Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday Musings: Relaxation and Rejuvenation

"From the end spring new beginnings."
-- Pliny the Elder

This was my first year not being in a classroom but had I been teaching, last Friday would have been my final day of the school year, due to making up all the snow days in the winter.  After the excitement and chaos of the last week of school, it usually took me about a week to decompress and then I was ready to forge ahead with my summer vacation.

There were often opportunities to do curriculum work in my former district.  I was on several committees over the years that rewrote the ELA and Social Studies curricula for particular grades as well as committees that developed ESL curricula aligned with the Massachusetts frameworks and then with the WIDA standards.  I enjoyed the work and it got me enthused about wanting to implement the new lessons provided as examples.
One of the WIDA resources; source: WIDA
For a number of years I also traveled, in the U.S. and abroad.  I was very interested in documentary filmmaking and took my trusty Sony videocamera on all my trips.  When I returned home, I made documentaries for my classes, which I shared with other teachers for use in their classes, about the places and cultures I had experienced.
Sony Handycam DCR-HC30; source: Overseas Electronics
This all came about because one day, when showing a video to my students, I realized that the narrator was speaking too quickly for my ELLs to comprehend the information being discussed.  So I showed the video a second time, which became a regular practice of mine and which I highly recommend as a strategy when using video with ELLs, but it was still difficult for some of my students to understand the content.  When I made my first video, I made sure to slow down my rate of speech when doing the narration.  I was gratified when, after showing it to my fifth graders, they said it was easy to understand.
The first documentary video I created; source: The ESL Nexus
Of course, I also spent a lot of time relaxing and doing non-education-related things.  Being able to relax for an extended period of time enabled me to recharge and rejuvenate and so by the end of the summer, I was totally ready and even eager to get back to my classroom and get back to work, excited to try out all the new ideas I’d accumulated during my vacation.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer Reading: Book Recommendation #4

Time for a change.  I mean that literally, in the sense that this week I am not recommending another literacy-related book and I also mean that in the sense that the demographics of the students attending U.S. public schools is changing.

This past school year was the first time that students from racial and ethnic minority groups outnumbered white students, according to the U.S. Department of Education.  While some of this change is due to immigration, a report by the Pew Research Center cited in The Washington Post states that it is driven more by an increase in the birth rate in minority families.

What this means for schools is that they are increasingly diverse in their population.  A huge increase has come in the number of English Language Learners enrolling in public schools.  One book that can help educators better understand the needs of linguistically and culturally diverse students is Not for ESOL Teachers: What Every Teacher Needs to Know about the Linguistically, Culturally, and Ethnically Diverse Student, by Eileen N. Whelan Ariza. 

There are six sections in the book.  Part One provides background information about the range of diversity among students in contemporary classrooms.  Through short descriptions of a multitude of teaching and learning situations followed by analysis, the author reveals the kinds of experiences that can occur more and more often in American schools today.  She then discusses what ethnocentricity, cultural diversity, and diverse learning styles mean in the context of the public schools.  These are very helpful chapters  for teachers who do not possess an anthropology background.  At the end of every chapter is a set of questions for discussion and/or tasks to do to reinforce the chapter ideas.

Part Two discusses five groups of students: Native Americans, Asian Americans, Muslims, Haitians, and Hispanic or Latino students.  The focus here is on their traditional beliefs and how to communicate effectively with people belonging to these ethnic groups.  Part Three provides a short introduction to second language acquisition.
Demographic info for ELLs and immigrants, 2015; Migration Policy Institute
After offering a rationale for why integrating language and content into classroom instruction is important (and referring to the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, which will be the basis for an upcoming blog post), Part Four gets to what I consider one of the most pressing questions in public education today: How to teach academic content to ELLs.  Not for ESOL Teachers does not go into great detail—there are loads of other books that do and do it well—but this book offers general suggestions that are commonly recommended to mainstream teachers.  Supplemented with more stories from classrooms, the author explains how these techniques will benefit ELLs.  Another chapter deals with teaching literacy to young learners and the last chapter in this section talks about teaching math.  There is also a section describing several strategies that are helpful when working with ELLs.

Not For ESOL Teachers closes with sections on assessment and working with other people who have responsibility for ELLs.  The assessment chapter is very brief and just discusses why some test questions are culturally difficult for ELLs and offers some ideas for creating authentic assessments.   There is a chapter on working with parents that explains why many are hesitant to get involved with their children’s schools and what teachers can do to make them feel welcome.  The final chapter includes a five-page list of suggestions on how other school personnel can support ELLs.  There are several appendices and an extensive bibliography at the end of the book.
Book cover; source: The ESL Nexus
Not for ESOL Teachers is a broad overview of issues involved in the teaching of English Language Learners.  It is by no means comprehensive but that is not its purpose.  It is an easy read, which makes the concepts presented in this 203-page book more palatable and easily digested.  Any teacher looking for a good foundation in what is involved in teaching ELLs would do well to read this book.

