Over the summer of 2018, I took the first step to a great journey...I made the decision to transfer to Concord High School (CHS) after working six years at Irvin Elementary school. The decision was based on a burning desired within me to support students who are facing the same struggles I faced as a high school newcomer student and language learner. Read more about my personal experience as a newcomer here!
I got our classroom ready with so much excitement! However, I was more excited to meet my new students. I had already met a few of them during our ESL summer enrichment program, so I was thrilled to meet the rest of my students.
**This post appeared originally in www.MiddleWeb.com on August 29, 2018.**
One of my favorite lessons to help students develop critical thinking is the “Photo Analysis Learning Activity” from The Facing History and Ourselves program. You can use this strategy with any visual media - a piece of art, photograph, political cartoon, video clip - even a family picture.
During this activity, you are simply guiding students through a close analysis of an image. I encourage discussion by asking students high order thinking questions while they’re analyzing the image.
So, let’s analyze and respond to this picture below. What do you notice? What happened before this scene? What might happen after? What does the photograph tell you about the life of these people? If you could ask them a question, what would you ask?
Teaching is by far the most rewarding profession! What I love the most about our profession is the opportunity we have each and every day to make a difference in our students' lives.
However, the moment I experienced yesterday, taught me how much our students have to teach us...and their lessons are what ignite passion in our profession.
We are halfway through the school year and administrators are making their required observation rounds. So I was working with my 1st-grade pull-out class when our assistant principal, Mrs. Baker, walked in. I knew she was coming to see us sometime, so I was excited to show the awesome learning happening in our classroom.
However, as excited as I was to showcase our awesomeness; I was really nervous!
Anyway, I pulled out the book we had read during class the day before: “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña, and together we had a quick discussion about the characters and setting in the story.
I reminded students that just as important as naming the characters and the settings; it is also important to understand how the character is feeling throughout the story to be able to get the message the author wants for us.
Students had already started analyzing parts of the story and brainstorming what is happening as well as analyzing how the character is feeling based on illustrations and text.
I asked for volunteers to share their work with the class. I had several students who raised their hand and wanted to share their work.
I chose Jarett to share his part of the story because the day before he had done an excellent job and I knew he had the language to share his work.
What happened next, of course, took me by surprise...Jarett froze!
Jarett was holding his work and just looking around so confused and unable to say a word! So here am I thinking, "Come on, Jarett, you know the answer!"; "Just say what you told me yesterday!"; "How do I empower him to say something.?!"; "Do I give him more time, or should I call another student?!"
It was pretty awkward for a few minutes. All students, an assistant principal, and his teacher staring at him and expecting an answer. Now, I am a huge believer in wait-time! Please check out Valentina's illustration and post above; however, I also think that after a few minutes of waiting, students on the spotlight need some sort of empowerment to be successful with their response. And in that moment I really thought that this empowerment was supposed to come from me...his teacher!
The awesomeness I want to share is how the empowerment didn't actually come from me...but from whom I least expected it.
Carlos is struggling academically right now, so in my mind, answering a high order thinking question was not going to happen for him. Oh, boy, was I wrong!!!
When Carlos noticed that his partner was struggling to answer the questions, he began to side-whisper the answer they both had thought about the day before! When Jarett heard what Carlos had said, his face lit up and began telling us all about his work.
I had Carlos stand up and share along with Jerett, and between the two of them, we heard the best presentation ever!!
What a success and powerful moment for my students but more so for me! First of all, I learned a good lesson on NOT doubting my students' abilities. Just because they are below grade level does not mean I set up limitations to what they can do! Secondly, I learned that students have a powerful ability to empower and support each other. Empowerment does not always have to come from teachers...If we provide opportunities and a comfortable environment for students, they can help each other beyond our imagination!
Our API was able to snap a picture of our students smiling and sharing their work! She was very happy to see our students empowering each other and successfully share their learning!
Please do not underestimate what our English learners are capable of doing and knowing! Having the opportunities and the possibilities, our students, regardless of grade level, CAN and WILL learn and empower others to learn.
Thank you for reading!
