LETTER FROM THE PAST CHAIR
This year in Portland BEIS celebrated 40 years of Bilingual Education in TESOL. To commemorate this event, Sandra Mercuri, Chair, and Dawn Wink, Chair-Elect, worked on two important tasks:
a) Reach out to other organizations to establish a relationship for recruitment of new members for BEIS. As a result, four members of the Board and staff of Dual Language of New Mexico (DLeNM) became members of our Bilingual Education Interest Section. In addition, the leadership team established an electronic communication system with DLeNM’s executive director David Rogers and attended DLeNM’s November conference in Albuquerque. Our goal was to promote TESOL at sessions and at the booth provided by Mr. Rogers and enhance our recruitment efforts through their national and international community, which includes members from Canada, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Qatar, Japan, and others. While based in New Mexico, DLeNM engages, contributes, and is relevant in the national and international scope.
b) During the past year the leadership team worked hard to organize an academic session to honor those in TESOL who have contributed to the field of bilingual education. Among our academic session honorees and presenters were Jim Cummins, Maria Brisk, Yvonne and David Freeman, Virginia Collier, Wayne Thomas, and Joan Wink. In addition, BEIS had two important intersections and fifteen presentations by its members.
1. BEIS Academic Session - "A Celebration of 40 Years of Multilingualism Within TESOL" presented by Maria Brisk, Yvonne and David Freeman, Virginia Collier, Wayne Thomas, and Joan Wink
2. Teacher education and BEIS Inter Section Session -"Cultural Context in Teacher Education" presented by Sandra Mercuri, Jenelle Reeves, and Dawn Wink.
3. Elementary Education and BEIS Intersection - "Explore Common Core, Sustain Successful Strategies, Renew Academic Literacy" presented by Judie Haynes, Sandra Mercuri, and Aida Nevarez-LaTorre.
Moreover, Sandra Musanti, currently Chair Elect-Elect of the IS, presented “Mathematics Discourse Communities: Advancing Latina/o mathematics learning and academic literacy”in the general session.
Sandra Mercuri, PhD
BEIS Past Chair
Associate Professor and Chair,
Language, Literacy and Intercultural Studies Department
College of Education
University of Texas at Brownsville
NOTES FROM THE EDITOR
Once again, I am pleased to present a special issue of BEIS/TED’s Bilingual Basics, this time devoted to hearing the voices of those we sometimes unintentionally ignore: teachers and students in the field.
With this premise in mind, Andres Ramirez addresses the concerning issue of language loss due to restrictive language policies and pedagogical practices threatening the maintenance of minority languages in the United States. His contribution serves as an introduction to various pieces written by some of his students, in which they address a variety of topics related to their firsthand experiences with linguistic minorities. Kristen Hinson describes her initial fears during that dreaded first day of class. Michelle Johnson focuses on an immigrant child’s tribulations before coming to the United States as well as once he learned English. Shélynn Riel laments the loss a student who, despite enormous difficulties in his life, she had been able to help. Stephen Sposato notices that particular smile on a child’s face that conveys so much information without having to say anything. Michelle Vander Ploeg voices her frustration at school and federal policies mandating pedagogical practices that do not take into account students’ linguistic and cultural differences. Finally, a community college instructor, Bridgette Vera, reflects on two pressing challenges in her daily practice: teaching grammar and helping students with very different goals.
This issue also features a piece by Yvonne Freeman, Ann Ebe, and David Freeman on the importance of accepting translanguaging as a necessary process in emergent bilinguals’ transition to English. Finally, Susan Adams reviews a recent book by Sharon Adelman Reyes, Engage the Creative Arts: A Framework for Sheltering and Scaffolding Instruction for English Language Learners.
I sincerely hope readers enjoy the newsletter. Also, this is my last issue as editor. Hence, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone (contributors, peer reviewers, and the leadership of the Interest Section) for having made this a very enjoyable experience. Thank you all.
VOICES FROM THE FIELD
FOCUS ON RHODE ISLAND
“In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was made flesh. It was so in the beginning and it is so today. The language, the Word, carries within it the history, the culture, the traditions, the very life of a people, the flesh. Language is people. We cannot even conceive of a people without a language, or a language without a people. The two are the one and the same. To know one is to know the other.” (Sabine Ulibarri, cited in Crawford, 2004, pg. 13)
The acceleration of non-English language loss in current times
is, to say the least, highly troublesome. In the United States,
Spanish-speaking immigrants and their children are acquiring English at a
more rapid rate than any previous generations and simultaneously losing
their ability to speak Spanish more quickly. By the third generation,
newcomers have typically adopted English as their usual language and
abandoned their mother tongue (
In this regard,
Written by current in-service teachers enrolled in a graduate class about issues in bilingual education that I teach, the following essays were inspired by immigrant children and youth attending K–12 schools in Rhode Island. These pieces not only exemplify the loss and struggle just described, but they also give testimony of the dissonance between research and practice when it comes to educating language minorities and how children cope in simple yet powerful ways as restrictive English-only policies set out to silence their lives . . . their word . . . their flesh!
