Author Guest Post: “Their Story, Our Legacy” by Emily Francis, Author of If You Only Knew: Letters from an Immigrant Teacher
This post was first featured on Unleashing Readers website on September 25th, 2022 - HERE
During the first days back this year, our school received a special guest speaker, former educator and coach, who left a remarkable legacy. Coach Smith was fired up, sharing the wonderful stories that highlighted the amazing history of our school which he collected from 1893 to the day he retired.
I began to think about how his passionate stories impacted every staff member listening. The power of a story hit me to my core, and I began wondering about our students’ stories: What stories are students telling about our school? About us as teachers? Just like Coach Smith can share his powerful and impactful stories about a building, so our students are out and about telling stories about us.
Of course, I connected it to my personal experience as a former student new to the USA. As a fifteen-year-old scared immigrant, I entered high school with so much passion and persistence but left with shattered dreams. My story about my experience as a student in the USA is not a good one. It’s a story of pity and sadness and pain. I can close my eyes and feel exactly how I felt in my high school classes. These were uneasy feelings I don’t want my students to feel.
I cannot remember a teacher who would have incorporated practices to support my culture, identity, and strength. My high school years made me question my own identity. Just the fact that it was never acknowledged made me question my own existence.
Thinking about my personal stories from my former high school and listening to Coach Smith led me to think about my legacy. George Couros said, “Your legacy is not what you do. It’s what your students do because of you.” I dare to add… It’s what your students SAY because of you.
Feeling like we have been robbed of our identity may cause dysfunction in society. I know. I lived it. I now strive every year to make sure equitable practices are in place to better serve our students.
hApPy New Year!
As a year ends and a new year begins, we often hear the phrase “Out with the old, in with the new;” this phrase may suggest that to move forward, one must leave it all behind and evolve new ideas and changes.
To some extent, this may be what we want to do, considering the rough year we’ve all had as educators. I feel like 2021 hit us so hard – the uncertainty, the stress, the fatigue, & the emotional roller-coaster in schools drained us. Yet, we showed up. We did what we are passionate about. We poured our heart, soul, and energy into those we love…our students!
As the year came to an end, I began reflecting on the core of my persistence and endurance through these difficult days. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE students. They are why I remain in the teaching field. However, we can argue that we are facing some challenges we’ve never faced before. The pandemic is stealing our strength, love, and passion for what we do. Too many excellent teachers are leaving the field. The teacher shortage is undeniable. So, as I think about the core of my persistence and endurance in the field, I can’t help but think of my professional learning network.
In Late September 2021, I started getting messages from teachers from all across the country. These teachers were not only under the pressure of the pandemic but also facing a fast-growing enrollment of newcomers (English learners new to the USA). I could sense their frustration but at the same time felt their desire to be the best and do what’s best for their students. I felt a very strong connection with these teachers and decided to connect with them. I sent out an invitation on all my professional social media accounts using the hashtag #PLC4newcomers inviting teachers to join a virtual PLC to collaborate.
By October 2021 I had a list of over 150 teachers of newcomers who were willing to meet via Zoom to learn and share.
Our PLC began meeting the first Thursday of the month. We invite guest speakers – professionals and researchers in our field – to share their expertise with us. After hearing from our presenter, we go into breakout rooms and just chat. We encourage one another, we share ideas, we provide resources, we have meaningful collaborations.
Now, I know that Zoom meetings are not new… in fact, some of us have probably had countless Zoom meetings. However, through these PLC interactions with other passionate teachers, we started gaining strength. Through these interactions, we began feeling competent. We began embracing learning as part of growing.
We began validating each other – praising each other for the work we are already doing. Teachers lifting up other teachers. It’s the greatest feeling!
We also began a Twitter chat to stay connected. Every Thursday at 7:00 pm ET, teachers know that we are connected either via Zoom or Twitter chat. We’re just a hashtag away.
Something I realized while interacting with other teachers was that the burden on our shoulders may be blinding us from seeing our full potential as educators. We begin doubting ourselves, not because of what we’re doing or not doing – but because our best is not being recognized or validated.
