Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Musings: Happy Birthday!

"I'm sixty years of age.  That's 16 Celsius."
-- George Carlin

I’m one year old!  Well, my TpT store is, anyway.  (Does that make me 33.8 Celsius?)  This week marks the one-year anniversary of the opening of my store and that got me thinking about how birthdays are celebrated in other cultures and what the impact can be on schools.

When children are born in the US, they are zero years old.  But in China and Vietnam, and other countries in Asia, when children are born they are considered one year old.  Birthdays were not really celebrated in the early 1990s when I was in China but some families did buy birthday cakes to mark the day.  However, the cakes I was invited to share had way too much frosting and didn’t taste very good at all, probably because it was not a traditional Chinese custom.
Monday Musings about birthdays
Chinese birthday cake; source: CakesDecor
When children come from other countries or when parents register their children for school, it’s really important to take a close look at the date of birth and not just rely on what the families say.  I sometimes had students who were technically too young for the grade they were in, because the child’s age was calculated differently from the standard way in the US.  This may or may not cause issues later on for students, depending on their level of maturity and physical appearance.  (Have you ever encountered a situation like this?  Please leave a comment below if you have.)

I once asked a former student of mine, an ELL whose parents immigrated from Vietnam, how old she was.  She said it was complicated!  After hearing her explanation, I think what she meant was that according to Vietnamese culture she was one age and according to Western culture she was a different age.  But I still couldn’t figure out if she was in the “right” grade for her American age or not.
Monday Musings about birthdays
Vietnamese birthday; source: Vietnamese Language Studies
Similarly, a student I had from India was in a grade two years ahead of where he should have been if going by the year of his birth.  One reason was that he was pushed ahead one year in India but it was also because his age was calculated in a different way from how it’s normally done in the US.  He was clearly not as mature as the other students in his grade—he was in middle school—and I’ve wondered how he fared in high school.

My Dominican and Puerto Rican girl students occasionally talked about celebrating their quinceaƱera and what it meant to them but since they were only 12 or 13 when they discussed it in class with me, their big day was still a few years off.  I don't know if celebrating their 15th birthday had an impact on the school system but I can well imagine the girls were not about to do any homework that day!

Monday Musings about birthdays
QuinceaƱera magazine; source: PrincessLasVega
Regardless of whether I’m one year old or two years old, I’m happy to celebrate my TpT birthday this week!  But I think I’ll pass on the cake.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The More Things Change...

Last night, a segment on the PBS NewsHour was about the difficulties recent teacher graduates face in finding jobs and in the working conditions they frequently encounter in schools:
Blog post by The ESL Nexus on teaching in the US
Watch the video segment HERE
I was struck by a comment towards the end by John Merrow, the interviewer.  He said that instead of going "back to the future," we were going "forward into the past."  That piqued my interest and I did a search for teaching in America since the 1800s.  The best overview came from elsewhere on the PBS website, a historical timeline of education in the United States from 1772 to the present that is part of the materials that accompany a show called Only a Teacher.
Photograph on The ESL Connection blog
1899 American biology class; source: Library of Congress
Reading through the timeline, I was struck by many points, only a few of which I’ll repeat below.  The quotations come from the website.
* The case was made in the early 19th century for hiring women because they could be paid one-third the salary of men.
* Around the turn of the 20th century, with the influx of immigrants, “...schools were not only expected to teach English, but to instill American customs, manners mores. At times the methods were extreme; principal Julia Richman, for instance, recommended washing students' mouths out with soap, kosher soap if necessary, when they spoke their native languages.”
* “Especially in big city schools, teachers at the turn of the 20th century felt like the most insignificant cogs in a huge machine. They felt dictated to and spied upon.”
* “The call for uniform, high standards in teaching and learning has echoed throughout American history. Catharine Beecher and Horace Mann despaired of the low standards for teachers in the mid-19th century; 50 or 60 years later Progressive educators like John Dewey complained about ineffective teaching methods...”

