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!





BAP083 NewsInLevels for Emergent Readers

You may already be using a free service that levels news articles.  But our ELs need a site with NO log-in, that is high-interest and offers scaffolds for them. They also need to understand HOW to use a site like this if we want them to get the most out of it.

I have a solution and my students love it.

Listen to this show right here or on your favorite podcast app.

Listen to “BAP083 NewsInLevels for Emergent Readers” on Spreaker.

English Learners can take ownership of their language and literacy development with the right tools and techniques.  They also need to WANT to read.  This show offers an example of how to explain NewsinLevels to your students and why it is so powerful as we look to support intrinsic motivation.

I have helped many older ELs gain literacy and key to their success was always more reading.  Dr. Stephen Krashen suggests that the key to language acquisition is free voluntary reading. But if the text is not interesting to the reader, I have noticed that I have a lot of fake-readers on my hands. solves for this because students choose what they want to read.

In the podcast I promise you a 5 min video of how I tell my students to use the site.  Here is that video, but read on to understand HOW this is working the WHY behind what I am suggesting and more resources.

Key to the success of my learners is their awareness of why they are doing what they are doing.  If you’re working older ELs (upper elementary, middle school, high school or adult), you have the advantage that they are older. Older learners can partner with you.  In this show I explain why this website is so powerful and the steps to getting the most out of it.

We first need to remember that our goal for our ELs is not learning ABOUT a language… it’s acquiring a language.  The only way to acquire a language is to listen, speak, read and write that language.  And Stephen Krashen’s work supports the idea that more reading is the answer for language acquisition.

The only thing that makes a better reader, is more reading.

Give a Man a Fish or Teach a Man to Fish?

Vygotsky told us that learners have a “Zone of Proximal Development” and that we can support our students by working with them just beyond their zone.  Our support, or scaffolding, allows the learner to do more as a way of helping them reach their next zone of development.  NewsInLevels offers many scaffolds so students can work just beyond their independent level. There are images, text can be read aloud, the stories are leveled and the student can use the internet for images.

Multiple exposures to high-frequency words is an important part of being able to decode text as your ELs start to understand more English. If you need more information about how a person gains literacy, check out episode 60 of this show.  Episode 61 is also helpful as it offers more on how to get buy-in from the students.

Teaching  Emergent ELs to read can seem overwhelming but it need not be so daunting.  Know that you can begin reading WITH your students right away.  A strong suggestion is to create text with them and use those paragraphs of co-created mentor text and reading material.  Read and re-read what you’ve written together and remember that your students understand more English every day.  More on Co-Creating text here.

How to Use News In Levels

I ask ELs to read all three levels of a high-interest article, and explain to them what they should be gaining from it.  When we do this, we are not only supporting their literacy, we are creating conditions that support motivation. Here are my directions for them and then I’ll explain about motivation:

Read Level 1

  1. Everyone must read Level 1, even if you can read beyond level 1.
  2. If Level 1 is too difficult, click the YouTube video so that it is read aloud to you.
  3.  Track the print with your eyes.
  4. Notice that verbs are in present tense.
  5. Use the internet if you need to get images or translation.  But come back to this English version and read it until you understand the gist of the story.

Read Level 2

  1. Once you understand the story, move to Level 2. Don’t go to a different article yet.
  2. Notice that verbs are in the past tense now and sentences are more complex
  3. Click the YouTube video if you want to hear how the words sound.
  4.  Track the print with your eyes.
  5. Use the internet if you need to get images or translation.  But come back to this English version and read it with support

Read Level 3

  1. Finally, move to Level 3. Don’t go to a different article yet until you’ve read this level.
  2. Notice the difference. This is how most people read the news.  This level is not too complex because you understood the story in Level 1.
  3. Click the YouTube video if you want to hear how the words sound.
  4.  Track the print with your eyes.
  5. Use the internet if you need to get images or translation.  But come back to this English version and read it with support


