Monday, April 25, 2016

Does It Matter If Students Know Who I Want For President?

"I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, 
my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs,
or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs."
-- Pete Seeger

Teaching adults in China isn’t very different from teaching students in U.S. public schools in one respect at least: In both contexts, it’s wise not to talk about politics.  Arriving in China less than a year after the Tiananmen Square massacre, I was intensely curious about what people in the city where I taught thought but I dared not ask any questions.  I could have gotten kicked out of the country and that was the last thing I wanted.  

When I decided to start teaching at a public school in the U.S., I felt strongly that I should not reveal my political preferences to my students.  They were at an impressionable age and however much I wanted them—and their parents—to vote the “right” way (that is, the way I voted!), my job as a teacher did not include being a cheerleader for one political party or candidate over another.  No matter how much my middle school students asked me, I never told them who I voted for.  Instead, I always told them to talk to their parents and guardians about upcoming elections.  
Presidential Election Activities: 8 Resources for Students by The ESL Nexus
Some of the 2016 Presidential candidates; source: Wikimedia
Another reason for not telling my students was because I didn't want their caregivers to know my political preferences.  Not only was it none of their business, I didn't want their perception of me to be colored through their political lenses.  Although some teachers did share their presidential picks with their students, I believe it's best to stay neutral on such a potentially divisive issue, especially with middle schoolers.  What's your opinion about this?

I did teach lessons about the American political system, however.  Not only on Constitution Day in September but towards the end of the school year as well, when my 5th grade ESL Social Studies class finished our unit on the Revolutionary War.  We segued into what happened next in the development of the new nation and discussed the writing of the Constitution and the establishment of the three branches of government.  And whenever it was an election year, I took all my middle school ESL Social Studies classes to the school gym, which was the polling place for the local precinct, to show the students how a primary election worked.  Depending on the size of the class, we either went inside the room or looked through the large glass windows while I explained what was going on.
Presidential Election Activities: 8 Resources for Students by The ESL Nexus
Copy of the Constitution, from a packet sent to citizens for the Bicentennial of the United States; source: The ESL Nexus
Every year, I was surprised at how little my students knew about how their government worked.  They didn’t know what a primary was, what the difference between a senator or representative was or the names of their Congressional representatives, what the Electoral College was or, really, anything about the actual process of electing a president.  And most of my students were not immigrants to the U.S. – they were born here but grew up speaking a language other than English at home.

I suspect my classes weren’t alone in not knowing much about the American political system.  So I’ve created some resources to aid teachers who, in this election year, are teaching their students how a president is elected.  Presidential Election Activities is a collection of eight resources that present vocabulary words and phrases, in various types of activities, that I think are essential for students to know in order to understand the process of electing a president.  It includes flash cards, a word wall, a memory game, discussion and writing topics, word searches, crossword puzzles, and a reading passage with questions about electing the president.  There’s 88 pages of student material plus additional pages for teachers.
Use these 8 Presidential Election Activities by The ESL Nexus to teach students about how a US president is elected.
Click HERE for more information about this product
I've also taken pieces of the Presidential Election Activities product and created smaller resources from it, for educators who are looking for more targeted items.  They are broken down as follows: Vocabulary Resources, Discussion and Writing Topics, and Word Searches and Crossword Puzzles.

All these activities can be used with regular education students and also English Language Learners because the definitions used on the flash cards and word wall, and the text in the reading passage and for the discussion and speaking topics, are written in easy-to understand language.  An online readability tool that I used rated the reading passage at a Grade 4 level so older students not reading on grade level and ELLs with lower language proficiency levels should be able to comprehend the text. 
These 8 resources comprise a larger product by The ESL Nexus that teach students about the US Presidential election process.
Samples from each resource; you can find the individual products HERE
Few of my students had ever gone with their parents or caregivers when they went to vote.  But some of them told me, after seeing firsthand what's involved, that they later accompanied their parents to their polling place to vote in elections.  Yes!!!  If I was able to instill the importance of voting in my students, and get them interested in the political process, that was much more rewarding to me as a teacher than merely telling my students who I wanted elected as president.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Celebrating Patriots' Day Virtually

"Listen, my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere."
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Patriots' Day is a state holiday in Massachusetts.  Nowadays, the holiday is celebrated on the third Monday in April and marks the beginning of a week-long school vacation.  But I never managed to go and see the reenactment of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, commemorating the battles fought there on April 19th, 1775, at Minute Man National Historical Park in Massachusetts because I just couldn't drag myself out of bed at 4am to get there in time. 

However, I did participate in a summer workshop there one year and one of the benefits was the opportunity to bring students to the park for free one time during the school year.  That was one of the very few field trips I was ever able to take when I was an ESL teacher and it was a wonderful excursion!

