Voices Vol 41 No 3


SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS: Bilingual ESL Middle School

We Begin Again: Rejoice, Review, and Reassess

By Tina Kern

I
just left the last meeting of the year.  My room is a mess.  My life is frenetic.  My mind is spinning.  We are already talking about next year, and I'm still in “year-in-review” mode!

Was it just a few weeks ago that I left the Hyatt in Conference “Afterglow?”  Even though it felt like I was running on an adrenaline rush for 2 days, I was filled with the sounds of colleagues enjoying the energy pulsing through the halls and rooms.  The information was invaluable, as was the experience.  Though I could not attend many sessions, I was thrilled to meet my Special Interest Group (SIG) members and talk about pertinent information, our frustrations, and, of course, our successes. Once again, I am waiting for the technology to create my avatars to attend each and every workshop. Did you take notes, and start to implement your new ideas gleaned from your meetings and workshops?  Remember that if you don’t begin to use the methods and ideas that fired you up at the conference, you will leave the information stacked with your now out-of-date workbooks and cassette tapes, in that closet next to the pay telephone used as the planter.

Our “SIG talk” included discussions of assessments, exit information, meeting the students’ needs, rules and regulations, etc. I always look forward to meeting my colleagues in person.   Programs in schools are varied, but one of our topics, push-in vs. pull-out, always seems to generate lively conversation.  Of course, we agreed that push-in can only be successful with students that are able to understand and utilize the English language enough that the experience is positive for them.  Our beginning ESL students need the exclusive attention of their ESL teacher in a non-threatening environment conducive to the growth of their language.  This year I have seen both sides of the push-in/pull-out controversy.

Push-in was elucidating for as I quickly entered the classroom, I saw my students immersed in their work – or focusing on a bug on the wall.  I was able to sum up their engagement, join in the class experience, and jot down notes for our individual time together.  Being in the classroom helped me help the transitional student with the daily assignments or long term projects, while letting me focus on the skills to be successful in their classes, too.  It was a way to scaffold our ELLs with their learning.

Pull-out elicited different experiences.  Here the shy or beginning students could shine.  They could “try on” their new language and take risks.  I could hone in on specific needs with all of my students, even the transitional ones, without fear that their lessons would evoke eye rolling from the regular students.  It was a nurturing, safe environment for all.

So the conversation could continue forever about the pros and cons of pull-out and push-in – and it should as we evolve and learn with our students.  Our programs must grow with our students and attend to their individual needs.

In this way, awarding the scholarships at Conference is one of my fondest “duties” of NJTESOL/NJBE Executive Board.  We read reams of applications, and then have the privilege to pick the “best of the best”.  When I present an award, that student symbolizes every ELL, and I picture my students taking their place in our world, proud and happy to have conquered, not one, but two languages, as our scholarship award winners have done.

So as I put away the last of my books and pick up the scraps of paper, I review my year once again, as I’m sure you do, too.  You also know what we tell our students as they listen to someone reading their essay or story: “Try to think of two stars and a wish” as we critique their work.  Well, my wish is that our students can have the same support and opportunities as everyone else.  I wish that for everyone, everywhere.  My contribution to that end is small, but I ever try to make it larger.

And so I will go to Washington, DC to advocate for our ELLs next week.  We’ll talk about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as it affects our ELLs.  I have a list of issues that I will discuss with our legislators, and then I’ll report to you so that you, too, can convince others of the issues confronting our population on the issue of standardized testing. How can we test our beginning students for academic language when they are functioning on a conversational level?

And I will work on one of my “wishes”: to help the parents of our ELLs so they can help their children by becoming a part of our educational community.  This “wish” stemmed from many situations that occurred, but a dream was born from the following.

At the last parent conference I attended, I was translating for a mom of one of my students.  She was the most polite, patient person I have ever met.  The teacher was excitedly gesturing and explaining the wonderful websites and how to negotiate them.  The parent smiled and tried to follow the steps necessary to find and use these websites.  Translating wasn’t enough.  I could sense the frustration, as the parent followed the almost scripted responses she integrated into her repertoire of “parent responses” from previous meetings in school.  I realized that I wasn’t translating for one parent – she represented many parents who try to understand our teacher jargon and wonderful developments in education.  No amount of words in a conference could explain “just right” books and “continuums” of progress. That was the moment I realized that no matter how well I taught, no matter how advanced were our materials and methods, no matter how engaged our students were, our parents weren’t able to 100% grasp the information we were imparting in the 15 – 20 minute snippets of time.

In the next Voices and subsequent editions I will share my progress. 

So now, in the midst of putting away books and supplies for September, and in several moments during the summer, I will review and reassess the year, as I simultaneously anticipate the coming year.  Assessment still boggles my mind.  It was a great frustration to anticipate the last months of school as “teaching moments” squeezed in-between stretches of state and district assessments. I realize how valuable the data is, but our ESL students are bombarded with more tests than the regular classroom children.  That is one issue that sparks my advocacy. As a result, I am so excited that I will be attending TESOL Advocacy in Washington, D.C. (or will have attended by the time you are reading this.)  Since a focus of our visits to legislators will be ESEA, I will continue to “rejoice, renew, and reassess” for a while longer.  Now I am reading the reams of material in which to prepare and advocate for all of us.  Wish me luck!  Talk soon!


During the summer, keep in touch with good reads and good ideas: tskern723@yahoo.com.

Tina Kern