Friday, July 28, 2006

The AFT on ELLs

I'm also a little late getting to this, but I really like the new AFT resolution about teaching English Language Learners (ELLs). I have a lot of problems with how ELLs are taught at my school, and the resolution addresses some of them directly. My after-school program has a higher percentage of ELLs than the general school population (which makes sense), and this year I was able to see how isolated these kids are. The kids are around other ELLs all day, and have very little interaction with native English speakers. This can be good - for instance, a lot of the kids make friends with immigrants from a different part of the world, and have to speak English to communicate. But from what I've seen, their English grammar isn't improving as much as it could be. That's why I like this part of the resolution:

frequent teacher-led, structured opportunities for ELLs to discuss topics that are directly relevant to their lives and for them to interact in the classroom with native English speakers;

The first part of that is also important - I helped a lot of ELLs this year on project after project about famous people and events they had trouble relating to. Obviously, they need to learn a lot of general American history to catch up with their classmates, but every time I was to compare a historical event to something from their country, their eyes would light up and they seemed to really understand. I think it is important not to treat ELLs like they are so hopelessly behind that teachers can never explain things in the kids' native language or relate lessons to something from a student's home country. One of the ESL teachers at the school does a really good job working with her kids to individually explain the lessons, but it isn't the case throughout the school.

Finally, this part of the resolution really makes me happy"

prescreening and ongoing assessment programs that determine students’ levels of English language proficiency separate from students’ content knowledge and that have the appropriate tools to distinguish between lack of linguistic abilities in English and learning disabilities;

I posted a while ago about a Dominican kid who should be in special education but ended up in ESL (and didn't get the help he needed until a teacher that worked with us took it upon herself to give him extra help) because the test the kid took confused his learning disability with a lack of English ability. This happens because the evaluations of immigrant kids aren't good, and it's great the AFT is going to be pushing for better tests and assessments.

Monday, July 24, 2006

So much blogging to do ...

So little time. In the next day or so I hope to have time to post about this, this (maybe Chris can tackle that one), this (scroll down to the bottom), and maybe a little more about this. Keep me honest, readers.


Saw David Yassky in the Grand Army Plaza subway station this morning. Over the weekend his campaign posters were taken down on my block. There's an AP story out today on his campaign for a historically black seat in Congress.

Previous post about Yassky here. There's another one, I think, but I can't find it.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Charters in NYC

The NY Post printed a big story about a "bombshell state report obtained by the post":
The just-released study by state Education Department found students in 11 of 16 city charter schools outscored kids in nearby public schools on the state's fourth-grade English and math exams in 2005.
I'm trying to figure out what this report is. Anyone know?

Monday, July 10, 2006

For the bad idea files

One of the worst ideas I've ever heard. Holding families accountable for students' school attendance, fine. Increasing their risk of homelessness, really stupid.

UPDATE: Chris says, 'why not just give families a reduction in their rent if the students make it to school every day?'

Friday, July 07, 2006

Drama in the Bronx

Or, Why Teachers Need Unions, Cont'd

Almost better than "don't be evil" ...

I just learned about this really cool search engine called
GoodSearch smaller logo .

I've been using it today to support Doctors Without Borders, but I also signed up the schools I work with so that people can start supporting them. Any nonprofit or school that has an EIN can sign up.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


I'm a little late getting to this, but I had a few thoughts about my kids' graduation from 8th grade two weeks ago. As Julie knows well, I'm not a big fan of making a huge deal out of graduating 8th grade (or any of the other big celebrations, particularly prom). Almost all of my 8th graders in the after-school program graduated, and I'm really proud of some of the kids that worked hard all year. I'll always remember a Dominican kid who told me that his teachers always told him that he wouldn't graduate and that he loved proving them wrong (he was held back last year but came to the program almost every day this year and worked harder than anyone else to get his homework and projects done, despite the fact that he really should be receiving extra help in school). There were a lot of similar stories this year, and I think the kids that exceed the low expectations that are too common in the school should be rewarded and made to feel like they accomplished something.

However, I have always thought that making a big deal out of graduation sends the wrong message to the kids. I know that a lot of my kids aren't going to graduate from high school (a really sad thought) and that it is nice to give them a ceremony, but it always seemed like the graduation confirmed the low expectations that we have of the school system and of the kids. In my middle class school, high school graduation wasn't a big deal because we were all expected to graduate from college. In my rather limited view of the school from the after-school program (I don't work with many high achieving kids), it has always seemed like low expectations are the standard (see a previous post on college).

Even with all my reservations, I enjoyed graduation. It was nice to see the parents all dressed up to support their children (a nice answer to those who say that low-income parents don't care about their children's education), and the principal focused on the future (and college!), which made the event seem more like a starting point than an ending. What really made it special were the big grins on the kids' faces throughout the ceremony. After a stressful year filled with tests and middle school angst, it was really nice to have an evening to make the kids feel good about themselves. I know it doesn't solve any of the problems the kids will face in high school, but we really should do more for their self-esteem.