Yesterday I walked into the Kellogg Newcomer classroom. Immediately I took in the lovely and soft hum of multiple languages simultaneously creating their own symphony. I heard Arabic, Somali, Spanish, and Chinese, each with a beautiful flavor of culture and diversity. As I smiled to myself I thought "I wish more teachers and students could enjoy this harmony". The Newcomer teachers flowed beautifully and efficiently between teaching academics and supporting students' cultural and linguistic needs.
We have been on a journey this year as a district diving into the pool of culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning. We have had time to explore and implement strategies that help us to level the playing field and provide equal access for students.
In the world of EL, culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning are at the heart of what we do. We see the assets our English learners bring with them and strive to help them to grow academically and socially in a sometimes new and confusing world of American education.
How then can we tie together the work we are doing in our classrooms and put a slight twist on it to assist our English learners? Here are 10 simple, and yet powerful things we can all do in our classrooms to enhance our culturally responsive teaching and learning for our ELs. The infographic below is from Tan Huynh.
1. Pronounce ELs' names correctly. I purposefully chose to put this as number 1 because I feel that this is the most simple thing any teacher can do, and yet can have significant negative effects if mispronounced. For many students, hearing their name mispronounced can make them feel alienated and as if their culture is not valued. There is a very funny, and yet poignant, clip from the Ellen DeGeneres show that makes this point quite clearly.
2. Refrain from substituting ELs first name with an English nickname. Does anyone want to be called a name that is not what they have chosen to be called? Simply ask what they would like to be called and then practice saying it repeatedly until it is as easy as saying "Jon Snow" (for all of you Game of Thrones fans).
3. Invite ELs to use their home language. Not only does it bring a beautiful new harmony to your classroom but students feel that their language and culture is valued. It is an opportunity for ELs who speak the same language to have time to connect with one another.
4. Read books with characters who share ELs' experiences. Here is a great book list that provides books at different age levels. Also, check with your Media Specialist. He or she is a great resource for finding culturally responsive books.
5. Encourage ELs to share the connections between their lives and the topic. ELs bring with them a plethora of experiences. Create a community where students feel comfortable sharing their experiences through the content you are teaching.
6. Expect ELs to engage in the same learning experience and learn the same content as non-ELs. ELs can do the work. Our job is to provide them the scaffolds and supports to get them there.
7. Have ELs work with non-ELs. We do not learn in isolation. Providing opportunities for ELs to work with non-ELs allows students to not only learn from each other academically but also culturally. ELs also have much more opportunities to develop academic language when they are with their native English speaking peers.
8. Explicitly teach students how to respectfully collaborate. Strategies such as Campfire Discussions and Gallery Walks provide students opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other.
9. Use ELs' experiences to activate prior knowledge. When building background knowledge or activating prior knowledge, provide many examples from different cultures. Do not assume that all students have the same experiences, but instead provide experiences and examples that many students can connect to.
10. Permit ELs to process content in their home languages in addition to using English resources. Providing students the opportunity to clarify concepts in their first language provides comfortability in learning and also transfers this knowledge into learning English.
Let's keep diving into the pool and creating harmony for our English Learners through culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
When we share stories with one another we become bound together in powerful ways. Stories provide hope: they have the potential to shine a light into the darkness and challenge us to change our thinking. Stories matter. Stories are powerful. Each month, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction partners with the RPS equity specialists and American Indian Liaison to share the stories of those in our own backyard who are often silenced.
All of us have those days where we wished we could press rewind and start over. But there is no rewind button. We just have to keep on keeping on and hope that whatever has crept into our day to sour it dissipates as soon as possible. I would like to share a recent experience I had with my dog, Walda. (Did you really think I would write a blog post without mentioning her?)
