CELEBRATING SUCCESS AND FAILURE
Blog originally published 05/12/17 on Teacher2Teacher
When I started going to school in the United States, I was embarrassed.
My age landed me in a ninth grade class, but the highest education I’d received in Guatemala was sixth. There was too much to worry about in Guatemala: watching my younger brother and sisters, helping my family buy food, staying safe in a tumultuous country.
We immigrated to New York City to be with my grandmother because my mom wanted a better life for us. So there I was, new to this massive city, experiencing all the shock and displacement that come with being foreign in a new home and placed in classes three years beyond any I’d taken before.
Still, I loved it. All of it. It was the first time I was able to embrace school and education. I went to school in the morning. I went to satellite classes in the evenings. I spent nights surrounded by dictionaries and thesauruses to do my homework.
And as hard as it was, I did well. I learned the language in a year and a half. I tested out of my ELL classes. I completed 42 credits.
But things came apart for me right at the end on a test I couldn’t pass. American history. Go figure. I was so disappointed. I’d given everything I could. I had worked so hard over such a short period of time. But I didn’t graduate. They said, “Come back next year and try again.” I didn’t. I was done with school. It wasn’t for me.
And that was the hardest part, that it wasn’t for me. Failing at school made me question everything I believed I knew about myself. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d wanted to be a teacher. Taking care of my brother and sisters, I worked with them on their numbers and the ABCs. It was always on my heart.
My grandmother was a preschool teacher who retired from New York. I remember her telling stories after school – not what she said or what happened to whom, but the passion and joy that spread across her face as she told them.
After I dropped out, I went to work as a cashier. I needed to help my family. I did that for several years, moving from New York to North Carolina. And that was fine for a while, but a time came when it just hit me: I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do with my life.
I got the bug for education again. I found a local community college and got my GED. My GED is framed on the wall of my classroom. It was passing that test that allowed me to keep going.
I went on from there to find success in college: I got my associate’s degree, my bachelor’s and then my master’s, but a test – another test – did me in. I couldn’t pass my Praxis to become an elementary school teacher.
When I think back on that American history test and the Praxis, I feel such empathy for my students. It never got easy for me. I’m not sure it ever does for ELL students. It’s hard to build confidence, and there’s so much failure.
It never got easy for me. I’m not sure it ever does for ELL students. It’s hard to build confidence, and there’s so much failure.
But if there’s one thing that’s been true for me, it’s that belief comes when you least expect it and most need it. I found my first job in a classroom as a teacher’s assistant in Angie Power’s first grade class. I spent eight years with Angie, and it was exactly where I was meant to be. Because of the time I spent under her wings, learning from her right alongside those first graders, I knew I could do it when it came time to walk out of her classroom and into my own.
After all my starts and stops, the ups and downs, I’d found a place to learn, and I’d found someone who believed in me. I walked out of Angie’s class ready, for the first time, to become what I was meant to be.
They made me the educator I am today, an educator who understands the fears and anxieties of my students and their parents. They made me an educator who will be for my students what I didn’t always have: someone to believe in them. They made me an educator who’s still got so much to give.
And I’m thankful to everyone who supported me. To my mom and my family, to my grandmother, to Angie for teaching me right alongside those first-graders, to my cooperating teacher Sarah Collins, to all who’ve shaped my path: Thank you. Let’s never stop believing in each other and in our profession, appreciating what we get to do and cherishing the opportunity we have to inspire our students to learn, dream and succeed.
Thank you for reading!
When I enter any particular classroom at any particular school, my first instinct is to look around and find something I identify with. The Latino background in me longs to see something that reflects or resembles my culture. When I do find something, it makes me happy and it's even an opportunity to initiate conversations about the artifact's background.
So this got me thinking about my students. I teach English language learners (ELLs). My students come from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Many of them are cross-cultural students (read more about it here).
The point is, because of who my students are, it is my responsibility to establish and maintain an environment where all my students feel comfortable and safe. So as I rearrange my classroom and decorate my walls, I have to be intentional with my decor.
You see, when students step into your classroom, they look around and they immediately search for something they can recognize. They look around for something to connect, whether is cultural, emotional, or linguistic; they long to identify with something...ANYTHING that assures them that their backgrounds are accepted....I can guarantee you that a desk globe and/or a world map on a wall doesn't quite do the trick.
After reading, "To Connect Across Cultures, Find Out What You Have in Common", I realized that I need to do more...WE need to do more in our classrooms to build trust and connections with our ELLs. We need to be intentional about what's in our classroom and support our students with diverse cultures find similarities and not differences among cross-cultures.
We need to come together and share ideas among educators on ways to bring awareness and gain multicultural backgrounds as well as activities that will help our students be sensitive to a diverse population.
