The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 1 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
Gonzalez: So I’m here with Kim and Kim is an ESL teacher at a sort of medium sized suburban school in the midwest and why don’t you just describe the population that you work with.
Kim: Sure, the one in my classroom or the one at–
Kim: The one at my school– We have about 600 students, 80 percent free and reduced lunch, low income population. Heavy needs, high needs socioeconomically and academically. And then within our school, our area is actually a resettlement area for refugees so we have what they call a refugee intake center, an international center that services refugees who get funnelled into our city. So my school has a population of refugees from oh I don’t even know which countries. I ended up with eight countries and eleven languages in a group of fifteen students this year. So it was the most diverse group I had, but Somalia, Iraq, Tanzania, Rawanada, Barundi, Burmese students and then some non refugee students who were just in because their parents were going to a local university here. So kids from Saudi Arabia, a student from Japan and then I had a Cuban student, a Hondurian student, I had quite a collection of kids this year. It was awesome. Yeah, it was awesome.
Gonzalez: And is it, I have this on here, is it ESL, is it ELL, has the terminology changed?
Kim: It depends on who you’re talking to. I– I use ELL because it’s English language learning. I had a student in class who spoke four language so to consider English his second language would be inaccurate. He was on his fifth. So that’s why that term has fallen out of use. And also there’s LEP means Limited English Proficiency. People don’t for some reason like to say that someone is limited in any way, even if you are. I’m a limited runner, but […]
Gonzalez: Okay, right.
Kim: I’m okay with it.
Gonzalez: Okay and this is a middle school. I’m not sure if I said that before. So it’s middle school kids, sixth through — Oh no, seventh through eighth.
Kim: Seventh and eighth. Ages twelve to fifteen in my program. There’s a big range because when refugee students come into the country, if they don’t have academic records they’re placed based on their age. If they do have academic records, they’re placed based on what grade they left in their former country. So some of the kids were fourteen and in seventh grade in their home country, they’re fifteen and in eighth grade here. Other kids get placed based their age. So I had one kid was twelve turning thirteen mid year this year. He was my youngest student.
Gonzalez: How long have you been in this– Actually how long have you been teaching ELL in general?
Kim: 1995. I took a couple of years off to try something else. Got a little classroom burnout and needed to spend some time. I was doing some team building challenge course leadership for a couple of years. I got my Masters in 1997 and I taught while I was doing my Masters in ESL, so 95 to 97. So I’ve been teaching since about 95.
Gonzalez: So that– That has always been the plan then?[…]
Kim: Oh yeah.
Gonzalez: To teach ESL. Because I know there’s a group within the ESL teaching population that kind of fell back into it due to maybe there was nobody else to do it.
Kim: I think that it depends on the state that you’re working in. I was a little shocked in my current state that you could not get endorsement or I mean a certificate in ELL. It’s an endorsement in this state. So I thought that was kind of shocking to me because it’s a very complex subject area in its own right. So since I started in 95, there’s so much of a range. If you’re interested in public education you can get an endorsement added onto your regular certificate. Some states recognize an ELL endorsement. Some states recognize a Masters in TESOL, there’s programs that– So it just depends on what you’re looking to do in the field for your degree.
Gonzalez: It’s not yet a well defined like concrete kind of a path. […]
Kim: Not in this state for sure. I don’t know about other states because I didn’t come into public education on a traditional path. I was actually surprised when I got into public education and found out what I needed to do to be allowed to teach kids.
Gonzalez: So the ESL teaching that you did in other places was in a private school?
Kim: I taught a year overseas in Slovlaki. I spent six years teaching in a high school, private school. I taught a year at Utah University in their intensive English program. And then I moved and am teaching at a middle school. So I’ve taught at every level of education that you can.
Gonzalez: Okay and you’ve been at this position how many years?
Kim: Seven years.
Gonzalez: Seven years, okay. So what made you choose this field?
Kim: I wish there was some fantastic story about how I got led into teaching, but I got to the end of my undergraduate program and I was an English major, which you know my parents were really quiet on the phone when I announced that one. And my first semester of my senior year I got involved in a conversation partners program at the University of Michigan where I was going to school. And it was one of those things where you meet with someone once or twice a week and chat with them in English and that fascinated me. I had been studying languages myself for quite sometime, Spanish and such, but– And Latin actually, which is really useful. But I didn’t have anything to do after I graduated from college, so I started applying, looking at grad schools and this area really interested me. So I found a program at the University of Illinois that became a Masters in teaching ESL. It’s a pretty well regarded program so I was thrilled when I got in and started. That’s where I got started. So–
Gonzalez: Is the– What’s the job market like right now for ESL teachers?
Kim: Depends on what you want to do. But I would say that the most– It’s probably the most flexible teaching certification that you can get in terms of you can teach at an intensive program at the college level, you can teach for a private company, you can teach overseas, you can teach at the university level, you can teach at the high school– You know you can teach for public schools, you can teach for private schools, you can tutor. There’s all kinds of stuff that you can do so it just depends on what you want to do. In terms of public education, I think it’s becoming more competitive as more people become more aware of the population and the need. But it falls in with any other– I think in this particular area that we’re living in there– A lot of people are doing it as a fall back when they can’t get a position in their key area of interest, which I think is a mistake, but it’s what people do. And then they fall in love with it and so they’re a little late to the party, but you know —
Gonzalez: So does that happen too, once someone is sucked in?
Kim: Oh yeah. I’ve had people say to me “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before.”
Gonzalez: So why do you think that is? Why do you think that it’s so addictive, I guess.
Kim: Yeah, I think for some people– Something I’ve been wrestling with myself is you really see an immediate payoff when you’re working with– Depending on what level of student you’re working with. The refugee students that I’m working with that have zero English when they’re coming in– You know when they first show up at school you’re like their mom, you get them their food, you get them a locker, you make sure they go to the bathroom, you do all this stuff for them. Not because they’re not sophisticated people but the language is so limited that they wouldn’t have any idea to even ask where the bathroom is. And so to– At the end of the year to be having these arguments about the structure of the US government vs. their home government within eight months time is incredibly rewarding. I think a lot of teachers are really looking, as much as we hate to talk about, because you get sick of talking about measurable results, because you get so sick of talking about data and accountability. It’s very obvious and very measureable and right in front of you. This kid came in and couldn’t speak a word and now he’s driving me nuts and chewing gum in class. But it’s very clear progress. And I think sometimes in other areas it’s hard to see the very clear progress.
Gonzalez: Yeah, right.
Kim: And here it is right in front of your eyes.
Gonzalez: So compared to other kinds of teaching, what challenges do ESL teachers face that other teachers may not even be aware of.
Kim: I think as a teacher, as a person who loves– I’m a geek about teaching, so marginalization by other teachers was my biggest challenge, was trying to get people to see the importance of teaching these kids. And to, like I felt– Like I felt like for several years I was standing with my hands up trying to like protect these kids sort of a thing. It’s an exhausting position to be in all the time. And I think that’s the biggest challenge for me as a colleague working with others people to try and get people to buy in and to really be on board and to really collaborate.
Gonzalez: Can you think of an example of a time when you, maybe that stands out when you felt like you had to do that?
Kim: A couple of– One it really comes from the students. I had a kid who came in several years ago and he and I were sitting in class, in my classroom talking and just chatting about travel. He had come up from Honduras and I said to him– I was talking about how long the flight was, this is so first world. I was telling him how long the flight was from Chicago to Vienna when I lived overseas for a year. You know it’s seven hours. How long did you have to travel to get here? He said to me “Well we only had to walk for three days.” And like to this day it still just stunned me how just like matter of fact the kid was. This twelve year old kid. Just kind of was like well it didn’t take long at all. We just walked for three days and then we got on a train and we got on and all this other stuff. I just– That kid has always stood out to me as like I want to pick him up and say to teachers in the classroom when I feel like these kids are being ignored because teachers aren’t comfortable teaching them. Teach this kid, he walked three days to get here. Do you see what I’m saying? Like I’m like this one, this one. You’re looking for kids who are motivated. This one. He walked three days.
Gonzalez: Yeah and if they just knew what you knew.
Kim: Yeah, most of our kids won’t even walk to the bus stop. But I mean I can– I think trying to get teachers to see that value in including those kids in the classroom and including them in their own education and== I think that teachers are very overwhelmed by just numbers in their class. They often see an ELL teachers as one more thing as opposed to a thing, a person to include and blended in and who has something really powerful to contribute to the class. And that, having that information to try to communicate with teachers who are really overwhelmed and teaching the same thing five times a day the same way and five times over is really exhausting to say this kid needs modification. Modification makes it sound like it’s extra work when it really is supposed to be the work. Do you know what I mean?
Gonzalez: Right. A lot of kids would benefit from modification, not just the ESL kid. So let’s talk a little bit just about the process. So when you first get a brand new student, no English at all. What is your approach for, forgetting them started?
Kim: Well I have the luxury of being in a program that is designed for those kids. The way that program came about is I was– About six years ago I got a group of eight students in who all were zero level speakers. And our– At the time our structure of our school day was that I had them two periods a day and then they were spending five hours a day in content area classes with their peers and there was no support. Like their teachers would put them in a row at the back of the room and ask them to copy everything off the board. Then if they did that they had success in class for the day. You know if they interacted it didn’t, it wasn’t, it didn’t matter. As long as they were docile and did what they were supposed to do. And I was watching these kids. They would come to me first thing in the morning and we’d work. I’m a boot camp sort of a teacher. You hit the ground running. Hardcore, bell rings– I actually teach– I don’t mean to brag, but I’m very proud of this. I’m teaching before the pledge even happens in the morning and I actually get mad because I have to stop for the pledge. Which we all stand up and do and we sit back down and go on with what we’re doing because I just–
Gonzalez: You’re just making the best use of your time.