Researchers like the late Sir Ken Robinson agree that we are more like gardners… we can’t MAKE things grow, but we can create conditions where things grow.   Here is a great article by Larry Ferlazzo about supporting students to help their motivation grow.  This article is about helping students find their motivation during Distance learning. It highlights Autonomy, Competence, Relevancy and Relatedness.  I watched unmotivated students become very motivated when I focused on those three things.  Here is now NewsInLevels helped me hit those things:

  • Autonomy – this is about choice.  Students CHOOSE the article THEY want to read.  (Do you prefer to read what you select or what others select for you?)
  • Competence – If they use it the way I suggest above, NewsInLevels offers them “little wins” the first time they use it.  The scaffolds are build in and tech helps them comprehend text beyond their Zone of Proximal Development.  It is a way to boost confidence and ability.
  • Relevancy – Students pick articles that are relevant to their lives. Also, if I train them to understand about multiple exposures to high-frequency words, why hearing the text supports our phonics work, how the levels work… they have a metacognitive awareness of how they are gaining language and literacy. The entire activity becomes very relevant.
  • Relatedness – This means that the students have a relationship with you or with each other.  They feel that you or others respect them.  Because I train all students on how to do this, I am giving them the message that I believe they are able to take control of their literacy development.  Also, we use the articles to discuss what they are reading and recommend articles to each other (we do this over Flipgrid or in person).  This builds relationships.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  Here is one of my students (who missed 5 years of formal education) talking about using NewsInLevels on his own time.  It is part of a longer “Using Tech with ELs” virtual session:

In the show I also promised you this research:

Over 90% of homes have a cell phone and over 80% of homes have a smart phone. 


If this type of information is useful to you, you’ll probably LOVE this padlet I use with my #RapidLiteracy training. It’s full of more resources:

So let’s make sure they know what they can use when they do get into a WiFi area.  Let’s assume we can help them WANT to learn to read and then give them tools to do it as often as possible.

Also, if you are working with SLIFE (older learners with interruptions in education) that don’t have a smart phone… don’t you think these young people will eventually have one?  These kids get jobs and it is one of the first things they buy.  We need to show them the power of the internet and what is available to them for free.

We need to teach them to fish.

Thank you for reading this blog.  You’re boosting my learning in a significant way.

Please reach out if you need ESL training, coaching, modeling or consulting work in your district.  I work with teachers and instructional coaches across the US and Canada with many references for you.  I continue to be inspired by what educators are doing in this challenging time and I’m honored to help make them be more effective and bring some practical ideas to their craft.

Take good care!


BAP082 Reading & Writing with English Learners by Valentina Gonzalez & Dr. Melinda Miller

“Let’s slow down and think about our students.” That’s great advice from Dr. Melinda Miller in this episode of the Boosting Achievement ESL podcast.

I’m thrilled to share a new book with you and some free opportunities to learn from the authors. My guests this week are my colleagues and friends, Valentina Gonzalez and Dr. Melinda Miller .

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

Listen to “BAP082 Reading and Writing with ELs by Valentina Gonzalez and Dr. Melinda Miller” on Spreaker.

A question they get often is “Should we make time  for students to read independently every day?”  These literacy and EL specialists say yes.  In the show they explain why it is critical for our ELs and all of of our learners.  We talk about this and other Balanced Literacy components.

During our time together, Valentina and Melinda offer insight and sound advice for teachers who are feeling overwhelmed.  You can join Valentina and Melinda during a few upcoming events around their new book.  One free PD event happens on Oct 28th! Check out the links at the bottom of this post.

We learn more about their new #ReadingWritingELs resource and how user friendly it is for any K-5 educator who wants to capitalize on the best practices for the Reader and Writer Workshop framework.  This new book is specifically written to support you in working with English Learners but you’ll find that it will help you implement Balanced Literacy so that all of your students benefit.

I’m particularly impressed with the layout of the book.  It is very easy to use and even includes an appendix for remote learning considerations.

