Session 12 (online)

For Thursday, June 18.

For this session, we are focusing on the role of language in literacy education. As many of you have shared, either you have had the experience of learning English as a new language, or you have worked with students who are learning English. The following texts will prepare you for our Twitter chat (Thrs. from 8-9PM) so please bring your questions to that session.

Please read/watch the following texts. You are given options so that you can have some control over your inquiry of this topic. When you have read/watched your selections, please leave a comment below in which you might…

  • offer your reflection
  • share moments that stood out to you and explain why
  • make a connection to your own learning and/or teaching
  • pose a question to the group
  • address a question/comment presented by a classmate

You must read:

Watch one of the following two speeches by prominent scholars:

Watch one of the following three author documentaries/speeches:


26 thoughts on “Session 12 (online)

  1. What I found to be most interesting in “Double the Work: Challenges and Solutions to Acquiring Language and Academic Literacy for Adolescent English Language Learners” is that ELL’s don’t always fit out confines of a typical literacy classroom. The research states ELL’s may benefit from a longer term in high school than 4 years, perhaps staying in school for 5 or 6 years total. The school in Union City, NJ made me think about my experiences looking for day care for my son. He will most likely be attending a bilingual school too. I find a bilingual approach to be so beneficial to students and it made me consider why we push ELL’s so hard in 4 years to master English instead of using bilingual coursework over a longer period of time. Are these students just getting worn out? Is it too much too fast? Then we could spend the time needed on growing literacy skills. Overall, we need a more special ed style approach. The flexibility is key, but it is difficult to address each students personal styles and needs in such a large population. Can we take an individualized special ed approach to teaching ELL’s in order to help aid in their success in literacy?

    Maria Torres-Guzman expands upon the differences in school experiences as ELL’s and discusses the difference between how ELL’s learn and English-speaking students learn. It made me think back to my approaches learning languages myself. I constantly found myself translating in my head, which isn’t fluency, but memorization. I agree with the newer view of code switching, that if you are in-between the translation and fluency, students may be code switching. I don’t think this should be looked down upon, but praised for the progress that has been made. Also, when you immerse yourself in a culture you are more likely to understand a language. If we bridge the gap between the two cultures and blend them, it may help students grasp a language better than if the cultures were not bridged. We are on the right path researching bilingual education so we can move forward on how to address the teaching of bilingual students and bridge the gap between ELLs and the American classroom. To further this progression we should immerse students literature that appeals to their culture in order to bridge this gap. Using familiar stories or literature can be so strong in getting students to connect to a work of writing.

    The power of literacy is shown in “ A Conversation with Amy Tan” by Lawrence Bridges. Hearing Tan speak about what role literature played in her life was great. Literature can provide escape, growth, and maturity. Finding literature that relates to your students can play such in important role in getting your students interested and enthusiastic about reading.

    Lastly, and on an unrelated note, one thing that caught my attention was that testing and IQ scores were brought up in a lot of the articles/videos. We focus so much on scores and statistics that I think love for literacy gets lost for a lot of students. What can we do to balance the scores we need to keep our jobs and also keep our students interested and excited about literature?


    • I agree with many of your points here. I also found that part of the “Double the Work” article most interesting. Your thoughts about approaching ELLs with more of a special education template is interesting and one that I think would probably really benefit many students. One thing I wonder about though is whether or not this would have any affect on the students’ social/emotional development. Would providing them with a longer time in school (5-6 years) be a detriment to their social progress?


  2. In the video “Period 1”, Torres-Guzman discusses how code-switching was once considered a sign of linguistic immaturity and even cognitive delay. This was particularly striking to me as I think many of us now view code-switching as an acquired skill that is necessary among all bilingual students. As someone who is not fluent in more than one language, I am always impressed by someone who is able to seamlessly switch between two languages in the same conversation or sentence. I also appreciate her discussion on the importance of bilingual education, which agree is valuable, but still think is sadly underutilized in many schools. For instance, in my school we have many Caribbean immigrants who speak Haitian Creole, however, while we have ESL services, we do not have bilingual programs available.

    Some of my major take-aways from the reading were:
    – ELLs are a diverse groups of learners and individuals, and therefore cannot be generalized as a whole. What may work for certain ELL students may not work for others.
    – Adolescent ELLs enter schools with varying levels of literacy, both in English and their native languages. Thus, there is no one-sit-fits-all solution to meeting the literacy challenges they face.
    – ELLs must not only learn English, but they must also learn the core content areas through the English language. Therefore, secondary ELL students must perform double the work of native English speaking students.
    – ELLs are being held to the same standards as their native English-speaking peers, however very little guidance has been offered on how to meet the varied needs of adolescent ELLs.
    – Major challenges in ELL literacy: there is a lack of common criteria for identifying ELLs and tracking performance; there is a lack of appropriate assessments; there is a lack of appropriate programs and instructional practices

    In “A Conversation with Amy Tan”, Tan mentions how her mother did not teach her Chinese because she believed that learning Chinese could effect her ability to learn English. Although she did not indicate whether or not she had any regret about this, I immediately thought about my own experience growing up in an Italian family in which Italian was not taught to us for the same reason. As I grew older, I was upset about this decision that was made for me as I had a strong desire to speak my family’s native language, but learning it was much more difficult than it would have been if I’d acquired it at a young age.

    I also enjoyed Tan’s discussion on the role literature played in her life and self-discovery, which I tied back to the article “Creating Literate Environments in Secondary School Literacy Classrooms,” in which Bower discusses the process of finding our identity of readers and writers through investigation and inquiry. This discovery was never made explicit to me as a child, but I distinctly remember become lost in books and discovering myself and my identity through reading and writing. I think the sentiments Tan expresses about reading and writing are some of the most important things we can hope to foster in our students, as that love and investment are often the spark that is needed to fuel their development as literate learners.