So, as you reflect on last year and brainstorm New Year resolutions, don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t let your overthinking discredit your growth. You don’t need new strategies, or a new YOU, to be the best version of yourself! Connect with others and continue unfolding your love and passion for your students. Create and maintain meaningful connections that will cheer for you and will lift you up. Share small celebrations with your professional network and seek their support. We don’t need coaching right now – at least I don’t.
I need support.
Support is exactly what we need to continue all fired up while serving to the best of our abilities.
If you’re looking for meaningful connections, please, join us. Add your name to our monthly meeting invite form and come learn with and grow with us: bit.ly/PLC4newcomers.
So, going back to the phrase “Out with the old, in with the new”: I choose to keep the old – because the old is working for me right now. I’m keeping my meaningful connections, evolving new ideas and changes as they come. Unfolding the real me.
Yours In Equity,
Thank you for reading!!
**This post appeared originally in www.Middleweb.com on November 12th, 2020**
Click HERE to read original post
Here's my review of the new book for ELA & ELL teachers by Valentina Gonzalez and Dr. Melinda Miller - Published by Seidlitz Education
Reading & Writing with English Learners: A Framework for K-5
I experienced an extraordinary feeling while reading Valentina and Melinda’s book. I was reading the introduction when I began highlighting text, making notes on the pages, and writing takeaways in my notebook. Reading & Writing for English Learners is a book that highlights the best of my two worlds: my English learner world and my educator world.
The English learner in me couldn’t contain the excitement as I was reading a book with a core belief centered on what’s best for English language learners (ELs). You see, I was once an English learner sitting at the back of class unengaged and just accumulating knowledge without the opportunity to demonstrate my learning.
Reading and writing lessons were not structured in a way that students’ background and home language were maximized. This lack of opportunities and modalities to demonstrate what I was able to do in class just made me feel like an outsider and without a sense of belonging.
So reading a professional development book that is centered around the whole child – and also provides ideas to weave in culturally responsive practices to help English learners grow linguistically – fills my heart with so much joy and hope for ELs.
The educator in me is grateful for a book that not only validates my pedagogy throughout but also provides new ways to help me grow and develop as I learn to teach reading and writing through a language lens.
**This post appeared originally in Seidlitz Education on April 21st, 2020.**
It doesn’t happen as often as it should, but when it does, it is the most amazing feeling one can experience. That moment when you’re reading a book and you see your life and family experiences reflected on every single page. That moment when you see text and images intertwine on a page to bring forth cultural validation and acceptance. That moment when you close the book and cry tears of happiness because you realize that stories are so much deeper than you ever thought.
I experienced all this and so much more the day I read Sometimes… by Hugo Ibarra and John Seidlitz.
(video of me reading the book aloud for International Children’s Book Day.)
Sometimes… is just the book we need right now. Ibarra and Seidlitz share with us a story in which immigrants’ experiences are legitimized, one that opens doors for connections and much-needed conversations. It is a story that made me think about how experiences and family stories don’t have to be forgotten. And about how significant it is when stories are shared, because they validate what is core in our existence and our hopes for what is to come.
Sometimes… is a story of hope. A story of courage and strength. A story of a family who worked together through difficult circumstances to make their dreams come true. And even though sometimes things don’t go as planned and changes need to happen along the way, we see the characters rising through it all. We see Andrés and Clara holding tight to the hope offered by their mother and teachers. A hope that helps them get through every situation that comes their way.
The International Children’s Book Day theme for 2020 was “A Hunger for Words”, and as much as I identify with this phrase, I also believe there’s a hunger for cultural understanding — a hunger for identity and individual acceptance.
Children all over our nation deserve to open a book and see their families’ experiences and languages heard and represented.
Through the lens of an unaccompanied and undocumented immigrant, an English language learner, and an educator, I closely analyzed each page of Sometimes… and wrote down a few essential points at which the book authentically reflects many of our students’ experiences.
I wanted to share a great conversation I had with Adam Strong, director of Re-Imagining Migration, on how to build effective and lasting relationships with newcomers.
You'll notice who this is a very simple conversation but loaded with practical and effective ways to create and maintain strong relationships with newcomers. I have no doubt that all students need and deserve a teacher who takes his/her time to get to know them and care for them. However, newcomers, students who not only left their country behind but could've experienced a lot to be here in the USA, have an urgent need to be heard and understood.