"All the reading she has done had given her a view of life they had never seen." ~ Roald Dahl, Matilda
During the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to travel to Germany with Go Global NC. I had an unforgettable experience! The biggest impact I had during this experience was the cultural differences and similarities I experienced in 10 days. Culture shock is not new to me! I came to the USA at the age of 15 and experienced as much culture shock as you can imagine. However, the sad thing was that I felt like as a newcomer student, I was somehow forced to put aside my own culture, beliefs, and values, in order to acculturate to the USA. Once I started school I stop reading and learning in Spanish; and I never had the opportunity to share my values and my Guatemalan culture with teachers and peers. I had the thought that my culture was not worth talking or reading about.
While visiting Germany's schools, I noticed as much diversity as we see in USA schools today. What shocked me, however, was how comfortable diverse students were sharing own culture and speaking their home language. Students would have book talks and you can hear 3-4 different language spoken at one time. Wow! What an eye-opening moment for me! I loved how students embrace who they are and how they value knowing and speaking different languages!!
So I decided to take action. I want my English learners to not fall into the trap replacing culture while acculturating in the USA. Just because they are learning the language and living the USA doesn't mean they need to completely forget their roots and who they are. They need to know that their culture, language, and family beliefs are valued and matter.
So I wrote two grants and both were funded:
The following lessons can be for elementary grades K-5 and adjusted/extended as needed.
After reading the book out loud, students turned and shared with partners all the details the author mentions about similarities and differences. I had students create a T-chart with illustrations and labels as an anchor to share what we've learned. I could've created this chart myself, however, I believe in student empowerment...and having student created charts are just epic!
We used this chart as we introduced the next book. Connections are very important when introducing a new book or topic. This chart helped us predict and have discussions about the characters in our next book: Same, Same but Different.
These conversations that students were having was perfect since it prepared them to compare the two characters which are exactly what this book is about. The book is about Elliot who lives in America and Kailash who lives in India. They are pen pals who write to each other sharing their differences and similarities.
After reading the book out loud, students turned and shared with partners all the wonderful things that the two characters have in common as well as their differences. At this point, students had so much language that they could've to continue sharing all morning long. Students also created a T-chart comparing the two characters:
This book served as a window for my students to see, learn, appreciate, and discuss others' way of living.
As students were creating this chart, I asked to begin thinking about themselves and to come up with some things they had in common with one or both of the characters.
They were also asked to appreciate differences they had with one of the characters and share that as well.
If there is a book you must have as part of your classroom library, it should be I'm New Here. This book highlights exactly what students go through as newcomers in USA classrooms. In this book, you'll learn the struggles, the confusions, and the feelings that our language learners experience as they begin to acculturate in USA schools. However, what I love the most about this book, is the fact that it teaches us to highlight students' strengths and create a comfortable environment where students show their abilities. Maria, Jin, and Fatimah teach us a valuable lesson for all to learn...not just students...but educators as well.
Before we started reading I'm New Here, we discussed what it would be like to leave the USA and moved to India where Kailash lives and why? This image shows my first graders' responses using illustrations. This chart ignited a great discussion as we have already learned all about Kailash and his way of living. This was a great activity to activate background knowledge and make text to text connection. It was a great way to introduce our new book and begin predicting how the characters in our new story might feel because they had to leave their home countries to come to the USA.
Another great activity we did before we started our book was learning where our characters were from. We pulled out our world map and circled the three countries our characters were from. This is a great opportunity for students to learn a little more about different cultures. An extension to this map activity would be to learn all about: Guatemala, Korea, and Somalia.
It is always a great idea to read the book aloud the first time without any interruptions. This is a strategy that teaches students to carefully pay attention to the story from beginning to end.
After hearing the story, students turn and share with a partner all and everything they want to share the text. From character information to details - no specifics - just TALK about the text!
For the second reading, students were told to pay very close attention to character change at feelings. They are told to observe how characters feel in the beginning of the story, in the middle, and how they feel once the story ends. Though this book is excellent to teach story sequencing, my focus was on understanding the character using the details found in the text.
Students also had a written response assignment. They chose one of the characters and explained how he/she felt in the beginning of the story and compared to their feeling at the end of the story.
