Special Interest Groups

Adult Education

Meeting Our New Adult Education SIG Rep: Debbie DeBlasio
        and Metacognitive Reading Strategy Instruction

By Debbie DeBlasio

This is my first publication in Voices, so I’d like to start off by introducing myself. My name is Debbie DeBlasio and I have had the honor of being selected to represent the Adult Education Special Interest Group of NJTESOL/NJBE this year. I teach academic ESL to adult ELLs at Brookdale Community College (Ed. Note: in Lincroft in Monmouth County) and I am the Department Chair of Languages and ESL. I love my job and this new role is a welcome addition. I have attended two executive board meetings, so far, and was very impressed to see the members in action. It was inspiring to see how much this group cares about advocating for ELLs, not to mention how knowledgeable they are in their fields. I look forward to serving alongside them.

In this article, I’d like to share with you a good article I recently read entitled, “The Effects of Metacognitive Reading Strategy Instruction on Reading Performance of Adult ESL Learners with Limited English and Literacy Skills” (please see citation below). It follows a study that shows the benefit of explicit instruction of reading strategies in teaching adult ELLs.

Reading proficiently can change an adult learner’s life when it comes to job searches, helping their children with homework, dealing with important documents, etc., and a learner who already struggles with literacy has double the challenge to face. The study that is explored in the article stems from the knowledge that using reading strategies and being aware of using them leads to superior reading comprehension, even among native speakers. Unless otherwise instructed, the typical adult ELL student does not utilize reading strategies when running into a new vocabulary word in a text. The student often gets stuck on that word and won’t go on until it is defined. If this happens in almost every sentence, it can be very frustrating and lead to a feeling of defeat.

In this study, a group of low literacy adult ELLs were taught five reading strategies: Highlighting Important Information, Previewing Text for Main Ideas, Re-reading Selected Content, Guessing Meanings of Unfamiliar Words, and Applying Prior Knowledge. The interesting part, for me, was that teaching them these strategies wasn’t enough. It had to be explicitly taught so that the students would learn to monitor themselves as they applied these strategies. Part of the technique was that they were aware of what they were doing as they read. The combination of using the strategies and being able to think about their use proved successful. Students claimed to feel more confident in themselves and were much more likely to push on when they encountered an unfamiliar word and figure it out on their own, rather than rely on the aid of a teacher or dictionary.

I found the article engaging and very useful to adult ELL instructors. The technique it offered not only can help us help our students become more proficient readers, but it can also help them become more independent learners. A lack of self-confidence can be such an obstacle for some adult learners, so empowering them with these tools seems very valuable. 

Jiuhuan, H., & Newbern, C. (2012). The Effects of Metacognitive Reading Strategy Instruction on Reading Performance of Adult ESL Learners with Limited English and Literacy Skills. Journal Of Research & Practice For Adult Literacy, Secondary & Basic Education, 1(2), 66-77.

Deborah DeBlasio, Associate Professor, Department Chair, Languages and ESL, Brookdale Community College, 732-224-2762, ddeblasio@brookdalecc.edu

Early Childhood

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall

By Monica Schnee


Sunflowers, the different hues of yellows and oranges, growth at its peak, all inspire me when I think of summer.  I get nostalgic at the end of the season. I have a hard time leaving behind the unstructured, unscheduled days, time that I can spend doing so many of the things I love.  Transitioning is not easy.  However, once school starts and I get to see my students, it all slowly falls back into place.

This year, we are all a bit more experienced about the SGOs, the not so new evaluations and the CCSS. Maybe we will have more time to devote to our instruction and assessment. Maybe we will be inspired by books and experiences we had during the summer. I know I will. Inspiration will come from my classroom but also from what I learned at the WIDA Certification Institute in Madison, WI and a great book on interactive writing.

Madison provided me with the chance to be part of a group of practitioners who are truly dedicated to English learners. So many of the resources we use, the standards, the descriptors, the assessments, take on a different meaning when discussed amongst professionals who share a common vision. It is that vision that motivates me to continue to improve my practice, to hone in on differentiation and assessment and to stress even more the importance of collaboration with the general education teachers. It was a chance to reflect on how instruction and assessment are integrated within the standards framework and to think of better ways to help our students achieve gains. My “take away” was that the best strategy to have teachers and administrators understand what we do is to share with them the Performance Definitions so they can see what it means to develop proficiency in a language continuum.  Recognizing what our students need to do in order to no longer need our support is more than a test score. They have to be able to reach those benchmarks or milestones of language development as they move across the levels to finally  “reach” almost native-like fluency. If we work collaboratively we can share our expertise and obtain better outcomes.

