Good, Better, Best
By Roselyn Rauch
It was in Atlantic City back in November that I started to compose my “voice” for this edition. It was while Joan Pujol, our Membership Chair, and I were manning- yes, it should be womanning - the NJTESOL/NJBE booth at the NJEA convention; we have done this together for the last several years. Joan has to be commended as each year she takes the lead on this not-so-little venture which is not as simple as it may seem. Much thought and preparation goes into getting us to “just” sit there and greet people. The right booth has to be ordered; the right supplies brought along. My big contribution is buying the candy for those who stop by. But Joan has notes and lists from previous years that remind us of what needs to be changed or done to improve our presence there. And, improved it is. We have virtually no glitches as we sit for two days to meet and greet our colleagues. It was a GOOD convention for our organization: we signed-up many new members.
The BETTER job for me is being your editor. Although I am retired, my heart is still with the educators of ESL and bilingual students; I just am no longer in the trenches. I learn so much from the contributors to Voices. The piece in this issue that really struck a chord with me is that by Tina Kern, Safe…at Last. She is now in a high school after spending many years at the elementary level. That is my story, too. My first twenty years were at the elementary level in schools in Paterson; my last five at John F. Kennedy High School. I, too, had to make the adjustment of teaching students who were taller than I; I had to find my comfort zone in a new setting. But it is our students who have the biggest, the hardest, adjustments to make. My students who felt the safest, I think, must have been the brothers that saw their father shot to death in Iraq. But, all of our students have their own stories to tell and what they need to make them feel the safest. Which always brings me back to Maslow’s Hierarchy and our need to be so much more than educators: we need to make our students feel safe and secure before they are able to adapt to a new country and learn a new way of living. We are surrogate family and so important in their lives. Compassion before teaching.
The BEST is yet to come for you as you start to read this edition. There is, as usual, so much to learn from your colleagues. If you are as a voracious reader as I, you will begin with the first article in Features and read all the way through to the Special Interest Groups and then some. We talk about scaffolding our teaching for our students; well, we, their teachers, can scaffold our own learning by reading through all of the SIGs. There is so much to share and ideas spark ideas, all for the betterment of our profession. Happy reading. Happy 2015.
Roselyn Rauch, Ed.D., is the editor of Voices and a retired ESL/ESL Resource teacher from the Paterson Public School System. She is a consultant with ESL Unlimited and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
By Sandee McBride
Spotlight on 2015 Spring Conference Keynotes
You may have read articles that our keynote for Wednesday’s conference has written. Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner lends her expertise to the Colorín’ Colorado website. She provides readers with approaches to tackle the challenges of the Common Core with strategies to assist educators in the classroom. Dr. Fenner is president of DSF Consulting, LLC, which supports English learner (EL) achievement by providing technical assistance, professional development, research, and curriculum design to districts, states, universities, and organizations. She earned her Ph.D. in Multilingual/Multicultural Education from George Mason University with an emphasis in Literacy. In addition to her work on policy and practice issues at the national, state, and local levels, she has an extensive instructional background in K-12, including ten years teaching and assessing ELs in Fairfax County Public Schools (Virginia) as well as experience teaching English as a Foreign Language as part of a Fulbright Scholarship.
Thursday’s conference attendees will benefit from the knowledge and experience of Dr. Kate Kinsella, Ed.D. She is a teacher- educator, school consultant, and adjunct faculty member in Secondary Education at San Francisco State University and provides consultancy nationally to school districts regarding instruction of adolescent English learners. Her career has been devoted to English Language Development (ELD) scholarship and classroom practice, including extensive experience teaching high school English learners and first generation bilingual college students. As a teacher-educator, she has maintained active involvement in 4-12 classrooms by regularly coaching and co-teaching while also teaching academic literacy skills to high school English learners in San Francisco State University’s Step to College Program. Dr. Kinsella is co-author of the Read 180 Literacy Intervention Program (2006) and is the author of the companion 4-12 ELD curricula to the Read 180 LBook (2008).
In addition to these keynotes, this year’s conference will have two featured speakers: John Segota from International TESOL and Erin Haynes from American Institutes of Research. More about these two featured speakers in our next issue of Voices.
Sandee McBride, President NJTESOL/NJBE
Seal of Biliteracy: Keeping it Exciting in Year 2
By JoAnne Negrin
I’ve written before for VOICES about my experience in Vineland with the Seal of Biliteracy. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been working in a pilot district last year. The timing could not have been better for us, as budget cuts threatened to cull several of our less populated language courses. The enthusiasm generated by the Seal of Biliteracy helped guarantee that those courses would survive. However, survival is not the end game for us, and we have actually seen our class sizes grow, especially at the upper levels. I attribute this to the tangible reward at the end of a full sequence of language study that the Seal provides.