I was amazed how empathetic my students felt about each character. They were able to explain why students felt the way they felt and what made them change the way they each felt.
As students were sharing their individual written response, we created a classroom chart with all the details we learned about each character.
I divided our chart paper into three parts to help students visualize the information need for each character.
While we were creating our chart I can tell some students were more into one character than others. I believe it was because they identified with the character's abilities or perhaps they felt a connection with the character's background and language.
This led us to begin analyzing the character of our choice. We cut our chart along the lines and made 3 groups. Students grouped according to their favorite character. The objective was to discuss all the details learned about their character and write a personal story about him/her using transitioning words - First, Next, Then, Last and to include details from the text as to how the character's feelings changed throughout the story and why.
It was amazing how students engaged in this assignment and how enthusiastic they were to write all about the character of their choice.
If you want to read our students' books, follow this link and search the character of your choice: Maria/Jin/Fatimah. You won't be disappointed with their fantastic work!
The fascinating thing about this book is the ability to serve as a mirror for our students since they can identify with what the kids are doing; but also, as a window to expose our students the way of life in other parts of the world.
We read the book the first time just to enjoy the rich text and the illustrations. But the second time, I had my students to think as they were listening, how they could make personal connections with the text. We also discussed analyzing the text structure - (sequencing of the story).
After reading the book students turned and shared with a partner the connections they made with the actions that students perform in other parts of the world. Students also discussed the differences they observed comparing to their personal daily life.
As a written response students were asked to illustrate or write what they do every day in the morning - at school - after school - and in the evening. This prompt follows the sequence students heard from the text.
Students shared with one another and grouped themselves according to similarities in what they do every day. So this gave me the idea to have them publish another book about what they do in a day!
If you want to read our students' books, follow this link and search One World One Day.
You won't be disappointed with their fantastic work!
I have shared our students' stories using my class twitter and facebook account and it is amazing the response we are getting. My students are so excited to learn more and write more! These are just some of the feedback we are getting and has empowered my students in so many ways:
Stay tuned for our next book... The Last Stop in Market Street by Matt de la Peña
Thank you for reading!
I love this picture! I know is not the best picture you've seen but is the moment captured in the image what I love the most.
This is me in this picture. It was a January day in 1994. I was 15 years old. My two younger sisters and I were on one of many buses in our journey from Guatemala to Mexico.
Three undocumented and unaccompanied minors with so much fear that words cannot describe; but also with so much faith for a better future.
I can tell you exactly what I was thinking at that moment...
The school enrollment process was very quick and in no time I was attending school. I was enrolled at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village, NY. I wish I had a picture of my first day of school because I'm pretty sure I had the biggest smile you can imagine. I was fascinated with the building and with all the goodies I was offered upon enrollment. I was beyond excited to begin attending school. Finally an opportunity to be a kid and begin learning to one day reach the success I had always dreamed of.
Unfortunately, 3 years later, I walked out of the school in shame, disappointment, and heartbroken. I became part of the Latino High school dropout. I was told I couldn't graduate or obtain my high school diploma because of an end-of-grade test I had been unable to pass. I couldn't continue attending school because I had already completed all the required credits.
However, today, I realize that it was more than just a test what hindered my education.
You see, a test score doesn't determine success. A grade doesn't say students' dreams. A pop-quiz doesn't demonstrate potential, much less my passion.
This is why I wish my teachers knew...
I share this because the need for educators to know how our newcomers and ESL students are feeling in the classroom is critical. I can't tell you how many times my students express the sense of failure they have because they are language learners. The need for culturally responsive teaching is greater today that it has ever been.
If you have a newcomer or an English language learner, I beg you, take the time to get to know your student. STOP your focus on data, testing, and curriculum alone! Gain their hearts. Learn their story. Help them reach their potential. Let them feel that they MATTER! I promise the language and academic development will follow these priorities.
It is never too late to change your focus. Reach out for support and provide opportunities for our students to grow to be successful citizens.
Here is a post I wrote about ways to support newcomers in your classroom.
and here is a great post by Tan Huynh about essential collaboration to support English Learners.
Thank you for reading!