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Nepalis on my mind…

img_995920rations20distribution20wfpThe last couple of days while I’ve been walking my dog, I’ve been listening to some NPR.

Lately, the Syrians have been in the news. We are all waiting with bated breath to see whether the new administration will let the scheduled resettlements continue, even as they threaten “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. We have no choice… we have no choice.

But in the past couple of days, I’ve listened to two stories from Beldangi 2, a refugee camp in Nepal. It focuses on Teacher Day, which is really in the fall, but the reason the stories are coming now is because the camps are scheduled to close.

There was a deadline in November for people to apply to leave:

The Bhutanese refugees were given until Nov. 15 of this year to apply to go abroad. By the end of the year, UNHCR will stop forwarding applications for resettlement.

The reporter says there are predictions of 10,000 people who will be left behind in the end. Most of my students are from this camp. Most were born there. I wonder how many of their relatives or neighbors will be among those left behind?

When things wind down in a camp, it causes a little havoc; this PRI story profiles a woman who is teaching math, even though she is not a math teacher. For her $7 a month, she studies at home so she can bring the knowledge back to her students. Those with the most education leave camps first. Those left now, according to a Nepali friend I was talking to last year, are there because they are old and sick and don’t want to leave or there is an issue with intermarrying which hangs up paperwork.

The stories this reporter tells are heart-rending. How do you leave when a parent says that they will not make a change to a new language and climate? They don’t want to leave truly everything they ever knew behind. At least when these refugees moved from Bhutan to Nepal, the language and climate stayed the same. But leaving to the United States is something completely different.

One story is of a man who is refusing to go, whose family has been waiting to apply, hoping he’d change his mind, but to no avail. He knows that his illiteracy, age and lack of marketable skills will hold him back. But staying also is not a great option. Nepal does not allow integration at this point, although UNHCR is working with both Nepal and Bhutan to try to come to an equitable solution.

What happens to the children when the camps close? Will they be allowed to matriculate into Nepali schools? What happens to health care? What happens to those who are old or sick? Addicted to alcohol or drugs?

The high rate of suicides in the camps are well-documented. As the camps empty out in this last push, as rations are cut and friends, neighbors and family leave, will those numbers jump even higher?

For men, stressors related to employment and providing for their families were related to feeling burdensome and/or alienated from family and friends, whereas for women, stressors such as illiteracy, family conflict, and being separated from family members were more associated.

It’s difficult to forecast positive change for these stressors that were documented among former refugees resettled in the United States. They surely will intensify for those left in the camps.

I see more and more uneducated families settling here. And it takes a lot of hutzpah to tackle those huge barriers when one loses everything one knows.

What has life been like for these people for the past quarter century, having lost everything they had in Bhutan: land, property, stability, jobs, and a sense of home? They will most assuredly lose all these things again, or any semblance they had of “home”, by coming to the United States. These families may gain indoor plumbing and free education for their children, but what kind of jobs await illiterate adults who don’t speak English? And yet the bills continue to mount. They must repay their travel expenses. A person has to eat.

Even more difficult to imagine is how my students, who grew up in the tropics, in a place where elephants knocking down your house was part of reality, are coping with suddenly living in snow. It may not seem like much, but it’s huge going from wearing shorts and flip-flops every day to dressing for the cold. My high schoolers fight wearing hats (they mess up their hair) and gloves (they get in the way and are itchy); the little ones try to slip in line without putting on snow pants to keep them warm on the icy playground. And in a state where the windchill has been known to slip into dangerous territory more than a few times in an average winter, the battle never ends.

So I open 2017 with my eye on trying to stand in another’s shoes. It’s only by doing the research that teachers can have a tiny inkling of where students came from and maybe glean an idea of where to go from here.

One of the best stories I found was one from a couple of years ago from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Video, photos and stories make this a powerful place to start: http://newsinteractive.post-gazette.com/longform/stories/refugees/   I encourage everyone to take even a passing glance at this, just to imagine where your new students and neighbors come from.

And this travelogue from 2015 gives an unflinching look at attitudes prevailing in the camp at that time.

And thanks for listening.

 

 

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Finally, Guidance for ELLs and CCSS

It’s about time.

I’m reading a book co-authored by one of my favorite bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo. He chronicles tons of resources for all levels of English . (The most recent entry has to do with Ramadan, which begins Monday.)

And I say, “It’s about time,” because so much of what is in the Common Core State Standards is just unreachable for high school students who immigrate come to the United States. With this resource, I can see some light.

Don’t get me wrong… others have been focusing on how to meet CCSS standards, Like Kenji Hakuta through Understanding Language. There are some really nice things out there.

But I’ve never really thought they’ve spoken to me.

