Engaging Families of Pre-K–3 ELs

I have written several blogs on engaging parents of ELs in their children’s education. In this blog, I want to focus on young students in Grades Pre-K–3. I asked Karen Nemeth, a nationally recognized expert in early childhood education, to address this issue. I hope you will work with your administrators to implement some of these suggestions for the 2016–2017 school year.

Family engagement is on every educator’s mind. It is most important for the youngest ELs because family literacy and language experiences have such a big impact on learning for ELs in preschool and early elementary. Most programs address family engagement by offering a variety of special events and hoping family members will attend. I don’t know any school that gets 100% attendance, and it seems that the families who don’t attend may be the ones who need the most support. Maybe it’s time for a completely different view of what family engagement can mean to support very young ELs.30

Let’s shift the focus of family engagement so that each school creates a plan for how they will develop a relationship with each individual family. Let the relationship be the goal rather than attendance numbers at events. The family engagement plan could then be a menu of strategies that range from large scale family fun days to smaller workshops requested by parents, to opportunities for one-on-one meetings at school or a local coffee shop. The goal will be to make positive contact with each family and use that contact as a pathway to open communication when needed. With our focus on families of ELs, our suggestions will include strategies to build relationships across language and cultural barriers.

  • Simplify messages, forms, and papers. Fewer words mean easier comprehension and fewer translation expenses.
  • Use icons and predictable sentence patterns to enhance readability for people who are new to English.
  • Color-code messages home to support understanding and response. For example: green paper is for forms that require payment, blue for signature needed, yellow for mandatory forms, pink for invitations to events, and so on.
  • Use a variety of media to make sure each family is contacted in a way they are most likely to receive. Districts using Remind.com messaging system on mobile phones are able to utilize the different languages it offers, but keep in mind that some families respond better to paper notices, and some prefer emails or voicemails.
  • Form a committee of experienced bilingual family members who can reach out to newcomer families to make sure they feel welcome and they understand school policies, forms, and invitations.
  • Show families and staff how to use the camera function of the Google Translate app so that mobile devices can be held over documents and the translated version appears on the screen.
  • Take a step back and reconsider the traditional “back to school night.” How does your school operate this event? Do families of ELs have the opportunity to have conversations with their child’s teacher? How could that time be used in ways that are more conducive to building individual relationships with families? Try dividing the event into two or three evenings and setting up smaller groups or individual appointments with teachers to share about children’s work and activities.
  • Sometimes family members just need to feel needed. They may not make time in their busy schedule for a parent workshop or a family fun night, but they may come in to help make the school a better place for their child. Ask them to translate labels or stories to their home languages, to start a school garden, or to play and read with small groups of children.

By making the focus on establishing an authentic relationship with each and every family, teachers and administrators can allocate time, energy, and resources to build a more effective system that benefits the school and the children.

Here are some resources to help:

Karen Nemeth is an author, consultant, and presenter focusing on effective early education for dual language learners. She is a consulting editor and author for NAEYC, the co-chair of the early childhood SIG of NABE.  Karen is the author of many books on teaching dual language learners, including: Many Languages, One Classroom, and Many Languages, Building Connections. She coauthored Digital Decisions and New Words, New Friends, a bilingual book for young children, and was editor of  Young Dual Language Learners: A Guide for PreK-3 Leaders.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/engaging-families-of-pre-k-3-els/


🏊🏾 🏄🏽 🚴

I hope your summer is heating up 🏊🏾 🏄🏽 🚴 and that everyone is winding down from the school year!   Even though it is summer, if you are like me there is still part of the brain on school.  That being said this is a great video for teaching students  to explain their thinking in a safe and empowering way!

  https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/addition-math-lesson-ousd/embed.js?width=480 Happy Teaching!

from Fun To Teach ESL – Teaching English as a Second Language http://esleld.blogspot.com/2016/06/blog-post.html

ESP Project Leader Profile: Yilin Sun

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In this ESP Project Leader Profile, you will read about a former president of TESOL International Association—Dr. Yilin Sun. Here is a portion of her bio on the TESOL website:

Yilin Sun has served as president of TESOL International Association, as chair of the TESOL Affiliate Leadership Council, and president of Washington Association for the Education of Speakers of Other Languages (WAESOL). In 2011-2012, Dr. Sun was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Taiwan at the National Taiwan Normal University. Dr. Sun received her doctorate in applied linguistics/curriculum and instruction from the University of Toronto, Canada. She has more than 28 years of experience in the field of TESOL as a teacher educator, a researcher, a classroom teacher, and a program leader with various institutions of higher education in China, Canada, and the United States.

In addition to the above, Yilin will be a plenary speaker at the Joint International Conference, ESP in Asia: Frontier and Advancement, The 8th International Conference on ESP in Asia & The 3rd International Symposium on Innovative Teaching and Research in ESP in Japan.