Low pay, unwillingness by some people to accept students using their native languages in school, a lack of respect for teachers' knowledge about their craft, and the belief that teaching standards need to be raised.  Sound familiar?  Clearly, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

If you would like more information about some American and other education philosophers, you can check out this product:
Click HERE for more info; source: The ESL Nexus
In it, I offer posters with quotations from Horace Mann, John Dewey, and eight other education philosophers along with mini-bios of the people quoted.  The product also offers pages and prompts for writing a statement of your own teaching philosophy.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Musings: Let It Rain!

"Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with
silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby."
-- Langston Hughes
I was thinking about the weather yesterday.  It was hot but not humid and I didn’t turn the air conditioner on.  It’s also been thundering a lot late at night, with frequent flashes of lightning.  Here in Arizona, it’s the monsoon season.  But a colleague from back East said she didn’t realize Arizona got heavy rainstorms.

That got me thinking: How many words are there to describe a rainstorm and related weather?  I thought of a list and then I thought of an activity I once did about weather, and I’d like to share both with you, along with a freebie I created.

Here’s the list of words I brainstormed: Monsoon, thunderstorm, hurricane, cyclone, typhoon, flash flood, doldrums.  I also found tempest, squall, and gale in my thesaurus.  Can you think of any others?  Since hurricane, cyclone, and typhoon all describe the same thing and just occur in different parts of the world, one activity for students learning about weather and climate would be to discuss why there are so many words for the same type of weather—what does that tell us about the importance of rain in societies around the world?  Everyone always talks about the weather and students should, too!
Photograph by The ESL Nexus
Desert rain; source: The ESL Nexus
I then remembered an activity I once did in a seventh grade ESL Social Studies class.  The students were learning about weather in Asia and I wanted them to make a connection to the weather in their town.  So I created a chart and asked them to fill it out for two weeks.  Every day at the beginning of the class period, I used Google Earth to show them the weather in a few cities in Asia and they recorded the temperature and a few other details on their charts, too.  They subsequently used their charts to write a compare and contrast composition about the weather in both areas. 

I don’t have the chart I created for my students but I made a new one for this blog post that I'd like to offer as a freebie to my readers.  It's pretty self-explanatory; students record the weather data each day for a week or more (just copy the chart for additional weeks).  Where it says "One Weather Word Description," students write a word that describes what the weather was like that day.  Where it says "How I Felt This Day," students write a word or phrase about their reaction to the weather.  By including these two categories, students get the chance to use more weather-related vocabulary as well as practice in using describing words.  Please let me know in the Comments section if you use this chart.
Freebie weather chart offered by The ESL Nexus
Freebie weather chart by The ESL Nexus; find it HERE
The desert really needs the monsoon rains that come in the summer but what I like most are the rainbows that often appear afterwards.  There frequently are double rainbows but it's not often that I see a complete rainbow like this one:
Photograph by The ESL Nexus
Desert rainbow; source: The ESL Nexus
Now that I live in the desert, I agree with Langston Hughes' sentiments about rain!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

4 Ways to Use SitSpots with Older Students

It’s always exciting to win a prize in a raffle but to be honest, I was a little disappointed when I learned that what I’d won at the recent TeachersPayTeachers Blogger Meet Up was a product for kindergartners, something called SitSpots.  Kindergarten was the grade I found most challenging and I much preferred working with the older middle school students.  But there was a note inside the package that invited me to check out their booth in the exhibitors’ hall and I’m so glad I did!  As promised in Monday’s post, below are 4 ideas for how to use SitSpots with older students.
SitSpots display at the SDE exhibition hall; source: The ESL Nexus
But first I want to explain a little about how SitSpots work.  They are thin plastic shapes that are intended to adhere to a classroom carpet.  The website says they will also stick to some area rugs.  They don’t have glue on them but rather one side is like a mesh with very small bristle-like protrusions that, when pressed into the carpet, keep the SitSpot in place.
Screenshot from SitSpots website; source: SitSpots
Okay, now on to some activity ideas:

