Monday, July 28, 2014

"Read to Me in My Language"

Contributed by: Sydney Reinwald, Guest Blogger
(Sydney is one of several students from UNCW's Watson College of Education who is currently visiting and teaching in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. With her permission, we are reposting from her personal blog.)

I saw this on a poster in the library of the second school we visited with today. Seeing this surprised me because when were initially briefed on the workings of the school we were told that English was chosen as the official language of teaching and learning. The Home Language options the students were offered were both isiXhosa and Afrikaans. But because their were mixed populations of Home Languages English was chosen as the main language of instruction so both groups could be taught in one class. Since English was the main language of instruction I am still unsure the depth of what the students are taught in their home language, especially about the reading and writing it.
The cycle of language endangerment and death begins when a generation of speakers has fluency in two languages, typically one they use in their family settings and another that they use in their professional and educational settings. Because of the split in usage, the language that is spoken in the professional and educational world is seen as the language of power and therefore given a preference over the other language. When this bilingual generation then begins to choose the language that they prefer to instill as their child’s primary language, typically they choose to teach them the language with the perceived power and give them less education about the less powerful language. Through the generations so little of the language that is perceived less powerful will have been transmitted to younger speakers that the language will become scarce and eventually die out.
Based on what I have observed about the attitudes towards language, it is clear that here English is the language with the perceived power and prestige. Leaving the first primary school I was at I ran into a few district supervisors. One of the supervisors quickly told me about how he was so excited to hear children in another township school, outside of the classroom setting, communicate strictly in English rather than their home language. This shows that although the home languages are still being taught in the schools curriculum it is clear that many educators are pleased with their students’ preference towards English. Giving a generation of speakers an affirmation that adopting the language of perceived power could help perpetuate the eventual and endangerment of many of the home languages South African students are currently fluent in.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Putting Gifted ELLs on the Radar

Contributed by: Angela Sawyer, Guest Blogger

It is well documented that too often, ELLS are an overlooked group for gifted services.  According to Duke Tip, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving academically and talented youth, “Among all the subgroups of students whose performance in school is commonly studied, English language learners (ELLs) are the least represented in gifted education programs.”  (Matthew, 2011).  I have also observed in my experience as an ESL teacher that obviously gifted ESL students are rarely identified for gifted services.  While conducting an action research paper on this issue as part of my requirements for the MAED in ESL, I discovered some ways that might help put more ELLS on the radar to access gifted programs.

Educate parents:  Before a student can be considered for gifted services he or she has to be nominated.  Parents need to be aware that they are able to nominate their child and feel comfortable in doing so.  Taking extra steps to educate ESL parents about the gifted identification process, such as offering periodic ESL parent meetings to explain gifted services and requirements, could be an important step in increasing ESL student nominations. 

School-wide collaboration and training:  All teachers and staff need training on the topic of gifted education and ESL students.  Educators need to be aware of the potential signs of giftedness and how to identify ESL students who show these traits.  Collaboration between ESL teachers, gifted teachers, and mainstream teachers is also essential in identifying potentially gifted ESL students.

Varied assessments: The Duke Tip site reports that for most gifted programs some kind of standardized test in English is used in the identification process, and that because of this the tests “may inadvertently be measuring English language ability rather than academic or intellectual ability” (Matthews, 2011, para. 3).  Districts can get a better idea of ESL student abilities by looking at a variety of assessment tools.  One type of commonly used measure to identify ESL students for gifted education is nonverbal intelligence assessments.  While these kinds of tests can be helpful tools in identifying gifted students, they should not be used as the sole measure for identifying ESL students.  Nonverbal tests, like standardized tests, can also contain cultural biases.   

Rethink AIG:  With our ever changing society and student populations, AIG programs will need to evolve as well.  Programs will need to consider how to include the linguistic competency of ELLs in identifying gifted ELL students, rather than allowing ELLs to be excluded from gifted programs due to limited English proficiency. 


Matthew, M.S. (2011).  English Language Learner Students and Gifted Identification.  Retrieved            from

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Immerse Yourself

Contributed by: Matt Hilton, ELMS Project

A big part of teaching English as a Second Language and working with English Language Learners is understanding the culture they bring with them. This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica through the Watson College of Education at UNC-Wilmington. With this opportunity I hoped to acquire a personal understanding of the Latin American culture that a lot of my students have. In order to keep this post relatively short here are some highlights:

Host Families: By far the best experience of the whole trip was my time with my tica (native Costa Ricans) familia. I had two different families; one in Heredia (urban) and one in Monteverde (mountains). Both families are family oriented; the majority of the time was spent with relatives. Luckily for me they took me in as one of their own, always making sure to include me. They were very purposeful in helping me learn Spanish and of course the occasional jokes came with my bad pronunciation. I grew so close with both my families that they even invited me back in the future!

