By Linda Smetana, Dana L. Grisham, Roya Q. Scales, and Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Presentation from The California Council of Teacher Educators, Kona Kai Resort, October 20, 2017

A team of researchers from nine different universities pooled their resources to conduct a longitudinal study around the central questions: What tends to stick with teachers as they move from preservice course and fieldwork through student teaching and into their first year as a teacher? How might their trajectories toward becoming a professional teacher differ depending on the contexts of university, cooperating teacher, and first year teaching? Using qualitative and quantitative methods, the researchers tracked participants from their preservice days at one of nine universities across the United States to their first year of teaching.  Findings include the following: University teacher preparation programs often demonstrated a clear vision of their programs, but standards were superimposed later as they were developed or revised. Preservice candidates grasped the more visible aspects of teaching literacy (e.g., having classroom libraries, understanding top down and bottom up approaches to learning to read) but had difficulty understanding the diversity represented in the classes they would teach and their roles as professionals.

Findings  indicated that student teachers often struggled to merge their knowledge of pedagogy and practice learned at the university with the approaches expected at the school or by the cooperating teacher. Those student teachers who were most successful had participated in preparation programs with clearly articulated signature aspects and were given some autonomy with useful feedback in their student teaching roles.

In the final phase of the study, researchers noted that first year teachers employed a variety of strategies as they attempted to meld their teaching experiences and knowledge with the new teaching context.  At times, the new teachers felt they were valued and treated as emerging professionals, but some new teachers felt constrained by external factors such as the expectation to adhere to pacing guides or to teach in a certain way because that is how it was done at that particular school.

View a larger version of the poster, here. 

CCTE Presentation thumbnail

CCTE Poster Presentation, October 20, 2017

Why It Matters

A persistent problem in teacher education arises when student teachers and novice teachers encounter the specifics of, what is for them, a new teaching context.  As in many other professions, the opportunity to observe during fieldwork, engage in teaching environments in supervised settings that permit increasing autonomy for decision making, and multiple exposures to many teaching contexts (e.g., demographics, grade levels) has potential to improve the likelihood of the new teacher’s success. And with her success follows the success of the students in deep and meaningful learning. The longitudinal study presented here describes the paths participating teachers take toward becoming a professional and continuing to develop as one, as well.  The implication for teacher educators is the importance of making visible the highly variable environments of school and the role novice teachers can play in learning from that environment and helping to shape the context of teaching in that particular setting as well.

Our Inquiry

Matching school practices with what teacher preparation programs impart is a difficult, perhaps impossible task.  Rather, the challenge teacher educators face is one of preparing future teachers such that they view themselves as competent professionals capable of learning from many contexts while maintaining effective classroom environments.  How might (or how do) teacher preparation programs and faculty foster the hunger for learning and for adaptability that characterizes successful professionals in the schools?

Theoretical frameworks.

Two theoretical frameworks were employed as the researchers conducted analysis on the complete data set from this three-year study.  To describe the teacher preparation programs and the school contexts for student and novice teaching, the researchers relied on complexity theory (e.g., Spiro, Feltovich, & Coulson, 1996). Complexity theory posits that complex concepts (and school contexts as we have envisioned them here) resist simplification; that is, teaching requires a capacity for working with ever-changing variables. As a result, oversimplification of what those environments entail, or are perceived to entail, may lead future teachers to view their chosen profession in ways that lead to ossification and unwillingness to change or adapt.

The researchers also viewed the work that future teachers (inclusive of preservice teachers, student teachers, and novice teachers) through the lens of activity theory (e.g., Engstrom, 1999). For example, student teachers often felt they must work quietly without advertising their approach to teaching because more senior teachers tended to enforce structures characteristic of their particular school. The actions of these teachers changed how they viewed themselves and how they were perceived by others as professionals or as members of the teaching community. Activity theory suggests conceptualizing mediation in human action in any given context. Mediated action (Gonzalez, Moll & Amanti, 2005) is the notion that individuals’ learning and development is forged in goal-directed activities, and such action is mediated by the tools, symbols, or social interactions associated with that activity (e.g., Wertsch, 2010; Wertsch & Rupert, 1993). These tools, symbols, or social interactions, sometimes called mediational means, influence and shape human learning and development. When considering mediated activity, we note that, “an inherent property of mediational means is that they are culturally, historically, and institutionally situated” (Wertsch, 1993, p. 230). Therefore, in schools, mediating means may be instrumental (e.g., schedules, assessment tools, instructional materials), social (e.g., cultural practices, interactions with others, policies, procedures), or semiotic (e.g., language systems, mathematics).  Our study examined a range of contextual features in schools, mediational means that shaped future teachers’ actions.


Initial work on this study included participants as preservice teachers from entire cohorts of teacher preparation candidates to more narrowly selected participants who had moved from preservice candidacy to student teaching. For logistical and practical reasons, the researchers could not track every member of the initial cohorts of preservice teachers.  From the initial cohorts, teachers in their first year of teaching were selected via convenience sampling for further participation.

Data collection and analysis.

Data collection included observation data, interview data from cooperating teachers, future teachers, and teacher preparation faculty, survey data (see, Henk, et al, 2000.), syllabi collected from the teacher preparation program, and student achievement data. More than 1100 distinct files comprise the data set.

During phase one, as researchers gathered data regarding teacher preparation programs, the individual institutions were treated as cases (Yin, 2009). In phase two (student teaching) and phase three (first year or novice teachers), the individual participants became the focus of the research and their cases informed cross-case analysis (Stake, 2006). Following the activity theory theoretical frame, researchers relied primarily on verbs (Saldaña, 2013) as an initial approach to coding, particularly in phases two and three where student and novice teacher actions were a particular focus of the inquiry.

Analysis was always undertaken using a two-step process to avoid halo effects and researcher bias . Typically, there were two stages of analysis: case-level and cross-case analysis.  In the first stage, researchers participated directly in preparing a case study summary for each candidate from their teacher preparation program. During the second stage, research teams conducted several rounds of cross-case analysis with all researchers reviewing, refining, and confirming results of these analyses.