Kim: Yeah, my time is like– And I would have them first period and we would hit the ground running. And by the time I got them back seventh period they were, the life had just been sucked out of them because they just spent five periods essentially staring at the walls and you know waiting to get engaged. So I was watching this happen and we were getting this increasing refugee population with zero English and very low academic skills. So I put in a proposal to the district to develop a program to support those kids. So we got this self contained classroom, newcomers program, at our school that supports all the kids in the district. So I, back to your question, I have the luxury of designing their entire education for them from the first day that they hit the ground running.
Gonzalez: So you get all the kids for the district now?
Kim: Yeah. We have a class cap of fifteen, but any school– Any student in any of the schools in the district gets bussed, who is a zero level speaker or limited education can get bussed over to my school. And then […]
Gonzalez: Okay and so they’re with and they’re with you all day.
Kim: With the exception of one related class. They go out for Music or Art or Technology or something like that.
Gonzalez: Do you also have the kids who are– What is the term if they’re emerging out of but they’re not ready for full integration into the regular classroom? What’s that halfway point called?
Kim: That sounds good. I don’t know. Yeah I should know that because I just took a big test about that, but– […]
Gonzalez: Is there a level marker?
Kim: Yeah there are- Level 2, level 3 kids? We go by levels. So my kids are level 0/1. And then there’s level 2. We do basic, advanced, basic and then advanced ESL. Those kids go to a different ESL teacher, an ELL teacher in the building.
Gonzalez: Oh, okay. So you’re working with the kids–
Kim: Self contained classroom. And then the other ELL teacher in the building is responsible for their direct instruction plus collaboration.
Gonzalez: Okay, okay, so, so– What do you start with with a brand new kid? Because I know that they come in all throughout the year. They don’t just start on the first day of school. Say you’ve been working with a group of newcomers and you get a new student in say early November. What do you do with them?
Kim: School vocabulary. And that’s so hard because to fold a kid into a class that’s established is like so tough. And I mean that also is one of those points that’s like you realize how far you’ve come with the kids that you have because like the kids who you’re working with– I start literally on the first day of school “May I have?” and “May I go?” The kids learn those two phrases and then a ton of vocabulary. So you learn all the places in the school you might want to go to and then all of the things that you might need. And they spend the first week asking “May I have a pencil?” “May I have a paper?” “May I have…” you know whatever they need. And we come up with mini projects that they have to do that they have to request stuff. So by the end of that first week, theoretically they can find their way around the school by asking people for help and they can get what they need in order to succeed in school just directly.
So I start with anyone who comes in with those two phrases. The problem– I’m not always successful at folding them in. We use a vocabulary notebook and the kids get the same vocabulary that other kids do so I keep that file running. Kind of like if a kid is on their first day, and I’m doing a science unit with the rest of the class, that they can’t fold into easily. I’ll give them a vocab notebook and they get to work on that vocab notebook independent of what the rest of the class is doing for a little bit. We try and get them up to speed with that simple language first. And then fold them as fast as we can into what the rest of the class is doing.
But we differentiate all day long. Like it’s different groups for math, different groups for reading, different groups for– I mean you name it and the kids are in small groups even in a class of fifteen. For a three group rotation all day long. Kids are always in groups of three, four, five.
Gonzalez: Do you have any issues with developing– I’m imagining, especially if you’re talking about a kid that is a refugee, that there may be major issues in form of trust or just them forming relationships with each other quickly in order to do that kind of grouping?
Kim: You know I think because of the limited language there’s not a lot of confrontation that goes on. I think the problem becomes in the more– When the kids come in with more advanced language then they’ll start saying mean things. You know what I mean? In middle school when you come in and you have no language, that is like the great equalizer.
Kim: You know it sometimes will take two or three months for the kids in the class to realize who has been to school and who has not.
Kim: Yeah, like it’s amazing. I have a kid who got to the end of this school year and he is just starting to learn to read. I mean he’s thirteen years old and had never read before. Just starting to learn to read. And I got a new student in in January and about March the new student, I paired him up with the student who couldn’t read and I said “You need to read for him so he can hear you reading and follow with your finger.” And he looked at me and said “He can’t read?” And I said “No he can’t read.” And he’s like, oh, okay. You know. But it was like it had never occurred– It doesn’t occur to them that there’s differences all the time. I mean I’m not saying there’s not conflict, but they don’t always look at someone and immediately place them on a level and say “This kid can’t read. This kid is from you know such and such.”
Gonzalez: Do hey– How aware are they of where– Especially with all those different countries. At that age do they have a strong sense of nationality and of difference? Do they– I know that years ago we had lots of kids come from Bosnia, but then a couple from Serbia also and I always worried sometimes that there would be– That those kids would actually be aware that they were supposed to hate each other. Do you know– Do you ever see anything along those lines with the students?
Kim: We do. We have this huge Burmese population that we call Burmese population. They call themselves Karin and Kariang and Ching. You know there’s like four, five, six different ethnic groups here and they’re very diverse and very different. They strongly self identify but we label them as all Burmese and that conflict was not something I was prepared for because I was not educated about what was going on over there. I had not done enough reading and didn’t realize who I was getting. And then we were getting kids from different refugee camps, so the kids who came in through Thailand were not as educated as the kids who came in through Singapore or Malaysia. So it just depended, you know everybody’s got these variations but there’s definitely– There were times this year when I saw a kid or two get into a conflict. And the conflict was one thing, but it turned into a bigger– I don’t want to say ethnic, but like you know we might be arguing about a pencil, but in that […]
Gonzalez: There’s something else going on.
Kim: argument over a pencil, yeah, I’m going to end up calling you something that I shouldn’t call you based on your ethnicity sort of a thing. And I’m not sure you know. My students would often make really, just really funny arguments with one another but then there would be the ultimate put down at the end. Well you’re Karin and I’m Kariang so I’m ultimately better. What always shocks me though and what I have come to respect is I allow the students to self identify whereas for some reason when I first started I was bound and determined to tell them “No you’re not Karen, you’re Burmese.” I don’t know why, like what was on the paperwork. I would be like “No, no honey we have you listed as Burmese.” And the kid would be like “I’m not Burmese. I’m Karen.” And I’m like “No, no, it says Burmese.”
Gonzalez: And you felt like you got a lot of resistance from that.
Kim: Yeah and I just had to get to the point– Or the kids would say “I’m from Thailand.” And that was the bigger thing from me. So I’m like “No you’re not really from Thailand.” I’m not going to– Why am I arguing with the kid about where they’re from? If they want to say–You know I think part of it was because I taught a number of Thai students who have the most fantastic names on the planet. Like Tanimumparumpanum, great name. And I was always like, “You’re not Thai, you’re not Thai.” When they say they’re from Thailand it’s because that’s where they grew up and they self identify. I don’t know why that was important to me to kind of–
Gonzalez: But you see the difference now. You accept whatever it is that they choose to call themselves.
Kim: Absolutely, absolutely. I don’t argue with a kid over where they’re from. I don’t argue over whether– You know what– I don’t know why I ever did. But I don’t think it was ever an argument as much as it was just a little tweak. Like you know “Your people are not from there so.”
Gonzalez: Well and especially I think if a kid was from a refugee situation, Imean what’s on the paper could be the last place they were, but it might not actually mean anything, just —
Kim: Yeah, you learn a lot from just listening to their stories and —
Gonzalez: So that’s something else I was wanting to know is you’ve probably picked up on just a lot of interesting cultural facts or do this and don’t do that for these kids. So what have been some of those more things that really stuck with you that you’ve learned about the different cultures?
Kim: One thing for content area teachers and teachers who are not normally familiar with these kids that I — And when I say “these kids”, ninety percent of the kids that I’ve dealt with have this same thing. You don’t look your teacher in the eye. That’s disrespectful. And like in Thailand in the refugee camps, my students would tell me that if they were walking down a path and they saw their teacher, they had to lower their eyes. They couldn’t look their teacher in the eye. If they did it was a sign of disrespect that they would get beaten with a stick.
Gonzalez: Beaten with a stick by the teacher? That’s really something. […]
Kim: Yes. Yeah, right. So you know so when a teacher is talking to a– You know Americans how often do you say “Look me in the eye when you’re going to talk to me.” […]
Gonzalez: Yeah, all the time.
Kim: Make eye contact with me, look at me, look at me. And I do that as part of their education, not because I want them– Not because I see it as a sign of respect, but a sign they’re paying attention. But my students will walk past me in the morning coming in from the busses and not acknowledge that I’m standing right there. And it’s not a teenage thing. It’s a this is how everyone in my family for years and generations has been raised is that the teacher does not, you don’t look the teacher in the eye. You don’t say good morning to the teacher. You don’t do any of that stuff. It’s business sort of a thing. And that’s true for the African students as well. They won’t often say hello to you in the morning and that sort of thing. But the Burmese students especially. Just– And then if they get in trouble, oh for the love. Like there’s no way they’re making eye contact with you.
Gonzalez: So if they’re in the process of getting reprimanded– Which it’s hard for American kids sometimes to look you in the eye because it’s an intimidating situation.