The other source of motivation and inspiration was the book, Interactive Writing –How Language and Literacy Come Together, K-2 by Carrier, Pinnell and Fountas (Heinemann). As I read it, I saw my students as they develop into communicators and writers.  The writing we do when we "share the pen”, particularly in Kindergarten, is the kind of writing instruction that respects the stages of child development. As students compose the text as a group they do as much as they are able to and the teacher helps “ fill in the gaps”. This is a great form of differentiation and of working with students in their zone of proximal development (ZPD).  Interactive writing provides opportunities for students to use their knowledge of sounds/letter correspondence as they try to spell the words/sentences they want to write, to be attentive listeners because they are all involved in the exercise of writing and to practice being readers as they all read what the writers have put down on paper. This kind of activity encourages all students to think of the content of what they are writing about as well as of the mechanics of writing. In some of the groups I work with we do interactive writing that includes words in the students’ home language written either phonetically or in their symbols/orthography. I recommend this instructional method not only for Kindergarten but for students up to grade 5, specially English learners.

Watching our students begin to decipher the power of the written word in their home language and English is magical. What could be more inspirational than their transformation?

So when we begin the year and feel overwhelmed by all the demands in our schools, find a picture that brings you back to a wonderful feeling, share what you know about second language acquisition and take a chance, share the pen with your young authors and their teachers.

Monica Schnee
PREK-K SIG Representative


ESL Middle School

A Great Read for the Beginning of School... or any Time

By Noreen Drucker

Fires in the Bathroom- Advice for Teachers from High School Students by Kathleen Cushman and the students of WHAT KIDS CAN DO. [Ed. Note:  From their website at http://whatkidscando.org/aboutus/index.html - Based in Providence, R.I., What Kids Can Do (WKCD) is a national nonprofit founded in 2001 by an educator and a journalist with more than 60 years combined experience supporting adolescent learning in and out of school. Using digital, print, and broadcast media, WKCD presses before the broadest audience possible a dual message: the power of what young people can accomplish when given the opportunities and supports they need and what they can contribute when we take their voices and ideas seriously. The youth who concern WKCD most are those marginalized by poverty, race, and language, ages 12 to 22.]

In the introduction to this book Lisa Delpit starts off with a description of a teacher from the students’ perspective.

“Wanted one teacher. Must be able to listen, even when mad.”

This was the beginning of a job description created by a group of eighth and ninth graders. The details go on.

“….Must have a sense of humor; must not make students feel bad about themselves; must be fair and not treat some students better than others; must know how to make schoolwork interesting; must keep some students from picking on others; must let students take a break sometimes; must let students get to know them; must get to know students…must not scream; must smile…must be patient….must really know what they are teaching…”

And that is just the beginning. The book is filled with eye-opening anecdotes, stories, vignettes and observations of adolescents and young adults.

The book is divided into chapters that start with getting to know your students and ends with going beyond the classroom. As part of getting to know your students, there is a questionnaire for students that the teacher gives out on the first day. It makes it clear to the students that the teacher will not share answers with anyone without their permission. Here the student has the opportunity to let the teacher know about their interests, hobbies, siblings, what’s hard for them at school, the things that come easy to them and what they consider to be the right amount of homework. The students can freely express their opinions and this creates a sense of balance and trust that is so important to them.

Students want teachers to respect their differences and value them as individuals. All too often it is easier to see them as a group where identities are absorbed into a meaningless crowd.  Working in small groups is beneficial to us as teachers and to our students. 

Not every student can produce the same quality of work.  Students realize this and are empathetic. Andres, one of the boys in the book says, “Last year we had people that barely spoke English in our literature class. There are a lot of students in class with different learning levels. One job of a teacher is to be fair to all.” Wise words indeed.

Chapter Eight is entitled “Teaching Teenagers Who are Still Learning English.” It is harder for teachers to get to know them, not only because of the language barrier, but because of cultural differences as well. Their behavior, although proper in their home, might be considered improper at school in the United States and vice versa.  Barbara puts it well when she says, “Sometimes I don’t know how to express who I am to people.”

The chapter goes on to suggest ways for the classroom teacher to build bridges between cultures and foster the use of academic language. Some suggestions include: make connections between academic content and their own experiences, teach them to take risks with the new language and provide them with alternative methods to present their knowledge.

The afterword “How we Wrote this Book and Why it Matters” is fascinating. But I am not going to talk about it here. You will understand it once you read the rest of the book.

Noreen M. Drucker, ESL Middle School SIG

WIDA Model


ESL Secondary

Building a Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee

By Marcella Garavaglia

Use the following framework to build a Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee (BPAC.)

