REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
In Vermont, in response to the growing threat of COVID-19, Governor Phill Scott announced that all PreK -12 schools should close no later than March 18th, 2020, and begin a maintenance of education plan. School districts, administrators and educators, scrambled to come up with plans for how students would continue their learning at home. In Winooski, Vermont, teachers worked long hours to create take home bags of independent math, literacy and reading work for students, photocopiers buzzed on overdrive, and administrators put their organizational skills to the test creating systems for food and materials delivery, staff and services schedules, and documents to provide evidence of continued learning plans. Everyone was balancing the pressures of work with the stress of safety and health concerns in the time of pandemic. Across the state, other schools, universities, and colleges were also adjusting to education from a distance.
On the 26th of March, Governor Scott announced the closure of schools for the remainder of the school year, shortly after his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. We had to come to grips with the fact that we would be teaching from home for a while. Teachers called students and families, to help them navigate this new reality, including offering tech support for downloading necessary meeting platforms and learning software, creating, revising and sharing schedules for class meetings and providing much needed social-emotional connection for students in this uncertain time. Schools were also asked to begin a continuity of education shift, generating systems for teaching and assessing learning for the remainder of the school year.
As all of this unfolds, educators are also aware of the reality that many families are facing: the challenge of juggling a house full of family members, working while providing childcare or helping one’s own child/children do their school work, dealing with unemployment and insecurity around food and housing, lack of access to technology or Internet. It certainly has highlighted deep inequities in our society. Studies reveal that blacks are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 (Gassam, 2020,) cases of discrimination against Asian Americans are on the rise (Liu, 2020), and non-green card holding immigrants or residents are prohibited from receiving government stimulus checks (Jarvie, 2020). Vermont refugee support agencies, such as USCRI and AALV, have helped spread information as quickly as possible in multiple home languages about the coming virus, and are assisting new Americans in filing unemployment and taxes. Many families continue to struggle and worry about getting their basic needs met. How can we expect high quality teaching and learning at a time like this?
About one month after Governor Scott’s first order, the volunteer lead affiliate organization of Northern New England TESOL (NNETESOL), provided an online forum for teachers to speakers of other languages (TESOL) around Vermont and New England to discuss remote teaching and learning in the context of COVID-19. The theme was “growth mindset,” as board members, representing different realms in English teaching, K-12, higher ed, adult learning, and teacher training, all explored new technology for a virtual professional development experience. More than 30 participants from around the state, from St. Albans, the Champlain Islands, Chittenden County, to Brattleboro, and some currently as far away as Florida and Michigan, gathered on Zoom on April 22nd. Zoom is one of the main video meeting platforms being utilized by educators around the state to hold live group lessons, staff meetings, and family and friend meet ups. Five Vermont board members, including myself, Sarah Forbes, Past-President, Erin Ross, incoming President-Elect, Beth Evans, Member-at-Large and NNETESOL legend, Elsa Richter and Adrienne Matunas, Vermont State Representatives, hosted the two hour session on Zoom that included audience polling with Polleverywhere, resource sharing through Padlet, and breakout rooms for discussion in small groups on Zoom. We regretted the cancellation of the national TESOL convention in Denver, and the loss of our annual collaboration with Saint Michael’s College at their Language Teaching Conference, and so decided to try something new and utilize our professional Zoom membership for something other than board meetings. The result was enriching, despite some minor technological hiccups.
In small groups, participants discussed current remote teaching platforms, equity issues faced by students and families around the state, how to engage students in online learning, the shifting expectations and goals for teaching and assessment during this time, and successful remote teaching activities. Bonus questions allowed us to reflect on how we are taking care of ourselves during social distancing. Even though we had a large group, the smaller group breakout sessions allowed for a variety of perspectives and equitable talking time. We realized that while continuity of education plans and English language learner (ELL) teacher expectations vary per school, district and context, we are all facing similar challenges and responding to them in creative ways. Especially apparent was the great effort to connect with students where they are at, surveying parents about what are the best ways to connect, via WhatsApp, Facebook, Facetime, etc., and when and for how long works for each child or family. Flexibility is the name of the game! Many ELL teachers in K-12 schools found their role to be one of supporting students in accessing classroom teacher activities or meetings online. One of our closing polls asked participants to comment on the silver linings of remote teaching and learning, and many emerged, especially around the unique opportunities to connect with family members of students and the new tech learning we are all doing. The key takeaways: we’re all in this together, and we’re doing the best we can.
