As I sit here in the Kirkhof Center, annoyed by the incessant piano playing that is taking place in the room next to mine and grossed out by the couple making out on the couch across from me (ew…), I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. It seems like just days ago that I walked into our ENG 310 class, not really sure what I had signed up for (no, but really…I knew it was an English class, but I didn’t remember what one), and now it’s over. The time flew by, but I certainly have learned a lot.

The focus of this blog was on ESL students and the effects of NCLB on these students. It had started out as a mission to educate people on ESL et. al, but I guess it kind of turned into one giant rant (not that this should surprise anyone). However, I have learned a few things from my RSS experience. ESL education is becoming more and more of a reality as the years progress. While the majority of pre-service teachers aren’t going to be prepared for this (*shakes fist angrily at colleges everywhere*), there are plenty of people out there that are doing some moving and shaking and sharing their ideas as to what works with ESL students and what doesn’t.

I’ve also learned that ESL education and, more frequently, bilingual education are controversial topics. Take for instance Herman Badillo and Newt Gingrich, spouting off about how bilingual education is terrible and people who do not speak English are “lazy.” Linda Christensen urges her students to move toward social justice, and we need to do that as well. When the world of education is dominated by a bunch of Washington D.C. buffoons, it is important for us to give to help our students move toward social justice, not just with ESL students, but all students.

Morris Cardenas, a teacher that I wrote about in a previous blog entry, wrote me a very nice message a week or so ago. He said, “As a child advocate of any race, I do feel its extremely important we listen to the children. Its much better for us to know what they think instead of telling them to shut-up and keep on playing their video games. My kids have a voice and I will listen to what they have to say as long as they present it in an educational and respectful manner. The song by Crosby Stills & Nash is still true to the spirit — Teach your Children.”

Now, I must return to my Gertrude Stein paper that I abandoned (purposely) to write this entry. Ta-ta, farewell!

I think I needed a teaching conference to get me re-motivated for the remaining two weeks at Grand Valley, so high-five for the Bright Ideas conference this weekend. I found it, overall, to be quite enjoyable!

Jacqueline Woodson, the keynote speaker, was different. I really liked what she had to say, but I agree with Marie in that I’m still not quite sure what she was talking about. Her thoughts seemed kind of random, and I thought it was a little bizarre when she, in front of a giant group of teachers, complained about getting letters from classrooms… However, one thing I took away from her speech that I think might apply to teaching writing in the classroom was her blurb on taking things one paragraph at a time. She referred to Anne Lamont and her book, Bird by Bird, stating that when she writes, she doesn’t look at writing a whole book in one sitting. Rather, she takes things one piece at a time as to not get overwhelmed. What a great thing to teach students! Breaking things down into smaller, more manageable pieces seems to be a very realistic application of Woodson’s ideas (…or Lamont’s idea said by Woodson, I’m not sure) into a classroom.

I did like her a lot, though I think she would be better doing a poetry reading or something like that.

The first session I went to was the Virtual Worlds break out session along with roughly 75% of our ENG 310 class. The presenters talked about how to use virtual worlds for novels that allow students to become the characters in the novel that they are reading. They had a number of different examples of virtual worlds, including the Things Fall Apart world where students get to roam around the village of the main character and interact with other characters in the novel, Angels in America virtual world where students are able to walk around New York City and either research the themes of the play or become the characters themselves, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream virtual world where the students become the characters in the play the interactions can change the outcome of the story! It seemed a little overwhelming at first, but by the time the presentation was done, I pretty much wanted to go play with a virtual world.

No, but seriously.

And then, it was off to learn about teaching in an urban setting. Mostly, the presenters talked about the detrimental effects of NCLB and standardized testing on students in urban schools and how rote memorization/worksheets/yelling doesn’t work! One of the presenters, a teacher at Riverside Middle School here in Grand Rapids, talked about her experience as a student in an urban setting and a teacher in an urban setting. It was kind of neat to hear this kind of a perspective, as I have only heard the tale of urban education from either a student or a teacher (never both). As the presentation progressed, the presenters talked about ways to educate urban students in a more constructive manner. Nancy Patterson, a GVSU professor, talked about a bunch of statistics that showed that more creative lessons improved students’ test scores more than anything.  It was more of a reiteration of things that I already knew and felt, so I didn’t learn a whole lot. However, hearing things like that gets me pumped to teach in an urban school, so I liked the presentation a lot. One thing in particular that caught my interest happened during the question and answer time. A college student said something like, “This is nice in theory, but how do you go about implementing these ideas?”  Both presenters encouraged everyone in the room to go to the administration and talk to them about ways to spice up lessons.