In phase one, university teacher preparation programs often demonstrated a clear vision of their programs, but standards were superimposed later as they were developed or revised. More important, there was typically a high degree of congruence between what teacher educators intended to teach and what candidates believed they learned (TERSG). Preservice candidates grasped the visible aspects of teaching literacy (e.g., having classroom libraries, understanding top down and bottom up approaches to learning to read), but they had more difficulty understanding the diversity represented in the classes they would teach and their roles as professionals.

Phase two (student teaching) findings indicated that student teachers often struggled to merge their knowledge of pedagogy and practice learned at the university with the approaches expected at the school or by the cooperating teacher. Those student teachers who were most successful had participated in preparation programs with clearly articulated signature aspects and were given some autonomy with useful feedback in their student teaching roles.

In the final phase of the study, researchers noted that first year teachers employed a variety of strategies as they attempted to meld their teaching experiences and knowledge with the new teaching context.  At times, the new teachers felt they were valued and treated as emerging professionals, but some new teachers felt constrained by external constraints such as the expectation to adhere to pacing guides or to teach in a certain way because that is how it was done at that particular school.


Increasing the experiences preservice teachers have in a variety of teaching contexts in gradually released (see Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) experiences may serve to better prepare future teachers for work in school contexts that may not represent close matches to the ideals they encounter during preparation course and fieldwork.  Similarly, planning and executing such experiences may simultaneously promote greater communication between university teacher preparation faculty and the schools where their future teachers will serve.

Selected References


Creswell, J. W. & Plano Clark, V. L. (2007). Designing and conducting mixed methods research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Engeström, Y. (1999). Activity theory and individual and social transformation. In Y. Engeström, R. Miettinen, & R. L. Punamäki (Eds.), Perspectives on activity theory (pp. 19-38). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fontana, A., & Frey, J.H. (2000). The interview: From structured questions to negotiated text. In N.K. Denzin & Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed.) (pp. 645-675). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Gonzales, N., Moll, L .C., & Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practice in households, communities, and classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Henk, B., Moore, J. C., Marinak, B. A., & Tomasetti, B. W. (2000). A reading lesson observation framework for elementary teachers, principals, and literacy supervisors. The Reading Teacher, 53(5), 358-369.

Pearson, P. D. & Gallagher, M. (1983.) The instruction of reading comprehension.  Contemporary Education Psychology, 8, 317-344.

Saldaña, J. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Spiro, R. (2004). Principled pluralism for adaptive flexibility in teaching and learning to read. In R. B. Ruddell & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 654-659). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Stake, R. E. (2006). Multiple case study analysis. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Wertsch, J. V., ed. (1985).  Culture, communication, and cognition: Vygotskian perspectives.  New York:  Cambridge University Press.

Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research: Design and methods (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


What is Translanguaging? Building on the Strengths of Spanish-speaking Children

Dana L. Grisham, Professor (Retired), California State University



Guest Blogger, Shira Lubliner, Professor, California State University, East Bay (Hayward)


We have researched and written on Cognate Strategy Instruction (CSI) over the past decade, amassing a compelling argument for the use of CSI with Spanish-speaking Emergent Bilinguals (EBs)(Lubliner & Grisham, 2017; Lubliner & Grisham, 2015; Lubliner & Grisham, 2012; Lubliner & Hiebert, 2011, Lubliner & Grisham, 2008). In this blog post, we define translanguaging and we examine the role it plays in CSI.


The Latino student population in our schools continues to grow faster than any other group and test scores reflect the challenges these students face in learning academic English (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). Grouping students for English Language Development (ELD) instruction is the current approach to teach English as a second language, but poor outcomes for ELD instruction have led to the need for a different approach—our research on Cognate Strategy Instruction (CSI) (Lubliner & Grisham, 2012) is one promising approach.

Vocabulary is central to language acquisition, reading comprehension, and all forms of academic achievement (Castek, Dalton, & Grisham, 2012). Building the English vocabulary of Spanish-speaking emergent bilingual students (EBS) is a key factor in improving academic outcomes.

Spanish-speaking students may acquire a wide range of academic vocabulary words from 10,000- 15,000 cognates with shared meaning in Spanish and English (Lubliner & Hiebert, 2011). Despite the potential benefits of cognate instruction, two pervasive myths undermine teacher willingness to engage in this instruction: 1) a deficit theory that suggests that Spanish-speaking students do not know challenging vocabulary in either Spanish or English, 2) A “false friends” belief that so-called false cognates are too prevalent for the strategy to be effective. Our research has established that neither of these myths are true (Lubliner & Grisham, in process).

Lubliner and Hiebert (2011) analyzed the Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000) and determined that more than 70% of the headwords were cognates. Cognates were sorted by frequency and a majority of cognates in Spanish are more common than corresponding words in English. For example, “edifice” is part of academic English, while “edificio” in Spanish is as commonly used as “building” is in English. The analysis suggested that Spanish-speaking EBS have a “cognate advantage” in learning academic English.

In our research, we found that cognates are helpful in identifying and using academic language. Academic language is different from ordinary spoken English because it is the abstract language of ideas and like awareness of cognates, academic language needs to be taught to students (Scarcella, 2003). Zwiers (2008) defined academic English as “the set of words, grammar, and organizational strategies used to describe complex ideas, higher-order thinking processes, and abstract concepts” (p.20). Students begin school with a fund of convesational language from their home culture, but in school they begin to use another language—that of learning in general and specialized fields. Zwiers refers to these new words as “bricks and mortar.” Bricks are the content specific vocabulary, like plate tectonics, while mortar are the general utility academic words, like analyze, define, summarize. In terms of vocabulary, we might compare this to Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s (2002) vocabulary Tiers:

Tier 1: spoken, conversational words, like family, home, friends, etc. These are words that most English-speaking students already know and do not need to be taught.

Tier 2: words and terms useful across contexts—the “mortar” words such as analyze, summarize, define, or explain. These are words that many English-speaking students do not know and need to be taught.

Tier 3: words that are “bricks” or content specific, like photosynthesis. These are words that most students do not know and need to be taught as part of content-related instruction.