I teach mostly very recent immigrants who belong to the refugee community. Many of them are Students with Limited or Interrupted Schooling (SLIFE, or in some states, SIFE).

And when I read in the CCSS that you should not pre-teach vocabulary, I just kind of wonder how students with limited to no background knowledge about the United States or its history could potentially understand without some frontloading of vocabulary and concepts…

Just last week, I read a book with student that had to do with the automobile. It was a fiction book from the point of view of a young boy whose father was the first in his town to get a horseless carriage.

Now I ask you, how is a third-grader who spent most of his short life in a refugee camp in Nepal supposed to understand anything about that? He read the piece nearly flawlessly, but he had no concept of what an automobile was (had the piece said “car,” he’d have been able to get by just fine) or insight into U.S. history and our particular national affinity with horses and the idealized image of cowboys on the range.

I don’t know that in the Nepali refugee camps that there was much talk about cars. I imagine not many people owned or had access to cars, much less thought about how they affected horses and changed the way of life for millions of people.

So what Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski are doing is being CCSS interpreters. I had, for example, never heard that the CCSS writers had “dialed back” the emphasis on not preteaching vocabulary, but rather gleaning meaning from context.

And they seem to “get” where I’m coming from. If a student comes to me in 9th grade with very low literacy skills in any language, I can’t see the goal of “college and career ready,” the mantra of the CCSS movement.

We are all for having our students be “college and career ready,” but we’re not sure that the socioeconomic infrastructure is there yet to support student, teachers, and schools in meeting the Common Core standard’s definition of that state of readiness (p8).

Yep.

So the setup of most chapters is actually quite predictable, and therefore quite digestible for the average teacher. I don’t know about you, but I tend to skim rather than read deeply, which is what we are supposed to be teaching our students. Because the format’s always the same, I know I can go back and read the information that I know I didn’t absorb before.

First, they give an overview of the CCSS and then “Creating the Conditions for English Language Learners to Be Successful in the Common Core Standards.”

That’s what I’ve been looking for all along. How do I take a student who is not literate in any language in 9th grade and get them to think deeply in a topic in English? These authors get this. This chapter focuses on socio-emotional skills that students need to learn to really play the game of student well, such as goal-setting, meta-cognitive thinking, and asking questions, to name a few. Each of these has lessons and resources to teach these across the continuum of English Language Development.

They split the rest of the book up by domains (reading, writing, speaking/listening) and then go into Language, another focus of the CCSS, as well as content areas, presented by others who know more about it: Math, Social Studies and Science.

Each of the chapters starts with the Anchor Standards, the ones considered to be the most important for all teachers to focus on to help students reach that college and career-ready standard. And then it gives explanations, what it means in the classroom, tech tools, example lessons and tons of resources.

The lessons are well scripted and innovative, beyond the regular stuff.

This book serves a guide to help teachers navigate this course with a special eye on those learners who need that extra support and need to learn how to do it without the scaffolding. And it’s a guide that we’ve needed for a long time.

Some states do a great job making sure all teachers are aware of the CCSS and how it should be affecting our teaching and students’ learning, but here in Vermont, I feel like teachers think this is just the next fad. I heard from the beginning that people thought our Vermont State Standards were so much more rigorous than the Common Core. “Take these rocks from this place and restack them over there.” Just another lens through which we do what we’ve always been doing.

But still, I have to wonder who is holding our feet to the fire. And if we were so much better than the Common Core, why were students still falling through the cracks? Especially the New American students that we expect to conform without really adjusting our teaching?

Teaching is more than standards. And I’m grateful to hear from people who have been in my shoes how I can help hone my practice so I can be a better teacher than I was yesterday, meeting the needs of those kiddos in front of me.

At the end of the year, I always find myself getting very excited about next year. Clean slate and all. And I know this book will help me think about it more deeply.

 

Current Events Made Easy (not to mention CHEAP)

I’ve been trying to determine how to get my reluctant students to read.Replica-Edition-Monitor_240x230

They are all intermediate, all at-risk, all just a few bad days away from walking away from school altogether.

So how can I make life relevant? By making the reading real.

The New York Times and USAToday both offer free electronic issues to classrooms, and they are still accepting applications for this school year.

Maybe this is just the thing you were looking for…

WHY IS NOBODY PAYING ATTENTION TO SLIFE??!!!

alphabet-379221_640So, @TESOL15 today in Toronto.

My local public librarian is emailing me, asking for support to find books for a new initiative that our district’s after-school program is putting together: Parent University. It’s literacy support for New Americans. Most of the parents are Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education, or SLIFE. New term. Old concept. But really a hot topic right now in the world of TESOL.