I remember being a 4th grade teacher and feeling like the workshop model was a mystery.  This book will be such a welcomed guide for any teachers feeling this way or any teacher wanting to better support language learners. The book offers explanations of each component of Balanced Literacy, lessons, research, step-by-step implementation guides, scenarios and FAQ’s.  They have also included guides for working with students at different proficiency levels.

Here are links to the events I mentioned:

October 28, 2020

Register for this FREE PD opportunity over Zoom.  Those who register will get access to the recording and their slide deck:’

The book will be available mid-November so register for the Virtual Launch Party on November 5, 2020

It will be a great time with lots of celebration and give-aways!

As soon as the book is available, I will update this page with that link as well as the link to their Reading & Writing with English Learners conference that will take place in December.

Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming round of #ELLchat_BkClub on Twitter.  Valentina mentions that she & Dr. Katie Toppel are planning the dates now! Those slow chats are a great way to self-direct your learning with other professionals on your own time.   At the very least, follow the hashtag #ReadingWritingELs and be sure to  follow Valentina Gonzalez and Dr. Melinda Miller on Twitter to catch all the resources they are putting out into the field.

Many thanks to Valentina and Melinda for sharing with us.

And thanks to YOU for tuning in and stopping by this blog.

Take good care,


PS: Join me on Nov 12th at our FREE SLIFE conference

BAP081 Teaching ELs Online with Drew Courtney and Michelle Shory

Connections!  This episode offers us some practical tips and amazing inspiration from Michelle Shory and Drew Courtney.

Michelle and Drew are ESL instructional coaches from Louisville, KY.  We get to hear about how they are supporting teachers and I do my best to convince them to start their own podcast.  (It would be great!)

A good part of this show is about how they went about teaching summer school this year.  You’ll hear their lessons learned and great tips for connecting with ELs even when they face challenges like tech issues and serving students who hold jobs.  You’ll be inspired and will likely have some tangible take aways to implement tomorrow after you listen!  Find the show on your favorite podcast app or listen right here:

Listen to “BAP081 ELs Online with Shory and Courtney” on Spreaker.

In this episode, Drew & Michelle emphasize how well they together.  I’m grateful for their example and it makes me reflect on the opportunities we have to collaborate with others not only in our physical spaces but also in our PLN. In fact, that is how I met these two.  We follow each other on twitter and we’d love to connect with you.  You can find us here:  @MichelleShory,  @MrCourtney_ESL & @MsSalvaC

During the show, I mentioned this post by Drew as something I use in my workshops:

Here are slides I use to show teachers how we can also annotate objectives online. Modeling this technique and explaining the research by John Hattie (Teacher Clarity and Clear Goals have significant effects on learning) is just one example of how we can partner with teachers to see a strategy that will boost learning for all students.

In this podcast show, Michelle references a great book by Zaretta Hammond: Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.  We read this one in the #ELLChat_BkClub group and it is amazing!

Michelle also offers us a great tip from Dave Stuart Jr. when he was on the Cult of Pedagogy podcast.  Here is that episode about creating moments of genuine connection online with students.  The tip is about using waiting rooms to admit only 1 or 2 students early to have an authentic conversation.  What a great idea!

Along these same lines, we talked about this tweet by the amazing Esther Park.

I was so inspired by the vulnerability Drew and Michelle showed as they engaged the students with projects, conversations and even a guest speaker to address racism and events happening in Louisville.  They also studied and had a Google Meet with Emily Francis who I mention often on this show.  We talked about the authentic connection the students had with Emily after they listened to her new podcast.

My students studied Emily as well.  We used blog posts she shares about her journey to the US from Guatemala.  All of your immigrant students should at least know about Emily. And I recommend you follow this amazing high school teacher who shares so much.

A few other things mentioned were:

Talking Points – they used this to send individual messages to students as it translates for you. (They have since moved to a district vendor)

RemindLarry Ferlazzo wrote about using this app to reach out to students individually.  He writes about the significant difference it is making when he reaches out to a few each day.

