On the Border

Many people do things that are illegal. Most people speed in their cars; many people drink before their 21st birthday. Some parents will even say that their children are only 11 when they are really 12 so they can pay less to watch a movie. I won’t mention the more serious crimes of which we are all aware.

The crime that people are guilty of when they are in the United States illegally is Entering Without Inspection. This is a misdemeanor crime. That means that it is a minor crime like underage drinking or petty theft. When people cross the border into the United States they are required to check in with Homeland Security.

When a person does not check in with the border patrol they do not become illegal anymore than an underage drinker becomes illegal. A person cannot be illegal. A person can do something illegal; a person can be in the country illegally. A person cannot be illegal.

We would do well to welcome the stranger, believe that all life is sacred and ask some questions. Why do people want to come into the United States? What responsibility do we, as citizens and residents of the United States, have for the conditions in their home country? What responsibility does our government have? Leaving home for a foreign land is never a decision taken lightly. An easy first step we can take in this matter is to treat all with dignity and never refer to a human being as illegal.

Comment posted on NYTimes.com

Making Content Accessible

All teachers who have Emerging Bilinguals (a.k.a ESL students) in their classrooms are immersion teachers.  That is, their students are immersed in English when that is not one of the languages the students know.

Often I am asked, “How do I change my instruction to make the content accessible to my emerging bilinguals?”  Below I have begun a list of ideas (most are not mine

Instructional Practices to Make Content Accessible

  • Use a variety of techniques responding to different learning styles and language proficiency levels.
  • Build and maintain positive interactions between teachers and students and among students.
  • Implement a reciprocal interaction model of teaching – genuine dialog.

Cooperative learning or group work situations, including…

  • Students work interdependently on tasks with common objectives.
  • Individual accountability, social equity in groups and classroom- everyone can do something.  (Have you seen the WIDA Can-Do descriptors?)
  • Extensive interactions among students to develop bilingualism.

Language input that…

  • Uses sheltering strategies to promote comprehension (see below)
  • Uses visual aids and modeling instruction, allowing students to negotiate meaning
  • Is interesting, relevant, of sufficient quantity
  • Is challenging to promote high levels of language proficiency and critical thinking
  • Language objectives are integrated into curriculum, including:
    • Structured tasks and unstructured opportunities for students to use language
    • Language policy to encourage students to use instructional language
    • Monolingual lesson delivery by the teacher
    • Students’ use of their L1 as needed to make meaning
    • Needs of all students are balanced
    • Students are integrated for the majority of the instruction

In the early stages of second language acquisition, input is made more comprehensible though the use of:

  • slower, more expanded, simplified, and repetitive speech oriented to the “here and now” (Krashen, 1981; Long, 1980),
  • highly contextualized language and gestures (Long, 1980; Saville-Troike, 1987),
  • comprehension and confirmation checks (Long, 1980), and,
  • communication structured to provide scaffolding for the negotiation of meaning by L2 students by constraining possible interpretations of sequence, role, and intent (SavilleTroike, 1987).

Sheltered techniques include:

  • the use of visual aids such as pictures, charts, graphs, and semantic mapping,
  • modeling of instruction, allowing students to negotiate meaning and make connections between course content and prior knowledge,
  • allowing students to act as mediators and facilitators,
  • the use of alternative assessments to check comprehension,
  • portfolios,
  • use of comprehensible input, scaffolding, and supplemental materials, and
  • a wide range of presentation strategies.

St. Nicholas

6            St. Nicholas

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

St Nicholas was born in 280 AD, in Patara, a city of Lycia, in Asia Minor, now Turkey. He became the gift giver of Myra. His gifts were given late at night, so that the gift giver’s identity would remain a secret. St Nicholas was eventually named the patron saint of children, sailors, Russia and Greece.

St Nicholas was a Christian priest, who later became a bishop. He was a rich person, and traveled the country helping people, giving gifts of money and other presents. St Nicholas did not like to be seen when he gave away presents, so the children of the day were told to go to sleep quickly or he would not come! Nothing has changed and Santa Claus will not arrive this Christmas unless the children go to sleep early.

Their Oil

I sped my SUV
down my street,
took the Otis to my 7th floor
turned on my flat panel
to see the news from the coast
Oil! Everywhere!
How could they let that happen!
The birds! the turtles!
I took out my Papermate to pen a note to my senator.
Nah, I’ll just e-mail my disgust
about what they do and what they didn’t do,
about what they should do and shouldn’t do.
I’d take the bus tomorrow
if I could stop to buy my coffee.


Fear I feel
as I walk the downtown streets.
I’m afraid of them.

Their loud talking
Their different clothing
these ‘owners of the street.’

Their buying and selling
brings ruin to children, teenagers
mothers, fathers

A word stabs
a decision kills
sometimes without thinking, mostly without thinking

I’m afraid of them
The corporate ones in suits.

Banned Books- well, just removed from the classroom

Were they banned?  The District says they were just removed from the classroom but that students can still find them in the library.  Hopefully that will happen.  It sounds like a ban to me.  If nothing else, I hope that it gives attention to these texts and motivates people to read them.

