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Feeling down

A dear teacher friend (hey, Rick!) posted the link on Facebook today to this blog post. I’ve been digesting it all day.

Take a minute (or three) to go and read it.

There are days when I still feel like a new teacher, even though I’m already five years into this field. But when I reflect on what ESL was like five years ago, what my job consisted of, it feels more like fifty. I have felt the change in the pressure of the squeeeeeeze from the higher ups, as have they. There are times when I feel like I understand my job–my students and their needs–better than ever. But it seems to be in those precise moments that we are corralled in the opposite direction. And it’s in those precise moments when I am so thankful to have the privilege to support teachers right now, instead of actually being one.

Did you have thoughts about Mr. Fitz’s post? Is ignorance bliss for young teachers like myself and those I work with? Is there a response other than depression? (If so, please tell me; I need encouragement!)

His post reminded me of why I keep this blog. There is much to be discouraged about in public education today. But I also know, see that there are teachers making a difference in the lives of students, changing those students and their families forever. That’s my focus here; that’s what keeps me excited and passionate in this difficult field.


Good ideas are good for all.

What Christmas is complete without a Christmas chain?
But in the EL classroom, we can’t just do chains for chains’ sake.
So Amber had her students create Preposition Chains.

“I can’t live without my teddy bear.”

She also has been using the vocab sheets below to help her students
visualize, define, and use their new words within a context.

And lastly, Amber has been helping her students really get familiar with non-fiction text features.

She copied an entire non-fiction book that the students had recently read and placed it
on a large piece of paper. She had them highlight every single text feature and label it
(think headings, bolded words, captions, etc.). In this way, the students could get the big
picture of how frequent these text features really are throughout the entire book.

These are all really great ideas, and guess what? They’re great ideas for ALL students.
“What’s good for all students is essential for ELs.” 


My First Stocking

Remember how not all our students have experienced things we assume they have? Like the Combos?

Well, not all of Nicole’s students have experienced a certain Christmas tradition.


Since seeing them hung above her white board, kids have said things like:
“I’ve never had a stocking before.”
“This stocking is just for me?”
“Santa knows where your room is??”

I realize not all teachers can do this for all their students (especially EL teachers!), but Nicole has a reasonable-enough caseload at one of her schools that she was able to make this work.

She even went to the dollar store and bought certain gifts for each individual, based on what she knows they will like.

Just don’t tell her other school!



I love teaching ELs. Light bulb moments. Wrestling through tough questions. Using the right word in the right spot.

But ELs, dare I say all students, need more than just the academic whiz of their teachers.

They also need to be known. To spend time speaking socially with their teachers. To be heard.

It’s hard to find times like that, but some of our teachers are taking one lunch a week, a month to spend personal time with a handful of students.

Johanna did this a couple weeks ago. One of her girls had brought some Combos, a treasured treat, and declared her loyalty to Johanna by offering to give her some. What a statement! Combos were shared with all the students, but little did Johanna know that some had never had such a delicacy. This was evidenced when she noticed one student eating all the pretzel around the Combo but not the center. He didn’t know because he’d never had one.

This makes me reflect hard on how many other things we assume our students know, assume they’ve experienced. Many of our kiddos have never lived in a house (many trailers represented here), visited a museum, gone on vacation. Yet how many questions on our standardized tests deal with similarly familiar events? How biased are those tests, really?

Chew on a couple Combos before you answer those questions.


I Love to Write Day 2011

November 15 was “I Love to Write Day!”
Or so says a blog I follow.

I challenged our elementary EL teachers to do something creative with their groups, something for the love of writing–not for the love of ISTEP.

Oh wait. We don’t love ISTEP? Then why do we spend all day prepping for it?

I digress.

Nicole had fun with her students by scrapping paper for the day and only using the white board for writing. She drew paper on the white board for the students to use. Fun, right?

Lena’s students had fun with a silly writing game. Start by writing down one question using a W word (who, what, where, when, why). Fold the paper down. Pass it on. On the paper you receive, write the answer…to your question! So “Who is Christopher Columbus?” could be answered with “a sunken ship,” which really was the answer to “What is the Titanic?” A sneaky academic tidbit: learning what types of questions need to be answered with what types of responses–who: person, what: thing, where: location, when: time, why: reason.

