BPP 4: Transitions & Fitting a lot into Your Literacy Block

In episode 4, Janet talks transitions, fitting a lot into your literacy block and visuals with a first-grade dual language teacher from Wisconsin.

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Janet: This is episode four of the Bilingual Profe podcast. In today’s show, we’ll talk transitions, and fitting in a lot of literacy activities into a short amount of time. Stay tuned. The Bilingual Profe podcast is for busy bilingual teachers looking to improve their teaching practices and classroom. If you are a bilingual Spanish Immersion or dual language teacher, then this is a podcast for you. We’ll talk tips ideas and best practices for your bilingual classroom. Are you one of us? Come join the conversation at bilingualprofe.com.
Janet: Welcome back to the Bilingual Profe podcast. It is great to be back with you this morning. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to tune in to this podcast. Today, I have a great conversation with a first-grade bilingual teacher. I know you’ll love this conversation and get some great ideas for your classroom. My guess is the English partner teacher in a bilingual program in Wisconsin. I’m so excited to introduce you to Paige Bessick. As always, all the links and show notes of to this episode can be found at bilingualprofe.com. Let’s listen to the conversation with Paige now. Okay, we are welcoming Paige Bessick the Bilingual Profe podcast. Thanks for coming on to the show Paige.
Paige: Hi, of course. I’m so glad to be here.
Janet: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been teaching?
Paige: Yep. I am a first-grade dual language English teacher. I have been teaching, this is my 13th year teaching, and I teach in Wisconsin. And before I started teaching first grade, I was a special ed teacher, once I got into the classroom, I had a lot of ELL students and students with special needs. And then this past year is the first year that I started with our dual language program.
Janet: Okay, interesting. You’ve been in several positions.
Paige: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Janet: That’s fun. You went from special ed to ESL to general classroom?
Paige: Just special ed to regular Ed. But within my regular Ed classroom, I have always had a lot of ELL students and students with special needs.
Janet: Nice. Yeah. You said you’re from Wisconsin? I did my undergrad at UW. I am familiar, at least one corner of the state.
Paige: Yep. That’s the corner I’m in.
Janet: All right. Could you give us a little bit more information? You said you are the English side of a dual language program.
Paige: Yep.
Janet: Can you tell us kind of what your daily schedule looks like in your building?
Paige: Yep. We are a 50/50 to way immersion Spanish and English program. I have a teaching partner that I teach with, and she speaks Spanish and I speak and teach an English. And we have two classes between the two of us. In the morning, I have one group and when I’m teaching them English, the other group is learning in Spanish, and then in the afternoons we switch and I have the other group to teach them in English and the group I had in the morning goes to my partner to learn Spanish.
Paige: We called our groups the caterpillars and the crickets. And each day, I teach the same thing twice to both groups. About 40% percent of our students are Spanish speaking, and then the other percent are English speakers learning to speak Spanish. It’s two-way immersion in that way.
Janet: Okay and is that the same exact setup in kindergarten as well? They see two different teachers and half the day in English and have the day in Spanish?
Paige: Yes. That’s that’s correct. And then actually this is our first year in first grade, and so next year they’ll do the same thing in second grade, and then go all the way up through fourth grade with that program.
Janet: It’s a relatively new program. It sounds like they’re adding a grade each year?
Paige: Yep. Yep. It’s just a baby program that we’re working really hard to get off the ground.
Janet: Nice and can you talk about which subjects you’re teaching in your classroom?
Paige: Yep. We worked really hard to figure out the best format of what subjects to teach and we actually go mostly off of the Biliteracy Framework by Urow and Beeman. But we have figured out that in what works best for our students is that in English, they’re getting math and literacy. I’m doing our math curriculum and then they’re getting reading, writing, and phonics through me. And then in Spanish, they’re getting another part of our math program. It’s called number corner. It’s like calendar stuff. They’re getting that in Spanish and then they’re getting science and social studies content through literacy in Spanish.