Rene said the seven books removed from the classrooms were:

  1. “Critical Race Theory” by Richard Delgado;
  2. “500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures” edited by Elizabeth Martinez;
  3. “Message to AZTLAN” by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales;
  4. “Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement” by Arturo Rosales;
  5. “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” by Rodolfo Acuña;
  6. “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire;
  7. and “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years” by Bill Bigelow.

An Open Letter from Undocumented Students

This appeared in Education Week and I think it bears repeating…

An Open Letter From Undocumented Students

By Mary Jewell
Premium article access courtesy of Edweek.org.

In this election year, the dysfunctional immigration system in the United States is back in the spotlight. While presidential candidates debate how to solve its problems, and state and local governments pass reactionary legislation, it is estimated that more than 1 million undocumented-immigrant children attend our schools every day. Yet we are failing these vulnerable children. Their achievement levels and school success are among the lowest of any demographic group, and their high school dropout rate among the highest. Regardless of the political wrangling on this issue, or anyone’s personal politics, it’s time that we acknowledge these young people, their needs, and their potential.

Most undocumented students are also English-language learners, and often come from families in extreme poverty. Though the education community doesn’t yet have all the answers to these difficult issues, we are at the very least comfortable discussing them. But students who are undocumented immigrants face unique challenges which often go unnoticed, and unaddressed. It’s almost as if we are afraid to bring it up at school, and in the classroom.

I’ve worked closely with undocumented students for more than 15 years in public school. I’ve shared their joys at academic success and college acceptance and their heartbreak at the deportations of family members. Such students have shared their undocumented reality with me, and what they’ve taught me can help all of us become better teachers and more compassionate human beings. With my help, some of my past and current students have written the following open letter to the education community explaining what they need for us to know about them, with the hope that it will help other students like them.

To Whom It May Concern:
We are not responsible for our immigration status. Our parents brought us to the United States when we were small children. Many of us have grown up here, and we feel like we belong in America more than we belong in the countries we came from. We know that many Americans don’t want us, so we feel like we don’t really belong anywhere. We had no control over the decision our parents made to bring us to the United States without legal permission, so please don’t hold our legal status against us.
We understand that going to school in the United States is a priceless opportunity, and we know that our families have sacrificed a lot for us to be here. But it can be difficult to focus on school. Sometimes we have family pressures that other kids don’t have, like working to send money to family members in our home countries, or to make up for the income someone who was deported was earning. Because our families can’t get the same kinds of government aid other poor families can get, life can get really difficult sometimes.
It’s hard to live every day with the uncertainty and fear of being undocumented, too. Every day we’re afraid that our parents won’t come home and we’ll have to take care of the rest of the family. Or that someone at school will find out our secret and that we might get in trouble with the authorities. We’re not adults yet, but because of these constant worries and responsibilities, sometimes we are expected to act like we are. But we’re mostly just like other kids. We’re going to do things that don’t make sense, and we’ll make mistakes, so please just have patience with us.
At school, you tell us that education is the way to a successful life, and we want to believe you, but in our case it’s not that simple. We know that most undocumented students don’t make it out of high school. Even if we do graduate, our job prospects are limited because of our immigration status. It’s difficult, sometimes, to stay motivated to finish school when we know it doesn’t mean a better job, or a better life.
We dream of going to college and becoming engineers, teachers, and business owners. But these seem like impossible dreams. No one in our families has attended college in the United States before, and the whole process is really intimidating and complicated. Without government financial aid, college is practically out of reach anyway, and private scholarships are difficult to find. Even a college degree still doesn’t change our employment options. Until the laws change in the United States, our only opportunity now to use the education we get is to go back to our home countries and try to get jobs there. That’s a really long road to travel, and sometimes it just seems too far.
Most kids we know who are not undocumented look forward to the future. They have dreams about what they will do when they finish high school. They’ll go to college, or join the military, or get a job. Maybe they’ll travel the world, or start their own companies. They think about buying cars, renting apartments, and enjoying life. But it’s different for us. The future is frightening for a student without legal papers. School provides some shelter from our reality, and we know that most of our teachers and counselors have done their best for us. But life gets a lot more challenging, and threatening, once we turn 18 and are out of school. Our family and financial pressures can get a lot more demanding, and the threat of detention and even deportation becomes very real.
But don’t feel sorry for us. That’s the last thing we need. We have enough things in our lives working against us. Expect us to succeed in school, and give us the support we need to meet your expectations. Understand when life is chaotic for us, but don’t let us use that as an excuse to fail. Talk to us about college and careers the same way you would with your other students. Encourage our dreams and goals, please. Someday the politicians will figure out what to do with us, and we need to be ready.
Your undocumented students

Dying for the Dream Act

Have you seen the news reports about Juaquin Luna? The New York Times, Huffington Post, and 105,000 other web pages have news about him.

According to the reports he knew that he could not achieve his dream because he did not have the documents necessary to be in this country.  His parents brought him to the U.S. when he was very young and it is the only country he has ever known.  So, his plight is not his fault.  But it could be remedied easily by the passage of the Dream Act which would allow undocumented immigrants to study at the university for the in-state tuition price.

Please contact your senators and representatives to push for passage of the Dream Act.  A simple action that could give hope, and save lives