Crawford, J (2004). Educating English Learners: Language Diversity in the Classroom. 5th Edition. Bilingual Education Services, Inc -Please remove the commas for Sandra Lopez' quote, since it was paraphrased
Gutiérrez, K. D., & Jaramillo, N. E. (2006). Looking for educational equity: The consequences of relying on Brown. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 105, 173–189 doi:110.1111/j.1744-7984.2006.00081.x
Lopez-Rocha, S. (2006). The color of culture: Post-racial and post-ethnic considerations in the United States. Paper presented at the the Humanities Conference, University of Charthage, Tunis, Tunisia.
Tienda, M., & Mitchell, F. (2006). Multiple origins, uncertain destinies: Hispanics and the American future. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
J. Andrés Ramírez is currently an assistant professor at Rhode Island College, but he will soon join the faculty of TESOL and Bilingual Education program at Florida Atlantic University. His work specializes on the exploration of economic, cultural, and linguistic issues constraining and enabling the academic literacy achievement of culturally and linguistically diverse students in the United States.
HOW I LEARNED TO HOPE
It’s my first day of my new career. After 10 years in the science industry, I have taken a teaching position at the middle school with the worst reputation in the state. I am really questioning my judgment as I walk into my classroom with crumbling walls and missing floor tiles. But I survive the first few periods of my day and it appears I will be able to handle these children. I might even enjoy it. My roster for the next class has only four students who I have been told are my ELL push-in students and who, unfortunately, will be without a push-in teacher due to funding issues. I am sure it has to be simple . . . I can handle four students.
I walk into the room at the bell and my heart sinks. One child is by the window staring out into the world, another is hunched over an open textbook whispering to himself, another has clearly been crying, and one more is wide-eyed and terrified. My heart is racing but I attempt a smile and a hello. One student responds, “Yes, miss.” The rest just stare. It becomes evident immediately that these are newcomers. They do not know five words in English between them. I start to panic. Although, I can speak some Spanish, one of these boys is Nepalese. I’m pretty sure there is no Google translate for Nepalese. What do I do? I did not sign up for this. I am quite sure I am doomed to fail. Worse yet, I fear it is them I will fail.
I end the day with a heavy heart and anxious mind. As the weeks pass by, things do not get much better for me. This has shaken my confidence completely. I am not a language teacher. I know absolutely nothing about teaching English as a second language. During the class I long for my chaotic classes that are bursting at the seams with 29 students. At least I am not exposed in those classes. In all the chaos no passerby would ever know I am drowning, that I am a fraud.
The only thing I am sure of is that I have learned to love them with all my heart. So I do the only thing I can: I show up and love them every day. We set about to learn basic English skills. I focus on helping them survive daily life. We do the obvious: I label objects in the classroom and they show me they understand; I say words and have them repeat them; I encourage them to practice casual conversation in pairs and groups. On some days we explore the building’s halls and classrooms on the hunt for learning opportunities, or we unpack bags of items I have brought to help them understand their new world. One day I realize that our bond has enabled us to communicate across languages. In spite of this progress, I still spend most evenings plagued with fear and doubt, desperately scouring the Internet for strategies and activities that may help me teach them.
One day when I arrive, my class is absolutely giddy, which is not the norm for this crew. They are huddled at the window talking excitedly in Spanish, which even my Nepalese student has learned by now. I realize that they are excited because it has begun to snow. My three Hispanic students are all recent arrivals from South America and have never experienced snow before. I make a snap decision and gesture to the group that we are headed out to play in the snow. We sneak through the halls to their lockers and collect coats and gloves and head out. For 30 glorious minutes my students smile and laugh and participate in all the snow day activities I remember from my childhood. For the first time in all these days we have spent together, I see pure joy on all four of their faces and I feel relieved. Just then my Nepalese student decides to share his first English words with me: “I want to see pretty flowers, Miss.” The symbolism is not lost on me. In that moment, with that simple statement, I have been renewed. I realize that we will emerge from the cold and gray of winter together and embrace the coming spring. I have learned to hope.
