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!
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!
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!
“...their hardships, like any challenges, bring perspective. Their personal stories may impact them with certain strength for learning as well.”
This quote is core of what I am about. A personal story, especially a story filled with struggles and hardships beyond our imagination, can be the foundation for our students’ success.
As educators, we must be open-minded about the possibilities for SIFE students and begin to see their culture and language as an asset not as a deficit. Being SIFE doesn’t make them any inferior.
Now, Carol advised and modeled that just being aware of students’ stories and previous hardships, is not enough; we must also act, and to me, acting is finding ways to provide SIFE students the opportunities they need to be successful.
This thought led me to gather a few resources I found helpful on this topic:
The Immigrant Learning Center offered two wonderful webinars on July 11th and 12th. Follow this link to access presentations and other resources.
Access Newcomer Tool Kit provided by the U.S. Department of Education: Who are our newcomers; Welcoming newcomers to a safe and thriving school environment; How do we support newcomers’ social and emotional needs; Establishing partnerships with parents. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oela/newcomers-toolkit/index.html
Education Connection also offered interactive 3-part webinar series and provided resources on supporting newcomers: You must sign up to access their resources but its totally FREE!
We are learning so much from this book club already. Many of us have been challenged to do somethings we never thought we would do. I, for example, learned how to create a 3D avatar and posted a bookSnap! Check it out!
I was also able to contribute with a 60 sec thought video through our book club Flipgrid! Make sure you hear what other fantastic educators have to say about this awesome book!
Don't forget to check out Carol Salva's blog for more resources: Boosting Achievement Week 1
If you have the book and would like to go over the questions we used during week one for discussion, here they are! Thanks to Katie Toppel (@Toppel_ELD) for providing the questions.
All tweets under #ELLchat_BKclub are here so you haven't missed any:
Thank you for reading!
Today was this young lady's last day at Irvin Elementary school. She will be a sixth grader next school year!
Caridad came to Irvin during our 2012-2013 school year. Not only was she new to our school but she was also new to this country. She came from Haiti at the age of 7 and her first language is French. When I first met her, she was this sweet and shy girl. Her mother asked for us to call her 'DaDa' since that was what she was used to. It didn't take long for Caridad to warm up and feel comfortable in my classroom. She quickly began participating and taking risks with speaking, reading, and writing. Her outgoing and enthusiastic character contributed to her fast learning of the English language and her grade-level content. By the time she ended first grade, she was very close to grade level in reading and math.
When Caridad began second grade, she had the courage to speak up and let her teachers and classmates know that she didn't want to be called DaDa. She said, "I don't want to be called Dada because my name is Caridad!" Oh, how I wish I had the courage to speak up like she did when they were mispronouncing my name in high school.
To make a long story short, by the end of second grade, Caridad had caught up with her peers. Academically, she was on grade level and it was only a matter of time for me to find out if she had met her linguistic goals as well.
The school year 2015-2016 was the year when Caridad started 3rd grade. Now, this is the grade level where standardized assessments are administered. This is usually a year where the majority of my ELs students struggle since the assessments are all at grade level text. However, that was not the case for Caridad. I have to mention that during her 3rd grade, she didn't receive explicit ESL services because her last ACCESS scores were pretty high (just not high enough to exit).
All throughout the year, Caridad stayed on grade level. Her teacher and I had no doubt that she was going to do great on her EOGs! And she did! Not only did she pass her ELA and Math EOGs but she scored the highest in her class. AND she also placed out of ESL this year!
With only three years in the country, she was now moving onto 4th grade as an ESL monitored student and above grade level in reading and math.
She continued to be monitored through ESL during her 4th and 5th-grade and her scores not only maintained on grade level but she was always above her peers. She was always involved in extra curriculum activities and after school programs. She was loved by all teachers and her peers.
I was thrilled when I found out that her letter was chosen to be read at the 5th grade graduation ceremony. I twitted about her and it went crazy! :)
Caridad came to me and asked me to help her with her letter and I was thrilled to help her. I was honored that she would think about me to guide her through a very important event.
I shared with her how neat it'll be for her to start her letter saying something in French...and she agreed! I shared with her how important it'll be for everyone to hear her speak her native language and know where she started to where she is now.