Publication information:
Published by Pearson, New York; 2006; ISBN: 0-205-38690-3

You can read additional reviews of books that are useful for educators working with ELLs here, here, here, and here.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Musings: On Procrastination

"Procrastination is the thief of time."
-- Edward Young
A poet and playwriter who was born around 1683 and died in 1765, Edward Young became famous for his poem Night Thoughts, a rumination on death based on events from the writer’s personal life.  Today’s featured quotation is a line from the first section of the poem.  Even without the context, its meaning is clear.

I need to take this sentiment to heart!  Have you ever had so many things to do that it’s just easier to not do any of them because you don’t know what to do first?  Because it’s easier to think about the end instead of the process needed to get there?  Because it’s easier to passively read something already written than to actively create something new of your own?
Yup!  Source: Duff McDuffee
This was true when I was faced with designing lesson plans for 30 or so different classes on a weekly basis as the only ESL teacher in my school and also when I had stacks of writing to correct.  It is also true now, when there are so many things I would like to work on regarding my TeachersPayTeachers store during the next couple months.  Sometimes it’s just overwhelming when I think about everything I want to do so I spend time creatively procrastinating instead of creating. 

Here are three strategies that have worked for me--when I get around to applying them!  Deadlines help: If I know something needs to be done by a certain time, it will get done but without the pressure of a deadline, it’s too easy to put it off and do something else in the meantime.  Telling other people my goals also helps as then I feel more accountable for doing things by the time I say they will be done.  Writing a list of tasks and then crossing them off as they are completed is another tactic I have used to counter procrastination.
Suggestions for avoiding procrastination; source: High Performance Lifestyle
What are some ways you avoid letting procrastination steal away your time?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Summer Reading: Book Recommendation #3

Last week, I recommended a book that discussed how to teach reading.  From Reader to Reading Teacher offers a theoretical background for designing and implementing a reading program.  This week, I’d like to stay with the topic of literacy since reading and writing are essential skills across the curriculum and are a challenge for most English Language Learners.  Students learning to read and write in a second language face additional challenges beyond acquiring phonemic awareness and decoding skills and being able to spell correctly.
Reading and writing in school; source: Professional Learning Board (all rights reserved)
Reading and Writing in More Than One Language: Lessons for Teachers is edited by Elizabeth Franklin and includes seven chapters plus an introduction.  What I like about this 149-page book is that it is filled with vignettes of ELLs in language arts classes in a wide variety of teaching contexts.  It’s an easy read and there are lots of illustrations of student work.  Also, each chapter has suggestions for teachers on how to implement the ideas presented in each chapter as well as a list of references and recommendations for further reading on each particular topic.
Book cover; source: The ESL Nexus
It’s difficult to summarize the chapters in a sentence or phrase so I will list them below instead, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 7:
* School Success for Secondary English Learners
* The Everyday Surprise: Nourishing Literacy in the Classroom
* Cross-Age Tutoring and ESOL Students
* Achieving Literacy Through Multiple Meaning Systems
* Evaluating Reading, Valuing the Reader
* The Fiction Writing of Two Dakota Boys
* A Bilingual Child’s Choices and Voices: Lessons in Noticing, Listening, and Understanding

Most of Reading and Writing in More Than One Language consists of descriptions of students and analyses of their work, with only a little theory thrown in.  Teachers of ELLs as well as mainstream and special education teachers will surely find something in this book that is applicable to their own teaching.

You can read additional reviews of books that are useful for educators working with ELLs here, here, here, and here.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Monday Musings: Magna Carta and ELLs

"I firmly believe in the the rule of law as the foundation for all our basic rights."
-- Sonia Sotomayor

Today is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta by King John and forty English barons at Runnymede.  England in 1215 was completely different from the United States in 2015 but the concept of the rule of law that was established by the Magna Carta has resonated through the centuries and some of its ideas are enshrined in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.
King John at Runnymede; source: The Telegraph
The clause that has had the most impact is the one guaranteeing the right to justice and a fair trial.  This has had an effect on English Language Learners because they have had to go to court in some states before they were given the right to receive an appropriate public school education.  Lau v. Nichols is the most famous case; in 1974, it established that students who were not fluent in the English language had to be educated in a manner in which they could understand what they were being taught.  This led to bilingual and ESL programs being developed and implemented throughout the U.S.  Without the concept first laid down in the Magna Carta that even 1800 Chinese students in San Francisco, on whose behalf lawyers brought the lawsuit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, are entitled to justice, current English Language Learners might still be forced to “sink or swim” in school.
Chinese students in San Francisco; source: Lau v. Nichols on
Here are some websites about the Magna Carta and its anniversary today:
* Magna Carta: Foundation of Liberty
* Magna Carta: An Introduction (includes a short video suitable for students about the Magna Carta)
* Featured Documents at The National Archives: The Magna Carta
* New York Times article: Magna Carta, Still Posing a Challenge at 800
* A fun, 10-question quiz about the Magna Carta (I got 6/10--guess I need to read more English history!)