For those of you who have never been and for those of you who'd like to revisit virtually, below are some photos I took of sites in the park during that field trip. 

1) Hartwell Tavern, an 18th century home and inn, owned by Ephraim Hartnell, which the British soldiers passed as they marched along the battle road:
Photographs from Minute Man National Historical Park, from a field trip, in honor of Patriots' Day
For more info, click HERE; source: The ESL Nexus
2) View of the Minute Man Statue and the North Bridge over the Concord River:
Photographs from Minute Man National Historical Park, from a field trip, in honor of Patriots' Day
For more info, click HERE; source: The ESL Nexus
3) Poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson about the battle, engraved on the Minute Man Statue, that uses the phrase "the shot heard 'round the world" for the first time:
Photographs from Minute Man National Historical Park, from a field trip, in honor of Patriots' Day
For more info, click HERE; source: The ESL Nexus
 4) Grave of two British soldiers, near the Minute Man Statue:
Photographs from Minute Man National Historical Park, from a field trip, in honor of Patriots' Day
For more info, click HERE; source: The ESL Nexus
5) The Old Manse, a 19th century home inhabited by both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and where some Transcendentalists met for discussion:
Photographs from Minute Man National Historical Park, from a field trip, in honor of Patriots' Day
For more info, click HERE; source: The ESL Nexus
Did you know that this week, April 16 - 24, you can visit the Minute Man National Historical Park and all National Parks in the U.S. for free, in celebration of their 100th anniversary?  Click here to find resources and more information about how the National Park Service is celebrating its centennial.  And to read The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere in its entirety, click here.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tips for Teaching Writing: Tomorrow's #ELLEdTech Twitter Chat

Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar. E. B. White
Read more at:
"Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar."
-- E.B. White

The next #ELLEdTech Twitter chat is tomorrow at 7pm Eastern, 4pm Pacific, 11pm UTC.  Hosted by Laurah from Tools for Teachers by Laurah J and me, April’s topic is Using Technology for Teaching Writing to English Language Learners.  Here are the details:
Join the April #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on 4/17/16 to discuss using technology to teach writing to ELLs
Join us tomorrow!
Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Tell us your name, location, level and subject taught #EllEdTech
7:05 = Q1: What kind of technology is available in your school/classroom? #ELLEdTech
7:13 = Q2: Do you currently use technology when teaching writing? Why or why not? #ELLEdTech
7:21 = Q3: What technology tools do you use to teach, practice or assess writing? #ELLEdTech
7:29 = Q4: What challenges/successes have you had when trying to use technology to teach writing? #ELLEdTech
7:37 = Q5: What advice do you have for teachers who want to being using technology to teach or practice writing? #ELLEdTech

Directions for Joining the Chat
1. Log into Twitter on Sunday; the chat runs from 7:00 - 7:45pm Eastern.
2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #ELLEdTech in the search bar.  Make sure to click “All tweets.”
3. The first five minutes will be spent introducing ourselves.
4. Starting at 7:05, @ESOL_Odyssey or @The_ESL_Nexus will post questions every 8 minutes using Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. to identify the questions and the hashtag #ELLEdTech.
5.  Answer the questions by prefacing them with A1, A2, A3, etc. and use the hashtag #ELLEdTech.
6.  Follow any teachers who respond and are also using #ELLEdTech.
7.  Like (click the heart icon) and post responses to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your answers to the questions in advance by using an online scheduler such as TweetDeck or HootSuite (and remember to use A1, A2, etc. and #ELLEdTech).  Links are encouraged, but use tinyurl, bitly, or to shorten your link so it can be included in your tweet.  Just click one of those links, paste the longer link in the app's box to shorten it for Twitter, then paste the shortened link into your tweet. If you have relevant images, we encourage you to post them, too.

Is this your first Twitter chat? Here are our rules:

1. Please stay on topic.
2. Please do not post about paid products unless explicitly asked.
3. If you arrive after the chat has started, please try to read the previous tweets before joining in.
4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet if you prefer -- we know the first time can be a little overwhelming!
5. Always use the hashtag #ELLEdTech when tweeting.
6. When responding to someone, please be sure to "mention" them by including their Twitter handle.
7. Make sure your twitter feed is set to "public." (And do remember that Twitter is completely public; that means anyone--students, parents, teachers, school staff, administrators--may see what you tweet.)

You are welcome to let any of your teacher friends who might be interested in joining us know about this Twitter chat. We look forward to "seeing" you on Sunday evening!