And then there was Bethany and David’s presentation!  For those of you who didn’t come to this session, you missed out!  B & D talked to us about how to use MySpace in a literary classroom.  By creating MySpace pages for characters in a novel, the students in a class have to delve into the depths of a book to extract important information that would be included on the page.  They used Feed (creepy…) and The Great Gatsby as the two model novels, and showed the audience the pages made for the characters in both novels.  I thought they did a great job, and really gave a great rationale for using social networking sites in a classroom.  However, they were met with some resistance, as there were members of the audience that may not have fully…um…taken to this idea.  I liked it though, and I really want to do something like this with the students I mentor.  Talk about creating something that is real to the student.  It’s what they do instead of doing homework usually.  With this sort of thing, they can play and MySpace AND do homework!  What a concept!

Despite having to wake up at 5 AM, waiting 1823619230 minutes for my lunch, and getting a little bit lost on the way back, the conference was a big thumbs up.

I missed the memo that said comments needed to be 200 words… I was wondering why all of you left such lengthy responses on my blog. I get it now.

So I went back and elaborated or re-wrote all of my comments. Here they are, in their completed entirety.  *sigh*

Comment Un
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Comment Cinq
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Comment DIX!

I had written an earlier post on the topic of bilingual education vs. ESL education. However, it has come back up in the news recently, this time coming from notable politician, Newt Gingrich.

Whether or not to make English the official language of the United States has been a debate taking place on Capitol Hill in the past few years, especially with the recent immigration reform legislation being proposed. H.R. 997, The Official Language Unity Act of 2007, is the latest draft of the “English as the official language” legislation being debated in the U.S. House. What really makes this legislation a point of interest for me is that if English does, in fact, become the official language of the United States, bilingual education will be strongly affected (or technically, eliminated). Though, as I mentioned before, I am not a strong supporter of bilingual education, I feel that eliminating bilingual education altogether is a bad move.

And then there’s Newt Gingrich. At a recent gathering of the National Federation of Republican Women, Gingrich spoke out against bilingual education and other bilingual opportunities in America in order to rally support around making English the official language of the United States.

“The government should quit mandating that various documents be printed in any one of 700 languages depending on who randomly shows up” to vote, said Gingrich, who is considering seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

Gingrich continued on his rampage and spoke on behalf of the American people, stating,

“The American people believe English should be the official language of the government. … We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.”

There are a couple of things wrong with this statement. Allow me to elaborate.

1. The beauty of the United States is that it was founded on a principle of liberty and freedom. The Puritans fled Europe in order to escape persecution for their religious beliefs that differed from that of the majority. Forcing people to conform to the majority, even the linguistic majority, seems to deviate from the principles on which this country was founded.

2. First of all, the only way to succeed in America is to know English.  Non-English speakers are very aware of this.  Eventually, if non-English speakers would like to obtain a job or succeed in some way in America, they’ll learn English, whether by bilingual education means or ESL means.  Second, bilingual programs and immersion programs are two very different things, and to suggest that one can simply be replaced by the other is kind of a lofty assumption. I do like immersion programs better, but I understand the benefits a bilingual education can offer. Of course a student will learn better when elements of their first language are incorporated into the curriculum. Peter Zamora, the co-chair of the Washington-based Hispanic Education Coalition, stated in the article that “research has shown ‘that bilingual education is the best method of teaching English to non-English speakers.'” However, the reality is that not every language can be given a bilingual education class, since there are tons of different languages spoken here, hence the beauty of an ESL program (which is why I like it more than bilingual education, too). But let’s look at a situation in which bilingual education was completely eliminated as Gingrich suggests. He wants to implement the “full immersion” program, so that kids aren’t given an option whatsoever of speaking their native tongue. Research has shown that this method of ESL education isn’t the most affective (effective?) way of teaching ELLs English. Obviously, Gingrich hasn’t done his homework. If he wants everyone to speak English, he’d better find a better way to do it! *shakes head* Politicians…legislating education. Doesn’t make sense.

3. So…languages other than English are languages of the ghetto? Puh-lease.  That’s one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard in my life!  As if America doesn’t already have enough of a “high horse” aura surrounding it, statements such as THAT just perpetuate that image!  We are the only country IN THE WORLD that doesn’t require a second language to be learned in schools (okay, maybe I’m wrong, but I know that we’re definitely in the minority in that aspect). So because we’re so much better than everyone else that we don’t need any other language besides English spoken here, all other languages are considered “ghetto?”  That makes no sense to me, and it seems to be a very arrogant statement to make.

I want to make inappropriate comments about Gingrich himself, however,  I will refrain from doing so.  I will say this however — despite making such arrogant statements such as this, he plans to run for President in ’08.  Thank God the only votes he was able to garner in the 2000 election were from a ballot mix-up in which people that thought they were voting for someone else when they voted for him.

Abolish bilingual education, Gingrich urges
by CNN Political News
31 March 2007
Full article

I’m going off the topic for this one, just because I thought it was out of control.