If you want to read her letter, here it is! I also have a video of her reading during the end-of-year ceremony.
Gifted program recognition!
Highest math and science achievement!
I am very proud of Caridad's accomplishments. She worked hard! She made it! and she'll go far!
Her success is not attributed to me or her teachers, however, I can't help but think that we provided the opportunities she needed to succeed...and she did!
Her academic and linguistic success reaffirms my WHY! I teach because I believe education is a powerful weapon to fight ignorance and poverty. I teach because it is such a satisfaction to see students grow, learn, and become more!
I wish nothing but the best for Caridad and all our students who leave elementary school today to a new phase in their life. I will miss them...and I will never forget them!
Thank you for reading!
A few days ago, this image was trending on my twitter feed and it immediately made me think of my newcomers. I hold a very special place in my heart for newcomers. I understand how they feel! As a newcomer student, I remember the fear very vividly! Fear of the unexpected. Fear of the new language. Fear of the what ifs...What if they make fun of me? What if they don't like me? What if I need something and I can't ask? What if they think I'm not smart because I don't speak English. What if...the list could go on and on! But what I also remember very vividly, are the smiles from the school staff as I entered the school building for the very first time.
You see, you don't need to speak you newcomers' native language in order to welcome them into your school or classroom. Your smile goes a long way! Read about providing a safe and affirming environment to lowering the affective filter for language learners.
Now, the purpose of this post is not to provide tips for your newcomers in general. You can find that here!
This post is to highlight a specific newcomer...Brayan! I posted this tweet about him and thought I would share more about his success!
Brayan was born in Mexico. He started with us in March of 2016. His age placed at a second-grade level and on his first day of school, I had to explain to him that I needed to administer not one, but two tests. I needed to administer the W-APT which is the assessment that determines the initial program placement for services, and the ACCESS (since he enrolled during testing window ?).
It didn't take me long to learn we had a lot in common: Love and passion for learning and a very similar childhood! It amazed me how quick he was to learn new information and how well he could read and write in Spanish.
For the remainder of the school year, Brayan received double ESL services. He received one-on-one session for Newcomer foundations with Mrs. Tirado and pull-out services with me and the rest of his second grade ELL peers.
In May of 2016, his teacher administered a state mandated assessment (Dibels Next Reading 3D) to determine his end of year reading level. He placed on PC (Print Concepts) which meant he had acquired enough English to demonstrate this list of skills at a proficiency level!
In 2016-2017 school year, Brayan began 3rd-grade. This grade level to me is crucial because is when students make the leap from learning to read to reading to learn! Even though Brayan didn't speak English, I didn't want him to just sit in class and not learn a thing. Luckily, his 3rd-grade teacher, Ms. Sams, is a very supportive teacher. We discussed ways to support him so he could be part of core instruction. We decided to start taking advantage of his ability to read and write in Spanish. So he was granted the use of google translate, he was provided books in Spanish, he would complete retells in Spanish, he would do research in Spanish...he was even allowed to do presentations in Spanish!!! He would come to my ESL class time and say, "Mrs. Francis, can you help me translate this paper so I can turn it in?" See, he knew that google translate tool would translate the document for him...but he also knew that in many occasions, google doesn't translate correctly. He needed to make sure his translation was correct!
Here is an example of a personal narrative he wrote in October and here is a retell about the book "Emmanuel's Dream".
The reason we were allowing him to read and write using this native language was because we truly believe in studies focusing on L1 transfers to L2.
By January 2017, when the middle of the year reading assessment was administered, he was a level D! Now, the only reason why he didn't score higher was because at a level 'F' is when the written component is required. For students to score a level 'F' or higher, they must accurately respond to a written prompt and they must do so in English.
In order to develop his writing skills in English, he was encouraged to begin proving assignments in the targeted language! This is the first assignment he presented in English and he understood every single sentence! Watch this video as he courageously presents his research to his class!
Brayan was also a participant in our first Annual Spanish Spelling Bee! Not only he helped his peers learn the words but he was also a runner-up the day of the competition!
Brayan's motivation and passion for learning, coupled with the support and opportunities we were able to provide for him, empowered him to soar academically and linguistically.
So what is the result to all if this, you might ask?!? Well, just this month, his teacher administered his last reading level assessment of the year and he placed on a level 'J'!!