Monday, April 11, 2016

5 Blogs for ELL Teachers

"The currency of blogging is authenticity and trust."
-- Jason Calacanis

I felt like an over-scheduled student this past weekend!  As I wrote last time, I was involved with a big family reunion.  While it’s been really cool to meet relatives from my extended family whom I’d never known even existed, all the togetherness has meant I have had very little time to myself since Wednesday.  But I guess it’s good to experience every now and then what it was like for my students when they said family obligations prevented them from doing their work.  :-)

Today, I thought I’d offer a round up of some blogs that I think are helpful for educators who work with English Language Learners.  They span a range of subjects and are listed in alphabetical order.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have written guest posts or contributed to posts for three of these blogs and have been featured in a fourth; in parentheses, I’ll indicate my connection to the blogs mentioned below.
Recommendations for 5 blogs that ESL teachers will find useful
Read about these great blogs below! Source: The ESL Nexus
#1: The ESOL Odyssey...
Is all about working with English Language Learners.  Published once or twice a month, this blog includes posts about strategies for working with ELLs and a regular feature called Tech Tip TuesdaysLaurah, the blog’s writer, is an ESOL coach who provides professional development in her school district.  (Guest post; also, Laurah and I co-host the monthly #ELLEdTEech Twitter chat.)
5 great blogs for educators working with ELLs
Click HERE to read The ESOL Odyssey
#2: Everything Education...
Consists of 3 distinct types of posts: Social Sundays, which is all about teaching social studies; Math Mondays, which is all about, well, math; and Found in Education, which is a weekly round up of education stories in the media.  Written by DocRunning, the Social Studies posts often include links to lots of useful resources.  Many of the lesson ideas in the blog posts can be used with ELLs. (Blog post contributor)
5 great blogs for educators working with ELLs
Click HERE to read Everything Education
#3: Go Figure!
If you assumed this blog focuses on math topics, you would be only partially right.  Its tagline is “Curing one mathphobic at a time,” which makes it relevant for teachers of ELLs because concepts are explained very clearly.  Written by Scipi, topics deal with a range of mathematical concepts and she also writes about scientific issues as well.  (Featured in a blog post)
5 great blogs for educators working with ELLs
Click HERE to read Go Figure!
#4: Minds in Bloom...
Is written by Rachel Lynette but there are many guest bloggers, too, which means a wide range of topics are included in this blog.  Educators working with ELLs in all grades are sure to find something of interest.  Recent posts have discussed classroom routines, technology apps, growth mindset, vocabulary instruction, and integrating standards.
5 great blogs for educators working with ELLs
Click HERE to read Minds in Bloom
#5: Secondary Sara...
Writes about English Language Arts for middle and high school teachers.  This blog includes a mix of practical teaching ideas and more theoretical issues.  Last fall, Sara wrote a series of blog posts with contributions solicited from other secondary teachers about technology, book recommendations, transitioning from middle to high school to college, and balancing work and life for teachers – topics which teachers of ELLs will find very useful.  (Blog post contributor)
5 great blogs for educators working with ELLs
Click HERE to read Secondary Sara's blog
I encourage you to check out these blogs when you have time.  And if there are other blogs you find especially useful and relevant for ELL educators, please share them in the Comments section.  Happy reading!

Monday, April 4, 2016

How Many Weeks Do You Go Without a Vacation?

"The family is the nucleus of civilization."
-- Will Durant

Eight weeks with no break other than weekends is a long time!  Teaching straight through from the last week of February to the middle of April was always the most exhausting time of the school year for me.  In Massachusetts, there are week-long vacations in February and April but nothing in March, unlike other states which have one vacation in March instead.  What's the longest stretch you go without a break in your teaching?  Let us know in the Comments section below.

Even though I’m no longer a classroom teacher, this past March was still draining.  Among other things, my hard drive died and it took a week to get that fixed.  Also, a big family reunion is coming up next weekend and relatives from all over are coming.  That got me thinking about the importance of kinship and how family relationships are defined differently in other cultures than the way we define them in the U.S.  Unlike English, many languages have specific words to refer, for example, to a grandmother or uncle or sister, depending on if it’s a paternal or maternal grandparent or mother’s or father’s brother or younger or older sister.
Chart with the word "family" translated into 28 languages | The ESL Connection
How to say "Family" in 28 languages; click HERE for your own copy
Family was very important to my ELLs and it was not unheard of for some of them to miss school due to extended family vacations or for them to not complete homework assignments because of family obligations.  Myself, I often spent my vacations visiting my family, before I moved to Arizona to be closer to them (and to avoid losing two days of precious vacation time to travel).  And when I was a child, we spent school vacations visiting grandparents out of state.

Since many educators have just returned from having a break or will soon be enjoying one, the theme for April’s ELL linky party is Family and Community.

April 2016 linky party: Family & Community | The ESL Connection