Sunday, November 6, 2011

Our New Name!

When I started this blog back in 2009, it was for me. Documenting what I was learning as a relatively new teacher. But then I started sharing it throughout our district, inviting others to celebrate with me the good things that were happening in our little EL room. It even made it to a college course or two. Then I had The Cuteness and chose to stay home with him, and the blog sat dormant. But a few months ago, I got lassoed back into the teaching world, working with other teachers. And so it with revitalized spirits (and typing fingers) that I continue to share with our town, our state, and {dare I say} our world our take on Teaching ELs in the USA. This fresh start needs a fresh name: enter

Would you join me over there? (You won't find anything else here!) My fabulous hubby has been working hard to make it look pretty and work effortlessly. Let's go!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Many Words of Vocab

I'm so mad. I'm furious. I'm upset. I'm hot.
Yes, hot can relate to that angry feeling you get when the pop machine doesn't give you the can you requested...NOR your change back.

I digress.

Just like the many synonyms social English can carry, even academic English has synonyms.
Yes, even math has synonyms.

That's why it can be so difficult for ELs to discern what function a particular question is asking them to perform. And that is why Lena works through this vocab sheet with her students regularly. Especially with high-stakes tests using multiple words to refer to the same function.

Visual Learners

Long division is hard...for anyone. But combine new language + new content and it can become downright frustrating. That's why Lena has created this chart just of symbols to help her ELs remember the steps to long division.

Well, that and she uses Math Karate. Hey, whatever works!

Friday, November 4, 2011


Johanna is helping with her building's morning school program, Spartan Scholars. She addresses her students as "scholars."

"It sounds like you just answered my question with a single word," she'll say to a student. "Scholars speak in complete sentences...and you are a scholar!"

ELs don't need to be reminded that they are behind; they need to be pushed to get ahead! And Johanna uses oral language practice as a perfect tool for pushing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Parent Contact

"A school system without parents is just like a bucket with a hole in it." -Jesse Jackson 

Nicole has taken parent contact extremely seriously. Her goal? To make personal contact with 100% of her both of her buildings.

Now, Nicole is not one to shoot for 99.9%. In fact, if 110% was possible, she'd do it.

EL parents are accustomed to hearing one of two things: "Your child is behind" or Nothing. As terrible as this is to admit, it is sometimes easier to ignore a difficult situation than face it head on. 

Parents in Nicole's buildings are hearing neither of the above things. Instead they are being assured that their children are, in fact, progressing (even if it's at a slower pace than their teachers prefer), that they are being well cared for by their EL and classroom teachers, and that their insight into their child is invaluable to help said teachers teach their children in the most effective way possible.

Now that's motivating. That's what results in high parent involvement. Here's a reminder of why parental involvement is so important from

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


"Go ahead and start on your math sheet," EL teacher Amber directed. "I'll be with you in a moment." She scooted over to the other table with the other students' needs. 

Multiple students, multiple levels, multiple needs. Such is the life of a teacher.

Pound, pound, pound. Amber was interrupted by the harsh sound of pencil meeting textbook. Little eyes glanced back and forth between distressed student and concerned teacher.

Teaching reaches far beyond pure academics.

Eduardo had zoned from the classroom. "Eduardo," Amber began. No response. "Eduardo!" Still the pound, pound, pound of hopelessness. "Students, you may go back to class," Amber directed, sending the three scurrying from the room. She crouched down on all fours next to his spot on the carpet. "Eduardo!" she called. Fingers snapped, zone broken.

"I just don't understand, Mrs. Cotherman." And difficult it was. Multiple step problems with a new skill set.

New language, new content. Big words, big risk of failure. 

"Don't worry, Eduardo, we can do it together."
"But it's due today!"

Amber was able to pour confidence into the frustrated sixth grader by reminding him of what he did know, what he was capable of. And by reading the questions to him, helping him dissect the many words that he did know but that had jumbled themselves all together, and looking for those key words (in this case, "percentage" and "total"), he was able to complete his assignment. Even on time.

There are lots of modifications for ELs in mainstream classrooms. One of them is extra time (time-and-a-half). Another is being read the material. But it is never dumbing down the content. Make content accessible. Amber did.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bringing It to Now

"What do you do?" people ask.
"Teaching elementary English language learners" was always the first thing I said. But not anymore.
"I am Mom to a beautiful redhead," I reply.
"I also work part-time for the local school district," I continue. "Five or so hours a week. Perfect to keep me connected but still allow me to stay at home."

And stay at home I have. We've been having a blast here, learning about each other, dusting off old hobbies, meeting other moms and kids. I've also been quite invigorated by the time spent away from The Cuteness. Those hours I put in for the district are hours I get to spend with elementary EL teachers, advocating for them, for their students, and for their low-income families.

I've taken a long hiatus from this blog. Ever since I stopped teaching (a year ago!), I've had every intention of closing up shop, shuttin' 'er down, saying goodbye. But I couldn't. ESL (turned ELL turned EL) has been such a strong part of me for so many years. How do you quit? So I've postponed my goodbye. 

Sometimes I hop on the blog just to read where we've been, remember the journey, dream for the future. Please don't read this as discontentment with my current calling. I love being a mom. And a wife. A caregiver. A cook. A seamstress. A reader. But boy, did I love teaching those precious EL students! 

So. What am I saying? As I'm still connected to the EL community, I thought it only appropriate to continue sharing what I'm learning, even if it is only in five hours a week. 
  • I plan to highlight EL teachers and their building teachers who are doing great things for EL students. 
  • I plan to showcase this ever-changing world and how teachers are adapting and succeeding in it. 
  • I plan to demonstrate to the nay-sayers out there that teachers teach for reasons far beyond themselves--reasons with names and faces and souls.
  • I plan to document for my own intellectual well-being, to keep my mind sharp for this field that has grown me in radical ways.
It'll be a great ride!

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Letter from an Author

Remember all the Jorge activities we've done this year? Well, I wrote to Jane Medina (the author and creator of Jorge) to let her know how much we've grown because of him. And guess what? She wrote us back! (Okay, she wrote us back a while ago, but...I'm still on my maternity leave, so I'm just now posting it.)

Isn't that amazing?? She wrote it FROM JORGE!
And check this out. She wrote it in Spanish, too!

Jane Medina, you rock! :)