Parental/guardian involvement is the key to academic success for all English language learners. BPAC [Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee] meetings are informative for both parents and teachers. They are a wonderful opportunity to meet students’ parents face-to-face multiple times a year. However. transportation, English proficiency, and childcare may be  issues that hamper a decent turnout. If possible, encourage carpooling between students’ families. Make sure students and parents know that English-speaking family friends who may serve as translators are invited (with their babies or toddlers, as necessary).

The Committee:
Parents/guardians of ELLs, the ESL supervisor, the ESL guidance counselor(s), the ESL teacher(s), the bilingual paraprofessional(s), and teachers of ELLs such as content teachers who teach sheltered classes are part of this committee. Other administrators and faculty members that work closely with ELLs may also be part of this committee.

BPAC Meetings:
My district holds four BPAC meetings per year. They are no easy feat to prepare for but it is a team effort that involves support from administration, teachers of ELLs, and bilingual paraprofessionals. Every year we seek to improve our meetings and attendance.

Initial Contact:
The first full week of school we give all of our ELLs a bilingual flyer (double-sided) with information for the first BPAC meeting. This flyer includes the date and time for the meeting and future meetings for the year; a bulleted list of topics that will be discussed at the meeting;  a space to R.S.V.P. to confirm their attendance and to clarify how many family members will attend;  and of course a reminder that food will be served. The ESL program budgets for food and drinks for these meetings. At the evening meeting, dinner is served buffet style and,  at the morning meetings, breakfast is served.

Two to three weeks before the meetings, we try to call each family to invite them personally/verbally, especially families of new students. It is impossible to make all the phone calls in one day therefore, members of the committee such as the ESL teacher(s) and bilingual paraprofessional(s) make a team effort to divide and conquer the call list.

Meeting Dates:
In September ,we hold our first meeting: the ELL Open House begins at 5:00 pm, before Back to School Night which begins at 6:30 pm. The ELL Open House allows parents to eat dinner and receive specific ESL program information as well as general school information  in English and Spanish, or other majority language depending on your ELL population and bilingual faculty.

We then hold three morning meetings towards the ends of October, February, and April from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. These dates always fall close to the parent-teacher conferences or mid-marking period in order for parents to receive the students’ most up-to-date academic progress.

Agendas and Resources:
Create folders for parents that include a bilingual school calendar, sample interim report and marking period report cards for the first meeting. Later on, include a copy of the individual student’s interim or report card at the following meetings, a list of bilingual report card comments, a summary of the most important school rules, the attendance policy, graduation requirements, emergency school closing information, important ESL department contact information including phone numbers for Spanish-speaking faculty members (or other majority language), Be sure to include as well Parent Portal information, after school program dates and times, information about reading or writing computer programs that ELLs have access to, flyers for local Adult ESL classes, and flyers for local health clinics and general healthcare information.

Microsoft Word/PowerPoint:
Many computer programs can design flyers, agendas, school calendars, and presentations but basic programs such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint suffice. Learn how to insert screenshots. This feature is extremely useful: it gives parents a visual of how to navigate through the school website to find the Parent Portal link and it shows parents how the login screens and homepages to reading and writing computer programs students use look.

Remember, having a BPAC is in the bilingual code!
“6A:15-1.15 Parental involvement

  1. Each district board of education shall provide for the maximum practicable involvement of parent(s) of LEP students in the development and review of program objectives and dissemination of information to and from the district boards of education and communities served by the bilingual, ESL, or English language services education programs.
  2. Each district board of education implementing a bilingual education program shall establish a parent advisory committee on bilingual education of which the majority membership shall be parent(s) of LEP students.”


Please use  the NJTESOL/NJBE Hotlist, Twitter, or Facebook page to share the strategies and practices that your district uses to plan and hold successful BPAC meetings.  

Marcella Garavaglia is the NJTESOL/NJBE ESL Secondary Representative. She teaches ESL at Colts Neck High School for the Freehold Regional High School District.


Higher Education

An Accelerated Advanced ESL Course Model

by Arlene Marcus and Carrie Steenburgh

In the past few years, colleges have been redesigning ESL courses to accelerate student progress through their English for Academic Purpose (EAP) programs.

In June 2012, Union County College (UCC) received a Title V LEAP (Learning Enhanced through Accelerated Paths) grant aimed to improve the academic success and increase the persistence and retention of Hispanic and other low-income first year students.  As a result of the project accelerated paths in developmental mathematics, developmental English, and English as a Second Language (ESL) were developed and implemented to provide students with the opportunity to complete their developmental courses within a year and their ESL 5/6 level courses within a semester.  To meet these goals, LEAP students also receive intensive professional and peer tutoring, and academic/career advisement.

