I have written about my personal experience before on my blog. I have even shared it publicly in my school district to help raise awareness about the ELL experience. But lately, it has become so much more than my story.
Some of you may not know that my family came to America when I was a young child. We immigrated here legally from the former Yugoslavia. My dad did not have a job lined up here in the states, nor did we move here because the climate was better. My parents wholeheartedly wanted a better future for their two kids (my brother and me). We moved here because of the promise America offered and for the freedom it granted us.
I look around today at the friends and family that surround me and I think about their stories. Where did they come from? Where did their parents come from? Did their grandparents immigrate to America? Why did they come?
Our stories are all too similar. We are all trying to make a better life for ourselves and our loved ones. America is a great country because it offers many resources and the ability to make dreams come true. I look around and see some of the same people who immigrated here supporting new strict immigration laws. The same people who were granted citizenship after coming here illegally. The same people who have enjoyed the freedom of America. The same people who have learned about that freedom in public schools where their teachers loving cared for them. The same people whose wives immigrated here and then had children in America.
I can't understand how people can know the America I have known and yet want to become a country where division and separation are acceptable. A country where diversity is not welcome.
America is sending a message to the people of our the country. Each will hear it differently. What I hear from the messages being sent is that diversity is not welcomed. This message hurts my heart. It is ugly and affects our students and in effect will change the future of America.
The immigrants in America make America wonderful. They make it rich and beautiful. If we impose stricter immigration laws, we will have less of what makes America beautiful. The rich tapestry of our country is beginning to fade. Our cultural diversity brings new perspectives, different ideas, a varied outlook. If we don't have those assets, we will not be the amazing country the world knows us to be.
As a Collaborative Teacher or Co-Teacher, you may go into multiple classrooms and various grade levels each day. This type of schedule has its advantages, but it also can be quiet a heavy load as far as planning is concerned.
In my own experience, I have been in the shoes of the classroom teacher and the ESL teacher coming in to co--teach. In both cases there were times when planning together just wasn't possible. I found that having a toolkit with me was a lifesaver as I came into classrooms to serve students.
Students needs are best met in a small setting where they can receive targeted and focused instruction. This type of instruction can be tailored to meet their individual needs. We know that students benefit from staying in their classroom with their classmates. Gone are the days when we pull students out of the classroom to receive small group instruction. Having a Toolkit handy helps me have strategies at my fingertips to support students no matter what classroom I walk into.
So as I go into classrooms and work with students either in a small group or one-on-one, I am able to pull out my Toolkit as needed to address specific concerns on the spot. Let's say I'm in a 3rd Grade language arts/ reading block and the class is fully involved in their reading workshop. This is the time when I come in as a co-teacher everyday but I only have a short time in this class. So I use this time to either confer individually with students or pull a small group of students who have similar needs. I can use my Toolkit to help me work with these students. For example, I may have noticed as I conferred one-on-one, that four of the students in the room were struggling with author's purpose. On a subsequent day, I can bring those four students together in a small group to target instruction using my Toolkit. I will conduct a short mini-lesson to review author's purpose and let them practice with my guidance/support using their own texts. At the conclusion of our small group, I may leave each of them with a small example of the anchor chart that I used during our lesson.
The Toolkit is a binder with dividers for subject/content areas. Inside each section are small instructional tools and mini anchor charts. The Toolkit includes anything and everything that may be helpful to me as I work with students I serve. It is a work in progress always. I am continually adding to it.
TIPS: I will tell you that I've seen various Toolkits and everyone's is different. You just have to make it your own. One thing I have learned through creating my own, is that I like having it in a binder with clear pocket shields. I like being able to add and move my charts and tools as well as being able to write on the clear shields.
Some people use the smaller binders. It's really up to you. I think they are cute, but I've not tried that type.
So if you make one, take pictures and share it with us. @ValentinaESL I would love to see your Toolkit and hear how it's going.
Reading Strategies Book Study Guide, Jennifer Serravallo p. 13
Unlocking Learning: Maslow first and then they will Bloom
One thing I know for sure is that before kids can learn in an academic setting, their basic needs must be met. Their bellies must be full, they have to have had a full night of sleep, they must feel safe, and they need to feel that they belong. Maslow's motivational theory contends that what motivates our students do to what they do and behave the way that they behave is the desire to fulfill basic needs.
