BAP093 Family Engagement (A Virtual Concert 🎶 & More!) with Viana Armstrong

Need an innovative idea to engage and honor your multilingual families?  Viana Armstrong joins me on this show to explain a virtual concert she and her colleagues held in her district as well as other ideas that are paying big dividends this year.

Viana is “retired” but her knowledge from her years as a classroom teacher, university professor, and education leader won’t let her stay out of the education world!  She is currently serving as the Bilingual and ESL Coordinator in Ferris ISD.   This is a rural district with a large language learner population. Almost all of the Multilingual Learners are Hispanic.  The diversity in Ferris makes Viana’s role very important as Ferris looks to engage and honor their families.

You can listen to the show on your favorite podcast app or right here:

Listen to “BAP093 Family Engagement ft. Viana Armstrong” on Spreaker.

One of my biggest takeaways from this interview is the profound effect we can have when we engage our families and honor them outside of classroom time.  Viana had the idea of bringing a Grammy-award-winning musical act, 1,2,3 Andres, prior to Covid and it proved to be a wonderful experience for the families of their language learners.

So in the year of COVID, Viana wasn’t going to let a virtual environment stop her from providing this beautiful experience again for the families of Ferris ISD.  She gave a special Shout Out to Dr. Melinda Domain, Assistant Superintendent in Ferris ISD.  Viana explained that Dr. Domain is always supportive of the ideas that will support special populations like our Multilingual Learners. That kind of support is critical to have wins like this!

The conversation with Viana really had me reflecting on what is MOST important during these challenging times.  She talked about using technology in this way allowed Ferris to be culturally responsive and also to give them a sense of ‘normalcy.’  One of the most powerful things she said is that they gave the community the message that it was worth it to them to take the time to do this.  YOU ARE IMPORTANT.  That is what I heard.

We know how to close gaps if any of our students missed education this year or had setbacks because of the pandemic.  But we are going to do that MUCH more easily when our families are in partnership with us…when our students feel honored…and when all students are engaged and want to be at school.   Family engagement is more important than ever!

Viana also shared about a program she has used for many years to support parent involvement and parent support.  Viana has been a Practical Parent Educator and she had wonderful things to say about the program.

In her experience over many years with the program, she tells us that it is affordable and powerful.  It s flexible and also offers resources in English and Spanish.  The curriculum is ready to use or you can modify it easily for your purposes.  For example, she shared that Ferris ISD is pushing out “Quick Tips” for parents right now and planning their return to in-person classes for parents again.

Viana has been a friend and an inspiration for many years.  I’m not surprised that she spoke about the power of her PLN and mentioned Tan Huynh when she talked about how we are all learning from each other on Twitter.

I highly recommend that you add Viana to your PLN.  This show is only a small example of the ideas she shares on Twitter to support her educators, her community, and her global professional learning network.

Thank you again, Viana, for sharing with us!

Please reach out to let us know what other ideas you have for family engagement that might be a little out of the box.  We’d love to hear them and share them forward.

Thank you for tuning in!  If you’re not subscribed to this blog, please take a moment to do that so you never miss updates!  We are planning some great free summer conferences and also a chance to do a series this summer with me.  More coming soon!

Take good care!


BAP092 The School I Deserve with Author Jo Napolitano

Author and award-winning journalist, Jo Napolitano has contributed a very important new book to our field, “The School I Deserve, Six Young Refugees and Their Fight For Equality in America.”

Jo’s book is a true account of a recent court battle. The children she writes about were not allowed to enroll in their schools because of their advanced age, limited English, or other factors that would make it challenging to earn a high school diploma.You can listen to this episode in your favorite podcast app or right here:

Listen to “BAP092 The School I Deserve ft Jo Napolitano” on Spreaker.

Jo’s own life is one of beating the odds.  She talks about how she was born in poverty and abandoned as an infant in Colombia.  She is now a Northwestern graduate, an award-winning journalist, and an author.   Jo knows feels that education was the key to all of her success.

Jo hopes that the book helps alert people to what could be happening in their own communities.  She hopes we have a mindset that education is an incredible opportunity to propel the lives of these students.  Instead of seeing refugees or older immigrant students as a burden, we can help education be a win for new arrival students.  I agree 100% with Jo and I am seeing the direct implications for SLIFE (student with limited or interrupted education) and the teachers that serve them.

I highly recommend this book to all educators.  Now, more than ever, we need to be reminded of the journeys some must endure for an opportunity to learn with us.  We also need this book to help us see what newcomers are capable of.  We know every child brings gifts and their grit, perseverance, and appreciation for education is only some of their assets.