Kristen Hinson is in her third year of teaching at Roger Williams Middle School. She was inspired by her experience with the students in the story to pursue a M.Ed. in Teaching English as a Second Language which she will complete in the fall of 2014.
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
As I wait for my cousins to bring me to the New World, I am anxious, anxious to learn and anxious to speak. Will they accept me? Will I have friends? Will my mother remember me? As I think, fear builds up inside me like a terrible recurring nightmare. I wonder if I should stay. My home is like a warm blanket on a cold, dark night. I don’t want to leave but my mother tells me I will be okay. I hope she is right.
When I arrive, I am surrounded by unfamiliarity. All I hear is, “Why can’t he speak English? Why doesn’t he get it?” My teachers don’t believe in me but I still do.
A few years pass and my struggles continue to bubble over like a pot of boiling water. I learned their language like I was told to but I forgot mine. I have new siblings in my country that don’t know me. I don’t know who I am anymore. Where do I come from? Where do I truly belong? I am a stranger in a strange land.
I was inspired to write this piece by one of my students. Most of his family is back in Cape Verde. He is learning English but has slowly forgotten the Creole he once knew. He has not seen his mother in 2 years and has siblings he has never met. His teachers have lost faith in him. I truly believe in his capabilities and I remind him he can achieve great things every day. I see how lost he looks and it makes me sad. I know there are more children who experience this and I feel their stories need to be told.
Michelle Johnson is an ESL resource teacher in Rhode Island. She graduated from the TESL program at Rhode Island College in 2013 and is in pursuit of her master’s degree in ESL. She is passionate about her students and is a true advocate for them.
DON'T GO, TITO: NARRATING THE JOURNEY OF A CHILD PLACED AT RISK
I write this piece in commemoration of a student of mine whom I have lost, not by his removal from this world, but rather his removal from my school, and my care.
Tito came to the Providence public school district from the Dominican Republic in 2011. He began in the first grade at a dual language school, where he struggled to make friends and assimilate into the school’s culture, as his formal schooling experience in his native country and here has been immensely interrupted. Lack of sociability within the confines of the school caused Tito to get into ample altercations with other students, which decreased his amount of time in class and eventually led to his demise when he was held back for a second year of first grade.
Although Tito’s performance in the classroom left much to be desired once again his second time around, he was miraculously promoted to the second grade. During his time in both first and second grade, Tito went on several hiatuses, returning to his island to visit his relatives, specifically his incarcerated father and his mother, with child for the sixth time. When 11-year-old Tito was promoted to third grade, it was an action nothing short of negligent on the teacher’s part. After another trip to his country, Tito returned to Providence 3 months into the school year to live with his aunt and 12 cousins of varying ages.
Tito was placed in a different school, one whose population is 60% bilingual Spanish-English. One might have believed that the demographics of this particular school would lead to the success of this “lost boy,” as he would be surrounded by many in similar familiar and educational situations. Tito was placed into a “bilingual” classroom, but given that the long-term substitute was not bilingual (an unfortunately accurate portrayal of programming deficits in the district), Tito was left to “sink or swim.” It was in this dismal environment that I encountered Tito, with tidings of good luck from his homeroom teacher. Perhaps it was the sadness in his eyes that caused me to connect with him instantaneously or the unjust way in which he was referred to by nearly all adults that surrounded him. I found their general lack of interest in helping this student appalling, and I knew that I could help him, if only I had time . . . .
I spent a short 3 months providing literacy intervention to Tito, assisting him in understanding social cues and acquiring conversational language skills. Without any warning, Tito disappeared from the school once more, indefinitely as always, administrators remaining unable to tell me whether he has returned to his native land or transferred to another school in the district. He was making indisputable gains in a system that had previously failed him, and now all that I can do is hope for his well-being, helplessly.
“Teacher, teacher,” he yelled,
voice about four notches too loud for the classroom,
hand waving frantically in my face.
“Tito, tenemos que trabajar en esto, we have to work on this,”
I tell him politely, “siempre con la mano callada en la clase, quiet hand in class.”
“Raúl está molestándome,” (Raúl is bothering me) he proclaims,
“Como siempre,” I respond,
as this is seemingly always the case.
“Let’s focus here, Tito, tenemos que enfocarnos en la tarea,”
I say with patience,
as the two boys have become rivals,
and it is difficult to tell who is the instigator,
and who the victim,
although I have my suspicions.
Outside of the classroom, Tito approaches me, hurriedly,
diciendo que “Raúl la empezó,” (saying that Raúl started it),
la lucha, or the fight, that is.