Immersion Cycle: The immersion cycle is the process of acclimating to a new culture and language. This cycle is a very difficult process, which I came to find out. Not only did I have to use Spanish in my home-stay, but my academic work was also in Spanish. I truly felt the same way an ELL student would be in the United States. I had to use my low proficiency L2 to get through the day and then not even get a break on homework.

Volunteer Work: While there we were able to go to a few schools and work with students. It was great to see the excitement on the students faces as we stepped into the classroom and work with them one-on-one. Along with our visit we were able to donate books and supplies for their classroom.

Tourism: It wouldn’t be a trip to Costa Rica without doing a few touristic opportunities. These included going to zoos, zip lining, and volcanoes. My favorite tourist activity was the zip-lining; something I’ve never done before.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

So you have an ELL in your class!

Contributed by Dr. Eleni Pappamihiel, Program Director, ELMS Project
First off, give yourself a high-five for wondering what you’re going to need to do and learn to help this student reach his/her full potential. Too often, teachers want to treat ELLs just like the rest of their students, and this attitude rarely helps anyone.  So, for the purposes of this blog, let’s say that Zenaib Tawiah’s name has just popped up on your roster. Some of the suggestions below will be applicable to any grade level and others not so much. I’ll note where grade level will make a big difference. 
There are some relatively simple steps that you can take that will help kick off your year in a positive way.  First off, find out as much as you can from the ESL teacher who had the student last year. In some cases this may mean that you have to go back to Zenaib’s former school, if she was in your district last year.  The ESL teacher can give you the following information. Some of this is basic demographic information and other information will need to be discussed.

English language proficiency scores. The feds require that we test every ELL each year to find out their current English language proficiency level in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Students are generally tested in March.
Country of origin and native language spoken. Don’t assume that because someone comes from Mexico, s/he automatically speaks Spanish. There are many indigenous peoples in Mexico, and many of our students speak one of these languages as a first language.
Guardians. There is a high percentage of ELLs who come to the US separated from their mother and father.  Especially if Zenaib is in high school, she may have come to live with relatives already here, or if she’s over 18 maybe even by herself.
Free/Reduced lunch status.  This will give you an idea of the socioeconomic status of the household.
Family life. What is her family life like? Is the family happy? Are they adapting to the US well? Do they have relatives back home that may be in danger? What’s the general stress level she goes home to?
Religion. In this case, Zenaib is from Jordan and quite possibly Muslim. If she’s in high school this may mean that she has to cover while at school. This may mean that she must cover her hair, arms, and legs. In some cases, she may need to cover her face as well. This will necessitate accommodations in PE and the regular class. Her guardians may not want her working in partners with boys. In elementary school, she may be allowed to work with boys, depending on the grade level. Different Muslim cultures begin placing more limits on girls at different ages. You’ll also need to take important Muslim holidays into consideration.  Would you stop celebrating Christmas if you moved out of a majority Christian country?
Personality. What is she like as a student? Is she outgoing or shy? What are her goals as a student? This can be especially relevant for high school students who may be thinking about their future after public education.  

This list represents a small amount of information you can find out from her previous year’s ESL teacher. They have a wealth of information that often goes beyond what many mainstream teachers know about their students because they spend multiple years with their students.  One of the most important things you’ll find out is how much she wants to talk about her culture and language in the class. This is critical since you don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.
Some things you can do on that first day to welcome her to class:
  • Include an international/global corner in your class. Have something about many different countries in this corner, including words or pictures of her country. This will allow her to talk about her country without feeling like you’ve put her on the spot.
  • In elementary school, have everything clearly labeled in typed English that’s easy to read.  This will help not only your ELLs but also any other children who might be struggling readers.
  • Make sure that your routines are well-established and clear from the beginning of the year.
  • Bear in mind that many of the class rules are often culturally mediated. So a common rule like, “Follow the Golden Rule” may not be easily understood by an ELL. Also, general rules like, ‘Be Quiet” might not be readily understood by Zenaib if she’s a recent immigrant to the US, she might not understand when to be quiet and when to join in on group discussions.
The most important thing you can remember is that Zenaib might be going through culture shock if she’s a recent immigrant to the states. Your kind words, smiles, and above all, patience will go a long way in helping her feel comfortable. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