We Can’t Deny Anyone Their Rights to Education

I appreciated that Jo explained that the school district is very supportive of refugees.  They have programs to support refugee families and they work to support their success in the community.  Their stance, Jo explains, was that the probability of graduation for these students was low and so the district felt that enrolling them in the high school was not the best option for the students.

However, a free and fair public education is the right of these refugees and any young person living in the United States.  Even if they are only 1 year away from aging-out, or being too old to attend.   Jo talks about the fact that a child’s education is finite.  To deny them that education is completely unacceptable under any circumstances.

Read Some of this Book & Hear More from Jo

You’ll love the few paragraphs Jo reads for us during this live show.  We are also fortunate that published an excerpt of the book. You can click here to visit their website to read it.  You’ll be so inspired!

My conversation with Jo left me wanting to hear more from her.  Luckily we can!  Here is a great hour-long interview by our friend Pam Broussard (thank you, Pam!):

I agree with Jo.  Just because a person comes to our country as an older youth, we can’t leave their lives to chance.  We have the ability to stack the deck in their favor.

UPDATE!  Here is one more excerpt recently released by LitHub


This book is beautifully written.  It is heartbreaking and inspiring all at once.  It is getting rave reviews like this one:

“Napolitano’s compelling story of teenage refugees denied the same high school education as their Pennsylvania peers is both heartbreaking and infuriating. It’s an intimate story, and yet Napolitano’s exhaustive research also underscores the consequences of inequality. This book represents a historical moment as important as Brown v. Board of Education, and every democracy-loving American needs to read it.”

—Amy Ellis Nutt, author of Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family

You can read more reviews, contact Jo Napolitano and learn more ways that she can support your work on Jo’s website.

How I’m Using “The School I Deserve”

If you listen to the show you can hear the enthusiasm in my voice.  I was excited to talk to Jo because the book reminds me of so many points that keep me advocating for these students.  But since this interview, I have been reflecting and I am even more excited about how I can use the text.

I was given an advanced copy to interview Jo.  However, I have now purchased multiple copies of the book!

This summer I am volunteering to teach a class for older emergent English Learners.  I will be using this text with those students and I have no doubt that it will help propel their literacy.  I’ll also pair it with the audio version for a book club I am starting with some refugees in my area.  I am showing them the power of tracking print when things are read aloud to them.  I’m so grateful that I could buy the audiobook and the hard copy!

I’ll be doing some co-creating of text with the summer school class as well.

I have NO DOUBT that this text will be a powerful resource for these learners.  Stephen Krashen tells us that free voluntary reading of compelling text is the answer for language acquisition and we know that reading more is KEY to boosting literacy.

Thank Yous

Big, huge thanks to Stephen Hurley and for providing the platform for these live interviews.  I hope you check out to catch education radio at any time of the day.

Thanks to Jo Napolitano for her incredible work and for joining me on this show.

And thank YOU, as always.  I appreciate you for listening and/or reading.  You are really helping my learning.

Take good care.


BAP091 Engaging Language Learners with Writing – Natalia Heckman

Natalia Heckman  is back offering practical strategies to support writing with ELs.  In this show we also get a special “behind-the-scenes” look at how she structures one of her very popular workshops for teachers.  This show originally aired LIVE on  Check out that network for education radio 24 hours a day!

You can listen to this show in your favorite podcast app or right here:

Listen to “BAP091 Engaging ELs with Writing ft Natalia Heckman” on Spreaker.

Natalia has been busy since she was my guest last month.  That last show is right here and definitely worth listening to if you want to hear more about skills vs. knowledge and sentence-level writing.  I learned so much from that conversation.

Since then, Natalia has written another very popular blog post on how to engage our English Learners with writing.

She offers workshops around this topic and so we were lucky to have her come on the show to give us tangible tips we can use right now.  You may have missed her open workshop but be sure to follow Natalia and check Upcoming Events through Seidlitz Education to see what Natalia is offering in the near future.

Of course, you may decide to bring Natalia to your district and you’d be among the many districts that have Natalia working with their teachers.  Reach out to her at to do that.  She is a wonderful presenter!

During our show, Natalia shared that when looking to engage ELs in writing, she recommends a focus on three principles:





Natalia explained that there is power in making our content exciting and relevant to our students.  She explains that looking for relevance is not just looking for things that are relevant to the student’s background or culture.  She suggests, rather, that we look for things that are relevant to ALL of our learners.  We can use sporting events or things happening in the community or something they are all looking forward to in the future. She used the term “start with a spark” and cited Dr. Lora Beth Escalante’s book, Motivating ELLs.  