THAT'S 10 READING LEVELS, my friends!! ? And I have no doubt he scored very well on his ACCESS too. I will be updating his information as soon as I get his scores.
My objective in sharing Brayan's story of success with you is because he is proof that allowing students to use their native language to learn and show knowledge is imperative. If you want newcomer students to be part of their everyday learning, you must allow them to use the language they master. Research favors the use and development of native language to better and faster acquire the second language.
If you teach newcomers and have a success story you'd like to share, please email me or posted on twitter using #ELs_CAN.
We would love to highlight and share as many newcomers' stories as possible...because English language learners CAN!!
Thank you for reading!
A couple of months ago I had a 4th-grade student stand in the middle of class and courageously said, "Mrs. Francis, what do I have to do to place out of ESL?" I went ahead and showed her the data and gave her step-by-step what she needed to do to place out of her ESL status.
Meanwhile, there were so many thoughts going through my head. I started to doubt myself as an educator...Does she not like me? Does she not like my class? What should I be doing differently?
She preceded, "Mrs. Francis, I like you and I really like your class. Even if I place out of ESL, I still want to come to your class"; "Is just that being an ESL student makes me feel like a failure!"
Her words hit me to the core of what I am about! In a matter of seconds, my life flashed before me. Her words made me relive how I felt for so many years as an ESL student and high school dropout.
My students and I started discussing the reasons why being an ESL student would make us feel the way it does. Together we brainstormed the following:
This powerful discussion allowed me to share with my students my own experience as a language learner. My students needed to hear from me that I also felt the way they feel, and that having the sense of failure does not make you a failure. On the contrary, failures we face today are stepping stones and detours to greatness.
Personally, this conversation opened my eyes to what my focus needed to be from that point on...start highlighting my students' strengths! Our ELs enrich our classroom culture with who they are and with the languages they speak. It is our job as educators to honor our students and empower them with tools and resources to shine...even if it's a little bit! Celebrate progress! Inspire them to dream, learn, and do more so they can become more. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs before Blooms!
Reading Sarah Ottow's post: "ELL Achievement Gap or Opportunity Gap" helped me understand that the academic achievement gap that exists among our ELs is not a 'within child' underachievement issue! If our ELs are walking our school hallways repeating to themselves, "I can't", "I don't", "I won't", then it is our job as responsible adults and educators to enlighten them and empower them to aspire for more. We can see the 'big picture'...so why not support them where they are...provide OPPORTUNITIES for students to begin closing their academic achievement gap.
So, inspired by Ms. Ottow's post, I began to look for ways to provide opportunities for my students to grow, and show that they CAN! I shared with them my personal narrative as an immigrant and as a newcomer student. I was transparent with them because I wanted to gain their trust. I wanted them to see me for who I am as a person and not as a teacher.
I encouraged them to begin their own blog and narrate their personal lives. Oh, boy! The stories I learned! One student began writing about the time his mother left him in Mexico with his grandparents...he grew up thinking that his grandparents were his parents. He met his mother when he came to the U.S. at the age of 8.
Another student began to write about being adopted because one day her dad came from Mexico and shot her mom and then shot himself! Her eyes were teary as she shared her story.
Another student wanted to share his story but just couldn't get his thoughts down on paper. When I told him he should write his story in Spanish, his pencil wouldn't go fast enough to write his words!
I am taking the time to get to know my students and at the same time, I am highlighting and valuing who they are. Highlight their strengths and you'll see their weaknesses disappear!
All it takes is to go the extra mile to cultivate a relationship with your students.
When they know you care...they'll do anything for you!
Thank you for reading!
There is no complicated or long terminology to define and/or identify newcomers.
Newcomers: newly arrived immigrant students.
Now, I am no expert in guiding you through this topic, but as a newcomer and English language learner myself, I can provide a few tips on how to support your language learners in school.
I encourage you to read my previous post where I share my immigrant journey and my experiences as a newcomer student.