Although Tier 2 and Tier 3 words are considered more challenging for English-speaking students, this may not be the case for Spanish-speaking EBs. Spanish-speakers are more likely to know Tier 2 and Tier 3 words that are often everyday words in Spanish. For example, the academic (Tier 2) word construct is quite rare in English, with a frequency ranking of 6398. However, the cognate construir is very common in Spanish, with a frequency ranking of 525. Thus, we would argue that Spanish-speaking EBs are fully ready to employ their home language in the classroom, providing they have the support of teachers aware of that advantage and willing to apply translanguaging principles to their instruction.

CSI and Translanguaging

Cognate Strategy Instruction (CSI) teaches students the patterns of cognates and in our most recent work (Lubliner & Grisham, 2017), we contextualize CSI in “translanguaging,” a relatively new term in the research literature (Garcia & Wei, 2014; McSwan, 2017).

Translanguaging provides a framework for inclusive bilingualism. Translanguaging is reality-based; it is the way bilingual children and adults use a full repertoire of linguistic resources to communicate with one another. In contrast to subtractive bilingualism, translanguaging embraces all languages in a classroom in order to encourage meaningful communication between students and build on the social and cultural resources students bring to their classrooms—or “Funds of Knowledge” (Moll and colleagues, 1992). Translanguaging is a way to dignify the learner’s language and culture and requires flexibility and encouragement from the the classroom teacher.

Take for example, this scenario from a university-based teacher preparation program:

First student: ¿Qué haces este fin de semana? (What are you doing this weekend?)

Second student: Mi hermana y yo nos vamos a Santa Cruz para reunirse con nuestros primos. Ellos quieren ir a la playa por el día. ¿Que pasa contigo? (My sister and I are going to Santa Cruz to get together with our cousins. They want to go to the beach for the day. What about you?)

First student: No lo sé. Tal vez mi novio y yo simplemente pasar el rato en casa. (I don’t know. Maybe my boyfriend and I will just hang out at home.) Hey, did you finish the biology homework? That chapter was so long and boring.

Second student: It wasn’t so bad. I just skimmed the chapter and answered the questions. But I’m really scared about the test next week.

First student: Yeah, me too! ¡Mira! Simon está sonriendo contigo. Él es tan lindo. ¿Le gusta? (Look! Simon is smiling at you. He is so cute. Do you like him?)

Second student: No, no es así. No es más que un amigo. (No, not that way. He’s just a friend.) Hey Simon! What’s up? Did you finish the homework?

The young women in this example (Lubliner & Grisham, 2017, p. 2) shift seamlessly between English and Spanish—fully bilingual discourse as it happens in the real world. Teachers have traditionally been told that students’ languages needed to be kept separate and that “code switching” should be avoided. We now know that this is not true (Garcia & Wei, 2014; Guzzardo Tamargo, Mazak, & Parafito Couto, 2016). Bilingual and multilingual people possess a language repertoire that is comprised of all of the languages and dialects that they know—a heteroglossic language ideology (McSwan, 2017). Bilingual people move flexibly between languages depending on the subject they are discussing and the person to whom they are speaking. Experts in emergent bilingualism refute the idea that English is to be acquired as a second language. They believe instead, that students continue to acquire both languages simultaneously and continuously rather than in an ordinal sequence (Garcia & Wei, 2014).

We propose that as a strategy for learning English as a Second Language, the position taken by McSwan (2017) that EBs have a single linguistic repertoire, but that they have a rich and diverse “mental grammar” that may be termed a multilingual perspective on translanguaging. The objective and ultimate goal is for education to create fully bilingual and biliterate citizens.

For teachers, the question might be proposed: “Fine, but what does that mean? What does this look like in the classroom?” We would like to provide an example from our book (Lubliner & Grisham, 2017, pp. 56-57). The following lesson is based on a true story of Shira Lubliner’s grandparents’ immigrant experience.

Lesson 14. CLOZE Activity with Add/Change Cluster Cognates

Instructional Sequence:

  1. Project the following sentence on the white board and explain that it is an excerpt from a cloze (a text that has missing words that need to be filled in. “They left to escape poverty and to find __________ freedom.” Ask them to think about a word that would fit in the blank.
  2. Use the following think aloud as a basis for your instruction:

Teacher: Let’s see! What kind of word could fit in the sentence? I think that the missing words has to do with freedom. Freedom is a noun—a thing; so the missing word must be an adjective—a word that describes a noun. Here is a word bank that we’ll be using with this story (teacher projects the word bank on the whiteboard.


solution ( solución)               differences (diferencias)     different ( diferente)


customs (costumbres)          religious (religiosa)              adventure (aventura)


experience (experiencia)      finally (finalmente)             family (familia)


problem (problema)              fantastic (fantástica)           epidemic (epidemia)

Figure 1. Cognates


Students identify the adjectives (religious, fantastic, different) and then together pick the one that fits best (religious). Teacher points out that the context helped them to pick the word that fits best and eliminate the ones that don’t make sense.

  1. The text is next projected onto the white board and students are given the printed copy. Ask the students to work together, filling in the rest of the empty spaces with cognates from the word bank. Remind students to use cognates, parts of speech, and context to make sure that each word they select makes sense in the sentence.

The Great Flu Epidemic

My grandparents came to the United States from Europe in 1917. They left to escape poverty and to find _______________ freedom. Soon after they arrived, there was a terrible flu _______________ and my grandparents got very sick. My aunt was two years old at the time. (My father had not been born yet.) My grandmother was very frightened that her little girl would get sick and die. She did not speak English very well, so she used gestures to communicate with her neighbor. The neighbor wanted to help but she was afraid she would get sick, too. This was a terrible ______________. __________, they agreed on a ______________. My grandmother handed her little girl out the window to the neighbor, who took care of her until her parents recovered from the flu. My aunt wasn’t frightened. She thought it was a ____________________!

There were many _____________ between my grandparents and their neighbors. They had ______________ beliefs and ______________. But they shared a love of ______________. The flue epidemic was an ________________ my grandparents and their neighbors never forgot. They remained good friends until the day that they died.