The librarian wants to find out what publishers could accommodate low level ELL parents. She wants kindergarten-level readers with grown-up themes.

Easy, right? There’s lots of possible topics.

Think about all the things you face when you come to a new community:

  • getting a job,
  • sending kids to school,
  • renting an apartment,
  • dealing with police,
  • buying stuff that is too expensive,
  • not understanding other people
  • going out to have fun
  • noisy neighbors

Gosh. The list could go on and on. Could you say this in simple sentences with one sentence per page? That’s really what a Level D text looks like in Fountas and Pinnell, the leveling system Burlington School District uses for elementary texts.

But, sadly, there’s not much to be had, according to the publishers. One saleswoman actually told me I really needed to be attending a special ed conference to find that. 😦  Small percentage of the population. Specialized.

But it’s really not so small or specialized anymore. Most of the parents we’ve been interviewing this year have little to no formal education. That qualifies them as SLIFE. There are entire sessions devoted to teaching content to SLIFErs. Just look at the research.

Here are the resources I sent to my local librarian. If you have more, please please please let me know:

ONLINE:

http://www.ergo-on.ca/ (has printable readers and lesson plans)

https://esl-literacy.com/

https://esl-literacy.com/readers/index.html

http://www.rong-chang.com/nse/  

http://resources.marshalladulteducation.org/stories1.htm

http://www.cdlponline.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=stories&topicID=1

Publishers:

http://www.newreaderspress.com/Items.aspx?hierId=0096

http://www.grassrootsbooks.net/catalogue2011.pdf (grassroots easy readers)

The woman who told me I should be attending special ed conferences also told me I could create a list from National Geographic offerings, but there were none already ready. I kind of doubt that.

Maybe I’m not looking hard enough.

Anybody want to start a publishing venture with me?

How Do I Keep Up With All Of This???

This is a question I often get from those of my colleagues who are not digital natives, not anywhere close to being tech friendly…

But I have a secret. I get my stuff from blogs that I try to keep up with on my reader, blogs like:

And that’s only the first half of the alphabet, from those who are actively blogging over the summer.

Another trick is to get links delivered to my mailbox through Diigo, another social bookmarking site. I have joined several groups, and this is an example of the weekly digest I get: ImageThat’s what it looks like in my inbox, and I follow the links that make me happy.

Explore a little this week. You may be surprised at what you find!

Day 1, into the lion’s den

It’s always so fun starting my tech integration course in the summer. I always see the same concentration and, at the same time, fatigue. It may seem funny to say that it’s fun to see fatigue, but I anticipate the change that is to come.

I encourage my students to try. Effort is everything when it comes to learning how to integrate technology. And there’s only so much one can do in 12 days. It’s not easy.

One of the topics that came up today was back channeling. Gretchen asked if WallWisher, which we used as a brainstorming platform, could be used for exit cards or for posting questions during class. I mentioned the back channel, which we will have a chance to look at later in the course. We will use a platform called Today’s Meet while we watch a TED video.

The beginning of the course is a little rough, because after justifying the class, letting them know that I believe it is their duty and responsibility to introduce technology in their classrooms, and introducing my spaghetti theory of technology (throw a whole bunch at them and hope something sticks), I make them do three things that can be pretty rough:

  • set up a delicious account and follow me
  • set up an RSS feed with google reader
  • start a blog on wordpress, where we are right now.

Once we get started, life is so much simpler. But for right now, on the first day of class, life can pretty much not be all that and a bag of chips…

I also was reminded about my technical language. Every core subject has its own lingo. And in this class, I tend to let them roll off my tongue without much thought. So thank you, Nicole, for reminding me that a dashboard is oh so much more than a word.

Till tomorrow…

Kick Start Your Blog focuses on imbedding media…

I LOVE media.:)

I have used video, Glogster, and, of course, lots and lots of photos. As a former layout editor, I believe visuals make the page. As an ESL teacher, I am completely sold on the idea that we are all in some way visual learners.

One of the possible assignments for this segment was to “Find a variety of posts that have media embedded and share these with your readers. Discuss their impact and effectiveness.”

Rather than posts, I prefer to share blogs that regularly embed some sort of media.

My all-time favorite is a journalism-technology blog called 10,000 words. The blog regularly shares how newspapers and online news outlets are using technology to reach their readers.

The next one on my list is iLearnTechnology. Rare is the occasion that Kelly doesn’t have some sort of graphic/movie/picture to hold my visual interest.

Technology and Education Box of Tricks is also really amazing for including graphics. I don’t visit often because I get too caught up in all the visual activity! It’s truly a work of art.

Peter Pappas in Copy/Paste also has amazing resources, and he always puts visual focus in his entries.

Pictures transcend. They make language accessible.

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