Kim: But it’s like stare at the group, like bury your head, shame circle sort of a thing when you get into trouble. So I mean and it’s– There’s not– I have never had a student argue with me, which I’ve seen a lot of American kids will at this middle school, it’s middle school, that they will argue back with a teacher, that sort of– I have never in seven years of middle school had a student argue with me when I– when they got into trouble.
Gonzalez: And you see that pretty much across the board with any kid that’s not from the US? That they’ve been raised to just not argue with authority figures.
Kim: Unless they’ve been in the country for a long time. Then they– There’s a switch because I think teacher’s authority figure changes. Because that’s a whole other linguistic power struggle for kids. Right? So we have a lot of Bosnian students at our school who have been in the country, born in the country, raised in the country, whose parents don’t speak English. And so those students are very familiar with how the school system works. There parents are not comfortable communicating with the school because they don’t have the language to do it so the students take advantage of that. They also take advantage of the fact that the teachers are not willing to call home to the parents through a translator or won’t take the time to do that. And so the students will misbehave and do things that they would never, ever, ever in their lifetime imagine doing at home in front of their parents. But because they almost run with immunity in the school system, sometimes they’ll pull stuff that you’re like. We always send home papers for the parents to sign off on ELL services and the kids will bring them back checked off no I don’t want my child to have services and then we’ll call the parent to confirm and the parent says no, that’s not what I signed but I couldn’t read. Even, you know we have parents that can’t read their first language either, sort of thing. The kids take advantage of their kids’ lack of education. So there’s a switch where kids start to kind of — I mean they’re adolescents so they kind of see where they have a power opportunity and they take it. But the newcomers are not generally that way.
Gonzalez: Right, they’re not savvy yet.
Kim: No, thankfully, so.
Gonzalez: And do you interact with the families much, with the newcomer group?
Kim: I do. It’s interesting when we first started the program we were moving kids from other schools and so we had to go and get permission from the parents. It was an all day ordeal, we’d drive around to the houses and knock on the doors and talk to the parents through a translator. And the Burmese families were totally flabbergasted that we were there because if a teacher wants to move my kid to a school two hundred miles away, that’s where he’s going to go to school. You’re the teacher. You know the stuff. You know what I mean?
Kim: Yeah. And so there was never any question about where– Like we kind of quit after the third house because it almost seemed like we were treading on, I don’t know, uneven cultural ground by not respecting the fact that they would just—
Gonzalez: They’re just going to agree.
Gonzalez: No matter what.
Kim: And us being there was so foreign and shocking to them that they couldn’t understand what was going on. And again I always worry when I’m telling these stories that I’m making a sweeping generalization. But I think American parents might see that as being disengaged from your child’s education, whereas– […]
Gonzalez: Just to hand power over completely–
Kim: Right, but Burmese parents look at it as I have faith and trust in the school and the teachers are the people that have the education. And if they’re telling me this is right to do for my child then I have faith and trust that that’s what’s right to do for my child. So I’ve had a lot of interaction with a lot of parents in a lot of different ways and it just depends on the kid. Sometimes for discipline I carry a– I have a phone translation line on my cell phone so I’ll call– show up at a kid’s house and knock on the door and get the translator on the line on the speakerphone and stand there and talk to mom and dad through a speaker.
Gonzalez: Oh that’s nice.
Kim: Yeah, it’s amazing.
Gonzalez: What’s the name of it? Is this an app or a number that you call?
Kim: It’s a phone number. Our district subscribes to it. It’s called In Every Language, but there’s equivalents all over the place. Like other school systems if they don’t have them should get them.
Gonzalez: Okay. Okay.
Kim: Instant access to a translator in– I don’t even know how many languages are in this one. There are– But I’ve yet to have one– […]
Gonzalez: And this is a person who is on the other line?
Kim: Yeah, you call, you talk to a translator and the translator. Or I’m sorry, you call and talk to an operator who gets you a translator. I had a translator the other day in Swahili and we had an hour long translation with this student. I was having a problem with one of my kids. So I was trying to figure out the problem. He was great. He was not translating, he was interpreting. So he was really prot– Because he got concerned about what was going on in the conversation. She was having behavioral problems at school and she was making some claims about another student and stuff. So he was helping me out with that.
Gonzalez: It’s called In Every Language?
Kim: In Every Language.
Gonzalez: And it’s a subscription that the district pays for. So you don’t pay by call?
Kim: Honestly the fact that it is available makes it– The students are aware that I can. You know where as before I would get this “You’re not going to call my mom.”
Kim: Actually I already did honey.
Kim: Wait ‘till you get home. You know?
Gonzalez: Oh that’s a riot. So well since we’re on that subject then I also was wanting to know about technology and how else that’s you know played a role in the teaching and helped you do what you do.
Kim: Well, first I worked for an unbelieveable principal who was the kind of person you would go to and say “Look, I need this to teach.” And he would get it for me.
Kim: Yeah. I went in one day and I was like “I need a laptop.” And he’s “You got it.” And he got me the best laptop I could– You know sort of a thing. He was amazing. He always said I have no idea how to use it, but I trust that if you think you need it, I will get it for you. And I just, I adored him for that. But then my district had a competition for a grant and I got a grant for my classroom of iPods on an iPod cart. So that completely transformed my newcomer teaching because I could set the kids home with oral language input after the end of the school day. Because the problem is refugee kids are living in refugee communities within the city that they’re in. So they’ll go home at the end of the day and they’re not hearing fluent or academic English, if they hear any English at all. And I needed to extend their school day because they’re so far behind. I would do dictations. I would have them go home and make movies in English. I would have them read to me in English into the iPod. I would send home books on CD for them. I would do particular grammar points. Like you need to go and find a comparison and take a video of it and tell me how it’s a comparison. So at the end of school– So after school they would have some sort of homework that was speaking in English.
Gonzalez: And it was all done via the iPod?
Kim: Yeah, I had a contract for them. They would sign the contract and take responsibility for the iPod and check it out at the end of the day and come back the next day and return it to me.
Gonzalez: And were the iPods all okay at the end of the year. Did you have issue with that?[…]
Kim: Yeah, I’ve had them for four years and never lost a single one.
Kim: Yeah, so– I really do a lot of cajoling and threatening. I have a lot of leverage. You know no gym time for you, no field trip time for you if you lose my iPods sort of thing. I mean I don’t know how much follow through I’d have, but nobody ever tested me on it. So it was really nice […]
Gonzalez: And where, where– What was the grant funded by? Or who– […]
Kim: It was the district.
Gonzalez: Just the district had money?
Kim: Yeah, the district had a bunch of money they pooled from a bunch of departments and the put a– It was really cool. They put together a competition. Teachers had to write actual proposals. And so we won. It was cool.
Gonzalez: Once they’re done with you, or they’re ready to go into a regular classroom, even if it’s part time, let’s talk about what that regular teacher needs to know. What, how they can best meet their needs.
Kim: That’s a big question. I think what– The most difficult part about that is I’m not apologetic about asking and telling teachers that they need to change the way that they’re teaching. And I’m not apologetic about these kids sitting in your classroom. And so to be completely blunt what we need to do probably is get rid of all the teachers that are doing teacher fronted exercises and get teachers into the classroom who are willing to look at small group interactions and the value of that. That’s the first thing is teachers need to change their teaching style. And I think the reason being that for ELL students in particular, for all students interacting with the material is the most important part. Kids aren’t like empty glasses that we just pour stuff into and then at the end of the day they dump it back onto a test for us. It’s not how it works. And so if you really want the kids to learn, they’ve got to be engaged. I’m preaching to the choir I think, but just teachers need to see ways to break their classrooms down. You know stop talking about the fact that you have thirty five kids in the class and look at that you have two other adults in there, because there’s a collaborating ESL or another aid and you could break them into groups of ten. And then you can teach in a rotation over the course of a week. I mean I guarantee that the value for a student working in a group of ten with a teacher for twenty minutes versus sitting in a group of thirty for forty minutes is going to be you know tenfold.
Gonzalez: So if somebody’s resistant to that, to the idea– I think part of the resistance comes from not knowing how to do it. So I’m imagining somebody asks me to break my group of thirty into three groups of ten. My first thought is if I’m not with those other two or if somebody who doesn’t really know what I want to do is with the other two, then they I lose control and they just start fooling around. So what then is your recommendation to them to help that go better.
Kim: There’s two things that I would do. One, look at your personnel. If you have another adult in the classroom, it is absolutely ridiculous for you to ever have thirty kids in a group without breaking that down. And use the other adult any way you want to. If it’s an ESL or ELL teacher, they will work with American kids as well. Don’t– Mix the groups up and rotate the groups through.
Gonzalez: Is that a misconception? That that person is just there for your ESL kids and that they can’t–
Kim: Right. I think you have to define the relationship with your ELL teacher. So the ELL teacher is there to support the ELL kids but they can also be used in multiple ways. You know I think often times I’ll walk into a room and the teacher will say “Well what do you want to do with your kids today?” And it’s like they’re not my kids for this forty five minutes, they’re our kids for forty five. You know so that sort of thing. I mean like I don’t know history. You know, don’t do that to me sort of a thing. I think first look at your personnel. Figure out how you can use the people that you have in the room.
