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

10 Possible Alternatives to “International Night”

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Today’s blog is written by Laura Gardner.  Laura has 16 years of experience working in public education, 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.  Learn more about Laura on our English Learner Portal website.

Many schools across the U.S. host international or multicultural nights each year.  At intnightthese events, students and/or their families typically set up tables to highlight their countries and cultures and the rest of the students and families walk from table to table sampling food and looking at artifacts and maps.  While organizers of these events have good intentions and aim to honor their students’ cultural backgrounds, sometimes these events can seem internationalnighttokenistic.  How can we build family comfort in schools throughout the school year?  With 79% of teachers in the U.S. being white* and 25% of students being children of immigrants, getting to know the cultural backgrounds of students requires a deeper dive.

intparadeThere are often two goals of international nights. The first is for students to learn more about other cultures and the second is for teachers to learn more about the backgrounds of their students and their families. With those goals in mind, what are 10 possible alternatives to international night?

  1. Invite immigrant parents or community members to speak in your class about their background and culture or a particular topic (i.e. a Vietnamese refugee could speak to students who are learning about the Vietnam war, etc.).
  2. Invite immigrant parents or community members to come to the classroom and share a story from their home country.
  3. Visit the main places your students and their families spend their time (places of worship, stores, community centers, neighborhoods, etc.).
  4. Travel as much as possible outside of the United States, particularly to the home countries of your students. Talk with students and their families about your experiences.
  5. Conduct an immigrant parent panel. For this professional learning opportunity, invite 3-6 immigrant parents to form a panel. Have one educator ask questions to each parent such as “Can you tell us about schools in your home country?” and so on. Be sure to provide teachers in the audience with an opportunity to ask their own questions.
  6. Invite immigrant parents to provide input on the rules and values that are practiced at school. Discuss any “cultural mismatches” between home and school.
  7. Take an interest in immigrant parents’ approach to raising their children. Ask questions about their family life.
  8. Ask immigrant parents or community members for information needed. Every time you seek background information on something from another country or culture, ask a parent from that culture (or student, if appropriate) to tell you what they know about that topic.  For example, if you have a lesson on Chinese New Year, find a Chinese parent in your school or community leader to talk to for more information and/or invite the person to speak directly with your students. Resist the urge to Google for lesson plans when you have direct sources of information nearby.
  9. Invite immigrant parents or community members to provide input on the curriculum.
  10. Help students make connections between what they’re studying and the immigrant communities in their own town.  For example, an IB (International Baccalaureate) class studying India could visit a local Indian organization rather than visiting the Indian embassy.
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When you are ready to plan your schedule of parent/community events, please visit the English Learner Portal Resource Center for a free “Planning Checklist for ELL Family Nights”.  You will find this document in the Family Engagement folder.

*https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/highered/racial-diversity/state-racial-diversity-workforce.pdf

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A few weeks of whole to part…..

Last year at this time I was the English Language Acquisition Coordinator for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, in Annapolis, Maryland, supervising the educators who served the needs of a growing community of immigrant and bilingual students. Stressed and a bit weary after 6 years of navigating our political climate, I took a leap, and returned to the school setting as a mentor teacher. I needed to step away from trying to manage the whole situation until I could be reminded of the WHY and how all the parts fit together.

Part of my reasoning behind changing positions was to give myself a sort of sabbatical, a venue for visiting classrooms in a variety of content areas, spending more time with teachers, catching up on new classroom technology ideas, and learning from everyone and everything around me. This week I was inspired by a dance class where small groups choreographed the ending of a dance and performed. It was amazing.  Everyone dancedanced.  Everyone smiled.  There are five students in this class who are part of the “functional life skills” program, meaning they manage significant challenges and need extra support.  After this group performed, I had the best conversation with one of the dancers.  She said, “I can’t move as fast as they do.  I can’t roll on the floor and get back up.  I missed a few steps, but I got back in.  It was like my own solo.”  I told her how much I love her attitude and I wanted to bottle whatever it is this teacher is doing to make every student in the class embrace their solo.  This first-year teacher has truly grasped the value of relationships.  I am re-energized by the parts I see come together each day in working with new teachers as they learn to create their whole. Taking these parts that I come across and sharing them with other educators, THAT is what makes me whole.