While this girl is no longer considered a puppy (she turned 3 on April 2nd), she does possess an endearing puppy-like quality. Man, this girl has done so much for me. She’s licked my face, rested her head in my lap, brought me her tug toy to play with, you know, all the typical doggie-companion stuff. But just a few days ago, I realized what she has done for me in the vein of personal/spiritual growth.
I’m an introvert so I don’t speak openly much about what is bothering me. If at any point you and I have had a discussion where I’ve shared a piece of myself with you, I love you and I’ve watched how you react to myself and others. Well, this girl here is super friendly to everyone she meets (I’m pretty sure she’s an extrovert), so I’ve shared many things with her. She’s always super happy when I come home and it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been gone--5 minutes or 5 days--when I walk through that door, it’s always a reunion for the ages.
Now, back to what she taught me a few days ago. I came home and, just like clockwork, she got all sorts of excited: zoomies, pet my belly, here’s my tennis ball, tippy-tappy with her big-girl paws, circle-circle-circle.
And I walked right past her without acknowledging her because I was in my own head commiserating with my own thoughts. She came in the room, jumped up on the bed, laid down, and let out a big sigh. A mirror. I saw my reflection in that moment. I didn’t like what I saw. I had to own it because even though she had nothing to do with what I was dealing with, I still made her pay for it. I felt awful.
I asked Dr. Cecil White Hat (Rosebud Sioux Tribal Member, deceased) one time why it seems we suffer so much from historical trauma.
He looked at me and said, “We have forgotten how to use our natural medicines.”
Great. Now, here comes a discussion on roots and herbs. And, because I hold much respect and admiration for this Elder, I need to listen to what he is going to say.
He must have sensed what I was thinking, because he then said, “Our laughter and tears, we have forgotten how to use our laughter and tears.”
I know I always feel good after a laugh or a cry. But why? Our tears release cortisol. If that doesn’t come out during a good cry, it stays in the body and can cause all sorts of negative effects. Cecil was a very wise man. He never carried himself as if he were a walking library. He was a relatable guy. I am forever grateful to have spent time with him and I appreciate his words and lessons.
His brother, Albert White Hat (Rosebud Sioux Tribal Member, deceased), was also well known for his Lakota language and culture revitalization work on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. In this video, he talks about the importance of forgiveness and what can happen if you hold onto anger.
This post brought to you by Dawn Bjoraker, American Indian Liaison for the Rochester Public Schools
Feel free to contact Bjoraker at 507.328.4236 or to connect with her via email
Working for educational equity is not a job for the faint of heart. It demands a sense of urgency, perseverance, empathy, humor, and,most importantly, an endless supply of humility. We can never know ALL there is to know about ALL the delicate cultural nuances that make the people around us who they are. But, we can strive to approach one another with a genuine sense of curiosity that is rooted in love and be willing to admit when we’ve made mistakes.
It is with this in mind that I write today. Recently, I was schooled on the term “codeswitching” and I want to share my new understanding as it relates to what Dr. Sharroky Hollie calls, VABBing.
First of all, for any of you readers who may not be familiar with the term VABBing, it is: “the validation and affirmation of indigenous (home) culture and language for the purpose of building and bridging the student to success in the culture of academia and in mainstream society” (Hollie 13).
When I first learned about VABBing, I could easily get my head around the validation and affirmation part, but I struggled with the notion of building and bridging. The idea that I should try to teach students to fit into the mainstream went against so much that I believed in. However, the more I read and the more I practiced VABBing, the more I realized building and bridging isn’t at all about forcing students to assimilate. It’s about giving our students the tools they need to be culturally dexterous. It’s about honoring and loving our students for who they are, first and foremost, while giving them the tools they need to navigate a complex, and often inequitable, human system. It’s about opening up the playing field so they can draw on their strengths while practicing the skills necessary for success beyond the classroom walls. I thought that this was what it meant to “codeswitch.”