Our conversation was first posted on Re-Imagining website on March 3rd, 2020 - and you can read it here.
On March 13th, 2020 - Share My Lesson website shared it too!! I am so excited to see how a simple conversation about supporting newcomers is so very well accepted by these platforms that work hard to provide effective lessons to educators.
You can find the same post here: "Building Relationships with ELL Students and Newcomers: A Conversation with Emily Francis".
Learning and understanding what your students have experienced can give a perspective you’ve never had. Learning their experiences can open up your eyes to a world you’ve never seen or lived before.
Thank you for reading!
If you're like me, I'm always looking for opportunities to learn and better my craft. This is why I wanted to share this with you. On June 5th, 2019, I had the amazing opportunity to present on a webinar with 3 other incredible educators. This webinar was made available through Achieving the Core, an excellent website that provides free, ready-to-use classroom resources that support excellent, standards-aligned instruction for all students.
This webinar helped kick off Achieving the Core's Summer Reading Challenge 2019, which I highly recommend you check out!
As "most popular authors" from Aligned, we introduced some of the transformative practices we’ve implemented in our schools that have helped boost engagement and achievement.
#ELLchat_BKclub Meta Round 17.0
On December 15th, 2018, Dr. Katie Toppel (co-founder of Twitter chat #ELLchat_bkClub) reached out to a few of us in our PLN (Professional Learning Network) and shared her idea for round 17.0 Twitter book chat.
For round 17.0, Katie offered us to help facilitate a book study on Making Content Comprehensible text from SIOP by each one of us taking charge of a component. The idea was to make this an 8-week "meta" book study - one week for each component. Each facilitator was invited to guide each component with own ideas, resources, videos, live chats, presentations, and connections with other previously read books in our chat.
So each one of us provided our preferences as to which component we wanted to lead. The component assignments were as follows:
As soon as the "meta" promo went out, participants immediately began sending in selfies with the book and showing so much excitement about participating. It was even more amazing with the author Dr. Jana Echevarria started engaging in conversation and even blogged about #ELLchat_bkClub round 17.0 - "Is SIOP Only for ESL Teachers?" - Read her post HERE.
My favorite line is "join the Twitter PLC discussion on SIOP." WOW!! Just awesome to read this from the SIOP author and highly recognized researcher in our field.
**This post appeared originally in literacyworldwide.org on Jan 31st, 2019.**
“One of our most important responsibilities in school is to protect and advocate for our students’ individuality and identity; it’s their greatest gift.”
Personal experiences are powerful. My journey as a first-generation immigrant and a former English learner is now central to what I do. My personal experiences, coupled with my responsibilities as an educator, have helped me to embrace the role of an advocate and to create and establish a sense of culture that values students’ greatest gifts: identity and individuality.
When ILA launched Children’s Rights to Read campaign last fall, I immediately saw connections to my teaching philosophy and the role I can play in advocating for those rights.
Children’s Rights to Read—10 fundamental rights ILA asserts every child deserves—is a campaign in which ILA aims to activate educators around the world to ensure every child, everywhere, receives access to the education, opportunities, and resources needed to read.
As a high school teacher of English as a second language (ESL), my job is to analyze my students’ needs and to develop their linguistic and communicative competence in English in all language domains.
However, my goal as an educator is to create meaningful learning experiences that serve as pathways for connection. I can create those experiences through the framework of Children’s Rights to Read
This post is part II to the previous post about inspiring students to write. Read part I here. Part one was also featured on www.achievethecore.org on June 22nd, 2018.
In order to maintain my students' passion for writing, I realized that compelling ideas were necessary to maintain their interest in writing. One way to encourage writers is by thinking with the end in mind. This just means brainstorming some ideas to wrap-up their hard work as writers. Our idea was to celebrate our writing by publishing our work and sharing it with staff, students, and the world!
My students were super excited from the very beginning. They understood that they would have to work very hard to complete a work worth sharing with the world. They understood the power of having an authentic audience.