The first and most import thing to understand as a newcomer's educator is that newcomers will arrive with a variety of characteristics, and each student, must be treated individually according to his or her needs. The diversifications of characteristic I am referring to are literacy levels, language, socio-economic, and emotional background. All of these characteristics, (and perhaps more), must be taken into account when providing academic and English language support to newcomers. I encourage you to read this research and learn best practices and programs to support your newcomers: "Helping Newcomer Students Succeed in Secondary Schools and Beyond"
When I get newcomers in our school, I personally:
1) Guide Students' Acculturation to the School System in the U.S.:
When I first started school here in the United States, EVERYTHING was different! Transportation, food, schedule, dress code, classroom expectations, seating, and so much more! The list could go on and on...no wonder experts call it Culture Shock.
When guiding students' acculturation to the school system, don't take anything for granted. The little things you might think are not important to share with your newcomer, could become a barrier for your student to be successful in school.
2) Help Students Acquire Beginning English Skills:
If you don't know the terms BICS and CALPS, please read this! It is imperative to understand that language learning has a process. For some is faster to acquire than to others, so we must be patient and respect the process. There are so many apps and technology tools available today that can support the acquisition of English language learning, but keep in mind that the human/teacher relationship goes far beyond than a tech tool would do. You might find this read interesting!
Try these resources:
3) Provide Instruction in Core Content Areas:
Just because your newcomers don't have the academic language YET to understand core content, does not mean they should not be receiving core instruction. The ultimate goal of providing the beginning English skills mentioned above is to engage our students in core academic instruction. This article: "Language Objectives: The Key to Effective Content Area Instruction for English Learners", will help you see how students can develop language acquisition while receiving core content. We need to make sure ALL students receive the education they deserve. Remember, EQUITY and EQUALITY are not EQUAL!
4) Develop or Strengthen Students’ Native Language Literacy Skills:
I personally feel in a way that I was forced to forget my native language in order to learn the English language I needed to learn for school. WHY? As a newcomer, I knew how to read, how to write, how to have a discussion about school topics in my language. However, I was NEVER given the opportunity to show what I was capable of using my language. It is such a big mistake to try and substitute students' master native language, for the English language. ALLOW them to use their native language to assess what they know. Let them use it to their advantage and empower them to become successful bilingual/multilingual individuals. You might find this podcast interesting about "The Use of Native Language in the Classroom".
Try these resources:
If you work with newcomer and would like to share your resources, please add them in the comments below and I will be glad to add them to this post.
Thank you for reading!
Life is very interesting... in the end, some of your greatest pains, become your greatest strengths. ~ Drew Barrymore
I love the time of year when parents proudly post and share their children's prom and graduation pictures. It's without a doubt an accomplishment worth of celebration; It's an epoch to cherish forever! 🎓🎉
Now, this might not be the best graduation picture you've seen. It's not even an original! However, it's the only graduation picture I have!
Here I am, in a cap and gown, I was not permitted to wear after the picture was taken.
Allow me to share with you how this picture, for so many years, represented a personal narrative with FAILURE written all over it.
I encourage you to read my personal journey from Guatemala to the United States. This post provides a background of where I came from and how I made it to America as an undocumented and unaccompanied minor.
January 1994 marks the date I started attending school in the United States. I was 15 years old when I was enrolled at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village, New York. I was very confused at the thought of starting in high school since I had not completed any of the junior high school years. I was explained that because of my age I needed to be placed in the 9th grade. Talk about widening the achievement gap right?!
Anyway, I was thrilled to start school! I was fascinated by the alluring, towering, and gleaming school. It was so clean and the structure was something I had only seen on TV. I was stunned when they handed me a pass to ride the bus to and from school. For so many years I had walked miles to attend school, and now I get to ride the bus?! Oh, but wait...it got better. Free breakfast and lunch! WOW!
I sincerely could not have asked for more. I realized that school was supplying my essential needs so I can just attend school and LEARN!
From the very first day I started, I gave it ALL I had. I didn't speak a word of English but I made sure I took advantage of every single opportunity available to learn. I enrolled morning classes, afternoon classes, evening classes, and even weekend English courses. There was no stopping me! I was in a land of opportunities and I was going for it!