Two, if you don’t have another adult in the room, then figure out a way to draw on student leadership and make the students accountable. And I say this coming from a position of experience because I once had a group of twenty five boys in a class. Boys, all boys, high school and I could not get them under control. So I actually decided one day to take and break them into four groups. And I took four of the boys out into the hallway and I said to them “You are the leader of your group. Here is the assignment. I will take any questions from you, no one else in your group. So make sure that if anyone has questions they talk to you and then you can talk to me. I’m going to hold you accountable for this assignment at the end of the day.” And then as– The boys took it very seriously because they knew they were going to be accountable, and they made sure that everybody in their group was learning. So I only had to deal with four students, instead of twenty five. I mean it worked really well. It doesn’t work really well all the time. You have to have buy in from all the kids. And I think in severe behavioral problems there’s that. But any way that you can break that classroom down into smaller sizes so that you’re facilitating what’s happening as opposed to you know absolutely running what’s happening. Then you’ll have more success.
Gonzalez: If you could, if you could just– If you only had a limited amount of time and you could only send home one or two messages, apart from what you just said about needing to break it up and not have it be so one directional from the teacher–
Kim: Differentiate your language and figure out what the essential vocabulary is that the kids need to know. And figure out who can know it and who doesn’t know it sort of a thing. I’ve seen history classes that are teaching things like bourgeois and market economy and all of this other stuff, but not taught in any sort of context. So that language is so elevated for kids and abstract that they never get it. On top of that they’re working in an environment where they’re not using the language. So if you’re not using it you’re never going to acquire it. So choose the vocabulary carefully that you’re going– The content vocabulary then also focus on academic vocabulary for all the kids. Like I think if you are teaching in a history class– I was watching a teacher at another school do this and I thought it was absolutely fantastic. It was an AP, AP history class and he had a cartoon, a political cartoon, up on the wall. And the class was half ESL and half American. And he asked the kids to give a hypotheses about what they thought– A theory or an idea about what they thought the cartoonist intended when they were writing, they were creating this cartoon. And one of the American kids raised their and and said blah blah blah. The teacher stopped the class and he said “No, I need you to use this phrase: I believe that the cartoonist intended…” And so he’s set up this academic language where the kids– Like kids could just fill in that end of the sentence. He gets to practice it. He knows that’s the level of academic language that’s expected in the class. And this was an American kid. Well then the ELL kids in the room see another kid doing that and they’ll follow suite. And so to set that expectation up for all kids that this is the kind of academic language that we use when we’re having a conversation, is the most supportive thing I think you can do across all content areas for all kids.
Gonzalez: For all– Because I thinking that in so many schools you have native English speakers who do not know how to use academic language. Or even– If the kids are not in a household where people are speaking in high academic language all the time, then they don’t know how to use it, they don’t know how to write it and they need to have it put into phrases or shown how to actually do that. So I think that would help.
Kim: They also won’t use it if it’s not the norm in the class because they’ll be embarrassed to use it with their, among their peers. But if they can put it off on the teacher and say oh, well you know Ms. Kim makes me talk like this, then it doesn’t look. They don’t look as hoity toity as they would.
Gonzalez: So they’re just pretending to be academians for fifteen minutes or so.
Kim: I mean I– It would be my dream to see posted on every classroom wall lists of phrases that you can use if you want to respectfully disagree with someone. If you want to ask a question of the teacher, if you want to ask for help. Like this– It’s much better to say you know “I understood what you said about A but I need you to clarify B.” then to say “I don’t get it.”
Kim: You and so what kid couldn’t use that prompt. And then if they’re up there on the wall and I’m teaching kids tell me “I don’t get it.” and I point to the poster and say can you please repeat that using one of these, then I’ll happily answer your question. Then we have a more academic environment for the kids and I think that will support all kids.
Gonzalez: Right, it would.
Kim: And it’s an easy fix for content area teachers who need to teach language but don’t know how to. Insert this academic language into their classroom and then the content can come.
Gonzalez: Content area teachers now are required by Common Core to be […]
Kim: God bless Common Core.
Gonzalez: Supporting the literacy of their students. And that is a really great thing that they could all be doing is putting little chunks of language up on the, of phrases that can be used. Apart from academic choices that a teacher might take, what about maybe some nonverbals or some just some interpersonal things that maybe you think if you could shake some things into a content area teacher to have them do or not do. Does anything come to mind?
Kim: Don’t– Yeah, because the first one that pops out is don’t choose any child and make them speak for their entire culture and think that you’re then including them in the class.
Gonzalez: Did something specific come to mind when you thought of that?
Kim: Yeah, I had an Iraqi student who […]
Gonzalez: Oh boy.
Kim: Yeah and a teacher asked them how they felt about something. You know and it like horrified me because I thought this kid doesn’t– I mean he’s twelve or thirteen years old and he has his own thoughts and feelings and stuff. But often times they’re parroting what their parents have told them. Then what they say is going to be filtered out to the other twenty-nine or thirty kids who are hearing this kid speak for the first time. Their English is limited so they can’t express themselves very well and explain what they want to say. And they don’t want to represent. They just want to be there. And that’s not cultural inclusiveness is just to ask a kid to “Explain how your people feel about it.” sort of thing. And I’ve seen that a number of times and it always just peeves me.[…]
Gonzalez: You’ve seen teachers do it.
Kim: Yes and it’s painful because I think– I’ve seen teachers do it and then pat themselves on the back because yeah! I […]
Gonzalez: Because teachers think that they’re appreciating the diversity.
Kim: Yeah, yeah,yeah. I was so great sort of thing. I mean it took me forever to convince my teachers– It was so funny because I would listen to them talking about the Mexicans. And I was like, “We don’t have any Mexicans.” You know sort of a thing. You know lumping everybody– I think as teachers just become more education about who’s in your room.
Gonzalez: Yeah, if somebody doesn’t know how to do that though, if they think that that kind of question is appropriate, what should they do to show interest in a kid’s culture without doing that. What kind of questions could they ask or how can they get to know them?
Kim: Well I think first it depends on the kid’s language level. So you have to be aware of where they’re at linguistically before you can ask them to speak in front of the class. And that’s the first caveat. Do they have the language to even respond to your question, or even to fully understand your question? And if they do is the rest of the class going to be accepting to that response or is it going to further their embarrassment? You know that’s an important moment. And then you know if a teacher wants to know about a kid, talk to the child independently. Don’t look for a, you know — I’ve seen it– The problem is it’s often spur of the moment in class sort of a thing. And kids, especially at low language levels need preparation time to respond to such a question. And so if you put them on the spot in the classroom and they don’t know it’s coming, and then they have to generate this language plus this upper end response, the level of anxiety is unbelievable. […]
Kim: So for a content area teacher I would say if you anticipate a theme or something in your class that’s going to be really relevant to one of your students, perhaps have a conversation with them in advance. Check with your ELL teacher and see if they think that it’s appropriate. Certainly ELL teachers usually have their thumb on the you know cultural pulse a little bit more just because they’re spending a lot of time with it. See if it’s appropriate. And then give the students as much lead time as possible. If it’s really important that they contribute to the class. You know, don’t put them on the spot and make it a passing thing. Let them think it through, have a response ready for you and you know.
Gonzalez: How would– Especially at this age group when all kids want desperately to fit in and not be different and not be noticed, where would you say the balance is with if you could generalize about most of your students. Do they want to just sort of sluff off any cultural identity and be an American? Or is there more of a pride of their culture and wanting people to know about their culture? Because I think as adults a lot of time we think well you just ask them– Have a kid stand up in front of the class and tell us about the food you eat in your country. I know any kid would be mortified to be different. But is there also this desire to have people know about their culture?
Kim: I think there is, but again it’s so hard. I don’t want to generalize, like you know? I think, you know– I always think about the kids who their only knowledge of their cultural, their culture is from their home.
Kim: Like, we have a lot of Bosnian kids who’ve never been to Bosnia, but they strongly recognize their self, going back to our self identification. They self identify as Bosnian students and with that culture. But that culture is a little bit different than what if you were living in Bosnia.
Gonzalez: Right. They don’t necessarily know what’s my culture and what’s just my family.
Kim: Yeah and so lots of times kids will cling to things that they think– I mean I did the same thing growing up. I grew up in a Dutch family. I’ve never been to the Netherlands, but I was raised in Holland, Michigan. Yeah, and so I just thought that everybody ate almond paste all the time and boiled their food until it was brown. Like that’s what we do. I was– You know, wooden shoes and all of it, that’s my conception of what Dutch people do and what Dutch culture is like.
Kim: I realize that were I to go to the Netherlands it would be a completely different experience.
Gonzalez: Yeah, you’d be the American there.
Kim: Yeah and I would pretend to speak for Dutch culture, but I understand Dutch American culture. Do you know what I mean?
Kim: And so I think where students are struggling is they’re doing this blend of like– Often when teachers are asking them to talk about their culture, they’re wanting to know about the sort of rustic, you know encyclopedia type information where culture is such a complex concept and it’s like– It ends up leading kids to make generalizations. That then the teacher takes that generalization and then turn it into whatever their perception is of the culture. So, there’s a danger in that. The students, depending on their stage of culture shock and how long they’ve been in country and all that sort of stuff, may or may not associate with their home culture at all.
Kim: Everybody gets to a point where they actually reject their own culture when they’re going through the stages of culture shock. Then they go back to rejecting their host culture. Like it’s just a– It’s a methodical process, culture shock. So for some people it takes longer than others. And some people never adapt.
Gonzalez: Yeah, how do you– How do you manage that? Especially if they’re all at different times, how do you manage that as a teacher? Is there sort of a stock response that you give to everybody about– I don’t know. If somebody’s feeling particularly anti-American one day because of something. Is there a way that you handle that? Or if somebody sort of wants to just disregard their own culture for awhile, I don’t know.
