Monday, December 28, 2015

12 Countries that Start School in January and February

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

Although schools in the U.S. are on vacation now because of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, do you know when schools in other countries begin their academic year?  It makes a difference if you have children arriving mid-way through your own school year because the decision about which grade the student should be placed in is not always an easy one.
New school year | The ESL Connection
Countries in the Southern hemisphere shaded in yellow; source: Wikimedia Commons
I first became aware that not all schools started their year in September when there was a possibility I would go to South America as a high school exchange student.  I was told I’d be departing in February because that’s when their school year began.  At the time, that seemed so strange!  Since then, I have taught plenty of students who came from Latin America and began class with me in January or February -- their families finished out the year in their home countries and then came to the U.S.

Aside from the issue of having students come during the middle of the year, with all that entailed of integrating them into my class, the biggest issue was always what grade the child should be placed in.  Usually, it would be the one after whatever grade the student had just finished.  But we also took into consideration other factors, including parent input, courses taken, and grades on transcripts.

What I learned, after spending many years on the team that registered ELLs who were new to my school district, was to look very carefully at the date of birth and the grade that a student most recently completed, and discuss the options with the family when there were two possibilities regarding the grade their child could be placed in.  While the team could not recommend a specific grade placement, we could point out to the school principal, who was the one making the final decision, if a student would be much younger or older than most of the rest of the kids in the grade the student should be in according to his or her transcript.  Most of the time, things worked out fine.
New school year | The ESL Connection
Home Language Survey given to new students enrolling in MA schools; source: MA DESE
However, on occasion there were problems when I had students who, chronologically, were one or even two years younger than their classmates because the student hadn’t learned things that the rest of the class had been taught the previous year and/or the student was less mature socially and emotionally than the rest of the class.  This second one was more of an issue, in my experience, because those students were less able to handle the workload and their behavior wasn’t always appropriate.  That necessitated a lot of discussion with the guidance counselor and the family – by me and with the student -- but often it was just a matter of waiting for the student to age into maturity.  Retention, might be raised as a possibility but then, fortunately, was always discarded because it wasn’t right to penalize a student for a lack of maturity since that was such a subjective judgment.  

On another occasion, I had a student who was two years older than her classmates.  Then, the problem went the other way because she was more mature.  Luckily for her, she moved to another school mid-way through the year and jumped a grade, meaning that at her new school, she was only one year older than her classmates.  

It can be tricky to balance the academic needs of the child with their social-emotional needs and all decisions need to be made on an individual basis.  It can be especially difficult when dealing with students coming from another country who have transcripts in another language that aren't translated.  The best advice I have is to talk in-depth with the families and even with the student, if he or she is at least seven or eight years old, using an interpreter if necessary, at the time the family registers, to determine where the student will best fit in and thrive in school.
When school begins in 12 other countries | The ESL Connection
World map with continents; source: The CIA World Factbook
Below is a partial list of countries where school begins in January or February.  The information was compiled from several sources but I couldn’t find exact dates for 2016 for several countries.  If you know when the school year in these countries begins, please leave a note in the Comments below so I can add that information to this blog post.

Guatemala = Second Monday of January
South Africa = January 13
Australia = January 27
Nigeria = January
Kenya = January
Malaysia = Early January
Singapore = Beginning of January
Costa Rica = Early February
Honduras = Early February
New Zealand = Between February 1 – 5
Brazil = First week of February
Chile = Late February

There are other countries that begin later in the year:
Argentina = Beginning of March
South Korea = Beginning of March
Japan = April 1
India = June
Indonesia = Mid-July

Guest posts in the “Education Around the World” series will resume in January.  Happy New Year, Everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Future is Nigh!

Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and ends,
of looking back and looking forward...
Blog post looking forward to 2016, with freebie | The ESL Connection
Image of Janus on a coin; source: Wikimedia Commons
It’s traditional at the end of a year to reflect back on the previous 365 days and try to objectively analyze how things worked out and then resolve to do some things differently in the year to come.

For me, there were many changes, not least of which was acclimating to my new home in Arizona.  But since I am no longer a classroom teacher, I would rather just look ahead and ponder all the wonderful ideas and plans and activities I hope to accomplish in 2016.  Not least of which is continuing to write about working effectively with English Language Learners and creating many more resources for educators to use with ELLs!