Sources & Recommendations
This is a hectic time of year for any ELL teachers in states that administer the annual WIDA ACCESS English language assessment. This standardized test, used by states in the WIDA consortium to monitor English language learner (ELL) progress from year to year for school accountability purposes, is time consuming and challenging for students. Recently, the test is administered via chromebooks or iPads, which means there are added layers of technology requirements and bugs. However, it also offers teachers an opportunity to see student progress in action and monitor student needs. This informs instruction and provides families and classroom teachers with useful information about individual language development.
Initially, when the WIDA test window rolls around, you will hear a bit of groaning around my school. There are materials to order and organize, trainings to brush up on, technology to procure, and most importantly, schedules for shared space and time to master. In a district where ELL teachers have more than 25 students on their caseloads, the test can take between four to six weeks. In kindergarten, the test is still administered one-on-one and takes between 45 and 60 minutes per test. This interrupts normal ELL support services and means that ELL teachers live and breathe ACCESS for this time period. We say the same script over and over again, encourage students to do their best and to work through things they don’t understand. It can be overwhelming for everyone involved.
I have sat in on test review sessions with WIDA, and I know there are many areas of concern for test item writers and reviewers. Most of these center on potential bias, and ensuring that test items provide adequate verbal and visual content information so that students are focused on language as they work through sections that test skills in all four domains: listening, reading, speaking and writing. While the test is meant to be adaptive, there are multiple choice items that students sometimes accidentally select correctly without understanding. This means students who aren’t necessarily able are often put into tiers above their level of proficiency and confidence. On the other hand, capable and even fluent students can often be anxious about the new test format and not perform at their best, and they are put into tier below their ability level. As a test administrator, and teacher, watching this unfold can be frustrating.
In addition, in my observation, I find the reading test far to difficult for an average first grader. Students are asked to read at a level that is above what is expected of them in first grade at this time. Text is small and often lacks visual support. It is rare that in first grade students are asked to read without visual support, or read text heavy paragraphs without teacher support. Unfortunately, even when students are placed into a lower tier there is no way for them to show their knowledge of sound-letter correspondence or growing sight word vocabularies. Most students faced with a clump of text they can’t read just guess an answer and move on. This means scores don’t accurately reflect student ability. Can you imagine if you were taking a foreign language reading test and didn’t know 90% or more of the text? You’d probably do the same. It is the defeated look on their faces that worries me, and I always try to say “You are a reader! You are where you need to be, don’t worry about this!”
WIDA states that the ACCESS test “serves as one of multiple measures used to determine whether students are prepared to exit English language support programs.” This is true, and in my own teaching I maintain data of student progress not just on the ACCESS test, but on grade level assessments including reading benchmarks, wordlists, math tests, etc. Still, I wonder how the test’s language and literacy expectations can be so far removed from what is considered proficient in the classroom. Is our school so different from others across the nation?
Despite all of my concerns and frustrations, I do find value in the testing process. In kindergarten, as I administer the test on-one-on, I get unique insight into each and every student’s language development. I get to hear how much they’ve learned from the beginning of the year. I get to listen carefully as they complete test items and identify the things that they still need help and practice with. This year, in grades one through five, we also decided to administer the speaking section of the online ACCESS one-on-one to allow students space so they don’t feel nervous about speaking in front of other students and there is no interference between devices in our small testing rooms. Similarly to kindergarten, I’ve been able to learn a lot about where my students are at. This knowledge helps me to form pull-out service groups that best meet the needs of my students. I can use this information to justify and expand on my language curriculum. I can also consult with teachers and help them know what their students might need extra help with in the mainstream classroom.
I think educators who are in classrooms with kids will always be baffled by a “one size fits all” test, because we are trained and encouraged to see students as individuals and meet them where they are at. Standardized tests serve their purpose to compare among students and examine student growth overtime, but they are only one peice of the puzzle, and I wish that other factors could be more clearly taken into consideration on a district, state and even federal level. There are some places, like Chicago, that are trying to figure this out. In the meantime, I do my best to power through testing season, and enjoy the rare one-on-one time with learners.
Sometimes, when I’m co-teaching, I feel like my fellow teachers and I can read each other’s minds. There are times when one of my co-teachers and I actually say the same word or phrase simultaneously. Our students find it amusing. As a team, we provide consistent, yet creative instruction, often offering each other a welcome perspective shift or a different way of approaching a subject that makes it more engaging and accessible to all of our students. We learn from each other, and model what that looks like. We provide a safe space where one of us can address a problem with an individual student, while the other carries on with the instructional goals of the day. We can offer each other reflective insights into students we might not know well, or ask our co-teacher to take over when we feel we’re not able to help a student through a rough moment. This magic takes time and effort to conjure, but it is so worth it!