  1. Closure: Call the class back together and go over the cloze activity (Key is in Appendix A). Students relate how they filled each blank and point out that all the words are Add/Change cognates and how that might have made the task easier. Finally, discuss the content of the story and have students relate their own experiences.
  2. Including students who speak languages other than Spanish. This is a good time to remind students who speak languages other than Spanish how the program will benefit them. Point out that Spanish is very close to Latin, the source of most academic vocabulary. As they participate in CSI activities students from diverse language backgrounds will learn Latin-based roots and word parts. This will help them acquire new Latin-based vocabulary, enabling them to better understand complex academic texts in English.
  3. Emphasize again that in your classroom, all languages and cultures are welcome. Encourage them to share words and phrases in their own languages. Explain that when students who speak languages other than Spanish incorporate their own languages into class activities they add to the linguistic richness of the class.

The Great Flu Epidemic is an American immigrant story. Nearly all students (except Native Americans) can relate to the experience of adjusting to a new country or community and have family immigration stories they would like to share. This translanguaging lesson welcomes students’ experiences, including those of students who speak only English and emergent bilingual students who speak language other than Spanish. In Lesson 16, students extend their knowledge of cognates into extended writing—working to tell their own stories or those of others they know. They may work in small groups by home language then sharing those stories with the class.


The CSI program is of particular value to students who speak Spanish due to the fact that Spanish is very close to Latin, which is the source of most academic vocabulary. However, CSI is also valuable to students who speak only English or languages other than Spanish. All students who participate in CSI activities learn Latin-based roots and word parts systematically. This will help them acquire new Latin-based vocabulary, enabling them to better understand complex academic texts in English. The sample lesson included in this blog demonstrates the principle of translanguaging—helping students ADD to their linguistic repertoires without subtracting from their home languages. Translanguaging welcomes the full range of students’ cultural and linguistic experiences into the classroom, building a more inclusive and potentially effective learning environment for all students,


Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life. New York: The Guilford Press.

Castek, J., Dalton, B. & Grisham, D. L. (2012). Using Multimedia to Support Generative Vocabulary Learning. In J. F. Baumann & E. J. Kame’enui (Eds.). Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice, 2nd Edition, (pp. 303-321). New York: Guilford.

Coxhead, 2000. Academic Word List. Retrieved: http://www.uefap.com/vocab/select/awl.htm

García, O., & Wei, L. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Guzzardo Tamargo, R.E., Mazak, C.M., & Parafita Couto, M.C. (Eds.), (2016). Spanish-English codeswitching in the Caribbean and the U.S. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D.L. (2008). The Effects of Cognate Strategy Instruction on Spanish-Speaking Students’ Cognate Identification, Vocabulary Acquisition, and Reading Comprehension. Paper presented at the 58th National Reading Conference, December 3-6, 2008, Orlando, Fla.

Lubliner, S. & Hiebert, E. (2011). An Analysis of English–Spanish Cognates as a Source of General Academic Language.  Bilingual Research Journal, 34, 1, 1-18.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D. L. (2012). Cognate Strategy Instruction: Providing Powerful Literacy Tools to Spanish-Speaking Students. In J. Fingon & S. Ulanov (Eds.), Learning from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms: Promoting Success for All Students (pp. 105-123). New York: Teachers College Press.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D. L. (2017). Translanguaging: The Key to Comprehension for Spanish-speaking Students and Their Peers. Washington, DC: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D.L. (in process). Debunking the myth of “false” cognates. To be submitted to Journal of Literacy Research, Fall 2017.

McSwan, J. (2017). A multilingual perspective on translanguaging. American Educational Research Journal, 54, 1, 167-201.

Scarcella, R. (2003). Academic English: A conceptual framework. The University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute. Technical Report 2003-1.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The Condition of Education 2015 (NCES 2015-144), English Language Learners.

Zwiers, J. (2008). Building academic language: Essential practices for content classrooms. San Francisco: J. Wiley & Sons.






Welcome to Google Hangouts for English Language Learners

Going to a conference is always a good professional development experience. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend the CATESOL Regional Conference in Southern California and attended a great session I had chosen for two reasons: (1) I am always interested in the use of technology for instructional purposes and this was a session on using Google Hangouts, and (2) as co-author of a recent book on translanguaging (Lubliner & Grisham, 2017) I love learning about ways we can serve our emergent bilingual students more effectively. The intersection was highly beneficial and I made the acquaintance of two colleagues working toward the same. The result is this invited blog (and stay tuned for one next month. I hope readers will find this useful and gain some instructional ideas from Kate and Kim! ~Dana

Google Hangouts

Difficulties presented by disengaged, shy, or unmotivated students in an English language learning environment can be detrimental to achieving learning objectives which are necessary for building student confidence in their language skills. Teachers can use multiple techniques to motivate learners, but some students, especially younger learners, do not flourish solely in a classroom setting. They crave and are distracted by the immediate gratification and acceptance they receive through the internet and social media platforms. Furthermore, beyond homework, students tend to disassociate their school life from their personal life, leaving little time for reflection or applied learning in the world beyond the classroom doors.

For younger students, who Twenge (2009) refers to as “Generation Me,” disengagement can be directly linked to the fact that they don’t solely exist in a real world setting. They learn and live very much in an online world, where they work endlessly to project idealized personas as a true extension of themselves. The implications of this technological reality for teachers is that they must not only tap into the real self students bring into the classroom, but also the digital self they work so hard to build to communicate who they are online.  Thus, by creating a space for the digital self in the learning process, teachers will find more opportunities to hold their students’ attention and promote meaningful learning. By creating an online community alongside the real world classroom community “Generation Me” students can build what Coleman (1988) refers to as social capital through negotiating meaning, sharing information, and demonstrating their own knowledge and value to their classmates. This type of communal and shared learning increases learner autonomy and authentic use of classroom knowledge inside and outside of the classroom.