Janet: Okay, and then you guys are planning to do that, keep that the same in each grade level or will you switch off grade levels, or you’re unsure yet?
Paige: We’re not sure yet. As of now up through third grade, they’re most likely going to be getting math in English just because our state testing English. We haven’t experimented much with it. It is the same in kindergarten right now. They tried to do all of their math in English. And there was just not enough time to get all of the literacy in English as well. They decided to do part of math in Spanish in English. And so we kind of just kept that for this year, and it’s working really well so far.
Janet: Okay, and then just a logistical question I never ask someone. As the English teacher, you’re obviously speaking in English all the time. Do you speak Spanish or other …?
Paige: I speak a little bit of Spanish. I took it in high school. And at the time just wanted to get it done and over with so I didn’t have to take it in college. Hindsight’s 20/20, I wish I would have kept up with it. But I do know a little bit of Spanish. I am always trying to include Spanish, and asking my students how to say things in Spanish and so most of what I’m teaching is an English, but I’m also doing as much as I can to also incorporate the Spanish that I know and that I know my students know.
Janet: Great. And then, can you give me a little bit information about how you are doing your readers and Writers Workshop in your classroom?
Paige: Yep. This has been a struggle all year trying to figure this out and I feel like I finally have figured it out. My school is lucky enough to have a teacher’s college. I don’t know what they call it, staff developer comes to our school. And so I’ve been working closely with our staff developer, Dr. Katie King to try to figure out the best way to do this because ultimately, teachers college and reading and writing Workshop, they should have 60 Minutes of reading a day, and 45 to 60 minutes of writing, plus 20 minutes of phonics. And with a regular first-grade classroom, that was fine and it worked out. But with my Spanish or with the Dual language program, I literally have two hours to get in literacy and math. It was a struggle but I’ve come to figure out that I am doing both reading and writing Workshop every day. I debated about going part doing reading for a week and then doing writing so they had the full time but I really wanted to be able to get in both of those subjects every day.
Paige: And so each day is half an hour of reading workshop, and then about half an hour of writing Workshop. So are you familiar with reading and writing Workshop in the teacher’s college at all?
Janet: I’ve used both the readers and Writers Workshop, yes, in the classroom as a first-grade teacher.
Paige: Awesome. I’ve actually been to New York three times to teachers college to be trained with Lucy Calkins.
Janet: Oh, wow.
Paige: Yeah. I’m a huge component of it and I really wanted it to work with our dual language program. So it’s like, I said, has been a struggle, trying to figure out how to do it all, but I finally feel like I’ve done it. So with the half hour of reading, I keep my mini-lessons really mini, about five to seven minutes. And then they have about 15 to 20 minutes of independent reading time, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. And then I do a mid Workshop share in there. I get in my … Or mid Workshop teaching point. And then I also get in there a share at the end. During that 15 to 20 minutes, I am either conferencing or meeting with the guided reading group. And then Tuesday, Thursdays, they’re doing partner reading.
Paige: So at this level in first grade, it’s so important for them to talk about what they reading as well. And I really wanted to make sure because, in the reading workshop, they suggest that your partner read every day, and there was no way I was going to get that in with only half an hour. So I figured out to do or have worked with my schedule to do partner reading Tuesdays and Thursdays so that they can still get that and learn how to partner read and learn how to talk about texts, and we’re digging into nonfiction and it’s so important for them to be able to share with their learning and so during its again it’s a five to seven-minute mini-lesson. I’m getting in my mid Workshop teaching point. I’m getting in a share. But then the partner time, I’m either doing partner conferences or again pulling a guided reading group with a group of partners to also get in that instructional small group work as well.
