"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!
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!