This raises the question, how do we get our classrooms to straddle the worlds of digital and reality? How do we bridge the gap to effectively improve student learning? In this 3-post series, we will provide one way of addressing this question by introducing you to the multimedia communication app Google Hangouts and illustrating multiple methods of using the app to take your classroom into your students’ digital playing fields.


Classroom Management

Google Hangouts is foremost a tool for communication. As a modern messaging app, it is intuitively used by most students. Once you create a group, your students have access to their peers in a unique way that you can use to your advantage. Students quickly become engaged with this tool as it mimics the social media platforms they use outside of school.

  1. Communication
    1. Teachers can send reminders to students about homework, community events, and other opportunities for students to practice English outside of school.
    2. Students can easily ask the teacher or their classmates questions relating to course content and language learning.
    3. Students can snap and share content in and out of class by taking photos and sharing them to the group. While we encourage note-taking, a quick photo at the end of class can ensure they have the material before running to their next class.
  2. Increase Language Output
    1. Shy students come out of their shell and are able to show off their grammar expertise in this low stakes environment.
    2. Conversations go beyond classroom walls, as students interact with one another for assignments or for fun.
  3. Build Community
    1. Giving students a safe space to practice English with one another relieves the pressure from becoming “friends” on other forms of social media.
    2. Students can easily share interesting things they find with their classmates, from language practice tips to cultural nuances. Teachers can encourage sharing articles, videos, and other relevant links as appropriate to their situation.

Classroom Enhancement

Bringing students’ digital selves into the classroom is an effective way to bring their attention to a lesson. Although students are inside the classroom, it allows them direct access to the outside world, endless realia, and personal examples. The ease with which the app allows you to share and view posts builds learner autonomy by giving students an active role in building the lesson around their interests and experiences.

Warm Ups

Google Hangouts can be a useful tool to help ease students into a lesson using realia and their own interests to get them focused.

  1. Emoji Story: Put students in pairs. Have students tell the story of their previous day in emojis and post it in Hangouts. Then, have students guess their partner’s activities.
  2. Class Poetry: Going around the classroom, each student can add a line to a poem in Hangouts (this could be based around the theme of the lesson or include review points from the previous lesson). When you’re done, post the poem on Reddit.com and see how many likes it gets by the beginning of the next class. This is a great one for building camaraderie.
  3. Create a daily challenge: This can be as simple and fun as giving students 2 minutes to post the cutest baby animal picture or funniest meme they can find and voting on the best one. On the other hand, quotes, pictures, trivia questions, riddles, music, and so much more can all be used to introduce the topic of the lesson in a fun way. Sharing so much content right at the beginning of class is going to inspire conversation and activate background knowledge around a topic.

Grammar Lessons

After teaching your grammar point, students can use Google Hangouts to show their comprehension. Instead of asking students to give you verbal or written examples individually or at the board, have all students send an example of the grammar point to the Hangout. This allows you to view all students’ work at once, and to easily correct it as a class instilling the good habit of proofreading, and reading aloud to check for errors.

Building upon this, you can connect it to the outside world by giving students a few minutes to search the Internet for examples of the grammar IRL (In Real Life), and then identify the various uses of each point.


Teaching students to be active readers can be quite the challenge, but Hangouts can help. First, assign a short silent reading assignment at the beginning of class. You can even post the reading in the Hangout to keep your lesson paperless and eco-friendly.

  1. Vocabulary: As students read, ask them to use the dictionary feature to look up words they don’t know, and have them post those definitions to the hangout. This creates an automatic vocabulary list for you to use for quizzes, homework, review, writing assignments, and other activities. Furthermore, it lowers the students stress levels because they will see that everyone has questions versus only one student being brave enough to ask.
  2. Summaries: Read together as a class, but after every paragraph, have students summarize the paragraph. As a class, students can review the summaries and decide which ones are most accurate. You can then piece the most accurate ones together to create a summary of the whole reading for the class to keep for review or a study guide.
  3. Questions: Good readers ask questions and make connections. When reading in class, you can focus on teaching students about using different types of questions to help them be better independent readers. Focusing on one style of question at a time, you can ask students to create their own questions to discuss the reading in small group. This can range from pre-knowledge and comprehension questions to evaluation and synthesis questions. For example, first, walk students through a set of questions designed around using context clues to help find the meaning of a word. Then, have them do the same with a word from the reading they were unsure of while posting the questions they used to find the meaning in hangouts. This is an effective way to emphasize the benefits of slowing down, asking questions, and realizing you can find the answer without anyone’s help or a dictionary.


Signing Up

Google Hangouts is free to use, all you need is a Google account. If you already have a Gmail account, you can use it or create a new account just for use in your classroom. Don’t have a Google account yet? Follow the instructions below.

*All students must also have a Google account to participate in Hangouts chats*

  1. Go to www.google.com
  2. Click “Sign In” on the top right hand side of your web browser:

    Hangouts 1

    Signing in

  3. Click “More Options,” then, “Create an Account”
  4. Enter your desired login information.
  5. You now have a Google account.

Signing On

To access the Google Hangouts app on your web browser, follow the steps below.

  1.  Go to: hangouts.google.com
Hangouts 2

Go to Hangouts

2.  On the left side of the screen, click “New conversation”

Hangouts 3

New Conversation

3.  Select “New group” and enter the Gmail addresses of your students. You can give your group a Name. When you have all the addresses in, click the green check mark.

Hangouts 4

New Group

4.  A chat box will appear on the right side of your screen with all of your participants.


Hangouts 5


5.  Send your first message! Try “Hello, class!”


Hangouts 6

Hello Group Controls

Using the App

Now that you have your group set up, there are a few key features to notice. Note the colors on the image below, as their functions are described in detail below.

RED: This icon shows how many people are in the chat. If you click on it, you can see a list of participants. In this list, you can add or remove participants.

BLUE: These are your chat settings. In this menu, you can change your group name, set up notifications*, archive your conversations, and adjust your joining settings. (*If you do not want to receive an alert every time someone posts in the group, uncheck the “Notifications” box.)

BLACK: Live video chat. This calls everyone in the group and uses your webcam or cell phone camera.

PINK: Send pictures or videos to the chat.

GREEN: Emojis! Students love to express themselves with emojis.


