Just the other day, a Kindergarten English Learner said to me: "Mrs. Francis, I did it! I didn't think I could do it, but I did it!". Carly was excited and proud to have completed her writing assignment.
Her comment and her smile of accomplishment stirred up in me so many doubts and questions about my pedagogy and about what my students are feeling and thinking of themselves. Amazingly, a 6-year-old student made me rethink and examine my framework for effective teaching.
Th book that immediately came to mind while examining my practices was No More Low Expectations for English Learners by Julia Nora and Jana Echevarria. This 75-page book is loaded with research supported framework for effective teaching that sets high expectations for TEACHERS. In this book you'll find an array of practices that though are well-intentioned, can be what prevents our students from performing to their highest potential...NOT because of students, but because these practices are deficit-based teaching practices.
Based on Nora and Echevarria, we deny English learners access when we...
So, the question we need to ask ourselves as educators is: Are WE striving for students' high achievement or are WE trapping them in a cycle of limiting potential?!?
The answer to the question is based on the expectation we have for our students regardless of their background and/or language proficiency.
Research shows that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are the ones at risk for being subjected to teachers' low expectations. Therefore, our low expectation is their path into the cycle of limiting potential.
Believe me when I tell you it is not easy growing up with so many disadvantages that are for sure to lead you to an unsuccessful life. Just last week I participated in an activity called The Privilege Walk...and it hit me to the core! This activity made me think about all the disadvantages I experienced during my childhood. Many, if not all, were disadvantages out of my control. Many were opportunities that were denied to me as a student. This activity made me think about the students I serve and the possibilities to either make it or not. But it doesn't have to be like that!
It is very easy to fall into the low expectation trap! As soon as we learn our student is an English learner, from a low-income background, students of color, parents who are unengaged or with limited formal education, etc...our expectation bar is immediately lowered.
These students who are already at disadvantage need/should get more structured opportunities.
Again, it is easy to recognize the disadvantages and what they cannot do. However, we need to start recognizing what they CAN do and build on their strengths.
Perhaps these points provided by Nora and Echevarria can help:
“If You Are Working On Something That You Really Care About, You Don’t Have To Be Pushed.
"If, as educators, we can affirm who they are, build on their strengths, and develop thier academic skills and English language proficiency, we will help them be successful and develop the kinds of skills we want all our students to have." - Julia Nora
What is your vision for your students? What is your expectation for your students? Are they rising to their highest potential or are they stuck in the cycle of limited potential?
Great questions to guide your practice!
Thank you for reading!
With all due respect, Mark Twain, I don't think that's the case for English Learners (ELs). From an EL perspective, I can tell you that writing in English is not an easy task; As a matter of fact, there is a whole lot of crossing out when we do write!
While administrating the annual English proficiency test, I realized that several of our Kindergartners and first-grade students were having a very difficult time during their writing part of the assessment.
Kindergartners are expected to be writing at a sentence level and first graders are expected to be providing entire stories. It was very easy to sense the frustration my students were experiencing as they felt unable to provide the required written tasks.
I immediately started thinking about ways to provide multiple opportunities that are authentic and meaningful to empower my students to end the school year strong in reading and writing.
Simple Mentor Text to Fortify Output
I thought about using a very simple mentor text that would provide all elements needed to ignite a retell written assignment for students.
The objective was for students to be able to provide a retell written piece that would provide all the characters, a sequence of events, and complete sentences.
I decided to use one of the books from our Alphachant Phonics K: Phonics Kit because we had already read it so they were familiar with the text. The story consists of only four sentences but mentions 3 characters, settings, and characters' feelings.
After re-reading the text, I posted a slide with the three characters (in random order). Students volunteered to line them up in the correct order. They dictated the name corresponding to each character and I added it to the slide. We also learned the transitional words we needed to use in order to retell the story in the correct sequence.
The purpose of adding these words collaboratively was for students to have these words as a support and resource during the written assignment.
After adding the words to the slide, students turned and shared with their partner again; this time they had a lot more to discuss since they had the text on the slide as a guide.