    • Rachel, it seems as if you have pulled out many of the important points from “Double the Work”. Upon reading this text, and especially after reading your concise summary of those key points, I feel frustrated – sure, ELLs are a diverse group of learners with diverse but pressing literacy needs, and we do not have effective ways of identifying them or (as was emphasized significantly in the article) assessing their progress. Now, what do we do? I come away from this article rather flummoxed by the immensity of the challenges facing ELL students and those educators who wish to support them. However, even though this text brought out a pessimistic side of me, I am still, more than anything, blown away by the resilience and growth most of my ELL students have shown this year. The ability of the human mind to adapt to a new language, new customs, a new country, even new weather patterns, is truly incredible. While ELL students are up against major challenges, with them there is also the potential for equally as significant growth.


  3. (continuation of comment in reply to Alicia’s post…)

    Another thing I’m thinking about is something that one of my colleagues told me about how ELLs were classified at my school (or in general? I don’t know). She told me that when one student entered the school, at an interview with the students’ parents, they were asked whether or not another language was spoken at home. They said yes, that Spanish was, and the student was pegged as an ELL. However, the student doesn’t actually speak Spanish at all, not a bit of it. His parents may, to each other, here and there, or with their parents, but they don’t speak it with him and he’s never spoken it at all. How is this system hurting our students? Does labeling them make any difference, whether positive or negative?

    Code switching and some of Li Wei’s comments about it are really interesting to me. I believe that code switching and multilingualism really are the same thing and greatly increase a person’s ability to *communicate.* I have this theory that the root of all of our world’s problems and issues are due to a lack of communication or too much miscommunication. Being able to express oneself in multiple settings and with different groups of people is really critical to building relationships, experiencing other cultures, understanding other people & cultures, etc. More technically, according to Li Wei, studies show that people who are highly proficient in multiple languages have better cognitive/executive control functions. Furthermore, frequent code switchers tend to have other cognitive abilities such as selective attention and creativity. What I’ve gotten out of this is that there are brain functions that are enhanced/exercised within people who are bilingual or multilingual and are able to code switch with precision and separate the languages that they know. This information only further deepens my beliefs about the benefits of being versed in multiple languages. And I believe it relates directly to flexibility of writing and reading (new audiences, different settings, etc.). One thing that I’m left thinking about is the hurdles that students face throughout their schooling years when they are not quite proficient in either one of the languages that they know.

    Amy Tan–I think that her situation with her parents, wherein they didn’t want her to learn Mandarin because they were afraid it would affect her ability to learn English, is VERY common among immigrant parents. And I disagree with it. The acquisition of language (if you didn’t already get this from what I’ve already written about being multilingual), at a young age, I think, is an incredible experience for a child. I think it makes them more adept for success and more agile within the literacy classroom. … I also really like the way Tan speaks about the books that she read as a child and how she found friends in them. She made such a connection to certain pieces of literary works that she felt comfortable, at ease, and with a sense of belonging. … I like hearing about the relationship she had with her mother and things she would say to her, “you squeezed all your brain out onto the paper.” Although she called these sayings kind of visceral, I find them strangely endearing, thinking about her mother, as someone who was an English language learner, trying to express how Amy had worked really hard on something.


  4. After reading the article “Double the Work,” I am left shocked and disappointed at the number of ELL students who are unsuccessful in school due to the language barrier. To make matters worse, no one has a definite way to improve literacy amongst these students because there is no one size fits all approach. The authors shared several stories of students who are fighting to learn English in schools, but there is no answer that can help them all. This is a reference to the challenge that we as educators face every single day. We are given a group of students with all types of ethnicities, cultures, languages, etc. and we are responsible for teaching a nationwide curriculum in order for them to move on to the next grade until they graduate. If 4 percent of ELLs are proficient in the United States according to previously set standards, then maybe the problem goes far beyond the classroom. Is it possible that maybe the standards that is already set in the educational system is entirely too rigorous, especially if only 30 percent of students who are native English speakers are proficient. What about the other 96 percent of ELLs and 70 percent of native English speakers? If the goal is no child left behind, then we are failing tremendously. I wish I had an answer to how we can make the system fair and equal for everyone, but I do not. All i can do at this point is try my best to teach the students that I do have, whether they are ELLs or not, and make learning possible for them. I am hopeful that one day we will figure out a better way to allow everyone access to a successful education path regardless of what language or background they may have.

    In the Maria Torres Guzman video, one thing she talks about is the culture of poverty. This is the idea that those who live in poverty generally go through a cycle that cannot be broken. Part of it is the way the system is set up. If you are broke, you cannot buy books. If you cannot buy books, you do not get to practice reading. If you do not get to practice reading, you struggle in school. If you are not successful in school, it will be hard to get a job. If you cannot get a good job, you continue to live in poverty even after you have a family. Guzman also talks about how bilingual students often struggle to assimilate into English speaking schools. Even for those who do end up assimilating, they struggle to be successful due to the fact that they are not proficient in English. Just because you speak the language, does not mean you can read and write well in the language. This is actually connected to the fact that when students of other languages come into the schools, they are all at different levels. Some of them are very proficient in their native language (which are the ones who are more likely to be successful when they do learn English). Others are extremely deficient when it comes to reading and writing in their native languages, which makes it harder to learn and be successful in English.

