Friday, May 9, 2014

FREE multilingual texts! (and it's not too good to be true!)

Have you ever heard these statements?

I'd love to get some books for my ELLs in their home languages, but I don't have any funds to purchase them.

Do you know where I could find childrens' books in Tamil?  Somali?  Vietnamese?

I know I can get some books in Spanish, but it wouldn't be fair to the other students who have different home languages and won't have those resources.

It's fine if the families want to read to their child in their native language, but they should really be using English to help them succeed.

As an ESL teacher and leader, I have heard variations on all of the above many times in my career.  I've found that many educators are interested in providing materials to their students in their home languages but the barriers to finding and sharing those resources can be overwhelming.

I'd like to share a resource that I found while at the Celebrating Cultural Diversity conference in Toronto last week.  This conference was very inspiring with it's focus on exploring student identity in relation to culture and language.  I actually attended a session on school improvement that didn't mention testing, accountability, or "the gap."  It focused on building the social capital of the immigrant parents and students within the community in order to foster true partnership for student success between teachers and families. Educators did this through a weekly parent story-telling group, which allowed parents from diverse backgrounds to come together and share their personal stories reflecting their culture and backgrounds.   The parents discovered similarities in their experiences and felt more confident in their new community.  They wrote their stories in their native languages and English and read them to classrooms of students to help all members of the educational community understand their perspective and experiences.   This was a very powerful experience for all connected to the community.

A related resource developed in Canada is the "Dual Language Showcase" from Thornwood public school in Mississauga, Ontario.   The Dual Language Showcase is a multilingual website that showcases student writing in English and native languages.

 Here's an example written in English and Chinese:

The main webpage explains their work by saying, "The group is committed to forging a stronger home-school connection.  We believe that reading in any language, develops reading ability."   And this statement has been proven in research - as they say, "You only need to learn to read once!"  

Jim Cummins, a speaker at the conference, referred to the recent PISA 2009 report that underscored the commonality among many nations that the number one predictor of reading success is reading engagement.  "In all countries, students who enjoy reading the most perform significantly better than students who enjoy reading the least." PISA 2009 Executive Summary.   So I wasn't far off long ago when I told teachers, "Get students to love reading and they will be successful.  We always become good at what we love to do."   

If you can get multilingual resources into your students' hands they will love what they see - their own languages and cultures, as well as understanding the value in their own stories and writing.  I'll follow up in a future post on Jim Cummins work on identity texts as a way of developing your own multilingual resources in the classroom, but until then - explore the multilingual resources and share them with your students!!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

So what's your story?

Watch this fascinating clip that provides an overview of "how people get to know each other" when they first meet. This was based on research and surveys in multiple states from Hawaii to Maryland. Most of the "opening lines" involve some form of "where do you live" or some sort of question designed to place you in a category and give a wealth of quick information about who you are. In the accompanying article, "What We Mean When We Say Hello" (The Atlantic, Feb. 16, 2014) the author states that after we learn someone's name we commonly move on to , "...some version of “Where do you live?” But as you describe, you are really after an answer offering some social-economic-cultural hints about a person’s life."

Asking someone where they live, where they came from or what they do can be uncomfortable for some people because it forces them to offer a prescribed answer that involves the listeners own personal evaluative rubric.  In the video clip, one man suggests a better question, one that leaves the communication open to the person's preferences for an answer.  He asks, "So, what's your story?"  With that question you can decide what you want to share about yourself.  If you grew up in circumstances you'd rather not discuss with a relative stranger, you could reframe your answer and tell about the beautiful quilts you create, the teaching career you love or your wonderful children.  I think this question is also inherently more interesting because really I'd rather hear about what someone cares about and the stories that have shaped them than where they live or who their parents are. I plan to try out some version of this prompt the next time I meet someone and see what happens.  It could be that they will be so taken aback by the unusual tack that they'll just start to tell me where they live and how many children they have....  Interesting how we're socialized to follow dialogue and cultural conventions.   And, if you're interested in replying - I'd love to know - "What's your story?"