Johanna’s students did some e-mail writing.

And Amber’s students did some writing about Thanksgiving, which she was shocked to discover they knew very little about. Very little as in they eat together with their families. Done.

Yes, we love writing. And while we love it every day, it was fun to get to celebrate it in these special ways.

Want some other great writing ideas? Click here: Writing as a Community HANDOUT!


Emailing…with students??

Johanna’s found an interesting way to incorporate technology and writing.

She emails her students scholars writing prompts.

Her school has a program that gives every student an email address, so on a weekly/biweekly basis, she emails them with a question and they have to respond to her through typing their answer. Not all students scholars have a computer at home, so she takes time to do this together in class.

What a great way to combine three very important skills–writing, typing, and e-mail etiquette!


“Scholars” are here to stay.

The term scholars has really taken off in our EL Department.

Nicole is encouraging her scholars to eliminate like and um and replace them with prefer and similar (and silence, if you’re just thinking!).

One student, fully understanding the ramifications of no longer being allowed to use like, stated with fake concern, “Well, I guess we won’t be able to use similes any more.”

Yeah, you wish, buddy.

Johanna gives her scholars clothespins and asks them to listen for smart responses. If a student responds in an incomplete sentence, whoever hears them can take their clothespin. Baby showers, anyone?

Tooting my own horn

Feels a little conceited, perhaps, but perhaps that’s also the focus of this whole blog. Letting others know that EL Departments exist that are doing great things for kids!

So I know you’re wondering: what’s there to toot about?

I’ll tell you.

Our district’s data specialist was doing his data specialist thing and discovered some astounding news. While my particular school did NOT make AYP (I know that doesn’t sound like good news, but just wait for it), our ELs outperformed our non-ELs in ISTEP!

I’ll let you chew on that for a minute.

Did you catch that? ELs outperforming non-ELs! That is completely unprecedented in our district, and my boss is aware of very few times when that’s happened in ANY district across the state. Woo hoo!

There’s four years of work in that statistic. Work provided by myself, Imelda, Paige, Karyn, and Millie. Now, we can’t take all the credit. I must thank my lovely maternity sub (who, it turns out, liked the position so much that she just stayed there when I left!), who really filled in the gaps for me when I left. She saw my vision for the year and really ran with it. Thank you, Lena!

In other horn-tooting news, I was recently nominated for the 2011 edition of Who’s Who among Executives and Professionals. I thought that was just for high schools and colleges; I didn’t realized it continued into careers. (Or does anyone know; is this a scam??)

Wow, okay, my trumpet is tired. Suffice it to say, that good things are always happening here. It’s my job to find them and share them.



Amber’s 6th-grade ELs are reading Hatchet in a small group.
If you’ve read it, you know it’s

Difficult vocabulary, difficult concepts. But that doesn’t deter Amber from tackling it with her students.
To help them grasp the big ideas found within the book, she is having them add to a mural after every chapter.

Isn’t it great?

As a (great!) side note, here is a link to a “Hatchet Student Survival Guide.”
The kicker?
It was developed by other, older ELs!


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Scholars Speaking

Remember Johanna’s Scholars? She’s been trying to improve their oral language by treating them as scholars, raising the standard. Well. She has an update. Actually, two!


Johanna: I need you to take this paper home with you today, Jose.
Jose: *pause, hesitantly* Okay…
Johanna: Do you understand what you need to do?
Jose: Yes, I was just trying to think about how to answer in a complete sentence!


Ismael: Mrs. Mock, can I give this paper to you?
Johanna: Sure!
Ismael: *disapproving stare* Mrs. Mock, answer in a complete sentence!

UPDATE #3 (I know, I know, I only said two.)

Johanna wants to take the “scholar” theme to a whole new level; she’ll be asking our local movie theater to donate a good handful of 3D glasses (no, nothing as exciting as the above photo, but it’ll still work!) so her students can feel the full effect of their scholarly-ness. Reminds me of something we did last year…ties, anyone?