  • Set ground rules for your Hangouts groups. Include students in the process of rulemaking, but be sure to include one that defines what is appropriate (example: Do’s and Don’ts for Hangouts)
  • Determine ahead of time how much you will commit to using Hangouts outside of class with students, and make it clear to them. Example: “I will only check Hangouts until 4 pm, and then I will turn off notifications,” or, “I am not available to respond outside of school hours”
  • When using Google Hangouts you will need wi-fi, and we recommend always providing an example of exactly what you want students to do in the app, versus a written or verbal direction
  • Screencasting or projecting Hangouts for the whole class on a larger screen still allows for a main focal point and creates a sense of responsibility for the students to provide good content
  • Be flexible. Technology in the classroom doesn’t always go as planned, so make sure you have backups or alternatives for when this happens.
  • Get creative. Have fun, think outside the box, and enjoy using this free tool in your classroom!

Stay tuned for our next blog for more ways to use Google Hangouts in your classroom!


Alptekin, C. (2002). Towards intercultural communicative competence in ELT. ELT Journal, 56(1), 57-64. doi:10.1093/elt/56.1.5

Brindley, J.E., Walti, C., & Blaschke, L. (2009). Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 10(3). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v10i3.675

Coleman, J. S. (1988). Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital. American Journal of Sociology, 94. doi:10.1086/228943

Lin, J., Peng, W., Kim, M., Kim, S. Y., & Larose, R. (2012). Social networking and adjustments among international students. New Media & Society, 14(3), 421-440. doi:10.1177/1461444811418627

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D.L. (2017). Translanguaging: The key to comprehension for Spanish-speaking students and their peers. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Tang, Y. (2006). Beyond Behavior: Goals of Cultural Learning in the Second Language Classroom. The Modern Language Journal, 90(1), 86-99. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.2006.00386.x

Twenge, J. M. (2009). Generational changes and their impact in the classroom: teaching Generation Me. Medical Education, 43(5), 398-405. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2923.2009.03310.x

About Kate and Kim 

Kimberly Guppy

Kimberly is an adjunct ESL instructor at Los Angeles City College in Los Angeles, California. She received her M.A. in Curriculum & Instruction (TESOL emphasis) from the University of Kansas in 2015 and began teaching at an IEP in Los Angeles. As a professional, Kimberly is a member of both CATESOL and TESOL, and is the coordinator-elect of the Technology-Enhanced Language Learning Interest Group in CATESOL. She is also developing the new catesol.org website, which is set to launch in Fall 2017.

Kate Lulinski

Kate is the Academic Coordinator for the IEP program at Cal America Education Institute in Koreatown, and recently started teaching ESL for the Los Angeles Community College district.  She can be reached at mskatelu@gmail.com

Kate and Kim

Kate and Kim

Exploring Literacy in the Disciplines: What Disciplinary Experts & Teachers Think

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

4:30 – 5:25 PM, July 6, 2017, Room 2, Palacio de la Audiencia Cultural Center

Soria, Spain
For this presentation, the researchers brought literacy professionals, professors, experts from several disciplines, and teachers together to inform each other and us about the role language and literacy plays in their respective disciplines. Their conversations highlighted how the literacies are used during an “at work day”, how professors can share this information with perspective teachers, and exactly what that means for middle and high school students (Draper, Broomhead, Jensen, & Siebert, 2010).

Presentation slides [ PDF]

Literacy in the Disciplines Interview Project page. Visit the conference site here.

Literacy in the Disciplines

Literacy in the Disciplines

International Literacy Association Pre-Convention Institute

Developing Conceptual Knowledge Through Oral & Written Language  – Literacy Practices in Schools and in the Workplace: Match or Mismatch? #ILA2017

  1. PowerPoint  (Opens in Box.com)
  2. Introduction to Literacy in the Disciplines PDF
  3. Writing in the Disciplines by Time and Source PDF
  4. Accuracy in Digital Writing Environments: Read Up, Ask Around, Double Check [Free Access – Scroll down to find the article].

Bernadette & DeVere representing Literacy Beat at #ILA2017


Draper, R.J., Broomhead, P., Jensen, A.P., Nokes, J.D., & Siebert D. (Eds.). (2010). (Re)Imagining content-area literacy instruction. New York: Teachers College Press.



La Asociación Española de Lectura y Escritura – Vocabulary

Literacy Beat blogger Dana L. Grisham and guest blogger Linda Smetana will be presenting strategies and techniques for vocabulary learning at 4:15 on July 5, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  Some of their resources can be downloaded from Literacy Beat. Be sure to check these out!



Frayer Model [Frayer Model]

Vocabulary Self-collection Strategy + [VSS+ Worksheet PDF]  [VSS+ Word worksheet]

V-Tweets [Vtweet blank Worksheet PDF] [Vtweet blank Worksheet for Word]

Session description:
Effective vocabulary instruction for all students has gained importance over the past decade. Graves (2016) reminds us that vocabulary learning is of enormous significance, that we cannot teach all the words that must be learned, and that it is even more challenging when we teach students who come from varied backgrounds and languages (p. 4-5). Effective vocabulary instruction provides access to academic text for all students and technology is an effective tool for vocabulary learning, particularly when students are engaged in generative and active learning (Grisham & Smetana, 2011). Effective vocabulary instruction promotes a lively interest in words through student expression, playing with words, building on individual interests as well as curriculum needs, and emphasizing self-efficacy in word learning (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2008; Graves & Watts-Taffy, 2008). Researchers conducted several studies designed to test the efficacy of three generative technology strategies for increasing the academic vocabulary of K-12 students. Each study built upon the one prior to refine the strategies. They were based upon the idea that technology should be generative in the sense that the children should create some authentic product from its use.