And here is a product that can help ELLs access the mainstream curriculum so they can be successful in school.  It’s a series of vocabulary words in the content areas, which I used as word walls in my classroom. According to the teachers I consulted when developing this for my room, these are the most important academic subject words for middle school students to know.
Click HERE to find out more; source: The ESL Nexus
Happy Birthday, Great Charter!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Summer Reading: Book Recommendation #2

Many English Language Learners need to develop their reading skills.  Many teachers of ELLs know how to help students improve their reading comprehension.  A disconnect occurs when students need help with basic literacy skills such as developing phonemic awareness.  This is especially problematic for adolescent learners who are expected to read to learn and are supposed to have already learned to read.  But ELLs come to school from a variety of backgrounds and many of them do not have a strong foundation in reading in English, for a variety of reasons.  ESL teachers who find themselves faced with teaching students how to learn to read may not know how to approach the task.
English alphabet; source: Digital Chalkbaorad, Starfall ABC Alphabet
I was one of those teachers.  Most of my students were kids who were born in the U.S. to parents who spoke another language at home.  My students grew up speaking and understanding English for social purposes but when they started school, they had difficulty with reading and writing.  I searched for appropriate materials for years—resources to teach adolescent learners how to read—but what I found was pretty much aimed at young learners and wasn’t appropriate for my older students.  It was frustrating for me to not know how to help these students.
Sounding out a word; source: Child1st Publications, LLC
Then I discovered From Reader to Reading Teacher: Issues and Strategies for Second Language Classrooms, by Jo Ann Aebersol and Mary Lee Field.  It’s a resource book for teachers, not a textbook for students, and is part of the Cambridge Language Education series edited by Jack C. Richards.  The book can be used in a study group or a professional learning community or by an individual teacher on her/his own.  Combining theoretical knowledge about reading with practical examples and short exercises, this book provides a thorough foundation for teachers needing or wishing to learn more about teaching reading to ELLs.
Book cover; source: The ESL Nexus
From Reader to Reading Teacher opens with a short introduction and then explains what reading is and what is involved in reading in a second language.  Subsequent chapters discuss: Designing a Reading Course, Preparing to Read, Reading the Text, Reviewing Reading, Vocabulary Issues in Teaching Reading, Using Literature, Assessing L2/FL Reading, and Planning the Reading Lesson.  Each of these chapters includes short tasks for teachers to get them thinking about the ideas discussed and they all end with a section for further exploration of the concepts and a chapter summary.  The 263-page book concludes with a short chapter titled The Learning Spiral and the Reading Teacher.  Appendices include samples from reading textbooks at different proficiency levels. 

This book is a comprehensive look at what it means to teach reading and what is involved in the process of reading.  After I finished From Reader to Reading Teacher, I had a much better understanding of the issues and felt better prepared to tackle the challenge of teaching my adolescent ELLs to read.

Publication information:
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 1997; ISBN 0-521-49785-X

You can read additional reviews of books that are useful for educators working with ELLs here, here, here and here.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Monday Musings: Learning a Language is Learning a Culture

"To have another language is to possess a second soul."
-- Charlemagne
A couple weeks ago, I had brunch with two Chinese friends.  They were a husband and wife whom I'd first met in Wuhan, China, in the winter of 1990 when I went to teach at the university where they studied and worked.  The wife became my first Chinese language teacher and I learned a lot from her and it wasn't just the Chinese language.  They invited me into their home and showed me how a typical young couple lived in China.  In the two years I taught at that university, we became good friends.

Another Chinese family also made me feel welcome and I spent many an evening at their home playing mahjongg or just enjoying a delicious home-cooked dinner.  They were a multi-generational family: great-grandmother (whose feet had been bound when she was younger, and it was rare to see that when I was in China), grandfather and grandmother, daughter and son-in-law, and granddaughter.  Because not everyone in the family spoke English, spending time with them was a great opportunity for me to practice my Chinese.
Mahjongg tiles; source: The ESL Nexus
But because I was there to teach English, I felt obligated to use English as much as possible at the university, although shopkeepers and other workers didn't know the language and that also gave me a chance to develop my Chinese skills.  (The university campus was actually a small town with shops, a market, an elementary school, a bank, and a post office on the tree-shaded grounds.)  And whenever I went outside the campus, I spoke Chinese.  When I left China two years later, I felt I was at an intermediate level of proficiency in speaking Mandarin.