I look forward to hearing Yilin speak at the conference. You can find the call for papers here. The deadline for proposals is 30 June 2016 (23:59 GMT).

Yilin Sun

Dr. Yilin Sun, South Seattle College

e-mail: Yilin.Sun@SeattleColleges.edu or yilsuntesol@gmail.com

Define leadership in your own words. 

To me, leadership skills include the ability to inspire a team of professionals to work together to develop a vision into reality.  It takes unwavering commitment to accomplish bringing people together to transform a vision into a tangible project. It needs clear strategic directions and accountable action plans to make it happen.

Effective leaders are genuine advocates for their profession, their students, and their community. They walk the walk and are trustworthy. A good leader doesn’t need to be always in the spotlight but she/he knows when to lead from the front and when to step back and lead from the peripherals.

During my service as president of TESOL International Association, I shared two blogs on the topic of leadership, which I hope will provide you with a better understanding of my definition of leadership.  One is entitled Demystifying the Myths About Leadership and the other is Seven Magic Words to Develop Teachers as Leaders.

Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to make that project successful?

Over my career I have been involved with several ESP projects including curriculum development, ESP teacher training, and teaching ESP/EAP courses. There are always stories behind success as I see success as a journey requiring ongoing collaborative effort with all stakeholders, not just by a single leader.

I have two stories to share. These illustrate the two types of students I normally teach.  One project is an ESP teacher training program and the other is a language program for adult immigrants and refugees students.

The ESP-AMT (Aviation Maintenance Technology) teacher training program was a project I designed for a group of international ESP teacher trainees.  This project turned out to be very successful; a true team success as a coteacher teaming with the AMT instructors.  Unlike conventional teacher training courses where the trainees would work by themselves, this group of trainees attended AMT classes with local American AMT students for 4 hours a day, hands-on training.  Following the conclusion of classes each day, we would debrief as a group.  Instructors engaged trainees’ questions, and modified instructional materials and activities as needed.  One of the tasks that contributed to the program’s success was that I would conclude each week with working directly with trainees on topics related to ESP lesson planning, needs assessment, teaching techniques, and AMT genre-analysis, etc.

Another story I’d like to share is the Project I-DEA program. I-DEA stands for integrated digital English acceleration. I started with this program in summer 2015. This is a program targeting community college students in Washington State’s lowest three levels of English Language Acquisition courses.  The program aims to help immigrant and refugee students through the integration of technology and language learning. The I-DEA project is funded by the Gates Foundation. For more information about I-DEA, please refer to its website.

In this program, the instructors utilize a blended/hybrid format with a flipped instructional model and integrated instructional technologies.  The students meet with me in class and online for 11 weeks.  It was a challenging start; the majority of students had no computer skills and limited English abilities, not to mention knowing nothing about how to work online.

However, with concerted efforts by the students and the teacher, at the end of 11 weeks, the students’ progress was amazing—both in digital literacy and language skills.  The new skills have given these students confidence to work online, work in teams, and share ideas in class and on Canvas. Those skills are essential in moving forward on their pathway for career and college success.

Here are the six points that I feel are necessary in making a project successful:

  1. Shared vision, trust, passion, and commitment for student success among all team players
  2. Everyone works collaboratively as a true community of practitioners
  3. Willingness to step out of comfort zones and embrace new ideas, intercultural communication, and interdisciplinary collaboration—border crossing acts
  4. Motivation, commitment, and support from all stakeholders: unit administrator, college IT services, and learners
  5. Realistic long-term and short-term goals and steps to measure and achieve them; ongoing needs assessment
  6. Innovative approaches and modules in scaffolding steps: A flipped model allows the program to significantly increase the rigor for students without requiring them to be on campus for additional time, fosters independent learning, and increases individual attention; project-based learning encourages students to utilize the course information and critical thinking to creatively solve problems

After reading Yilin’s profile above, I took a look at the I-DEA program website as she suggested. On the website:

  • The Integrated Digital English Acceleration (I-DEA) program teaches English language skills in the context of college and careers for learners who face the largest language gaps. Unlike traditional approaches — in which learners are expected to learn English before pursuing college or job-training — I-DEA teaches English in tandem with college and career skills. Students quickly learn skills relevant to their lives and careers.
  • I-DEA is based on Washington state’s I-BEST program, which integrates instruction using team-teaching to combine college-readiness classes with job training. I-DEA connects to I-BEST and other programs that lead to certificates, degrees and family-wage jobs.

Very interesting and useful information!

Do you have any questions or comments for Yilin? Please post those below or contact her directly! Thank you!