Kim: Yeah, I think it just goes back to respecting the kids wherever they are in that moment. Not saying “Well you’ve been here three months, this is what our expectation is.” sort of a thing. So I can’t say that I have a stock response, but every kid– I have a kid who arrived in December, was here through May and I would venture learned next to nothing in my class because she was in such a state of culture shock that she was not remotely interested in this whole education thing. You know it was incredibly frustrating, but you– When you recognize that you know you just have to wait that out. You know that kind of thing. I confronted her and talked to her as many times as I could. But until she decides that that’s not where she’s at, then you know? So I think as a teacher, just being aware there are things that may be beyond the child’s control that may be impacting their education and being patient with that. Which is not always easy, I’m not always great at that. […]
Gonzalez: Sounds like you also validate whatever their current state of mind is. You don’t necessarily tell them that their feelings are wrong.
Kim: Right, right. I’m not exactly a rock star at that at times though because like I said I’m like the bootcamp teacher right?
Gonzalez: You gotta get stuff done.
Kim: Yeah, so it’s like welcome to my class. You’re five months behind everybody else. I don’t have time for this culture shock stuff. Like you know, let’s go.
Gonzalez: Okay, so since you have been an ESL teacher along the way, what have been some of the best tips or strategies that you have learned along the way, maybe from other ESL teachers or from professional development or whatever that has made you better.
Kim: The academic language deal.
Kim: Big deal. Do as much oral language stuff as possible with students, including structured academic conversations in the classroom so that they practice them outside of the classroom. In you interactions– In my interactions with kids, it’s structured academic conversation. I agree, I disagree in that language. So the kids learn that. You can’t get a pencil out of me by walking up and going “Pencil”. So the third thing I guess that I would say is require students who are in the process of learning a language to speak to you, and give them the language to support you in speaking to you, in complete sentences. If they don’t have it, it’s not a disciplinary thing. But they may just need the support. Offer that to them. Say to them “You need a pencil. Can you say May I have a pencil?” Those low level kids need that kind of expectation put upon them. And then yeah, they need the oral practice and the repetition. Instead of often times where it’s such a busy state of mind that we just want to get stuff done. The kid walks up to my desk and I anticipate before they even get there that they’re going to ask me for a pencil and I hand it to them. And I missed an entire opportunity for them to learn.
Gonzalez: Yeah, which would take more time, but it would have longer legs on it for later on. […]
Kim: Yeah. Right.
Gonzalez: I know that a common thing that we do when we have– And this is maybe for schools where we, where you may not have a really well structured ESL program, you have a child show up. Say they’re Spanish language speaking, and the first reaction is to sit them next to another Spanish speaking child who also speaks English and have them just be buddies until further notice basically. Is that something that is ultimately a good thing or are you creating a dependency?
Kim: Well first I never think it’s good to make a student responsible for another student’s education. It makes me nuts. Often times the student who they’re paired with is also an ELL student, just more advanced and more proficient. And so if that student is responsible, they’re also in the process of learning and now they’ve become a translator slash interpreter for the other student. […]
Gonzalez: A distraction.
Kim: Yes, and so they can’t focus on what they need to get done. The other thing is that I’m big on, you know– I think it’s good to have someone you can rely on in your first language now and again, but you learn language by using it and by trying and focusing.Even though it’s mentally exhausting and taxing and that sort of thing, we need to allow kids to struggle with a language. But that requires that the teachers are willing to interact with the kids on a L+1 sort of a level. Like the level just beyond. Their comprehensible input has to be there. And so we as teachers need to say I value your language learning enough that I’m going to interact with you on a level that you’re going to be able to understand without making the student responsible for your education because I’m responsible for your education. And I don’t think we do that enough. I think it’s easiest. They’ll throw that in with the schedule. And what happens is the low level student stays low and the high level student doesn’t move up much because now they’re responsible for somebody else who’se lower than them.
Kim: Now I’m not saying never put them in groups together, never have them work together, never have one student help you. I certainly have had a student– You know where I needed in that moment, what bus number does he ride? You know, sort of thing.
Gonzalez: Right, right, right.
Kim: I don’t, you know, but in my classroom for example, it’s English all day long because if I don’t require it of them then they’re not going to require it of themselves at the middle school level. So.
Gonzalez: Well and that actually was one of my other questions is that what do you know about ELL kids that you wish other people understood about them?
Kim: I think the common misconception is that– The thing that always scares me when I’m interacting with a teacher in the hallway is that they will see a student do something and they will think that it’s cute. Because there’s this sort of– They attri– They can’t speak English so it’s adorable when they misbehave or when they’re chewing gum and I’ve told them not to chew gum a hundred times or when they you know sort of a thing. And it’s like everything about ELL kids becomes anecdotal. And I think a student who is desperate to communicate and is trying to say what they have to say. Often the teachers will get distracted by the delivery and miss the message. And that’s painful for me to watch. And so like I have seen kids who are trying so hard to communicate with a teacher, and the teacher is so wrapped up in the fact that their English isn’t very strong, that the teacher loses the fact that this kids is trying to tell her something important.
Kim: So I think that what I know about ELL kids is that you have to recognize their cognitive demand in working in a second language is incredibly intense. And they’ll all respond to that cognitive demand in different ways. Some of them will shut down. Some of them will thrive under it. But don’t mistake the lack of language for a lack of intelligence or a lack of maturity. And I think that happens a lot. And then add to that layer, I think there’s almost an inherent expectation of disrespect at the middle school level by teenagers. And so when you get this polite kid, it’s like you know it makes them even more cute. And in my class people will come in and my kids are just working their tails off. And people are “Oh, it’s cute how they’re–” I’m “This is not cute, this is bootcamp!” Like I’m so intensive that I’m like this is not. This is not– This is hardcore! We’re learning in here. You know, I think that that’s what I want teachers to know is that they’re doing twice the job of everyone else in the class even if the result looks like half as much. I mean and I contribute to that. I– But like I contribute to it unintentionally because I come from a place of respect when I’m learning.
As a second language learner, I find language to be hilarious, you know? I cannot pronounce a lot of words in a lot of languages, so to sit with a Japanese student and have that student say a word to me and say it back to them like forty times. And all forty times I think I’m nailing it and the Japanese kid’s like “No. Still don’t have it” You know, like I’ve been there. I have that level of respect. So when I — I have to be careful though when I’m sharing those stories with people who look at the language not from that same perspective. Because I’m not laughing at the kid, I’m laughing at the language. You know?
Kim: When kids mix up sheet and shit, it’s hilarious every time.
Gonzalez: Are the kids able to laugh at themselves or do they get more self concious and defensive about it?
Kim: They are. It’s that– When you– But it’s the metacognition you know. They’ll mispronounce– The kids start making fun of each other’s pronunciation. It’s a — You know I had a kid at the school I used to teach at who– We were reading To Kill a Mockingbird and he came to class the next day and he was just so frustrated. He said “There is no alcohol in this whole book.” I said “What are you talking about?” He’s like “Tequilla Mockingbird.”
Gonzalez: So cute.
Kim: I said “What on earth is going on. Oh wait, you were talking about Tequilla Mockingbird.” You know like– And he got the joke on himself. It was so fantastic.
Gonzalez: But it’s what you– But you can only enjoy that humor when you feel like you are surrounded by people with a genuine love and respect for the people they’re laughing at.
Kim: Yeah. I feel like I have license. This story is totally worth telling. I had a kid. This was a middle school kid. He’s in class and he got in trouble and got sent up to the office for calling a girl a whore. And so I got called up to the office to talk to this kid. He’d been in trouble before and I said what on earth is going on. And he said “Well I was sitting in class and she said that I laughed like a dog.” And I said okay. “And I told her she laughed like a whore.” And I said “Honey, do you know what a whore is?” And he said he had no idea. And so I explained to him what a whore was in the most delicate terms. He was horrified. And then he looked at me and he goes “I don’t know the singular form of horse.” And like he was totally serious. He thought he was speaking[…]
Gonzalez: Taking the s off of horse.
Kim: Yeah. Take the s off of horse and that was one whore. And so he was saying– And it makes more sense actually in context. You laugh like a dog. She laughs like a horse. But, you know. And so I went– Like the teacher who got him written up for this. I told her what happened and she didn’t believe me. I said “Listen, either he’s telling the truth or he is the smartest linguist we have in this school. Because no kid could come up with that on their own. The singular of horse is whore.” I was like either way he should not be in trouble.
Kim: It was brilliant.
Gonzalez: Okay so you’ve seen the questions already. So you can answer this in any way you want to. Three best– It could be three or less. Three best and three worst moments. You know in your history of ESL teaching. Could be just one or–
Kim: My big aha moment and one of the hardest things is when is that I work with a Bosnian woman as my instructional aid. She’s unbelievable. And I’m an academic in a lot of ways and so we were teaching some upper level kids and I wanted to do something along the lines of The Diary of Anne Frank sort of a thing. Right, so brilliant me, I find in the text of one of our books this diary written by a girl– […]
Kim: Zlata. Yeah, I’m an idiot. Because I thought to myself “This is great. We’ll teach it. The kids will connect with it. It’s modern.” I have a woman sitting in my room who has lived through this.
