Monday, August 22, 2011

What Does College and Career Readiness for ELs Look like?

I revised the text on p. 7 of the Common Core Standards, to reflect our goals for English Learner college and career-readiness. I have marked the text I added in red.

ELs can demonstrate independence
Over time and eventually without scaffolding, will be able to comprehend and evaluate increasingly complex texts across a range of types and disciplines. Given an appropriate time frame, they can construct effective arguments and convey intricate or multifaceted information. Our goal is for EL students to eventually be able to independently to discern a speaker’s key points, request clarification, and ask relevant questions. An emphasis on oral language means we expect them to build on others’ ideas, articulate their own ideas, and confirm they have been understood. Once they no longer need prompting, they should be able to switch between standard English and their own dialect, acquiring and using a wide-ranging vocabulary. We are teaching them how to become self-directed learners, effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, and print and digital reference materials.

ELs can build strong content knowledge
ELs establish a base of knowledge across a wide range of subject matter by first engaging with personal experience, followed by the reading of high interest texts. As their fluency develops, they take on more works of quality and substance. They become proficient in new areas through modeled research and study. They read purposefully and listen attentively to gain both general knowledge and discipline-specific expertise. They refine and share their knowledge through daily writing and speaking.

ELs can respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline
Students in the higher stages of English Language Acquisition adapt their communication in relation to audience, task, purpose, and discipline, but all ELs learn to set and adjust purpose for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use through consistent exposure to multiple models. When their fluency is high enough, they appreciate nuances, such as how the composition of an audience should affect tone when speaking and how the connotations of words affect meaning. They all learn that different disciplines call for different types of evidence (e.g., documentary evidence in history, experimental evidence in science).

ELs are able to process comprehensible input and critique using all the language tools at their level
If taught well, all ELs can be engaged and open-minded—but discerning—readers and listeners.  They will work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying. College and career-ready ELs question an author’s or speaker’s assumptions and premises and assess the veracity of claims. Those in the higher stages of English Language Acquisition can question an author’s soundness of reasoning.

ELs value evidence
They are able to bring up specific evidence when offering an oral or written interpretation of a text. They use relevant evidence when supporting their own points in writing and speaking. Even in a short piece they make their reasoning clear to the reader or listener, and they constructively evaluate others’ use of evidence.

ELs use technology and digital media strategically and capably
College and career-ready ELs employ technology thoughtfully to enhance their reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use. We teach them to read strategically so they can tailor their searches online to acquire useful information efficiently, and they integrate what they learn using technology with what they learn offline. We give them internet access so that they can become familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums, and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.

ELs understand other perspectives and cultures
Because they are a diverse group, they appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together. Because many ELs come from immigrant families, they actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they want to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds. We teach them to evaluate other points of view critically and constructively. While those in the higher stages of English Language Acquisition will read and comprehend great classic and contemporary works of literature representative of a variety of periods, cultures, and worldviews, all ELs can vicariously inhabit worlds and have experiences much different than their own.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Social Justice and the National Writing Project

When I decided to become a teacher back in 1991, there was a figure from Puerto Rican education I was so inspired by, I must have read his biography about ten times before I got my teaching credential. When I think of him, I visualize the famous painting that shows Maestro Rafael Cordero teaching at his school. He started the island’s first public school in 1810, for Black children who had not been admitted to the city’s schools because of their race. He also took on many students who could not afford to pay for their education.

Over the years, I have often wondered why Rafael Cordero devoted his life to those children, when he could have made a living doing something else. He was an educated man. Perhaps he knew neither the private nor the religious institutions of the time could be expected to produce the leaders his island needed. Maestro Cordero must have seen literacy as the key to liberation, or he would have taught a profitable trade instead of reading and writing. He must have felt instruction should be delivered through a public system, or he would have tried to convince private and parochial schools to take in those they had rejected.

What would he have thought of the dismantling of our public school system?  I wonder if someone could have convinced him of the effectiveness of the business model for schools, or of the need to remove the bargaining power of teachers to save money. After all, he was no stranger to economic crises; his school remained open and even thrived during the period of great turmoil that was the middle of the 19th century.

He was a teacher. Had he been around today, the maestro would have advocated for the students that 21st century private and charter schools won’t accept. Students who have fallen behind or who are learning English and score too low. Students with behavioral issues. Students that cost too much money to teach because they have special needs. I imagine him helping other teachers figure out how to address those needs, and advocating for the right of all students to get a quality education.

Would he have sat around to watch the de-funding of organizations that support teachers?  No way. Not only would he have been heartbroken at the number of literacy organizations that are being hit, he would have exposed the fallacy of dismantling decades of taxpayer-funded work in the name of fiscal responsibility. Which is why I write today, channeling Maestro Cordero.

Our legislature has taken the National Writing Project’s federal funding. If it is not restored, thousands of teachers per year will miss a chance to learn how to teach writing well from other teachers. Let me explain how my involvement with a local writing project changed my professional life.

Before I joined the Bay Area Writing Project in 1994, I thought professional development was a binder that a school district consultant gave you after a long period of boredom. Little did I know how much that vision would evolve through my lively discussions with the colleagues I would meet, and how that same community would encourage me to stay in teaching during the dot com revolution of the mid-nineties. I knew I could always count on the support of my writing project colleagues on issues of equity and social justice. And I knew they would help me figure out how to teach my English learners to write well. Because of my writing project, I had a place to go to when I needed help, and I had a place where I could share what I had learned. Over the years, I began noticing the number of outstanding colleagues who had been influenced by the writing project model and realized that there was much power in Jim Gray’s idea, “teachers teaching teachers.”

The removal of federal funding will not take away the notion that teachers have something to add to the great national dialogue in education.  Those of us who have been part of the 206 writing project communities across the country will not forget what we have learned. But the countless new teachers who join the profession each day are at increased risk of leaving the profession. Teaching can be lonely, exhausting, and difficult work, and writing projects in every state have provided the nurturing environment where this particular teaching expertise can be cultivated.  There may be other organizations providing support, but none of them is such a large teacher network focused on literacy, and in particular, writing.

In this age where writing is the ultimate gatekeeper, to defund such a well-established and effective network constitutes a tragedy for all teachers, their students, and their parents. It is because of this that I am certain Maestro Cordero would have blogged today.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


While at Nicholls Park (in Richmond) the other day, I met a younger man. He said his name was Oscar. After going through the usual questions most people ask of outdoor painters, he settled next to me and  watched me paint for a while. Then Oscar said, half joking, "bet you wouldn't put me in your painting." "Why not?" I asked. "Can you stand for twenty minutes?" "Sure I can!," he responded. "Ok, you're on!" For the next twenty minutes, he stood there, laughing and joking some more, saying he should have married me because I was "unusually open-minded." Then I called him over to see the results. I offered him twenty dollars for his time, but he refused the money, saying he had had "the time of his life."

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Moss Landing, CA

We took a short family vacation this winter. The three of us and our dog rented an RV, drove for two hours and stopped at the coastal village of Moss Landing. Every morning I would take the long walk through the estuary to find a spot where I could legally paint the Salinas River flowing out to sea. For some reason the Moss Landing harbor, though very charming, did not cast the same spell. You can see why in these two 16 x 20" acrylics on masonite.