Reality Over Rhetoric! ELL & the Year Ahead

English Language Learners

A few days after the November election, I had a meeting with Angie Estonina and Lisa Kwong, two talented educators who lead professional learning efforts on ELLs for San Francisco Unified School District.

With our webcams on, the mood was a bit somber — the election talk of deportations, walls, and targeted registries hung in the air as the rhetoric suddenly became more real. In fact, it felt a bit suffocating. In education, we all have days when we feel weighed down by how much needs to be done and by our professional and personal puzzles, but the unknowns of impending political shift pushed on us from the sides, making us feel the squeeze of change.

I even started wondering if an upcoming presentation I was about to do in Canada on ELLs with school districts from Ontario/Montclair, California, and Yakima, Washington, was even relevant. In retrospect, it was incredibly sad to even think this. But this was my state of mind. It was easy to go there when the personal and professional intersects — my nine-year-old son who is of half Mexican descent asked if he was going to be deported. This was not a question I had at nine years old.

What’s Your Why?

As Angie, Lisa, and I sat and pondered events and how it might impact us and the kids we serve both directly and indirectly, I went back to a question Angie posed when we first met a few months back. “What’s your why?”

It’s a simple question, but it holds a lot of gravitas. And when I revisited that question and began thinking aloud, I realized it doesn’t really matter what the rhetoric is. We know what reality is.

Teachers tackle the reality of society every day — despite the yammering that swirls around them in the news and on Facebook. This is what we do in education. We work in the reality of the communities in which we serve. We move forward, and we figure it out even in the hardest times — even when those who supposedly know better have no idea what they’re doing because they don’t live on the ground.

And in that reality, you come to realize that teaching is a political act. Some teacher education programs address this, but many teachers forget about it during their daily grind. We may not all think about it all the time, but our profession is inherently political no matter where you are on the political spectrum, or how “agnostic” you try to make yourself.

It is a political statement to stand by and with youth and advocate for them. It is a political statement to believe that kids — regardless of background — deserve the best educational experience we can offer. It is a political statement that we believe society can get better through education. These are more than platitudes for us. This is our reality. We may differ in our approach to teaching, and even argue furiously to defend and promote our approach, but our common purpose is to educate and to make kids, whoever they are, feel safe to learn.

So here we are moving forward with 2017! Let’s kick it into high gear, in support of our students — wherever they come from — to the best of our ability.

In that spirit, we at Teaching Channel and Tch Teams commit to further supporting ELL instructional practices. More videos of classrooms across the U.S. that are serving ELL students well will be released thanks to our excellent staff with the expert support of Sarah Ottow of Confianza.

Here is what I have to offer.

Tch Teams Spotlight!

In this vodcast, Translating PLC Practices: Inquires into ELL Instructional Strategies, we hear about the successes and challenges of implementation from Jenn Clark of Ontario/Montclair School District and Jodi Hufendick, formerly of Yakima School District. The two districts took very different approaches to ELL professional learning. Much can be learned from both.

Video Playlist: 5 Essential Practices in the Elementary ELL Classroom

In this new series, in partnership with San Francisco Unified School District, we step inside classrooms where teachers are using strategies to engage and support all learners, especially their English Language Learners (ELLs). In Part One of the series, we visit two elementary classrooms to see how teachers use the district’s recommended 5 essential practices to teach their students during designated English Language Development (ELD) time, as well as to integrate ELD into content. For more information on these practices, read Lisa Kwong’s blog post about the district’s ELL work. And stay tuned for Part 2 of the series, which will feature two high school classrooms.

Reaching Out: Resources from Others

For talking and guiding ELL students and staff through their post election feelings, Colorin Colorado released some useful resources for classroom discussions.

Graham Dixon of The Busy Teacher offers some helpful hints on how to explain the election and the electoral process to ELL students in “Democracy in Action? How to Help ESL Students Understand the 2016 Election,” as well as this post on powerful discussion topics to engage ELL students in academic conversations.

Edutopia offers this curated list of resources for teaching English language learners that explores strategies to engage ELLs in literacy instruction, technology, the arts, and more.

Erica Hilliker, an ESL teacher at Forest Hills Public Schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) trainer, created this EL and SIOP Toolbox packed with valuable resources.

10 Ways to Support English Language Learning With The New York Times” by Holly Epstein Ojalvo is a great resource that highlights ideas for using The New York Times as an accessible and rewarding text for teaching and learning the English language.

50 Incredibly Useful Links for Learning & Teaching the English Language” by TeachThought is a curated list of websites, advice, and organizations designed to support the ELL educator.

Strategies and Resources for Supporting English-Language Learners” by Todd Finley of Edutopia offers a great mix of ideas and resources to help you support ELLs.

everythingESL – a blog about teaching English Language Learners is a space created by veteran ESL teacher and author Judie Haynes. Haynes writes about “the challenges of teaching ELLs in the general education, ESL, and bilingual classrooms.” One particularly useful resource from this blog, “Seven Strategies for Classroom Teachers of ELLs,” describes comprehensible input, visual lessons, linking knowledge to previous learning, making testing and homework modifications, and more.

Paul stumbled into education 20 years ago when he was asked to direct a one-act play and coach the Knowledge Bowl team in his northern Minnesota home town. Since then, he’s worked in all levels of education, from teaching 9th/10th grade and college English, to coordinating post-doctoral programs, to directing K-8 after school technology programs throughout south Seattle. He now works for Teaching Channel Teams as an Engagement Manager, helping states, districts, and schools launch and sustain professional learning on Teams.

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