This past fall, a few of my colleagues and I presented on a panel that shares a title with this post at the 2017 NNETESOL Conference on November 4th. We were three ELL teachers, Bill Clark, Kristin Van Fossen, and myself, and one classroom teacher, Nancy Johnson, representing the K-12 spectrum. The room was packed and people were so intrigued they were sitting on the floor and pouring out the door. It is clear that other educators are eager to implement co-teaching, probably because they can see the inherent benefit of teamwork in a often challenging career in teaching. While much of the research on co-teaching was born out of the movement for inclusion of special education students in the mainstream classroom, it is apparent from multiple studies that co-taught classrooms provide positive outcomes for all students and teachers involved. Clark shared, “students in co-taught classes have reported they enjoy school more, have increased motivation, learn more, and feel better about themselves and others" (Walsh & Jones, 2004; Walther-Thomas, Bryant, & Land, 1996). Who wouldn’t want this for their students?
In Winooski, at the K-1 level, I co-teach math. At other grade levels, ELL teachers co-teach both math, literacy, and other subjects. This pairing allows us to gain content knowledge and instructional skills from a classroom teacher, while sharing our own expertise in language development and academic vocabulary acquisition. We still maintain small group pull-out sessions, outside the general ed classroom, to help ELLs develop language that supports their success in the classroom. This is especially essential for students at the newcomer and beginning stages of proficiency, because it allows them a space to have repeated encounters with scaffolded language and a risk-free zone for testing out their new skills. While I can see the incredible benefits of co-teaching, I do feel there is a lot of value in this small group model when paired with increased opportunities for collaboration between classroom and ELL teachers and curricular overlap.
Nevertheless, for ELLs, there are many advantages to a co-taught classroom including:
As stated above, there are numerous benefits for teachers as well. The relief in sharing the responsibility of planning, preparation and classroom instruction can not be overstated. It does take a lot of relationship building and planning to accomplish. For more about shared planning strategies, please see my previous post on Using Google Docs to Upgrade Co-Planning and Co-Teaching. Honigsfeld & Dove use the handy acronym ESCROW to define success features for co-teacher when planning, assessing and implementing instruction (2010):
As a new teacher coming into my school, the best advice I can offer in terms of building a relationship with the classroom teacher is to listen intently, ask lots of meaningful questions, be helpful (offer to do some of the materials prep, etc.), be consistent with classroom management, take risks at offering up ideas for improvements or changes, don’t be discouraged when you make mistakes, laugh, and don’t be afraid to interact with the class as a whole. If you are lucky, you will work in a district that has built in shared planning time, but oftentimes planning happens before or after school. I join in on whole grade level team meetings when I can, because it allows me to share accommodations for ELLs with the other teachers that they may not have thought of.
It is important to note the differences between traditional push-in models of ELL instruction and effective co-teaching models. As one of my colleagues, Kristin Van Fossen, pointed out in our presentation, the only real overlap is that they both happen in the mainstream classroom. While at times a co-teaching model may have small groups that resemble push-in, the key difference is in the status of the teacher and the students. Van Fossen explained it well when she noted that in a push-in scenario teachers are often “competing” for students’ attention, and an the ELL teacher and students can end up feeling isolated from the general instruction. It might feel like the ELL teacher is more of a support teacher than a general ed teacher. Co-teaching, on the other hand, awards equal status to both teachers and students. Both teachers are responsible for all students, and both contribute to curriculum review, planning and instruction.
The old proverb that two heads are better than one has been proven true again and again in my work as a co-teacher. Seek out someone who wants to try, take the time to make it work, and I feel confident that your teaching career will be more fulfilling and your students better served.
I have long been a proponent of project-based learning (PBL), but have struggled to incorporate it in my limited time with my students in ELL pullout groups. PBL involves framing learning within units of study that build skills and knowledge to be put to use in solving a real world problem or creating an authentic product that is shared with a public audience. The work is collaborative, student-centered, reflective, and often perceived as time consuming. I only have students for 25 to 30 minutes a day or even on alternate days, which hardly seemed like enough time to carry out a high-quality project. However, after delving deeper in PBL professional development that was offered to us as a teaching staff through 2 Revolutions, I was able to wrap my head around what it might look like, and to carry out a successful project with my first grade ELLs in just 25 minutes at the end of the day! After going through this process, I'm confident I can do PBL with more of my classes. I'm also convinced that like with most classroom practices and techniques, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. To learn more about high-quality PBL in ELL, read on or, check out the journey map below that outlines the process I used to create my pilot project.