I remember walking into a classroom where a newcomer was isolated instead of sitting in cooperative groups with his peers. It was heartbreaking to me. The child could not speak English yet and was obviously in need of much support. When asked why the child was in isolation, the teacher responded by saying the child was a behavior problem and couldn't get along with his peers. He had only been in the United States for a couple of weeks so far. Can you imagine how many of this child's basic needs were not being met? How can a child begin to learn academic standards when he/she is struggling to feel safe, starving to belong, and striving to communicate and achieve?
We have to assure that our students' basic psychological needs are being met before we can begin to think that they will learn state standards. With this being said, building relationships and knowing each student is then critical. This means so much more than looking at a cumulative records folder. We have to know where students are living, with whom they live, how the family functions, what their situation is at home, etc. This means talking with students and their families and creating true, caring relationships.
You might remember learning about Psychologist Abraham Malsow's original hierarchy of Needs when you were in college. I don't know about you, but since college, I haven't heard much about Maslow's Theory. I do, however, hear a lot about Blooms Taxonomy. My problem with this is that I don't believe that we can expect our students to remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create if their basic needs are lacking. So often in education, we push for Bloom's Taxonomy but we overlook Maslow's hieracrchy and then we wonder why kids aren't achieving. Why they aren't reaching their potential? We pull out our best lessons and resources yet nothing is working when the answer is in their basic needs.
Here is a short description of each and how it applies to English Learners. For our purposes, we will delve into the basic needs since those are the ones that need to be met before students can focus on academics.
1. Physiological Needs: This is the need for things such as food, shelter, and sleep. When our students are not eating well, that is the first thing on their mind. "I need to eat." "I'm hungry." "Where will I sleep tonight?" "Will we be kicked out of our apartment?" If their mind is on physiological needs, obvisously it can not focus on academics. Building relationships and asking questions helps to find out what our students' lives are like at home. Is the child going home to an empty apartment? Do they have food to eat? Are they babysitting a younger sibling while mom is working late? When I think of ELLs that may struggle with physiological needs, I think of SIFE students and students who come from low socioeconomic households.
2. Safety Needs: This is the need for things such as security, protection, stability, and safety. When fear exists, stress and anxiety begin to grow causing the affective filter to rise. For immigrants who are refugees, this plays a huge role. One that many of us can not begin to imagine. Some students have witnessed war and separation that haunts them and causes fear and anxiety to live within them. Some of our students carry other fears regarding security and protection that are related to family life. Getting to know our students well is the only way to help.
3. Love, Belonging or Social Needs: This need is a big one for ELLs. It includes the need to communicate with others. English language learners can definitely crave this need to communicate. It can be such a stressful time in a young person's life when they clearly know what they are thinking but can not communicate in the language that others will understand. There is also includes the need to belong to a group of friends. For newcomer students, belonging and finding friendships can be a source of tension. When my aunt came to the US, she was 16. She was one of the most popular girls in her hometown in Serbia. But here in the US, she was isolated and lonely. She didn't seem to belong to any group as a high school student. The need to be social and interact with others lives within all humans. When ELs come to the United States, some are ripped away from their social circles and this causes massive amount of stress and sometimes depression. Maslow estimated that only 50% of people are meeting this important need.
4. Esteem Needs: This included the need for a reputation and self respect. This is also the need for students to feel they can achieve and master skills. For English language learners, I equate this to the need to learn the new language. The desire to master the new language and achieve their goals in life.
5. Self Actualization Needs: This is the need to be who you are. Many immigrants experience a confusion with self actualization because of having two cultures. When a child comes to the US with a native culture and learns about the American culture, there can be a struggle with identity. Who am I? Which culture is mine? Can I embrace two cultures? Should I? Do I have to leave my native culture behind and adopt a new culture? Some end up shedding their native culture to fit in with peers.