All the best,


from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/esp-project-leader-profile-yilin-sun/

5 Reasons We Need TESOL Teacher Education

Recently in the United States, some states have been turning to hiring people who are not certified or trained teachers to fill open classroom positions. States such as Utah and Georgia are allowing schools to hire individuals with a bachelor’s degree in any content area, who are then supervised by a master teacher and/or complete an alternative teacher training program in their first 3 years of teaching. Those states are not alone, as some programs such as Teach for America place people with bachelor’s degrees in public schools with a summer training program and a student teaching experience to help them complete their required 2 years of teaching.

How does this specifically relate to TESOL education?  This larger trend impacts TESOL teachers and teacher educators in that it supports the notion that one does not need extensive education about education to be a teacher.  We see this often in the myth that one does not need to know much about English or education to be a TESOL educator—one only needs to be a native speaker of English. (Quite obviously, I disagree with both of these notions.)  Below are my five reasons we need TESOL teacher education; feel free to add yours in the comments.

1. Attrition. Currently, two out of every five K–12 public school teachers in the United States will leave the profession in the first 5 years (Knox, 2016), which means that today’s school kids will be in classrooms with perpetually novice teachers. When teachers are well prepared by universities, they may be more aware of the challenges of teaching, and less overwhelmed and overworked by those early years, and more effective and present for their students.

2. Knowledge about teaching.  It’s not enough to know about a subject; one really needs to know how to teach it. This includes general things, like classroom management, assignment grading, curriculum design, and textbook choice, but also specific things like pedagogical content knowledge, and how to transfer content in ways that people can not only understand, but process and internalize. Strategies to help students with cognition, interaction, and reflection are a huge part of the puzzle, as well. These are all things that are not easily learned, and require multiple exposures and practice for internalization before being in charge of a whole classroom.

3. Knowledge about English. English is complicated (understatement of the year).  Language is complicated. Most native speakers learn their own language by age 4–5, and don’t always have explicit knowledge of how it works or how it might challenge speakers of other languages. Information about the structure and sounds of English, how to use it for various purposes, as well as all the different varieties of English, are critical pieces to TESOL teacher education.

4. Awareness and acceptance of diversity. Teacher education programs are one place where teacher candidates (should) have opportunities to explore and articulate their own belief systems, as well as be exposed to other perspectives. Today’s teachers must be aware of the sociopolitical contexts that are going to play out in their classrooms, and have some empathy/sympathy for what their learners undergo as they take on English learning for whatever the purpose. This is a key point in developing teachers as advocates for ELLs, which has been a major initiative in TESOL this year and in past years as well.

5. Knowledge of child and human development. As a parent and a teacher, I have to say that this one is one of my biggest concerns for teachers. Classroom activities, textbooks, standards, management, motivation, discipline—all of these are so dependent on the age of the learner. When teachers are unfamiliar with the cognitive and physiological stages of development, even the best laid lesson plans can fall flat.  This is also a crucial one in language learning, as the brain functions vary differently in terms of language at various points in one’s life.

In conclusion, the main reason that these “quickie” teacher education programs concern me as a teacher educator is that they remove the focus from the human element of teaching and put it on the content area being taught—that is, as long as you know the content information, it doesn’t matter what you know about your learners.  I think we need to remember that we don’t just teach English; we teach people, and we need to serve them well by producing qualified and prepared educators.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/5-reasons-we-need-tesol-teacher-education/

Monday’s Quote!

Hello everyone!
The definition of quote is to repeat someone else’s statement, phrases or thoughts.

Here is today’s!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

Thanks Dr. Seuss!

Happy Teaching,

from Fun To Teach ESL – Teaching English as a Second Language http://esleld.blogspot.com/2016/06/mondays-quote_27.html

Lessons From the CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers

Two semesters ago, I was interviewed by someone from the Writing Lab here at Purdue University as part of her professionalization project; she needed a second-language learner who could share their experience in writing in English. The interview was focused on my initial writing experience—both positive and negative, my feelings about writing in English, as well as my writing strengths and weaknesses. Our conversation was helpful for me as well, as it gave me a chance to reflect on my own writing practices and articulate the achievements that I have made so far as a nonnative English speaker and the challenges that I still face. Finally, as a writing teacher, the discussion provided me with valuable information on how to help my students.

But even more than that, I was delighted to see that Purdue Writing Lab specialists are striving to develop the professional preparation of tutors by incorporating such projects as part of their training. Overall, I am amazed by the remarkable job that Purdue does in helping L2 learners develop their writing skills and ultimately obtain positive academic experiences at the university. Interviewing L2 students (like myself) can be a wonderful resource to gain first-hand information, and I hope this resource will be more fully utilized in the future. Last year, when I was conducting my small study on perceptions of composition teachers of their own preparation to work with L2 students, some of them mentioned this resource, though in various forms—L2 student panel, focus groups, informal interviews and surveys. So it’s definitely in teachers’ minds, but perhaps not so much in practice. Not yet.

