I am taking a break from writing as I write this post. The irony on that opening statement is not lost on me. I have been in my office most of the day today, writing, but saying nothing. Does anyone else have that feeling? You know the one I mean, the words that fly around in your head, the ideas that race in and around the mind that are too fleeting to put to the keyboard. And when you go to type them, they mix all over the page, you have opened 4 tabs, and nothing is making sense? So you shut the screen and read other peoples writing, then read some more. Trying to build some confidence, looking for mentors out there somewhere. But at the end of the day, as every writer knows, the words eventually have to come from you, and no where else.
I go back to the blank digital page, and I stare at it. I open my new computer,(yes, after almost losing all my doctoral work on my other one, I knew it was time). and I try something new. I transfer all the documents from one computer to another, and they then become a jumbled mess, kind of like my mind at the moment. I almost think it would be better to have lost all the words, because the ones I have are kind of shit anyway. I panic, then breathe because after all they are all saved in google drive, and at some point I will be able to find them again. And if I can’t, they may never would have been necessary in the first place. So I go back to writing.
But the screen just mocks me, with a big blank page.
I keep waiting for the magic fairy dust, or at least some bolt of lightning that will strike and say, “yes my writer, this is where it begins.” But no, that isn’t happening. Instead, here I am in the comfort of my blog just posting this random rant to try to get the fingers moving again. I am going to post this too, fearlessly post this. I wish I could say the same of my doctoral work. I am frozen in fear in that realm. I think I am so busy trying to fit into that mold that I have lost my purpose. I’m just not sure where my voice fits in that world. There are APA’s, and citations and bears, oh my… but I digress.
So my daughter called me in the middle of this rant. She said, “Why don’t you just write? Write what you know to be true. Worry about the format later, it will come. Write down anything, that’s what you tell me.” (Don’t you hate it when your kids reteach you a lesson you shared with them?) So here it goes Alicia, the top 10 things I want people to understand from my work, a draft list.
If I were to write a book on my work with Long Term English Learners, here is what I want people to know. We as educators have done a disservice to our English Language Learners, particularly those students who have been part of our educational system for over five years, yet remained trapped on a remedial track due to their slow English Language Development. We have not done this intentionally mind you, but I am here to say, I’m sorry, and I am working very hard to fix it.
To my own students, the reality is many of you still sit on our designated english learner classes, many times in programs that continually see you as a problem to be solved rather than an asset to be harnessed. We tend to focus on remediation rather than acceleration, silencing student voices rather than using technology to enhance your academic language skills. Rather than facing our own limitations or assumptions, we tend to point outward, to conditions beyond our sphere of influence. Although education today faces many challenges beyond our control, this needs to stop.
Here are core beliefs, or simply put, what I know to be true. In taking a play book from Kelly Gallagher, from Write Like This, here are 10 core beliefs about the teaching of English Learners.
Core Belief 1: I believe that our second language learners come from a place of strength. If we can harness their language skills and promote their academic language, they will be successful lifelong learners and able to contribute to our global economy and conversation with their dual voice, both in English and their home language. It is our job to do so.
Core Belief 2: Long Term English Language Learners have diverse needs. Just like every student, we need to meet them where they are and move them forward. If a student has been in our school system for over five years, and their academic growth has stagnated, we have an obligation to look at that students with a new lens. Ask critical questions, assess in a variety of ways, and look for new structures to support those students. It is unacceptable to chalk it up to lack of motivation or effort, there is something more, much more.
Core Belief 3: Student choice inspires student voice. Students should be immersed in rich, academic language and experiences that mirror what is going on in the world around them. Relevancy and rigor, balanced with structure and instruction. It is not enough for these students to float around in the English language and hope “they get it”. We have to take the time to analyze the language we use to support their learning, and be explicit, but not dogmatic in that approach.
Core Belief 4: Teachers should structure and scaffold their lessons to help English Learners gain the vocabulary necessary to fully participate in academic discourse. That means we must think through our lessons, what do students need to know and be able to do to understand this content? What can we do to allow all our students access to the higher level content in the lesson?
Core Belief #5 Technology is a powerful tool, use it wisely. If all we do with our technology is plug our students into a glorified, digitized worksheet with a few bells and whistles, we will see no progress. Students must not only be consumers of media, they must be producers of media. Our English learners need more time and more structure interacting on line, with spaces to demonstrate their understanding using words, images, and voice.
Core Belief #6 Harnessing student experience, language and knowledge plays a large role in the academic proficiency of our students. Students need to see themselves in our schools and our curriculum. They should feel respected in the classroom, and one way to do that is to provide materials and opportunities for students to read and write about themselves, their world, and issues that matter to them.
Core Belief #7 Teachers should talk less so our students speak more. Many of our students, particularly in secondary education go from class to class without uttering a single academic phrase. Providing things like sentence starters and group discussion protocols are meant to empower our learners to compete and speak using higher academic language, we need to use them regularly, rather than simply saying, “Let’s chat.”
Core Belief #8 Teachers should be explicit in their modeling of thinking about their thinking. Our students want to learn, they want to be successful. They need to be shown explicitly what that looks like.
Core Belief #9 Students need more time to read and write. Period.
Core Belief #10 All teachers are language teachers. Students need both integrated language development opportunities, and designated language opportunities to be successful in this thing called school. It is up to each of us to create learning opportunities and support to ensure the success for all our kids.
So there you have it my friends, an outline of my thinking. I would love some feedback since I literally just poured this onto the page just now. Hmm… now back to that doctoral outline, I think there are some things I can use here. Thanks Alicia, you were just what this struggling writer needed this afternoon.