I am going to start posting pictures of everything I have in my classroom that supports and promotes students' diversity using the hashtag #ELLchat_Snaps and I encourage you to do the same.
I can't wait to see the wonderful things you are doing in your classrooms to make your ELL feel important, comfortable, and accepted!
Thank you for reading!
Tan Huynh invited me to guest post on his website about my methods on grading English language learners and newcomer students.
**This post appeared originally in www.empoweringELLs.com on August 7, 2017.**
As an English as Second Language (ESL) teacher, my job is to analyze my students’ needs and develop their linguistic and communicative competence in English-speaking, reading, listening, and writing skills. My goal is to help them achieve a proficient level of English that allows them to function independently in their classrooms, and in society in the future.
To help me accomplish my goal and perform my job as an ESL teacher I have the WIDA (World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment). North Carolina is part of the WIDA consortium of states dedicated to the design and implementation of standards and equitable educational opportunities for English Learners (ELs). As an ESL teacher, I use WIDA standards along with Common Core State Standards to
Undoubtedly, one immeasurable reward I find in being an ESL teacher is seeing my students reach a high proficiency level of English and to be able to function independently in core instruction. So, merging my personal experiences as an EL with my obligations as an educator, I see the critical need and responsibility to serve as an advocate for my students. Thus, I use the WIDA Can Do Descriptors!
The Can DO Descriptors provide a clear and basic overview of ELs’ ability based on their initial or annual language proficiency test. This powerful document highlights what our ELs CAN do at various stages of the language development and for each language domain as they interact with core content.
I encourage you to take advantage of these valuable documents that by the way are free through the WIDA website. Even if your state is not a WIDA state, these documents can be a great tool not only for you as an ESL teacher, but also for mainstream classroom teachers, students, and parents!
Allow me to share with you a few ways I use the CAN Do Descriptors at my school, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to go a step further with these documents.
TIP #1: Share the CAN Do Descriptors with Mainstream Classroom Teachers.
At the beginning of the each school year, I gather all the teachers at my school and we go over ACCESS, CAN DOs, accommodations, and modifications. For teacher buy in, I make sure my presentation is fun and engaging. I begin by giving them the acronym ‘ACCESS’ (Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State) and they have to guess as a group what each letter stands for.
The group who gets most letters correct gets a small price! Teachers learn how to read their students’ language proficiency levels and use the CAN Do name charts to chart each student in his/her corresponding proficiency level for each language domain. These are the name charts we use: Kindergarten, First grade, Second-Third, Fourth-Fifth. Higher grades are also available on the WIDA website.
Teachers understand that even though students receive a proficiency composite score, it’s imperative to see which domain is the student’s strength and/or weakness to better support during instruction. Teachers also receive this document that provides linguistic accommodations teachers can use to support students access core without having to water down content. This other document is also helpful since it provides Bloom’s Taxonomy questions differentiated by language proficiency level.
TIP #2: Share the CAN DO Descriptors with your Students
This year I started sharing with my students not only their ACCESS scores but also the CAN DO Descriptors. I never thought how exciting this would be for all my students. They all loved looking at their scores and charting their name on the appropriate proficiency level for each language domain. You could hear students say: “Look, I am really high in speaking!” or “Look, I really need to work on my writing.”
Students received two highlighters, one to highlight the current CAN DO statements, and another one to highlight the goal we set for next school year. Their CAN DO chart is glued in their daily notebook so when we used them they can see it and be encouraged. Next school year, I will be using this student friendly CAN DO charts. Not only are they colorful, but they’re much better for them to read and understand.
I believe without a doubt that students need to be explicitly taught the expectation we have of them from the very beginning. My students understand that their teacher, their parents, and I know exactly what they can and cannot do.They have a clear understanding and a visual of where they are linguistically and where my goal is for them to be by the end of the school year. They know that I will be reporting quarterly to teachers and parents how they are progressing toward their language proficiency goals.
TIP #3: Share the CAN DO Descriptors with Parents:
Yes, you read this right...share it with your student’s parents! The CAN DO Descriptors are such a powerful tool for teachers and students that this year I decided to start sharing it with parents through a progress report format.
Let me elaborate; When I get my students’ ACCESS scores, I analyze each and every student’s data to determine their school year language goal. It’s really all about getting to know your students to better support them in the language domains they need it most.
For example: If Emily’s ACCESS report states that she made a 3 in speaking, then her goal for the year would be to master the 3 and make it to a 4. If she made a 2 in reading, her goal for the year would be a 3...so on and so forth. If a student makes a 5 or 6, then there is no goal assigned for that domain since the student had shown mastery on the domain. A student could have 1 - 4 goals depending on his/her language proficiency.