The show is packed with more insight and you can also get a great deal more from Michelle if you check out her ELL2.0 website.  She and & Dr. Irina McGrath offer so much support there:

Also check out their VirtuEL session that offers tons of practical advice for working with ELs in distance learning.

I’m so excited that Drew and Michelle are considering starting a podcast.  If you do follow them, be sure to ask them about it. 🙂

Thank you for taking time to check out these notes and I hope you had a chance to listen to the show.  I appreciate Michelle and Drew so much.  And as always, I appreciate YOU for stopping by.

Take good care,


PS:  Reach out if I can support you with ESL training.  I’m excited to be working with districts and school boards across the US and Canada to offer innovative ways to deliver professional learning.   Flexible hours after school, on weekends and through book studies are some examples of how we can support you.

Also check out the UPCOMING EVENTS page!  I hope to connect with you soon.

BAP080 Bravery with Michelle Van Balkom

We  can learn so much from professionals taking risks with technology, even when the technology fails.

Michelle Van Balkom is my guest on this episode. You can listen right here or in your favorite podcast app.

Listen to “BAP080 Bravery with Michelle Van Balkom” on Spreaker.

Michelle is the ELL Program Consultant in the Burnaby School District in British Columbia, Canada.  She has 20  years of teaching experience and is a fierce member of my PLN!  You may recognize her from our Saturday morning LIVE #BELIEVE_Cafe shows on VoicEdRadio.  In this show, Michelle helps us see that while we are all feeling vulnerable in a new reality of online teaching, we can reap benefits from the risks we are taking.

You’ll hear us refer to the VirtuEL Conference in this episode.  Michelle was a presenter and that conference happened a few weeks back in July.  You can still ‘attend” all the sessions as they are all free and have a focus on supporting ELs in Distance Learning.  Find those here:

You’ll hear us talk about Michelle’s VirtuEL Session “Raising Their Voices.”  Here is a direct link to that session.

I’m so glad Michelle agreed to be a speaker at VirtuEL.  We are so  grateful to all of our presenters and I’m extra  inspired that  Michelle took a risk to do her session LIVE.   In this podcast we talk about how her technology failed and she had  to re-record  her session.  As you can see, her session is still right in the lineup with all the other sessions.   It has had  so many  views that I cant even imagine how many students are benefitting from the fact that she shared some ideas.

That thread runs through this show.   So many of us are having to be brave and vulnerable right now with technology.  It is not comfortable, but there can be many benefits to us when we lean in to the learning that comes with risk taking.

Michelle and I both wanted to mention  Dorina Sackman Ebuwa and her  #BELIEVE_Cafe series.   Michelle was surprisingly calm on the day  of  the conference and  she attributes that to the  growth she has experienced thanks to Dorina’s free YouTube series on Transformative Emotional Intelligence.

I can’t recommend it enough  in these difficult times.   Her playlist begins with this video:

As we discuss these “technology fails” (that ended up being big wins), I told Michelle about this VirtuEL session by Bret Gosselin.  Bret was a great presenter on our first VirtuEL conference but his sound didn’t work.  He felt pretty defeated back then but just like Michelle, he re-recorded and now this video has almost 700 views.  Imagine the impact!

or what about the effect of this #MADPD session by Jennifer Hunter Dillon? It has almost 200 views and Jennifer recently wrote about the experience for a book we are publishing soon.  Jennifer talked about how scared she was leading up to this virtual conference, and how disappointed she was when her technology didn’t work.   But just like the other stories above, Jennifer simply re-recorded and now there are so many teachers and students who are benefitting from this session.  Jennifer also reports that she grew her network and her own pedagogy because of the experience.

When we are teaching students, we may not be able to just re-record a lesson.  BUT!  We can still model vulnerability the way these educators did.  We can be honest with our students and let them know that we are all learning.  We can look beyond needing a perfect activity and focus on helping students, and ourselves, grow as learners.  The right mindset and the belief that we can all improve.

