Please Vote for My Idea: Writing Across the Curriculum for ELLs with Disabilities

Update: Thank you for your votes! Voting is now closed, and my idea ranked #1! I am looking forward to the Boston Teach to Lead Summit in February, and I hope to see some of you there!

Dear Readers: Teach to Lead is holding a Teacher Leadership Summit in Boston in early February. I have submitted an idea titled “Writing Across the Curriculum for ELLs with Disabilities“. The text of the idea is below. I would like you to please take a moment to create a profile, log in, and vote if you like my idea! You can click here to view my submission and vote. Again, thank you so much for supporting English Language Learners with Disabilities! Happy New Year, Jennifer Dines Logo

Writing Across the Curriculum for ELLs with Disabilities

The Boston Public Schools has a significant population of English Language Learners with Disabilities (ELLSWD). ELLSWD often face a significant challenge in producing writing in all areas of the curriculum. Yet, the ability to write is essential for both functional literacy as well as college preparation. Additionally, the ability to write enhances the experience of learning as it offers the opportunity to create sophisticated records of thoughts and ideas. For this project, teachers across the district will explore the strengths of and challenges for ELLSWD in creating quality writing, and they will research and implement best practices to enhance their abilities in teaching written expression. Educators will begin by reflecting upon their experiences in working with students of all ability levels in writing. Educators will then create a list of questions specific to ELLSWD, and they will investigate those questions in their classrooms. Students will benefit from being better able to explain their thinking in writing by creating and reflecting upon permanent records of their learning, allowing teachers to better assess student cognition. Teachers will publish their findings and reflections on a public blog or website, so that educators around the world may access the findings of the work.

My Awesome Bilingual Syllabus

I just spent quite a bit of time on my syllabus for the ESL class that I will be teaching this year. I am quite proud of this achievement as this is the first year in my seven years of teaching that I have created a fully bilingual syllabus with images as well as with space for parent and student two-way communication (as recommended by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards).  Although my Spanish is not cien por ciento perfecto, I think it does get the message across to my families. Please feel to download and modify the bilingual syllabus and parent form as you wish!

The Materials Section of My Syllabus: Simple and Scaffolded with Images

The Materials Section of My Syllabus: Simple and Scaffolded with Images

From English Language Learners to Cross-Cultural Scholars: Perception, Practice, and Policy

Please click to download my latest presentation: From English Language Learners to Cross-Cultural Scholars: Perception, Practice, and Policy. I will be presenting this tonight as a guest lecturer in a course for graduate students in reading and speech/language pathology at the MGH Institute of Health Professions.It contains an outline of practices for teachers of English Language Learners based on the National Board Standards, and it also provides a very brief overview of the SIOP model.

Presentation

The front page of my latest presentation.

Letters to Malala Yousafzai

A group of my seventh and eighth grade intermediate ESL students  felt shocked and outraged after reading an article about the Taliban’s attack on 14-year-old award-winning activist, writer, and student Malala Yousafzai. They decided to write her letters in order to wish her a speedy recovery and to ask questions and express their feelings.

Quddus’s Letter to Malala: “I felt sorrow, I was weeping for your recovery.”

Diligence’s Letter to Malala: Human Rights

 

Muslim student Nadira felt compelled to explain the differences between her understandings of Islam and the images conveyed by the Taliban via the media. 

page 2 of Nadira’s letter

Angely’s Letter, page 1

Angely’s Letter, page 2: asking questions about regret

Mariah’s Letter to Malala: I think the Taliban should suffer.

Angel’s Letter: “You are like the second governor.”

Change Agent: Aminata Keita, Stunningly Accented Teen Poet

As Aminata Keita performs her poetry slam version of her original poem “My Accent”, published in her 2012 book Struggles of a Dreamer, a tear wells up in my eye, cleverly disguised behind my thick black sunglasses. I can remember Aminata’s first days in my 5th grade classroom in the fall of 2007, when, as a student new to the United States, she felt extremely frustrated by the combination of her acute intelligence and her lack of English.

Aminata recalls: “I should have been in the 8th grade, and when I had to go to 5th grade, I was really upset. It was a frustrating time, but I’ve learned to control my temper.” Changing grades wasn’t the only struggle that Aminata faced that year. In immigrating to the United States in order to learn English and improve her educational opportunities, Aminata left behind her mother, friends, and family in her native Guinea-Conakry.

Aminata (right, center in brown and pink jacket) and her 5th grade classmates on the first day of snow in December of 2007.

Now, at age 15, Aminata is the author of two volumes of poetry: Sentences of the Heart and Struggles of a Dreamer, both published by Books of Hope.  Sentences of the Heart is currently out-of-print, as its first edition sold all 100 of its copies. “My sister and I would hustle people at [Somerville High School] soccer games. We would tell them it was a really good book and worth the $12,” explains Aminata as she signs the copy of Struggles of a Dreamer on a late August Sunday inside Davis Square’s Diesel Café.

Aminata signs her latest collection of published poems at the Diesel Café in Somerville.

As we head back to Aminata’s home in Somerville’s Mystic Project, she tells me about the education and the opportunities that Books of Hope has provided for her. When Aminata attends her Books of Hope sessions in the Mystic Project Community Center on Mondays and Wednesdays, the instructors present the students with a social justice topic, such as homelessness or World AIDS Day, for discussion. Then, the students participate in writing exercises, “to get your mind moving”. Finally, the students create performances to present to one another. These in-class performances have led to the formation of a slam poetry team that includes Aminata and other Books of Hope students. The team has performed in Somerville and Boston as well as in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York City, including a stint at the Harlem Book Fair.