    The Big Read is the largest literature program in the United States. In the video, Amy Tan describes her life and why she wrote her book “The Joy Luck Club.” When Tan was young, her parents did not want her to speak Chinese because they thought it would effect her ability to learn English. I actually disagree because I think if you are capable of learning one language well, those skills can be transferred when learning another language. She then described how her life was when she was constantly moving every year or so. That was when Amy Tan started making up fictional stories and sending them to the friends she left behind. If it wasn’t for those experiences, she may not have ever written The Joy Luck Club, or any of her other stories. Since joy and luck was part of Tan’s life since she was young, she was influenced to write the book that she wrote. This shows me that everyone has their own stories to tell. It might be a good story or it might be a bad story, either way, someone out there wants to hear it. Being creative and writing a story of life in your own words is an amazing accomplishment. Unfortunately, many ELLs or bilingual speakers do not get the opportunity to be successful in writing stories. But it is still important to celebrate those who become successful even after having to experience the challenge of learning a new language.


    • I feel that many ELL students are not given the right amount of time and support in schools to really be successful and it seems that although with many studies and best practices, we still struggle as educators to teach our students proper English. However, many of my ELL students are so determined to learn the language, it is absolutely incredible to watch them grow.


  5. Sink or Swim to the Dawn of a New Era:

    One thing that stuck out to me in particular from the video is that there is a need to better involve parents of ELL/ former ELL students within schools. Throughout this year my school has done a lot of research and planning on revamping some of our programs and one thing that we looked at was what we can do to increase parent involvement. Some of the things we are planning on implementing include a back to school night in which parents can attend each of their students’ classes and also throughout the year offering various seminars in which students teach their parents about things they are doing in the classroom. While I am excited about these initiatives, I still feel like there is more that can be done to involve both the community and our students’ families. When I think back to my time through high school, when I had questions with my homework, I would ask my parents for help. I know that many of my students’ parents though do not speak English, and thus are not necessarily able to provide their children the same type of assistance in this area. Given this fact, one thing I am left wondering, is what else we can do as a community (school, families, neighborhoods, etc.) to better support our ELL students and involve their families. To help our students accomplish their goals, all involved parties need to work as a team.

    La Palabras y El Silencio:

    I thought the speaker’s point about different words conveying different things in different languages was quite interesting. She uses the example of the English phrase ‘to kill time’ which has a more negative connotation than the Spanish equivalent ‘Hacer tiempo’ which translates to ‘to make time.’ This example supports the speaker’s point that languages provide people with different lens’ with which to view the world. Reflecting on how this relates to teaching, it is important that we get to know all of our students and their backgrounds so that we can try and understand their perspective and know better how to reach and teach them.

    Double the Work:

    The facts and figures about literacy rates, specifically in regards to ELL students were shocking. In reading this article, I began to think about how there is no one size fits all model for education. Everyone, including ELL students, have different academic needs and learn in different ways. In ideal world, all students would be able to receive targeted, individualized instruction designed specifically to meet their needs. Given the strain on resources though, this is not possible, at least to the degree that would be ideal. The article also details how many teachers do not receive training in supporting ELL students within a classroom. While I have some ideas for how to do this, my knowledge in this area is quite limited. With the limited time that is available because of jam packed curriculums and high stakes testing, what can be done to best support ELL students in content area classes?


  6. ELL Instruction

    I found in “Double The Work” that tests are the way for the state to measure an ELL’s progress. For me, this is interesting, because we test students in Math right away, no matter if they have had more or less time with the English language. The test does not seem to measure when it is intended to measure, especially for ELL’s. Most of the tests are the inadequate way to really test our students. From my own experiences teaching an ESL class, they make most of their connections back to their home country and thrive off of assessments that are relevant to them. Students in my class all speak different languages but find ways to properly communicate with them. Most of my students are eager to learn the language and love finding connections from their language back to the English language.

    Double the Work mentions that ELL students should be kept in school longer, however I think this would definitely disengage them, as they would be much older then their younger peers in the classroom, especially that already many of them are older then their classmates as it is. Hindering their social and emotional development will not help them advance, however if the state were to provide these students with time after school and after school ends for them to advance their learning in the English language, they would definitely benefit from that.

    One thing I found intriguing from Amy Tan was when she first entered a library. Her talking about Catcher in the Rye and discussing how the book was a banned book and that she was confused as to why it was banned. And after reading it, she realized that she was never going to let anyone tell her what she can and cannot read ever again. When she took an IQ test as a child, she was told she could be a doctor because she was good at math and never challenged it. When we tell our children that they are good at one thing and not another, especially students with language issues or students who are learning English, when you make associations like this to them, it becomes everything to them, their meaning in life, and that alone can hinder them and their experiences.

    On the idea of multilingual education, I believe that all students in our country should learn two languages from the first time they enter school. English is important to learn but learning more languages is healthy for the brain, for their growth and even for their basic understanding of the English language. Students can become more cultured when they learn more languages than English, they can understand other cultures, other religions, and others ideas besides the ones of our own culture.

    Some questions I want to raise is, how can we instruct our ELL students properly without taking away their identity, and instead embracing it in the classroom in a healthy, positive, and effective way? How can schools organize funding to provide our students to become bilingual?


  7. Torres-Guzmán talks about the importance of community involvement in school. She states that each successful student is a joint effort between teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large. When children know that certain skills or expectations are known about and enforced from all sides, they are more likely to understand, learn, and grow. She also emphasizes the importance of bilingual education, which I think is very connected to community involvement. So often, ELL students are expected to ignore their first language, their culture, in order to acclimate and use a new one. Torres-Guzmán talks about how when a student is in a bilingual setting, they are able to connect the dots using their native language when they are struggling with English and they are more likely to form a strong understanding, rather than trying to stuff English into their heads quickly. To me, the more we expect students to forget their culture and first language, the less we rely on community, the more likely our students are to either fail or to not care. Drawing on what they know and where they come from gives them a place from which they can engage and feel successful.

