Creating a Planning Process that Meets ELLs' Needs: A Staff Development Teacher's Perspective (Part 2)

This blog post is the second in a three-part series about the steps one elementary school took to increase collaboration between ESOL teachers and content teachers in order to better meet the language needs of ELLs in their school during the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. In the first post in this series, Jennifer Connors, the principal of Rolling Terrace Elementary School, described why the school made the move towards greater collaboration and how they got started. In this post, Kerri Hennelly, a staff development teacher at the highly diverse Rolling Terrace (a school that has approximately 60% ESOL students), explains why the previous planning process wasn't working and the new collaborative planning process that the school now uses.

Other posts in this series:

Creating a New Planning Process

Previous Planning Meetings

In the past, our school district has used marking period planning meetings for teacher planning, which are described by Montgomery County Public Schools as "a time for teachers to do long-range planning to see what the students need to know and be able to do by the end of the marking period." Before we changed our process, each teacher on the grade level team was responsible for looking at a subject area in the curriculum and presenting to the other teachers what each week looked like for the entire marking period.

The teachers at Rolling Terrace saw these meetings as busy work. There was no real place to record the information to be used in the future, and there was no time for a discussion of our students' needs. Teachers would leave the meetings with the understanding of what was happening during each week of the marking period but never truly grasped what the ELLs needed to know and be able to do. Plus, once the meeting was finished and the marking period began, teachers would forget most of the discussion and have to start the planning all over again. It was time-consuming work that wasn't having a significant positive impact on teachers or students.

Making the Change

As Jennifer stated in her post, change was necessary. Teachers needed time to focus on what all students and ELLs in particular truly needed to know and be able to do at the end of each marking period. Also, we wanted to make sure we were having discussions about how Maryland's College and Career-Ready Standards (which incorporate the CCSS) and objectives needed to be scaffolded and adapted for mastery by all our students.

At the end of last year, Jennifer Connors, my principal, and I saw a presentation of how another school used posters to map out the curriculum. Missy Salvesen, our reading specialist, Jennifer, and I visited this school to talk to their staff development teacher and reading specialist. It was the beginning of a great process and subsequent change to marking period meetings. However, we also realized that the process we observed was missing strategies for scaffolding content to meet the needs of our student population. We met to discuss how we could adapt their process to better meet our ELLs' needs. The main change that we made to our own weekly planning template posters included adding a section for ESOL at the bottom of the posters so that we could keep our students' needs at the forefront of every discussion. Our process was born….

The Planning Posters

Each poster includes two weeks of lessons, so every subject has five posters per ten-week marking period.  Before each actual marking period meeting, I prepare the indicators. An example of an indicator from Grade 2, marking period 2 for reading is "ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when why and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text."

They are typed up and color coded by measurement topics. Measurement topics are the areas that we assess for each subject. For example, operations and algebraic thinking is a measurement topic for math, and reading informational text is a measurement topic for reading.


The next step is adding the sticky notes. Each sticky note has a header and a check for understanding of one of the sample lessons for the week. The header is the mastery objective which aligns to an indicator. So for the indicator of ask and answer questions above, the header in the sample lesson is "Answer questions such as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text" while the check for understanding is "When students read instructional level text, notethe extent to which each student is able to answer questions such as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text." In this instance the indicator of ask and answer questions is scaffolded to just answer questions in this sample lesson.

Then, I add the indicators on to the two weeks covered in the poster and make connections if the indicator is seen in more than one week. Finally, the last step is gluing the gray section at the bottom that is specifically for ESOL scaffolds such as sentence starters and academic language. For the example above of ask and answer questions, the ESOL scaffolds brainstormed on the poster were question anchor chart and text evidence structures.  Now the preparation is done and we are ready to start the meetings.


The Planning Process

Below is the study process that we developed for our meetings:

Teams conduct this process in different ways according to what works best for them. Some grade levels have decided they want to take all the meeting time for the discussion about the content and scaffolds, so they read the weeks' lessons ahead of time. Then, they come to the meeting ready to put up their sticky notes and have their discussions. Other teams have decided that they want to all write on the posters when they are ready, and have discussions about each week without having to worry about taking more time to write on the poster during the discussion. The only additional writing might be ideas and notes from the discussion.

The Results and Next Steps

The results are amazing. Teachers are not only thinking about the indicators and sample lessons but also thinking about the strategies and scaffolds needed to make our ELL students successful with these indicators and sample lessons. An opportunity for ESOL teachers to voice their ideas is built in to the planning process, and general education teachers have learned the importance of scaffolding instruction even when the ESOL teacher is not in the classroom.

Every time I go through this process, I think of something else I can improve upon. Our next step, since the marking period planning process is going well, is to connect this process to the weekly collaborative meetings. We want to make sure teachers are using the posters and notes during their weekly planning meetings so that they are not doing double the work. I am also in the process of converting the posters with indicators and sticky notes into a Google Doc that can be shared with the entire team and viewed anywhere. This will not only make the access to the document more instant for teachers, it will also be more green which is important since we are a Green School.


In this blog post, Kerri Hennelly explained the collaborative planning process that they use at Rolling Terrace. We would love to hear any questions you have about this process or effective strategies for collaborative planning that you use at your school. In the third blog post in this series, we will hear about this collaborative process from the perspective of Tessa Arevalo, an ESOL teacher at Rolling Terrace Elementary School.

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