Set a larger table….

Set a Larger Table
by guest blogger Laurie Meberg

I had never felt more isolated in my life. My family had just moved to a town where we knew only one family. This was my first opportunity to live in a foreign town where I did not have a local community on which to rely. To make matters more isolating, I was a stay at home mom to two girls under the age of three while my husband set up his office in the town center. My shortcomings in the local language limited me further. Finally, I was used to blending into the chaos of an international city and had found myself in a small town where I stuck out more than I had in the city. While I saw the same people every time I went out of the house, they did not seem to recognize me.

My neighbors did not know what to make of this blonde-haired, fair-skinned family who had just moved into their building. They had heard through the grapevine that my husband would be teaching English lessons to take the place of our dear friends in the local language institute. While most of the neighbors and people in our community avoided us as they passed us by – watching us only out of the corners of their eyes – one family in particular took us in. My next-door neighbors and their five teenage daughters were life to me in that season.

MebergBlogWithin a week of our arrival, Muzyen and her family greeted us and welcomed us. When I came home from errands, they eagerly kept the kids while I shuttled groceries up the three flights of stairs. Muzyen understood my younger daughter’s nervous cries and stood singing to her in the hallway as they watched me work. When her daughters were home, one of the daughters would keep my girls entertained while I cleaned the house or cooked dinner – teaching them songs, hand-games, and stories.  When my family returned from outings and clomped and chattered our way up the stairs, Muzyen’s family would open the door to talk with us and visit with our little kids. Occasionally, on long afternoons, Muzyen would break up the monotony of my day by inviting me for tea. She offered sweet pastries and savory dishes as we fumbled through small-talk and conversation.

I learned through our visits that Muzyen’s husband had recently retired from a career in mining. In their early years of marriage, the couple lived far from their families while Muzyen’s husband worked long shifts in the mines. She spent those years home with little children having to find her own friends and support system but the early years had been very hard. She encouraged me by empathizing with my isolation and welcoming me into her life.

Holidays were the hardest days for me as a foreigner in a strange land. Surprisingly, our own holidays were not so hard. Rather than wallow in self-pity about missing our family, I would find creative ways to make traditional foods, decorate with what we could find, and teach the children about our holidays. While I missed celebrating with our extended family, I would visit with friends in other cities. I found that – rather than our own holidays – the local holidays were harder for me.

As a local holiday drew near, I noticed the community brimming with excitement as 02A12D2Geveryone prepared for a big event. The neighbors would clean their homes top to bottom – so thoroughly that they would even hang their carpets over the balconies to dry after hand-washing them. The community scoured the local markets and stores for specialty foods they would use for traditional meals, toys to give their children, and outfits to wear for the festivities. Furthermore, people stocked up their kitchens as shops would be closed for a few days.

While some ex-pats might take this as an opportunity to relax and stay home, I could not. Despite my introversion, I longed to be part of the festivities. I too wanted a reason to cook, clean, shop, and visit – anticipation that transformed the routine.

Al Fresco Dining, With Food Laid Out On TableMuzyen knew what it was to be an outsider. Because of that, she invited us to join her family’s festivities. One of the more intimate components of their celebrations was a breakfast to break their fast. Muzyen had already graciously included our family at a few of their iftar dinner meals. The breakfast marked the beginning of a three-day celebration. This was more of a family affair. Normally new friends or neighbors might visit on the third day, but in my observation not typically the first breakfast.

Muzyen taught me a lesson that day. She modeled for me how to be a neighbor and how to be a friend. There were not elaborate schemes or agendas hidden in her invitation – rather a simple invitation from one woman who had experienced isolation to another woman who was in the midst of it. She had no idea that some of her traditional foods were similar to those of my grandparents and she had no idea how honored I was to be included. She expanded her table, added four plates, and welcomed us in – not as strangers but as if we belonged.

I have applied this lesson many times in the past ten years. How hard is it for me to welcome a newcomer to our celebrations?  Being a newcomer is lonely. But to welcome a newcomer in speaks volumes.

