Teach and tech: Grant funds pilot program at Hall Fletcher Elementary

In a fourth-grade classroom at Hall Fletcher Elementary, two boys are huddled around the pint-sized table they use as their desk. One is reading from Page 72, problem No. 4, in his math book. As the pair work through the problem, the second boy chronicles the process, recording each step on an iPad cradled in his hands.

“I’m always asking the kids how many teachers are in the room,” says Vince Floriani, English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Hall Fletcher. “They’ll say 19 — because they are the teachers now.”

If you’ve ever wondered how grant funds are applied in classrooms, this is a prime example: These fourth-graders are part of a pilot program that launched at Hall Fletcher earlier this year, backed by a grant from the Asheville City Schools Foundation. The grant helped Floriani and fourth-grade teacher Brian Randall incorporate a blend of technology and a teaching model called Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP).

SIOP aims to help all students better understand content and build their English language skills through methods that are incorporated into the regular lesson. The method begins with having the students explain how they are working through their lessons — which is where the technology comes in.

“The whole idea with the iPads is that they’re a seamless part of the day,” says Randall. “The students use them to show how they’re thinking.

“There’s always a language and a content objective,” Randall continues. “So if I’m asked to subtract 48 from 100, it’s not just that I know how to solve the problem; it’s that I can explain how I found the difference between a two-digit and a three-digit number.”

If students can explain how they solve problems or can repeat that process back to classmates, they gain a deeper understanding of the material, he explains. The process doesn’t just apply to math — in biology class, for example, Randall’s students were asked not just to name a bone, but to explain how that bone functions with the rest of the body. The students then created audio slideshow presentations on their iPads to show they had mastered the material.

Beyond comprehension, the second goal of SIOP is to have students explain their thought processes using academic language. Instead of using phrases such as “How much is left?” or “What do I get when I combine?” students will start asking about “differences” and “sums.” Though all the students in Randall’s class speak English, academic vocabulary such as “function,” “theme,” “capacity“ or “hypothesis” may be confusing to any student, even native speakers. But Floriani says understanding how to use academic language is crucial to a student’s performance in school.

“We think that just because we all speak English, that everyone understands us,” Floriani says. “But we use a lot of idioms, vocabulary, concepts that are harder to understand, even if you were born here.”

Floriani says a further adoption of the SIOP method will train teachers to be sensitive to how English language learners interact with the language, to think about the pacing of their speech or the incorporation of visual elements as ways to increase comprehension of the material.

As for the technology aspect, Randall says the students had no problem incorporating the iPads into their daily routine.

“The kids knew how to use the iPads right away,” Randall says. “I always joke that I show them the arrow, they show me how to change its color.”

For more information about SIOP, go to siop.pearson.com.

To learn more about the Asheville City Schools Foundation, go to acsf.org.

About Carrie Eidson
Multimedia journalist and Green Scene editor at Mountain Xpress. Part-time Twitterer @mxenv but also reachable at ceidson@mountainx.com. Follow me @carrieeidson

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