Janet: For the conferencing, have you found that you’re pulling based on skills? Are you doing small groups, or one at a time or what have been the best …
Paige: Yes, so for the guided reading, I’m only pulling the kids who I feel are either right at or below grade level. The ones who are below grade level, I’m definitely doing guided reading groups with them. And then those ones who are either right at or above, depending on the skill that I’m teaching, or I want them to be working on, I have been doing some guided reading but then also just some skill-based groups, strategy groups. And then the conferencing is typical with my higher readers. I’m trying to … Well, I’m not trying. I get to them and do a one-on-one conference, and kind of give them their own skill or focus that I want them to be working on.
Paige: I do the guided reading, I do the strategy groups. I do just the one-on-one or partner conferencing. I kind of try to get it all, and then I try to get to everybody at least once in a three-day period, and then the friends who are below level I get to them more often.
Janet: Okay, perfect. And how large are your class sizes?
Paige: Yep. So my school is a … It’s called AGR. And of course, I’m not going to remember what it means achievement guarantee in education or something, but it means that we get funding from the state to require that our classes are under 18.
Janet: Oh, nice.
Paige: Yep, so we have low-class sizes. And so one group is 18 kids and then the other group just how we’ve lost a couple in it. We’re down to 15. So I’m really lucky that our class sizes are pretty low. So that’s how I get to everybody and three-to-four-day period.
Janet: Yeah, well lower class sizes is so great in those lower the K-12 range so you can help build those strong literacy skill level.
Paige: Yeah, it is. And they’ve proven with so much research that the smaller class sizes make a huge difference in any grade. We have to be up to … Up to third grade, we have to be under 18, but even in our fourth grade, they try to keep them low just because we have a lot of free and reduced lunch students and just trying to make sure that everybody gets what they need.
Janet: Exactly. Now, can you tell me a little bit … You did say you were having conferring someone from a university?
Paige: Yep. So Units of Study by Lucy Calkins, she all of her work out teachers college, at Columbia University in New York City, and that’s where I’ve gone to train. But our school district has worked with teachers college and a staff developer from Lucy Calkins program Teachers College the reading and writing work … What is it called? Reading and writing … Or Teachers College reading and writing project, I think. But we have a step developer, Dr. Katie King, who is through them, she comes out once a month to work with us. So we do like a learning lab. We have a quick little pre-brief before a lesson.
Paige: She goes into one of our classrooms and teaches a lesson and then we have a debrief and kind of talk about things that we noticed and things that she really wants us to focus on and it’s like a little mini professional development once a month with a staff developer from Teachers College.
Janet: That sounds very helpful.
Paige: Yeah, it’s amazing and it’s been great to learn from them in our own classrooms.
Janet: Now within your building do you get time to collaborate or plan with your Spanish-speaking teammate?
Paige: Yep. So the way our school works, we’re really lucky that our whole first-grade team has shared specialist time. So every day we have an hour where our kids go to specials at the same time and it rotates between all the specials but we have a set our of time where we have shared planning time. So we were we meet as a first grade PLC once a week, but then my partner and I are constantly meeting during that time. We also need before school, at lunch after school, to talk about our kids. So yes, during the day we have an hour. But we’re constantly meeting outside of outside the school day as well. That’s one thing I’ve found that I really like about the dual language program is the partnership that I have with my Spanish-speaking partner. She’s amazing and has so much knowledge and we work really well together, but just the ability to talk with somebody else about our students, and it’s been really great.
Janet: Yeah, sometimes as a classroom teacher, you feel like you’re lost and with those 20 or 25 students and you have really no one to ideas off of or yeah in contrast, but this way you can see, “Well, now Johnny is doing something in your classroom and you can check if he’s doing the same and your partner’s classroom or …”
Paige: Yeah. Yeah. It’s been really great being able to do that and talk about the kids together and plan things together. Her curriculum, we’ve created all of it together since she’s not doing … The only curriculum she has as our math curriculum, the number corner, that’s in Spanish kind of. But the rest of the curriculum we’ve created our units, are science and social studies units and so we’ve created those together. So it’s been nice to be able to do that as well together.