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mebergLaurie Meberg has been working cross-culturally for seventeen years as a teacher, community developer, and refugee liaison. She learned two languages through immersion and tried to learn a third through friendships in a multicultural community. She has frequently helped emerging English speakers by being a conversation partner – mostly over cups of tea. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three children.
She can be found on instagram @ _lauries_stories_

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English Learner Portal    January 2018

Social Skills with Newcomer Students

The Importance of Social Skills with Newcomer Students
by Graciela Williams, Guest Blogger

turkeyThanksgiving is almost here, and, undoubtedly, your classroom is buzzing with excitement for the soon-approaching break. You might find that you and your students have finally found a steady routine. You may even feel that your students have some sense of your classroom rules and requirements, even if many of those aren’t exactly followed to a “T.” Your sense of classroom “normalcy” is at its peak when, suddenly, you get word that you will have a new student. Not only will you have a new student, but it will be a new student that speaks limited English. You have been here before and know the difficulty of adding a new student into the mix, but a student that speaks limited English is a step further. The classroom dynamic changes, and the educational “catch up” game quickly follows. This scenario is all too common in many schools across the U.S. Teachers and school administration begin to identify the challenges of students who start school mid-year, but they soon find themselves focusing on classroom dynamics and making sure that the student meets certain targets for educational purposes. An area that can be easily overlooked is the newcomer’s social and emotional well-being. Adjustment in the classroom involves much more than the student’s physical and mental understanding of school and classroom norms.

Research is finding that new incoming students require social and emotional support studentsduring school adjustment periods. Although the needs of the students increase, the school’s ability to provide adequate resources and staff to meet the needs of the students remains limited. Even with limitations, schools can still make sure that all of the newcomer’s needs are met in order for the student to be successful in the classroom. Incorporating social skills lessons within the classroom can promote an environment where newcomer students share experiences, establish connections, and practice their English abilities.

Sharing experiences, for newcomer students, in a non-threatening environment is a great way for students to start building connections and relationships with their peers. girlsBeginning conversations at the lunch table or at recess can be intimidating, but providing an in-class activity, where students share in small groups, can help promote effective communication and relationship building. It allows the newcomer to participate in the lesson all while learning essential vocabulary skills. Social skills lessons can help promote English by having newcomers practice their English skills within the four domains: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Social skill lessons can also help the teacher understand their student’s background in a non-intrusive manner. Understanding the student’s past experiences can shed some light on educational learning experiences and current levels of social, emotional, and physical adaptation to a new learning environment.

For a FREE sample social/emotional lesson, visit the “Newcomers/SIFE” folder in the English Learner Portal Resource Center.  This activity promotes the four domains, while engaging students in a fun, interactive activity where they feel comfortable sharing about their experiences.  The full lesson plan and Feelings Cards included!

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gracieGraciela Williams “Gracie” is a licensed bilingual school social worker in Annapolis, Maryland. Gracie currently works with newcomer students and runs several social skills groups around the county. She specializes in working with international students who have experienced trauma. She has done extensive work incorporating and facilitating student and parent reunification groups within the school system. Gracie has worked as an Adult ESL teacher and program manager for literacy centers in South Carolina and Colorado. She has a bachelor’s degree in counseling from Bob Jones University and a master’s degree in social work from the University of New England. Gracie is also an Adjunct Professor for Goucher College, where she teaches a graduate level seminar course regarding At Risk Students, and she is an Adjunct Community Faculty for The University of New England providing field instruction to current MSW students.

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Click HERE to join the English Learner Portal mail list!  Receive information about our free resources and new online courses as they are released, including an upcoming course by Gracie!  Check out our current courses HERE.

