Tag Archives: ebooks

The Five Essential Elements of Reading…and Your English Language Learner Students

By Steven Rivera-Padilla – Guest Blogger

I began my fifth grade year in a small military town in Maryland, at a new school, knowing no one but my immediate family members, and I didn’t speak English. Most of my memories from that school year involve me sitting in front of books, of which one always included an English-Spanish dictionary. My teacher, Mrs. Diehl, knew how important reading would be to my success in learning the language and the curriculum. Reading became second nature to me that school year.

The lack of resources at that time surely made it difficult for teachers like Mrs. Diehl to work with students like me, but what has remained true throughout the years is that reading helps English language learner students learn their new language more quickly. Currently, there are *4.2 million English Language Learner students enrolled in US schools—and increasing every year—with an array of educational backgrounds. The ever increasing resources brought to us with technology has made teaching ELLs easier than in those past days.English Language Learner

Reading has five essential elements that must be understood before working with this special group of students if we want to close the language gap. They are: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency, and comprehension. Let’s look at each of these and how they relate to your ELL student and myON.

  1. Phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the knowledge and manipulation of sounds in spoken words. They are what one combines to make syllables. This can be difficult for English language learner students because they do not know sufficient English to tell apart sounds that are different from those in their native language. How do you accomplish this? Make students familiar with the English sound patterns by reading poems, do more read-alouds, and sing songs that use rhyme and repetition. This is why the mere action of the student listening to the teachers speak on an everyday basis is just as important.
  2. Phonics is the connection between sounds and letter symbols. It is also the combination of the sounds and letter symbols to create words. This knowledge is used while reading and spelling. As one can imagine, this will be difficult for an ELL student who is not literate in their native language and/or those whose native language has a non-Roman alphabet. The lack of English proficiency slows ELL students down when reading. So what should you do? Give them extra phonemic practice or have them create phonics notebooks to aide in the automatic recognition of words to build reading proficiency.
  3. Vocabulary development. Vocabulary development is the knowledge of words, their definitions, and context. This knowledge helps them recognize words and understand them. It’s important for students to read quickly, but more importantly that they know what the words are, their meaning, and putting the correct intonations. This is the reason we have word walls and labels around our classrooms. When speaking to an English Language Learner student, attempt to use synonyms so the student may make the connection and learn a new word in the process. For example, “Students, now we’re going to work on our conclusion paragraph—the ending or closing paragraph.” Also, attempt to teach your ELL student vocabulary with every chapter, even if they are the only ones doing so in the class.
  4. Fluency is the ability to read with accuracy and with appropriate rate, expression, and phrasing. Most educators will agree that when it comes to fluency, practice makes perfect. Individualized instruction to build fluency can be accomplished in a variety of ways: read aloud in class, assign independent reading time, and help them select or navigate myON for books that will both interest them and help their fluency. Books that are too difficult or beyond their proficiency will discourage and overwhelm English Language Learner students. Once their fluency improves, less time is spent decoding words as the focus shifts to comprehending what is being read.
  5. Comprehension is understanding meaning in text. How can we improve comprehension? Provide visuals, ask questions and have them make predictions during the reading process, and/or summarize what they just read. Individually modify what the student will read based on their needs and provide background knowledge before the ELL student begins the reading assignment. Remember, an ELL student’s cultural differences and assumptions based on that culture may sometime hinder comprehension. myON offers quick, five question assessments to check for comprehension after every book. Review those and work on areas needing improvement.

I consider myON the Swiss army knife of personalized literacy for my students. The student has thousands of books to choose from and the program has tools like audio, heritage language word look up, dictionary, notebook, citation creator, writing tools, graphic organizers, and the quick assessments after every five books read to check Lexile level and at the end of every book to check comprehension. Reading is fundamental in all content areas which is why it’s imperative to make it a priority for language learners. I have a feeling Mrs. Diehl would have really appreciated a program like myON back in those days…as would I.


* According to the National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education, statistic for the 2013-2014 school year, article updated May, 2016

English Language LearnerSteven Rivera-Padilla,  a Bilingual Education Paraprofessional with Hillsborough County Public Schools. He has spent years working with students from various countries and cultural backgrounds to ensure both English language skills and curriculum content is being learned.

It’s Worth the Struggle–The Power of Peer Reviews Using Digital Literacy Tools

By Billy Spicer – guest blogger

Students today write like they never have before-both in print and online. Young or inexperienced writers need to both observe proficient writers at work and share in writing events in authentic and well-supported ways.

One key element to guiding students in becoming better writers is finding ways to encourage their craft while allowing them to share their thinking in multiple ways.   The ability to provide meaningful and manageable feedback should always be on our radars as educators.  What should not be on our radar is spending hours correcting every misspelling and grammatical flaw!  Rather than disheartening students and their efforts over constant revisions, let’s collectively focus in providing encouragement to young authors to rework a different component, such as their lead or varying transitions. We can accomplish this right now in leveraging digital literacy tools like myON.  Let’s make the reading/writing bond even stronger through powerful peer editing. For when it’s done correctly, it can be the most powerful element throughout the writing process.digital literacy tools

Unless students are blogging(which they should be!), they are probably writing to a one-member audience in mind: their teacher. Boring! When young authors keep an audience in mind beyond a single person while also participating in focused peer review interactions, students can offer productive feedback, accept constructive criticism, and master revision. A brief disclaimer before moving forward: not all students are receptive to peer reviews! It makes perfect sense.  Depending on the existing classroom culture, students may be abrasive to the idea of having peers read their work and assess it. So, take caution, but more importantly, empathize with their feelings and “show them the way” through meaningful and authentic interactions with their classmates and through the use of digital literacy tools.  Whether or not peer reviews are successful or not in class partly depends on if their peers can help them see the benefits, and the importance of the process.