Drawing and Writing
Now, the process for the writing was a little different for Kindergarteners than it was for first graders. I strongly believe in scaffolds and also free-write opportunities for students to feel free to just add text.
This is how I differentiated writing for Kindergartners and first graders:
Adding Technology to our Lesson
If you have not used WriteReader in your classroom...look into it right NOW!
My students LOVE this app! The fact that they can become authors of their own stories fascinates them. This is a very user-friendly up that allows you to create a class and it is easily accessed by students. When students finish publishing their book, they can share with the class and/or read each other's book.
Creating our digital books was not hard since students already had the information they needed on their charts/sheets.
When it came to their illustrations, they had two choices: take a picture of their drawing or search for an appropriate image using the search feature embedded in the app!
Sharing Our Work!
Our books displayed in the hallway for ALL to see!
Thank you for reading!
**This post appeared originally in www.achievethecore.org on April 17, 2018.**
All teachers possess philosophies and theories that emerge as they teach students in the classroom. These philosophies shape the teacher’s choices on how learning occurs and at what rate. The philosophy and the strategies I employ in my classroom are based on my personal experiences as an English Language Learner (ELL) myself.
I came to the United States at the age of 15. I experienced culture and language shock that hindered my education. My language learning experience was not pleasant since it relied heavily on just memorizing the rules of English. Later in life, I realized that language learning needs to be integrated into meaningful concepts and content learning.
This realization coupled with my own personal experiences as an ELL inspires me and motivates me to create lessons for my ELLs that are going to bring the best out of them for all to see. As an English as Second Language (ESL) teacher, my primary goal is to teach English to students whose dominant form of communication is in a language other than English. However, what I teach and how I teach it is what will inspire them to greatness.
Now, in order to provide meaningful and compelling lessons for my ELLs, I need student-friendly and user-friendly resources...and www.writereader.com is exactly what I need. This app provides a platform where students create and publish their own books using their creativity and imagination. Within each page, students can add text, voice, and an image added from the search bank or upload own images!
What I love most about this platform is the teacher’s writing section. This adult writing field can be used to provide feedback, transcribe, and/or translate.
In Boosting Achievement: Reaching Students with Interrupted or Minimal Education by Carol Salva and Anna Matis, I learned that as educators, we need a common understanding of Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) in order to establish a comfortable and interactive environment for ELLs for optimal language learning and academic achievement.
So, I found that Valentina Gonzalez provides a very clear definition in her MiddleWeb post stating that CRT is teaching that takes the experiences and assets of the students and uses them to enrich the curriculum.
Hence, based on this research and with the help of WriteReader, we are able to create the best learning experiences where language and content go together.
In order to support their language learning, we use Words Their Way with English Learners. This word study program provides my ELLs with phonics, vocabulary, and spelling practice with the support of wonderful images.
However, for my students to achieve a high level of English proficiency, they need opportunities for language acquisition. So instead of densely focusing on word lists, we use WriteReader to interact with the language in an oral and written way.
My students were super excited because they were taking ownership of their own learning and were engaged in authentic interaction with one another.
These activities would be great for your students after teaching specific vocabulary words or when teaching sight words to your students. Interacting with the words and adding images to their words allows rapid comprehension and acquisition of the target language.
We began the activity by reading: I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien - A fascinating story of three immigrant students who are working hard to fit in at their new American school. Our characters experience struggles and confusions because of the language barrier. This is a great book that not only mirrors our students’ experiences but also provides a window for students to see and learn other cultures.
After reading the book, we brainstormed ideas on how we wanted to retell our learning and together we made our own word bank to support our writing. We decided to split into three groups to represent each character. Groups were created based on the character students wanted to write about.
Students collaborated and worked very hard to create their book. Guidelines were to use transitional words - First, Next, Then, Last - and to tell how the character is feeling and why.
Students published a book for each character:
Fifth Grade - Tacos Lesson
With my 5th graders, we read Taco Takeover from StoryWorksJr from Scholastics. In this article, students read all about the beginning and history of tacos taking over in the USA. This reading led to discussions about how to make tacos. Students started discussing the facts learned but also started discussing the topping they like on their tacos.
