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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Using English Language Learners' Native Language: Bringing Their World Into The Classroom

Here is a presentation on using English Language Learners native language within the classroom. This presentation is contributed by Dr. Allen Lynn and Dr. Eleni Pappamihiel.

No L1 Required: Coding Text

Coding the Text
Contributed by: Dr. Allen Lynn
            As teachers and students move into more complex readings, often ELLs have difficulty reading large amounts of text. In fact, as ELLs begin to transition from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’ this extra reading can be a significant challenge. It can take much longer for an ELL to read a piece of text than it will for many native English speakers. This extra work places a significant linguistic burden on ELLs that is often unnecessary. Consider how much reading an ELL does for a social studies assignment when the objective of the assignment is content-related rather than a language arts exercise. One chapter covering the reasons for the American Civil War, for example, could contain a multitude of discussion points requiring extensive explanation. Whereas reading a chapter out of “The Red Badge of Courage” for comprehension would be a task more easily completed. By helping ELLs highlight main ideas ahead of time teachers can reduce the linguistic burden placed on ELLs, especially when the focus of the reading is content learning. Teachers can identify the sentences or paragraphs that contain the important points of a text that are related to the lesson objectives and place sticky notes or blank thought bubbles onto the ELL’s copy. The ELL can then fill in the bubbles and notes with L1 notes. This strategy helps ELLs develop schematic connections that are meaningful to them on both linguistic and cultural levels (Brooks & Karathanos, 2009).
            In this classroom example Mr. Fiveash teaches a fifth grade social studies class. Yadira, a new arrival from the Dominican Republic, has a limited working proficiency of English. While she is able to function in the classroom without much difficulty, she does not completely understand some of the more demanding texts. With this in mind, Mr. Fiveash prepares a copy of the chapter on exploration of the Americas by Europeans for Yadira using thought bubble notes above the most pertinent passages. Yadira, knowing that these sections are important, is able to fill in the bubbles with notes in her L1. Later she can use these notes to create graphic organizers and other helpful notes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

No L1 Required: L1 Dialog Journals

L1 dialog journals
(contributed by Dr. Lynn)
            Dialog journals are journals that are set up to facilitate communication between teachers and students. Traditionally, they are a form of interactive writing where students write on a topic and then their teachers respond in writing. Ideally, they are written conversations. They have been used with both native and non-native speaking students and have multiple benefits for both groups (Peyton, 1993). They are not something we normally think of using as a L1 strategy. However, we propose an alternative use for them in the mainstream classroom. One of the authors observed this type of dialog journal used with great success with 3rd grade level elementary ELLs who were on grade level in their L1, Korean. When the year began, the journals were almost exclusively written in Korean, but as the year progressed this balance shifted to the point where the journals were almost completely written in English.
            In these dialog journals, ELLs write in their L1, using English when they know the approximate words and illustrations to scaffold their message. Teachers and students can then find a few minutes each week to review the journals, asking the ELL to explain to the best of his/her ability, what is happening in the journal entry. The teacher can then write a response to the ELL’s journal, highlighting new vocabulary using the ELL’s own illustrations. This type of strategy allows the ELL to take advantage of fluid writing time without spending so much time with the dictionary, constantly searching for unknown words.

            For example, in Mrs. Williams’ 5th grade language arts class there is a student from Burkina Faso  who has low literacy skills in English but has a high proficiency in French. Mrs. Williams does not speak or write French. However, twice a week she and Ismael sit down and discuss his dialog journal entry using the limited English language skills that Ismael possesses at the moment. Through rough sketches, a bilingual dictionary, hand gestures and mimicking they are able to discuss the dialog journal entry. Mrs. Williams later prepares a feedback response to their exchange, providing new vocabulary as well as clarification of any misunderstandings that arose. Ismael is able to review Mrs. Williams’ comments later at his own pace and use those comments in his next dialog journal entry.