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Stories are Powerful

This is a video clip from a project designed to both share the voices of the Arctic people and bring attention to the changing climate.  At the website you'll find many video clips of Native people talking about their life experiences and how climate change has shaped their culture.  There are also educational materials that explore both geography AND culture and they are designed to be used with K-12 classrooms.   In this lesson, "Your Story" students are encouraged to make a video clip about their own lives and share them.  The lesson offers many suggested resources as well as a storyboard graphic organizer to help students know what to include.

The idea is that wherever you are in the world you have a story to tell and your language and culture are important.  By understanding other people's perspectives in relation to our own we are better able to care for our world and each other.

Check out the site and I encourage you to think about ways to use these resources in your classrooms locally.  Think of the wealth of cultures and experiences sitting in your classroom today.  How much do students really understand their own cultural backgrounds and just as importantly do they understand each other?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

What if all teaching is community organizing?

If you have ever doubted the power of literacy and learning, you only need to watch this video and think about how our interests shape us and drive us to learn.  I love how Constance Steinkuehler shares her vulnerability as a teacher when addressing a group of young men that she thinks are going to be excited to hear what she has planned for them.  She calls it the, "Tell me when she stops talking" phenomenon.  I think this happens for too many of our students too much of the time and it reminded me of how much I'd like to flip education on it's head.

It also reminded me of Paulo Freire, a literacy researcher who did flip education on it's head!  He created a movement that has been called "liberation theology" and "critical pedagogy" because he dared to teach the poor of Brazil how to read in 45 days - based on their interests - which revolved around being able to express their political opinions and vote - which required literacy skills.  Rather than teach them "from the beginning" about the "blue bus" or whatever it is we make beginning readers read until they're "ready."  Freire created "culture circles" that were based on a dialogue about events important in the community.  He spent time in the community and listened for themes, then introduced the topics and encouraged questioning and exploration.  He was so successful in empowering the poor through this method that he was imprisoned as a traitor for 70 days!  His most well-known book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, proposes a new relationship between teacher, student and society where they are co-creators of knowledge.  If we know that interest-based learning is effective - I mean, really - how can you NOT learn if you love something?  Then why aren't student interests more at the focus of what we're trying to do?  Why do we have to control all the learning and tell students what's good for them?  Then blame them when they don't want to do it "our" way?  Really?  Why haven't we evolved to a place where all learners can find their interests represented and take ownership for their learning?

Paulo Freire

The International Literacy Institute interview with Paulo Freire:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Like I Said - Income Inequality is a Factor

Today's New York Times had an article, Study Finds Greater Income Inequality in Nation's Thriving Cities, that supports my blog post from yesterday.  Income inequality is a real, measurable issue and it's worse in areas where populations have higher incomes (where there is a bigger income gap between rich and poor).  I remember traveling to San Francisco 25 years ago and one of the things that struck me immediately is that all of the service workers seemed to be black, Latino or Asian.  The other memory that stuck with me as a newly inducted Peace Corps volunteer ready to make the world a better place and wandering the city prior to departure was the bad traffic and the white woman who leapt out of her stopped car, ran up to the car in front of her and screamed at the driver through the window, "Learn how to drive you F****** chink!"  I apologize for the derogatory term - it still makes my heart stop today, but it drives home the deep racism that also often comes with wealth, privilege and the separation between classes and cultures.  The article (using information from the Brookings report) states that, "... in most other places, inequality intensified because the poor got poorer...  Low-income households lost ground and haven't gained it back.  And the pressures around cost of living are higher at the low end than they are at the high end."