I recently had the privilege of spending a week in Madison, Wisconsin, for the WIDA IMG_6945Licensed Trainer Institute. It was 4.5 days of intensive training on 9 different WIDA workshop and training plans.  I spent that 4.5 days with dedicated WIDA facilitators, as well as with 8 other participants from around the country. Talk about impressive!  I learned so much each day from this group.  Each person brought such a wealth of varied experiences to the room.  The program as a whole will be very strong, because each of the parts are individually amazing. Although I am still recovering from eating fried cheese curds more times that week than I’d like to admit, I am excited that I will have the opportunity to meet even more new people through the work with WIDA and WCEPS in the future.

piclabAfter a weekend of recovery from brain and cheese curd overload, I was off for a quick spin at the WIDA Conference in Tampa. Meghan Gregoire-Smith, Lindsay O’Keefe, and I presented “From Whole to Part – Early Literacy Instruction for English Learners” to a full room of participants. I fully enjoyed presenting with Meghan and Lindsay again (as we had a number of time before I left my position at the central office).  The 75 minute session flew by, as our participants were fully engaged, asking questions, sharing insights…everything a presenter could wish for at a conference (including no technology glitches!).

I am particularly proud of this presentation, because it embodies the essence of the culture of our English Language Acquisition Office in Anne Arundel County, MD, over the past 6 years. From the document correlating WIDA Performance Descriptors with Fountas and Pinnell reading levels, to the impromptu sketches explaining our approach to instruction to an assistant principal, to the professional development we designed which aligns our “whole to part” process across schools and now to the conference, our presentation represents who I am as a professional, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Collaboration. Team.  Outreach.  This one presentation represents almost two years of collaboration between the English Language Acquisition Office, the Elementary Reading Office, the Early Childhood Office, administrators, and teachers to share best practices for early literacy instruction for English learners.  While I am no longer in that office, I carry the best practices with me wherever I go and I find great reward each time I see a teacher tweet about their latest “Whole to Part” lesson.

The conference participants gave such positive feedback and encouraged us to take the “Whole to Part” messages into an online course to share with even more people. So, WE ARE!!  Lots of great work ahead and I couldn’t be more excited!

I hope you have a wonderful end to your weekend, recharged where you can notice all the parts that make your whole worthwhile.

 


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Project Celebrations – Best Day of the Year!!

On May 30th, English learners (and their teachers) from across the Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Maryland, came together to celebrate and share their learning.

On May 30th, English learners (and their teachers) from across the Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Maryland,  came together to celebrate and share their learning.  It was a day of smiles, questions, explanations, laughter, and most of all…..confidence with academic language.  I’m excited to share our day with you!

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Middle school students created avatars to present the highlights of individual parks through informational videos.

Three years ago we began our project-based learning journey using our English language development curriculum. As recommended by the essential project design elements from the Buck Institute for Education, we sought opportunities for our students to share their learning and target their presentations to an authentic, public audience.  Throughout the year, our teachers arranged for various ways to make this happen for students ,whether partnering with local businesses and organizations, the county’s volunteer network, or other schools.

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I believe it is very important for those outside of our program to participate in positive experiences with our students and to learn the value they bring to the community. By year two, we knew we wanted a way for our teachers and students to share their work with one another, not only as a celebration of their successes, but also as an embedded professional development for our teachers who were still learning what project-based learning looks like in action.  This year, our project celebration was double the size of last year and the quality of work was amazing!

Signing up to present at the Project Celebration was voluntary, with both an elementary and a secondary project room. Teachers and students worked on a rotating schedule, presenting to visitors and then being the audience for others.  Students K-12 mingled, presented, questioned, and explored eat other work.  Our school system television studio cameraman filmed and interviewed students, adding a level of professionalism and excitement.

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I hope you are able to feel the pride and excitement for learning that buzzed through the building that day. That’s what we love about PBL – the student ownership and excitement makes teaching our students so easy!

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Students studied how to care for pets. Using language of math, students explained how they designed and constructed a dog house to match the measurements of their class pet, Coco.  Students created a fund raiser for the SPCA and also took a trip to visit and share their literacy with the residents!

COMING UP NEXT – Curriculum Rewind – Why PBL??  The development of a project-based learning approach to English Language Development Curriculum K-12