    Anaya talks about how magical books were for him as a child and even a young man. He found excitement and salvation through books, he identified with elements in all of the literature he read. But none of it reflected him and his childhood. He enjoyed it all and read through college, experiencing all literature. As a reader, he wanted to experience it all. However, he says, as a writer none of it fit him, he couldn’t find the style that matched his experiences. So he began to write from his lived experiences, creating literature that reflected it and had the soul of his community and childhood.

    I think my students likely feel this way a lot of the time. More so now than ever, there is literature reflected the experiences and feelings of students with a huge range of disabilities. However, we still often don’t teach that literature or, if we do, it’s a special moment, not a just part of everything we do. My students know they are different and know they think and learn differently. In many ways, they speak a different language than typically developing students. When they read literature that reflects their challenges it is very clear that they connect in a different way. There is a visible “ah ha” moment when they read about a character having an experience they may have had, or can imagine themselves having. I truly believe that a huge value of literature is to expand our minds and our experiences. But I don’t think that happens right away. As a young reader, I certainly read books that reflected very girly, white me. And that is a large reason why I love to read now, because I found easy connections with books that led me to seek more difficult connections and to expand my experiences through reading. But ELL students or my students with learning disabilities often don’t get to make that connection to literature and have a more difficult path to follow. This is where Torres-Guzmán’s emphasis on community comes in to play. Literature can be a community in itself, but if students don’t see themselves reflected anywhere in their schooling, whether the literature or the adults around them, how are they going to engage and care? Why should they?


  8. In reading, “Double the Work”, I thought a lot about our ELL students who took the Regents exams this week. Today, I also started the grading process of the US History Regents essays. The article talks about keeping adolescent learning in mind and to consider their interests during literacy instruction. I wonder for the newcomer ELL’s in high school how difficult it must be for them to be learning English and being confronted with primary source documents – many of which are difficult to comprehend for our native English speaking students. Something obvious the article mentioned, but that had not occurred to me as far as designing literacy instruction, was that many ELL students take on literacy responsibilities in their households for their parents. Something that helped them connect to their lives would certainly be more relevant and engaging than having them try to decipher documents written by Americans in the 1700’s – even if it is translated in their native language.

    I found Li Wei’s video on codeswitching interesting. We use this term, perhaps erroneously, at my school quite frequently in our discussions about students’ difficulties in refraining from using inappropriate language in class. I work closely with our ELL department and didn’t realize that code switching referred to a speaker alternating between languages in a conversation.


    • Cathlin, I was assigned to grade Regents today, specifically, Living Environment in Spanish. While not faced with the monstrous task of writing two essays about US and Global History (which can also delve into conversation about cultural relevancy for our ELLs as well), it is clear that thinking about scientific concepts in English or Spanish, was a very difficult task. I was told by my site coordinator to be lenient while grading, because if the answer, whether it was a fragment or well-composed sentence, demonstrated awareness or a working knowledge of the scientific concept being elicited by the question, that shows the student had learned. Many of the students so far took the exam in English, probabl because they were ony taught the concepts in English. Students who took the exam in their native Spanish, I found, had more difficulty recalling the material, possibly because they were taught the material exclusively in English, which may not transfer to Spanish-speaking “mind.”


  9. Tonight, I watched a conversation with Amy Tan and the video by Maria Torres-Guzman. The essential theme of these videos and the writing on Double the Work is the struggles and triumphs of English Language Learners in America. Torres-Guzman details the history of tension regarding language instruction in the US, while Double the Work discusses in academic language the current state of ELLs in US public schooling. I believe that the US education system does under serve these learners, as is stated in the reading, but I also believe that the US fails English speakers who want to speak other languages. Compare us to other countries- a US traveler in Western Europe has no need to worry about not communicating with locals as nearly everyone speaks English as a second language, but a foreigner coming to America is expected to speak English almost perfectly.

    Anyways, the reading and videos of tonight’s session made me think about the Janks piece in third path given to us last night. Essentially, Janks argues in favor of the proliferation of diverse voices in literature in a way that, being informed of dominant voices, seeks to create new meanings within literacy. The video with Amy Tan shows us how powerful it can be when a person is exposed to the literary works of someone outside of their own cultural experience (in this case, Tan’s reading of Jane Eyre). My question is this- how can the US better serve not only ELLs, but also native English speakers in the acquisition of new languages?


  10. “A bilingual speaker can move from a monolingual mode to a bilingual mode. The puzzle is when we meet an individual, how do we know if that person is bilingual or not?” I found Li Wei’s video interesting, because he brings home this point that codeswitching is the key trait of someone who is bilingual. Our educational system seeks to suppress the first language and engage students with English only. I want to expand on this idea of codeswitching. With all of the technology that just our regular english speakers are exposed to. Our english speakers can codeswitch between fictional text-language to academic language.
    My school honestly does not know how to deal with ELL’s effectively. We often hear that they need differentiation, or classes done in two languages. As a school we give major state assessments to ELL’s in their respective languages, however, those assessments are flawed because teachers do not have the training to teach content areas in their respective languages. I enjoyed reading “Double the Work”. I want to give a copy of it to our test coordinator because the challenges listed in the article, are some that we need to discuss and implement as a community. Or at the very least, parents should be able to understand that their child may need to potentially be in high-school for more than the average span of four years. For some parents that could be an issue. No parent wants to feel like their child is not normal or like they have to do more work than the other students around them. I do believe that keeping students for a longer period of time can benefit their language skills.
    Language is a fascinating thing. Even when I think about how I began to learn English, I am brought back to the Ted talk with Anna Kuzami Stahl. She mentioned in her speech that she enjoyed writing in a lnaguage that was not her own. In expressing herself through that language she can explore the limitations of the language while looking at the world through a separate lens. As an ESL student, English was awful to learn. Not because it was difficult. English is just not a language that feels deep emotion like any Latin Language. When people speak spanish, there are words that are almost linked with emotion. When you say something like “Tu eres mi corazon” youre really saying to someone that they are the reason why your heart beats, but its direct translation is “you are my heart”. It took a very long time to understand this difference and attempt to put words together to get the same effect or the same “lens”.
    Knowing this information, what are the next steps that we should take to address these gaps in literacy with our administration?”