Janet: That’s great that you’re able to collaborate. Now, as being or teaching in a new school with a new program, have you found any challenges about having a new dual language program in your school?
Paige: Yeah. I think with any change in school there’s issues or there’s concerns or problems. It’s the thing that we’ve worked really hard at is just getting everybody kind of onboard and why we’ve been doing the dual language program. When you look down and into high school and higher up through our higher up through our district and our system, a lot of the students who are dropping out or who are becoming incarcerated or who are not finishing school are a lot of our Spanish-speaking students, unfortunately.
Paige: And so we were trying to figure out as a district what we could do to support these learners and help them be more successful and one of the things that came up was a dual language program and there’s a lot of research that if you’re supporting these students both in English and then in Spanish to they have a much higher chance of actually graduating high school and then going on to higher education and so we are we’re trying it out and we’re going full Speed ahead to try to support our Spanish-speaking families and our students that’s Spanish.
Paige: But the one thing that has been hard as not everybody always agrees with that, and not necessarily disagrees but just doesn’t see the importance of it or doesn’t know why we’re doing it. And so, one thing that we’ve worked really hard on as a two-way immersion team is just kind of sharing our knowledge and making sure that everybody kind of understands why we’re doing it and what we’re doing and so that’s one of our focuses as a team and it hasn’t always been easy, but any change in any school is going to be difficult.
Janet: And is this a strand program? Are you within a school that already exists or is this a standalone building?
Paige: Yep, so we’re in a school that already exists. We are ultimately at the end … When it goes up to fourth grade half of our classes in classrooms will be part of the two-way immersion class to a measurement project or program. So we have four sections in kindergarten through fourth grade and right now in kindergarten, we have half of them. Two of them are part of the two-way immersion program same in first and then it’ll go all the way up. So, in the end, half of our students, half of our school will be part of the program.
Janet: Okay, and then does the school district have a plan or do they already continue that immersion or dual language programming into middle school and high school or are they just stopping it at fourth grade?
Paige: Yep, So the plan is to continue it up into our middle school or Elementary School K4 and then our middle schools go 5, 8 and then high schools 9 through 12, but once they get into fifth grade, they’re looking to hire some English … Sorry, more Spanish teachers to be able to continue it through high school.
Janet: So they deliver content like social studies or in literacy, but in Spanish.
Paige: Exactly. Yep, so it will be continued that’s kind of off in the distance.
Janet: Yeah. It’s on the radar but not there yet.
Paige: Right.
Janet: Perfect. So I think you did express to me that in the past you had some struggles with transitions and you overcame that can you share a bit about that with our audience?
Paige: Sure. So I feel like transitions, in general, are always just kind of difficult because you’re trying to give a million directions and the kids are kind of loud and so I feel like throughout my whole teaching career. I said I’ve been teaching 13 years. I’m always trying to get better at something and with the very small amount of time that I have with each class. I really had to hone in on transitions and not let them get to be too long. So I was reading around and searching Pinterest and Instagram and Facebook for ideas. And one thing that has really worked for me is music.
Paige: So for example, when we’re getting ready for readers workshop, whatever I’m doing before I say, “Okay, we’re going to get ready to read,” and then I turn on a song and it’s this read a book song that I have. I don’t even know where I found it, but it’s called read a book and they have a minute and a half or almost two minutes to go to their reading spot and get ready to read. So with the transitions and using music the song encompasses, five or six steps that they have to do. But then I’m not having to give them those directions. They know when the song plays and I say, “Let’s get ready to read.” They know those five things and then they’re back on the carpet with their book by the time my music is over.
Paige: So, when they get ready to read they’re putting out there reading mat, they’re making their plan for their books and putting those in a pile, that they’re getting out a strategy bookmark that keeps the sticky notes of what they’re working on in, they getting out a chart ring of things that I wanted them to have it there stop for reading. It’s five or six things but it’s at the beginning of the year. We really had to teach what it looked like to do this and then now that we’re almost halfway through the year I don’t even have to explain. I’m not yelling over them to make sure they’re doing this.