In order to have parent support in helping their child grow linguistically and academically, I provide them with a quarterly progress report that lets them know how they are doing throughout the year. Teachers may also get this report if they wish to see how their student is doing in ESL. I make the effort to honor my students’ family language by translating their progress reports.
WIDA has the descriptors available in Spanish if you wish to use them! I know for a fact that our parents would appreciate receiving such valuable document in their native language. Take a look at this example!
Our county is fortunate to use ELLevation, an online platform that houses our ELs’ data information and provides language strategies. It is through this platform that we can assign students’ language goals and note their progress. The ELLevation goal bank offers goals for newcomers as well! This allows me to provide a report for students who are just entering the language proficiency levels spectrum. It also gives me an idea of what I should be focusing on students who are new to the English language.
These are the progress reports I use. Feel free to download, edit, and use as you like. I won’t lie to you...it takes some work to put them together but in the end, it is all worth it because you’re providing accurate and helpful information to your students, teachers, and parents.
As you can see, there is so much we can get out of such a valuable document such as the Can Do Descriptors! Now you know that not only is a tool that we can use as ESL teachers to support the students we serve, but it CAN be so much more! Our students CAN DO...Let’s show that they can! If you are on Twitter, join us by posting ELLs’ success stories using #ELs_CAN so we can celebrate with you!
Added middle school grades and high school ESL progress reports
Thank you for reading!
Part IV: Implementing a Practical Approach to Instruction
I am not the teacher I was six years ago when I started my teaching profession. I am better. No, I'm not bragging! When I started teaching, I did the best I could with what I had learned. Not everything I did was good. Not everything I did helped my students...UNTIL...that is the key. As an educator, I do what I think is best for my students...UNTIL I know better. Learning and practicing what's best for my students IS what makes me a better teacher.
Over the years I have learned strategies and methods to better support, my students. I have built a professional learning network that is constantly providing ideas and fresh approaches to better serve my students. So because I know better, I DO better! By no means think that I have it all figured out...on the contrary...I continue learning so I can become the best I can be for my students.
When it comes to implementing practical and effective strategies to support language learners, you must know that what works for one student may not work for another. It is very important for you to know your student. Knowing their reading level is NOT enough. A level doesn't tell you about their personality. A level doesn't show you how they learn. In order to close any academic gap, there needs to be a specific target area to support. For our language learners...LANGUAGE is the target you need to focus on. If you are interested in how to support your language learners with language interventions, read this article by Kristina Robertson.
If you have students who are just beginning to acquire English, fear not. In Boosting Achievement we learn that newcomers can engage in certain tasks to be able to participate in the content provided in class. Your newcomers can:
If your student is a newcomer, the first thing you want to find out is the literacy level in native language because you'll use that to build second language acquisition. Read one of my recent post about a newcomer who grew almost two grade levels in reading just by allowing him to use their native language.
WIDA Consortium has this document that I know you'll find helpful. You'll gain tips about getting to know your newcomers and ways to support them not only in school but also in the community.
I also encourage you to read "28. Comprehensible Output: What Students Can Do" by Tan Huynh (@TanELLclassroom). Tan provides tip and strategies to deliver lessons in a way that your students comprehend it as well as support students with output process.
My flipgrid response above is based on Boosting Achievement's section on balanced literacy. I believe it is imperative to teach our students the structures of the English language. Language learners need explicit phonological awareness lessons. These lessons could be quick daily interventions where students learn vowel teams, consonant blends, dominant -r, etc. They need to understand the many combinations of alphabet letters to make words and how words make sentences.
One great website to find "research proven" interventions for these type of foundations is: Florida Center for Reading Research. Here you'll find student centered activities by grade level along with teacher resource guides to focus on language foundations.
If you're more like me and want to provide a hands-on activity to develop your students' language acquisition, I recommend the interventions below. The lessons are designed for pre-K students but work well for students who are just developing language.
Since word-work and learning about the language are only part of the balanced literacy approach, the rest of it needs to be compelling text. As learned in Part III, students need to be exposed to text that is compelling and engaging for them to acquire language. Text must be relevant and must reflect who your students are so they can make connections and be motivated to learn even more.
Watch this video where Ms. Salva's students express gratitude for the opportunity to read text that can help them make those needed personal connections.
So to finish up I want to thank you for all you do for your students. I have no doubt in my mind that to this day you have done everything in your power to support your students. However, there is always room for more learning. As you learn new methods and strategies, you'll gain better ways to serve your students and be an even greater teacher!
"A recent immigrant can do quite a lot of writing the day they arrive in the country. They most engage in the production of English writing immediately and there are ways to support this, which benefit the entire class." ~ Boosting Achievement
Thank you for reading!