The students laugh at him,
because he is much taller and older;
nearly 12 years old in the third grade.
If he is irritated, one could naturally see the reason,
as he cannot defend himself, yet lives in a constant state of defensive turmoil.
I am the one that Tito seeks in times of confrontation,
which are painstakingly abundant,
as many teachers remain unable to communicate with him,
and assume that he began the ordeal,
as he is “angry,” or “troubled,” with “social issues,”
or even worse—
that he is “unfixable.”
Away from his enemies,
Tito is enthusiastic about learning,
eager to share his anecdotal experiences,
from the classroom in the Dominican Republic,
where he claims to have excelled.
I don’t doubt his tales,
but wonder what he means when he says excelled,
as he cannot read in Spanish either.
Every morning, as he strolls in late,
he smiles large and asks,
“Teacher, ¿vamos a tu clase hoy?”
He loves my classroom, and I love bringing him there,
without distraction, without pressure of his peers and teachers,
all of whom have no faith in his abilities.
“Tito, ¿sabes qué quiere decir la palabra potencial?”
(Do you know what potential means?)
Me responde que “no,” which doesn’t surprise me,
as the adults in his life aren’t exactly encouraging.
“Es algo que tú tienes adentro, y vamos a activarlo juntos tú y yo.”
(It is something that you have inside of you,
and we are going to activate it together, you and I.)
Tito smiles, and we continue to decode words.
The day that I walked into school and was handed a release form
which stated that Tito would no longer be in attendance,
as his family has pulled him indefinitely,
my hopes and aspirations crumbled into a fine dust;
as quickly as he disappeared,
so did my faith in his relatives, the administrators, the district.
Why is no one recognizing the vicious circle that has been created?
Why doesn’t anyone care but me?
Why aren’t we communicating with the parents,
boasting about success thus far, explaining that it could become a trend,
if only given more time?
Today, I mourn the loss of my endangered student,
I witnessed his fall through the cracks,
but with few actually attempting to understand;
plummeting into a downward spiral,
entrapped by his ever-changing situation.
And I mourn the deficit of impassioned educators,
along with a system that doesn’t cater to newcomers such as my Tito,
whose story is not unlike that of many others—
all of whom are left to fend for themselves in an unfamiliar territory,
a sociocultural abyss,
a nullity formed from injustice—
a system disenfranchising students as it did my Tito,
leaving them stranded in a constant state of linguistic purgatory.
Shélynn Riel is a literacy interventionist in the Providence public school district and adjunct faculty member in the Intensive ESL Program at Rhode Island College. Although she specializes in TESOL, Shé is currently pursuing bilingual/dual language certification in order to better serve the community that inspires her every day.
This piece is written in dedication to a 16-year-old student that I have come to know and appreciate. He came to this country with his father last year from Guatemala on a temporary basis, leaving behind other family members, in order to make as much money as possible so that their family can buy a farm back home. He just showed up at school with only a few weeks left in the school year, unable to speak English and with oral yet not written command of Spanish. Educational records are sparse and it is apparent that there have been significant gaps in his formal education. He seemed to be locked inside, not being able to communicate. However, he was and still is fiercely loyal to his smile; he wears it like a groom’s tuxedo and he will share it with all he comes in contact with, whether he is having a good day or not. He has a strong heart. I have much to learn from him.
My smile is my gift to you.
It is a window into my heart and mind.
You cannot really know me, yet, through my tongue.
It doesn’t work too good in English,
But at least I give you my smile.
My smile is my gift to you,
I can connect with you,
even if it is not verbally.
My smile protects me, but it also protects you . . .
it inclines you to a charitable disposition toward me
rather than an unkind one.
I don’t have much to say,
at least not in English, yet . . . .
But I am a lot like you.
I want to belong, I want to be liked, be valued.
At times there is much to not smile about.
I am misunderstood.
I am ignored.
I am confused.
I am someone’s extra burden,
someone’s extra work.
Most people walk right by me in school,
as if I am a ghost.
But I am not a ghost, I am a human, a person,
just like you,
with hopes, dreams, aspirations.
I am a fellow pilgrim, just trying to find my way,
just like you,
and so even though I might not
be able to offer you much,
I offer you my smile.
That is a first step.
It is a step I choose to take every day, everywhere,
My smile is my song that I dance to.
It is the banner that I march to.
It is my shield.
No one can take it away from me.
Only I can take it away from me.
But I have decided that I will not take it away from me,
All day long I receive strange looks,
bothered looks, why-are-you-here looks,
looks of pity, looks of indifference,
and I ask myself, what do I do?