We just finished a round of #ELLchat_BkClub where we studied that book.  Search the hashtags #Ellchat_BkClub and #MotivatingELLs together on Twitter to see lots of insight from folks reviewing Dr. Escalante’s work.

It was fun to hear about how Natalia lifts mentor sentences from the text but actually changes those to meet the language levels of her students and to create more relevant sentences.


How important is that feeling of competence as we look to keeping our students engaged?  Research shows that it is VERY important and Natalia suggests that we build competence through scaffolding.  When we scaffold for ELs, it helps them to see that the assignment are feasible.

Natalia’s blog posts are a FANTASTIC place to see what scaffolding can look like. Be sure to check them out.  She also mentions work by Don and Jenny Kilgallon as she explains how she would support students to construct and deconstruct sentences.


I agree with Natalia that students need to have fun while working on a task!  We talked about how students enjoy working collaboratively and Natalia shred that she has educators work collaboratively in her trainings so that the teachers can experience how supportive this is for our English Learners.

Tangible Take-Away

I loved the strategy that Natalia shared toward the end of the show.  She credited the book The WRITING Revolution, by Judith C. Hochman & Natalie Wexler.

Be sure to listen so you get her explanation of the “Because,…but,…so,…” technique.

I’m not doing it justice, but basically, you:

  1. Give students a complete sentence. such as   “Teenagers should not be allowed to get married.” This sentence, by the way, is one she uses for a Romeo and Juliet unit and it drives many opinions.  It is relevant to the life of a high school student!
  2. Ask students to expand on the sentence, add to it,  with common conjunctions such as  Because, But & So.
    • Teenagers should not be allowed to get married because…
    • Teenagers should not be allowed to get married but…
    • Teenagers should not be allowed to get married so…

You’ll hear Natalia explain that this can be set up in stations and students could move around with a partner constructing these sentences.

Now she has her students constructing complex sentences using this framework.  She can point out the structure of the sentences and this format can be used again later in the year.

At the end of our conversation, Stephen Hurley asked us if it would be appropriate for English learners to write in their native language.  Natalia and I both responded with a strong YES for the pre-writing and rough draft stage of a piece of writing.  We want to draw on our students’ entire linguistic repertoire to help them express their thoughts.  But Natalia brought up a good point that we may need to work in the target language as we help them develop skills with English syntax.

Right now, Natalia has writing and language acquisition workshops scheduled for the fall.  But be sure to check the Upcoming Events page to see what else she adds this summer.

And don’t forget that our webinar page has some free webinars from Natalia like this one:

I hope you enjoyed this time learning from Natalia.  I appreciate all that she shares and I appreciate YOU for stopping by this post.

Please reach out and let me know your thoughts about writing with ELs.  We are all so much better when we share.

Take good care!


BAP090 Dr. Ilene Winokur on Creating a Sense of Belonging – LIVE Show

What a treat to record a live show with Dr. Ilene Winokur!

I have followed Ilene for years and so I was thrilled to have her share about how we can be more culturally responsive for our diverse students.  Dr. Winokur shares the importance of belonging and how we can support students to develop their sense of belonging. You can listen to this show right here:
Listen to “BAP 090 Dr. Ilene Winokur on Creating a Sense of Belonging” on Spreaker.

In this show, Ilene shares that how critical it is to help students feel that they belong.  Creating a welcoming, safe space is the most important thing to consider when we support culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

I encourage you to explore Dr. Winokur’s website here.

Dr. Winokur has lived in Kuwait for 35 years and recently retired as the Director of the Foundation Program Unit (Math and English) at Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST).

Her experience includes teaching and administration in PreK-5 and Pre-College. Her professional interests are leadership in practice, refugee education, and continuing professional development (CPD).

I get so much learning from following Dr. Winokur’s blog:

In this show, Ilene talks about how she still spends significant time working with refugees.  Her interest in refugee education stems from her own experience with being a refugee during the 1990 Gulf War and also her participation on the leadership team of the ISTE Global Collaboration Network.

A few of the many take-aways for me include:

  • Embrace students!  Embrace them, their families, and their cultures.
  • Important to feel trust and a safe environment.
  • Create relationships by listening to their stories and sharing our stories.   Ilene recommends that we focus first on relationships with the students and with their families.

Ilene mentions that she recorded a podcast episode with Tan Huynh – she recounts a great anecdote about a student using her native language in Tan’s class.  I recommend that show!

Ilene has some words about things to keep in mind as educators in the United States begin to take more refugees.

  • Resilience is not a given.  However, many refugees appreciate education and where it can take them in the future.
  • She tells us that she has come to see refugees as an amazing group of talented people!  We just need to discover their superpowers.  This takes time but we can develop an asset point of view if we look for the assets.
  • Point out the assets to your refugees and other marginalized students.