It was with this understanding that I went forth into the world fielding questions about situational appropriateness and codeswitching, mistakenly assuming they meant the same thing. I had read Dr. Hollie’s book, studied the binder, wrestled with my own ideas about building and bridging, but never did I realize that I was misusing the term codeswitching. Today, I wanted to share a document that Dr. Hollie recently shared with me that clarifies the difference between VABBing and codeswitching:
Before reading this, the negative connotations behind the term “codeswitching” had never really registered with me; I had simply been using it as a synonym for cultural dexterity. But, because I strive to examine the moments when my implicit bias or a deficit mindset creeps in, I have been working to change my language.
Once again, I reiterate that this work is not easy. It takes time and openness to make change. It is my hope that all of us can feel supported as reflective practitioners as we walk along this road together.
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
Lately, I have been thinking about my own education and how I, as a student, have changed over time. In my K-12 education, I was a successful student who was “good at school.” I did what the teachers and adults asked, I followed their examples of how to solve problems (I could follow any procedure in math when I knew the formula and worked through a few with the teacher), I followed their rules (no running, no swearing, etc.), and was always considered a “good kid.” Once I went to college to get my undergrad and later my master’s degree, I realized I wasn’t as "good at school" as I had once thought.
When I look back at why this shift occurred, I realize it was because as a K-12 student I wasn’t as interested in the learning and understanding of what I did, as I was with getting good grades (I was a passive learner), having teachers and classmates like me (the 'relator' in me) and being labeled as a "good student" and friend. Now, don’t get me wrong: I did learn a lot during my K-12 years of education and I had a lot of great teachers, I just didn’t always strive to know or better understand the “why” behind what I was learning. I simply wasn’t motivated to do so.
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A colleague introduced me to the book Drive by Daniel Pink. The first two chapters really hit me: they highlighted what we are doing in education now, noted what we can change, and identified why it is important that we do. Both chapters hit directly upon motivation. The chapters “The Rise and Fall of Motivation 2.0” and “Seven Reasons Carrots and Sticks (Often) Don’t Work. . .” tie into what we see in our classrooms every day, even though his book is spun more for the business-world. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend you do!
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The Impact Homework (Doesn't) Have
Looking at ways to motivate students in the classroom and comparing it to what has been done in education for years, John Hattie explores the effect size of these different actions, noting if they have a positive, negative, or neutral effect on our students. As secondary teachers who we all likely taught in a system that was incentive driven, we need to start taking a closer look at what we are doing to motivate our students and to help them be active, life-long learners.
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Three Key Motivational Elements: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose
What is visual literacy?
“Graphics of all sorts scaffold striving readers since images offer a more accessible entry point into information than text on its own. We can’t exclude kids from information simply because they are below grade level in reading, so offering an array of visual entry points allows striving readers to continue to wonder and learn regardless of their reading level.” (Harvey and Ward Striving to Thriving How to Grow Confident, Capable Learners, 2017, p.81)
Why are graphic novels great?
- They are explosively popular with people of all ages.
- They contain sophisticated themes and complex storylines.
- They make complex content accessible and concrete.
- They are gateways to other reading experiences.
- In recent years graphic novel adaptations of classics and series have come out: Babysitter’s Club, A Wrinkle in Time, Wings of Fire and more!
What constitutes a graphic novel?
What skills can students develop while reading graphic novels?
Feel free to connect with Nicole via email or phone
The Truth about Graphic Novels
How Graphic Novels Help Students Develop Critical Skills
Reluctant Reader or Visual Reader? Making the Case for Visual Literacy
From Striving to Thriving How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers By, Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward
I believe every student is growing in some area of life and below are ten ways to categorize individual growth. People are often seeking how to prioritize their lives and this is also a strategic plan to keep things in the proper perspective.
Feel free to connect with Taylor via email
As I was listening to her speak, one of the things that was on my mind was the immense pressure and joy that come from working in education. When I returned to Minnesota I spent some time looking into what she has to say about being an educator. I found a speech online that she delivered at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in 2017. In this speech she talks about the power that we, as educators, have to effect the outcomes for our students as well as the power that we have to effect outcomes for ourselves.
