Friday, May 26th, 2017 was the last meeting with my 5th grade ESL pull-out class. One student walked in the classroom and handed me the drawing shown below. "Mrs. Francis, You are the best ESL teacher" I blushed, hugged her, and thank her for such beautiful thought!
However, her written words made me question my abilities as their ESL teacher. As my students sat there in my room engaged and working on their assignment, I couldn't help but ask myself; Did I do enough for these students? Why are they still in my class? Why haven't they exited ESL?
Five years ago when I started my career as an ESL teacher at Irvin Elementary, this group of 5th graders was in 1st grade; So this was my very first group of ESL students!
For the past five years, I've done my job. I know that my responsibility as their ESL teacher is to analyze their needs and develop their linguistic and communicative competence in English-speaking, reading, listening, and writing.
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.
But they haven't. They are still in ESL. They are going off to middle school and they're still in the program!
But for a moment, my focus went from judging them to observing them. Then it hit me. They are just kids! They are funny, they're smart, they're sweet, and they are learning. I immediately fell more in love with them for being who they are...kids!
So I started thinking, and aiming responsibility toward me, their ESL teacher! Yes, I have done my job. I've taken my responsibilities as an educator very seriously.
What did I miss? What have I done for them in the past six years? What opportunities have I made available for them? Where did I fall short? What are they taking from me as they walk away from our school for the last time come June 9th?!? Did I advocate enough for them?
As my 5th school year comes to an end, I reflect on what I've done for my students and realize that there is always room for MORE!
More relationships, more stories, more advocacy, more love, more inspiration, more smiles, more hugs, more interventions, more opportunities, more family engagements, more listening, and much more of ME!
From this point on, I am embracing @ToddWhitaker's quote above! I do have a high expectations for my students, ALL of them, even newcomers! So if I have high expectations for them, I need to have them for myself!
I ran out of time to do more for my 5th graders...but I know I left my mark! Together we joked, laughed, read, learned, and had so much fun. I know they love me as much as I love them.
I'll treasure these drawings forever! It's a piece of them I keep with me.
My hope is for them to remember to be persistent, finish strong, and know I am here... always believing in 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!