Part III - Accelerating Language Development
Ever since I began taking TESOL courses I have been intrigued with the concept of Second Language Acquisition (SLA). Promoting Academic Success for ESL Students: Understanding Second Language Acquisition for School was the first book, I read (and still own) about this topic. In this book I learned that "SLA is best developed through contextual, meaningful activities that focus on language use combined with guidance along the way from teachers." Even though linguistic experts have been sharing this theory for several years, I am shocked at the misunderstanding and misconceptions among educators regarding SLA. As educators, we must have a clear understanding of how our language learners acquire language. Boosting Achievement calls this understanding, "Best practices" - Foundation of lessons we plan to provide effective opportunities for language development. Read more about this topic and learn about using the Prism Model.
Factors in Second Language Acquisition
Boosting Achievement targets two very important factors I see needing improvement in our schools. In my opinion, if we improve in these two areas, we could see achievement gaps closing among our language learners.
The reason these two factors are important is that they can make a good teacher into a GREAT teacher. This goes back to the questions in the image above; "Does your classroom cover content or cultivate curiosity?"
A Good Teacher:
The Washington Post shared an article providing a pretty accurate list of qualities great teachers share. However, it doesn't highlight some of the teaching strategies and methods good teachers use. For example sight word list drills, amazing anchor charts, and content.
I do believe sight words are important; “sight words account for up to 75% of the words used in beginning children’s printed material”, read this post on Why are Sight Words Important.
I also believe how imperative anchor charts are in the classroom! Read more about why in this article: Anchor Charts: Making Thinking Visible. I also understand that as an educator, you are responsible for teaching "CONTENT". Believe me, I get it. I even use the High Noon Intervention program that provides word lists and word patterns for students to learn in my class.
However, what I don't get is the need to kill students with word drills and memorizing a ton of words in isolation. What I don't get is the need to post gorgeous anchor charts already pre-made when students can't even read them. What I don't get is how we can just be happy sharing the content we are excited and knowledgeable about without engaging students' curiosity. If you do all this...GOOD! You are a GOOD teacher. You are doing your job. You are helping students "learn". However, when it comes to supporting English language learners, students need more than just "learn". Students need to acquire language. Students need YOU to be GREAT!
A Great Teacher:
A great teacher gains understanding regarding the concepts mentioned above, AND will also apply them as a foundation for lesson planning to provide language learners with the opportunities they need to acquire the targeted language. A great teacher will have all the qualities mentioned above and will also do the strategies mention above; however, "Comprehensible Input" and "Affective Filter" are visible. A great teacher understands that in order for students to acquire the language there needs to have "a focus on providing many opportunities for oral and written interaction rather than intensely focusing on vocabulary lists and finer points of grammar." (pg. 50)
Great teachers also make it possible to provide a safe and comfortable environment where students feel free to make mistakes while learning the language.
A great teacher also allows students to engage in creating anchor charts to they CAN read it when they need to refer to it. Remember, anchor charts are resources for students, not pretty wall paper for your classrooms. Here is a great post by Valentina Gonzalez about strategies to support ELs. One of her strategies is the proper use of anchor charts with our language learners.
Here are some examples of my students engaging in text and word-work and you be the judge; Am I a good teacher or a great teacher?!? Then, reflect on your profession. Are you a good or a GREAT teacher?!?
I am so grateful to see Boosting Achievement setting the expectation needed of all language and content teachers. Just like we have high expectations for our students, we need to have high expectations of ourselves. Let's continue learning and improving our pedagogy to better serve our language learners.
Thank you for reading!
If you know me, you'd know how much I LOVE my job. Teaching, is to me, more than a job, or a profession...teaching to me is a calling...my passion! That's why every summer for the past four years, I've signed up to work in my county's Summer Reading Camp.
This camp is only 3-4 weeks long and it's right in between summer break so it's just perfect. I get a break right after the end of the school year and a break before the beginning of the next school year.
Families receive an invitation to register for Summer Reading Camp after EOG. Not all students are invited and/or admitted to camp. Our camp is mainly to support students who are not far below grade level in reading. Also for 3rd-grade students who did not pass the End of Grade Testing and did not meet the targeted reading level. Transportation and meals are provided to all students. Here's an idea of what their day looks like:
So basically students have rotation centers: Art integration, Science, Reading Rotation, and Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI). Each rotation is about 45 minutes. We take our group to lunch and recess. We also have a block for read-aloud, iReady (computer time), and brain breaks/bathroom breaks. It sounds confusing, but I promise it works out perfectly!
My assignment has always been LLI. Leveled Literacy Intervention system is an intensive, small-group, supplementary literacy intervention for students who find reading and writing difficult.
I find this system fascinating because it provides a teachers guide and teaching ideas to make reading and writing very interactive promoting student engagement. Not to mention it also provides strong support for English language learning students.
Small group instruction for reading and writing is by far my strength! So, even though I appreciate having a guided lesson plan for each book we read, I always end up adding my own twist.