What do I give back?
I want to give back with words,
so you can truly know me, so we can commune . . .
but my tongue doesn’t work like that yet.
So I give you my smile.
Not all the right words,
not all the right scores,
not all the right responses you may be looking for,
just my smile. I hope you give it back,
but either way,
it’s the best I can give right now.
Maybe it’s better anyway.
Stephen Sposato is a world languages teacher in Westerly, Rhode Island, and is currently enrolled in the master’s program at Rhode Island College for teaching English as a second language. He has four children, ages 4–8, and he and his wife enjoy surfing, photography, and anything else that involves the beach and smiles.
Scene I: Placement
“Hello?” I picked up my classroom phone. The call was from the administration office. I wasn’t expecting a call.
“Hi, Michelle? This is Amber. I just have a question about ACCESS.”
“The roster says you have five kids in your class not taking it. Is that a mistake?”
Perhaps I should have expected this call. The Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State test for English Language Learners was a requirement for all students in the state identified as ELLs. The administrator was curious why five of my dual language students were not scheduled to take the test.
“Nope. Those five have already tested out of Tier C. They are English proficient, according to what they tested last year.”
“Oh. Well, why are they still in the bilingual class?”
“My class isn’t supposed to be ESL. The dual language program is meant to be enrichment. They should be proficient in both English and Spanish by the end of fifth grade. It’s not meant to be remedial.”
“Oh, okay. Just checking in.”
I quietly hung up the phone.
Scene II: Their Silencing (Irresponsive Standards)
At a language arts professional development, I am asked to review the Common Core.
Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts:
Speaking & Listening Expectations
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.5.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.5.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, using formal English when appropriate to task and situation.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.3 Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.3a Expand, combine, and reduce sentences for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.6 Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal contrast, addition, and other logical relationships (e.g., however, although, nevertheless, similarly, moreover, in addition). (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010, bold emphasis added)
Scene III: The Opportunity to See Themselves?
“For the early elementary grades, lists of suggested books contain some written by African-American authors about black characters, but few by Latino writers or featuring Hispanic characters.” (Rich, 2012)
Common Core State Standards: Text Exemplars
“If all they read is Judy Blume or characters in the ‘Magic Treehouse’ series who are white and go on adventures,” said Mariana Souto-Manning, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, “they start thinking of their language or practices or familiar places and values as not belonging in school.”
At Bayard Taylor Elementary in Philadelphia, a school where three-quarters of the students are Latino, Kimberly Blake, a third-grade bilingual teacher, said she struggles to find books about Latino children that are “about normal, everyday people.” The few that are available tend to focus on stereotypes of migrant workers or on special holidays. “Our students look the way they look every single day of the year,” Ms. Blake said, “not just on Cinco de Mayo or Puerto Rican Day.” (Rich, 2012)
Scene IV: Their Music
[Strains of music, some students giggle in anticipation of the music stoppage. The music stops, more loud laughter.]
“Carlos, you’re out!” Marisol tells one of the two students who were struggling to sit in the same chair.
“¡No, usted está afuera!” Another student points to the girl next to Carlos.
“OK . . .” she says, curling her hand into a fist, readying herself to break the tie.
“Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!” she throws scissors and he pounds her scissors with his rock fist and grins in the chair, victorious.
“Oh!” Without ceasing to smile, she walks away, toward the students playing the music on an iPad. They begin to choose which Prince Royce song they want to play for the next round.
“Saca la silla!” exclaims another playing. “I’m winning, I’m pushing everyone out of the chair. I’m winning!” He glances at me holding my phone up, the camera on. “Miss, don’t record!”
I couldn’t help but film the evidence of their linguistic treasure.
Scene V: Professional Journal
Throughout this year I have been hearing students and colleagues alike stereotyping my students as “the bilingual class.” On more than one occasion I have told other students that my students do not just learn in Spanish. We get to learn in both Spanish and English! With the increase of Common Core–aligned materials I am given, I continue to notice the lack of student-responsive ideas I am asked to implement. Where is there room for linguistic and cultural differences? I understand that with so much diversity in this country, one cannot have a common body of educational standards that addresses all languages, but when will bilingual language practices be recognized as an asset?
Despite these frustrations, the languages and skills of my students, their laughter, and translanguaging keep me going. Their interactions, much like their impromptu game, are music to my ears.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Washington, DC: Authors. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/L/5
Rich, M. (2012, December 4). For young Latino readers, an image is missing. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com
Michelle Vander Ploeg became passionate about bilingualism when she was an exchange student in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. She received her MAT in elementary education from Brown University in 2013. She is now a first-year teacher in a fifth-grade dual language classroom.