Technology in the K-12 classroom is no longer optional; it is imperative that teachers know how to teach with it and students know how to learn with it (Tondeur, et al, 2011). Thus, teachers must be prepared to address content standards with useful technological tools. The workshop consists of two parts beginning with the presentation of research on the strategies and the increased emphasis on disciplinary literacy and academic vocabulary (Wolsey, Smetana & Grisham, 2015). Students who are more engaged with word learning and who make connections between words necessary to understand text make deeper conceptual learning (Castek, Dalton, & Grisham, 2012). Repeated encounters with words in various contexts and modalities, social interactions while learning new words, and meaningful generation of learning products (Coiro, Castek, Sekeres, & Guzniczak, 2014; Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, Castek, & Henry, 2013; Marzano, 2009) assist in vocabulary learning. Linking images and linguistic information in the brain aids such learning and retention (Sadoski & Paivio, 2007).

In the second part of the workshop, participants are invited to learn to use the strategies themselves, so that they may use them and/or incorporate them into their instructional practice. Strategies include technology-rich versions of the Frayer model, Tweeting for vocabulary learning (V-Tweets) and Vocabulary Self-Selection Strategy Plus (VSS+) all of which are situated within the challenges of academic texts and the need for close reading. Participants are provided with 21st Century strategies that connect to and engage today’s diverse student population and provide access to content.

Read more on Literacy Beat:

Frayer Model

VSS+ here and here



Online Cognate Resources for Vocabulary Development

A Guest Post by Patricia Acosta and colleagues

Patricia and her colleagues at Eastern Oregon University compiled this list of online resources for vocabulary development using cognates. Thanks, Patricia, for sharing!

Cognates are words that have the same or similar spelling and meaning in two languages. Teaching cognate awareness is a way to build academic vocabulary and reading comprehension.  By connecting two words in two languages, knowledge of the word and concept in the native language transfers to English.

The following is a list of cognate resources.

Provides a list of English and Portuguese, Italian and French cognates.

Provides a list of English and Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French and Romanian cognates.

Provides strategies for teaching cognates, videos, and a list of English and Spanish cognates.

Provides more than 25,000 frequently used English and Spanish, French, and Portuguese cognates.  Provides an Online Dictionary of Cognates, Google Chrome Cognate Highlighter that will automatically highlight cognates, false cognate awareness, information on psycholinguistic aspects of cognates, free materials, and other resources.

Provides a list of English and Spanish cognates that have the same spelling and words that vary slightly in spelling.  In addition, provides a list of false cognates; words with similar spelling but have very different meanings.  Vocabulary flashcards, vocabulary quizzes, spelling quizzes, matching, word order quizzes and multiple choice quizzes are available.

Provides a list of Russian and English cognates.

Provides a video and list of English, Spanish and Arabic cognates.

Provides 1001 English and Spanish Cognates.  List includes words with the same spelling in both English and Spanish and words with similar spelling.

Subject specific English and Spanish cognates from A-Z. Cognates are organized in alphabetical order and by subject; language arts, math science and social studies.

Provides English and Spanish cognates, as well as false cognate awareness. Lists cover common Greek and Latin Roots, common English and Spanish cognates in alphabetical order and cognates for weights and measurements.

Read more about Cognates on Literacy Beat.

Credit: This list of cognate resources was compiled by students from Eastern Oregon University, ED 556 Applied Linguistics, Winter Term 2017 course.

Patricia Acosta is an in-district substitute. She also taught Spanish Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon, and she is a graduate student in the READ Oregon program at Portland State University. Her teaching endorsements include Spanish, ESOL, and library media.

Interactive, Asynchronous On-line Discussions

A guest post by Nance S. Wilson, State University of New York at Cortland

This post describes how teachers can engage students in interactive, asynchronous on-line discussions. These discussions not only play an important role in online and hybrid classes; but are critical to assuring active participation by students. On-line discussions can also enhance students’ academic performance (Althaus, 1997), and promote higher-order thinking and critical thinking skills when discussion activities are properly designed (Larkin-Hein, 2001).

However, assuring that asynchronous discussions are truly interactive is a difficult proposition as students are often concerned with their grades and completing their assignments. Sun and Gao (2016) identified issues with the traditional threaded discussion forums because “the chronological and hierarchical structure fails to show the interrelationships of postings or the importance of threads, which may prevent effective discussions from happening” (p. 73).

Therefore, the instructor must use a variety of tools to design the discussion in a manner that compels students to interact with each other (Maddox, 2012; Wood & Bliss, 2016).

My research has revealed two important tools for this structuring in an online course. The first tool is the design of the discussion itself.  The second is the application utilized to facilitate the discussion.  This is true whether the asynchronous discussion occurs in a hybrid or completely on-line setting. The lessons reported in this post are from an on-line disciplinary literacy class with graduate and undergraduate students.

Interactive, asynchronous discussions should be designed around giving students multiple opportunities to collaborate around a single text and/or topic.  In my study of the on-line literacy class, students were asked to complete a series of activities around a textbook (Kane, 2011). For instance, when reading Chapter 3, students were given the following directions:

This is a collaborative reading activity. That means that you will work with your collaborative reading group in OneNote. You will also keep personal notes in your Collaborative Reading Personal Notes Journal. 

Go to Chapter 3 of the Kane textbook. 

Skim the chapter. 

Create three of your own questions to guide your reading of the chapter. (Note: In an earlier module students were introduced to Bloom’s Taxonomy and what makes a good question.)

Using OneNote, visit the Collaborative Reading Group. Share all of your questions with your small group by midnight September 29th.  You should also share the following with your group:  

  • Think about how you interact with your textbooks. Do you always read assignments? Why, or why not?
  • Do your teachers actually show you how best to read and use your textbooks?
  • Is it necessary to read the textbooks in order to do well in the classes?
  • Do your teachers know when a significant percentage of students don’t read the assigned material? If so, what is their reaction? Do they do anything about it, or try to find out why the text wasn’t read? Are there consequences?
  • What will you do if your students don’t read the textbook assignments you give? (Kane, 2011, p. 58)

Note/Mark the questions in the group collaboration space that you believe will help you comprehend the chapter and tell your group mates why. This happens asynchronously.

The discussion leader will use what you say about the questions to determine 3 to 5 questions you will answer beyond the guiding questions presented below. This needs to be completed by midnight September 30th.