Learning about each other: In order to establish a safe and comfortable environment for all my students, we started with an activity where students learned about each other's likes. I placed a poster board sheet in the middle of the table and explained how we are different and similar in many ways. I wrote our group number in the middle and our names branching out from the center. I modeled writing around my name things I like doing or anything I like about me. I modeled sounding out words how it was ok if words were misspelled. Students immediately started brainstorming ideas and adding them to their name. The ending results were amazing!
Why do this activity?!?
Of course, first things first, I wanted to get to know my new students! But this activity turned out to be a great formative assessment. My intentions were to grasp an idea of their writing, reading, speaking, and listening skills. This was a very low anxiety activity where students felt comfortable making mistakes and taking risks in using English.
Without my students knowing I was proving them with a scaffolding approach to write complete sentences about themselves. The Writing Process: A Scaffolding Approach is a process to organize writing to meet the needs of your struggling readers and writers.
Vowel Sounds, Word Patterns, and Word-List:
For students who are struggling with vowel sound discrimination, reading grade level text is a torture. Being able to recognize the sound a vowel or a team vowel makes is foundational for readers. Kindergarten through 2nd grade are the grades where students need to master recognizing team vowels sounds and their patterns for written purposes. A student in 3rd grade on should be reading to learn and not having to struggle with phonic foundations.
Now for ELL students to achieve high levels of fluency in English, they need to receive sufficient amounts of oral and written input as well as opportunities to express themselves orally and/or in writing.
After reading a story, students get a list of random words taken from the story read and they are to use all of the words to make sentences. The sentences are about what happened in the text so they are familiar with the vocabulary. They are also allowed to look in the text to make sentences. These students here made 5 different sentences! They take turns circling the words needed for each sentence. The final product looks very colorful and they feel very accomplished!
Writing about text:
Here is a great link for tips for using prewriting strategies.
Here is another document with great ideas for prewriting strategies.
I had such a great time this summer learning along with my students. I am already looking forward to next summer camp!
Thank you for reading!
Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a stepping-stone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up!
Today at church I heard a simple yet a powerful story that evoked in me the desire to share my testimony. I've written blogs about my journey coming to America; Another blog about my struggles as a high school newcomer student. However, I feel the need to share what God has done and continues doing in my life.
If you've never heard of the story, "Donkey in the Well", here it is:
One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway, it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey.
He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly.
Then, to everyone's amazement, he quieted down.
A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well and was astonished at what he saw. With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.
As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off!
I don't know about you but I've experienced a lot of dirt thrown at me left and right by the devil. Even before I was born, the enemy had a plan to destroy my life. I give God thanks for his timely intervention that saved me and changed my life. The donkey's story made me realize that through out my life I've been shaking off the dirt that was intended to bury me. I've over come not by my power but by HIS power and grace.
The enemy is pretty much scared about our potential when we love and serve God. That is why I believe he tries very hard to mess with our life at an early age. He throws dirt at you so you drown and don't see the possibilities.
My grandfather, Alfredo Bonilla, was a good man. I loved him...the memories I have with him are unforgettable. However, he did something that marked and forever changed my mother and my grandmother. He separated my mother from my grandmother. He walked away and disappeared with his 3-year-old splitting her apart from her mother's love and care. My grandmother spent years looking for and crying for her little girl. Her life began to fill up with anger and hate.
Meanwhile, my mother started growing up in a very abusive environment. Not only was my mother forced to work from a very early age, but she also was a victim of verbal and physical abuse. My mother couldn't attend school because she had to work. She would go from door to door selling whatever my grandfather would give her to sell. She would spend hours and hours sitting at a market selling what she had been given to sell. My mother recalls looking at other kids playing around having fun and she would long to be the kid she needed to be. People would buy from her not because what she was selling was needed, but because they would feel bad for her sitting there all alone. I can only imagine what her life was like. No other family members to engage with. No mother to hug and care for her. Just an empty and sad life.
At the age of 15, my mother met my father. She married him and hoped for a chance of a family and a good life. She had me at the age of 16. Sadly they separated a year and a half later. My mother didn't know that she was expecting another child when she left the relationship. When my dad was told about it, he didn't believe her and didn't recognize my sister as his child.
And so my mother's life as a single mother began. At 18 years old, she was trying to raise two children on her own. Without guidance and support, my mother did what she could to raise me and my sister. However, she didn't always make good choices. She would leave me and my sister with neighbors while she would go to work. Sometimes she was gone for days and weeks. So I grew up defending me and protecting my sister. I knew that my mother was out and about trying to make money for us to have food, clothes and a place to live. At the age of 20, my mother had her 3rd child. Things were getting harder now with 3 children to maintain. My mother found a way out of her struggles using drugs. She felt like the drugs were helping her escape her reality. At 23 she had her 4th child but this time things were a little different. My sister's dad was willing to help my mother get a place and gather all her kids so we wouldn't be scattered anymore.