North Carolina's Refugee Population

                                                      North Carolina’s Refugee Population

Contributed by Dr. Allen Lynn

Encounters with refugee populations are a surprise for many of those new to teaching ESL in North Carolina. However, over 14,000 refugees from over 25 countries have been resettled in North Carolina in the past ten years (U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement). And although each refugee family has their own unique set of circumstances, there are some general recommendations for helping them integrate.  
A great resource is the following community diagnosis report compiled by the resettlement agency directors from locations across the state:

We would love to hear about your own experiences with refugee children in your classrooms.

Monday, March 18, 2013

No L1 Required: Word Walls

Word Walls
(Contributed by: Dr. Allen Lynn)
            Word Walls and other glossed vocabulary strategies can be very effective with ELLs. Not only do they act as visible reminders, they also help students see patterns and relationships among words. Word Walls are organized collections of high frequency words or words that relate to a particular theme that is being studied in class. While Word Walls are most closely associated with lower elementary grades, there is no reason not to use them in upper grades. We recommend that Word Walls be living centers in the class where words come and go, depending on their role in the class at that current time.
            One advantage of Word Walls is that they make the use of the ELLs’ L1 public, bringing their language out of the shadows. The ELL’s language becomes visible for all to see because the L1 is on display and an integral part of the classroom environment. This visibility allows all the students in the classroom to become familiar with the ELL’s L1 and helps provide a more supportive learning environment for bilingual children. In a recent study of vocabulary instruction, Carlo, August, McLaughlin, Snow, Dressler, Lippman, Lively, and White (2004) suggested using Word Walls to increase vocabulary development in both native and non-native English speakers.
            Hanna is a fourth grader from Korea. She arrived in Mr. Brown’s science class halfway through the spring semester. Hanna has studied English grammar. However, she is shy and struggles with speaking. Mr. Brown puts Hanna in a group with 3 native English speakers working on a word wall project. Using the text as a guide, the students create a glossary for a unit on the solar system using both English and Korean. Hanna is able to participate with the other students while having little pressure to speak in front of a large audience. Other students in class ask her how to pronounce the words in Korean.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

No L1 Required: Cognates

(Contributed by: Dr. Lynn and Dr. Pappamihiel) 
            Several researchers have commented on the effective use of cognates (Nagy, Garcia, Durgunolgu, & Hancin-Bhatt, 1993, Garcia & Nagy, 1993). Cognates are pairs of words in two different languages that are so similar in either spelling or pronunciation they are easily recognizable between languages. These pairs of words help establish familiar territory and schema for ELLs who are expanding their reading skills in English. The use of cognates can also help teachers increase word awareness in ELLs, a task highly associated with the development of academic English.
            In terms of academic English, native Spanish-speakers have an advantage when it comes to using cognates. Because many of the words we associate with academic English have Greco-Roman roots, it is common to find many cognates between these academic English words and more common words in other Romance languages, such as Spanish. Corson (1997) argued that higher-level Spanish readers are able to take better advantage of cognates because many of the low-frequency academic words in English are actually high-frequency words in Spanish.
            There are two students from Mexico City in Ms. Dowdy’s fifth grade science class, and the lesson is one in which students are studying Newton’s First and Second Laws of Motion. Coming from a school known for academic excellence, the twins, Manuela and Ricardo, are very familiar with the material in their L1. However, English still tends to give them trouble. Manuela and Ricardo are already familiar with some of the academic vocabulary because many of the words have direct Spanish cognates that they use quite often (object=objetos, accelerate=acelerar, dependent=dependiente, etc.). Putting Manuela and Ricardo into separate small groups with 3 to 4 native English speaker students who are also having trouble with the assignment, Ms. Dowdy instructs the group to look for cognates in the reading. Discussion of the vocabulary allows both the language learners and the native speakers to flesh out the gist of the class assignment.
            One word of caution; although our examples here are of Greco-Roman cognates because of their academic English usefulness, English has Indo-European roots. As such, “false” cognates do exist that could cause problems in the classroom. For instance, in German, which is closer linguistically to English than Spanish, the word “gift” means poison rather than “present”. We advise teachers to be aware of these “false” cognates and add that having a few as examples is an excellent way to raise student awareness of the phenomenon.