English Learner Portal    November 2017

Hard writing makes easy reading…

frankToday’s blog post is written by guest blogger, Frank Bonkowski.  Frank has over 30 years of experience writing English language teaching materials, creating e-courses, and teaching English language at university, college, and high school levels.  Frank teaches at Cégep de Saint-Laurent in Montreal, Canada.  He has co-authored nine textbooks and consulted on many projects with publishers and e-learning companies.  We are thrilled to have Frank as an online classroom partner with English Learner portal.
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Hard writing makes easy reading – an old adage

In Teaching by Principles, Brown compares swimming and writing. You might wonder, what does swimming have to do with academic writing? I am a swimmer, so I know how hard it is to swim well. I am a writer too, and it is just as difficult for me to write well.

I do sprint triathlons—a combination of swimming, biking, and running. frankswinSwimming is my weakest event because I never learned to swim correctly. Fortunately, I am a better writer than I am a swimmer.

According to psychologists, human beings easily learn how to walk and talk; learning to swim and write well is another matter. Brown states that “swimming and writing are culturally specific, learned behaviours.” We need to be taught how to swim and write.

So how do you teach academic writing to English language learners?

In today’s post, I will introduce you to a new professional development course coming soon from English Learner Portal that answers this question. It is called Teaching academic writing to intermediate and advanced English language learners.

Here are some of the issues the course will address.

  • Why is teaching academic English important?
  • How does academic English differ from conversational English?
  • What are some of the problems that English language learners face in learning to write at an acceptable level?
  • What are some effective ways to teach academic writing?

Why teach academic writing?

Let me touch on the first issue: why we should teach academic writing—with the emphasis on academic.

If you are an English language teacher in today’s language classroom, you know from experience the importance of teaching academic language as well as academic writing. In fact, it has become an important part of the curriculum.

In “Teaching secondary students to write effectively: practical guide,” Graham argues that academic English is a necessity for English language learners for achieving success both inside and outside the classroom.

However, attaining language proficiency is a long process. It takes three to five years to become orally proficient in English, and four to seven years to become proficient in academic English, according to researcher Gary Cook.

In other research findings, Graham and Perin point out that good reading and writing skills predict academic success. Having these essential skills motivates learners to stay in the classroom and not drop out. Not all English language learners will go on to higher education. However, equipped with these two skills, learners will be better able to participate more fully in society.

There are other intrinsic reasons to teach writing in the classroom as Jeremy Harmer in How to Teach English attests:

  • First, writing reinforces understanding English and keeping language in memory.
  • Second, the actual writing process is a mental activity that helps learners learn better.
  • Third, the task of writing appeals to some learners who need to see the written language and reflect on it.
  • Lastly, writing is a linguistic skill just as important as reading, listening, and speaking. In both language and content classrooms, English language learners must be able to communicate effectively.

In his practical guide, Graham states that learners need to think critically, analyze information, and express their opinions and thoughts if they are to succeed.

New Online Training course

Let me describe briefly the self-paced course that we are in the process of creating at English Learner Portal.

The five modules in the course are designed to help teachers learn and use effective strategies and techniques to teach academic writing to English language learners.

The training course has five objectives:

  • Describe critical issues in teaching academic writing to ELLs.
  • Explain why teaching academic writing to ELLs is important.
  • Demonstrate to ELLs the initial steps in planning to write.
  • Show ELLs examples of effective writing at the sentence, paragraph and text levels.
  • Illustrate to ELLs techniques for editing and revising their writing.

highlighterCourse features

Here are the main features of the training course:

  • Audiovisual presentation of the more than 25 lectures
  • Transcripts of all the lectures
  • Readings: the latest research in the field of English language teaching
  • Interviews: writing specialists share their thinking on teaching writing
  • Activities: tasks to get teachers to implement what they are learning
  • Discussion forum: teachers share their ideas with the instructor and all the teachers
  • Quizzes: self-graded
  • Self-assessments: allow teachers to to get feedback on what they’re learning
  • Graded assignments: allow teachers to get feedback from the instructor
  • Certificate of completion.

