Sunday, September 26, 2010

Celebrating My First Year on Twitter

Recently, Shelly Terrell, the co-founder of EDChat, invited me to present at the Virtual Round Table Language Online Conference on October 8th. The theme of this conference is "Language Teaching and Technology." Ten years ago I co-founded with my son Charles. This inspired an interest in technology and the possibilities of using it with my students. Last year, I decided to join Twitter because I was Conference Chair and VP of NJTESOL-NJBE and a member of the Board, Cassy Lawrence, suggested that we feature technology at our next conference and establish a presence on Facebook and Twitter. I realized that my knowledge of technology was out-of-date.

I decided that I needed to understand the Web 2.0 technology that was going to be featured at our conference. I joined Twitter and it wasn't too long before I discovered Tom Whitby and Shelly Terrell and their amazing Educator's PLN (Personal Learning Network). I followed many of the educators that participated in #EDCHAT and started to build my PLN. I looked up every technology reference that I didn't know and investigated a wide variety of Web 2.0 applications related to education including a large number of blogs, classroom Wikis, Delicious, Prezi, Wallwisher, Google Docs and voicethread.

The best part of this journey, however, turned out to be the contacts and friendships that I established on Twitter. It is amazing to me that I can communicate with educators all over the world. In January 2010 I wrote my first blog, everythingESL. NJTESOL-NJBE now has committee meetings on Chatzy. A colleague and I had a proposal on using technology with English language learners accepted at the N.J. Education Association's yearly conference. Last June I co-founded #ELLCHAT with Linda Hahner. A few weeks ago, I gave my first webinar Myths of Second Language Acqusition. And in a few weeks I will be presenting at my first online conference. So I thank you Cassy, Shelly, Tom and Linda for contributing to this outstanding year of professional growth.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sensitizing your Mainstream Students to Needs of ELLs

Do you want your mainstream students to accept and help the new learners of English in the lunchroom, on the playground, on the bus, in their neighborhoods? Here are some ideas to make your students sensitive to the challenges the newcomers face.

Cooperative group work
Have students divide into groups of 4 or 5 students. Have them discuss the following topics.

* Who has moved and changed schools? Where did you move from? How did you feel the first few days? What was different in your new neighborhood? How did you handle being without your friends? How did you make new friends? What did people do that make you feel welcome in your new school. What did you wish some would have done? What should the teacher do?
* Who came here from another country? What country? When did you come? Could you speak English? How did you feel? How did you make friends? What helped you learn English.
* How many of you speak another language? Can you teach us to say hello? Count to five? Why is it good to know another language?
* How many of you have traveled to a country where English is not the main language? How did you feel when you couldn't communicate? Would you like to learn another language? How long do you think it takes to learn a new language?

Have each group of students present a short summary of what their group discussed and what conclusions they reached?
Reverse Roles

Rearrange the students again in groups of four or five. Have them discuss the following: Imagine that your parents have to move to Japan. You have to go to a Japanese school because there is no American school near your new home.

* Would you want to go? What would you want to take with you? Who are the people you would miss?
* Do you think you would have trouble learning Japanese?
* Who would you talk to if you were the only one in your class who speaks English?
* How would you make friends with kids who didn't speak English?
* How would you feel if the other students laughed at you if you made mistakes when you tried to speak Japanese? How would you feel if you couldn't do any of the work?

Brainstorm with your how they would feel if they were newcomers in the United States. How would they want the students in their new school to treat them? How would they be able to communicate with their classmates.

Establishing a Bully-free Environment for ELLs

The information for this article is based on a chapter in Authenticity in the Language Classroom and Beyond: Children and Adolescent Learners entitled Sticks and Stones: Preventing Bullying in the Elementary School by Joann Frechette and Judie Haynes (TESOL, 2010)

There are many types of bullying. Physical bullying is comprised of actions such as hitting, pushing and punching; verbal bullying includes name-calling and teasing; and emotional bullying consists of behaviors such as excluding someone from an activity. The ELLs in the suburban school where Joann Frechette and I taught were often the victims of verbal and emotional bullying. Their parents were not likely to report verbal or emotional bullying to the school. In my experience ELL parents did not appear to recognize the emotional damage that bullying can cause in children. They often expressed that this type of bullying is a normal part of growing up. Furthermore, ELLs who were victims of bullies were usually reluctant to draw attention to themselves. They were not only embarrassed to talk about their problems with bullies.

Staff members in my school district received training in an anti-bullying program adapted primarily from the book, Bully-Proofing Your School by Cam Short-Camilli (1994). We called our program We Respect ALL People (WRAP). At the heart of the WRAP program are various strategies that students employed to deal with bullies. From the beginning we wanted to make sure that the English language learners in our school were included in the program. We found that they needed extra practice with some of the strategies, and that they felt more comfortable talking about their experiences in their ESL class. So, we decided to reinforce the WRAP strategies as part of the ESL curriculum.

Even though ELLs do not often assert themselves while an actual bullying incident is happening, they will usually bring the problem to the ESL class. There, the ESL teacher teaches assertive language that ELLs can use with bullies. As the students gain more confidence through practice, they are more willing to stand up to a bully. Building community and encouraging classmates to be of assistance to each other goes a long way in helping ELLs avoid problems with bullies.

There are many long-lasting effects of bullying for the victim. Children who are bullied have low self-esteem and tend to be anxious and insecure and are often lonely and depressed. it is important for ESL teachers to work with classroom teachers to ensure that ELLs have a bully-free environment in school.
Reprint of blog published in June, 2010.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What Language should ELLs Speak at Home?

It's the beginning of the school year and many teachers and administrators will be meeting with the parents of English language learners. This is an excellent opportunity for school administrators and classroom teachers to encourage parents to speak their native language at home. It is much more beneficial for children to hear fluent native language with a rich vocabulary than it is to hear imperfect, halting English. When ELLs learn academic concepts in their primary language, it will help them acquire English. Let's see an example of an English language learner, Isobel. and her family as they try to integrate English into their home life.

Isobel's family is from Costa Rica. Her parents speak some English and are literate in Spanish. When Isabel's teacher told them that they should speak English at home, her parents became distressed. They tried to speak English with her at the dinner table, but their conversations were stilted. Isobel's parents no longer felt comfortable asking her about her school, classes, and homework in Spanish. They stopped discussing books and the television news with her. Although the family reverted to their native language at the dinner table after a week of hesitant English, Isobel felt ashamed of her native language. She wished her parents spoke English.

What Isobel's teacher and parents did not know was that by reading and discussing stories with her and by encouraging Isobel to share her school experiences in Spanish, they were giving her experiences in their native language. Informal conversations like these are critical for Isobel because they will help her establish values and discuss ideas that she is not ready to learn in English. Eventually, what she learns in Spanish will help promote her English proficiency. The concepts and skills that students learn in one language will transfer to the second language when the learner is ready.

Students who are literate in their native language have many skills to draw on when they learn academic English, even when the writing system is different. It is more difficult to teach a concept in English if the student does not know it in native language. Once students grasp the underlying literacy skills of one language, they can use these same skills to learn another language. For example, 10th graders who are literate in Spanish will understand the underlying process of reading in English. Older students will be able to transfer skills such as scanning, selecting important information, predicting what comes next, and visualizing to enhance comprehension. Younger children who are literate in one language will know that printed words carry meaning, that words can be combined into sentences and paragraphs, and that certain letters stand for certain sounds.

So when you meet with the parents of your English language learners, be sure to encourage them to speak native language at home.