At that point in the show, I reflect on how this ALL falls into that message of belonging.  Dr. Winokur helped me reflect that I do need to REMIND myself to focus on what our students CAN do.  I want to do this, but like many, we need constant reminders when we work with students who are just gaining a language or just gaining literacy.

What is easy to do when we are in the context of a classroom:

Content and Language Objectives are powerful!  She recommends finding authentic opportunities to use language.  And makings sure, from a cultural perspective, that we are connecting with students.  Culture, not just language, can create a disconnect.

Ilene offers some great words about how we question!  She mentions wait time and tiering the questions in a way that helps them be comfortable and engaged.  Her ideas are specific and she explains them in a way that makes so much sense!

The links above offer many ways to learn more from Ilene.  I highly recommend that you check out all of her podcasts.  In fact, if you’d like to hear more from the two of us together, I was honored to be a guest on her show and you can listen to that right here:

Very special thanks to Dr. Winokur for taking the time to come on this live show.  We have live #BoostingAchievement shows every Monday and Friday morning at 7am ET so tune in to to catch those or to listen to the stream any time.  It’s a great place to learn and be inspired by educators like Ilene.

Please reach out and let me know your thoughts on belonging.  We’d love to hear them.

Thanks so much for listening!


PS:  If you are looking for a HOME RUN professional learning experience for your staff, please connect with me at  I’d love to personalize something for you to support your ELs or SLIFE.  You, your teachers and your students deserve it!

BAP089 Dr. Katie Toppel on K-1 ELs and Remote Learning

If you know any educators working with lower elementary students, they need this show!  I don’t even teach the young ones and I still learned SO MUCH from Dr. Katie Toppel who is featured in this episode.  She shares her tips, techniques, and mindset for successfully supporting Kinder and 1st grade diverse students.

Special thanks to Tan Huynh who allowed me to co-interview Katie with him.  You may have heard this show on Tan’s podcast.  If you’re not subscribed to his, check it out here


I’m so honored to call Tan and Katie personal friends and we are also excited to share that we have a new book coming out in the next few months.  That resource is about self-directed learning for educators that support culturally and linguistically diverse students.  Stay tuned for that!

You can listen to this episode with Dr. Toppel here:

Listen to “BAP089 Dr. Katie Toppel on K-1 ELs and Remote Learning” on Spreaker.

Or you may be interested in watching this interview on YouTube here:


This show was FULL of profound sharing by Katie. A few of the MANY takeaways for me included:

Our remote instruction doesn’t need to be so high-tech.  Katie does much of what she used to do in front of kids without making it all digital.  She uses her ipad like a doc camera with the Osmo app soo she can just project what she is doing.

Katie has a techie husband for that but we don’t need to have one of those. Here is a YouTube video to show you how to turn your iphone into a doc cam in Zoom:

We all agreed that a remote learning situation is NOT ideal for K-1.  But Katie talked of some moments of beauty and expressed that the students ARE learning!  Things like a student bringing realia spontaneously was a great example she shared.

She also mentioned a year-long PLC she is taking by Zaretta Hammond.  Find more about that here:

Katie chose smaller groups for 20 minutes to allow more students to unmute and have more connection with them.  She supports what is happening in the mainstream classroom.  While she prefers individual groups for their current remote set up, she is a huge advocate of co-teaching and is still co-planning with her colleagues.  She still pushes into classes as well.

Dr. Toppel is using so many visuals and the kids are really benefitting from them!

Tan reflected that Katie’s lesson plans are shared freely and so helpful.  We can all see that she is asking herself  “How do I get kids to listen, speak, read and write in 20 minutes?”



Katie and her colleagues are being mindful of SEL practices to help these students process their emotions.

I went looking for this podcast episode that she mentions.  Tan interviewed Dr. Jessica Djabrayan Hannigan) & Dr. John Hannigan (@Dr. John Hannigan about their book on SEL from a Distance (   You can listen to that show right here:

She told beautiful examples of how the students are engaging through hand gestures that are now taking on a meaning for how they communicate with each other.

One of her most powerful examples was the power of daily affirmations.

“You can not ASSUME that they know you care about them.  You can’t assume they know any of this.” – Dr. Katie Toppel

Katie cited the work of Zaretta Hammond & Andrea Honigsfeld as she explained her culturally responsive practices.

Tan and I were both blown away that her 5 & 6-year-olds are submitting their work through Canvas. ( but now are starting to learn  SeeSaw) and one of here ELs created a tutorial for others.  She also lifted up older siblings that are taking on so much responsibility and being helpful.  She expressed gratitude for parents that offer advice and also tips for how to communicate with them.