USING A VARIETY OF PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICES TO IMPROVE THE ESL CLASSROOM
Teaching English as a second language at a community college presents challenges, the most pressing ones among them are attempting to modify the way grammar is taught and helping students who have very different goals in the classroom. In my opinion, teachers in these classes should strive to correct these issues using creativity and passion.
While working as a teaching assistant, I observed teachers in many classrooms teach grammar and writing using the same format: The teacher presented a grammar form and students completed a handout individually and shared their answers with the class. I saw countless students fall asleep or become bored during this procedure, and I worried for a while about the impossibility of making grammar and writing exciting for them.
I began exploring other pedagogical practices upon observing the classrooms of instructors who began a grammar lesson with a discovery task or freewriting. My eyes were opened as a result because, up to that point, I had not realized there were interesting and engaging ways to approach teaching grammar or writing. Yet since then, I have come to understand that this approach should be an essential part of the ESL classroom.
Moreover, many of the students in our classrooms are technologically savvy and need more stimulation to stay focused and understand the material presented. Challenging and engaging our students, therefore, requires more innovative lessons. The most successful instructors seem to be those who have learned to make good use of the apparent inconvenience of computers and electronic devices in the classroom (for example, those cell phones that keep ringing nonstop). Instructors should wonder how to bring technology into the classroom in a way that is beneficial for all to improve their lessons and inspire students to become more active learners.
ESL classrooms at a community college present distinct challenges in that almost each student comes from a different country, has a different first language, and has had very different educational experiences. Most important, they also have different goals. Many of them are taking ESL writing courses in order to, eventually, take a freshman composition writing course. Generally speaking, a majority of these students have had some schooling in the United States, including high school in many cases, and possess good written and spoken skills in English. On the other hand, there are those who have recently arrived in the United States. Lacking previous experience in U.S. classrooms, they are taking the course to improve their grasp of the language.
Both groups present different challenges. The first ones can communicate verbally at a very proficient level and have learned the format of writing a paragraph and a five-paragraph essay in mainstream English courses throughout their education, yet their grasp of academic English may not be adequate. Therefore, upon been placed into an intermediate, or even advanced, ESL course, they appear uninterested in learning what they think they already know about writing and grammar. In my experience, I have argued with countless young students who do not understand why their informal writing style is not acceptable in my class, especially when it allowed them to succeed in high school English classrooms in the past. My response to this issue has consisted of using a variety of pedagogical practices; however, it is not always enough. Often, honest conversations with these students about their issues with academic English are necessary.
The second group has presented the greatest challenges in the majority of beginning and intermediate courses I have taught so far, because I have found it necessary to spend a great amount of time familiarizing these students with the expectations of a college classroom. Among these expectations is respecting instructors along with fellow students by listening when they are speaking and engaging in dynamic, yet polite discussions.
An approachable and open forum that explores the issues facing ELLs today and provides guidance to those working with ELLs is essential, as is instructors’ knowledge about the issues ELLs face on a daily basis. If instructors increase their communication about these problems, seek information about emerging trends in the education of ELLs, become more aware of the ever-increasing number and variety of pedagogical approaches used by experienced and successful teachers to teach students with limited proficiency in English, and are willing to adapt, solutions can be created and implemented that can definitely change and improve the educational landscape.
Many teachers spend too much time blaming those instructors who taught their students before them. Instead, we might need to focus on how to help the students we have in front of us in the most effective way. Researching and experimenting with the multitude of pedagogical approaches at our disposal may be a good way to determine what will lead to students’ success.
Bridgette Vera teaches English as a second language at Fullerton College. Her interests include linguistics and rhetoric.
TRANSLANGUAGING FOR ACADEMIC SUCCESS WITH EMERGENT BILINGUALS
The students in Ms. Chapman-Santiago’s eighth-grade English language arts class in New York City file into class and read the “Do Now”questions on the board, questions about the novel they have been reading. They take their seats that are organized so that students speaking the same languages—Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Bengali, Fulani, and Arabic—sit together. At their desks they find a sheet with the same questions that are on the board translated into the students’ languages. The teacher directs the students to read the two questions and then talk to their same-language peers about the questions for just a few minutes. She then directs students to write a response in English to the questions they have discussed in their various home languages.
The teacher in this classroom is drawing on students’ strengths and backgrounds by encouraging them to translanguage as they work to understand the novel they have been reading. While Ms. Chapman-Santiago doesn’t speak or read all of the students’ home languages, she used Google Translate to provide each group with at least a rough translation to start their discussions. The use of their home languages helps them make sense of what they are reading. As they move back and forth across their languages, drawing on their entire linguistic repertoires, they are strategically constructing meaning.