They took turns adding handfuls of veggies to the warm pot, then pouring in the broth, and stirring. After our soup cooked for a while, I blended it all with a hand blender and we poured in coconut milk. This creamy, flavorful soup was one of the best I’ve ever tasted, especially since it was made by our classroom community. The students who wanted to try it took a bit home in a coffee cup, but the rest was donated to the Empty Bowls dinner, and at parent teacher conferences beforehand I encouraged my students’ families to come and enjoy the soup their children had made.
This week, we're putting pictures of this process in order and creating a classroom book on how to make soup. They are helping to tell what we did and write the text. Then, we'll read it together and students can make their own books to read and share with their classmates. The kindergarten classes are also doing a project where students must create a "how to" book and so this work supports success in their mainstream classrooms.
Another first for me, I attended the 25th Annual VT Kindergarten Conference. Like the Diversity Conference I attended last week, it was also at the Hilton Hotel and was a day of inspiration. The theme of the conference was “The Arts as a Tool for Learning: Nurturing the Imagination in Children” and the workshops I attended stayed true to that theme. The great thing about this whole day, is even though it wasn’t specifically geared towards English language learners, everything discussed had value for making instruction more accessible and engaging for ELLs.
Lisa Condino gave a passionate keynote presentation about her work as a Teaching Artist with VSA’s “Start With The Arts” Program. She first urged participants to consider the connections art can inspire in our reflective process by having participants create a pipe cleaner sculpture inspired by a mentor. Using these sculptures we did a traditional turn and talk that was enriched by how this small, simple piece of art helped us connect in a visual way to the person we spoke about. She then described her experience with the “Start With The Arts” framework of arts integration in schools and childcare centers using the example of reading the book version of Baby Beluga to a group of often reluctant young learners. Her animated and prop filled storytelling included white t-shirts to transform learners into little whales, a large flowing peice of fabric that could create a beautiful wave for students to swim and play in, dozens of tissue paper squares in shades of blue to litter the table, and soft clay that others could use to shape whales. You could see how she had prepared for her audience and allowed for student’s curiosities and hesitations in way that helped all engage. She adapted her lesson as she observed students actions and interactions, for example she created small pools of construction paper for students to use who seemed to need a contained space for their discovery. Condino’s argument for arts integration: “When we provide children with the space to actualize their imagination, we are offering them the opportunity to find their voice and synthesize their thoughts...They are communicating their thinking in nonverbal ways.”
As participants, we also got to get our creative juices flowing by looking at a popular student text and brainstorming ways the story could be brought to life through the arts. Our group chose The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. We thought you could also easily incorporate a large piece of white fabric or a white sheet that could become the snow covering everything, and the snow falling on Peter’s head when he whacks a stick on a snowy tree. We also thought about using shaving cream on a table or salt trays for students to create the different tracks like Peter does in the story. Acting the story out in real snow would absolutely be the best, but without real snow acting out in the classroom can also be fun (I’ve done this.) Another idea was to also use white clay to make track imprints or little snowmen. A mixed media collage combining different textured papers to layer a scene like the colorful scenes in the book could also be fun. What if you had students use paint or something that reacts to water and melt some real snow or an ice cube on the collage to see how it changes with the melting snow, as the snow melted in Peter’s pocket when he tried to save it for later? Once you get started, the ideas just start flowing.
Summary of the 2017 Diversity Conference on March 27, 2017 at the Hilton Hotel in Burlington, VT
By Sarah Forbes
Earlier this week, I attended my first Diversity Conference, hosted by the Greater Burlington Area Multicultural Resource Center at the Hilton in downtown Burlington. It was an inspiring, reflective, and emotional day. The uncertainty of the current political climate was palpable, but so were hope, honesty and love. The morning began with a presentation by Dr. Jonathan Jansen of South Africa. Dr. Jansen, a Stanford graduate who grew up under the Apartheid, is well known for his work with the University of the Free State, setting the bar for integration and anti-discrimination practices. His connection to Vermont stems from a program in which he sent South African students around the U.S. to colleges and universities where they mingled with peers to better understand and improve race relations. His presentation centered around his work with interracial relationships, both friendships and romantic relationships, and how people who are part of such relationships challenge social mores that continue to reinforce social and systemic segregation.