Aminata and her fifth grade teacher Mrs. Dines pose inside of the Mystic Project Community Center, where Aminata attends Books of Hope writing workshop sessions.

Aminata attributes much of her successes with writing and performing to the dedication of Books of Hope Director Soul Brown. “It’s in the way she helps me and the other kids,” Aminata says,”She gives us hope at becoming authors. She treats us like her own children.”

When asked how an immigrant student can become a published author, Aminata offers the following advice: “Stay focused. Life is what you make it. Try to do something positive. With no knowledge, you’re probably nothing unless you plan on working at Dunkin’ Donuts or Stop n Shop.”

Aminata (center) poses with her book and her family: her brother (left) and her cousin (right).

Perhaps Aminata’s shift from frustrated English Language Learner to confident and serious student can best be understood in her poem “I Used To” from Struggles of a Dreamer.

I Used To

by Aminata Keita

I used to 

Love dating

Love eating

those amazing steak & cheeses

Hate myself

Hate him

Love to party

Love going out

Like music

Love skating

Liked trying to fit in

Love flirting

Love cookies

Hate people who are trying to save me from myself

Like sleeping while teachers’ are explaining

Until one day I woke up and

Realized 10 years from now,

Those characteristics are not going

To be paying my bills

But my knowledge and habits will…

The Perfect Place for Me: Cabarete Language Institute

Back in March, in the midst of state testing and a flurry of IEP meetings, I was online one night, and I found a $500 plane ticket to travel to the Dominican Republic, where I volunteered for three summers, for three weeks in August. I had neither arranged a place to stay nor did I have any plans of what I would do there, but I decided to buy the ticket anyway.

Myself, Elena, and Nataly (my classmate) outside of CLI on my final day there.

But how would I spend my time? Yes, I can visit friends and former students, but what else? I know myself, and I need to have some sort of schedule. Aha! I can study Spanish at Cabarete Language Institute. I had heard great things about the school from a friend who had studied there, but I had my doubts that I could succeed in a Spanish class. I learned Spanish as an adult from my Dominican and Puerto Rican students in Boston and from living and working in Cabarete for three summers. My Spanish was a teacher’s Spanish and a Spanish from the streets. I could communicate basic information about school events and meetings to my students’ families, even on the phone. But, there are still hiccups, gaps, and stops once the context changed or the ideas became more complex. I had taken Spanish in high school, and that’s how I learned the basics. I had tried a popular course at a local adult education center, but I dropped out because I felt uninspired. I received a scholarship to attend an evening program at a prominent Ivy League university, and the teacher bored me. Although my two weeks at Cabarete Language Institute did not make me a perfect Spanish speaker, they did instill my faith that I was capable of refining my Spanish in a classroom setting. I found that, for myself as a learner, Cabarete Language Institute provided the perfect place for me.

Spanish Immersion
When I entered Cabarete Language Institute for the very first time, Rosa, a cheerful and enthusiastic intern from Venezuela, greeted me in Spanish. I took classes from 10 am – 1 pm each day, and for that time, except for a few clarifications in English, I heard, spoke, read, and wrote in Spanish and Spanish only. Even during our charlar con café coffee breaks, we spoke in Spanish and we were provided with feedback from our fantastic teacher…

From L to R: Elena, Nataly, Me, Al (another student), Rosa, Jessica

Elena
Elena is a teacher’s teacher. As a teacher myself, I judge other teacher’s strongly, and Elena exceeded all of my expectations. First of all, Elena knew her content. Elena is a native Spanish speaker from Spain who has lived in the Dominican Republic for a little under two years. Elena knows her Spanish backwards and forwards, and she even studied philology (which I learned is the history and structure of languages). Elena makes the students feel so welcome and comfortable in her classes – she asks lots of questions, and she is interested in learning about her students. She sets clear goals and she provided us with interesting classwork assignments, such as listening to and dictating lyrics, creating shared narratives using various verb structures, and discussing personal experiences, and homework tasks – such as constructing questions based on common interests and writing summaries of a wordless film. Elena provides consistent feedback and corrections in a way that supports students in their language learning without making us feel stupid or overwhelmed.

Elena (center) in action: a dynamic and professional teacher.

A Welcoming Atmosphere
Jessica, the director of Cabarete Language Institute, was prompt in responding to any communication over e-mail before the class started. When I arrived at Cabarete Language Institute on the very first day, I noticed that the chalkboard in the lobby read ¡Bienvenidos Jenny! The lobby also contained a library of books in a variety of languages, which is a treasure in Cabarete where there are no book stores and a few extremely tiny library collections here and there in shops and non-profits. For me, personally, a particular highlight was the free coffee, milk, and sugar provided by Cabarete Language Institute. I am a shameless lover of coffee, so it suited me perfectly! The classrooms are comfortable and airy, and the teachers and staff are hospitable, professional, and able to answer any questions about Cabarete.

Welcome sign and library in the lobby.

I wish I could spend a whole year at Cabarete Language Institute. Between the wonderful atmosphere, classmates, teachers, and students, it is the perfect place for me. It would benefit my Spanish incredibly to work with a talented and experienced teacher like Elena, and I love the enthusiastic, warm, and caring atmosphere of the school. Although I am now back to my reality in the United States, I am fortunate that Elena and Cabarete Language Institute provided me with the confidence to continue my pursuit of “perfect” or at least “progressive” Spanish.

Pearl Teaches Us The Parts of an Informal Letter

Pearl wrote a thank you letter to her grandmother who lives in Massachusetts. In this video, she explains the five components of an informal letter, and then she reads her letter.