Ms. Chapman-Santiago is well aware of the academic challenges these students face. The Common Core State Standards call for students to do close reading of texts in order to comprehend and analyze what they read. Students need teachers to scaffold their instruction to perform tasks like this. For emergent bilinguals, translanguaging is a key to that success.
Second language learners have been referred to as English learners (ELs), English language learners (ELLs), or culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students, among other terms. García has suggested that a more appropriate term to be used for these students is emergent bilinguals (EBLs; García, 2009, 2010; García, Kleifgen, & Flachi, 2008). This term validates the language students bring to school as well as the fact that, as they learn English or another language, they are becoming bilingual. They are not simply learning English, as the term English language learner implies; they are emergent bilinguals. In fact, many students learning English are becoming emergent multilinguals as they already speak more than one language before beginning to learn English. In this article, we suggest ways that teachers can support EBLs through translanguaging.
When bilinguals and multilinguals use language, they often translanguage. García (2009) points out that bilinguals’ everyday language involves the natural use of translanguaging. They translanguage with other bilinguals for different reasons as they communicate. While many refer to this practice negatively as code-switching, García emphasizes that bilinguals make meaning by translanguaging all the time.
One reason code-switching has a negative connotation for many people is that they assume that EBLs switch languages because they don’t have full command of English. Many believe that true bilinguals should speak both languages perfectly, as if they were two monolinguals in one person, and that they should never mix the two languages. However, bringing in words from both languages enriches the conversation in the same way that having a large vocabulary in one language allows a person to express herself more fully.
For example, Ann’s husband’s family is Greek American. Although most family members are dominant English speakers, they use Greek expressions and words when appropriate to communicate. They greet each other and Greek friends the first day of every month with Καλό μήνα (Kalo mina), which literally means "good month." Greeting one another in English would simply not convey the same meaning. Through exchanging this greeting and using other Greek words and expressions with Greek relatives, Ann’s children are expanding not only their language repertoires but also their understanding of their world.
Translanguaging Strategies in the Classroom
If bilinguals naturally translanguage to communicate, a question for educators to consider is how to use translanguaging with emergent bilinguals in schools. Even when EBLs are not in bilingual programs, and even when teachers do not speak students’ home languages, teachers can help EBLs develop competence in English through translanguaging strategies. By providing students with a translation of the questions they should answer, Ms. Chapman-Santiago used translanguaging effectively. Below is a list of translanguaging suggestions that teachers can use to support emergent bilingual students.
1. Create bilingual and multilingual word walls. Use visual representations of the words as well as key words that support the content being taught. Also, display bilingual/multilingual sentences with key ideas. Use students, aides, or parents or go to http://translate.google.com to translate into languages you do not speak. You can find images of key words at www.wordsift.com.
2. Supply school and classroom libraries with books, magazines, and other resources in students’ home languages. Students can read in their home language and retell and discuss stories in English or read in English and refer to books in their home languages to clarify their understanding.
3. Encourage emergent bilinguals to produce bilingual books in English and their home languages. These can be produced by groups of students at various levels of proficiency in the languages. Use bilingual books and books in which authors use translanguaging in the text as models for their writing.
4. Have students work in pairs with students who speak their home languages so that they can discuss concepts and support one another to clarify reading or writing assignments in English.
5. Use videos in other languages produced professionally or by the students to support academic learning and raise self-esteem.
6. Use preview, view, review (Freeman & Freeman, 2011). In the preview, the teacher, a bilingual peer, a bilingual cross-age tutor, a bilingual aide, or a parent explains to the emergent bilinguals in their home language what the upcoming lesson is about. During the view, the teacher conducts the lesson in English using strategies to make the input comprehensible. Finally, the review allows students to summarize and clarify in their home languages.
These and additional translanguaging strategies can be found online in the translanguaging guide produced by the City University of New York under its New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals (Celic & Seltzer, 2001). Using translanguaging strategies allows emergent bilinguals to draw on their home language as a resource, promotes their sense of self-esteem, and promotes their academic success.
Celic, C., & Seltzer, K. (2001). Translanguaging: A CUNY-NYSIEB guide for educators. New York, NY: City University of New York, Graduate Center. Retrieved from http://www.nysieb.ws.gc.cuny.edu/files/2013/03/Translanguaging-Guide-March-2013.pdf
Freeman, D., & Freeman, Y. (2011). Between worlds: Access to second language acquisition (3rd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
García, O. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st century: A global perspective. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Garcia, O. (2010). Misconstructions of bilingualism in U.S. education. NYSABE News, 1(1), 2–7.