- How does this challenge my thinking?
- What has been reaffirmed for me?
- What will I do moving forward?
I am cutting my writing of this blog short in order to allow time to watch the video. Think of it as a treat to yourself. It just may be exactly what you need.
Resiliency can be defined as a set of attributes that provides people with the strength and fortitude to confront the overwhelming obstacles they are bound to face in life. (ASDC-Richard Sagor)
Essentially the question becomes; what is it that students need to be able to build this trait? Author Richard Sagor uses the acronym CBUPO (the feelings of Competence, Belonging, Usefulness, Potency, and Optimism. To really help students to construct these feelings, we need to look beyond occasional feel-good assemblies and smiley faced stickers on a well-done paper. As educators, we need to provide well planned educational experiences throughout our daily routines and content areas that enable all students to experience these feelings. Let’s take a closer look at each of these feelings.
- Competency is the ability to effectively accomplish goals. As educators, we can help students develop this trait by clearly identifying expectations and having students take ownership in learning by monitoring their own progress toward those goals. When students are invested in and feel in control of their own educational experience, we can expect greater levels of motivation, engagement, and success.
- Belonging occurs when students feel safe, welcome and wanted. Students gain a sense of belonging when educators make an effort to build relationships and engage in instruction that is learning style appropriate. Much of the Dr. Hollie work we in the Rochester Public Schools are engaging in to develop culturally responsive classrooms is in direct correlation with helping all students to feel they belong. All students need to feel that they are a valued member of the community.
- Usefulness is the feeling that occurs when one has had the opportunity to make a real contribution to the well-being of others, whether it be at home or school, or within the local or global community. We really help ourselves most when we are helping others as it can give one a sense of pride and fulfillment. Participating in service learning projects is one way to instill a sense of usefulness.
- Potency is really a sense of empowerment. Click on the button below to see 50 different ideas for empowering your students.
“Empowerment is a process through which people increase their participation in decisions that matter to them. ... When students are empowered to have a say and take action about issues affecting them they experience better mental health outcomes, develop strong self-concepts and positively engage with learning" -beyou.edu.au
- Optimism is a hopefulness and confidence about the future. My favorite optimistic quote is from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; “It will all be alright in the end. And if it is not alright, it is not the end.”
“There are many obstacles. Having goals is not enough. One has to keep getting closer to those goals, amidst all the inevitable twists and turns of life. Hope allows people to approach problems with a mindset and strategy-set suitable for success, thereby increasing the chances they will actually accomplish their goals. ”-S. Kaufman, Psychology Today
We encounter so many unfamiliar things all of the time and need background knowledge to navigate our world. Yet, many of our students lack the background knowledge they need to navigate their learning. How do we provide this for them?
As an EL teacher, I always struggled with balancing providing students background knowledge when there was so many other things I needed to teach (decoding, comprehension, writing organization, and so much more!). How do I tap into my students’ prior knowledge and provide them with the information they need, and still have time to teach it all? I could teach background knowledge all day, but then my students would lack other essential skills. How should one balance it all?
How important is background knowledge really?
Framework for Building ELs’ Background Knowledge
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Do non-ELs have background knowledge on the topic?
ELs should have a comparable amount of knowledge of a topic as their non-EL peers. This provides equity amongst all students.
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Does the background provide information in place of what the author is going to provide in the text?
If students are going to gather the information in an upcoming text, then don’t spoil it! It is still crucial that we provide students support and scaffolding as they access this information.
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Is the background knowledge about big issues that will help ELs make sense of the text?
Teachers don’t have to provide students everything about a topic. Rather, provide them information that is critical to comprehending the information.
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Is the background knowledge you’d like to provide concise?
There isn’t a need to take up an entire hour or class period on background information. Take just enough time to provide the critical information and move on.
