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!
Tan Huynh invited me to guest post on his website about my methods on grading English language learners and newcomer students.
**This post appeared originally in www.empoweringELLs.com on August 7, 2017.**
As an English as Second Language (ESL) teacher, my job is to analyze my students’ needs and develop their linguistic and communicative competence in English-speaking, reading, listening, and writing skills. 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.
To help me accomplish my goal and perform my job as an ESL teacher I have the WIDA (World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment). North Carolina is part of the WIDA consortium of states dedicated to the design and implementation of standards and equitable educational opportunities for English Learners (ELs). As an ESL teacher, I use WIDA standards along with Common Core State Standards to
Undoubtedly, one immeasurable reward I find in being an ESL teacher is seeing my students reach a high proficiency level of English and to be able to function independently in core instruction. So, merging my personal experiences as an EL with my obligations as an educator, I see the critical need and responsibility to serve as an advocate for my students. Thus, I use the WIDA Can Do Descriptors!
The Can DO Descriptors provide a clear and basic overview of ELs’ ability based on their initial or annual language proficiency test. This powerful document highlights what our ELs CAN do at various stages of the language development and for each language domain as they interact with core content.
I encourage you to take advantage of these valuable documents that by the way are free through the WIDA website. Even if your state is not a WIDA state, these documents can be a great tool not only for you as an ESL teacher, but also for mainstream classroom teachers, students, and parents!
Allow me to share with you a few ways I use the CAN Do Descriptors at my school, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to go a step further with these documents.
TIP #1: Share the CAN Do Descriptors with Mainstream Classroom Teachers.
At the beginning of the each school year, I gather all the teachers at my school and we go over ACCESS, CAN DOs, accommodations, and modifications. For teacher buy in, I make sure my presentation is fun and engaging. I begin by giving them the acronym ‘ACCESS’ (Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State) and they have to guess as a group what each letter stands for.
The group who gets most letters correct gets a small price! Teachers learn how to read their students’ language proficiency levels and use the CAN Do name charts to chart each student in his/her corresponding proficiency level for each language domain. These are the name charts we use: Kindergarten, First grade, Second-Third, Fourth-Fifth. Higher grades are also available on the WIDA website.
Teachers understand that even though students receive a proficiency composite score, it’s imperative to see which domain is the student’s strength and/or weakness to better support during instruction. Teachers also receive this document that provides linguistic accommodations teachers can use to support students access core without having to water down content. This other document is also helpful since it provides Bloom’s Taxonomy questions differentiated by language proficiency level.
TIP #2: Share the CAN DO Descriptors with your Students
This year I started sharing with my students not only their ACCESS scores but also the CAN DO Descriptors. I never thought how exciting this would be for all my students. They all loved looking at their scores and charting their name on the appropriate proficiency level for each language domain. You could hear students say: “Look, I am really high in speaking!” or “Look, I really need to work on my writing.”
Students received two highlighters, one to highlight the current CAN DO statements, and another one to highlight the goal we set for next school year. Their CAN DO chart is glued in their daily notebook so when we used them they can see it and be encouraged. Next school year, I will be using this student friendly CAN DO charts. Not only are they colorful, but they’re much better for them to read and understand.
I believe without a doubt that students need to be explicitly taught the expectation we have of them from the very beginning. My students understand that their teacher, their parents, and I know exactly what they can and cannot do.They have a clear understanding and a visual of where they are linguistically and where my goal is for them to be by the end of the school year. They know that I will be reporting quarterly to teachers and parents how they are progressing toward their language proficiency goals.
TIP #3: Share the CAN DO Descriptors with Parents:
Yes, you read this right...share it with your student’s parents! The CAN DO Descriptors are such a powerful tool for teachers and students that this year I decided to start sharing it with parents through a progress report format.
Let me elaborate; When I get my students’ ACCESS scores, I analyze each and every student’s data to determine their school year language goal. It’s really all about getting to know your students to better support them in the language domains they need it most.
For example: If Emily’s ACCESS report states that she made a 3 in speaking, then her goal for the year would be to master the 3 and make it to a 4. If she made a 2 in reading, her goal for the year would be a 3...so on and so forth. If a student makes a 5 or 6, then there is no goal assigned for that domain since the student had shown mastery on the domain. A student could have 1 - 4 goals depending on his/her language proficiency.
In order to have parent support in helping their child grow linguistically and academically, I provide them with a quarterly progress report that lets them know how they are doing throughout the year. Teachers may also get this report if they wish to see how their student is doing in ESL. I make the effort to honor my students’ family language by translating their progress reports.
WIDA has the descriptors available in Spanish if you wish to use them! I know for a fact that our parents would appreciate receiving such valuable document in their native language. Take a look at this example!
Our county is fortunate to use ELLevation, an online platform that houses our ELs’ data information and provides language strategies. It is through this platform that we can assign students’ language goals and note their progress. The ELLevation goal bank offers goals for newcomers as well! This allows me to provide a report for students who are just entering the language proficiency levels spectrum. It also gives me an idea of what I should be focusing on students who are new to the English language.
These are the progress reports I use. Feel free to download, edit, and use as you like. I won’t lie to you...it takes some work to put them together but in the end, it is all worth it because you’re providing accurate and helpful information to your students, teachers, and parents.
As you can see, there is so much we can get out of such a valuable document such as the Can Do Descriptors! Now you know that not only is a tool that we can use as ESL teachers to support the students we serve, but it CAN be so much more! Our students CAN DO...Let’s show that they can! If you are on Twitter, join us by posting ELLs’ success stories using #ELs_CAN so we can celebrate with you!
Added middle school grades and high school ESL progress reports
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 above is 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.
Watch this video where Ms. Salva's students express gratitude for the opportunity to read text that can help them make those needed personal connections.
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!
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:
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!
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!