Reading the “CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers” (Conference on College Composition and Communication, 2014) made me feel proud for my university. Many of the guidelines described in this document are being taken into account at Purdue; similarly, many suggestions offered to writing programs in terms of teacher development have already been implemented or are currently being discussed by the university as well as the administration of the Introductory Composition program.

To illustrate, we do:

  • “recognize and take responsibility for the regular presence of second language writers”;
  • “offer teacher preparation in second language writing theory, research, and instruction”;
  • “investigate issues surrounding second language writing and writers” (and the strongest contribution in this particular aspect comes from the SLS program with a variety of course projects that graduate students do as well as pilot studies that they conduct in our local institutional context); and
  • “offer graduate courses in second language writing theory, research, and instruction.”

Other successfully implemented guidelines from the Statement include a manageable class size, a self-directed placement option, and a credit-bearing first-year composition course for L2 students.

While I can gladly exclaim, “Bravo, Purdue!” and really mean it, I still think we have some room for improvement, but at the same time I am quite happy to see many areas in which this improvement is being done. For example, the Introductory Composition program is putting much effort into trying to implement, more systematically, L2 writing perspectives into the first-year mentoring program. Also, based on my personal observations, the Purdue Writing Lab tries to hire more tutors that are trained in L2 writing pedagogy, and provides them with ongoing professional development. As the Statement points out: “Writing centers that hire multilingual tutors will have someone who can provide second language writing students with first-hand writing strategies as well as empathy.”

What I can personally do better as a teacher is to probably address the problem of plagiarism more systematically. True, I talk about it, normally at the beginning of the course. True, I make my students aware of the concept of academic writing honesty as well as the consequences that inevitably come if the concept is not taken into consideration. But, as rightly noted in the Statement, second language students may not be able “to philosophically grasp and perfectly execute these practices after a single lesson,” and I think L2 students should be given sufficient instruction on how to avoid plagiarism. Easy to say “You should paraphrase this or that, or you should provide a summary of this or that in your own words.” But it’s certainly not that easy when it comes to practice—for any writer, let alone for those who struggle finding enough linguistic resources to adequately express their thoughts.

In my opinion, the “CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers” is an excellent document and should be read—definitely more than once—by all composition teachers who work with second language learners.


Conference on College Composition and Communication. (2014). CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers [position statement]. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/secondlangwriting


from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/lessons-from-the-cccc-statement-on-second-language-writing-and-writers/

What You Need to Include in an ELL Needs Assessment

Congratulations! You made it through another school year. Enjoy your summer, but unless you’re retiring (in which case, congratulations again) it will be time to prepare for the new school year before you know it.

There will be some familiar faces at the end of summer as well as new students who you have little data about beyond their placement test scores or previous school records. Those can indicate the level of instruction for grouping purposes, but to really find out what students at the secondary level already know and need to learn, it helps to do a needs assessment early in the school year. That’s why I start each session with a few assessments, such as icebreaker games or short writings, to understand where students are starting from and to get an idea of what the most pressing needs may be so I can tailor the instruction to their needs.

After developing, changing, scrapping, and redeveloping those tests about a dozen times, I found some things to keep in mind before handing them to students.

1. Make sure the instructions are comprehensible and progressively challenging.

Those of us who teach multiple levels need to use our time efficiently, but I found this is one area where customization is important to learn the range of levels you have in a particular class. For example, it may help to have the first questions for the intermediate class be the hardest questions from the introductory class and the last questions the same as what students would see when they start the advanced class.

I learned this when I tried to use the VARK questionnaire to find out my students’ learning styles. Because the test was available in many languages, including Simple English, I assumed the students could share their results with me so I knew what types of activities they would enjoy. In practice, though, I learned some students couldn’t read in their first language well enough to answer the questions, while others lacked the digital literacy to print or copy their results to me. Since then, I’ve taken more care to be sure students can go through each step of the needs assessment process until it’s their level of proficiency that determines how far they can make it, not the actual test itself.

2. Do a previous education survey.

It’s common to find out what language the student hears at home via a home language survey, but what about the students’ previous educational history? Some of my students arrive from districts that don’t forward along their previous grades or even their WIDA scores, so it’s up to me to determine what the student did in previous ESOL classes. Don’t be afraid to ask what they studied, what books they used, what other languages they studied, and if their program was bilingual. This page from Colorín Colorado has some specific questions you may want to include.

3. Consider formal as well as informal language.

Even though you may not be the students’ first ESOL teacher, they’ll likely be nervous when they take a test so soon after enrolling. Thankfully, we have the opportunity to make small talk, ask open-ended questions, and possibly try a few wordplay jokes to see how well students can spontaneously answer and understand conversational English. Not only will this give you a better understanding of the students’ communicative skills, it can also alleviate the tension so the coming school year won’t seem like a foreboding future.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/what-you-need-to-include-in-an-ell-needs-assessment/