Interviews

Knowledgeable resource people will share their ideas about teaching writing:

  • Kelly Reider, founder of ELP, on Wida writing rubrics
  • Dorothy Zemach, author of “50 Ways to Practice Writing”
  • Ktwente, HS teacher, on plagiarism
  • Nick Walker, creator of the Virtual Writing Tutor, on self-correcting.

Bonus Material

An added feature is a fun section dealing with teaching English literature through film.

Downloadable teaching unit

The training course will make available to teachers —at a discount price—a downloadable teaching unit called “The Amazing World of Comics” (Soubliere, 2007).

The unit offers a number of engaging reading, listening, and speaking activities.

Learners build on these activities to create their own comic strips about a famous person or a superhero.

comics

The unit—which I created—shows learners how illustrators and authors present their creative ideas through comics. The broad areas of language learning include career planning, entrepreneurship and media literacy.

The teaching unit encourages learners to:

  • use information
  • exercise critical judgement
  • be creative adopt effective work methods
  • use information and communication Technologies
  • cooperate with other learners, and
  • communicate appropriately.

The materials include the following three components:

  • 40-page teacher guide explaining how to use the unit, including suggested answers for activities end tasks.
  • 18 student activities that teach writing, grammar, and vocabulary leading to three engaging closure projects.
  • 27-page full color teaching unit in PDF format.

School licenses will be available for teachers to use the unit in their classroom.

Stay in touch with us at Englishlearnerportal.com. Sign up for our email updates to get the latest information on the upcoming course launch date!

Relationships first….then data

In my last blog, I shared a few simple tips to welcome your newcomer English learners into your classroom.  Now that everyone is settling in, what’s next?  Getting to know who exactly is sitting in front of you!

It’s important to get to know your students as people before drawing any conclusions about their knowledge and potential.  Even if students are not proficient in English, they are coming to you with a lifetime of experiences in their first language to lean on.  Take some time to get to know their interests, their background, and how they think.  As you get to know what sparks their interest and engages them in learning, ideas for differentiation will come more easily.

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The best way to get to know your students more personally is to take the time to talk one-on-one.  This may be difficult with your beginning English proficiency students, but with the help of some visuals and manipulatives, it IS possible.  Questionnaires that allow students to use pictures, clip art, or magazine clippings as their responses are particularly helpful.  With the popularity of social media, emojis and other icons are widely understood and can help students express their feelings, likes, and dislikes.  Students can match a picture that shows an emotion to pictures of scenes, determining how the student feels about particular situations or activities.  For a few sample “getting to know you” visual sorts, please visit our free Resource Center found in the English Learner Portal Online Classroom.  In the “Newcomer/SIFE” file you will find student profile samples, sort cards, and directions you can download and use right away.  Sort cards are also quick and easy to make if you need to customize to a certain age or group.
sortcardpicPicture sorts that require students to categorize and classify items will give you insight into how a student is thinking and processing.  Sorts such as living or non-living, colors and shapes, or land features and map elements will allow students to share some of their background knowledge visually.  There are a number of sample cognitive sort and match cards in our free Resource Center as well.

classShuffleSnip

You can also combine whole class movement to be both “getting to know you” and language development activities.  For example, in our Resource Center we have a sample PowerPoint activity “Class Shuffle”, where students view a slide that asks them to decide what they like better.  The slide may show chocolate or vanilla?  Dogs or cats?  Reading or math?  Students move to the side of the room that represents their preference. Once sorted by their preference, students use the sentence frame provided to verbalize their selection with a partner or with the class. The sentence frames can be modified to match the target English proficiency level of your group.

Now that you have taken the time to get to know your students as people, people who come to your classroom full of life experiences, lessons that engage and challenge them will come easily to you, and the time spent building relationships will be time well spent!

 

NOW AVAILABLE in the English Learner Portal Online Classroom – “The Road to English Proficiency – First Steps in Differentiating and Scaffolding for Language” FREE 10 minute webinar along with FREE sample activities and articles in our Resource Center.

Sign up to be the first to hear about new online course releases here!