Maslow's theory suggests that people who do things that are bad are trying to fulfill a basic need. For example, if a student's safety needs are threatened they may be violent towards others in an effort to protect themselves.
This post has been rumbling around in my head for months and I've been working on it for a while. Really, it's very obvious. I think we just forget once we are in the classroom. We get focused on the content. The curriculum is on our minds. But we lose sight of the reality. Kids can't learn any of it, if their basic needs are not being met. Maslow first.
Ear to Ear Reading...Building Reading Fluency & Expression
One of my favorite ways to let students practice reading for automaticity, fluency and expression is with Ear to Ear Reading. There are so many benefits to this easy to implement strategy! Because it is done in pairs (or triplets in rare cases) it lowers the affective filter for students and helps to build interdependence among students.
Ear to Ear Reading was initially presented by Jim Rogers as way for partners to practice reading in pairs. When implementing this strategy, explicit instruction on how it looks and sounds is important. The teacher should model it in front of the class. This can be done either with a coteacher or with a student volunteer.
Here’s how it is implemented:
This is what it may sound like using the poem My Brother’s Bug by Jack Prelutsky:
Partner A: "My brother’s bug was green and plump,"
Partner B: "It did not run, it could not jump,"
Partner A: "It had no fur for it to shed,"
Partner B: "It slept all night beneath his bed."
And the partners continue to read this way until they finished the poem. If they still have time, they reread the poem again and again practicing their expression, automaticity and fluency until the time is up.
Ear to Ear Reading provides a safe, fun way for students to practice reading, gain fluency, automaticity, and expression while working with a partner. I first learned about it as a Tier III GLAD Trainer and have since used it successfully with my own students and with students in classrooms where I cotaught. It fits neatly into the reading workshop during partner reading. When implemented with fidelity and consistent routine, it can make a huge impact! Give it a try and let me know how you and your students enjoy it!
Brechtel, M. (2001). Bringing it all together: Language and Literacy in the multilingual classroom. San Diega, CA: Dominie Press.
How do I make my anchor charts ELL friendly?
Have you ever walked into a classroom and looked around in awe at the beautiful charts and posters? The beautifully decorated boarders and store bought matched sets? But when you ask the students about them, they don't have a clue what they are for or how to use them?
Anchor charts should be an imprint of our teaching. They should be remnants we leave behind to remind students of the important parts of the lesson. They should serve as mini-teachers so that as we work with small groups, our independent readers and writers can rely on the anchors to guide them instead of interrupting the small group.
If anchor charts are not being used by students, then they are simply wallpaper.
For English learners, anchor charts can pose big problems. Not only can they be overwhelming wallpaper, they can be confusing due to the amount of words. They can cause more confusion than assistance. Here's how we can make sure that our anchor charts serve our English learners and all students and are all not a waste of space and time.
The first thing we have to consider when working with English learners and anchor charts is that the anchor charts should be made in front of the students. English learners (and all students) benefit from seeing and hearing the process that happens live in action. Seeing and hearing while making the chart in front of the students helps with brain imprinting. Modalities of visual and auditory are reached.
Second, anchor charts should be explicit. Here's how to___. Step one, step two, step three. Be direct and clear. Don't use a lot of unnecessary words. Just stick with the most essential parts of what students need to know. For example, if I want to teach my students how to talk with partners about nonfiction, my anchor chart might look like the one here.
Third, include graphics, icons, or pictures to support comprehension. Notice in the Nonfication Partner Talk anchor chart, I included specific visuals for my students to help them later when they use the chart without me. The pictures will remind them of what we discussed.
Last, location, location, location! Put your most important, most valued charts where students can see them and use them. Think about the real estate in your classroom. Where you place your anchor charts means something. Think about that ocean front property. It has value. Once they no longer need a chart, put it away where students can find it but it's not taking up prime real estate. Many students, especially English learners, benefit greatly from having their own small copy of important anchor charts. I achieve this by either making person copies on sticky-notes or taking pictures of my anchor charts and printing them out small for students who need them. They keep them in a section of their reading or writing notebooks.
Your students should know how to use the anchor charts in the class, why they are on the walls, and where to find them. If they can't answer those questions, then it's time to reflect on that chart.