From the Brookings report:
Inequality may be the result of global economic forces, but it matters in a local sense. A city
where the rich are very rich, and the poor very poor, is likely to face many difficulties. It may
struggle to maintain mixed-income school environments that produce better outcomes for low-income
kids. It may have too narrow a tax base from which to sustainably raise the revenues
necessary for essential city services. And it may fail to produce housing and neighborhoods
accessible to middle-class workers and families, so that those who move up or down the income

ladder ultimately have no choice but to move out.

So, while we're helping our ELs succeed academically, where will they go?  If the most "economically successful" locations are segregated, how will they "move up the ladder" to economic prosperity?  I confess I don't have any answers here - just raising awareness and looking for insights on how to create more pathways to success for ELs who work hard and want to be part of the American dream.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What if it's More About the Zipcode than the Test Score?

I once overheard a lunch conversation at a diversity conference between a seemingly affluent white man and a very poised black woman.  He said, "So, I live in a nice house in the suburbs, my children go to good schools, should I not want those things for my family?  Am I perpetuating racism by wanting what is best for my family?"  I was horrified and extremely intrigued at the same time and waited with baited breath to see how the black woman would respond to such a dramatic statement.  She very calmly replied, "I think you're confusing financial affluence with race."  The table got very quiet (and people became intensely focused on their salads) and it was clear the man was now thinking very hard - honestly I was too.  The reality is that the average US resident associates affluent neighborhoods as white, and poor ones as black, Latino or any color but white.  This is highlighted in this article in the Washington Post, "Washington: A World Apart."  The article describes the phenomenon of "Super Zips" - those areas ranking highest in income and education.

The yellow areas denote the highest income and education Super Zips.  Click on the article link to see a really cool interactive graphic and put in different zipcodes to see how the area ranks with income and education levels.

Long ago I saw Alfie Kohn present at a conference and he stated that test scores were important....(wait for the punchline...) they told us the zipcode of the students we were testing!  It's no secret that students who live in high poverty areas often have lower test scores and educational attainment than those living in higher income areas.  The majority of EL students I've taught have lived in lower income areas with little ability to interact with peers in middle or higher income levels.  In fact the article points out that our crucial middle class is shrinking, "In 1970, 65 percent of families lived in middle-income neighborhoods; four decades later, 42 percent did."  The middle class has always been important for connecting the lower and upper classes.  Our EL students need more than a quality education to succeed, they need to make connections with people in middle and upper income networks and experience the social aspects many take for granted.  I still remember bringing a group of high school ELs to tour the University of Minnesota.  One of the students, a Kurdish girl (who until that day had steadfastly refused to go on the trip because she would never go to college) jumped excitedly down the stairs of the the building shouting, "Miss Kristina, I understood everything they said in that classroom.  I can do it!!  I'm going to college!!"  That student didn't lack the optimism, potential or academic ability to attend college.  What she lacked was confidence and exposure to a college network that would help her understand expectations around college and introduce her to successful college students.

The article states, "As the affluent become more isolated, the working class and the poor become confined "to communities where no one has a college education and no one has connections to the world,"Klineberg said.  "The social capital that's so necessary for upward mobility is more difficult to come by than it was in the old days when there was broad-based prosperity."

So - as educators we may not be able to reverse the testing culture that impacts our students so heavily, but what if we were able to do something about their networks and the impact of their zipcode?  What would that look like in elementary, middle and high school?  How would school cultures and attitudes shift?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

New ELL and Common core classroom video clips!

Check this out - the Teaching Channel and the Understanding Language project at Stanford University (Kenji Hakuta & Aida Walqui) have collaborated to provide this comprehensive resource with video clips and lesson unit documents using the ELA Common Core and ELD standards.  Each video clip is 11 minutes or less and comes with questions that could be used in professional learning communities. The Teaching Channel also has a great app for recording instruction and activities in your classroom on your Ipad - TCH RECORDER.  I really like the idea of getting more quality ELL instruction visible on the internet.  We can keep talking about it, or we can start creating it and posting it!  Take a chance and share your knowledge - the teaching world needs examples.