Students wanted to write about their learning, but they also wanted to add their own personal touch. So, each student wrote their own book with facts adding their own knowledge of how to make tacos and what ingredients are needed. Read their published books: Tacos are the Bomb; Taco Takeover!!; Taco Take Over; Tacos; Tacos;
The same high expectation I have for my students is the same high expectation I have for myself when it comes to providing effective and engaging lessons for my students. As you can see, English Language Learners can engage in high-level cognitive tasks as long as we provide the appropriate scaffolding and have a strong desire for them to be successful.
Thank you for reading!
Spanish Spelling Bee at W.M. Irvin Elementary
So an idea was born...an Annual Spanish Spelling Bee at W.M. Irvin Elementary school!
I immediately shared the idea with our technology facilitator, Crystal Turney, who was very supportive and joined me plan our very first competition.
We made the announcement and invited all students in grades 3 to 5 to participate. We were very surprised with the response since we had never done it before; students didn't know what to expect but they were curious about it.
Our 2017 competition was such a great success that we decided to do it again in 2018! This year, of course, we had a lot more students to participate. We had three rounds of eliminations before getting to the finals. We had 17 students in the finals!!! All students were very well prepared and super excited to participate.
A fun way to practice the last two weeks leading to the big day is by cutting out all the words in strips and crumble up each word. Students take turns picking out an unknown word and spell it out loud.
P.S. students are allowed to write the word before spelling it. I provide dry erase boards and markers during practice days.
The logistic behind this event is to provide an opportunity for our English learners to demonstrate their language asset. We want our students to know that being bilingual is very important.
Our greatest joy is watching our students being so proud representing their grade level.
Watch our 2018 competition in the youtube video below.
Local Press appearances
Perez crowned Spanish Spelling Bee winner for second year
Elementary school holds first Spanish Spelling Bee
Thank you for reading!
If you know me well, you'd know how much I advocate for family engagement and family support to ensure student success. Ever since I started working for our school system I've organized ESL family nights to provide educational interventions aimed at promoting student success.
One reason why I feel strongly about family engagement is that it is something I felt I didn't have when attending school in the US.
Another reason was and still is because of the vast demands our schools have of our students and family support to ensure student academic success.
Just last week I thought about starting a blog in Spanish to provide "adequate" support and strategies that Latinxs parents and readers can use to utilize to support students academic success.
Though my intentions are not bad - as a matter fact, I have great intentions to support families - I started thinking about the core of my intentions. You see, I began these family meeting with our ESL families because I questioned or perhaps devalued ESL families' competence to support their children at home. I know this sounds wrong - and it is! However, I need to be honest with myself and the families I serve; and understanding the reason why I do what I do is imperative.
"As teacher and school leaders we have a responsibility to shake out the notion of what traditional parent engagement looks like. We need to be creative and persistent". - Allison Rookman
There are two books I read recently that helped me see family engagement through a different lens.
Reading these two novels made me think of a book I read a few years ago while getting my graduate ESL degree. Con Respeto by Guadalupe Váldes is a study that brings to life the everyday worlds of 10 newly arrived immigrant Mexican families. The core of this book and the two novels I mentioned above is to showcase immigrants' family life as a great resource.
As an educator, I see my colleagues and school systems well-meaning intentions in creating and providing educational interventions aimed at promoting school success based on teacher knowledge and based on school context - but not based on parent knowledge.
A New Lens
You see, instead of looking at our families' childrearing styles as a deficit, we can start by changing the way we look at our ESL families' parental knowledge.
From now on I want to make sure my families are being honored for who they are. My teacher knowledge must increase in cultural understanding to be able to embrace and maintain a comfortable environment for my ESL families and my students.
The support and tools I will be presenting my ESL parents from now on, will NOT be with the idea of changing who they are or devaluing their family support.
My ideas and tools will now be to provide parents with the tools they need to navigate the standard and expectation our schools in the US hold.
My ultimate intention, as well as our ESL families' intention, is to support our students in becoming successful adults, who although they find themselves between two words, may they be empowered to be the best they can be to represent their two worlds.
I would love to know your thoughts on this topic! Please share your comments and lets continue learning together.
Thank you for reading!