Kim: And who has never dealt with it and who doesn’t want to deal with it in an academic sense. And I’m thinking of it from a teaching perspective of this is fantastic. It’s updated. You know the kids with connect. And I’m not– Like absolute cultural insensitivity, personally insensitivity. I mean it was a rough, rough day when we had a conversa– I brought it up kind of flippantly like “Hey I found this in a book.” Like what do you think about this? […]
Gonzalez: So you never got to the point where you actually taught it, you just presented it to her.[…]
Kim: I presented it. Yeah, because we were teaching partners. […]
Gonzalez: She probably already knew about it though.[…]
Kim: She knew about it. Yeah she was very familiar with it. But she had like– To hear someone I think– From her perspective to hear me kind of look at it– look at a genocide from an academic perspective– […]
Gonzalez: Like curriculum.
Kim: Yeah like “Here we’ll stick this in and teach it Monday through Friday next week.” sort of a thing. It was like so unbelievable. I mean she reacted not remotely– I mean she just was kind of very quiet. I thought she’d be excited about it. You know, I was such an idiot about it. But it was one of those moments as a teacher where I realized that the stuff– Some of the stuff that we deal with and we teach is still very real even though it looks like history to a lot of people.
Kim: And that you have to approach those things with sensitivity. And even when– You know we ended up not teaching it at all because she said “You can teach it, but I won’t be able to be here while you’re teaching it.” And I thought I have no license to teach this if a person who experienced it doesn’t want– […]
Gonzalez: Right. Doesn’t even want to be present for it. Wow.
Kim: And that was one of my hardest moments I think as a teacher in this school where I’m working. Is just this realization that we have someone that I, that was one of my closest friends you know, that I just put that onto in an academic way. Like I just threw it. We can just as easily teach you know Melville next week. Whatever. It was just a topic for me and for her it was so much, so, so much, so personal.
Gonzalez: How– And this– Because you’ve got kids who are probably almost all coming to you, except for the corporate kids, almost all coming to you from really bad situations. Does PTSD ever come up as something that you either have already had some training on– Does it interfere with the– No?
Kim: Well I’m sure that I have kids who– I mean we have had kids with pretty severe emotional stuff, like who become intense problem kids in the school. Like they just never can get it under control. I think for my kids I have not had to deal. If it is there it manifests itself in different ways. Like maybe not participating in class sort of a thing. But I honestly think that a lot of my kids manage really well because I am a teacher of routine. And so it’s very predictable. You walk into my room first thing in the morning. There’s going to be question of the day on the board. You get out your green notebook, you sit down and you start writing. You know we’re on our way. We have this class and then this class and I don’t change the routine all year long. And I do that partially because I feel like that structure supports those kind of kids. Like it’s predictable– […]
Gonzalez: The predictability is comforting to them and they can get into that–[…]
Kim: We go to the bathroom at 8:56 every single day. Every day.
Gonzalez: Talk about the green notebooks. What’s the green notebook?
Kim: The kids have– I– Most of my kids don’t come in with academic backgrounds. So they don’t understand the importance of having a math notebook vs. a reading notebook vs. a grammar notebook vs. So I do color coded notebooks because at the beginning of the year it’s a lot easier. Instead of saying “You need your grammar notebook.” I’ll say “Everybody get out your green notebook.” And then we transition that into having a name over the course of the year. Black notebooks are Math notebooks. And so if I can stand there in front of the class and hold up the colored notebook I want them to get out, then that makes class go a lot faster. And so the kids all know exactly. I mean I have a set sitting on my desk and I’ll hold up which one we’re going to work from. And then we can roll right into the activity. Because I was finding the first week I would distribute you know four notebooks a kid and I’d be like “Get out your notebook one.” And everybody’d have a different notebook. Some kids are writing in the back of the notebook. You know they don’t know what to do. So that skill for these kids was just as important as part of the rest of the routine. Do you know what I mean?
Kim: Every morning, all year long we write in the green notebook. And for some kids, you get to April and they’re still not getting it because they just– It’s so like– Every day you come in and you have to do the same thing and that’s hard from them to. They still academically haven’t absorbed the fact that this is part of my academic routine.
Gonzalez: So they start with a question of the day. They start each day with a question of the day and is that like their writing time? Is it a– Is it a–
Kim: It just depends on what we’re doing. I usually relate it to whatever we did the day before. So it’s something where they have to reference back to their vocabulary or their notes or something. They can usually find the answer someplace else. It takes awhile to get to the upper, higher order thinking questions. So why doesn’t happen until the end of the year. You know but like I might just do a couple of fill in the blanks, where they have to find the right answer and put them in. But it’s just something to get them geared to what we’re about to do too. So then I’ll usually structure it so there’s a question or two about what we’ve done the day before and then a question that’s oriented towards where we’re headed for the day. So–
Gonzalez: These– They keep this notebook all year and it becomes a reference tool, correct? […]
Kim: That’s a different notebook. […]
Gonzalez: That’s a different one, which one is that one. […]
Kim: They have a vocabulary notebook I’ve– It’s funny because one year it was notebook two so I call it notebook two. Yeah they have a vocabulary notebook and that one is a picture dictionary that’s self created. And so they, we– The first day of school we have pictures of school words. And then when we get into animal adaptations we have pictures of all different kinds of animals and then animal body parts. And then within that I’ll stick in sentence– Within the vocabulary word the appropriate sentence frame that goes with it. So if I have bathroom, the kid writes bathroom down and then May I go to the bathroom?
Gonzalez: Got it so it’s like a word and how to use it.
Kim: And for the nonliterate kids they do that writing, but then they also get an oral version of it on the iPod so that they can go home and study and they’re not left out. Because you know you go home and you can’t read and you can’t study this vocabulary word is bathroom because you don’t know what it is. So that’s where the iPods support them.
Gonzalez: Right, the and– Is this pictures that you give them to glue in?
Kim: And it just depends on the–. I do it for everything from school vocabulary to forces and motion. The kids have pictures of you know gravity and action and reaction and Newton, Issacc Newton. All that stuff. I mean we do upper end content vocabulary, just like everyone else but we come up with a pictorial representation of it..
Gonzalez: And is it like chronological from when you did it or do you have chunks of the alphabet something like that?
Kim: No I have them do it by subject. So when we’re studying this it’s all together and then the next. And then what I have started to do is they turn the notebook over and in the back is grammar structures. So like we start my class with I am, you are, he is, she is, it is. That’s written in the back of their book and then we– When we had a grammar structure, past tense, future tense, irregular verbs, all of that stuff is in the back. So that when they leave my class they have a reference, an English Language reference book that they have used all year so they’re familiar with it. Because I think handing them a book by a publishing company they won’t reference it. The kids if they walk in the door you can see them thumbing through notebooks and stuff.
Gonzalez: So the vocabulary notebook, they pull that notebook all day long? Because that’s kind of helpful. […]
Kim: Yeah they know where their stuff is.
Gonzalez: How can a principal or administrator support you and your students best?
Kim: By holding all of the teachers accountable for teaching all the ELL students.
Gonzalez: Okay and how exactly would they do that?
Kim: Well it goes on multiple levels. First provide training for your staff and express to all of them that you’re expected to teach these kids. And if they don’t know how to teach these kids they better be asking for help on how to teach the kids. Second in the lesson planning, require that it’s written in. If you’re going to modify or collaborate or if you have another adult in your room during third period, write it into your plan how you’re going to use that person, how you’re going to modify your lessons, how you’re going to modify your test. Make it be part of your planning. Hold people accountable for that. So when you go to observe, don’t let them pick the class they want you to observe, pick the class that’s got the ELL kids in that you have an expectation. You know pop in and make sure that people are doing what you want them to do. That from my perspective– I went through this phase where I just wanted to be everywhere because I thought– I can’t teach every class in the building. And t drove me nuts knowing that my kids were– My kids were going to these classes and not being engaged. And no one was ever doing– You know? And they were just being disregarded. So– But that starts at the top with that being modeled and expected all the way down.
Kim: And then when the teachers ask for collaboration time or when the teachers have somebody– You know if you have the opportunity to collaborate, give them time to plan. Figure out a way. Get a sub for the day so that they can meet for a two week period of whatever. Get a sub for a couple of periods. Get a rotating sub for the building so that the ELL teacher can meet with different teachers.
Gonzalez: So that it’s not just one more thing they have to do. It’s — […]
Kim: Right, yeah. Find ways to fold it into the schedule and be creative instead of thinking that this is the way– It’s just how we do it.
Gonzalez: Is there also sort of a disposition or an attitude that you’d like to see from administrators and teachers that would make all of that happen better?
Kim: Well I think a sense of urgency is lacking from what I’ve observed. Like I just– I have a friend who– Well it technically ended up being my boss and he and I were talking one day and he said to me “You know sometimes I get up in the morning and I– My hand is shaking as I’m putting on my tie because I have such an incredible strong sense about getting these kids educated. And I feel like from the time I get up in the morning like How can I do this?” You know that sort of anxiety over. And I– He’s the only person who’s ever expressed that to me. And that’s sad. But I want people to like feel like– Like I said “Teach this kid!”
Kim: You know what I mean, like I– It’s heartbreaking to me at times to just look out at my room and see these kids just working their tails off. And know that they are seven or eight or nine years behind their peers. And they don’t know it. And then the next year after they get out of my classroom it is such a big, huge, water in the face sort of a wake up moment for them. I try to prepare them the best I can, but without the support of the content teachers, I can’t. The water is ice cold gets, I mean it’s ice cold that slaps them in the face when they realize they don’t have a teacher that’s dialing into everything that they’re doing all day long. And so.