digital literacy toolsIn the image above, a Writing Task has been added to a project that is asking students to take a dive into some nonfiction texts with a focus on the structure used by the author. The stated objective included some guiding questions to help frame the task for the students. For this particular Project the Writing Task is the final piece, the assessment item that will help guide future instruction for the teacher while also providing feedback to the student in terms of growth. Here is where the writing task can become more than just a task: enabling the Peer Review feature!

digital literacy tools

Using peer review strategies, students will learn to reflect on their own work, self-edit, listen to their peers, and assist others with constructive feedback. It also becomes a more authentic route to ask students to revisit their work multiple times before stamping it as a polished, published piece of writing.  By guiding peer editing, educators will establish some key expectations: this is important, you can do it, and I won’t give up on you (even if you give up on yourself).

Real, authentic literacy growth can only occur in a community of learners who make meaningful connections. Peer review facilitates this type of social interaction and collaboration that is vital for student learning.


Billy currently teaches in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in suburban Chicago. After spending a decade teaching 3rd thru 5th grades, Billy served students and teachers as an instructional coach. He recently spent time in the Bahdigital literacy toolsamas with the Shedd Aquarium where he lived on a research vessel for a week conducting scientific inquiry. Prior to teaching in Lake Zurich he worked at Walt Disney World as a member of the Animal Programs department in entertaining, educating, and inspiring conservation action. He facilitates a passion for literacy, passionate learning, and social media to discover creative ways for students to meet their individual learning needs. Authentic and purposeful technology integration is a non-negotiable aspect in providing students with the tools to be successful. Billy earned his BA in Elementary Education at Illinois State University and a MA in Literacy and Reading from Benedictine University. He also enjoys hot dogs, coffee, and his ever growing collection of records. To learn more about his interests and passions in and out of the classroom, follow him on Twitter-@MrBillySpicer


Best Practices for 21st-Century Teaching and Learning

Best practices for 21st-century teaching and learning

By Lucas Gillespie, John Prchal, Ruben Alejandro and Lydia Withrow on February 17th, 2016

Early education

Ruben Alejandro

To give our students the best possible chance at success in a changing world, when I became superintendent of schools in the summer of 2012, I put together a team of administrators, parents and teachers to create a vision for the district called “Empowering 21st-Century Learners.”

We are making our vision a reality in two ways. I have a strong focus on early learning, and a big part of that is early literacy. We worked with our digital literacy platform to launch an initiative called “Zero to Three: Weslaco Reads,” so kids who are 0–3 can download books and read them for free.

We also teach robotics and STEAM starting in kindergarten, and are now including 3- and 4-year-olds. With the help of an engineer, our youngest students are building a Mars rover — a modular car that they can put together and drive. The rover will have a handle that controls a claw so students can learn by picking up blocks with numbers and letters on them. We will have mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and systems engineers to help build the rover and take it through an obstacle course. As far as I know, nobody in the world is bringing this level of STEAM and robotics to 3- and 4-year-olds.

To read the entire article, click here.

Ruben Alejandro is the Superintendent of Weslaco Independent School District in Texas, where he launched the “Zero to Three: Weslaco Reads” initiative in collaboration with myON.

The Reading Road Trip starts in your school!

As the creator of the wonderful book lists for the 2014 back-to-school reading challenge, we have asked our very own Nancy Stetzinger, Director of  to be a guest blogger! Ms. Stetzinger has an incredible history in the world of publishing! We look forward to future blog posts from her!

Reading Road Trip ThemeHave you heard about the myON Reading Road Trip Challenge?  It’s a great way to learn about your state, other states, regions and the U.S. in general. It’s also a great way to engage your students in reading and getting them off to a great start to the school year!

And personally speaking, it was great fun (and maybe a bit painful) creating these lists. I was on every state webpage, every state reading list page, www.awesomeamerica.com, and  www.statesymbolsusa.org.  But I learned a lot. And as a graduate of let’s say a few years it was so much fun and educational too!

US Map
Click on the map and each state has a book list & important facts!

Do you know :

  • How many states have the Honey Bees as their state insect?
  • How many different types of turtles are state reptiles?
  • Did you know that in Texas it is illegal to graffiti someone else’s cow?
  • Or that Utah is the jello capital of the world?
  • Did you know that Oklahoma is home to the shopping cart, the aerosol can and parking meters?
  • Did you also know that Maine produces 99% of all blueberries in the country?

There are so many fun facts and some silly ones to discover, but I digress…

The Reading Road Trip Challenge lists contain books across all grades K-12. They are a mix of fiction and nonfiction.  All fiction books have a reason for being there, they are set in the state, the author was from the state or they have appeared on the state reading list.  Nonfiction books help tell the story of the state, what dinosaurs roamed the area? Where did early settlers hide their treasure? What famous ghosts inhabit the White House?  What Native American tribes lived across the country? What famous people lived in the state? And let’s find out about sea turtles, box turtles and tortoises.

So as you set your students loose across the country don’t be afraid to branch out and incorporate reading and research. Ideas include:

  • One book per state and one key event in the state’s history
  • One book per state and one fun fact
  • One book per state and one important person per state
  • One book per state and an essay on If You Could Live Anywhere in the US

I could go on, but you get the idea…Take the Reading Road Trip Challenge and see the U.S.A.!