Motivating English Learners to Achieve Academic Success
Teachers across the country are finding innovative ways to engage English learners (EL) in the classroom and online. In Austin, Texas, Webb Middle School has been incorporating Imagine Language & Literacy curriculum in their classrooms for over four years to help students learn and practice the English language. Genoveva Zamarron, who herself was an English learner, now leads the English Language Development Academy (ELDA) for Webb Middle School. In recognition of her excellence, Genoveva was awarded the Top Imagine Language & Literacy usage teacher in February 2021!
We sat down with Genoveva to learn how she inspires and motivates her students to achieve their academic goals.
“I didn’t speak English when I was little and now, I teach English. My experience helps me motivate them. I want [students] to be a success story because I consider myself a success story!”
Literacy and Language in the Classroom
For EL students at Webb Middle School, a typical day includes three to four hours working in the ELDA program before moving onto their elective or additional core classes. In the ELDA program, Genoveva incorporates Imagine Learning content and in-person lessons so students further develop their English skills. And in her classroom, Genoveva pairs students who speak Spanish with others who speak Arabic to encourage them to learn outside of their comfort zones and build confidence in speaking English.
To ensure that the platform is accessible to students and families who speak and read in another language, Genoveva provides instructions in various languages so students can get started on their work right away.
Additionally, students are taught how to monitor their progress and grades to drive self-discipline and accountability for their own success. Genoveva explains that “the confidence of the student is powerful,” because they need to see how their efforts directly affect their progress and grades.
As part of the curriculum, students record themselves completing oral assignments to practice their English. Genoveva has adopted the practice of sitting down with struggling students to listen to the recordings together. This helps students understand how they are being graded on oral assignments—for comprehension, fluency, phonics, etc.—and hear the improvements in their English.
Keeping Students Motivated
Genoveva reflects a lot on what it was like for her to grow up in the United States as an English learner, and shares these experiences with her students to help inspire them to become proficient English speakers. Some of her students would be the first English speaker in their family and the first to attend schooling in the United States, so it’s important to keep them motivated and confident in their education.
One of the amazing ways students stay energized in the ELDA program is with the Imagine Learning wall (pictured above). Students note each day’s progress—including completions and successes—on activity cards, which they then add to the wall.
Seeing their progress and successes allows for some healthy competition between students, and further motivates them to work hard to reach their goals. This is also a great way to get students active and out of their seats as they work on their online schoolwork.
Another special experience students can earn is the opportunity to attend field trips outside of the classroom. As many of her students are new to the United States, Genoveva rewards them with short trips to practice and experience their new English skills in the outside world. Just this month, the students with the highest number of active minutes got to go to the theater to see a movie in English!
Getting Parents and Guardians On Board
“If I do all of my work, will you stop calling my mom?”
We asked Genoveva what advice she would give to fellow educators, and she confirmed that building relationships with students and their families is how you can best drive success.
From day one, she expresses the importance of building those relationships so students feel supported and motivated in and out of the classroom. She also holds her students to the same standards as her son, and expects them all to do their best.
Genoveva also sometimes shares pictures of the student’s homework so parents and guardians can help them continue working on their skills at home. This provides families with the tools they need to provide their students with that additional one-on-one support they receive in the classroom.
By building relationships with families and empowering students in and out of the classroom, Genoveva’s program has given English learners the confidence to reach their goals and set them up for success outside of the classroom.