Building Relationships with Newcomer Families

lauraThis blog post is written by guest contributor Laura Gardner.  Laura’s bio can be found at the end of this post.

It’s our favorite time of year – Back to School!  As you begin to work with your English Learner students, please don’t forget about engaging their parents.  Numerous studies have shown just how important family engagement is and the positive impact it has on student achievement.  I would argue it’s even more important for our newcomer families as they learn how we “do school” in America.  Here are three tips for building relationships with newcomer parents as you start off the school year.

The most important thing any teacher or school personnel can do is to make ALL 02i11774families feel welcome regardless of what country they’re from, what language they speak, and so on.  Regardless of one’s feelings on the immigration debate, it is important that we check our politics at the door.  So smile!  Greet parents as you would want to be greeted, even if there is a language barrier.  Feelings can easily be conveyed through body-language so smile and say hello!  Even better – learn a simple greeting in another language or two.

03A38219.jpgThe second most important thing teachers and other school personnel can do is to provide newcomer parents with some kind of orientation.  There are so many things that seem obvious to us, but could be new to some families.  For example, school busses are yellow.  Families may not know these sorts of things, so explain everything!  Be sure to also explain expectations around parent involvement because in many countries, this expectation or practice doesn’t exist.  In fact, in many countries it is considered disrespectful if a parent visits their child’s school because it is seen as challenging authority.  Orientations may be delivered in person or by video (for an example, click here).

A third necessary component to building relationships with newcomer families is interpretation and translation services.  If your district has interpretation and translation services in place, please use them!  It is not up to you to decide whether a parent needs the language assistance or not – it’s the parent’s decision and their right. If your district does not have interpretation and translation services in place, please do not use students to interpret!  This will be tempting to do, but students often do not have the vocabulary needed in both languages, nor have they been trained as interpreters.  Furthermore, it puts them in a position of power with access to information they normally wouldn’t have access to.  A second word of caution: do not use Google translate!  This will also be tempting to do, but machine translation is far from perfect and can sometimes cause more problems than good.  A colleague of mine once tried using it for a poster that said “bully free school” and Google translated to “school without killers.”

So if your district doesn’t have interpretation services, what should you do?  ing_38192_23612.jpgProbably the most reasonable temporary fix is to see if any parents or bilingual community members can volunteer their services.  However, please note this really should just be temporary solution because anyone interpreting in a school setting really needs to have their language skills assessed and needs to be trained.  Just because an individual speaks two languages does NOT mean they know how to interpret.  Interpreting is a skill set of its own that requires practice!   Furthermore, language volunteers should go through whatever procedure is typically used to screen volunteers and to ensure confidentiality.

If you’re encountering language barriers with parents and do not have access to interpretation services, the most important thing you can do is speak with your principal and someone at your school district’s central office about the need for these services and share this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Education.  It explains the federal laws around providing parents with information in a language they understand.

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So there you have it.  Be welcoming, provide orientation, and provide interpreters!  Those are three suggestions to get you started for this school year.  Be on the lookout for a new online course on “Immigrant Family & Community Engagement” in the English Learner Portal Online Classroom.  It’s coming soon!

Please note: Welcoming America is sponsoring “Welcoming Week” September 15-24 and also just released a “Building Welcoming Schools” guide.  Check it out!

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Laura Gardner has 16 years of experience working in public education (MD & VA), refugee resettlement, and social work. While in public education, she worked as a district level manager for immigrant family and community engagement as well as a school social worker. Prior to working in the schools, Laura worked for Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS) and managed their national technical assistance initiative to federal Refugee School Impact Grantees. Laura has facilitated trainings on building the capacity of teachers and school systems to engage immigrant families in their children’s education, language access, cultural competency, equity, unaccompanied immigrant children, immigrant family reunification, and refugee resettlement. Laura holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s degree in Education.

COMING SOON to the English Learner Portal Online Classroom – “Immigrant Family and Community Engagement” online course.  