Units of Study for Teaching Reading
Scaffolding for ELs
Scaffolding...when I hear this word, I think of the small tress that were planted in my front yard. Around them, the gardeners placed metal tree stakes as supports. Scaffolds in teaching are like the stakes around the tree.
Interestingly enough, it is suggested that the sooner the stakes are removed, the sooner the plant can develop a strong trunk and root system. And staking a tree that does not need it can do more harm than good. So in essence, though stakes in general seem like a good thing, if implemented incorrectly, they can harm the tree.
I think as educators, we can learn something from this.
1. not all our students will need scaffolds all the time
2. some will need different levels of support
3. remember to release the scaffolds
Jerome Bruner introduced the term scaffolding in 1983. Scaffolding is the assistance provided by a teacher.
Here are the 3 types of scaffolds:
Remember the tree. Not everyone needs a scaffold. Scaffolds vary depending on students' needs. And take the scaffold way as soon as possible. Keeping it too long causes more harm than good.
Echevarría, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: the SIOP® model. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Seidlitz, J., Base, M., Lara, M., Rodríguez, M., & Hartill, M. (2014). ELLs in Texas: what administrators need to know. San Clemente, CA: Seidlitz Education.
Summarizing to the Next Level...Somebody Wanted But So
I'm going to venture to say that as educators most of us have either used SWBS or seen it used with students. In this post, I hope to show you how it can be leveled up a few notches. And rather than spread thin, we can help our kids dig deep into summarizing using this strategy which can be pretty powerful if used with fidelity.
Here's what I USE TO do with my students:
I might read a book to the class (like a read aloud). Let's use a book most of us know for the example, Cinderella. So I would show the students the graphic organizer/chart (see typical examples of organizers/charts below).
And I would model how to find the Somebody: Cinderella
What she wanted: to go the the ball
But: she had a lot of chores and no gown
So: a Fairy Godmother magically gives her a gown and she goes to the ball
I have even seen teachers share with students how to add a Then and Finally in an effort to extend the summary.
Here's where I started to shift my thinking about SWBS. I know that summazing is a critical skill for my students. It involves deep thinking and I need them to know how to summarize. But I wanted them to go deeper into the summary. This felt so surface level.
One day I saw Meredith Alvaro, National Literacy Consultant and expert in ELLs and Special Education students, share how she teachs SWBS and it changed everything for me. Instead of one word or even phrases for each piece of the puzzle, the SWBS became a paragraph! Here's how:
Somebody: Cinderella was a young, beautiful girl who lived with her Stepmother and Stepsisters.
Wanted: When and invitation to the Ball arrived, she wanted very badly to go with her Stepfamily.
But: However, she had so much housework to do and she didn't own an evening gown.
So: Magically, a Fairy Godmother appeared and granted her wishes to go to the ball in a beautiful gown.
Then put them all together in paragraph form starting with an indent like so:
Cinderella was a young, beautiful girl who lived with her Stepmother and Stepsisters. When and invitation to the Ball arrived, she wanted very badly to go with her Stepfamily. However, she had so much housework to do and she didn't own an evening gown. Magically, a Fairy Godmother appeared and granted her wishes to go to the ball in a beautiful gown.
I have tried out this type of SWBS in several classrooms and found a few tips.
One. Use different colors for each sentences when modeling. The color chunking helps students differentiate between parts.
Two. Don't wait until the end of the story or book to begin summarizing. Teach students to summarize while they read. This is what readers should do. We don't want to wait until the end of the book to realize that we didn't understand what we were reading!
Three. Use pictures to model SWBS especially with Newcomer/Beginner English Learners. All kids can benefit from using pictures to learn how to effectively summarize but beginner English Learners need the comprehensible input that visuals offer. I will demonstrate this below.
Four. Use nonfiction! Social studies offers an excellent venue for SWBS. SWBS is not just for fiction. Basically anything that has a story line can be summarized. Teach students to use SWBS.
Using Pictures with SWBS
I would begin by discussing the picture and labeling it in a Picture Talk. What do we see? Label all nouns in one color. What actions are taking place? Label all verbs in a different color.