Growing up in a state that is predominantly white, this struck a chord with me. I think we often hold up Burlington and Winooski as examples of Vermont’s diversity, however, how integrated are we really? We may live on the same city blocks and attend the same schools, but there are still clear boundaries between people based on race, culture, religion, and economic status that hinder true social integration. Jansen referenced two influential cases that challenged states’ laws against interracial marriages, first, the U.S. Loving vs. Virginia case (1967), and the second the Blacking case in South Africa. He argued that while the laws may have changed in favor of interracial marriage, the social norms have not. It is the work of all who believe in equality to create pathways to understanding and integration. Jansen stated, “Social mores now do the work that legislation no longer needs to do.” With this in mind, he has followed several interracial couples and friends in South Africa as they navigate a reality where they continue to encounter discriminatory interactions with family and community members. His driving question: “Why is it so difficult to love across the colour line?”
Following the keynote, there was a panel on Diversity in Education, which included Moise St. Louis, Saint Michael’s College Associate Dean of Students and Director of Center for Multicultural Affairs & Services, Dr. Lacretia Flash, Office of Human Resources, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at UVM, Miguel Fernandez, Chief Diversity Officer at Middlebury College, author and entrepreneur Wally Amos, “Famous Amos”, and Ame Lambert, the Chief Diversity Officer at Champlain College. Each was eloquently spoken and had powerful messages to deliver. Mr. St. Louis urged the audience to consider our educational future, asking what sort of educational institutions we hope for and how we can shape them so that our children are better than us at breaking down racial prejudices. Dr. Lacretia Flash read her essay “The Gift of Troubled Times,” written for the Peace and Justice Center, and cited the United State’s downgraded status on the Democracy Index from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy” as an indicator of our troubled times. She theorized that our challenge stems from a disconnect between our national values and ideals, arguing that our values are defined by individuality, competition, and success tied to winning (economically or otherwise), whereas our ideals, which we often hold up as representative of our democracy, are justice, equality and community.
Recently, my first graders went on a school scavenger hunt. I have frequently used this activity as a newcomer orientation to the school and it’s always met with great enthusiasm. Students feel very official wandering the halls with their clipboards in hand and pencils ready to check off the boxes of the places they see. This year, we first read Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes to introduce school places. All the first graders love Pete the Cat and we also use I Love My White Shoes to learn color words. In the book, there are clues that hint at which location Pete will visit and students have to guess where he is going next. This was a perfect connection to the scavenger hunt. In my mixed proficiency level newcomer group, this was an activity that was easy to differentiate. I had some students who were able to focus on the phrase and sentence level clues, while others relied on the pictures and the key vocabulary of school places to begin learning the names of places they visit everyday. I created a checklist with pictures of different rooms around school, and students had to use books and labeled flashcards to match words and pictures, then label their own check-lists. We also printed and read the book The School from Reading A-Z. After students had finished their writing, we set off about the school. I gave them clues about where we would head next: “Where do we see books on every wall?” or “Oh, I have a stomach ache and a headache, where should I go?” We roamed the school until all of our places were checked off.
Another newcomer activity, an interactive song that I made to the tune "The Wheels on the Bus", also helps children become acquainted with school places and expectations. I find that learners latch on to this song early, and we end up singing it all through the year. New verses can be added to introduce new language or to personalise. For example, kindergarten classes are doing a project-based learning unit on community and friendship, with a focus on students writing books for incoming students on how to navigate kindergarten. To supplement this discussion, we’ve also been talking about friendship activities and vocabulary in ELL. We added a new verse to our song this week about playing and sharing with friends.
For the few years I have been teaching ELL at JFK in Winooski, Vermont, co-teaching with two grade level teachers during math has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my educational career. Learning to teach side-by-side with a classroom teacher, while gaining new content skills and sharing my own expertise of how ELLs develop language, has benefited all the children in our classrooms. Our co-teaching is most effective when we’ve had time to plan together, set our common goals, discuss differentiation, and divide materials creation tasks. Recently hearing an improv comedian on VPR’s Fresh Air, Chris Gethard, explain how working closely with another comedian over time and with lots of practice gave root to an almost telepathic relationship where you could predict what the other person would say way before they said it, I was struck by how true that can be of a co-teacher relationship as well. At least one in which co-planning is a precursor to co-teaching. However, with our busy weekly planning, meeting with math and literacy coaches, special educators, student support and faculty meetings, etc. it can often be a challenge to find common planning time. While my co-teachers and I can quickly get on the same page before a lesson, touch base about student progress after a lesson, and be flexible during a lesson when one of us has an idea for pushing students thinking or dialing it back to reach all learners, there is no substitute for formal shared planning.