To support students develop the language needed to discuss the pictures, we created verbal sentences to go with each picture.
I truly believe that giving my students these sentences and saying them in a rhyming and choral way, helped them as they started their individual writing process.
As a way to provide the scaffold they needed to be successful writers, we created two anchor charts with some images and words just so they knew where to look if and when they needed support.
Notice I said, "WE created"! It is very important for students to take part in creating anchor charts...ultimately it is for them to use so it needs to be as kid-friendly as possible. If you just pull-out an anchor chart already created, it becomes just a paper on the wall with no use whatsoever.
For the first part of the story, I asked students to write their sentences in their notebook. We started with an image and used the image to complete a sentence. We also talked about using our drawings to add to our digital book.
Some students needed my support more than others, but for the most part, students were very good about completing their story.
Our Digitalized Stories
Once students had the first part of the story completed, students began transferring their stories onto a digital platform. The best and most effective platform to create digital stories with lower grade student is www.WriteReader.com. Students have used this app before so they just jumped right in to create their stories.
Watch my Kindergartners' presentation on YouTube!
First Graders' Work
Students were given complete freedom as to where to sit, how to take notes, discussions, etc. They all helped each other as they collected information. Students were super excited to see the pictures in the book and were so engaged in conversations about the topic. Students at a higher level reading and/or language proficiency were very helpful to students who needed more support.
Check out this video of students helping and learning from each other!
There's just something about writing what you read that supports comprehension...so I make my students take notes and draw pictures as they read and learn something new. Taking notes on a notebook had two purposes:
Here are some examples of students' work:
I was very impressed with their work and so were they! They were so excited about sharing with their peers all the facts they've learned!
Once we have collected enough information or at least answered the questions we agreed on, students began to publish their books using WriteReader.com.
Once their book was published, they shared it with one another and read each other's book. It was amazing to see how much reading they were doing and they didn't even realize it.
Read their published books here:
We invited Kindergarten, 1st-grade teachers, and administrators to our class the day of our author celebration.
Thank you for reading!
**This post appeared originally in www.WriteReader.com on May 30, 2018.**
As a first generation-immigrant, a former English language learner (ELL) and as an educator today, I’m astounded by how my two worlds are colliding. On one side of the continuum, we are given information by the National Center for Education Statistics of the alarming, continuously growing number of ELLs enrolling in U.S. schools. On the other side, we have educators who are facing one of the biggest shifts in educational practice; not only are teachers responsible for having each and every student access grade-level content, they are now also having to foster English language acquisition and/or dual-language learning.
Though this interrelation may be a challenge for some educators, it is an issue that needs attention since it is impacting our future-ready learners. Now the real issue is not what is happening around us but how we are responding to it. A positive way to respond is by growing a classroom culture that is culturally responsive and providing students with effective and/or consistent language support.
Merging my personal experience with my obligations as an educator, I see the critical need and responsibility to intentionally integrate tools into my lessons that not only highlight but sustain my students’ linguistic heritage. In my experience, WriteReader is the most appropriate and effective resource to use with our diverse students.
This web-based, user-friendly app provides a platform where students create and publish their own books using their creativity and imagination, while developing their academic and linguistic competence in English and/or Spanish. WriteReader places value on students’ linguistic heritage by giving access to its features in a dual-language format. This intentional inclusivity places value on their heritage and culture by providing a comfortable environment for students to take a risk in their academic, linguistic, and cultural development.
Let’s take a closer look at how WriteReader can be used to support students’ academic, linguistic, and cultural development.
There are several academic advantages for using WriteReader. While students are creating their own book, there’s critical thinking, collaboration, and reading and writing development. The creation of their book requires students to think critically about their sentence structure and focus on the image aligning with their text. Students collaborate with each other asking for support and/or showing their expertise. Literacy acquisition increases since they have to make sure that the letter they are typing phonologically aligns with the sounds they need to make the words. Students also have the opportunity and advantage to access their peers’ books and read just for fun. This reading is not frustrational since it is at the students’ level. Reading their peers’ books will also build students’ background knowledge on topics that may be new for them.
Students collaborating and publishing their book together.