Yvonne Freeman is a Professor Emerita from the University of Texas, Brownsville, who writes and speak about the needs of emergent bilingual students.
Ann Ebe is an assistant professor at Hunter College, City University of New York, and a researcher specializing in emergent bilinguals and literacy education.
David Freeman is a Professor Emeritus from the University of Texas, Brownsville, who writes and speaks about linguistics, reading, and second language acquisition.
BOOK REVIEW: ENGAGE THE CREATIVE ARTS: A FRAMEWORK FOR SHELTERING AND SCAFFOLDING INSTRUCTION FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS (2013), BY SHARON ADELMAN REYES
When I was just getting my feet wet as a high school English as second language (ESL) teacher 10 years ago, I was fortunate to get my hands on a copy of Constructivist Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners, by Sharon Adelman Reyes and Trina Lynn Vallone. I was an experienced world language teacher entering the field of ESL as a novice, and Constructivist Strategies shaped my thinking and my instructional design approaches for teaching my multilanguage, multigrade, multilevel English language development classes. Like many other ESL teachers, I was at first overwhelmed by the diverse literacy levels and disparate needs of my students, but Constructivist Strategies provided a strong rationale for constructivism in the ESL classroom and sufficient cognitive frames and mental structures that I was able to create a classroom culture that allowed access to improved literacy and engagement for all of my students. Thus I was eager to read Adelman Reyes’s (2013) newest book, Engage the Creative Arts: A Framework for Sheltering and Scaffolding Instruction for English Language Learners.
Adelman Reyes divides the book into four parts: The Framework, Strategies, Sample Units, and Resources. Of greatest interest to me was Part 1: The Framework, where Adelman Reyes establishes a clear, comprehensible, and useful foundation for practitioners who teach English language learners (ELLs), including a concise overview of learning theory, scaffolding, comprehensible input, and her theories of student learning through engagement with the creative arts. This section is what distinguishes this book from the ample array of strategy books claiming to represent “best practices,” often without providing any evidence for, or even defining what is meant by, that particular term. Rather than simply offering another cookbook of step-by-step instructions with overblown promises, Adelman Reyes instead urges teachers to explore the deep learning that is possible when students are authentically engaged, when the affective filter is low, and when attention is focused on communication in English for authentic purposes.
The largest section is the Strategies section, where educators will find ideas by artistic medium: dramatic arts, creative writing, music and rhythm, dance and movement, visual arts, and free reading. Each part provides ample ideas for in-class engagements with students of all grade levels. As Adelman Reyes notes, each activity can be easily adapted for use with older or younger students with a bit of thought. As a former secondary teacher, I was pleased to find primary engagement ideas I could readily use with high school students and conversely believe primary teachers will find themselves inspired by skimming the secondary strategies.
The Resources section includes sample primary, intermediate, and secondary units. These units are not meant simply to be lifted wholesale and imitated, but instead serve as inspiration and guidance for teachers to develop their own. Of particular use is the guideline section in which Adelman Reyes reminds teachers to “stress process over performance” and to design instruction that is engaging, that requires multimodal responses, that simplifies language, and that “prompts students to consider perspectives other than their own” (p. 105). It is here that her commitment to constructivist engagement with ELLs is most vibrantly clear.
As a teacher who has also experimented with specific sensory triggers, particularly scents and sounds, to lower the affective filter and foster a sense of belonging in my ESL classroom, I was intrigued to find Adelman Reyes encourage the use of essential oils in the classroom to “evoke mood” as students engage with the arts or with texts. She provides a list of oils, along with strong cautions about the potential hazards inherent in their use. While aromatherapy would certainly be effective in eliciting powerful mental images and associations for some students, I found myself shying away from the idea of imposing these strong scents on students out of concern for possible negative reactions from some and fear of triggering allergic reactions from others.
Overall, in a time when ESL teachers are often pressured to “fix” ESL students quickly and to focus on dreary drill, skill, and kill test preparation approaches, Adelman Reyes’s call for constructivist approaches is vibrant and refreshing. Engage the Creative Arts is a deceptively simple, yet important contribution to the collective thinking of the ESL teaching community.
Susan R. Adams is a former urban high school ESL teacher and instructional coach. She is currently assistant professor of middle and secondary education in the College of Education at Butler University. Her research interests include ELL literacy development, equity, and teacher professional development through critical friendship group approaches.