So, incase you were all worried (because I know you were), schools have started banning MySpace. Actually, this idea blossomed first here in Michigan this past week! “Tell me more,” you say? Of course!

On the first day of a strict policy banning students at St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic School from using social networking Web sites, administrators and parents were online ferreting out those who had yet to comply.

“You get to know their code names,” Judy Martinek, the school’s office manager, said Friday.

Sister Margaret Van Velzen, principal of the Bloomfield Hills school, said the policy took effect Friday in response to concerns about students posting “nasty things on the Internet,” and as an attempt to keep the children safe.

…St. Hugo has had a policy prohibiting its 773 students from posting offensive or inappropriate comments and pictures on the Web for years, Van Velzen said. But the new policy went a step further by banning students from using MySpace and other similar sites all together. Under the policy, students who refuse to delete their accounts will be suspended.

“People know the difference between using social networking for a good reason and for things that would be hurtful,” Van Velzen said.

Under MySpace rules, children 14 years and younger should not have a presence on the site anyway, but, Van Velzen said, the company does not adequately enforce that, and many students simply lie about their age. St. Hugo students with sites who were caught Friday were told to dismantle them.

So…what? Kids who have a MySpace page get SUSPENDED? Whoa, wait a minute.

Sister Margaret Van Velzen, the school’s principal, claims that in order to thoroughly protect the children from scary sexual predators, MySpace MUST be banned! However, I feel that the argument that “sexual predators” lurk on websites such as MySpace seems to me to be an empty-ish point. Call me sheltered, but the creepers that would have come after me or any other student in my class wouldn’t have found us on MySpace, but would have found us from some other way like while we were walking after dark or something. Sure, MySpace does have sexual predators and other crazies or whatever on it, but so does every other website or chatroom. Hell, so does every grocery store you walk into. Does that mean you can’t go shopping with your mom?

Since we’re on the topic of parents, let’s talk about them some more. Doesn’t this MySpace ban kind of cross the line into parenting? Parents should know how to keep their kids safe, and having a school tell them how to do so is kind of an insult. I think if I had a child in that district, I’d be a slight bit peeved. But the large majority of parents support this! WTF? Where is your ownership of your children, man!

I guess if the argument was that MySpace was disrupting the classroom, I’d maybe buy into it a little more. But I think this is kind of stepping on a few constitutional rights or something (…good to know that I’m putting my Political Science minor to work, right?). I suppose that the whole “private school” thing kind of thwarts that argument in that parents sign their life away when they decide to send their children there. Ok, ok…

Perhaps I’m missing the point. Blah blah blah dangerous internet…something or other. Good idea, school! Take away a valuable learning tool! Maybe instead of focusing on that sort of thing, schools should start creating more effective programs to teach children how to avoid situations in which they may be taken advantage of because I think we all know that D.A.R.E. doesn’t do it. Ripping away an internet website from kids instead of teaching them how to avoid predators is like sending them into the world without the proper resources for it! DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!

Parents back school’s MySpace ban
by Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press 26 March 2007
Full article at WZZM Grand Rapids

Immigration reform is a hot topic these days.  When you turn on the television (especially news channels), you would be hardpressed to find in an hour’s worth of news no report about anything dealing with immigration.  Especially since the most recent immigration legislation, illegal immigrants have been shown in a completely negative light.  However, the students at St. Pauls High School have started to fight back.

The students in Morris Cardenas ESL class have started to voice their discontent with the recent immigration reform.  Cardenas, in true Linda Christensen spirit, gave the students an opportunity to do so in a final project for his class.

“I want them to be aware that there are two sides to every argument,” [Cardenas] said. “Also, that they need to understand that democracy means you can state your opinion in a manner that is educated. That they have a right to voice their opinion whether they are from here or not from here. Democracy does not know borders. Democracy is a human right.”

Cardenas’ goal was for the students to feel comfortable stating their opinions on issues that affect them.

The article goes on to examine a few of the students’ arguments.  Several of them called for immunity for those who have been here for 10 or more years with children or work permits for those who are illegal.  In any situation, the students are extremely concerned with the issue.

The students, all from Mexico, shared their views about arrests at Smithfield Packing Co. and proposed immigration laws. More than two dozen illegal immigrants were arrested at the hog-processing plant in Tar Heel nearly two months ago. Many face deportation.

“Everyone is talking and giving speeches on how to deal with ‘these aliens’ as if we weren’t human. … A man without a country is how we all feel,” the students wrote.

The students wrote that no one thought about how deportation would affect Hispanic youth. Deportation usually results in the breakup of the family, they said, and the interruption of one’s education.

 So what does this mean for us educators?

