Monthly Archives: May 2013

ESL Ruminations, Take #2

On May 7th, I wrote a post detailing concerns I was having about the activities that my ESL students were engaged in during our class time. I surveyed the class and got some interesting responses about what was going well and what changes we could make to improve these assignments.

What follows are some of their comments and suggestions:

  • My students asked for the opportunity to have conversations with each other, or with me, about a variety of topics. So, we initiated what I call, “conversation partners”. We’ve done this a few times and  they have been working really well. The first time we did this, we brainstormed some possible topics so that the students would have an idea of what they could talk about with each other; we only had to do this one time. They have approximately 10 minutes for a conversation. We do pairs or trios but no more than that. At the end of the conversation time I ask each of them what they learned about their partner.
  • Almost unanimously, my students did not like doing T-charts about the books they are reading. They say it slows them down and distracts then from their reading; we don’t do these anymore.
  • One student suggested that instead of telling a story about themselves, they could do something else. Act it out? Draw it? Write a comic? We haven’t determined this yet.
  • For listen to reading, someone suggested that in lieu of filling in a story map once a week they could share about the story they had listened to with the class. Another child recommended that we add a section on feelings (or substitute for one of the 6 areas of the story map?); we haven’t implemented either of these two ideas, yet.
The most powerful change we have made thus far has been to introduce conversation partners. First of all, everyone likes to talk and middle school kids are no exception. Having my students partner up with a classmate to talk about a topic of their choice for 10 minutes has proven very successful. Furthermore, students acquiring another language need lots of time for conversation. When they are with their conversation partners, they can get help if they don’t know a word or phrase in English. We have made this a part of the Daily 5 choices; the kids call it the Daily 6!
This experience reminds me the importance of asking kids a simple question: what’s going well and what can we improve? If you’ve never done this or if you have, please leave a comment about your thoughts.

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Filed under changes. ESL, choice, surveys

Books, books, books!

Ever since I can remember I have loved to read, and I still do. I have fond childhood memories of visiting my neighborhood library in Brooklyn, on the corner of Ocean Ave and Kings Highway, many times as I was growing up. On a recent visit to NY, I was saddened to see how rundown it has gotten over the years; it was always airy, light and clean when I was growing up but no more. But that’s a topic for another post.

The point I am trying to make is that I read a lot. When I was younger, I would  read under the covers with a flashlight, presumably so my mother wouldn’t notice that I hadn’t gone to sleep yet. I don’t think I ever got caught so that tells you that my mother never checked or she simply ignored the late-night-under-the-covers reading.  Either way, I’m glad because it helped me develop a love of reading that continues to this day. I am never far away from a book. In fact, I usually carry around a book with me for those just-in-case moments at the doctor’s office, waiting for a red light (just kidding!), or waiting for my son at his bus stop. I have so many books waiting to be read that I really should establish a moratorium on buying books until I’ve made a dent in my to-read pile. Ha! Fat chance! I just can’t have enough books. Here is a peak at some of the books I’ve read lately, am currently reading, or waiting to be read:

  • The Daily 5 Book and The CAFE Book, both by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, are worth a read even if you don’t adopt their framework exactly as they describe it. Actually, you should never adopt someone else’s framework as they have developed it because even if you tried to do that, it wouldn’t work since you didn’t have a hand at creating it. Therefore, if you are already doing the Daily5 and/or CAFE in your class, you will most likely adapt both systems to your particular needs and students. There are a lot of ideas in both books worth considering.
  • I was not expecting Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah to end the way it did, especially the afterword where she talks about Stage IV breast cancer as being the reason for writing the book. For some reason, this admission made the book less valuable in my eyes because it seemed as if the purpose of the story was simply to warn people about this kind of difficult-to-diagnose breast cancer. It seemed like a case of the means-justifies-the-ends and I believe that is never the best way to go.
  • I am currently writing a review of Making Teamwork Meaningful by William Ferriter, Parry Grahm and Matt Wight for MiddleWeb so I don’t want to say anything other than it’s an interesting read. 
  • El Cuaderno de Maya by Isabel Allende – what can I say about Isabel Allende without sounding corny? Not much. I have read every single one of her books except for La Casa de los Espirítus because it reminded me too much of One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Paula because it was too painful to read. El Cuaderno de Maya is by far her most unusual book, although it’s easy to say that about each book that Allende writes. Let’s just say that although Maya is Allende’s most unusual, infuriating and troubled character, she triumphs in the end. This is not a fairy tale ending by any means, just an amazing journey taken by a troubled young woman with a past even before she has had a chance to live her life.
  • I am currently reading Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg. I loved Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe so I figured I couldn’t go wrong with this book. I have to admit that I’m finding it difficult to get into the story because there are too many characters to keep track of. Also, I’ve been reading this book in bits and pieces which slows me down and doesn’t pique my interest. Now, that I’ve read a little bit more, I am enjoying the subtleties of the story.
  • If you want a refreshing look at how to assess students using miscue analysis rather than DIBELS or DRA or any of the myriad online tools now on the market, then you have to get your hands on a copy of Miscues Not Mistakes by M. Ruth Davenport
  • I wrote a review of A Culture of Excellence by Ron Berger for MiddleWeb. You can access it here.
  • My book club read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and I loved it. In fact, at the end of the book I was hoping that Riggs would write a sequel since the book ends at another beginning. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go to the book club meeting where this book was discussed but apparently I may have been the only one who liked this book. Some felt it was too reminiscent of Harry Potter. Since I’ve never read any of the Harry Potter books (public confession) I was saved from having to make this comparison.
  • Not looking forward to reading Perfume by Patrick Suskind, our last book club book of the school year. Has anyone read it? Is it worth the time?
  • I spotted I’ll See You Again by Jackie Hance and Janice Kaplan at a store in the Miami airport. I was drawn to the cover and so I scanned the first few pages. OK, it looks like a very tragic story and why would I want to read about someone else’s sad story? But, for some reason, I was drawn to the message of hope in the jacket description and so I purchased it for my Kindle.
  • I have read The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns and devoured them both so I figured that And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini would be just as good. I don’t think I will be disappointed.
  • Last, but not least, I am looking forward to reading Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff, one of my daughter’s favorite journalism professors at Boston University (BU). This is Zuckoff’s second book about a survival mission gone wrong. His first book was Lost in Shangri-La. Both books have been on the New York Times bestseller list, which is always an amazing accomplishment. Not only is Zuckoff a bestselling author, he is also an excellent teacher; he was voted Teacher of the Year in the School of Communication at BU this year. 
So, what are you reading, have finished reading or are planning to read?
Share in the comments.