  11. “[Today] I was assigned to grade Regents today, specifically, Living Environment in Spanish. While not faced with the monstrous task of writing two essays about US and Global History (which can also delve into conversation about cultural relevancy for our ELLs as well), it is clear that thinking about scientific concepts in English or Spanish, was a very difficult task. I was told by my site coordinator to be lenient while grading, because if the answer, whether it was a fragment or well-composed sentence, demonstrated awareness or a working knowledge of the scientific concept being elicited by the question, that shows the student had learned. Many of the students so far took the exam in English, probabl because they were ony taught the concepts in English. Students who took the exam in their native Spanish, I found, had more difficulty recalling the material, possibly because they were taught the material exclusively in English, which may not transfer to Spanish-speaking ‘mind.'”

    [Continuation from the reply to Cathlin’s post]

    In “Double the Work,” I found the comparison between native English speaking students that struggle with reading and ELLs to be interesting. I have noted that many of my ELLs have stronger intrinsic motivation compared to many of students with IEPs, possibly due to the idea of working hard to achieve the “American Dream” (not to say that students with IEPs cannot have strong intrinsic motivation or dreams). Additionally, I am not surprised at the following statistic, “Of the 43% of adolescent ELLs who are foreign-born, those who enter U.S. schools in the later grades are more challenged than their younger peers because of fewer resources at the secondary level and the shorter time that schools have to ensure that they learn English and master academic content areas,” because that is the literal definition of ELLs completing double the work (again, not to say that struggling readers/students with literacy-based IEPs do not have to double the work as well).

    In María Torres-Guzmán’s “Period 1: From Sink of Swim to the Dawn of a New Era” talked about bilingualism as a characteristic. She described it as acquiring two monolingual languages. However, many of our students, based on Torres-Guzman’s idea that language is ‘competence’ versus ‘performance,’ would not even be considered monolingual. They have yet to develop competency in either their native language nor in English.

    In “A Conversation with Rudolfo Anaya by Lawrence Bridges,” Anaya discusses the transition from Spanish to English at the age of 6. I related to this because Spanish was my first language until the age of 4 when I started going to preschool. Granted, I had the benefit of being in a bilingual class, where I would learn both English and Spanish. However, it was in the bilingual class that I would almost hate myself for trying to learn Spanish when I was aware that English was a language of “power” growing up in the United States. I wish that the instruction was tailored to showing more of the benefits of gaining performance skills with two or more languages, rather than emphasizing English over Spanish.


    • In regards to the quote you included from Double the Work, it is important to also recognize that on top of having less time and possibly less resources, those foreign born students who enter the U.S. school system in their later years also struggle. This is because the key time period to learn a second language and become fully bilingual or multilingual tends to extensively decrease once a student reaches twelve years old. The brain after that age is less malleable and it is not as easy for students to connect the parts of the brain they need to be fluent in both. That is not to say that it is not possible, it is just another hurtle students must surpass in order to succeed in their language acquisition.


  12. I already commented on Rachel’s post that I came away from “Double the Work” feeling both overwhelmed by the problems facing ELL education and also ill equipped to make meaningful strides to combat those problems. However, after watching the videos featuring Maria Torres-Guzman and, in particular, Anna Kazumi Stahl, I am taking a step back and thinking about the important relationship between identity and language. As Maria Torres-Guzman discusses, the approach our city and nation has taken towards bilingual education has evolved over the years. But the important point I take away from both videos is that language is closely tied to individual and community identity, but also that ultimately language does not need to create boundaries between people. I was moved by Anna Kazumi Stahl speaking about her character who is not able to speak but who is still able to live a full, communicative life where she is very connected to the world and people around her. I want to remember the symbolism behind this character when I interact with my ELL students, and make sure that our language barriers do not prevent me from forming meaningful and deep relationships with them just like I do with my English-proficient students. If our ELL students do not have an emotional connection to their English educations, it will not be meaningful for them; rather, it will be a forced change, an ordeal that diminishes their home language and even their past identity. Perhaps, instead of beginning the education of ELLs in this country with assessment after assessment after assessment, we should step back and focus on our shared humanity rather than our uncommon language.


  13. I also have several… concerns about the way students are evaluated as ELLs. I have a student whose family speaks only English at home, but his mother checked the wrong box on some form at some point and so he was required to be tested for English language proficiency. The problem was that this student is intellectually disabled and was thus unable to read, write, or speak at a level considered “proficient.” This student was legally required to be enrolled in ESL classes, even though he spoke no languages other than English. Thus, the reading’s discussion of the lack of appropriate evaluation for ELL students confirmed what I already suspected was a deeply flawed system.