I ended the show with the first 5 minutes of this VirtuEL 2017 Keynote address by Nancy Motley.  Nancy is the author of Talk, Read, Talk, Write and at the top of her game.  Her words in the first 5 minutes of this keynote should resonate with anyone going through the uncomfortable “FFT’s” (*&%$ First Times) we hear Brene Brown talk about in her work on vulnerability.

Huge  thanks to Michelle and all of the folks in these videos. They help us see the power we can harness and what we can model for students as we step out of our comfort zones.

Thank you SO much for listening.

Take good care,


BAP079 FIVE Tips to a Strong Start -COVID19 Edition

Many parts of the world are going back to school.  It will be a challenging school year but teachers will still want to cultivate a positive classroom culture.   In this episode I offer ideas for starting the school year whether we are online or in person.

Here are 3 ways to get this content.  You can read the following post which is reprinted with permission from the Seidlitz Education blog.

I also have this 17 minute video and an audio podcast below if you prefer that.

Listen to “BAP079 Tips to a Strong Start During COVID19” on Spreaker.

Cultivating a positive classroom climate, setting our norms, and getting off to the right start has an impact on how students interact throughout the year (Wong, 2005). The need for structure and a welcoming environment does not change as we shift to being physically distant or online. This is critically important to keep in mind as we enter a school year like no other. This year comes with unique challenges at every turn. While each school’s reality may be different, we have some common truths that remain important as we strive to cultivate an environment where all students have the best shot at learning.

To that end, I have five non-negotiables for my first days of school, and this blog will outline how you can do them in a digital or physically distanced classroom:

  1. Low Stress Introductions
  2. Teacher #SelfieKahoot
  3. Class #SelfieKahoot
  4. Instead of IDK Poster
  5. Create a Social Contract

Tech with ELs, Even in the Face-to-Face Classroom

Many teachers will begin the school year online, but even those who are going back to their classrooms this fall will be doing their best to physically distance our kids for everyone’s safety.

There are many tech options that can help, but I am only going to focus on Kahoot and Flipgrid. These two platforms are easy to use for the educator and the student. Please don’t feel inadequate if you don’t have a fancy virtual classroom with clickable links. That’s not what’s important. What is important is connecting with your students and helping them feel valued in your learning space.

Kahoot and Flipgrid can help us create a positive classroom environment, leveraging technology that many teachers already use (or that is simple to learn). These platforms should be valuable throughout the school year, as they have so many possibilities for comprehensible input, low-stress opportunities for output, higher order thinking, and building community.


With Kahoot you can create games online. Many teachers create multiple choice games to review content, but we can do so much more with it! This webinar gives examples of the many ideas for distance learning.


Flipgrid uses video and voice for social learning. The platform is easy to use, and they are rolling out even more features like an immersive reader for students that need directions read aloud.

Five Tips for a Strong Start — Then and Now

You’ll likely find that my five keys to a strong start can be valuable in any classroom. I have written extensively about this, but in this post I just want to remind you that these two platforms can help us do many of our tried and true back to school rituals with technology for keeping our kids at a safe distance.

The tables show how we did each activity “then” (before the pandemic began) and how we can do them now. Use the sliders to see images of the “then” and “now” versions of each activity!

1. Low-Stress Introductions


  • We introduced ourselves with rehearsed phrases.
  • We shared about our heritage languages and our names using sentence starters.
  • We made name tents and walked around the class to find a partner for practice.


  • We still introduced ourselves with rehearsed phrases.
  • We still shared about our heritage languages and our names using sentence starters.
  • Different: Our introductions can start on the class Flipgrid or in a breakout room after students have an opportunity to practice.

2. Teacher #SelfieKahoot


  • I created a Kahoot about myself, and we played it as a guessing game.
  • We played it more than once to establish routines for oral language practice and tracking print
  • We shared about our heritage languages and our names using sentence starters.
  • It happened in class.