Paige: They automatically know what it looks like to do this and then by the time the song is over there on the carpet ready for the mini-lesson. Some other times when I have this is when we’re cleaning up for reading after I’ve done doing a guided reading group or conferring. I play the song. It’s an ABC song. They know their job is to clean up put everything away. Make sure everything is in their book bag and be on the carpet by the time my music is up. So it’s like a step or it’s a set of directions that we worked on really hard in the beginning of the year. But then they know with the music that they have that amount of time to do it.
Paige: So I felt like it just really like it tightened our transitions. I picked songs that I knew would be long enough for them to be able to do it but also short enough where we weren’t sitting there waiting extra time for the song to be done.
Janet: It’s a fun way to, I guess, include music in the class and those kids that are always kind of the slower ones who don’t like transition, who find it difficult. I’m sure they’re always like, oh, they know the end of the song is coming and they quickly do what they’re supposed to.
Paige: Yep. And those that are on the carpet, quickly, there’s always those ones who do everything really fast, they’re sitting on the carpet and they’re kind of singing along or doing the motions that we have for the song and yeah, music is really important to me. I grew up through music and was in band all through college and so just being able to include music and my classroom has been awesome and it’s really kind of shortened our transitions. And like I said, I’m not yelling over them to do this.
Paige: I’m not trying to have them do 12 different things that are new, it’s one expect or a set of expectations that is done in the amount of the music. So other things that we have at the end of the day, I have a song called, we’re great, to put their stuff away and clean up the classroom and then we have one that’s getting ready for lunch. And then we have one that’s after morning tubs when time to clean up from morning tabs, and we go into our morning meeting. And so we have probably six or seven different songs that we use for transitions that they love and they’re always like Mrs. Bessick. Don’t forget the cleaning up song. Don’t forget the ready on the carpet song. The love …
Janet: So they call you out when you forget about it?
Paige: Oh, yeah, they love them and they need them I think just as much as I need them.
Janet: And it’s helpful. It sounds like with you having a different song for each time. I think lots of teachers get stuck or they feel comfortable with counting down from ten or clap. If you hear me and they kind of get stuck and eventually, those transitions or those attention getters and might not work as well with their students.
Paige: Yeah, and I still do eyes on me in five, four, three, but it really makes them accountable because as the music’s going down they go to help somebody clean up. So that person can be on the carpet by the time they’re done or if somebody needs help doing something or I don’t know, it just makes them more accountable and more responsible for the work that they have to do during the transitions because I mean, you think about a transition, it’s clean up, its do this. It’s do this, get ready. It’s it encompasses a lot of things and so for them to know and just kind of be more responsible for it really has worked really well in my classroom.
Janet: All right, and then can you give any advice or tips for any new teachers out there or student teachers that are just finishing up and getting their teachers license does anything come into your brain?
Paige: Yeah. I mean, I think I would say do it works for you and find what works for you. I think one thing as a teacher that I love so much is that every year is a new time to start over. If something doesn’t … you really don’t like how you were doing something last year you can do it differently. And so just really finding what works for you and being able to try some things out and maybe tweak things that you see. I’m big on Instagram and I love all of the stories and the pictures and things that people show but it can get overwhelming thinking, “Oh my gosh. I’m not that good.” Or, “Oh my gosh. I have no idea how to do this.”
Paige: Take what you can and really, focus on maybe one or two things that you want to get really good at but then just kind of let everything else go it’ll come with time. And I think each year, I’m getting better at something and doing something differently. And so just maybe pick a couple things to focus on and work really hard on those the first couple of years and then you can add things as you go. And that also, your classroom doesn’t have to be Pinterest worthy your kids are going to love it no matter what.