It was the first time in 7 years that we able to be together and be under the same roof. The drugs, however, were still there. I learned to HATE drugs. I watched what it did to my mother and swore to never, ever, taste what was slowly destroying the one I love the most. I would beg her to stop. I would cry out to her to not do it again. She would see in my face the fear of ever losing her and she would promise me to stop. But it (the drug) was stronger than her will.
Because of her circumstances, I would see myself responsible for caring for my sisters. I would cook, I would bathe them, I would care for them. I was 'mom' when mom was there, but not really there. One day, she was laying in bed past out...and my sisters kept asking for her. So I decided to make a chicken soup and bring it to her with the hopes that she would get up and be the mother we needed her to be.
Because of her bad habit, my mother couldn't really sustain a job. She would get creative with things to do to make money for us to eat and pay rent. She would sell clothes, oranges, or whatever she would do to get by.
At age 25 mother had her last child. This time she had a boy. We were super excited since there were already 4 girls. So there she was. A 25 years old young lady with 5 children on her own! If it was hard before things were about to get harder.
A Way Out for Me
A 9-year-old kid should not be looking around for a way out of her family. But I was. I was tired. Tired of the situation we were in. Tired of being 'mom' instead of a daughter. Tired of seeing my mother mentally despairing because of the drug. You see, the enemy was trying to get me. The enemy wanted my life destroyed just like my grandparents and my mother. There was no future for me. There was no way life was going to get any better for me and my family. Statistically, I should've been wrapt into drugs and early childbearing. This was the future I was destined to because the devil had all worked out from the very beginning. There was no other way out...so I thought!
One a classmate must have seen how I was feeling and asked me what was going on. I started telling him how I felt and how I wanted out of my situation. He looked at me and said; "Why don't you go to Sunday school with me?" His invitations sounded like a way out to me!
My Encounter with Christ
A simple conversation with a classmate leads me to an encounter with my savior. I will never forget the peace and sensation I was feeling while seating there clapping my hands and singing to a love that was surrounding me and embracing my circumstances. I was presented to a God that cared about me and loved me for who I was. I encountered a love that gave me the strength to keep on living and keep on helping my mother and my siblings. From that day on, I never missed a Sunday at church. My friend's mom will come to my house to visit and wanting to pray for my mother but she would always hide in the closet. We would just pray out loud so she could hear God's love for her. I was baptized at the age of 12 and surrendered my life to Christ.
I have no doubt in my mind that God intervened in my life just in time. I brought Jesus into our home. I brought peace and hope into our home full of chaos.
But before things got better...they got worse! My mother didn't have work and her use of drugs was the worse it had ever been. I would get in trouble and sometimes beaten for throwing away her drugs when I found them in her pocket. I wanted nothing to do with something that was killing the very person who gave me life and was helping me survive.
I remember making a chicken soup for her just so she would have the strength to get up and be the mother we needed her to be. I remember standing over her bowl of soup and praying for her. Praying and hoping that somehow this soup would snap her out of her situation. But she didn't need a soup to snap out of it. She needed Jesus. She walked out and left without saying where she was going. I feared for her life. I feared that one day she would walk out and never come back. So I would pray for her. I pray for God to protect her and bring her back home.
Hope and a New Opportunity For our Little Family
That day my mother came back home but she was not the same person that had walked out the door. She walked in yelling; "I found the Lord! I found the Lord!"; "I'm cleaned!"
At first, I thought maybe she was drugged too much and not knowing what she was talking about. She wasn't making any sense to me. She sat us down and explained that in her desperation she had walked into a church and had a conversation with the pastor's daughter who happened to be there by accident. She was introduced to the Lord and she gave her life to Jesus. In that very moment, her life was cleaned and changed. She walked out of that church with a changed heart and clear mind. In a powerful and miraculous way, her body was cleaned instantly. With no trace of drug in her body.
Our little family was getting a chance to a new life. Our little family was being restored from a destiny the devil had very well planned for destruction.
You see, the enemy had a very good plan to ruin our lives. He threw dirt at us over and over trying to bury our potential and our lives. However, God also had a plan. A plan to restore. A plan with a full life, joy, hope, and happiness.
"I am the WAY and the TRUTH and the LIFE."