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    Boston Commencent 2013

    I am currently in Boston for my daughter’s graduation from BU. As I searched for an image about Boston to embed into this post, I discovered that just about all of the images I came across on google were of the destruction caused by the Boston Marathon bombings. So, just for the record, Boston is a beautiful city that has harbored my daughter for the past four years. I am grateful for her time here and am confident she will do great things in the world.

    Unfortunately, the commencement speaker, TfA founder Wendy Kopp, was uninspiring although she had clearly prepared her speech. Kopp introduced herself as “the person responsible for those persistent Teach for America recruiters who have been after you all year,” Yet, those same recruiters when challenged about TfA and its mission by the very students they are trying to recruit, don’t bother to respond demonstrating an unwillingness to engage in dialogue about the ultimate purpose and premises of TfA. But, back to Kopp. Besides being a horrible public speaker, she said a few things that left those of us with staying power to listen to her till the bitter end, a bit dumbfounded. I didn’t record her speech and I didn’t take notes during her presentation, though some tidbits can be found on the BU website, I do remember three comments in particular that I will respond to, even if it’s only for my own peace of mind.

    First of all, she told students that she favors inexperience and that the world needs more copycats. Hmmm. So, let’s eliminate all experienced teachers from schools and substitute them with TfA recruits (I can’t call them teachers until they’ve actually gone through a certified teacher training program) because it’s better to have 4.0 inexperienced Ivy League graduates teaching our “neediest” students who will leave after two or three years and never look back, than making sure that the teachers we do have in those schools are well-prepared to teach their students. And, while we’re at it, let’s encourage copying as the highest level of education. Maybe that’s why the Common Core was established? To make sure that there’s lots of copying going on in all schools in the US? Could it be?

    Then, she made a comment I could agree with: teachers are in it for the long haul. Umm…yes. So, what is this two-year commitment about?? Basically, she’s saying that most of the TfA recruits aren’t really teachers and most will never be because they’re just around for a short while until they get into graduate school or their ideal job turns up. There’s something that just doesn’t make sense about this statement.

    Finally, Wendy Kopp has expanded her business to the developing world. She has launched Teach for All and is in Peru, China and possibly somewhere else. By this time, I was so incensed that I was having a hard time listening to her at the same time that I maintained my composure. Is she anticipating the demise of TfA because of the growing opposition within the professional community? Or, does she simply see a good business opportunity? I don’t know but the idea that it’s a good thing to go into another country and tell them how to improve their educational system because we’re doing such a great job in the US is laughable at best and insulting at worst.

    Fortunately, Morgan Freeman, who received an honorary degree said some brief words to the delight of all present, brightening up an otherwise gloomy morning.

    Congratulations to all the BU 2013 graduates and especially to my daughter who will go places in the world!

    Cross posted to A Slice of Life

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    Filed under Boston, Boston commencement, graduation, TfA

    Email Junky

    OK, I am beginning to realize that I am an email junky. Extreme, you say? Hmmm…

    How do I know I’m addicted? Well, I check my messages numerous times a day, too many to count, on my iPhone and on my personal and work laptops as if the email coming through on each of these devices is going to be significantly different and better. Hah! 

    The curious thing is that when I don’t check my email for hours at a time, there’s nothing there that couldn’t have waited anyway. There is rarely anything that required an immediate reply. 