Somebody: The colonists were brave men willing to fight for their new country.
Wanted: They didn't want to pay taxes on tea and other goods from England.
But: However the British were taxing them on goods.
So: The colonists revolted in anger and threw all the tea off the boat in an act called the Boston Tea Party.
Using Nonfiction with SWBS
Obviously, the picture of the Boston Tea Party is nonfiction. So it combines both pictures and nonfiction. But for Advanced and Advanced High students, pictures are not always needed. You might have a text only nonfiction piece that you would like for them to summarize. A good example might be a text on a famous figure in history, such as Ceasar Chavez.
Ceasar Chavez was a farmerworker and civil rights activist. He wanted better wages and work conditions for farm workers. However not everyone agreed with Ceasar's point of view.
So he organized strikes, boycotts and marches to bring atttention to his cause. Finally, his dedication paid off and the first Bill of Rights for agricultural workers was enacted.
Your nonfiction text does not have to be regarding a person, it could be a country and what they wanted. It could be a group of people. It could be an animal. I have even done SWBS with pictures of living and nonliving things.
After putting the students in cooperative groups and giving them sets of pictures (living and nonliving things), they pick one each and must orally tell one another in SWBS form why the thing is living or nonliving.
The bird is a living thing. It needs food, water, and air to survive. Without the basic needs of food water, and air, the bird would die. So the bird must eat worms and find water and breathe air. It is a living thing.
As with any strategy, tons of modeling and gradual release of responsibilty is key to success. When I model and guide students using
I do, we do, you do
they success rate is much greater.
What I love about SWBS is that it's not just for one grade level and it's not just for one content area. It's for life.
7 Steps to a Language Rich Interactive Classroom, J. Seidlitz
When Kids Can't Read What Teachers Can Do, K. Beers
All Academic Conversations Academic Vocabulary Academy Accommodating Accommodations Administrator Assumptions Building Relationships Courses Differentiation Discourse ELLs ELPS Empathy Foundations Getting To Know Your ELLs Gradual Release Instructional Levels Linguistic Modeling Nonfiction Online PD Procedural Professional Development Readers' Workshop Reading Scaffolding Somebody Wanted But So Structured Conversations Summarization Supporting ELLs SWBS Talk Talking Heads Teacher The Power Of Talk Verbal Vocabulary Workshop Writers' Workshop Writing
TEXAS teachers!! Have you heard about Texas Gateway???
This is an AMAZING, FREE resource library for all Texas educators and parents created by the Texas Education Agency. The courses offered are self-paced, online courses. Some even include videos and classroom support documents. As an advocate for English Learners, I truly love that the Texas Gateway offers several courses related to supporting teachers and administrators of ELs. Teachers can take the courses and receive professional development credit for them too! But BEST of all, teachers and administrators will gain valuable knowledge about how to effectively support English Learners in their classrooms and schools utilizing the English Language Proficiency Standards aligned with the TEKS.
The courses offered include:
The ELPS Linguistic Instructional Alignment Guide or LIAG is aresource also available to educators. It is not a course but a resource that is handy for planning instruction. As a classroom teacher, the LIAG can a used to tailor listening, speaking, reading, and writing goals and instruction for each English Learner in your classroom.
Sheltered Instruction videos are coming soon! So be on the look out! And share this awesome resource with your colleagues.
Just wondering...for those of you who don't live in the GREAT state of Texas, does your state/country have something like this for teachers? Please comment.
Have you ever walked into a classroom and heard a teacher say, "I love how quiet you all are. Keep it up."? Quiet classrooms are dangerous for English language learners and most other students as well. Talk is key to learning. If the goal is to lift the level of language, how can we do that in a quiet classroom?
A lot of research has been done on the amount of talk that takes place in an average classroom. Research has found that ELLs spend less than 2% of their school day improving their academic language! Unfortunately, the one doing the most talking is usually the teacher. And as we know...the one talking is the one learning. When we talk, we process, we negotiate, we internalize. Teachers are doing a lot of the work and students are zoning out.