God gave me this verse years ago. No, I didn't hear his auditory voice talking to me. But while we were in the safe house waiting to be transported to the U.S., I would daily see this verse in a picture frame and it was a reminder that God was with me. I knew he was making a way. Everything was going as planned, but we were coming to the U.S. undocumented. So I would ask the Lord; "You are truth and here we are, crossing the border illegally. How is that truth?!?" But the voice inside me would still say..."I am the TRUTH and I will make a way." And so he did. If you read my journey to America you will see how my God made a miraculous way for me and my family to be in the U.S. with our legal documents. All the time we were at the airport, there was a body of Christ praying for us. Praying for God to make a way and help us. HE came through. All glory be to the one and only who keeps his word. To the one who NEVER let go. Now, I have the life I never in my mind would imagine to ever have. I live a life in a country that for some time it was only a hope and a dream. I live life with Christ. The one and only who saw a little girl with no hope. A little girl how was about to give up. He saw beyond my circumstances and stepped in to rescue me.
So all the dirt that the devil threw at me and was meant to bury me ended up being my stepping stone to get out and soar. Jesus didn't make the dirt go away; He was in the dirt with me making a way through!
So, is there any dirt in your life? What are you doing with that dirt? Are you getting buried?
Take the donkey's example and shake it OFF, step on it, and get out from that situation.
God is a faithful God who rebuilt, repairs, and revives! Isaiah 61:4
God bless you and Thank you for reading!
Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
When I went through high school as a newcomer student, my mother was there. When I put myself through college, my mother was also there. She witnessed my struggles, my failures, and hardships. So every time we talk about my accomplishments, she asks: "But how did you do it?" "Where did you get the strength from to finish your goal?" My answer was always: "I don't know, I just felt like I had to keep going." Today I know that it was because of grit!
Character Lab has a great post on grit that states that "Grit is a critical strength of most people who are successful."
It also gives some examples of what grit looks like:
In Boosting Achievement we learn that SIFE and refugee students, "embody grit and perseverance." We know this to be true because their experiences and hardships required them to be strong and committed to surviving in their environment.
"Many SIFE come to America with enough pain to fill a lifetime of sadness and despair." ~ Tan Huynh
Our responsibility as their educator is to guide them in using that strength found within them and apply it toward school and life goals.
Dr. Duckworth reminds us that grit "requires deep interest" - This means that our students need to be engaged in what they are interested in even if they fail. We have to provide opportunities for them to take risk and try.
Carol provides us with a great lesson she learned with her student, Hamsa. Watch this video where he shows perseverance in doing what he knows he can do and is interested about.
Ideas for Encouraging Curiosity, Creativity, and Global Thinking
Boosting Achievement provides a great list of ideas and opportunities to encourage our SIFE students to engage in topics of interest:
Great video about meeting the needs of refugee students:
Older SIFE students may appear to have a wider educational gap, but FEAR NOT. According to Boosting Achievement, SIFE students come with a sense of urgency, and often have a deeper appreciation for educational OPPORTUNITIES!!
They already have the most important predictor for success: PASSION. PERSISTENCE. MOTIVATION. Just provide the opportunities and watch them soar!!
Thank you for reading!
I am a big fan of podcasts...especially since I got an iPhone! I have the Podcast app and I am constantly getting notifications when there's a new Episode added to the podcast I've subscribed to. I have subscriptions to TeachingPartners, Kids Deserve It!, The TeachThought, and Beyond the Staffroom Podcasts. I know there are other great podcasts but for now, these are the only ones I follow. The reason I enjoy podcasts is that I get to hear other educators' perspective for a variety of topics I am interested about. I've learned strategies I can apply in my classroom; I've gained tips to grow personally and professionally. So if you have a few minutes, listen to an episode of your choice and if you don't like it just switch it and listen to a different episode.
So on July 4th, 2017 I received a group private message from my good friend Carol Salva (@MsSalvaC), and the message was also sent to Derek Rhodenizer (@DerekRhodenizer). I knew Derek because he hosts interviews for Beyond the Classroom (podcast mentioned above). I have heard several of his episodes. One of the episodes I heard, in particular, was Carol's interview about her new book Boosting Achievement. You would want to hear her interview...so here is the link!
In her message, Carol introduced me to Derek and said that I should interview for his podcast. She had already shared with Derek part of my story and how our classrooms had connected. So right there Derek gave me a date and time for an interview to his show.
I couldn't believe it! I was given the opportunity of a lifetime!! I was very nervous but I was invited to share my story and that gave me the strength to go through it. Besides, Derek made me feel super comfortable!
In this podcast, I had the opportunity to share my story as an undocumented and unaccompanied minor traveling from my country of birth, Guatemala, to the United States. I share my struggles as a newcomer student. I also had the opportunity to share some tips for family engagement and the importance of building relationships with our students.
So here's my interview with Derek in Beyond the Classroom Podcast.
Thank you for reading and listening to my interview!
Part One: Working with Students Who are SIFE
I don't know about you, but I want my students to remember me as their teacher for a life time. However, in order for this to happen, I need to make sure I strengthen my relationship with each and every one of my students. And relationship building starts by learning students background.