ESL, ESL and More ESL
During my first school year, my classes consisted on English as Second Language (ESL) one after the other. I had wonderful ESL teachers. Very friendly, always making me feel welcomed. One ESL teacher knew a little bit of Spanish so if I needed something, she was my go-to person. ESL classes were very old-school structured - textbook guided kind of lessons. There was no interaction, just a lot of note-taking and worksheet practice. I didn't understand then why I wanted to get out of ESL so bad. TODAY I realize that not being able to be part of the courses other students were taking was making me feel somewhat a failure. In some way, walking the school hallways as an ESL students made me feel inferior and worthless of "real" learning. I had different classes, different textbooks, different schedules. I was different.
A determination within me ignited to learn English to get out of the ESL status. So, during my junior year, (one and a half years after starting school), I placed out of ESL after taking the annual language assessment. I was super excited because that meant that I was allowed to enroll in core courses to gain credits for graduation.
I started taking economics, history, math, biology, health...etc. But, oh boy, this is where the real struggle as a language learner began. My sitting spot was always at front in all my classes. I wanted to be as close as possible to the teachers and the boards. I took as many notes as possible in each class. I brought home all my textbooks to review and to complete assignments. I realized that the school had a library that would give me books to take home, so I checked out 3 different types of dictionaries and thesaurus. I would use these at home to translate my notes and to complete assignments. Of course, my school work was always done after making dinner and putting my siblings to bed! Don't forget, even though we were in the U.S. I was still the oldest child and expected to care for the little ones while mom worked. My mother can attest how I would stay up till 3:00 am completing assignments and studying my notes! I enjoyed learning. I cherished new information. I was like a sponge soaking it all in!
I will never forget the day I started reading my economics textbook and the terms "supply" and "demand" began to make sense to me! I was understanding the words...I was understanding the content! I was learning!
I must have finished my economics book in a day or two. I started passing my classes and earning the required credits for graduation. I was so focused on school work that didn't care much about "Senior's field trip" or "prom". To be honest, I didn't know how important these events were. All I wanted was to get my credits, and pass required assessments to graduate! I have learned how important and necessary a high school diploma was to be able to go to college. I wanted to go college! I wanted to be the first in my family to obtain a career! I wanted to be a teacher! I wanted to make a difference! I had the vigor, so I knew I could do it. What you can't see in the graduation image above is the excitement I felt getting my graduation pictures done with my cap and gown!
The Walk of Shame
During my senior year, I was required to take some standardized state assessments. I don't remember exactly which ones I had to take, but the one I will never forget is the United States History State Exam. I was not prepared for this exam. I have not taken enough classes to learn the required information to pass the test. I had only been in the United States for 2+ years to know its history. However, this standardized exam and every other exam were required no matter what. So I took the exam...not once, but twice. First time in English and failed. Second time in Spanish but failed.
I was called into the guidance counselor's office to chat with a guidance counselor who kindly explained to me that passing the U.S. History exam was a requirement for graduation and without it, I was NOT going to be able to graduate. She said, "You have all your required credits for graduation so you don't have to continue in school."; "Go home, study, and come back next year to take the test again. Once you pass, you'll get your diploma."
"Go home"; "Study"; "Come back next year"; "You're done"
These words echoed in my head as tears ran down my cheeks. That afternoon I walked out of Martin Van Buren High School for the LAST time.
The walk of shame from the guidance counselor's office and down every step outside the building felt like an eternity! I was crushed. I was so disappointment in myself. I was disappointed in the school system for the lack of support. How was I going to explain this to my family? Where was I going to get the strengths to "study" for the test once I was out of school? I have failed. I was a failure.
I became part of the statistics of a Latino high school dropout in the United States because I didn't go back. "Why go back?" I thought... "I failed it twice, there's no way I can make it now."
So, if I wasn't going to school then I had to work. So at the age of 18, I got my first full-time job as a cashier at a local supermarket. My first job in the USA. I was a cashier at C-Town in Floral Park, NY. I was a very efficient worker. I worked hours after hours to earn money...or perhaps to forget and avoid how I was feeling.
This, of course, is not how my story ends...
Did you notice the quote above?!?
Life is very interesting... in the end, some of your greatest pains, become your greatest strengths. ~ Drew Barrymore
This was just an epoch in my life that motivated me to become who I am today. So, stay tuned for my next post and learn how my personal narrative changes from FAILURE to SUCCESS because of education.
👀 Read my post on resources to support newcomers be successful in school! 👀
Thank you for reading!