To shift this workload and learning, students need to do the talking. As teachers, we should give students engaging topics and esssential questions to discuss and turn it over to them. There are many ways to achieve a room full of students who are talking about the work. But I think as teachers, our biggest fear is that they won't talk about the work...they will get off topic or they won't talk at all. A secondary fear is that there is so much curriculum to cover that if we let them talk, it won't get covered. Here are 3 ways to ensure that your classroom talk is effective.
ONE. Be explicit in the talk structure and routine. Teach your students HOW to hold the talk conversation so that it is accountable. Students of all ages need to hear the teacher say that partners need to sit facing one another. They need to know that one person talks while the other(s) listen(s) and nod(s). They will need to see how the partners pass the conversation to one another. For example, when I'm finished talking, how do I let my partner know it's his/her turn? I might say, "What do you think?" In this day in age, kids are intrenched in technology, social media, and this lack of face to face communication leads us to the need for excplict instruction about conversation. Modeling what you expect is important. Model, model, model. Show your students what the conversation will look like and what it should not look like.
TWO. The question or topic you pick is key to the success of the conversation. If your district utilizes unit plans, they will include essential questions and enduring understandings. Those are excellent for selecting what you want your students to discuss. Just be sure that you have already exposed your students to the information. They can't talk about questions that they haven't studied yet. If your district does not use unit plans, you can look at the TEKS or state standards that your lesson is addressing. Take the standard and turn it into a question. Don't change the vocabulary in the question to make it "easier" for them to understand. Instead, teach them the vocabulary using visuals and synonyms if you need to. Once you have a question in mind, post it visually for your students. Otherwise, once you ask kids to discuss with their partner, you'll hear, "What are we supposed to talk about?" and then they will get off topic. Posting the question ensures that two modalities have been addressed: verbal/oral and visual. Those kids that need to hear it, heard it. Those kids that need to see it and read it, can!
THREE. Give them sentence stems or starters to propel their thoughts. ELLs are cognitively capable of answering questions and thinking deeply. They lack the English language. Sentence stems provide a scaffold and support for the structure of the sentence. Remember when you were first learning to ride a bike? Someone ran behind you holding the seat and keeping you balanced. Then when you were ready, they let go. That's what stems are like. Just like when learning to ride a bike, we all need a different amount of support. With beginner and intermediate ELLs, stems will be more basic. They also benefit from a word bank or visual/picture. Advanced and advanced high ELLs still need stems too. Their stems can be longer and push them to explain more.
If you are looking for more to read about talk, here are a few excellent resources:
A workshop setting is very conducive to differentiation. But how are we ensuring that our ELLs are not being forgotten? How are we making sure that the workshop setting is meeting the needs of our ELLs and pushing them forward in language AND literacy?
First and foremost, as teachers we have to remember that when we work with students who are learning English as a second language, we are not only teaching them to read and write, we are simultaneously teaching them the English language, language proficiency. It is important to keep a pulse of the students' levels in listening, speaking, reading and writing in English.
Being aware that some students come from countries where letters and symbols are different from ours is important too. Teaching ELLs how to decode letters will help empower them to read. Being explicit about letter sounds, capitals and lower case letter, and punctuation can be taught in small groups or during individual reading conferences with ELLs. Nevertheless, these are important lessons that our ELLs might have misssed depending on when they came to the US.
Often we ask our students to "sound it out...does it sound like it makes sense or sound correct?" Well, for an English language learner that type of question is difficult to answer. Some haven't heard enough examples of the English language to know if it sounds correct. For many, the classroom is the only place where they experience the English language. With ELLs, explicit instruction and modeling goes a long way.
If we want our students be excel in academics, we have to help them excel in language at the same time. Our ELLs need multiple opportunities to listen, speak, read and write during the day and this includes the workshop time. Recently while at an assessment training, the presenter discussed accommodations. I loved how she phrased it. She said that accommodations do not give ELLs an advantage. Accommodations level the playing field. I look at it this way...if a little girl can't reach the water fountain, what would we do? Would we let the child go without water until she grows tall enough to reach it herself even though she needs the water? Would we go get the maintaince crew to LOWER the fountain? NO! Of course not! The child deserves and needs the water and we will not lower the standards for her to reach it. We will give her a scaffold and little by little pull it back. The scaffold might be a stepping stool or some other type of device to allow her equal access to the water. She will get the same water that everyone else gets. Level the playing field.