While I don’t have the statistical information right off hand (I’ll keep searching for it, don’t worry), I feel like number of illegal immigrants is on the rise.  The odds of all of us having an illegal immigrant student in our classrooms is kind of low, but for those of us that wish to teach outside of Michigan, especially in the more southern states, illegal immigration is a reality.  So much time is spent worrying about how illegal immigrants “steal” jobs form Americans or how they don’t pay taxes…etc, etc.  But does that mean that the children have to suffer too? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for guest worker permits and I think building a 700 mile fence across a 1600 mile border is ridiculous, but for right now, deportation is the name of the game!  Disrupting a child’s homelife to deport a parent is pretty dumb.  Maintaining consistency in any child’s education is important, and breaking apart a family is not the way do that. 

I’m so glad that Cardenas is showing his students a way to fight back.  If America only hears one side of the story, things won’t change.

I lack sass in this entry and I apologize.  Until next time…  

ESL students confront immigration arguments
by Venita Jenkins
Fay Observer 12 March 2007
Full article

I have recently developed a intrigue over the change in attitude students have around mentors/tutors as opposed to the attitude they have with their teachers.  Student mentors are a tool that many schools (including my alma mater) utilize. Pairing an older high school student with a younger, struggling middle school student seems to be an efficient and cost-effective way to help struggling students get back up-to-par. 

A school district in Colorado has implemented a student-mentor program for middle school ESL students.  Lotte Laursen, a teacher at Bookcliff Middle School, has organized this program, coupling a high-school ex-ESL student with a middle school ESL student, primarily focusing on male Latino students. 

ESL teacher Lotte Laursen got the idea for the program after seeing how some Latino boys in ESL were struggling to fit into the classroom and were disengaged in learning.

The program started in January and has gotten so much demand from Bookcliff teachers that the ESL mentors are double-booked for afternoon science, social studies and algebra classes.

The mentors, who can be high school juniors or seniors, come for about an hour during the school day as part of a high school service-learning project.

In addition to helping the younger students with their academic work, the high-school mentors also serve as role models.  Laursen began to see that the younger ESL students were having a hard time fitting in socially.  The high school mentors provide a way for students to outlet their frustrations in a healthy way.

The mentors also are there to talk to the boys about outside issues that might be affecting their education. Juan said they sometimes talk to the boys so “they don’t fight or get into trouble.”

Laursen said having male role models for male ESL students is key.

“Hopefully, with them learning from other students of the same background, they will be inspired to make it through high school. That’s the long-term goal,” she said. “If they feel they belong, then they can succeed.”

While this article was a very short one, it brings up two points that I find interesting.  The first point is that student-mentors can be a big help in the area of academia.  I had always thought contrary to this, especially when I was in high school.  Whenever I’d mentor a younger student, I felt like I wasn’t really accomplishing much and that the only reason that the younger student had agreed to work with me was so that they could get out of class.  However, in my recent mentoring experiences, quite the opposite has occurred.  Over the past year, I have mentored in two different schools in two different districts, both of which were high schools.  Both times, the students responded very well to individual mentoring, as the teachers reported that both of their grades seemed to go up.  Perhaps that’s sort of a testament to my age.  When I was younger and in high school, I probably didn’t care as much about mentoring younger students as I do now, and thus, the mentoring time was usually unproductive.  But in situations where the mentor keeps the mentee focused, good things can happen.  Why does this happen?  I think it has a lot to do with a change in scenery.  Most students don’t really enjoy being bossed around by the same person all the time.  Therefore, when they get an opportunity to get away from the bossy teacher, they flourish.

A second point that the article brings up is that student-mentors can be a big help in the area of just plain socialization.  Laursen claimed that her student-mentors were able to not just talk about academics, but also other things that effected the mentees’ lives.  Home life, friends, school, and various other factors can influence the way a student learns.  If a student is given a way to outlet frustrations or concerns, it can help uninhibit the learning process.  Now, why is this?  I think student-mentors are able to help so much in this area because they are perhaps a little bit younger, and closer to the age of the students that they are assisting.  Thus, they are more able to relate to what the mentee is going through.  And besides, how many of us would have rather been mentor by a cool, college kid as opposed to the stuffy old teacher that we had to see everyday?

This entry has been sitting in my blog, unpublished for about two weeks while I’ve been trying to figure out a way to relate this to class.  After yesterday’s discussion on tracking, I had a moment of clarity!  In my group, we talked about how, in low-track classes, one-on-one attention is necessary whenever it can be given.  The use of mentors is an excellent way to do this!  It’s very cost-effective, too.  Since ESL students are generally (and I do really mean generally) put in low-track classes, the use of mentors is a useful method of catching them up to high-track students.

I just really like the idea of mentors.

Found in translation, Student mentors bridge language gap at Bookcliff
by Kylene Kiang
4 February 2007
Full article