Other great words of wisdom from Katie:

  • Remote teaching video lets us be reflective.
  • You cannot be a rock star every day.  That is okay.
  • Support the content with language that ties into what they are doing, but not the same lesson.
  • Focus on opportunities to SWRL (speak, write, read, listen) in every lesson.  She cited Andrea Honigsfeld here!
  • Language Experience Approach is very do-able in this environment!

Tan asked Katie for her Stoplight 🚦Teaching Advice

🟢 GREEN (do more of this):  Say the good things that you see. Look for the successes and point them out. Our colleagues need to hear these things now more than ever.

🟡 YELLOW (do less of this):  Going too fast! She suggests we slow down and move forward with a positive mindset.

🔴 RED (stop doing this):  Trying to do it all yourself.  No one should be doing this.

Again, I highly recommend that you follow Katie and Tan.

These two amazing educators founded #ELLchat_BkClub and we are in our 30th round of book studies on Twitter.  Check out more about that here. 

I hope you enjoyed this podcast.  I learned so much!

Thank you for stopping by👋🏽.  Please leave a comment or reach out and let me know what you think.


BAP088 Sara Sparks on Supporting Unengaged or Failing Students

Instructional coach, Sara Sparks joined us for a LIVE show about supporting unengaged or failing students.

You can listen to the show right here:

Listen to “BAP088 Sara Sparks on Supporting Unengaged or Failing Students” on Spreaker.

I recommend everyone follow Sara (@SaraSparks21) because she often shares practical strategies and techniques.

Sara shares points about first making sure our students have their needs met.  She also talks about home visits and building relationships in our classrooms.

Here is the link to the 1-pager that Sara shares.

We had a great time talking about incentives that we can use while students begin to build their own intrinsic motivation.

We all agreed that we need to use whatever we can to bring joy and engagement to our lessons.

For a trip down memory lane, check out this show from 2018.  Sara was an EL teacher back then and came on this show to talk about what we can do when students are not making progress.  Now that she is a district leader, it is nice to listen to what she was doing in her classroom a few years ago.  It is no wonder she is now in a position to be coaching and supporting other educators.

Big thanks to Sara for sharing so much always.  We hope to have her back soon.

Please reach out with feedback on this show and any other ideas you might have for supporting failing or unengaged learners.

My best,


PS:  This workshop is coming up on March 24th.  It’s getting great reviews so make plans to join us if you’re able.

PSS: Are your summer PD plans all scheduled?  The summer months are filling up!  Here are some of the offerings that are being requested of me most often.  Reach out with any questions!




BAP087 Texas Blizzard Reflections

I recorded this episode at the end of a historic winter storm in Texas.  This week, we faced record-low temperatures for several days and our state’s electric grid operator lost power supply control. Other power sources failed as well and soon, almost everyone I knew in Texas was without water.  Many were without heat or water and living through multiple days of freezing temperatures.

You can listen to the show right here:

Listen to “BAP087 Texas Blizzard Reflections” on Spreaker.

Our family was fortunate.  We went without water for several days but this was nothing compared to what others have suffered through this crisis.  Family and friends are dealing with ruptured water pipes inside their homes.  People were scrounging for firewood and some resorted to burning their furniture.  Stores were closed or out of food.  A nursing home in our area had to evacuate 500 residents when they had no power or water.  Roads were too dangerous to make attempts to leave.

Despite the threat of CoVid, we took in different friends and their pets.  We felt fortunate to be able to offer shelter but everyone in our full house felt helpless and distraught as each day brought news of more winter storm-related deaths in our area.

Want to help Texas winter storm victims? Here are things you can do. 

In this episode, I reflect on the fact that my situation was a minor inconvenience compared to the hardship of others.  My thoughts turned not only to the Texans living through this nightmare but also to the students that I have served over the years.

As I thought about the refugee families in our area, I remembered how they weathered another tragedy we faced in Houston a few years ago.  That storm, Hurricane Harvey, also caught the attention of people around the world. This blogpost offers my reflections from that experience.  That post offers a perspective on teaching refugees and immigrants after such a terrible event.

Thank you again to Rola Tibshirani (@Rolat) & Dora DeBora (@DoDeBoer1) for guiding your students to reach out to us.

Similar questions come up as we face this new disaster.  As educators, many of us wonder how we are supposed to support our students during a time like this.

How are we supposed to get through this blizzard?

How are we supposed to get through this pandemic?

How are we supposed to get through this horrific school year?