    I also found the Li Wei’s discussion about code switching to be fascinating. Code-switching is SO important for ALL our students, not just ELLs. I never considered comparing the two before watching this video. I also liked that she addressed the way cultures are “essentialized.” I think this connects nicely to our conversations about cultural relevance. The “why didn’t you make the question about a bodega?” feedback was an example of what Li Wei describes: Essentializing what Hispanic people like or do.

    Cynthia: I appreciate your personal connection to the experience of learning a more “dominant” language without having your native language be affirmed. I feel totally guilty of perpetuating this phenomenon this past year. I’ve been working with a few other teachers to plan for next year to create weekly vocabulary assignments for our global history class. We decided to add a bonus point for students that tell us the Spanish word for each vocabulary term. My hope is that this small gesture will communicate a respect and valuing of students’ native language.


    • I must echo your statements Madeline, and perhaps elaborate on a couple of thoughts regarding ELL placements and how to best serve that portion of our school community. In Double the Work the author refers to several challenges that our schools and ELL community face going through the process. To name some, the author lists a lack of appropriate assessments, inadequate use of research0based instruction, lack of appropriate program options, and so on. While reading this I could not happen to think that these challenges are all reflected in my current school setting. Our ELL teacher left midway through the year in order to focus on another project she was working on outside of school. Since January our ELL population has been without an ELL teacher and has come to class to a different ATR substitute every month. These students are not receiving any of their needs and their needs haven’t had the appropriate prioritization that they should have. The students, knowing that they will have a substitute every day, end up cutting that class everyday. What is the purpose of having a regularly programed ELL class when the instruction is faulty, the assessments are faulty, the classification criteria is faulty, and so many other challenges exist?

      It is ridiculous, especially considering that ELL students DO have to do double the work and need to rise to the same standards that every other student is held to.


  14. I thought the “Double the Work” article laid out a compelling case for why ELL education must be improved so that it more effectively meets the needs of these students. It was pretty stunning to read that only 4% of these students were achieving proficiency, but at the same time there is no denying that there tremendous inherent challenges for ELL education. As the article points out, ELLs have extremely diverse needs and there are very few “one size fits all” approaches that actually work. In addition, the classes they enrolled literally require they do “double the work” and they are held to standards that even native speakers often have trouble with. Given these difficulties, I thought the article’s prescriptions were fairly pragmatic: improving initial ELL assessments, improving teacher wide training programs regarding ELL needs, increasing graduation flexibility under No Child Left Behind, and conducting further research. In many ways I believe many of these issues are connected with our outdated, inefficient, and disruptive immigration laws…and if we can pass immigration reform and get more immigrants out of the shadows, earning their path towards legal status, and assimilating into American culture, many of these associated issues may improve. I would be curious if anyone else had thoughts on this.

    In the Maria Torres Guzman video, I thought her discussion of the “Culture of Poverty” raised some thought provoking points. As Jasmine and others have pointed out, there can seem such a cyclical effect of poverty on educational outcomes, so that have every issue seems to have a relevant antecedent or cause (lack of money for books, lack of reading, lack of academic performance, etc.). At least for me, it can beg the question of which investments we should prioritize, given that there can seem to be a domino effect (and that so many of these issues seem to start in early childhood). It also begs the question of how public policy can best serve our educational system, in terms of social programs, welfare, and economic revitalization of depressed communities. These have been questions I have studied throughout college, but now that I have more personal experience with students in these circumstances and have seen the issues facing their educational experience, I want to revisit the literature and research with a new perspective.

    Lastly, I found Amy Tan’s breakdown of how the immigrant experience shaped her childhood and education to be insightful. These more personal explanations can be a powerful companion to more traditional research papers, as they can help us discern the human reality of these issues. Tan’s challenges with assimilation clearly fueled her creative energies, and educational policies in my mind must ensure we are recognizing ELL’s native cultures and giving them opportunities to reflect on their experience with assimilation…so they can consider the larger picture and have honest conversations about their challenges validated by others.


  15. Maria Torres-Guzman shares the evolution of bilingualism and multilingualism. I was aware of this evolution because of one of my classes I took in college. Nonetheless, it brought back my inquiry of which one is the best way to serve ELLs. Linguists are often going back and forward in their ideas of language instruction. Whether both languages should be taught at the same time, or one before the other, how worthy code switching is, etc. Even though I am considered to be fluent in both English and Spanish, depending on the circumstance, I will engage in a lot of code switching, not because I struggle with either language or I do not have enough vocabulary, but instead, because my thoughts are just continuously happening and during certain conversations I just want to get them out before translating them and inadvertently switching the meaning. This made me think of a quote by Gustavo Perez Firmat, “The fact that I am writing to you in English already falsifies what I wanted to tell you. My subject: how to explain to you that I don’t belong to English though I belong nowhere else.” I think that in the process of sticking to one language, we often change what we are trying to say. I struggled with the sense of belonging. I relate belonging to familiarity and I am familiar with Spanish. It is still the language I speak to my parents, regardless of their fluency in English. Yet, when you are constantly expressing yourself in your second language, it is difficult to see how you could “belong” anywhere else.

    As a former ELL student myself I came to the U.S. three months shy of being fourteen. I learned through immersion rather than having a bilingual class. “Sink or swim” style. I went to a large school, my class had 917 graduates, and only a very small percentage where ELL. Therefore, I was placed in classes where everyone spoke English, there was very little, if any, Spanish and I was able to succeed in learning English because I forced myself to try, to ask my friends (all of them native English speakers) to correct me when I mispronounced something, or when I used the wrong tense. I worked very hard but I also had friends who worked hard, were in the same school, and did not have the same results as I did. This brings me to my uncertainty regarding which method could be more helpful for students. I assimilated and took risks, but what if that is not in someone else’s nature? I suffered and was often rejected by my own culture because of how much I had assimilated into the main culture/language. It was not until college that I started realizing my dual identity and my absent sense of belonging. This is one of the major takeaways from “Double the Work.” In this article, challenges of learning a second language and learning other content through this second language become apparent. As mentioned by my own experienced, every learner is different; some will thrive in situations where others will struggle and vice versa. I think this is part of the reason why ELL instruction is so difficult and so variant. The reading also mentions the increasing amount of immigrants relocating to states where immigration was not common. Through all the confusion of which method is best and how to better serve students, these districts may already be at a disadvantage because of their lack of experience/staff working with ELLs.