In collaboration with faculty from Miami Dade’s recognized accelerated ACE program, UCC’s ESL faculty designed an accelerated level 5/6 course with a learning community comprised of three courses: Accelerated Advanced ESL Grammar/ Writing (6 credits), Accelerated Advanced ESL Reading/Speaking/ Listening (6 credits) and Accelerated Individualized Language Learning (1 credit). The Individualized Language Learning course helps students develop and follow an independent learning plan utilizing online sources to address their individual language needs and enhances the students’ ability to apply effective CALL learning strategies.

To recruit students for the courses, students are carefully screened before admission to the program. Students qualify if they have a minimum GPA of B+, and have strong academic, study, and computer skills.  Students complete an application with a letter of interest, a teacher’s recommendation, and an interview.  After this careful screening process, appropriately prepared students are selected.  Many of the admitted students have already experienced some higher education preparation and are ready to take on the academic rigor of completing two levels in one semester.

This accelerated ESL 5/6 course has been offered for three semesters with high pass rates, and in Spring 2014, an accelerated intermediate ESL course was successfully piloted which allowed students to complete their ESL 3/4 level courses within a semester. From our experience at UCC, acceleration is possible within an ESL program when offered to a select group of qualified students.

Curriculum and Activities
The accelerated learning community courses are thematically related with task based interactive lessons, creating a community of learners who are self-motivated, willing to work hard, take risks, and help each other learn. The goal has been to accelerate students’ learning outcomes by giving them the opportunity to move at their own pace through materials they themselves have chosen to learn about.  The theme for the courses has been: “The year, 1968”.  The LEAP students select and study a topic of interest as it relates to 1968.  In the accelerated Reading/Listening/ Speaking course (6 credits), students research texts and videos related to their topic, write journals and do five presentations that are related as well.  The five presentations are: the iconic photo, vocabulary enhancement, a protest song, an upstander (A person who stands up for someone, as contrasted to a bystander who remains inactive,) and the final creative presentation.

For the protest song project, groups of students select a protest song that is presented in our theater for students in lower levels.  In the performance, students dress up, sing and show videos while teaching the audience about the importance of the protest song to the year 1968.  This powerful experience creates a close community and enhances students’ confidence.  The goal of the fourth presentation (the upstander) is for each student to give a presentation on a major player who was not rich, famous or powerful, but was important in their topic.

In the final presentation, students teach an important aspect of their topic to others.  Students can create a news broadcast, have a debate, have a panel discussion, create a theatrical show, teach a history lesson, create a game, give an autobiographical presentation in costume, or write poetry or songs about their topics.

The themes and projects are also integrated into the Writing/Grammar (6 credits) course. Over the three semesters, the students in these classes have flourished as close-knit communities of learners who continue to take classes together and support each other.

Arlene Marcus and Carrie Steenburgh are Professors of English/ESL at Union County College.


Parent and Community Action

Parent and Commnity Action Resources

By Karen Nemeth

G etting to know the families of your students can be a challenge with so many different languages and cultures.  Some new resources are available to help.

Head Start’s National Center on Parent, Family and Community Engagement provides a wealth of free resources designed to help programs better serve diverse families. Many of these new resources are also useful for elementary school programs and beyond.  http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/family/center

The updated third edition of Janet Gonzalez-Mena’s popular book, 50 Strategies for Communicating and Working with Diverse Families, from Pearson, is packed with practical resources and specific strategies that can be helpful throughout the school year.

The National Clearinghouse on English Language Acquisition website is being re-established and updated with new articles, webinars, and other resources that can help you help the families in your program.  http://ncela.ed.gov For example, you will find downloadable documents for parents: If your Child Learns in Two Languages available in seven languages. [Ed. Note: I have used this publication very successfully in past years.]

BRYCS (Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services) at www.brycs.org not only provides helpful guides, report and other resources, but they also invite programs to share with each other. This is a great website to learn more about refugee children and their families and to find new ideas for engaging them in your program.

Many schools and districts in New Jersey are developing innovative strategies for reaching out to families of ELLs and building family engagement in their programs. These are exactly the kinds of stories that make great presentations for the annual NJTESOL/NJBE conference. Please share your experiences and expertise with your colleagues by submitting a proposal this fall. Keep watching www.njtesol-njbe.org for information about submitting proposals. Family engagement is a critical topic in our field and sharing your experiences can really make a difference.