Let me start by emphasizing how important it is to know our students' background because each category of language learners is different and each requires a unique level of support. Here is an article I found very relevant to this topic: Good Teachers Embrace Their Students' Cultural Background. Here I learned that as teachers, we tend to use our own experiences when planning the lessons we teach, but then students cannot create connections because is not relevant for them. However, when we know students' background, their story, their struggles, their past, we would lean toward activities and materials that will support students in making connections.
Boosting Achievement does a fantastic job highlighting and providing awareness of the many different categories our language learners' background. Just take a close look at the chart below.
The point I want to bring up with this chart is that not all language learners in your class fall under one category. Our students come to us with a story, with a personal and unique background, and in order for them to be successful, they must receive the appropriate support.
Take my experience as a language learner high school student for example. When I first came to the United States my teacher needed to know that I was a 'Newcomer/Recent Immigrant' and a 'SIFE' student. Not only was I learning the language but I had also missed a lot of school years in my country which put me far behind classmates my age. When interested in supporting L1 (native language) it is imperative for teachers to know the student's educational background. And to find this information could be as simple as asking the parent. Build a relationship with parents and students to provide what is best for the student to be successful in school and in life.
I believe that ALL students need our support. However, I want you to think about English language learners who are struggling academically. Why? The answer is simple: Achievement Gap! I strongly believe that the achievement gap exists among our ELs because we are not targeting and/or providing the appropriate support.
Tips to support newcomers/SIFE students:
Boosting achievement does the following recommendations for SIFEs' needs:
I also have a few recommendations for newcomer students: here.
Watch the video below by Teaching Channel to see how newcomers and SIFE students interact through the use centers to accelerate reading development. This video clearly shows that our newcomers/SIFEs have the ability and "know how to" when the opportunities as presented.
Part I has a heavy focus on Cultural Responsive Teaching. This is super important and a very hot topic in education right now. I believe is due to the growing diversity found among students in our classrooms. Part of being culturally responsive is building a relationship with our students, so last week, our focus was on getting to know our students and building strong relationships by valuing our students' stories. However, I see it as taking a step further...When we know our students' background and care about who they are, it'll reflect in what our classrooms look like. What I mean is that knowing your students will make you want to provide a place where they feel safe, comfortable, and familiar to them. Making sure our classroom decor mirrors our students' culture and background.
Boosting achievement provides great tips such as desk arrangements, and labeling school items in multiple languages. Here is another article I found helpful on providing classroom setup strategies. It's imperative to consider these tips that facilitate learning ultimately optimizing language learning and academic achievement.
Carol shares a fascinating story of a SIFE student who had to advocate for himself when he noticed he was not getting what he needed. I believe it is necessary for our students, Kindergarten - 12th grade, be able to advocate for themselves. Students will at one point in their education encounter educators or school personnel who will instead of supporting students are obstacles for students' success. That is the point when students need to stand for what they believe it is best for themselves. I found this link very helpful on tips and steps to follow on teaching students to self- advocate.
Osama is now my hero! He taught me that as an educator, there should be a level of 'shame' when I don't take the time to listen to students' needs and advocate on their behalf.
You see, as an educator, you can't be both; You either are supportive or an obstacle. Which are you? If you are reading this, is because you care about your students and want to support them. Thank you, #eduHero!
Accessing SIFEs' English Proficiency and Background Knowledge
This section really made think about ways I can gather my newcomers' background information to better serve them. In Cabarrus County, we are very fortunate to have the ELLevation platform that houses our ELs' demographic information as well as their language proficiency levels. This is a system with easily accessible data as well as targeted instructional language and content strategies.
However, I noticed that there is no place for us to flag if our student is a refugee student. While discussing his topic with our county's ESL counselor, I realized that the only way for teachers to know if a student is SIFE is to share it with the teacher. But what if the student moves to another school? Shouldn't this information be available as part of their demographic information for new teachers' easy access?
This thought is just one of the thoughts Boosting Achievement is making me realize as a read through.
Another idea I have after reading the "Refugee-Focused Intake Process" is to create a spreadsheet with some of the components Texas uses for their "Intake/Pre - Assessment Form".
I am fascinated with the three focused components: Affective, Linguistic, and Cognitive.
As an ESL teacher, my focused needs to go beyond whether students speak English or not. But also know their cognitive skills levels in math and reading, and/or issues that could affect them psychologically, mentally or emotionally.
I can't wait to see what else I learn in the coming chapters. I am definitely betting my teaching pedagogy with Boosting Achievement!!
If you are interested in reading my previous blogs on Boosting Achievement book club notes, just follow this link!
Don't forget to check you Carol's blog. Here is her blog for Boosting Achievement Week 2
Thank you for reading!