Idea #1: Instead of doing a letter recognition activity, as pictured below, do a parts of speech activity.  On different SitSpots, write the initials or abbreviations for the parts of speech: N for noun, V for verb, Adj for adjective, Adv for adverb, P for preposition, A for articles (a, an, and the) or D for determiners (whichever term you use), and C for conjunction if that is a familiar term to students.  Lay out the SitSpots on the floor in a random fashion.  Call out a list of words that you’ve decided on ahead of time and have students take turns throwing a bean bag or similar item onto the correct part of speech.  This would be a great way to review new vocabulary words.  Students could do this individually, in pairs or small groups, or as teams.  At the discretion of the teacher, points can be awarded and prizes given. 
Letter recognition activity by SitSpots; source: The ESL Nexus
Idea #2: For older students, instead of doing a “sum of the day” activity such as the one shown below, they could do something more advanced with math.  For example, numerical answers to word problems could be written on the SitSpots and students would have to solve the problems, then toss a beanbag onto the correct answers.  Other students could decide if the answers are correct.  Or the carpet could be divided into a few sections, with the same SitSpot answers in all of them, and teams could compete to see who could correctly answer the fastest.
SitSpots math activity; source: The ESL Nexus
Idea #3: I’m not sure but I suspect this last photo is showing an activity for recognizing sight words.  (My apologies for the poor quality of the photo; it was hard to take a good picture with all the people walking around.)  While suitable for lower elementary students, middle schoolers could instead be asked to identify people and places they have learned about in social studies.  On several SitSpots, write the initials of famous people and the first letter or letters of places the students have read about and then read short descriptions of those people and places.  The students have to correctly identify them by tossing a beanbag onto the right SitSpot.  This would be a great way to review before a test.
Possible SitSpots sight word activity; source: The ESL Nexus
Idea #4: For a science activity, the elements in the periodic table could be written on SitSpots.  Then the teacher reads a short description of the elements or examples of how the elements are used and students toss beanbags onto the correct SitSpots.

Below are two of my TpT products that are examples of the kinds of vocabulary words that can be used for Idea #1.  The second product also includes the names of many people and places that could be used for Idea #3.
Social Studies vocabulary products in The ESL Nexus' TpT store--find the Indus Valley one here and the Aryan, Hindu & Buddhist one here; source: The ESL Nexus
I’m not in a classroom right now so I can’t actually try out these ideas.  Have any of you used SitSpots in your classes?  Do you have other ideas for how to use them?  Please share your suggestions in the Comments section below.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday Musings: Raffles and Ruminations

Linky party button for the 2015 TpT Vegas Conference Blog Hop
Today's blog post is part of this linky party about the 2015 TpT Conference!

  "Since the 1970s, I've been a big fan of attending conferences as a great way to learn, network, socialize and enjoy a new environment.  It's always refreshing to get out and see a whole new world."
--Mark Skousen

I love professional conferences and this quotation captures my feelings about them perfectly.  I just returned from the TeachersPayTeachers (TpT) conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.  It was my first time visiting Las Vegas and my first TpT conference and it was wonderful.  I'd like to share some thoughts about why it's important to go to conferences and 5 tips for having a successful conference.
View from the bridge from the Venetian Hotel to Treasure Island hotel
A view of the Strip at night in Las Vegas; source: The ESL Nexus
I've attended lots of conferences and they all are organized in a similar fashion: a keynote address to all participants, breakout sessions devoted to specific aspects of the conference theme or focus, networking opportunities, raffles of some sort and, depending on the size of the conference, exhibits by publishers and companies who sell products aimed at the conference's market.  All the previous conferences I've attended were for educators involved in teaching English Language Learners and it was great to be with other people who understand what teaching ELLs is all about, since that's not always the case at the schools where we work.

The TeachersPayTeachers conference was no different.  I had never met in person any other TpT teacher-author and it was so nice to be among other people with whom I could talk about TpT.  I went to all the organized networking events I could fit into my schedule so I was on the go for a good 12-13 hours each day.  As with all conferences, I came out of it physically exhausted but mentally refreshed and reenergized, eager to apply everything I learned during my two-and-a-half days in Las Vegas.  That is always how I’ve felt at the end of every conference!
Sing about the 2015 TpT Conference in Las Vegas
Theme for the 2015 TpT Conference; source: The ESL Nexus
If you have never been to a professional conference before or are wondering if it is worth it to attend the TpT Conference, here are some suggestions you may find useful:

a) Dress comfortably!  Conferences are professional events and of course you want to show yourself in a favorable light but it is definitely not necessary to dress up.  While I wouldn't recommend going to the other extreme and wearing tank tops and flip flops, you can certainly be very presentable in a nice shirt and pants.  And because you'll do a lot of walking--I stayed in a nearby hotel and walked back and forth, and getting from one session to another involved a fair amount of walking as well--wearing comfortable shoes is a priority.
Bridge between the conference venue at the Venetian Hotel and Treasure Island Hotel, where I stayed; source: The ESL Nexus
b) I had a hard time deciding what to include on my business cards.  But then I saw how Hedgehog Reader designed hers.  Like many people, she included QR codes on the back but here’s the twist: Her QR codes were in color!  They really stood out and I decided to do the same for my cards.  I was so happy to meet her in person and thank her for the great idea.
Business card with QR codes in color
View of the back of my business card; source: The ESL Nexus
c) To avoid being pushy about handing out business cards, when you are talking with people, ask them if they have cards and if so, if you can have one.  Then, when they give their card to you, you can ask them if they would like your card.  People always seemed pleased that I asked for their card and I thought that was a polite way to exchange them.

d) If someone is sitting by themselves before a session starts or standing alone during a social event, just go up and introduce yourself.  It’s a lot easier to do that when it’s only one person than a crowd!  Plus, the other person may just be shy and would welcome the chance to talk to someone.  While I was waiting for my final session to begin, I struck up a conversation with the man sitting behind me and it turned out he was a clipartist whose work I had used in one of my products!  It was really cool to meet Prince Padania in person.
Sign about the 2015 TpT Conference in Las Vegas
Part of a TpT sign about the conference; source: The ESL Nexus
e) Enter all the raffles!  If you win something that you can’t use, you can always give it away to someone else who’ll be very happy to use it.  I won a prize at the Blogger Meet Up, something called SitSpots.  I’d never heard of that and someone explained it was a way for kindergarten teachers to get kids to sit in one place on the floor.  Well, as a mostly middle school teacher who isn’t in the classroom anymore, this wasn’t something I could use.  Then I went to the SitSpots exhibitor booth and learned that there were several other ways to use the product; I’ll be writing about that in my next post.  So, if you win a prize at a raffle, definitely try to visit the company’s booth if there is an exhibitors’ section at the conference.  They will appreciate meeting someone who received one of their prizes and you just might find another way to use their product.
Prize won by The ESL Nexus at #TpTVegas15
Prize I won at the Blogger Meet Up; source: The ESL Nexus
Oftentimes people hesitate about attending a conference because when the registration, hotel, food, and transportation costs are added up, it can be quite expensive.  But when you look at it as an investment in yourself, and consider that you will return home reinvigorated and excited to try out what you learned, as I did after attending my first--but hopefully not last!--TpT Conference, I think you will agree that the knowledge gained and friendships made are priceless.

You can read more great posts about the 2015 TpT Conference in Las Vegas here!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Summer Reading: Book Recommendation #5

I took a break last Thursday and wrote a post about the Fourth of July and Poldark, my new favorite TV show, but I have a few more books to recommend so this week I’m resuming the series.

The CALLA Handbook: Implementing the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach, by Anna Uhl Chamot and J. Michael O’Malley, is an oldie but goodie. Based on cognitive theory, CALLA is an approach to teaching the English language that emphasizes teaching learning strategies to students and focuses on providing instruction to enable ELLs to learn academic content and vocabulary in English.
Book Recommendation by The ESL Nexus in The ESL Connection
Book cover, first edition; source: The ESL Nexus
The book is 340 pages so it is not a quick read.  It is, however, comprehensive.  There are three sections; the first describes CALLA, the second discusses how to implement a CALLA instructional program, and the third section describes how to use CALLA when teaching the four core academic subjects.  Each section of The CALLA Handbook is prefaced with an overview that divides the sections into chapters and at the end of the chapters, there are a series of “application activities” for readers to think more deeply about the concepts as they relate to their own teaching.

I especially like the third section because it goes into detail regarding the teaching of science, math, social studies, and language arts.  Despite being published long before the Common Core State Standards were written, the information presented in The CALLA Handbook is still very useful.  The chapters in this section discuss what is hard for ELLs about each content subject, what the language demands of each one are, and how to use CALLA in these classes. 