For inspiration, I created this mini-poster and am happy to share it with my blog readers.  You can download a copy for yourself HERE.  (It's a large file; please be patient.)  I took the photo on New Year’s Day 2015 near my home.  Yes, it snowed in Tucson!  The quote by Thoreau is, I think, appropriate for the season.  And what I really like about the whole image is that it combines, figuratively speaking, my previous life in Massachusetts with my current life in Arizona.
Looking forward freebie mini-poster | The ESL Connection
Download your own copy HERE
I wish you all a Wonderful Winter or Summer Solstice, depending on which hemisphere you live in; a Very Merry Christmas if you celebrate the holiday; and a Joyous & Happy New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Vacation Time!!!!!

"People who read on holiday always have a better time because
it's total escapism, both physically and mentally."
-- Jasmine Guinness

When I was in high school, my parents pulled my sister and me out of school for nine days to go on a trip to another country.  They’d gotten a fantastic deal and didn’t want to pass it up; they also thought it would be a good opportunity for us kids to see another part of the world.  I told my teachers and they gave me homework to do while I was away.  Naturally, I didn’t do any of it until I was on the plane going home.

Thirty years later, I was one of those teachers: When my students told me they were going to miss school because they were going to a wedding in India or to the Dominican Republic because their mom had to help take care of a sick relative, and would miss weeks of school, I gave them work to do.  I made up lengthy assignments that weren’t based on the work we were doing in class since without the textbook and without the benefit of our class discussions, they wouldn’t be able to do or keep up with what we were learning.  But I felt the students should be doing something academic while they were away so I created work for them.
Vacation reading & writing resource | The ESL Connection
Travel is eye-opening but can be problematic when missing school; source: WPClipart
I also gave assignments over school vacations and long weekends.  Because that’s when students had more time to spend on them, right?!  Wrong!  Needless to say, 95% of the time the work came back uncompleted, the students somewhat apologetic (“I didn’t have time,” “I lost the paper,” I didn’t understand it”), and I, the teacher, somewhat frustrated.

Although it took thirty-five or so years, I eventually learned my lesson!  For the remainder of my classroom teaching career, I did not give my students projects to work on or tests to study for or compositions to write during their breaks from school.  However, I did emphasize the importance or reading daily to help maintain their language skills--I believe that is important for all students and especially for ELLs.

I designed my Vacation Stars product for teachers who want their students to read during school vacations and holidays.  But because it should only take 10 – 15 minutes max per day, that should encourage students to actually finish it.  There is a one-page template which is modified for different times of the year and each template has two parts, one for reading and one for writing; students can complete both or just one of these parts at your discretion.
Vacation Stars resource for reading and writing tasks during school vacations | The ESL Connection
Click HERE to find out more about this resource! Source: The ESL Nexus
In the reading section, students merely list what they have read, whether it be books or some other form of text (examples are given in the Notes to the Teacher section in the product).  In the writing section, students briefly write, list, or draw (if they are beginning proficiency level ELLs) what they have done that is social studies, math, and science related and also write about helping out at home and what they’ve read.  What makes this easy and quick to complete, though, is that the space for writing is small so students are limited in what they can write.  Optional activities that extend these reading and writing tasks are also included in the resource; they can be completed by students either at home or after they return to school. 

If I had had something like this when I was a student, I'm sure I would have enjoyed my vacations much more!

(P.S.  If you are looking for some holiday decor for your classroom or office, you might like my multilingual mini-posters that say Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah in 25 and 20 languages, respectively.  You can find them HERE.)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Holiday Harmony with the Old and the New

"A businesswoman needs a successful mix of design and practicality."
-- Donatella Versace

The quote above is particularly relevant because I’m very excited to present my redesigned blog!  I think it looks way nicer and is much more attractive than my original blog design.  While I liked what I had before – because obviously, since I created it myself, of course I liked it – I think this new customized design takes my blog to a higher and more professional level.  But it’s still easy to read and uncluttered, just like the old one, and all the features on the old blog are still here in the new one.  Many thanks to Laine from A Little Peace of Africa for working with me and implementing my ideas.  (She is still working on my About Me widget but it will ultimately show my logo and a little info in that space.)

Today is the first Monday of the month so it’s time for a new linky party.  In keeping with the theme of something new combined with something old, I invite you to link up three resources:  
* Your newest December holiday product, 
* One older holiday product for the season, and 
* A resource about the New Year or New Year's Eve.
If you don't have a product for New Year's or New Year's Eve, you are welcome to add another resource about Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa.  Resources with a multicultural flavor and/or holiday resources that work well for ELLs are especially encouraged.
Excelerating ELLs December 2015 Linky Party | The ESL Connection