You’ll hear me talk about:

  • Resilience
  • Perseverance
  • Community  & Collaboration

At one point, I posted on Facebook that we were melting snow for water. A refugee family in our area, who have seen unimaginable hardships, reached out to offer to bring us water.   We refused this kind offer, but it goes to the heart of community.   A few years ago so many refugees came to our area and we did not know how to help them.  Now they are helping us.

As an educator, I lift you up because I know your job is incredibly difficult.

I honor your efforts and I ask that you challenge yourself to look forward.  When you are not sure how to help a student with low levels of English or literacy due to lack of opportunity, remember that they are not dealing with a disability.  Focus on making SLIFE feel safe and included.  Make them comfortable so that their assets begin to be revealed.

I feel strongly that cooperative learning is our best bet to build confidence, relationships, and competence.  I have been quoting Cohan, Honigsfeld & Dove (2020) in recent workshops along with Vygotsky and other authorities on the power of teaming up and being social.

I saw so many parallels this week.  I watched my community, my city, and the world come together to help us move forward.

We are always better together.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Comment here or reach out on Twitter or Facebook.   You can also email me at

Thank you for stopping by.



BAP086 Natalia Heckman on Sentence Level Writing with ELs

When it comes to scaffolding output, Natalia Heckman asks herself “What else can I do, besides giving my students time in my classroom to write… to make it productive?” 

Natalia is my guest on this episode.  She is a former high school teacher and one of Seidlitz Education’s top educational consultants.  She has an incredible track record for supporting older ELs on the writing portion of state assessments but as Natalia explains, the goal is more than that.  Her real goal is to grow students’ literacy and ability to express themselves through writing.

The show notes below link to several free opportunities to learn from Natalia!  The podcast is inspiring because you can hear her passion for supporting teachers in the many ways we can do to support ELs with writing.  You can listen to the show if your favorite app or right here:

Listen to “BAP086 Natalia Heckman on Sentence Level Writing with ELs” on Spreaker.

I asked Natalia to come on the show to talk about this great blog post she recently wrote for Seidlitz Education.  It’s entitled Building Better Sentences: Rigorous Syntax for English Learners

In that post, Natalia explains what research says about how students benefit from rigorous syntax instruction.  She not only demystifies the concept of syntax but also offers a practical step-by-step approach to teaching syntactic elements or sentence patterns.

In her discussion with me on the show, Natalia explains the need ELs have for learning the structure of their new language.  She tells us that “Language is a system.  A well-organized system of symbols and sequences.”  She explains that when students learn vocabulary, for the most part, they are learning symbolic representations of words.  But when they put those together, they need to know how to form appropriate sequences.  This is what syntax is! When we are teaching syntax, we are teaching the ability to arrange words and phrases to create sentences.

And let’s remember that Natalia’s area of specialization is with high school ELs!

Be sure to check out that blog post for more on how Natalia explains this and her tips for a practical application in class.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” – Pablo Picasso

I love all the opportunities Natalia has for us coming up this spring!  As promised, here are links to the great webinars Natalia has presented for Seidlitz Education as well as links to her upcoming workshops:

The following two opportunities are available for FREE and On-Demand

Video🔗: Writing with Paragraph Frames Free Webinar

In this webinar, Natalia outlines a blueprint of a writing lesson for English Learners using paragraph frames. She explores online resources to create compelling assignments for English Learners of all levels. She offers her ppt slides here. 

VIDEO🔗: Supporting Literacy at Home: 7 Steps for Parents

This is a webinar filled with tips for parents. Jordan Greer, a language coach from Frisco ISD, joined Natalia in a conversation about ways to support literacy at home.  Slides are here.

Join Natalia Heckman for One of her Upcoming Workshops via ZOOM 💻!

MARCH 11, 2021

Moving ELs Forward on the STAAR/EOC Writing

Engaging Secondary ELs with Writing:

From Sentences to Paragraphs

March 25 & 26, 2021 from 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm CST


March 27, 2021 from 8:30 am – 11:30 am CST

One more big thanks to her for coming on the show to talk about the need for this type of explicit instruction.

Please reach out and let us know how things are going and if there is a specific topic you’d like to hear about.

Before you go, here are a few places you can connect with me in the near future:

FEBRUARY 17th Zoom Workshop: Peer to Peer Interaction for ELs With and Without Breakout Rooms

Find out more here.

Also, join me on Monday and Friday mornings LIVE on #HurleyintheMorning!  Stephen Hurley is putting some great content into the world each morning with his line up of Live education voices.  I’m honored to be included.  Check it all out at: and please call in at 647-812-5894 if you’re listening to me live. I’d love to have your voice on air with us!

