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!
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 was 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.
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!
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:
For more ideas and for details about given ideas on page #43 and #44, please visit bit.ly/SalvaBLog
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!