The figure below is also a great reference to refer to when you are unsure about which background knowledge to teach. Keep it in your lesson plan book!
What are some quick strategies I can use to teach background knowledge?
- Brief video clips to share with students. These clips can be a great conversation starter so you can quickly discover what students are questioning or what they already know about the topic.
- Visuals that clearly relate to your content or objective.
- Select visuals that will resonate with students and may connect to their interests or personal backgrounds.
- Also select visuals that give students plenty of opportunities to practice language that connects to your content or objective.
- Virtual field trips allow students to go to amazing locations without leaving your classroom.
- Quick Write – What Comes to Mind?
- This Quick Write strategy activates students’ prior knowledge and provides the teacher with information regarding what students already know, or don’t know, about a topic.
- Prior to the lesson, ask or display the question, What comes to mind when I say…? Or show students a picture and ask, What comes to mind when you look at this picture? Students complete a quick write (5 minutes or fewer) about their thoughts and turn it in. (You may want to tell students that this isn’t for a grade, just to see what they already know.)
- Rally Table
- Provide students a blank sheet of paper or a visual that relates to the content or topic.
- Students go around the table writing down words, phrases, or sentences that they think of in reference to the question, visual, or topic. Students can even draw their ideas.
Back to Rugby: an example.
This month, our focus is on restorative circles. Each member of our equity team shares their experiences and insight.
From Dawn Bjoraker…
Everything we do is in a circle. We are born, we turn into youth, we turn into elders, and then we pass. Spring, summer, winter, and fall. Usually, around mid to late February we begin to wonder if the snow will ever stop and if spring will ever arrive. Without fail, it always does.
We have four parts of our being: spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical. Mind, heart, body, and spirit, it is all connected. We are all connected. Mitakuye Oyasin (we are all related / all my relatives). One cannot function properly without the other. Much like a circle where there is no beginning and no end, it is a process. Instead of top-down, it goes around and around. We are responsible for and to each other.
In south Minneapolis, I coordinated an after-school group. All of the exercises and activities were conducted in the shape of a circle. There was no teacher and no student. We mutually taught and supported each other. We were able to see faces instead of the back of someone's head. Our sessions always began with an icebreaker. One of our most engaging activities involved The Medicine Wheel, also referred to as the Four Directions.
- Each participant receives a large sheet of paper.
- On this paper, they draw a big circle and divide it evenly into four parts. Each part contains one part of our being: spiritual, emotional, intellectual/mental, and physical.
- Participants then use a marker to fill in each part with words about themselves that describe each area. (I would also bring in magazines that the students would use to find words that would explain parts of their being. They would use scissors to cut those words out and then use glue to paste them into whatever part they felt best described those words.) We then discuss why some parts contain more words than others.
- Discussions then turn into ones of balance and the importance of maintaining it.
- This entire activity takes place within a circle.
"In this materialistic, fast-paced culture, many children have broken circles, and the fault line usually starts with damaged relationships. Having no bonds to significant adults, they chase counterfeit belongings through gangs, cults, and promiscuous relationships. Some are so alienated that they have abandoned the pursuit of human attachment. Guarded, lonely, and distrustful, they live in despair or strike out in rage. Families, schools, and youth organizations are being challenged to form new "tribes" for all of our children so there will be no "psychological orphans." -- Dr. Martin Brokenleg
From Willie Tipton…
Group Norms or Guidelines are based on the values identified by circle participants. Guidelines are not rigid constraints, but supportive reminders of the behavioral expectations the participants in the circle share. Typical norms or guidelines are as follows:
- Remain in the circle
- Use talking piece
- Be honest
- Speak from the heart
- Trust what you need to say, no need to rehearse
- Listen with respect
- Speak with respect
- Honor confidentiality: what’s said in circles stay in circles
An environment of trust and safety allows group members to share more deeply with others. In our circles, the teacher cannot guarantee students will protect each other’s privacy, but can explain and discuss the issue with students and work toward establishing norms that specify the importance of privacy, while defining the expectations we have about confidentiality (keeping in mind that educators are mandatory reporters).