See the document below for ideas on how to level the playing field for ELLs during workshop. Feel free to email me or reach out to me on Twitter and I will send you more information on this document.
I can't count on my fingers how many times someone has come up to me and asked me a question in Spanish. Then when I respond in English with... "I don't speak Spanish," I'm met with a puzzled and unpleasant look. A look that says, why don't you speak Spanish? You are clearly Hispanic.
Well, no...I'm not. People frequently ASSUME that I am Latina based on what they see and probably from my last name as well. Making assumptions about people is a dangerous thing. The only way to avoid or correct a misconception is to get to know people, ask questions, build relationships. Without this knowledge, we tend to make up our own stories about one another.
Making assumptions about our students and their families is even more dangerous.
When I was a kid, my parents rarely went to our school for conferences or other events. Chances are you probably have kids in your class with similar situations. Their parents are not coming to school functions. Why? I can only hope that the teachers didn't "assume" my parents didn't care. My parents, in reality, cared VERY much about my education. They actually cared so greatly that they left everything behind to move us to America so we could have a better education and future. If my teachers asked, they would have known that my dad worked a great deal of overtime so we could afford our little home. If my teachers asked, they would have known that my mom was still struggling to learn English, had an infant to care for, and didn't have an extra vehicle to drive. If my teachers asked, they would have known that my parents worked with me every night, instilled in me that school was of utmost importance, and read to me before bed each night. If my teachers asked...
I will never forget my first few years as a young teacher. I taught in a wonderful school that was filled with great families and amazing teachers. There was just this one teacher who often said things about her students that didn't sit well with me. One day she came into where we were eating lunch as a team and she said with great unhappiness, "Well, I'm getting a new student. And the kids are hiding all their things because the new kid is Mexican." I was shocked and saddened. She didn't stand up for the new student who hadn't even stepped foot in her room yet. The poor child was already labeled and no one had even met him yet. Why? I have never been able to forget this. At the time, I was a baby teacher and she was a seasoned veteran. I didn't stand up for the child. Now, I would tell my young self to speak up and be an advocate for the student. This veteran teacher made terrible assumptions about an innocent child and allowed her assumptions to sway the thoughts of her other 20 students. What a shame. A terrible shame.
Never assume that our students have experiences that we have. Even things we may think are basic and simple such as visiting a zoo. Don't assume all your kids have been to a zoo. Case in point...my niece was well into her teenage years before visiting a zoo. And sadly I didn't realize it until then either. I assumed she had been. When asking your class about experiences, think carefully about how you phrase the question. For example, don't say, "Who has never been to the circus?" It creates a singling out effect. It may embarrasses students who haven't had the experience. Also don't ask, "Does everyone understand?" It is rare that students who don't understand will actually answer by saying, "No". Instead ask specific, clarifying questions.
We make assumptions at times. It's really human nature. The important thing to remember is that when it comes to our students, the better we are at getting to know them by asking them questions and being genuine, the better we will be at serving them the way they need it. When we understand who they are, where they come from and what their lives are like, we will be able to reach them in a way that is powerful. Connecting by building meaningful relationships allows our students to feel important, valued, and part of their own growth in education.
Today I had the privilege of attending a great workshop in San Antonio called Making Words Real. It was presented by Joanne Billingsley, the author of the book, Making Words Real: Proven Strategies for Building Academic Vocabulary Fast. The session was very informative, interactive, and relevant for K-12 across content areas.
Joanne reminded us that words have a great deal of power for all students. They help us understand, be understood, and connect. Word knowledge leads to world knowledge. Key for us to remember as educators is that we all teach language. We teach the language of our content. Some of us teach math while others teach social studies or science. But we are all language teachers. We teach the language of our content because the situation demands it. There is a direct link between vocabulary knowledge and academic success. When our ELLs are missing vocabulary they lag behind academically creating a gap.