    In Anna Kazumi Stahl’s video she speaks about her own experience with languages. While her family comes from different parts of the world, her native language is English. Even as she has no familial connection to Spanish, she prefers to write in Spanish because of the awareness she has of this language. She gives the example of “to kill time” vs. “hacer tiempo”, both address waiting for something but in English the word “kill” has a negative connotation, whereas “hacer” is to make something, automatically being positive. I lingered in this words because I have the same experience but with English and French. I am always wondering why phrases are worded a specific way in English and I am constantly bothering my friends about the whys or the origin of these phrases. I am not sure I ever realized that this does not happen to me in Spanish. I simply take it for what it is without much thought. I do often compare the differences and usually laugh at how unrelated some seen, but the basic experiences of thinking of every word being use, every meaning, and every metaphor you can create with these had scape my mind until now. She also speaks about the beauty of silence and how much can be expressed and observed through it.


  16. One of the six major challenges to improving adolescent ELL literacy is inadequate educator capacity. “Adolescent ELLs need” and of course deserve, “skillful teachers so they can develop literacy skills for each content area in their second languages as they simultaneously learn, comprehend, and apply content-area concepts through that second language. I definitely see this challenge in my own experience. At the beginning of the school year, all the 7th grade ELLs at my school were switched in to my ICT class. Both my co-teacher and I felt overwhelmed. The change was so sudden and we felt quite unprepared. According to the article, the solutions to this challenge involve training teachers, hiring literacy coaches, and efforts by administrators to make sure ESL and content teachers can collaborate. I see great value to these suggestions, but I am still unsure about how to bring about the change I wish to see in my own school and situation. I take responsibility for my ELLs’ learning but without other pieces in place, I do not know what to do. And with so many other needs to consider, from the SPED population to non-SPED students, the issues seem overwhelming. Is the first step to pursue professional development sessions on my own? Or to ask my admin to bring in some reinforcements? This does not even begin to approach the further challenges of trying to implement strategies once you have them in mind.

    After watching Maria Torres-Guzman’s talk and her focus on bilingualism one other piece I would ideally like to incorporate is a focus on empowering ELL students. We know that bilingualism in today’s day and age is a true skill, and our ELLs should be made to feel this way. Right know, the system disempowers them and the solutions seem to lie out of their control. But something I think I can do immediately in the classroom is highlight the pride these students should have for understanding multiple languages. Hopefully this will have positive impacts on their confidence in the classroom.


  17. One of the problems addressed in “Double the Work” is that it is extremely difficult to assess an ELL’s content knowledge when that student struggles with English literacy, since use of English literacy skills is—on most assessments—essential to demonstrating content knowledge. I think this problem is not just one of assessment, however. Although it may go without saying, it is also extremely difficult to teach content when students do not have English literacy skills. I have seen teachers address this problem in several ways. Several months ago, three new ELLs entered my school, all of whom had almost no knowledge of English. It was interesting to see how my two co-teachers responded to this situation. One of them—who doesn’t speak any Spanish—gives those students a reading passage each day which he has translated into Spanish using Google Translate. The students are expected to read the passage and answer a few comprehension questions. I have only seen my co-teacher attempt to speak to those students once; I have never seen him attempt to give them any direct instruction. He does not grade their work because he cannot read it; as long as they complete it, he gives them credit. I do not necessarily blame my co-teacher for this approach; I imagine he thinks this is the only thing he could do, since he doesn’t speak any Spanish and they don’t speak any Spanish. However, this approach is reflective of his mentality regarding his responsibility to these students. He seems to view himself only as a transmitter of knowledge of United States History. He does not attempt to help them develop English literacy skills or encourage them to engage in higher-order thinking; he only wants to make sure that they are exposed to content. Another one of my co-teachers, who does speak Spanish, teaches ELLs in Social Studies almost exclusively in Spanish. Although she does teach them directly, push their thinking, and give them feedback on their work, she also does not engage them in tasks designed to both expose them to content and push their English literacy skills.
    I think that both of these examples represent a tempting but ineffective model for teaching ELLs: teaching them in Spanish instead of teaching them English. There are two problems with this approach. First, many of the ELLs at my school do not have strong literacy skills in their first language, so in many cases teaching them content in Spanish does not actually allow them to engage with that content meaningfully. Second, although we can provide them with modifications that help them avoid the English language, English literacy is crucial to their future success. It is irresponsible of content teachers to assume that ELLs will learn English in their ESL class alone. We must engage their developing English literacy skills in all classes, even if that does cause them to struggle with content.
    I think the approach of my second co-teacher also raises an interesting question about the idea of a bilingual classroom. Instruction offered in two languages has obvious merits, many of which are discussed by Maria Torres-Guzmán. However, I have seen many students respond to bilingual instruction by ignoring what is presented in English and only focusing on what is presented in Spanish. As a result, many of our ELLs who have been students in the United States for 4-5 years still struggle with the basics of the English language. Because this seems like such a huge risk, how can we push ELLs to engage with both English and Spanish in a bilingual classroom?