Last year, I noted that when it came to the Seal of Biliteracy , we planted a seed and grew a jungle. It took on a life that was much greater than anyone expected. Those who have heard the story know that I budgeted for 90 students to test, and I got 195! My superintendent saved the day on that one, and as I’ve often said, if you need to tell your superintendent that you need her help, an overabundance of community enthusiasm for a district initiative is not a bad problem to have to bring to her attention. Thanks to her, we were able to test every student who wanted to be tested. Of those 195, 45 hit the mark.
Forty-five (45) out of one hundred ninety-five (195) isn’t the greatest pass rate, but we decided not to be conservative in our testing for several reasons. The first was because we did not want to squelch enthusiasm. Second, we collected an astonishing amount of data on what our students know and can do at the end of our course sequence. The study of that data provided some fascinating revelations that provoked important changes in our programs. I believe that those discussions about the data are going to create improvement in our language program for years to come as we look for ways to move more students to the proficiency level required.
We learned a great deal about ourselves and about our students through last year’s pilot, and we are taking those experiences into the planning for Year 2. For example, we now know which students are most likely to pass, and therefore we now have tighter guidelines on who is eligible to take the exam. This will cut down significantly on the cost of testing this year. Another thing we learned is that our pass rate was very much affected by students who could have met the criteria, but gave up on the testing before completion. By the same token, this year we have several students who are shying away from testing because it is challenging. I am going to teach upper level language classroom in January to get students who missed the mark last year to try again this year. They need to understand that yes, the testing is rigorous, but that is the reason it is such an honor to obtain the Seal of Biliteracy.
I highly recommend that any district that values language learning as an essential college and career-readiness skill take part in the Seal of Biliteracy initiative. It isn’t easy, but the results are very much worth the effort.
JoAnne Negrin is Supervisor of ESL, Bilingual Education, World Languages, and Performing Arts and NCLB/Title I Coordinator for the Vineland Public Schools. She is also Vice-President and Conference Chair of NJTESOL/NJBE.
By Gwen Franks
Registration forms for the 2015 Spring Conference are available on-line now.
Early registration rates expire on March 6th; all registrations wishing to pay this discounted rate must be RECEIVED BY this date. (Important note: This is a change from previous years for the registration process. Registrations must be “RECEIVED BY” dates listed, not “postmarked by” dates listed.)
If you are paying at the member rate please make sure that your membership is valid through May 2015. Your membership expiration date is listed under your name in the introduction letter to this newsletter.
And, if your school is paying with a purchase order, please make sure that you follow up with your district to make sure that the Purchase Order and Registration Form are sent it on time. For more information, check our website, www.njtesol-njbe.org .
Don’t delay the processing of your registration. Due to an overwhelming response last year, we unfortunately had to turn away disappointed colleagues since we had reached our maximum capacity.
By Tina Kern
They came. They came across the desert and waded through rivers. They were fleeing –fleeing the violence in their country, following rumors of hope.
Almost every day a new student enrolled at the High School. Their eyes reflected the harsh yesterdays, as their slumped shoulders carried the burden of memories in their slight bodies. They came to our classes, quiet, but not beaten yet. They were armed by their experiences of survival. They were not quite adults, and definitely not children any more.
They had many names, some of which I had never heard before. We were thrown together in a classroom that was foreign to us all. They were survivors, and behind their scarred bodies and souls were tragic stories of journeys from a country where stories paralleled that reported by the New York Times, Dec. 15, 2014. A boy, Alejando, they reported came from one of the towns with increasing violence: ”In one month this spring, gangs in his hometown in Honduras tortured and killed seven or eight children his age or younger, then threatened to kill him and his brother if they did not join the gang. The boys had no adults to protect them.” So they left their countries – the lucky ones did. They left behind friends and families, and those who weren’t so fortunate.
Unhappily, their intensely grueling exodus did not end at the border with open arms of relatives embracing them. Many of them were held, then released to relatives or “friends” in places crossing the continent. Some of them were reunited with mothers who hadn’t seen them in 14 of their 15 years. In their new homes, these adolescents from Honduras met their new American-born siblings for the first time. The family had been intact, and they were thrust into them, a stranger thirsting for a place to belong. It wasn’t a simple feat. The families were stretched to capacity both financially and physically in an apartment or group of rooms not made for the growing family.
The new immigrant children were going to test their new family. They had experiences that held them apart from the other children. Their growing pains were multifaceted. They spoke no English, they were experiencing a cultural and family schism, they felt unwanted, they craved a peace that was elusive. They weren’t children anymore. With each step toward freedom, they had shirked their childhood. What was left was a physically and emotionally scarred, distrustful adolescent, who had experienced horrors of nightmares beyond our reality. I am awed by their resilience.
