Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Multicultural Santas! Take the good and make it your own.

According to a Fox newscaster Santa and Jesus were both white - now there's some hard-hitting journalism for you.  Thankfully this pronouncement hasn't stopped people from other cultures from building on the good that Santa can do for those in need.  In Texas there are three Pancho Claus'. One wears a serape, sombrero and long grey beard.  He visits schools, churches, parks and supermarkets and gives gifts and fruit to children.  He is supported and loved by his community and his Pancho Claus outfit helps him coordinate giving to those in need.  The second Pancho Claus in Texas has a totally different take on the outfit - he wears a red and black zoot suit, fedora hat and drives a low rider while throwing out stuffed animals to the children.  And finally, the Pancho Claus in San Antonio wears a sombrero and red Santa outfit while walking with his burro and cart filled with turkeys and trimmings for 50 needy families.  One of the exciting things for me about experiencing other cultures is examining how and why I do things as an American midwesterner and how and why others do things in their culture.  The best part is taking the good from whatever culture you're in and mixing it together to make it your own.  A Pancho Claus seems like the perfect way to co-opt what some see as an exclusive white privilege, make it your own and bring kindness and giving to your own community.  The next step will be for mainstream Americans to start seeing the beautiful traditions in cultures different from their own and start integrating them in meaningful ways.  What if mainstream Americans decided that celebrating New Year's was about more than drinking and eating too much and then setting a goal to lose 20 pounds?  What cultural traditions have you experienced that you recommend for mainstream Americans?  How might that benefit our society?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advocating for EL Success with Common Core Standards

Diane Staehr Fenner has an excellent two-part blog post about our role as educators in advocating for the success of EL's within a Common Core framework.  Check out the full text here.  She rightly points out that many people are looking at Common Core assessments and freaking out a bit (my words) that ELs won't be able to be successful on the exams with higher standards.  Many ESL and Bilingual teachers want to hit their heads in frustration, shout "DUH!" in big letters and point out that quality instruction and support for ELs has been lacking for YEARS and the new test is not the problem. Diane goes on to provide guidance on starting within your "sphere of influence" - realistically - who can you collaborate with to start changing instruction and systemic practices to increase EL academic achievement?

Unfortunately, in my experience as an ESL teacher, this was a pretty small sphere.  Sympathetic and professional classroom teachers were a good bet, but administration was often looking for "compliance" rather than actual change.  The unspoken question was, "What is the least amount of instructional disruption and cost we can commit to while still seeing results for ELs?"  This hidden agenda often resulted in more "interventions" because, "after all, ELs need to build reading skills too and that's language."  Or, it resulted in collaborative teaching models where the ESL teacher becomes more of a paraprofessional supporting content than a teacher of language.  So the reality of the unspoken question is that there has rarely been a big jump in success for ELs because we've always been trying to find the lowest common denominator and good-hearted, dedicated teachers have had to carry the burden of "finding a way" to address language instruction for ELs.  What if the question were changed to (and spoken), "What do EL students need instructionally to succeed and what can our system (admin, teachers, paraprofessionals) realistically commit to in order to make it happen?"  I believe if an educational team is willing to honestly address this question, then they will benefit from the "EL Equity Audit" tool Diane shares in her post.  In fact, I know there have been sites that have really investigated this question and developed successful models to support their ELs.  If you have been fortunate enough to work in one - I'd love to hear about it.  How did you get there?  How do you get buy in?  How did you decide what was right for your educational system?  

In the meantime, check out Diane's blog and keep advocating for high standards for ELs - the students have the ability, even if we lack the capacity!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Native Language testing in NY! This is big!!

I never thought the day would come when a state would be brave enough to step forward and do what's right and offer high stakes tests in a student's first language! Testing culture has conveniently ignored the fact that any test given in a language a student doesn't understand is not a reliable measurement of what they know!  Any English language dominant person who doesn't believe that should try to take a biology test in Arabic, or try to complete third grade level math word problems in Tagalog.   That said, New York is slaying the testing dragon (or perhaps fighting windmills - we'll see as time progresses) and taking the step to offer Language Arts assessments in Spanish since the majority of their students are Spanish speaking.  They are focusing on students who have Spanish literacy skills and have been in the US less than five years.  Of course - the matter of instruction comes up quickly - Will the students do well on a Spanish language exam if they haven't received instruction in that language?  This is problematic, but in my experience testing leads everything in education - so, "If we build it, they will come..."   Start with the test and then discover that we need instruction in this area and provide students with quality bilingual content instruction!  To read the article visit Learning Language.