I really do believe that being able to speak another language helps a person understand and relate to that society much more.  I internalized a lot of Chinese cultural characteristics, such as how to accept a compliment, how to offer and accept food, the concept of face, and the concept of guangxi, which is about helping people do things with the hope that they will reciprocate in the future if a favor is ever needed.

You don't lose one culture when learn the language of another.  Rather, you gain a second culture.  This is why researchers and educators working in the field of teaching English Language Learners now prefer the phrase English as an Additional Language over the earlier commonly-used phrase Limited English Proficient.  Instead of seeing lack of knowledge of English as a deficit and a detriment, nowadays people realize that knowing a second language is a benefit and adds, not subtracts, from the person who can use both languages.
ELLs are EAL, not LEP! source: Pine Road Elementary School
What is interesting to me is that that husband and wife--the couple I met when I first arrived in China--well, after a number of years in Europe and elsewhere in the U.S, they now live about 30 minutes away in the same city as me!  I'm hoping that my friend and I can resume my Chinese lessons soon.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Summer Reading: Book Recommendation #1

I had to work during my summer college vacations but every summer I also made a point to read one Shakespeare play and one Russian novel.  This wasn’t a required assignment; I just enjoyed reading those particular forms of literature.  Looking back, I see that I was engaged in my own form of professional development as I think reading those books made me a more well-rounded person.
Books read by The ESL Nexus on college summer vacations;
sources: Education Scotland and Amazon
In the same spirit, I would like to offer some suggestions to teachers for summer reading.  Sorry, but I don’t mean beach novels!  Rather, I am going to write some blog posts over the next couple months about some education-related books that I have found useful in my own teaching practice and which I think will enhance yours.  These aren’t books that are quick reads which is why I am recommending them now, although I recognize that not all teachers in the U.S. and around the world are on vacation just yet.

The first book I recommend is Non-Western Educational Traditions: Alternative Approaches to Educational Thought and Practice, Second Edition, by Timothy Reagan.
Book cover; source: The ESL Nexus
After presenting a theoretical background about non-Western education in the first chapter, each of the next seven chapters describes schooling in a particular cultural tradition: what the author calls “Traditional Africa,” Mesoamerica, Native American societies in North America, China, Hindu and Buddhist education practices in India, Romany education, and education in Islamic societies.  The book ends with a chapter that offers some concluding ideas and themes.

This is a great book because it provides essential background knowledge about how children growing up in these cultures may perform in a typical Western-oriented school context.  Knowing why some students may react and behave differently in certain situations will improve one’s teaching practice and help develop empathy with these students.  It’s not an especially easy book to read but it is definitely worth the time and effort to finish it.

Publication information:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; Mahwah, New Jersey; 2000.  ISBN 0-8058-3450-8.

You can read additional reviews of books that are useful for educators working with ELLs here, here, here, and here.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Monday Musings: Painting and Teaching

"Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do."
-- Edgar Degas

I’m not really a fan of Impressionism but this quotation makes an impression on me.  Of course I had art classes when I was in school (those were the days!) but I was never very good at it.
The Dance Class by Degas; source: Edgar Degas: The Complete Works
Then, after I became interested in Chinese painting when I was there the first time, I took painting lessons.  My teacher was excellent and even though he didn’t know English and my Chinese at the time was rudimentary, he was able to convey his instructions in such a way that I had no problem understanding what I was supposed to do during each lesson. I first learned to paint a bamboo tree—the trunk and some leaves on a few branches—and although the image looked easy when my teacher did it, I found that it most definitely was not when it was my turn.
Bamboo painting; source:
In traditional Chinese culture, the way one learns is through repetition.  So I had to copy his model paintings over and over, carefully attempting to replicate the images in front of me.  I rarely succeeded but I really enjoyed the effort and I got better over time.  I developed and understanding of the elements that comprised a Chinese painting and I better appreciated the artwork on the scrolls I saw when I visited stores and museums.  When I left China at the end of my contract, I brought back several books about Chinese painting as well as brushes, paints, and ink so I could continue to study Chinese painting.
Chinese painting books, paints, & ink; source: The ESL Nexus
Likewise, teaching looks easy from afar:  Just watch other people do it and then it's your turn.  But when you delve into it, the deeper you dive the harder it gets.  What could be so difficult about telling students what they need to know???  Well, the longer I taught, the less I knew.  Whether it was about how young children and adolescents learn or about how to teach the English language or about how to co-teach effectively or about how to manage a classroom of kids or about how to develop productive working relationships with colleagues or how to teach students with learning disabilities or how to teach academic content or how to keep up with paperwork or...

Teaching is like painting.  There is always something else to learn!  And the more you learn, the more you realize how difficult it really is to teach well.