized plan that works for them.

Technology could be a great resource for both of these students. In the case of Ms. Lee’s student, who is ADHD, there are programs out there that could be great for him and help him stay focused on a task for a longer amount of time. For example, Kurzweil Education, (https://kurzweiledu.com/default.html) where students can complete reading activities that are designed with ADHD students in mind online.

Now imagine if we just integrated that technology into every classroom. Students with learning difficulties aren’t the only ones who learn better one way or another. Student A may be a visual learner while Student B may be a kinesthetic learner. Student C is an auditory learner! Every student has their niche. The use of technology could level the playing field and help remove that stigma of learning difficulties and/or disabilities. If everyone is using the same technology to help them learn, then one student is no different from the next.

We have learned this through countries like Finland, one of the top achieving countries in education. Finland has taken away the stigma of being a student with learning difficulties and/or disabilities by treating all students as students that need extra care. Each student essentially has their own IEP. The teachers and staff use an early intervention strategy then collaborate with colleagues to come up with the best strategy to approach teaching every individual student. Not just those that might be labeled as having a learning difficulty or disability elsewhere, but all students.

If we combined the use of technology in every classroom and IEPs for everyone, it would lay the groundwork for every student excelling in their own way.


Links to Interview Recordings and Summaries

Interview with Ms. Lee, Grade 1 teacher


Summary of Interview



Interview with Ms. Park, Special Education teacher:


Summary of Interview



Interview with Ms. Lee, Primary School Counselor

*Link to recording will be posted as soon as received

Summary of Interview




(1)  Special Education Referral Process – Project IDEAL. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.projectidealonline.org/special-education-referral-process.php

(2) Contents of the IEP – Center for Parent Information and Resources. (2010, September) Retrieved from:


(3) Finland’s Formula for School Success (Education Everywhere Series). (2012, January 25). Retrieved from



Related Sources

Kaloi, L. (2012, August 30). What is an IEP? Retrieved from


Khan Academy. (2012, October 30). Sal Khan on CNN Starting Point. Retrieved from


Saxena, S. (2014, January 5). Integrating Technology in a Special Education Classroom. Retrieved from


UNESCO Global Report Opening New Avenues for Empowerment ICTs to Access Information and Knowledge for Persons with Disabilities. (2013, February). Retrieved from


A Few Thoughts on Educational Websites

In looking around at Education Websites, I’ve found some cool websites and twitter accounts to follow, but also just some interesting articles about innovation in Education.

Here are just a few findings:

Education for All

Education for All is movement led by UNESCO. It has branched out into the GPE (Global Partnership for Education) which is pushing to get primary education UNIVERSALLY by 2015. This means working with international organizations and governments, non-for profits and all of the alike, to get primary education for all children.

On their website you can find out a ton of cool – and unfortunately, a lot of sad – things about the Education in the world both close and far.

For example, even though UNESCO and EFA launched GPE, there are still a growing number of children NOT in school. These groups are trying to rally more support from policy makers and even more so, from additional funds from major governments, but funding can only go so far. They need the help of Major players in governments where education is not already considered a priority:

To get involved check out the statistics here:

UNESCO World Report on the growing number of children out of school: http://en.unesco.org/gem-report/growing-number-children-and-adolescents-are-out-school-aid-fails-meet-mark#sthash.YiNpD9PS.LJ6rqMRm.dpbs

And the Facebook group here:


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

The OECD is all about promoting social and economic policies internationally to help of the future of the world. They hold conferences for government leaders to come and discuss the future of their countries and how they can work with other international organizations and governments to make a better world.

These conferences are a great outlet for governments to find a way to work together and use shared experiences to figure out ways to solve problems they’re having individually.

They are also the organisation behind The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is an assessment that measures scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading. Students representing more than 70 economies have participated in the assessment so far.(1)

Centre for Education Research and Innovation (CERI)

CERI is an organisation that completes research on education, and they have a strong focus on innovation and the future of schools. This is most likely why I used their website and suggested sites from them in my search for information on Brain Based Learning, as this is a “newer” strategy that is being implemented in the classroom.

CERI tries to inform policy makers of innovation in teaching from all different angles. They conduct studies and share results of what innovative skills will be needed in a country’s society in the future, they have completed studies on what skills should be addressed in the classroom and how we address those skills, and they have recommended ways to assess if these skills are being taught (as well as a multitude of other studies).

For interesting articles of what they have found, check it out here: http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/

One study that I think is interesting is a progression of creativity in schools and what we need to do to get there. The article talks about the five elements of creative skills that need to be fostered to develop and creative and critical thinker, which the article argues are important skills in the 21st century. The five elements include being inquisitive, persistent, imaginative, collaborative, and disciplined.(2) I couldn’t agree more.

Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE)

The AAIE is an international community that offers professional development for educators and administrators working in International Schools. They have a large range of classes on everything.

From what I’m gathering, it’s a good way to better get to know the International Community, learn how policy makers and leaders in the International Education Community effect the everyday environment in an International School, and also take classes to help better understand how to work with others within the community.

Plus, there are also classes for educators to continue their professional development.


(1) About PISA – OECD. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/

(2) Lucas, B., G. Claxton and E. Spencer (2013), “Progression in Student Creativity in School: First Steps Towards New Forms of Formative Assessments”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 86, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5k4dp59msdwk-en

(3) Association for the Advancement of International Education. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.aaie.org/page.cfm?p=1