Groups of children entered the United States and were readied to enter society as quickly as possible. Schools became inundated with new momentous challenges. Schools had girded for the influx of some displaced children, but the reality became a flood of scared, often hostile individuals. These adolescents had difficulty sitting in a seat for hours at a time. They didn’t understand the language; they often didn’t read or write their own native language well. But individually, they all had distinct stories that, as I learned more and more about them, enveloped me in a deep sadness that anyone had had to live through such harshness and inhumanity.
As a teacher, I was facing the challenge of a lifetime. I faced growing classes that now numbered up to 25 of these teenagers in each. Though I have been teaching English as a Second Language for many years, nothing prepared me for the plethora of educational difficulties that enveloped almost every waking hour of every day since I became a member of a high school faculty.
A few months ago, I was pulled from my blissful ignorance of the situation facing our secondary schools in order to fill a gap that could only be filled by an experienced ESL teacher. I had been teaching ESL in the elementary school, but I was the one chosen to become the newest secondary ESL teacher in the district. I was shocked, because by October, we teachers become intrinsically involved with our students, and we attain a rhythm that defines the next few months. We feel “safe” from the often inevitable transfer that defines a large district.
Now I was at a huge campus with over one thousand students, some of whom were our new immigrants that crossed the border just weeks ago. They stared at me, as numerous thoughts fleetingly entered my mind, and then left me with a numbness. Nothing prepared me for my new future, just as nothing prepared these students for their past. We met and nothing would be the same again.
Lesson planning became every day and every minute. I had to adapt every lesson, evaluate every vocabulary word, and painstakingly orchestrate every minute. I had to engage them – these students, so distracted, so displaced. They trusted no one. They challenged authority. They flaunted authority, and yet, at some times, craved it. They resisted. They tested me, and they stretched my patience to its limit.
As I taught them, and time passed, each face became an individual. I heard them, and sometimes they heard me. I realized that trust not only had to be earned, but earned each and every day, again and again. These students experienced little continuity in their lives, and their expectations were that this would continue. They seemed surprised that each day I returned. They seem shocked that I held them to school and class rules, and slowly I felt their resolve soften. We met each other in a new place.
I’d like to say there’s a happy ending. Actually there’s no ending to this article. It continues, as I continue to get up, pull myself out of bed, and get ready for another remarkable experience. It’s never boring. Honestly, I crave the boring at this point. But those times that they smile, or greet me with “Miss, Miss, look what I have…”, or run to me to ask if they can help carry my bag, I smile at them, and think that we have a chance to contribute something so worthwhile. We can give them a future.
I am at the beginning of the greatest challenges of my educational career and as it unfolds I hope to update you, perhaps with methods and new memories of those lessons that excite the class, and motivators that become part of our repertoire. For now, everything is new and every day is unwritten.
I’ll be writing a sequel… but come to our NJTESOL/NJBE Spring Conference and discover what all of us are facing in our classrooms. Share our individual challenges and successes. Come see the new material that publishers have created to help define our new classroom environments. Join us in May at the annual conference.
Tina Kern, Liaison, NJTESOL/NJBE
Favorite Websites: http://www.ecetech.net
By Marilyn Pongracz
On Sunday, December 14, in response to several questions on the Hotlist about good apps, Karen Nemeth sent a summary of the workshop, about the use of technology in the classroom, that she had attended.
In her summary, Karen recommended that the use of apps alone is inadequate for good learning because it actually suppresses oral language, especially for young ELLs. She also stated that good apps have context, not merely single words, and they are best used with pairs of children or with a teacher and a child so that there can be verbal interaction.
I decided to read the article that she had linked to from her blog:
In summary, apps should be evaluated by the target language, whether it was translated, the complexity of the language, if there are levels or tracking, the degree of engagement for participation or creativity, cultural appropriateness, and an option for productive language.
I checked the top picks on the site. Following the guidelines above, the books and the three apps that are recommended encourage verbal interaction between adults and children.
From the booknet tab, about halfway down the page, the LinkedIn link leads to Early Childhood Technology Network, with up-to-date, good articles about technology in early childhood education and research about that technology. The blog is also a source of information about apps and books that can help young language learners.
The twitter link https://twitter.com/ecetech also has good articles such as the one below.
Young children and computers: storytelling and learning in a digital age
While we may wish that we could just be given an app or two and let our children use them, it is vital that we choose carefully, and as I have written before, realize that we can start with just one or two, use them well, and build from there.
A cautionary tale - A joke from my dictation software: when I said an app, it first interpreted it as a nap.
Marilyn Pongracz is the Technology Coordinator for NJTESOL/NJBE and the English Language Resource Center Supervisor at Bergen Community College.