As teachers, we should be cognizant about how much talking we are doing and how much academic discourse we are allowing our students to practice. If we are doing all or most of the talking, then ELLs will continue to lack progress in speaking and consequently in writing and reading. There is a direct link between speaking, writing and reading as well. The more our kids practice the language, the stronger they will become as readers and writers. Exposure to academic is not enough. Students must have time for guided talk, purposeful conversations, and explicit instruction.
In her book, Joanne shares many examples of how to create a language rich environment that breads academic vocabulary. I will not go over each one, but I will say that most (if not all) of them include the employment of gestures, visuals, physical movement, and sentence stems.
Joanne reminds us that it is critical that students VERBALIZE to INTERNALIZE. Words become real when kids use them in speaking and writing not if they memorized them for a vocabulary test.
Nearly four decades ago, my parents were young newlyweds in a poor, economically unstable country in Southeastern Europe. They made a very difficult decision to leave almost everything behind and come to America. And they did it for the hope of a better future for their two kids. They left the former Yugoslavia with one suitcase and less than $200 in their pockets. But the dreams they had for us were worth it. They risked everything because they knew what staying there would lead to, and they heard about the promises of America.
It wasn’t easy when we first arrived in the states. We didn’t quite fit it. There were the obvious differences like language, clothes and food. Aside from language and clothes, we also smelled different from everyone else. My aunt (who came to America a few years before we did) came when she was in high school. She remembers being called the stinky girl. You see, cabbage is a staple in lower socioeconomic Serbian homes, so I imagine she smelled like cabbage and didn’t realize it. It was normal to her. But she was teased a lot for it back then. I'm sure it was hard for her self confidence. When she was in Yugoslavia, she was a very liked and well respected girl. The change was a shock for a teenage girl.
My family spoke no English at all when we got here. None of us, not one. My dad actually learned Spanish before he learned English. His coworkers were mainly Spanish speakers so he started to pick it up pretty quickly. Now some of the words he learned were not appropriate for daily conversation. None the less, he learned Spanish.
When my brother and I began elementary school, my parents learned English alongside us. We brought home our spelling list and they learned the words too. It was a game we played. My dad worked so hard to make sure we had a house to live in and food and clothing. He wasn’t home much because he was working and picking up overtime as often as he could, and my mother didn’t drive or speak English. I don’t remember either of them going to a parent teacher conference. I wonder if the teachers thought my parents didn’t care. When on the contrary…they cared A LOT. That’s why we left our home country and everything we knew and loved.
Below there's a class picture of me in kindergarten. Look at my little hand knit vest… We wanted desperately to fit in and to be like everyone else. To be accepted. After some time, my family met a Serbian woman who was married to a doctor here in the Houston area. They were well off and coincidentally had 3 kids who were all just a little older than we were. This family donated clothes to us. I can’t tell you how excited we would get when they brought over bags of clothes for us. It was like Christmas X 10! After that, we went to school in Polo and Esprit but they were all hand my downs…donations. People make assumptions all the time. We all do. It’s pretty natural. We were still the same poor family, but on the outside, it may have looked like we had some money or that we spent all our money on clothes. I wonder what people used to think!
Anyhow, as a student in elementary school, I was very quiet. I could sit and listen all day without saying a single word. After all, my parents told me to "Be a good girl" and that meant no talking in school. In our culture, the teacher holds all the knowledge. Students are there to learn from the teacher. So I took it all in and unless the teacher explicitly spoke to me, I could go the entire day without speaking in English. Then I would go home and tell my mom everything I learned. Only I would tell her in Serbian. My academic English did not advance as well or as quickly as it possibly could have.
Being different is hard for children. Especially those who come here with one culture and then are faced with learning a new culture. Essentially, they have 3 cultures. Their first, the new one and a combination of the two.
Here’s the thing…my story is not the only one. It’s one of MANY. This story is happening every day. The ELL population continues to grow in Texas and in the United States. Families from around the world are risking everything, leaving everything because they want a better future for their kids. It’s important to share our stories with one another. It helps us connect and understand each other. And in the absence of knowledge people make up their own stories.