Gonzalez: And for the content teachers what you’re mostly seeing is as long as this child is not causing trouble and you know turning in enough work to pass or– Do you see them more just passing them because it’s easier– […]
Kim: Yeah, they get hundreds all the time. I mean it’s like, how did he get a hundred? Like I don’t get that. But I will say this, I think the middle school level and even down on the elementary school, like grades aren’t as important right? Because it’s not like high school credits you need in order to get a degree.. So it’s not that big of a deal until, unless the kids figure out. You know the question is are the kids extrinsically motivated or intrinsically motivated? And a grade doesn’t always motivate kids. My kids really couldn’t care less what their grade is in other classes. I mean it doesn’t really phase them. But in my Math class, oh my gosh! Like, you know they are comparing papers and doing all this other stuff. So it just depends on– […]
Gonzalez: Well there’s a chance in your class. They’re actually going to get it and yeah– […]
Kim: Well and I think there’s a marker there for them. They earn it. There’s not learned helplessness which I think that happens in a lot of classes. Where they’re just like “I can’t do any of this.” So, you know.
Gonzalez: What, what are some of the, apart from changing completely the way that a person teaches, because that often would just require replacing them with a whole different teacher. When you talk about the modifications, what are the most common modifications that if the teachers would just do that, even if they keep their traditional, you know teacher delivery system, that would help some.
Kim: Oops, excuse me.
Gonzalez: It’s okay.
Kim: In unit planning, start out with– If you’ve boiled it down to your unit planning, have a language learning component to it that’s content based. So if you have ten vocabulary words. You know base it on the kids’ level first of all. That’s the biggest thing for me is that a lot of people are like “He’s an ELL kid.” Right, but he was born in the United States and he’s lived here his whole life. Your expectations for him should be different from Joe Schmo who just showed up last week.
Gonzalez: His name wouldn’t be Joe Schmo though.
Kim: So, but I think that’s a common problem is that a lot of these teachers lump all these kids together and don’t recognise the range of abilities. So I have to be cautious when I’m giving advice. So you can’t modify the test if you haven’t modified your instruction. So you have got to start with your unit plan and see where you can insert pieces that that child can participate in, where you can insert places where they can be held accountable. How you can actually figure out that kid is absorbing the information differently from his peers. Modify your expectations for your content. You know.
Gonzalez: What does that mean exactly though modify your expectations for your content? For that student? Meaning they shouldn’t– They won’t need to learn as much as everybody else?
Kim: They’re learning just as much as everybody else but they’re not going to be able to explain it to you or express it to you at the depth. Or they won’t be able to learn it at the depth that the other students will if their language level is low.
Gonzalez: Okay, so figure out where the minimum is and where they’ll– […]
Kim: Right, like my kids for example. We do a unit on forces and motion. It’s the three laws of motion. Every single kid in my class could tell you all of the three laws of motion at the end of the unit. I– Some of them got to the point that they could recognize and explain a picture. I have a fantastic picture of a motorcycle hitting a wall. And the student said “This shows– For every motorcycle there is an equal and opposite wall.” It was a great you know sort of a, but a pigeon of the rule that let– Like that’s more advanced. Versus my lowest level kids my expectation was just that they would memorize the three laws of motion. So then at the end of the unit– So you can figure out a way to get everybody on the same page, working on the same content, but at their level. That’s where the ELL collab comes in handy or talking with someone to figure that out. But in the beginning in your unit planet start asking what is realistic here with this kid? At the end of a week I want this kid to be able to recite the three laws of motion. I want this kid to be able to recite the three laws of motion and choose a law and apply it to one of the pictures.
Gonzalez: Because I think he can.
Kim: Yeah, because he has the language. I’m going to– For this kid who won’t be able to recite the three laws of motion, I’m going to give him a fill in the blank where he’s going to be able to fill it in and then read the three laws of motion to me. So you know what I mean? So there’s ways to differentiate that content so that it’s appropriate for the students’ language level. And you have to do that in the planning stages. When you’re planning your assessment for the unit, which is backwards planning, backwards design which is where a lot of teachers are starting now. Start with also planning your assessment for your ELLs and it’s okay if they don’t look the same. A kid who, like my student from Africa who is illiterate, could orally demonstrate proficiency on the content without having to do it in writing. And I provided a scribe for him who would read him the test to him and he would tell her the answers. That kid was getting a hundred percent on all of his tests.
Gonzalez: Right because he understood the science or the history. He just couldn’t write it down.
Kim: Yes totally got it. So when you determine your goals for your unit, determine unit goals that are applicable to those kids. That they’ll be able to demonstrate proficiency in the content for you.
Kim: I mean it would be a dream for me to add please add language goals, but you know that’s where I would start. Don’t get to the end of your unit and then go to your ELL teacher and say I need this test modified.
Kim: They can’t modify the test for you when they don’t know what you’ve taught. Like you have to know what you’re expecting a kid to learn.
Kim: And you have to plan that test appropriately.
Gonzalez: Policy level now. What changes would you like to see in terms of English Language Learners?
Kim: I would like to see an alignment of our assessment system with what we understand about language acquisition.
Gonzalez: Okay, what would that look like?
Kim: Students would not be tested in content areas until they’re in the country for five to seven years or have demonstrated academic proficiency on an ACCESS test or some sort of a test. Because the current policy disgusts me. I mean– […]
Gonzalez: Is it still two years?
Gonzalez: It’s one now?
Kim: And it’s not even one year. It is one exemption. So for example, I had a student who enrolled in, on May 8 of last year. During the week, it’s the week– He enrolled like the Friday before testing started. Well then he took his exemption that year even though– […]
Gonzalez: He tested that year?
Kim: No, no, he took his– You get one exemption.
Gonzalez: Okay, got it.
Kim: So he got that exemption. He’s in school for all of a day and he gets his testing exemption. Has one more week and then he goes on summer vacation. Returns in the fall, essentially starting his first year in US schools and has to take the entire set of accountability tests for the following school year because his exemption was used up the year before. Even though he hasn’t even technically been in school for a full year at that point.
Kim: And then add to that the fact that there’s an eroding system of modifications and test assessments because they’re so concerned about consistency which is understandable. But they’re not compensating for that in any way by saying okay we’re taking away readers, we’re taking away paraphrasers, we’re taking away prompting and cuing notebooks. We took down all of the stuff that we have on the walls that act as cues for students who are learning in this new way. To demonstrate their proficiency on this test because we need to have an even playing field. We’re– The playing field doesn’t start even just by taking all the —. It’s disgusting to me. I– I would love to give the governor of our state a test in just rudimentary Spanish and just say here, you know? But we took– We had an explore tests we had to give to our students. It’s supposed to take– It’s four thirty minute tests. We had readers reading the test to them. It took six hours to administer that test by the time we were done administering the test to the students.
Gonzalez: Because you were using readers?
Kim: Because of the readers and the kids could ask for paraphrasing of questions. They were, you know– At the time those were appropriate accommodations. And the kids were putting forth a hundred percent effort and we took six hours to test them over the course of the day.
Gonzalez: And that– Would you– You’d like to see that–
Kim: It’s cruel.
Gonzalez: To do that, yeah.
Kim: It’s inhumane. It’s cruel. I would pull my child out of school if I knew that my daughter was going to go through six hours of standardized testing.
Gonzalez: Because you saw it. Did it have a real negative impact on the kids that day?
Kim: They were tired. They were totally participating. My long term concern is constantly testing kids on stuff that is so far beyond their reach that they can’t do it. That when they get to the point that it is not beyond their reach, they have learned that they can’t do it. And so when it actually might be a valid test for them, you don’t get valid results because they quit. Like how many times do you want to do something you can’t do?
Kim: You know what I mean? And so– And on top of that there’s this incredible erosion of trust with me. Because I tell my students all the time in my class “I will never give you a test– I will never personally give you a test that I don’t think you can do. I will never ask you to do a task that I don’t think you can do.” I think that’s unethical as a teacher to give kids– I think there’s stuff that they need to learn and they need to reach for. It’s not that. I teach above their level. But I won’t give them something that’s beyond their reach. And yet we are taking several days out of every school year and sitting them in a room, now with a CD player or tape recorder that reads to them this entire test that’s so far beyond their understanding that it’s contradicting the relationship that I’ve built with them over the course of the year to trust me.They trust me not to do that to them. […]
Gonzalez: Well and if you’re supposed to preserve a professional demeanor that this is an important test and– I mean at the very least you should be able to say I think it’s crap that you have to take this.” And then you maintain the trust with them.
Kim: Right. Well and then to say to them “Well look this year it doesn’t really matter but next year is very important.” It’s like, how much can you do that? So it’s soul sucking, just awful.
Gonzalez: How strong is there of a lobby is there to try to change that? And is that just state by state or is it on a National level?
Kim: Gosh I hope it’s not National because I would hate to think we’re doing this to kids all over the country. But individual people like me get really fired up and try to do something and nothing happens. And to talk– There’s an incredibly powerful lobby with TESOL Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages, and there’s the state level TESOL boards and everybody contributes, but it seems to be that people who are making the rules for education don’t understand education. And then you add to that they don’t understand second language learning.
Kim: And so really, you know I mean how many complaints about the standardized testing system to do we get? It’s like the testing system isn’t good. But then I’m complaining about it for ELLs. It’s like well, you know let’s fix it for the regular kids first. But let’s fix it for the regular kids first before we even worry about how it’s going to impact ELLs. So they seem like such a secondary concern.
Gonzalez: Sort of who cares about that. It doesn’t really matter.