A recent article, The Future of Education is in Two Languages, highlighted the impact that bilingualism has on cognitive enhancement, critical thinking, and sensitivity toward other people and cultures. The author, Fabrice Jaumont, is convinced that dual-language education should be the norm rather than the exception.
So, in order to create a sense of belonging for our ELLs, dual-language learners, and all students in general, allowing students to use their native language (L1) should be the norm in every classroom. WriteReader’s features allow students to navigate through the platform entirely in L1, providing an advantage for students to access content and provide opportunities to show their abilities. Students have the option to hear each letter sound as they type, which supports the phonological awareness in both L1 and the second language (L2). Another article provides an extensive explanation on literacy acquisition in both L1 and L2 and how language skills can transfer to another language, even while L2 is still developing. Encouraging students to use L1 when writing is honoring, accepting, and respectful. Languages are more than words; they help us define who we are, in our own words.
Here’s an example of how my newcomers use L1 with WriteReader to publish a bilingual glossary. To read more and get lesson ideas, visit Achieve the Core.
Newcomer students creating bilingual glossary.
Without a doubt, I’m convinced that language and culture are intertwined. Therefore, integrating tools that encourage and allow students the use and practice of L1 places value on children’s heritage and culture. Embracing and validating our students’ background and culture will create an environment where students flourish not just academically but linguistically too. Culture and diversity can’t be measured in a classroom; however, it can be noticed. When students are reading and writing about topics that they connect with personally and culturally, they are engaged at a deeper level. The use of compelling topics supports comprehensible input, as it relates to the theory of second language acquisition.
Read our published book about Cascarones here
"It’s about helping the next generation fulfill their potential and become successful human beings." - Dave Burgess
In closing, I’m inspired by a quote found in Dave Burgess’ book, Teach Like a Pirate. Dave writes, “With a focus on professional passion, teaching is no longer about relaying in content standards...it’s about transforming lives. It’s about killing apathy. It’s about helping the next generation fulfill their potential and become successful human beings. It’s no longer about memorizing facts; it’s about inspiring greatness.” With this in mind, I embrace the idea of creating a classroom culture that values students’ language and culture. Thank you, WriteReader for providing educators with a fabulous tool to validate our students.
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!
This post is featured on Confianza's website: Honoring Students' Stories: Identity Texts to Write and Diverse Texts to Read
We all know what a mirror is. We all have them and we all need them. Collins dictionary defines a mirror as a flat piece of glass which reflects light so that when you look at it you can see YOURSELF reflected in it.
Sometimes we like what we see, sometimes we don't. Perhaps you remember the mantra of Snow White's evil stepmother:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?
This evil queen had a mirror that will always reflect what she wanted to see...but on many occasions, it revealed things she didn't want to see so she'd do something about it.
We can apply this same concept to books.
Books as mirrors is not a new concept. The idea that a book reflects readers' identity and experiences was presented to us a few years ago. The problem I see is the lack of access to diverse books for students to actually see themselves reflected in books. This is worrisome because "when children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about who they are devalued in the society of which they are a part of." (Read more) This is how the danger of a single story begins!
Considering Our Classroom Library
So now that we know how detrimental it is for our students to not see themselves reflected in text, our job is to make it tangible. Stand in front of your classroom bookshelf and ask:
The true meeting takes place when the book opens, and a stranger reads about — and comprehends — a stranger.
The books you choose as a mentor text for your lessons are very important as well. I understand that we have a standard we need to cover. However, there are books out there available for us to not only teach the necessary content but also validate and represent students sitting in our classrooms who long to be seen and understand for who they are.
Here you have a few resources to help you find diverse books to use as mentor texts:
This is my sixth year in the classroom; Every year I try different methods to make sure I have diverse books available for my ESL students. It is my responsibility to empower them with the tools to know that they matter. Perhaps, they'll be inspired to be the author of their own personal story because now they know that they are worth being the main character in a story.
This is our ESL classroom library with diverse books. Every day my students take a book home...I tell them that they can borrow a book but they get to keep the ideas...but if they keep my book...
I rather lose a book than a reader ~ Donalyn Miller
If you have any resources or ideas you'd like to share with me, please let me know in the comments!
Thank you for reading!