Karen Nemeth, Coordinator, Parent and Community Action SIG


sealofbiliteracySocio-Political Issues:

Update on the Seal of Biliteracy

By Elizabeth Franks

"Guess what? I’m bilingual.”  Last year, this was a comment overheard from a senior at Mahwah High School who just found out she met the criteria in a World Language to receive the Seal of Biliteracy.

NJTESOL/NJBE and FLENJ [Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey] are continuing their partnership to recognize more graduating seniors who have achieved a certain level of proficiency in English and another language. The Seal of Biliteracy acknowledges that students have reached the level of Intermediate Mid in another language and proficiency in English as measured by the HSPA or the ACCESS for English language learners. [Editor's note - From http://www.flenj.org/biliteracy/docs/seal_of_biliteracy_application.pdf: The targeted proficiency level of Intermediate Mid is sufficient for basic work and social situations. The student will be able to handle uncomplicated communicative tasks, to ask and respond to direct questions or requests for information. The 2012 ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines outline the Intermediate Mid level of performance in the three modes of communication: Interpersonal, Interpretive and Presentational.]

Last year, seven pilot districts used the set criteria to determine the practicality of the process. Due to their feedback, we have made slight changes and opened the project to any interested district. There is an application process which needs to be completed by November 1, 2014. If you missed the deadline for this year, there is an opportunity to prepare for next year. More information about this initiative can be found at http://flenj.org/biliteracy/index.shtml.

Elizabeth Franks is the advocacy representative for NJTESOL/NJBE and a consultant with Language & Literacy Associates for Multilingual and Multicultural Education.


Special Education

Lessons for Life: Children's Books About Disabilities

By Sharon A. Hollander

Children’s books are powerful; they provide an avenue by which readers gain a more complex perception of themselves and others. In high quality children’s literature, readers learn that characters share universal experiences, such as dreams and challenges, embarrassments and triumphs. It is widely agreed upon that children's books serve innumerable purposes both at home and in school.

Literature about disabilities has a specific and valuable purpose: it can help students become more aware and accepting of individual differences. These books can explain disabilities in uncomplicated, jargon-free language, thus easing fears and replacing negative stereotypes with accurate information.  They also have the potential to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation among students with disabilities. Books are an inexpensive, entertaining, educational, and authentic way to provide children with stories about themselves, as well as their siblings, classmates, and friends.

Like most teaching tools, this type of literature is not perfect. Teachers must carefully evaluate each book to determine its suitability, accuracy, and literary quality. Must-haves include believable plots, engaging stories, and positive but realistic characters. Of course, students’ reading levels and maturity are important considerations.

Not surprisingly, there are gaps and shortcomings in available books about children with disabilities. Some do not reflect modern, CLD  [Culturally and Linguistically Diverse] classrooms. In truth, there is a history of shortages of works with ethnically diverse characters and in those published in languages other than English. Perhaps this need could be addressed by a bilingual/ESL teacher-authors?

Many disabilities are not well-represented in children’s books. On the other hand, some exceptionalities are frequently portrayed, but the views and values communicated may be disappointing to readers.  The child characters are not the only ones at risk. Beware of shallow, stereotypical, and inaccurate portrayals of adults, including parents, teachers, administrators, and therapeutic personnel. Other risk factors include outdated information, improbable events, and excessively preachy or pedantic narrative.

Books about characters with disabilities may not lend themselves to conventional classroom story or reading time. They are best read at times and in contexts that foster reflection. These works are well-suited to small groups or literature circles. Specific methodology aside, discussion of any type is very valuable as it gives children the opportunity to share thoughts and feelings.

More advanced assignments around these books could involve interviewing an individual with a disability or researching a specific disorder. Students can be asked to modify a folktale to include a character with a disability. Learners can also compose poems, write letters of inquiry or advice to characters, or create their own books about individuals with disabilities. In addition, these works may fit into already existing themes and topics, particularly in the content areas.
At the very least, such books can be put in the school or classroom library, or recommended, on an individual basis, to students and parents.

Books make the unknown known. Literature about children with disabilities can play an important role in any class, and particularly in self-contained and inclusive classrooms. Related discussion and activities make a good thing even better.  I urge you to consider these books when making decisions about reading materials for this school year. Introduced in an atmosphere of safety, respect, and honest inquiry, books about children with disabilities provide life lessons and benefit classes, schools, communities, and society, as a whole.

Sharon A. Hollander is the Special Education SIG Representative for NJTESOL/NJBE. She is also a Clinical Researcher at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Toms River, New Jersey.
Sharon can be reached at shollander@njtesol-njbe.org.