Gonzalez: So suppose this five to seven year were put in place. And that– That’s five to seven year comes just from you’re working with those kids? That’s a thought–
Kim: No, no, no, no, that’s research based. Academic language proficiency requires five to seven years in a second language, provided that you have an educational background in your first language.
Gonzalez: Got it.
Kim: So kids who have formal schooling in their first language will take five to seven years to acquire academic English in their second language.
Gonzalez: This is if they live in the country where that’s being spoken.
Kim: Right. But you get a kid who comes in from a refugee camp in Tanzania who has never held a pencil in his life, it’s going to take him longer than five to seven years to develop that proficiency.
Gonzalez: Right, right.
Kim: We are testing them within a year.Yeah you just can’t swallow. I mean I just don’t know.
Gonzalez: Well […]
Kim: I mean like it’s so disgusting, it’s so disgusting. And you tell that to people and they shake their heads and they’re like really? But I don’t know how to change it. I actually had my principal come in. He said this is wrong, wrong, wrong. And I said yeah, I know. Then he had to be a reader on the test.
Kim: And by the third hour he was where I was in terms of fury. Like–
Kim: That’s what you need– Is you need– […]
Gonzalez: You need people to be in there doing it.
Kim: We need the government. We need the people who are making these rules have to come and administer this test to these kids for a day. And see– […]
Gonzalez: What happened during those three hours though to him? What do you think that build up was that got him to the point of being furious?
Kim: Well you’re sitting there with a kid who clearly does not understanding anything. And they’re poised there with their pencil like they’re just going to run a marathon here, you know what I mean? And they’re just waiting for your cue to ask them a question that they’re going to answer. And they’re intent upon doing this because you’re the teacher and you’ve made– You know so they’ve got this trust thing going so okay here we go. And you read the question to them and they like are it. You know what I mean? The kid’s sitting there like let’s do this. Then you’re watching them realize first they can’t read. I mean I have illiterate kids doing this test. So they couldn’t even follow which question they were on. But they were so intent on pleasing you that they wanted to do– So I think over the course of three hours he realized that this was almost brutal punishment for these kids who were essentially like–
Gonzalez: You’re just going to keep giving them an opportunity and they’re going to think that this time I’m going to get it. […]
Kim: Yeah, yeah.[…]
Gonzalez: And it’s like nope. […]
Kim: I mean I remember reading a question to a kid about like probability. Probability questions always have bags of marbles, you know. And I read this whole probability question to him about pulling out the marbles. And we get to the end of this thing and he goes– And I read “What are the chances that you are going to pull out a yellow marble?” And the kid just looks at me and goes “Yellow”. Cause it was the only– […]
Gonzalez: That’s a word I know I got that one! Is that one of the answers? […]
Kim: It was the only– And I was so like, I mean so like yes honey. Yellow. And it was– I was just like I feel like I’m just beating this kid. My job is requiring me to — […]
Gonzalez: To do this.
Kim: to do this. I can’t, you know. I just.
Gonzalez: If somebody, if somebody were going to say okay, we got it, we believe you. We’re going to make that, but we want to make sure our teachers are still teaching these kids. How else could we measure? Are there– And I’m guessing years ago, there probably still are tests of language proficiency or modified tests so that test to content. So that you say to this kid who’s still illiterate, “Here’s a ball and here’s a ramp. Show me Newton’s Third Law.” And maybe they’d have to be– And maybe the recorder has to actually write down what the kid did and it would have to be scored by somebody who can read it.Not by a machine. But are there other ways to make sure that kid isn’t sitting there getting ignored for five years?
Kim: I would do a dual accountability system. One that would have modified language tests. And I think sufficiently– Like kids who are at level four and five of a scale of one to five, so kids who are a level four and five are pretty proficient, close to peer level proficiency. So those kids might be able to take, or would definitely be able to take the regular test with an accommodation perhaps. They could have a reader if they needed a reader or a paraphraser if they needed a paraphraser. Or if they could use a dictionary. But some sort of just modification, right? Then we would have a level three test. And that’s a content based test that has the simplified language built into it.
Gonzalez: So that’s someone who understands English Language Learners, maybe has taken the real test and has said–
Kim: We’re going to take that test and we’re going to give them that test without–[…]
Gonzalez: This is an idiom. It has nothing to do with Science. They understand the Science but they don’t understand what that term means. […]
Kim: I’m not going to put a single question on this test about baseball because baseball is an American, largely American sport. You know, that happens all the time. Stuff about how big is the football field and my kids are so stuck on what is a football field? But someone would modify a level three test. That upper level test down to be a language level that is appropriate. And then the kids could still take the content test. And then those kids who are level one and two would either have a more modified content test or their scores and their accountability for the school would be largely based on their English language proficiency scores.
Gonzalez: To just get them to be able to take the other tests. Yeah.
Kim: Right and so the goal of that– You would perhaps use a test like the ACCESS test and expect that those kids would show one year of academic language progress. You know from level one to level two would be our expectation. Good, check, this school has done what they’re supposed to do for this kid. And then once they hit level three they have a modified test. And level four and level five kids get accommodations.
Gonzalez: So much more complex, much more holistic. But–
Kim: Right, well and I would hold schools accountable for English Language Proficiency development. We have a whole bunch of kids who get stuck at level three because their teachers are not developing their academic language and they just sit there forever. You know? And they’re low level reading and writing. And we’re not doing enough. Well reading is assessed, but the question becomes is reading assessed as a language problem or is reading assessed as a reading problem. And so you know trying to kind of– If we’re really into using assessment and we’re really into using accountability, use it for good instead of evil. You know?
Kim: I mean I have no problem with being held accountable for my students’ teaching, or for my students’ learning, but I have yet to see something that could accurately show me.
Gonzalez: Well and that’s really the issue is that if you have a hundred kids and they’ve got all different levels of English proficiency, and they all fail the test, you don’t actually know what they know. Because there could be twenty different reasons that they fail it.
Kim: Well I think the slippery slope that you go down there too is that American students– I mean if it’s a test of academic language proficiency, there’s a lot of American students that would fall at a level three range for academic language proficiency.
Gonzalez: It’s a second language for a lot of kids.
Kim: And so do they get to take the modified language test as well? Do we start giving academic language tests to everyone? You know, do you get to test out of academic language proficiency.
Gonzalez: If the tests weren’t so long, it would maybe make sense to give those kids both tests and see. Is it an academic language issue or is a content issue?
Kim: Is it– Because we’re really talking about academic language, not just English. So when we– You know a lot of kids get stuck in ELL classes, but it’s academic language. So do a lot of American kids. So.
Gonzalez: Is there anything we haven’t covered? That you would like people sort of to know about this field?
Kim: I– I think that you should not be an ELL teacher unless you have talked to people from other countries. And I say that in a– I come from a loving place. But I’m shocked at the lack of– You asked me very early on about the requirements for becoming an ELL teacher and it’s possible to graduate and have an endorsement or certificate in teaching ELLs without ever having talked to someone from another country. And I think that every single teacher should have some sort of ELL training and ELL endorsement. And if it were up to me I think that every single person that has to work with ELLs would have to go to a country where they don’t speak the language for a week. And wander around and get lost and try and–
Gonzalez: And get that humility.
Kim: Oh, I got lost in Slovakia about two weeks into my stay there and I remember like– I can remember very vividly just my mind just clicking through all of this stuff. Like I was just trying to find my apartment. I couldn’t find my apartment. I didn’t have any language because I’d only been there for two weeks. I was an idiot, I arrived in the country with no language. I could count to ten. I was an idiot. And I went hiking with a friend and we came down from the– We were the the low tatras, so we came down from the little mountain that we climbed and I was living in this communist era housing bunker. Well all the apartments looked the same. My midwestern sensibility said don’t inconvenience her and have her walk you home. So my friend said “You know where you’re going?” And I said “Oh, sure.” And she took off. And I realized as she rounded the corner and I had no idea where I was. I walked back and forth on this street for probably thirty five minutes. Just, I have no idea what to do. Like I remember just running through everything in my head and just being like– And the sun’s going down and of course it’s getting really dramatic, so. I finally pick out this guy who looks pretty harmless because he’s got a broken arm and he was drunk. And I walked up to him and I said “Yasom Americhanka. Cha cha, slovanana pinch.” Which is I am an American, where is Slovena 55, which was my apartment. He was so funny because he was like “Oh, an American!” which was really funny in itself. But then he realized, which I found out a few minutes later how, where I was. So he decides he’s going to lead me home. And it’s evening time in Slovakia and all these people are sitting out on the stoops. And so as we’re walking down the street, I’m walking like three feet behind him with my head sort of down, in a sad little parade and this drunk man is waving his one good arm going look what I found, it’s an American. Everybody look, it’s an American. Isn’t she a nice American? You know sort of thing, and I’m totally doing this walk of shame behind him. And I realize I’m like two blocks from my house. LIke I literally had to turn a corner and turn a corner and I would have been there.
Gonzalez: So it wasn’t a long parade.
Kim: NO, but absolutely the very base time in my life where I’m like I have nothing but a drunk guy with a broken arm.
Gonzalez: Totally vulnerable.
Kim: Yeah. I mean I had nothing, nothing at all. And I mean like I think that everyone should have that experience. It will change how you treat your students. It will change how you treat your coworkers. It will just change how you view the world because you will realize you can go to, you know, as many trainings as you want to, but you know that guy couldn’t care less if you have a diploma. At the end of the day, you’re walking behind a drunk guy with a broken arm.
Gonzalez: Visit www.cultofpedagogy.com to find more great stuff for teacher nerds. Thanks and have a great day.