Each chapter ends with a model CALLA instructional unit, which is very helpful.
There are numerous charts, diagrams, and drawings throughout the book to supplement the text.  Even though the book is long, the writing style is accessible and that makes it an easy read.  Mainstream and ESL teachers alike will find this book a welcome addition to their classroom reference library.

The CALLA website has more information for anyone who would like to learn more about this approach.  An updated edition was published in 2009 with information based on new research about teaching ELLs.

Publication information:
Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994; ISBN 0-201-53963-2

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

Monday, July 6, 2015

Monday Musings: Working, Playing, Learning

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
-- James Howell
Playing versus learning: Is that a dichotomy?  A lot of people seem to think it is, as evidenced by the movement--which in itself is a paradox, since they’re not actually getting up and moving around but rather sitting quietly in chairs at desks--to get children in kindergarten reading and writing by the end of the school year.  In too many kindergarten classrooms, academics have taken the pleasure out of learning.

I vaguely remember snack time and nap time when I was in kindergarten, but not much else.  I also remember that I learned to read in first grade, not kindergarten.  But nowadays, there are lists of sight words six year olds are supposed to know and they’re supposed to be able to count to one hundred.  Kindergarten is the new first grade.  If students don’t learn how to read, write, and count, they can be at risk of retention and repeating kindergarten.  This is especially detrimental for ELLs, many of whom enter kindergarten not knowing any letters of the alphabet, in sharp contrast to their native English-speaking classmates, who do.
School kids; source: Pixabay
There has been a backlash against making kindergarten so academically oriented.  A recent article in The New York Times encapsulates the discussion nicely and points out that other countries do not emphasize academics in the early grades like the U.S. does.  Since the original impetus was because some decision-makers felt the U.S. was falling behind other countries educationally, this is ironic to say the least.

Good teachers have always found the balance between fun and work so children finish their first year of school in an excited and eager frame of mind with positive thoughts about first grade.  It should be obvious that children can be learning while they are playing and I hope the policy-makers and politicians rewriting NCLB remember that.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Independence Day, Poldark, and ELLs

What do the Fourth of July and Poldark have in common?  And what does Poldark have to do with teaching English Language Learners?  Well, I can think of a couple answers to both questions.  So in this post, I will take a break from writing book recommendations and discuss something else that is timely.
Celebrating the Fourth of July; source: Pixabay

First off, for those of you who may not be familiar with it, Poldark is a British TV miniseries currently being broadcast on PBS in the U.S.  It is a remake of another series of the same name shown in England in the 1970s and then in the U.S.  The TV shows are based on a series of books by Winston Graham.
Books 1 and 2 of the Poldark saga; source: The ESL Nexus
Both the holiday and the TV shows have to do with reinvention.  The Fourth of July celebrates Independence Day, when the Thirteen Colonies redefined themselves as the United States of America.  And in Poldark, which is the last name of the main character, Ross Poldark, he has to reinvent himself when he returns from fighting on the losing side in the American Revolution and finds his estate in Cornwall in ruins and his love interest engaged to his cousin.
Aidan Turner is Poldark; source: Wikipedia
I moved to Arizona exactly one year ago this week.  Watching Poldark now, just as America is about to celebrate its 239th birthday, got me thinking about the convergence of these three events.  I left my teaching job in Massachusetts to be closer to my family and also because I was ready for new education challenges.  Moving from New England to the Southwest has also meant learning new ways of doing many things.  Opening my store on TeachersPayTeachers has been part of that process of forging a new beginning for myself.
From MA to AZ; source: MapQuest
Likewise, when ELLs emigrate to the U.S. they also have to reinvent themselves.  Just as Ross Poldark had to learn new ways of doing things because society had changed in his absence and just as the new country of America had to figure out how to make its way in the world, so, too, do immigrants.  They need to learn not just about a new culture and how to fit in to it but also, in many cases, a new language.  Ascertaining the nuances can be difficult for immigrants but teachers can offer support to students and their families to help ease the transition.  Teachers who understand what ELLs are going through or, at the very least, can empathize with their struggles will help smooth the process for them and make it more likely they will be successful in their new lives.

To find out if Ross Poldark will succeed, tune in to Masterpiece on PBS and see for yourself!  And in the meantime, Happy Independence Day!