From Martine Haglund…
I have brought restorative practices using circles at my feeder schools following two themes. The first one is relationship-building where students and teachers practice forming positive connections with each other. This theme creates the space where participants come as they are so to receive from one another kindness and support around authentic dialogue regarding conflicts or classroom issues. The second theme uses specific questions to engage participants in discussing and processing a challenging situation so they arrive at making things right. In either theme, as a facilitator, I remain consistent in the sequence of events and outline the steps. I open and close with the bell. I do a check-in rounds to establish connections. Then, I dive into the restorative content. Each circle step is intentional, yet is presented as effortless to participants.
- Basic Circle -- Everyone faces the center and the talking piece is passed around clockwise, making sure that everyone gets a turn to speak.
- Popcorn Circle -- Teachers employ a Basic Circle format and use this type when it is not necessary for everyone to speak. In this case, they can either use or forego the talking piece
- Fishbowl / Witness Circle-- Teachers use Basic Circle format for opening and check-in, then invite a volunteer group to form a smaller circle on the inside. While the inner circle discusses the restorative content, the outer circle listens until it is asked to comment on the inner circle's dialogue.
- Spiral Circle -- Uses Fishbowl /Witness Circle guidelines, but an empty seat is left in the inner circle to encourage one outer circle listener to come, sit, and participate when they want to contribute.
- Feedback Circle -- This circle applies a Basic Circle format but limited time is allotted to the person speaking, and the next speaker is responsible to keep the time.
- Wheelhouse Circle -- Chairs are placed to form an inner and outer circle where participants sit facing each other, forming pairs to talk. At the sound of a bell, students in the outer circle move seats clockwise to interact with someone new.
- Small Group / Student Circle Leaders -- Teachers can use this type if they have a large class. The idea is to break into smaller Basic Circles with student-leaders who can serve as facilitators.
I have used Restorative Circles for the last eight years. They have become part of any group work I’ve done since my training here in Rochester. I have found that through Restorative Circles students and staff have found a sense of community through commonalities and vulnerability. I have heard stories of depression and others of hope, which has often propelled me to action or simply allowed me to appreciate my own life a lot more. Students have talked about topics of handling school, mental illness, mass shootings and the state of our country. I have learned a lot by listening as others have given their viewpoints about these touchy subjects.
Last year, I had the opportunity to do some Restorative Circles at ALC that had a great turnout and response. These Restorative Circles were centered on three simple questions, those I call the “Big Three”:
- What is your inner struggle? This questions ask for the members of the circle to look within to reflect on the main struggle that one should have a grasp on but has yet to conquer. This could be procrastination or lack of trust for others.
- What is your outer struggle? This question asks for the members of the circle to reflect on the main outside distractor to their well-being. This could consist of a person, place or thing such as a parent overwhelming academic expectations or babysitting siblings.
- What is your worldview? This question asks for members of the circle to be completely honest about their view of life through their eyes. One’s worldview could be from the standpoint of an individual living in his home to a community member of a neighborhood.
No matter the type, teachers should maintain classroom circles as an activity to acknowledge the unique voices of students, focusing in on the quality of the process and not immediate results.
If you have a question about the resources available for students or staff or if you wish to discuss any of these ideas further, please consider reaching out to our team.
For more information in the ideas touched above, consider the following:
- Clifford, Amos. “Teaching Restorative Practices with Classroom Circles.” Center for Restorative Process. San Francisco Unified School District. San Francisco, CA. 2013.
and Martine Haglund, Willie Tipton & Toby Taylor, Equity Specialists for the Rochester Public Schools.
Feel free to connect with them here.
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Members of the Elementary C&I team post useful tools, tips, and tricks on a weekly basis to help you help students.
Analysis & Inquiry
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Regard For S's Perspective