Thanks to everyone listening, reading and interacting.  I’m certainly a better education professional because of you.

Sending you positive vibes!


BAP085 Unit of Study for MLK to Valentine’s Day 2021 Edition

I’m happy to pass along resources (objectives, readings, writing prompts, links) to a BEAUTIFUL unit of study.  It’s not just about the time between MLK Day and Valentine’s Day. While it was done in the Middle and High School Newcomer/SLIFE classroom, it can be adapted for any group of learners.  It is updated with links for remote and Face-to-Face classrooms.

This unit fosters Student Voice as well as supporting  Social Emotional Learning and higher-order discussions/reflections. 

Here is a full lesson with links and ideas for extension. Any time of year is a great time to talk about leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his role in history.

A focus on equality and social justice comes at a perfect time. In this show, I will go into detail on how I begin with a review of American history and end with Acts of Kindness.  No, I am not the history teacher.  But connecting to the content areas has never been so inspiring as when we do these activities!

You can listen to the show in your favorite podcast app or right here:

Listen to “BAP085 Kindness MLK & Valentines Day” on Spreaker.

I start this show by mentioning Noa Daniel and her great website.  She helps us see how to facilitate projects that are built outside of class time.  You might also check out this interview I did with Noa. Her philosophies transformed my practice!

The lessons I share in this show were done in my Newcomer classrooms but much of the work by students is done outside of class. (Noa taught me how to inspire kids to WANT to work outside of class time)


We begin with the following objective at the knowledge/understanding level but you can see in the image that we will be at much higher levels of Bloom’s by the end of the unit.

Content Objective: I will identify Martin Luther King, Jr. and be able to explain his role in American History.

Language Objective: I will explain my learning to my partner by completing the following sentence frame:  “Martin Luther King, Jr. was important to American history because …”

Below I will explain the first lesson step by step.  In the bigger picture, I will be using these materials over several days so my content objectives change to cover verb tenses, social studies vocabulary, idioms as well as  Author’s purpose, and more. Initially, my goal is to give my language learners enough of the basic facts to elicit rich conversations about social justice and equality. 

A larger goal I have is to make sure each of my immigrant students understands the sacrifices made by Dr. King and other civil rights leaders.  I want them to know that they are vitally important to the fabric of our nation.  I want them to know that there are so many people then and now that are willing to fight for their inclusion. And that this great man showed us how to fight with love.  These are messages that should not be lost on our English language learners.

The First Lesson

 Our students need to understand the basic facts about Dr. King’s life.

Here is a slide deck to show you what my ppts looked like.

I roll out this first lesson in a TALK, READ, TALK, WRITE  (#TRTW) format. If you want to know more about the TRTW approach, I recommend this VirtuEL17 video by Nancy Motley, the author of Talk, Read, Talk, Write.

Talk #1:  The following quote is on the board for the students to consider. “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”  I tell students that this is what is known as the “Golden Rule.” and I ask them “What does this mean to you?”   To ensure that all students have low-stress opportunities to think and share, I use QSSSA for Talk #1.   If you’re unfamiliar with this great technique, it will change your life!  John Seidlitz developed this acronym for using several sheltered strategies together called Question/Signal/Stem/Share/Assess.  Valentina Gonzalez wrote a wonderful post about it here.

Read: Shared reading or partner reading of the text. To help them understand his biography,I have adapted a piece of text, Students work to answer questions that will also be in a Kahoot at the end of class.  My students know that they should be tracking print with their eyes whenever anyone reads a text aloud. They are trained to understand that they will get more sight words and more phonemic awareness the more they follow along as others are reading.  (Some of my higher students leave the room to do the reading and the collaboration in the library.  Most often I prefer that they stay because my groups need high, medium and lower levels of English.

Talk #2: I have linked here a quiz sheet about Dr. King’s life. Some answers are from the bibliography and others are meant to be researched.  I don’t care how they get the answers, my goal is to have them collaborating about the quiz sheet to prepare for the Kahoot.

Here is the link to play the Kahoot:

I have to give credit to Kahoot Hero NekyaHB.  She created a great Kahoot 3 years ago which I duplicated and adapted for my language learners.

I love the engagement I have with the students because they know there will be a Kahoot over the material.  But I don’t want to waste this engagement at the knowledge level of these facts.  I make sure to use visuals in the Kahoot so I can ask students what they notice.  We stop between many of the questions to discuss their thinking and their questions.  You may like this video on how I use Kahoot with newcomers.

The quiz sheet and the Kahoot are guided activities.   Throughout bot,h I use QSSSA to have students discussing their connections and thoughts about the work of Dr. King.  We also generate more questions during this time.  Native language is allowed but we use frames for English speaking and we do a lot of reading aloud in unison.