    I check my email several times a day because it seems like I’m always expecting something important – personal or work-related emails, it doesn’t matter. (Oh, and did I mention that I manage three email accounts??)

    The point is that I’m always waiting. And, that’s not any fun. In fact, it’s pathetic and mentally exhausting. So, I’ve decided to limit email to between two to three times a day: in the morning, mid-day (if I must), and before 7 pm. That way my evening will be email free.

    Even though I’ve tried this before and it hasn’t worked for very long, I’m determined to be successful this time around. I’ve noticed that I’m anxious and distracted and it’s due to my email habit. I’ve got to conquer it, once and for all. This is all part of a bigger plan, by the way, to slow down, smell the roses and be present in the moment. I’ve already started meditating and writing every day again, which are important rituals for me. Cutting down on emails is just another piece of my wellness puzzle.

    How about you? How do you handle the distractions of contemporary technological society? Do you have bans on checking email, reading blogs, surfing the web? How has that gone for  you? 

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    Monolingual VS Bilingual
    This is interesting infographic about the benefits of knowing more than one language.
    Do you agree with the premises stated here? What has been your experience as a speaker of more than one language or as a teacher of students learning a second or other language?

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    Filed under bilingualism, global perspectives on bilinguals

    ESL Class Ruminations

    I have been using the Daily5 with my beginner to intermediate middle school students and have been fairly happy with the results: children who like to read and write. They are finding authors and series they enjoy and are discovering that writing can be a powerful way to communicate with others. I work with my students in a pull out situation.

    Recently, though, I’ve been feeling pressure, mostly from myself and a little bit from observing my students, to change up some of what goes on in class so that there are authentic assignments that stretch my students as language learners. More specifically, I’m trying to determine which tasks are useful because they extend and enrich students’ English language development, and which are just busy work and students are finding a chore to complete. The four standard weekly assignments are:

    1. Dialogue Journals – running conversation twice/week between my students and myself.
    2. Storytelling – about a personally significant event. This also involves listening to other students’ stories, taking notes, and choosing one interesting story to write about.
    3. Filling out a graphic organizer about a story the child listened to on the computer.
    4. T-chart for read to self which includes writing from the reflection side of the chart.
    I try to confer with students about their work immediately or as soon as possible the next day. I do a lot of teaching during these one-on-one conferences but I’m beginning to wonder if all four activities are equally valuable. Which ones can I cut or tweak to make them more authentic or more meaningful to students?
    As a result of writing up this blog post, I have decided to ask students about the value of each activity to their growth as a language learner. I know which two assignments I find valuable and which one may not be as useful right now and may need some tweaking to make it worthwhile. Dialogue Journals are valuable in any setting and I may need to make some changes to the procedure in order to make them more accessible to students..
    I will ask my students to write down what they like and what they don’t like about each assignment, and to give a suggestion for how each can be improved. I will compile their responses and report back next time. In the meantime, do you think these assignments are valuable for beginning to intermediate ESL students? Why or why not?

    Cross posted at A Slice of Life.

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    Mystery Skype!

    On Thursday of this week, my 5th and 6th grade beginner ESL students and I participated in a Mystery Skype session with a class in Connecticut, USA. This was my first Mystery Skype and I was nervous. In fact, the day before our scheduled session, I emailed my partner teacher to say that I was getting cold feet. Although, she was very understanding of my hesitation as a first time Mystery Skyper, she encouraged me to stick to our schedule and reassured me that everything would turn out great. And, guess what? It did!

    My partner teacher and I emailed several times and Skyped ourselves in preparation for our Mystery Skype.

    Even though we had a holiday on Wednesday and I couldn’t adequately prep my kids for the Mystery Skype, I still had enough time Thursday morning to get them ready. They caught on immediately, which speaks to the power of keeping things simple and not belabouring a point, and we were ready to go on time. Each group correctly guessed the other’s location. My students needed a little bit of help but overall they did really well.

    So, now that I’ve been baptized into the world of doing Mystery Skypes, the following are my take aways so that the next Mystery Skype session is even better.

    1. It’s important to remind students that this is basically a geography project. They need to think in terms of asking questions that will help them pinpoint the location of the class we are Skyping with.
    2. I assigned some students to be on the computer to help with searching for the place that the other class was located but that was too vague of a direction. Selecting some websites that will help them with this task would have been more helpful. 
    3. I must remember to take pictures next time!
    4. Although my students prepped for the Mystery Skype by writing down two to three questions they could ask our partner class, it might be a good idea to maintain a chart or document of the most helpful questions.
    5. It is much easier for a class in the US to guess our location than for us to guess the location of a class in the US. None of my students are from the US and although most have visited they are not familiar with the states that make up the US and much less with the cities within those states. However, the kids did a great job using the atlas to narrow down the location of our partner class.
    6. Have several different atlases available.
    7. Insist on quiet during the Skype session since, at times, the buzz on our end made it difficult for our friends to hear us at the other end.
    Have you ever been involved in a Mystery Skype? I would love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment below.

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