My Life Untranslated

The Secret Adventures of an ESL Teacher in NYC

Archive for the category “research”

Summer studies

So even though I still consider myself on maternity leave (my baby is now 2.5 months old), I always get inspired during the summer to “reinvent” myself as a teacher. I try to think about what i did the previous year that is worth repeating and what do I want to try out or fix in the coming year. I find that my three years in the classroom have taught me that I need to be flexible and creative while growing from my experiences and developing things that can be part of a more stable repertoire. The students will be different, so i need to be as well So I envision, I plan and I read.

So what books have I purchased so far this summer? Perhaps surprisingly none are directly related to ESL. This is because I have read most of them and they all either repeat what I already know or really don’t address the needs for me in my classroom. So I am reading:

Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop by Jeff Anderson

Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning by Peter H. Johnston.

If I learn anything useful, I will let you know. Assuming, of course, my infant lets me read them in time for September!!

If you’re reading anything good, or have a book (ESL-related or not),you’d recommend, I’d love to hear about it!

Where Are Student Needs In These National Standards?

In Response to the New York Times’ Article, “Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools”, many great letters to the Editor have been submitted. Here is a quote from one:

“While it’s true that eight of the 10 top-scoring countries have centralized education standards, so do nine of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in math and eight of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in science.”

-excerpt from letter by Alfie Kohn. Read the rest here.

Well said, Mr. Kohn.

I have written a bit now about how I feel standardized tests are a disservice to immigrant students and, well, sadly, the same can be said of standards that ignore their needs as well. Many people may think uniform national standards are a great, sensible thing. But show me two states that are identical in their student population, please.

Here is one comment in the article:

Another improvement over current state benchmarks, people involved in the initiative said, is that the proposed standards are what educators call vertically aligned, meaning that material students are to learn in early years builds a foundation for what is to come in the next grade.

This is an improvement for who? When teachers are given students who come from other countries with not only vastly different standards from ours, but also students who did not go to school regularly (if at all, thanks to such things as war and extreme poverty), what are those teachers expected to do? I’ll tell you: teach the grade standards and somehow find the ways and means to fill those giant gaps through “small groups”. It’s unfair to the students and teachers.

These standards, written without input from teachers like me, are an example of idealism at its worst.

Even standards that have been written by New York State, and likely most other states, that were written specifically for ELLs do not address the well-known research about their needs and the timeline they face in their development in a second language. Standards that don’t even address this research are meaningless, at best.

Error Creates Misleading Header: Why do 20% of Teachers Deny a Share of Responsibility?

[tweetmeme source=”laflecha” only_single=false] It took a reader to point out the error this Teacher Magazine blog post is based on (and which led to the misleading headline which was re-posted several times on Twitter). See the response from the author (bold emphasis is mine):

You raise an excellent question. The source of the quote was the MetLife Survey of American Teachers ( I went back and checked, and the survey asked “How much do you agree with the following statement: “How much do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “The teachers in a school share responsibility for the achievement of all students?” 80% of teachers strongly agreed. 16% of teachers somewhat agreed — which is your point. So actually, we have only 4% of teachers who apparently deny responsibility. Thanks for pointing this out.

— Why do 20% of Teachers Deny a Share of Responsibility? – Living in Dialogue

An interesting dialogue is developing, though, on why teachers might have answered this poll in this way. Several commenters have said that in schools where teachers have so little control over what they teach, it might make sense they don’t feel “responsible” for student achievement. It’s an interesting idea. I also think the responders may have interpreted “share responsibility”  to mean “work together” — or they may have interpreted it, thinking, “I can’t be held responsible for what teacher X in my grade teaches his students.”

So, go to the site and add your thoughts.

New Book is Guide to Research on ELLs

[tweetmeme source=”laflecha” only_single=false]

Mary Ann Zehr of EdWeek’s Learning the Language (a favorite blog of mine, as evidenced by the rss feed below-right), just wrote a quick piece about a new book published by Corwin, called Promoting Academic Achievement Among English Language Learners by Claude Goldenberg (<– that links to his site at Stanford, which has links to other research, books, and articles he has written, if you want to look more into him before purchasing the book). NYC teachers may remember an article he published in the Summer 2008 issue of American Teacher magazine, which sounds like a precursor to his book, appropriately titled, Teaching English Language Learners: What the Research Does —and Does Not— Say.

This new title from Goldenberg examines the research that’s out there on ELLs and education, according to the article. I know teachers can feel like they’re always having new research thrown at them, so this book may be a welcome analysis tool, in a sense. I feel teachers really ought to be familiar with the research studies themselves because I am realizing there are so many different ways that research can be interpreted and turned into policy/approaches/curriculum in schools. Those of you who are using Dr. Lily Wong Fillmore’s “Juicy Sentences” approach, know that that is one such example.

Some of the new book’s chapters include the role of the home language (which spurred a recent post here just yesterday), literacy in the L2 (related to my own research for my MA), and social, cultural, and family influences. So, I’m definitely psyched. I wonder how it will compare with other books I’ve read on this topic such as Literacy Instruction for English Language Learners, by Nancy Cloud, et al (2009). I liked Cloud’s book, but many such books often leave me feeling like the authors water down (or oversimplify) the research for public consumption.

I recommend reading Zehr’s piece, as she appears to have read the book, and there are already two comments on her article, if you are interested in discussing it.

It definitely sounds like a worthwhile book and, as a book glutton, I’m guaranteed to read it. I will review it once I have. As an ESL teacher who’d like to pursue research as a full-time focus someday, reading books like this is both a professional adventure (as a teacher trying to both implement approaches based on recent research and still doing what my school requires), and an inspiration.

I’m crossing my fingers to get a review copy before I go and purchase it. Hey, I’ve got a new teacher salary! :)

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