The use of Google Docs for lesson development has created a virtual space where time becomes less of a barrier to successful co-teaching. In first grade, the team plans math when I’m unable to attend, but my co-teacher is able to plug lessons into a shared online plan that I have access to. This way, if we don’t have time to meet, I can at least know what is happening each day and add to the plan with accommodations, ideas to adapt lessons for my ELLs, and strategies for accessing key vocabulary. I may also ask questions that my co-teacher can then read and respond to right in the shared plan. When we do have a chance to sit down together, we continue to use this tool, both on our own computers, so that we can jot down changes and ideas as we talk about them and refer back to them before a lesson. The form we use also allows us to highlight math habits of interaction and habits of mind that we want to focus on in each lesson. The top of the lesson plan asks us to identify the big idea in the form of a question. Even if we have only this clarified, we are on our way to more cohesive instruction. This shared lesson planning has fostered an equitable and transparent co-teaching relationship.
At the kindergarten level, my co-teacher and I have begun to move our unique, thematic and play-based units in math onto Google Docs where we can quickly paste links to videos, printables and public records we want to share with the rest of the kindergarten team. When we return to these plans next year, all of our materials and ideas will be in one convenient place. Apps like CamScanner are a great way to get hand written materials into an electronic format for later reference and use. With this app, you can take a picture of a poster, for example, and upload it to Google Drive as a PDF file. This file can then be inserted in the Google Doc lesson plan. In addition, after my co-teacher and I both attended the NNETESOL conference in November, we returned with another idea for our shared lesson planning inspired by Katy Heermann’s presentation “Bridging the Divide - Increasing Collaboration Between Classroom and ELL Teachers” to add a table with “can do” descriptors at different WIDA proficiency standards that is tailored to the content of each unit (NNETESOL 2016). I’ve begun adding these to the kindergarten math units, and plan to add them to the first grade units as well. This can act as a guide for other classroom teachers as they are thinking about how their ELLs can participate and contribute to math lessons. The online lesson planning has been so successful that both of my co-teachers are now using it not only for math, but also to help pass information to me regarding literacy units and meetings I’m unable to attend.
If you haven’t yet started using Google Docs, it might be time to take the plunge.
This blog post was originally published on the on June 6, 2016.
This year, the Winooski School District family English classes took on a new project. Women in their third year of after school English classes explored the world of biography with the goal of writing their own autobiographies. ELL teachers and classroom teachers teamed up to create a year-long curriculum using processes of project-based learning (PBL). The fall semester was spent reading biographies on historical figures. Books were found through the school libraries and provided reading material for students at different levels. Students participated in a combination of shared read alouds, independent reading and choral reading. Characteristics and features of biographies were identified and discussed, such as sequential life events written in a timeline, or a central message to a person’s life story. The teachers used elements of responsive classroom, a greeting meeting and team building activity, to create a sense of community in the class and introduce elements that scaffolded biography work. For example, when discussing how stories often share memories linked to emotions, students might have played “feeling” charades to preview vocabulary and assess understanding. As stories were read in class, students were encouraged to make connections with text and extend their learning through speaking and writing.
In the second semester, the focus was on students creating their own autobiographies. The literacy levels of the class varied, so much of the preparatory work was oral. As students were asked to tell or write memories from different times in their life, the women found similarities between their tales. Each story showed emotion: sadness, joy, and laughter were all present as students creatively put all of their English vocabulary to use to convey their meaning. All students made incredible effort to put their words on paper, and then these were typed up into formal autobiographical texts. Teachers asked questions to make writing more detailed and encouraged verbal recounting and peer sharing. In the end, work was published into a book and each student chose one memory to tell for a movie. A public showcase celebrated their hard work.
The women graciously agreed to put their book up for sale in order to help the district raise more money for future family literacy work. If you are interested in supporting this cause, please follow this link.
The movie can be seen here.
For a curriculum guide and template, which was presented at the NNETESOL Conference in 2016, click here.
I'm Sarah Forbes. I'm the