Write: After the Kahoot we have a quick write to summarize our thoughts about Dr. King.  I do this as a shared writing with my newcomers.  I use their ideas but I scribe the brainstorm and the free write in English.  See more on the Language Experience Approach here.  My intermediate/2nd year students do this more independently.  They still offer ideas for the brainstorm and I scribe them, but they compose their paragraphs independently.

So many lessons follow this one using and building on these materials. Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo, we have all of these resources from his blog. Here is just one example: New videos for teaching about Martin Luther King

And now in 2021, MLK resources like these from Activity Learn are also free to teachers. 

In my last year of teaching, I added a Flipgrid opportunity for my students.  Thanks to Jess Bell, who sent me this flipgrid example.   She has her students recording what their dream is.  The intro video should get the students off to a great start.

Helping ELs Feel the Love

One of our final lessons happens around Valentine’s Day but I’ve done it at other times of the year during Kindness week or any time we want to focus on random acts of kindness.  This blog post shows you how we had authentic writing opportunities using what we learned about MLK. 

There is quite a bit we can teach when we couple Kahoot, videos, adapted text and Flipgrids with our language and learning targets.  Especially when we are using great sheltered strategies techniques.

I hope you found this helpful.  I can’t think of a better time to be using the teaching of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in our classrooms.  Please let me know if you have more ideas that go with these.  I continue to learn from our PLN and I’m grateful!

Thanks for reading!


PS:  Don’t miss this recent OnEdMentors podcast with EL leaders!

or this free webinar coming up for TransAct.  If you miss it, you can get it in replay

PSS:  Please reach out if you are interested in consulting or training.  I continue to be inspired by the educators in every district where I work.  We all want the same thing.  We want to help students be successful.  It’s my honor to share strategies that support those goals!  You can reach Kathy Belanger of Seidlitz Education to book me at  Or contact me directly at


BAP084 Patience with Jen Steffens

Jen Steffens is a Michigan educator who recently experienced a breakthrough with her newcomer students. She shares what happened so that we can reflect on what went right and what we can learn from it.

Jen asked that we dedicate this show to the memory of Sandy Egbers who passed in 2012.  Jen has been an educator for 22 years and Sandy was one of her first mentors. Jen learned a great deal from her and lives by a quote on a mug given to her by Sandy.  The quote on the mug read “We all grow better in sunshine and in love.”

We dedicated this show to Sandy Egbers

July 30, 1949 – April 29, 2012

Jen tells us that Sandy was an incredible mentor teacher who

looked at every one of her students with an asset lens.

You can listen to this episode in your favorite podcast app or right here:

Listen to “BAP084 Patience with Jen Steffens” on Spreaker.

When you hear her speak about the experience, I’m sure you will agree that Jen’s patience, persistence, and high expectations for her students have a significant effect on how these girls are progressing.  I find this so important because it helps ME keep a high bar for students who are brand new to the language.   Jen shows us that patience is incredibly important and KEY to how we work with language learners, especially during the difficulties of this pandemic.
I met Jen years ago when I was in Michigan for the WIDA conference.  We have been connected on Twitter and Facebook since then and I’m grateful to be following her.  In fact, I learned about this experience when Jen posted it in one of our Facebook groups.
She posted it in the Leading ELLs group, which was founded by Pam Broussard.  We both recommend you join it!
Link to join:
We also regularly check Advocating for ELLs, founded by Valentina Gonzalez
Link to join:
A big take-away for me is that so many of us are worried about academic progress or regression but in reality, we can best support all students when we focus on relationships.  Jen’s example highlights other things for me to keep in mind.  She kept

I hope you enjoyed hearing about all the things Jen did to create a safe environment for her English Learners.  I was inspired by her explanation of the pro’s and cons of both face to face and remote learning.  It was a further testament to how she approaches instruction – she is capitalizing on what she can control and what works in favor of her students.

Big thanks to Jen for reminding us that our students will grow if we put the right things in our garden.

I need these reminders and I feel that connecting with educators like Jen is the best way to be reminded of what is possible.

Jen is on Twitter here: @JenJenniels

You can find me on Twitter here: @MsSalvaC

Thank you for stopping by.

Please reach out to me at if you’d like more support for your campus or your team.

Take good care,


PS: Here are a few free events coming up if you read this in the winter of 2020/2021:

Free Webinar on Jan 7, 2021 at 10:30am CT

Free Webinar through TransAct will be posted soon. Save the date for Jan 26.  It should take place at 1:30pm CT. Stay tuned for more info and please subscribe to get updates like this!