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Starting Newcomers on the Right Foot

If you’ve ever had newcomer English learners in your class, you know the feeling.  They look at you with confused, helpless eyes and you give them the same look right back. Many teachers struggle with the best ways to make a newcomer English learner feel comfortable and successful in class.  Here are some tips to start the year off right for both you and your new students.

smile Smile!   Building a positive relationship from Day One is the most important thing you can do for your Newcomers.   You do not need to speak the same language for students to know that you care about them and that they are welcome in your class.   Check in with students often.  A simple smile and “Doing OK?” shows you are approachable and care.  Help your Newcomers “see themselves” in your classroom by displaying books and posters that reflect their culture. This will help them understand that they were welcome even before they arrived.

Teach all of your students to be classroom guides.  Make it clear to your students that you expect them partnerto welcome newcomer English learners as they would any new student, and that sharing a smile or just saying “Hi!” is a good start. Teach your students a few strategies for helping. For example, share that they can point out important papers, words, images, etc. to new students.  Encourage your students to invite Newcomers to join in and talk to them even if they don’t understand.  Try a few activities like charades that show how much can be communicated without words.  It’s the thought that counts!

CanDos

Know what you can reasonably expect your Newcomers to do during instruction.   Newcomers can point, match, and use single words as they acquire them.  What activities will allow them to show what they know? Check student files or check in with your ESL specialist to ask for their latest English proficiency levels.  There are many resources online to refer to when determining what should be expected of students at the various proficiency levels.  The WIDA CAN-DO Descriptors and Performance Definitions provide you with the information you need to plan lessons and activities that will include your newcomers. 

IMG_4869Have visuals and labels posted around your classroom and during instruction. Write important words and phrases on the board AS you talk.  Incorporating pictures, manipulatives, multi-media presentations, videos, etc. will make content more understandable to a Newcomer, even though he may not know English.  Point to visuals and labels as you speak, to help students make connections between the spoken words and objects. This approach will also be appreciated by non-English learner students who are visual learners.

Plan hands-on, collaborative activities that Newcomers can participate in with their classmates.  All students, not just Newcomers, will  retain information better when a variety of senses are used.  Hearing language while handling materials and watching a classmate will help Newcomers make connections between what they already know and the students’ native language. They will gain confidence as they realize that they perhaps already know something about the topic.

Allow for an occasional break.  Processing in two languages can be exhausting.  Breaks on the computer, skimming through books, drawing, etc. are necessary in the beginning and as the day wears on, Newcomers may feel as if they have just “run out of English” and shut down.  Use caution though.  You don’t want a student to miss important opportunities for acquiring language and building relationships.  Keep the breaks short and only as needed.

In many diverse classrooms, there is another student who may speak the Newcomer’s language.  It is 3acceptable to have students who speak the Newcomer’s language translate from time to time, especially the first day, to help the student acclimate. HOWEVER, it is important that you first  ask the veteran student’s permission, and if he or she really wants to be a translator.  Some students may be embarrassed or feel uncomfortable speaking a foreign language in front of their peers. The goal of the student translator is not to be a one-on-one interpreting service, but rather to serve as a resource during the first difficult days in your Newcomer’s new classroom.

These are some simple tips to make newcomer English learners feel at home in your classroom.  It is difficult being a newcomer English learner in an English speaking classroom, and it is challenging for teachers who work with them.  Be sure to be gentle on yourself and the students. Unfortunately there is no magic wand you can wave to suddenly have your Newcomers understand and speak English, but know that they will recognize your kindness, caring, and effort, and that it will make all the difference to them on what could be one of the most difficult periods in their lives.

If you have any questions or concerns about your students, feel free to drop us a note at info@englishlearnerportal.com.

NOW AVAILABLE in the English Learner Portal Online Classroom – “Road to Proficiency – First Steps in Differentiating and Scaffolding for Language” FREE webinar

COMING SOON to the English Learner Portal Online Classroom – “Immigrant Family and Community Engagement” online course and the “Enrique’s Journey” online book study.

Sign up to be the first to hear about new online course releases here!