Archive for February, 2010

We enjoyed our in-class discussion on the readings last night so much that we didn’t get a chance to cover all topics on the agenda. As promised, here is some information on the benefits of using literature circles with ELLs… another tool to include in your teaching toolbox.

-Cooperative learning, a key feature of literature circles, is very beneficial to ELLs; it allows them to participate in a low-anxiety setting and build confidence.

-ELLs have the opportunity to expand thematic vocabulary.

-ELLs interact with English-proficient students, who model grade-level language skills.

-ELLs benefit from interactive oral discussions and gain a deeper understanding of the text.

-After listening to book discussions, ELLs begin to build knowledge/develop higher order thinking skills.

How would you modify a literature circle so that it is appropriate for ELLs?

For more on this topic, read From Silence to a Whisper to Active Participation_Using Literature Circles with ELL Students.


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We’ve been discussing the importance of promoting bilingualism and biliteracy for our ELLs. This practice seems even more relevant, in consideration of this article review, which suggests that language preference “extends to the prenatal period”. If newborns can express a positive connection to particular language(s), then a child’s relationship to his/her primary language(s) must be of particular significance. Do you agree? And how does this affect our teaching?

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Another reason to respect and use primary languages in the mainstream classroom: Multilingualism Brings Communities Closer Together. What are your thoughts?

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This is a post from Elyse:

Today I received an email from IRA regarding Culturally Responsive Classrooms.  The email was a link to the IRA reading radio where Kathy Au discusses many of the topics we are reading about in class.  Many of our online posts we made had topics she mentions on the radio address.  She also gives suggestions to literacy teachers for ways we can make ELL students more comfortable and to have a voice in the classroom.  One point I took from the conversation and that was mentioned in class was: in so many classrooms there is  strong competition and cooperation.  Students must raise their hand to speak and not all voices are heard.  Not all students come from a culture where this is common and as educators we must adjust accordingly.  By using strategies that Au mentions like pair-share allows all students to have a voice and to rehearse their responses.
Here is the link:
It is comforting to know that ‘Reading and the Bicultural/Bilingual student’ is a priority for the International Reading Association.

Thanks, Elyse!

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A challenging question was raised by Steve in class last night: What’s the difference between a cultural characteristic and stereotypical one? This definition from “Culture, Identity, and Schooling” p. 49, offers some insight:

Stereotype – A fixed notion of the characteristics of members of a particular group, without regard for individual differences (emphasis mine).

In our first two classes (dedicated to cultural introspection and identity examination) we emphasized the importance of knowing—and respecting—students as unique individuals, who are members of particular groups (categories: language, ethnicity, race, gender, etc.; see Banks’ multiple group membership paradigm, in class presentations) but do not subscribe to all group characteristics. Stereotypes assume that individual members of a particular group take on all group attributes. We’ve learned that this is inaccurate; group culture is dynamic and identity constantly refined/renegotiated.

As Stacey shared, stereotypical traits are often exaggerated and frequently negative. However, positive stereotypes are also problematic. The guide quoted above provides a thoughtful explanation, pp. 114–115:

Some instances of unwitting racism are founded on positive stereotypes. For example, Asian Americans have frequently been touted as the “model minority” (Kim & Yeh, 2002). This is because, as a group, Asian Americans have not experienced the widespread school failure commonly observed among Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and Americans Indians. One explanation for this general pattern is that they have been willing immigrants to
the United States. However, there are two serious problems with casting Asian Americans as the model minority. First, the stereotype itself is disturbing because, like all stereotypes, it perpetuates ignorance and gets in the way of learning about individuals and their families (Kim & Yeh, 2002). Second, it can mean overlooking the needs of Asian American students. There is great variability in how Asian American students fare in U.S. schools. Collapsing data on Asians as a group, rather than looking at patterns among Chinese American, Hmong American, Bangladeshi American, Vietnamese American, Korean American, and Asian Indian American students, masks different kinds of needs students may have and can lead to the justification of current practices that are not effective (Gewertz, 2004). Issues that some cite as under addressed vis-à-vis Asian students from many groups are harassment and racial discrimination in schools (Gewertz, 2004; Kohatsu et al., 2000, cited in Kim & Yeh, 2002), and lack of attention to devising ways to involve Asian parents in the schools, given that many are working more than one job and that language barriers and lack of knowledge about schools may keep them away (Gewertz, 2004).

Whereas ethnic stereotyping is a negative phenomenon, it should be distinguished from racism in the sense that it does not always entail the power differential that racism does. For example, when U.S. visitors to Germany expect efficiency and cleanliness, it may mean that they do not see the complexity and variation in German life. However, it is not likely to have the same negative impact that overt, racist beliefs and actions do. Stereotypes are an unfortunate extension of useful generalizations that may help people begin to understand other cultures.

For a light read on how/why we stereotype, and what we can do about it, see this Psychology Today article.

For a more education-oriented read on stereotype threat and how teachers can minimize its effect, see this ASCD article by Joshua Aronson, Associate Professor of Psychology and Education at New York University.

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Here’s a recent collection of teacher-generated blogs on ESL. Enjoy!

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