Read the chapter individually. As you read, find the answers to your questions, answer the question below, and take notes in your Collaborative Reading Personal Notes Journal create a new journal entry and make sure that you include your responses to the questions from your group citing specific information from the reading and looking for ideas to use in your future classroom as well as personal notes to help develop your understanding of the chapter.

Also, answer the following question: 

Imagine that you are being interviewed for a teaching job in your content area. The search committee, consisting of a principal, a curriculum coordinator, and several teachers, informs you that the school you hope to work in has a policy of using no textbooks! They ask you to surmise what the philosophy underlying this decision might be and ask you what kinds of materials you would use and how you would teach under these circumstances. Write in your Journal, thinking through how you might envision your job and answer your interviewers (Kane, 2011, p. 85). 

After reading go back to your group collaboration page (OneNote) for the readings and share three things with your group:   

  1.  any problems you had with any of the questions
  2. a response to one question created by your group (not previously answered in the collaboration section by a member of your group)
  3. something from the reading that you can use in your future classroom or that you wish you had in school or that made you think about reading in your discipline.  

After sharing with your group, respond to at least one group member regarding their after-reading posts.

Notice that the directions encourage students to engage in multiple discussion opportunities with their peers. The first begins around a pre-reading of the chapter.  During reading, the students are working independently in a traditional BlackBoard journal (see figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1: Excerpt from a BlackBoard Journal

After reading, students return to their group to share their thoughts and talk asynchronously.  The back and forth of the actual assignment around the reading models both the interactive reading process and requires that students share with one another their reading process. It is important that students share their thinking processes because this helps to develop their metacognitive thinking about the content as well as the reading process (Paris & Winograd, 1990, Garrison, 2003; Akyol, & Garrison, 2011). Thus, the design of the discussion facilitates the students as they engage in interactive conversations and helps to build thinking and learning in an on-line environment (Wood & Bliss, 2016).

The second tool, Microsoft OneNote, was chosen because it offers students opportunities to move beyond the vertical written asynchronous discussion.  In order to facilitate the discussion, the instructor divides the students into small groups and then sets up a notebook for each small group of students.  In OneNote student notebooks, there can be pages and subpages to differentiate between sections.  For instance, each module can have a page.  Then within the module page students can set up sub-pages for before, during and after reading tasks to be completed with the group.  On each page, students post into text boxes.  They can place their text boxes vertically and horizontally (See Figures 2 & 3).  Students can also insert audio comments (See Figure 3).

Figure 2

Figure 2: Overview of a OneNote Notebook

Figure 3

Figure 3: Close up of OneNote Conversation

Thus, using OneNote as a tool changes the nature of the discussion from “prompt to response” to “prompt to response to response:” to “student created questions to response to a student to student conversation.” By changing the format of the conversation from a purely print-based vertical format students are able to have asynchronous conversations on-line that more closely mirror a live discussion.  The discussion can be viewed with or without viewing the names of the participants.  The figure above is an example of how OneNote works with students’ creation of questions.

The figures are an overview of an extended conversation.  Figure 1 demonstrates students posting their initial pre-reading questions on the left while different group members discuss the questions to the right.  As the respond to each other’s posts, they indent or move their statements or questions further to the right.  The bottom left of figure 1 is a synthesis of the discussion by the discussion leader.

Figure 2 is also a look into a pre-reading discussion around questions.  You will notice how students identify questions that they like to the right of the questions posted.  Please will also notice that there are two audio posts.  The audio posts have student’s thoughts on the questions.  The content is similar to the post the written responses.  In both figures, you will notice that as students work to finalize their questions for reading they are discussing why they believe different questions will support them during reading with each student going back and forth at least two times before the leader uses the thoughts to develop final questions.

The figures of the discussions are just a glimpse of how careful design of both the discussion opportunity and the thoughtful selection of the tool can create a non-linear asynchronous discussion that supports students to develop a careful reading of the assigned text while engaging in a discussion that is interactive and multimodal.

Microsoft OneNote offers a way to build student engagement and involvement without some of the pitfalls of traditional on-line discussions threads. Since the discussions are not limited by chronological and/or hierarchical structure, students are able to think through their responses while providing a structure that promotes connecting ideas thus avoiding one of the negative issues of threaded discussions, inefficiency in promoting interactive dialogues due to structure (Thomas, 2002).  The move away from traditional threaded discussions allows students to post in a structure that follows more of a natural progression, such as one that would occur in a face-to-face class.


Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2011). Assessing metacognition in an online community of inquiry. The Internet and Higher Education, 14(3), 183-190.

Althaus, S. L. (1997). Computer-mediated communication in the university classroom: An experiment with online discussions. Communication Education, 46, 158–174.

Garrison, D. R. (2003). Cognitive presence for effective asynchronous online learning: The role of reflective inquiry, self-direction and metacognition. Elements of quality online education: Practice and direction, 4, 47-58.

Kane, S. (2011). Literacy & Learning in the Content Areas, 3rd Ed. Scottsdale, AZ: Holcomb Hathaway.

Larkin-Hein, T. (2001). On-line discussions: A key to enhancing student motivation and understanding? 31st ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, Reno, NV. http://fie.engrng.pitt.edu/fie2001/papers/1121.pdf.

Maddix, M. (2012). Generating and facilitating effective online learning through discussion. Christian Education Journal 9(2), 372-385.

Paris, S. G., & Winograd, P. (1990). How metacognition can promote academic learning and instruction. Dimensions of thinking and cognitive instruction, 1, 15-51.

Sun, Y. & Gao, F. (2016) Comparing the use of a social annotation tool and a threaded discussion forum to support online discussions. Internet and Higher Education, 32, 72–79.

Thomas, M. J. W. (2002). Learning within incoherent structures: The space of online discussion forums. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 18, 351–366.

Wood, K. & Bliss, K. (2016). Facilitating successful online discussions. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 16, (2), 76-92

About the Blogger:

Nance Wilson

Nance Wilson

Nance S. Wilson, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, Chair of the Literacy Department, and Coordinator of Jewish Studies at SUNY Cortland. She can be reached at nance.wilson@cortland.edu

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