  18. After watching Amy Tan, it brought back memories of my own experience as an ESL student; I used to read the dictionary every singe day after school because I really wanted to learn English as son as possible. In her documentary, Amy talks abut reading the thesaurus and seeing stories in words. I remember spending so much time on each word, mostly trying to get the pronunciation right before I understood the meaning, that I would lose track of time. I was in my own little world or words. I do not know any works from Amy but I could tell that she is a role model for many students that are learning a new language. Learning a new language is extremely difficult, especially if the student has started to acquire a new language past his/her developmental critical period. Many of my students that are getting out of the adolescence phase, struggle tremendously with the acquisition of English. I also think that the lack of diversity at our school and Spanish being one of the two dominating languages affect our students in that they do not feel compelled to speak in English because all of their friends speak Spanish. When I was in high school, half of my table members spoke mandarin and I had to speak in English to communicate.

    My high school experience in acquiring a new language is reflected on Maria Torres-Guzman’s argument, being in a bilingual setting, students can use their native language as a tool to learn a new language. It is also known that students have to have solid basic native literacy skills to facilitate the transition from native language into English. Sadly, many of my kids are SIFE and I am wondering how I could help them best since many of them are way past their critical period. This brings another issue. Many of the SIFE students are automatically lumped with students with disabilities. Now, I understand that there might be some kind of “benefit” by doing so but this should not happen. If the state is so ready to throw so many standardized tests to both students and educators, it should also be ready to provide better academic settings, help, and training to help everyone accomplish the academic goals required by the tests. It is just a big mess and I get frustrated knowing that I am working within a system that does not recognize its flaws, yet is expecting educators to fix the education system.


  19. Listening to Amy Tan’s talk brings back many of my own childhood memories. The way her parents raised her and how she never thought of other options except for the ones given by her parents really resonates with me. For as long as I could remember, my mother always told me that I would become a lawyer when I grow up and I would do this and that, and for a very long time, I believed that what she said would be my future. I never learned to make choices for myself because I always listened to my mother — until I came to America. Being truly independent for the first time and actually making decisions on my own was terrifying but liberating at the same time. The first time my mom and I had a disagreement was when I was choosing which college to attend. She wanted me to go to the one with a more recognizable name/reputation so she could tell her friends in Taiwan about it, but I was very set on accepting the offer from this small liberal arts college in Walla Walla, WA. Eventually, she thought about it and backed down. The second time was when I declared to be a classics major. She wanted me to do the 3-2 program my college has with Columbia University, but I was not sold. I talked to my dad, and my dad talked to my mom. She gave in again. And then she learned to let go, and I learned to be an individual.

    “Double The Work” also felt like the story of my life. The issues they hit are exactly what my struggles were when I first came to the states. I was surprised, however, at the scary statistics of ELLs not completing their high school education. Also, I think it is absolutely unacceptible that “only 4% of eighth-grade ELLs and 20% of students classified as ‘formerly ELL’ scored at the proficient or advanced levels on the reading portion…” You would think that when one is classified as “formerly” ELL that means they are operating at the same or almost the same level of fluency/proficiency as native speaker students, but unfortuately, that is often not the case. I also think that the assessment for determining their status needs to be more transparent. I have two Chinese students who are both very bright, one is ELL and one is “formerly ELL.” The student classified as ELL, however, actually has far superior literacy and communication skills than the student who is a “foremerly ELL,” and I am confused by how that status is determined.

    I cannot say that I was successful in utilizing my own experiences to help my ELL students. I have one “true” ELL student who came from DR in January and literally did not know a single word of English. (Trust me, I tried so many phrases such as “sorry” or “okay” and he just stared at me looking confused.) His experience is very different from mine because I at least learned some vocabulary and grammar in my home country, but he knew nothing. I later learned that he has a learning disability and his reading level in Spanish is low as well. When I saw the statistics about how likely ELLs are to drop out of high school, I thought of him immediately. Right now, he’s very diligent and he always tries. My co-teacher also knows Spanish so she is helpful with giving instructions. The most worrying part is that he has so many struggles and apparently his has not made much progress with English since he came here. (I learned this information from the ESL teacher.) I just hope that he will encounter a skilled and effective language teacher who knows how to meet his needs and help him catch up and excel on academics and life in America


  20. I really enjoyed watching “The Big Read: Amy Ten.” I have watched the film adaptation of The Joy Luck Club a number of times. It was refreshing to hear Amy speak of her experience being the daughter of immigrant parents as well as the complexity of her relationship with her mother. I can connect with both themes as I am a product of immigrant parents as well. I felt a connection when she spoke of not being taught her native language as a child. This resonated with me. My parents separated while I was very young leaving me in the primary care of my mother. My mother came to this country from West Africa to live with an aunt at the age of 17. In an attempt to assimilate she shed many of her cultural markers including the little native dialect she knew. My father says I was stubborn and refused to learn his native language so he let me be. It saddens me that I do not have that connection to my culture and that I will not be able to pass this on to my children.
    I love how Amy’s stories can be applied to a vast majority of life experiences of people from a variety of different cultures. In the video she says, “When you read about the life of another person, you are part of their life for that moment.” This is so vital, especially today, when we have so much misunderstanding across cultures and even within our own communities. As an adolescent I loved reading fictional biographies as I felt I took a piece of the characters with me upon completion of each story. Learning of the life experiences of others did something for me. It adjusted my perspective and outlook on my own life. Reading is so powerful. It can provide refuge, hope and optimism among a plethora of other things.
    I often hear my students lament over how much they hate reading and it is so disheartening. As their Math teacher I question how and when I can aid in shifting this perspective.


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