Paige: And then I think one other thing that I really, really rely on our visuals and making sure that the kids know the expectations and that there’s a visual or a picture that they can look at to understand what the expectations are. So whether that’s a picture of a girl or a boy sitting with a respectful body on the carpet and you go over you just show it when you’re on the carpet or ask a visual schedule so the kids know what’s coming up after you do lunch or after you have recessed or whatever. Visuals can really make students a lot more independent in the classroom and so being able to use those as well. I think is really important.
Janet: And it’s especially helpful for those language learners. The ones that are learning English or the ones in your partner’s classroom that are learning Spanish because they might not understand the word you’re saying but seeing that visual they can conceptualize what is happening or what you want.
Paige: Yep, my partner and I have actually created a lot of visuals. So for example, for like whiz level charts, our school uses a 0 through 3 voice level. So zero is no talking and three is like yelling outside at recess type of ways. And my partner and I have made charts that look the exact same, have the same clip art, have the same colors, have the same finds but are just in English and Spanish so that if they know it in English, then they go over to Spanish and all those are the words that were the same in English, but now they’re in Spanish and just the visuals are the same has really helped, but that also I can have the Spanish and English up as needed. So we’ve done that for like our independent reading anchor chart, how to do that our schedule, some other things are voice levels, like I said, just so that they’re staying consistent between both of our rooms. That’s been really helpful for our students this year.
Janet: And then within first grade, do you have any plan time within your schedule for bridging or not yet or…?
Paige: Yep. As we need to bridge we’d kind of just take away other things during that time. So we’ve purchased a couple times this year. Our first unit was school helpers and where the people in our school help. So it was the secretary answers the phone in the office and the custodian cleans the lunch room and those kinds of things and so we took time out of whatever we’re doing that week and took a couple of days to bridge together as a whole group, but then I often go back and do some sort of extension activity in my room. And again, most recently it’s been reading … Or sorry writing activities. And so I’ve stopped doing whatever writing less or writing unit. I’m doing and done bridging. So as we need to do it, we just make time for it. We don’t have a specific time every day in our schedule. It’s more of at the end of units when we need to, we fit it in.
Janet: Okay. Well, thanks that’s an idea. I think now it’s a new concept for lots of schools or they’re just trying to figure out where would I work it in or how it looks like in our program.
Paige: Yeah. Yeah, and like we’ve been doing trial and error and we have still kind of been figuring out how to do it ourselves. But I think just trying to figure out what works for you and your students is ultimately most beneficial. You’re not going to be able to do the same way that everybody else does and it might not work for you or your student. And so just again, in being able to really kind of just try things out and see what works for you.
Janet: Perfect. So thank you so much for coming on to the podcast. Where can our listeners connect with you online?
Paige: Yep. So I have a Blog you can connect there it’s, www.ourelementarylives.com and I also have a Teachers Pay Teacher’s store and the store name is just Paige[] so you can search Paige[]. It says our elementary lives on there as well. You can find me there and then I’m on all the social media too, but my blog and my Teachers Pay Teacher’s store is probably where you’ll be able to find me the most.
Janet: Perfect. I will put those links in the show notes.
Paige: Awesome.
Janet: Thanks for coming on.
Paige: Yeah. Thank you so much. This was great.
Janet: Thank you for listening to this episode. If you are enjoying this podcast, please share it with a friend or colleague. I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Paige and got some ideas that you can use in your classroom. Do you have more tips and optimizing time and your dual language classroom schedule? Or do you have tips on how to incorporate effective transitions in your bilingual class? Let us know. Have a great week. See you next Thursday. Bye.
Janet: Thanks for tuning in. If you are a busy bilingual profane, love to hear from you. Head over to bilingualprofe.com to connect with other bilingual educators just like you see you next time. Bye. Bye.

Links and Resources Mentioned on Today’s Show:

Biliteracy Framework by Urow and Beeman
Units of Study by Lucy Calkins 
Teachers College at Columbia University 
Bridges Math/Number Corner
Paige’s website/blog
Paige’s TPT Store
Paige on Instagram

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