  • I can still create a Kahoot about myself
  • We can still play it more than once to establish routines for oral language practice and tracking print
  • We can still shared about our heritage languages and our names using sentence starters.
  • Different: This can happen over ZOOM, We can add guesses to the chat. We can send it home now.

3. Create a Class #SelfieKahoot & Play It


  • Students used paper templates to offer one trivia question about themselves.
  • I created a few Kahoot games with trivia about the students to honor them
  • We played to practice choral reading and tracking print.
  • It happened in class.


  • Students can still use paper to draw and write their trivia question.
  • Different:We might let students share about themselves on the class Flipgrid.
  • I can still create the Kahoot games about the students.
  • We can still play it practice choral reading and tracking print.
  • DIfferent:We can play it online and I can also send it home now (great preview for using it with content)

4. Instead of “I Don’t Know” Poster


  • We created an “Instead of IDK” poster together.
  • Newcomer students and more proficient students alike were expected to use one of the sentences instead of saying “I Don’t Know” when called upon.
  • We discussed the value in this.


  • We can still created an “Instead of IDK” poster together.
  • All students can still practice these responses.
  • We can still directly teach and discuss the value in this.
  • Different:I will make sure they have it in a digital format and that I  display it often in my Zoom meetings

5. Create your classroom norms WITH Your Students

(More on creating a social contract here.)


  • Students use sentence starters to answer questions about how they want to be treated and how they should treat each other.
  • Norms adapted from Capturing Kids’ Hearts program are developed and agreed upon by the class.
  • Class discussions happened in small groups with large group share-outs.
  • The contract was developed on the board after consensus, and we signed the contract.


  • We can still use sentence starters to help students answer questions about how they want to be treated and how they should treat each other.
  • Norms can still be developed and agreed upon by the class.
  • Different: Students will add their thoughts on the Flipgrid for initial input. The contract will be developed digitally in a synchronous meeting (in-person or online) from student Flipgrid input to reach consensus. Use another round of Flipgrid responses to document everyone’s agreement.
These five non-negotiables are at the heart of giving kids voice, honoring who they are, developing routines, and creating a positive classroom culture. For more on why this is critical, see this video for setting up the Newcomer classroom,where I go into each of these in detail.

Our situation this year is not ideal. It may even be chaotic and frustrating. That is all the more reason to keep your tech simple for your own sanity and to keep a focus on how everyone feels and functions in our learning spaces.  I hope these ideas have helped you think of ways to connect with your students and give them voice this year.  How they feel.. and how YOU feel, should superceed everything as we start the school year.  It always has.

You may want to explore this padlet with many more resources around this topic:

Thank you for everything you are  doing.

Sending you positive vibes for a good start to the year.


PS: Want to join me for an upcoming workshop?  Click on these images to learn more about these Upcoming Events!


Wong, H. K., Wong, R. T., & Seroyer, C. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.

BAP078 VirtuEL 2020 is THIS SATURDAY!

Don’t miss your chance to attend the kind of conference we ALL need right now.  NO REGISTRATION.  NO FEES!

Listen to “BAP078 VirtuEL 2020” on Spreaker.

Larry Ferlazzo is our keynote for the 4th annual #VirtuEL conference.  His topic and description speak directly to what we are all facing.

VirtuEL Keynote by Larry Ferlazzo.  10:00am ET, July 25, 2020

We will either find a way or make one”: Overcoming COVID-19 challenges facing ELLs & Their Teachers

Audience: K-12

Teaching and learning scenarios are still not clear for the fall and beyond, but the challenges that will face us are the same:

  • How can we best support English Language Learners who are in our classes?
  • How can we best support English Language Learners when they are in other classes?
  • How we can best support English Language Learners and their families when they are at home?
  • How can we best support and maximize the assets brought by English Language Learners so their presence can improve school wide teaching and learning?

Though the challenges are the same, their degree of difficulty will rise as the definitions of what “classes” and “school” change, and, though “home” as always been important, its connection evolves into an even closer one. Given these massive changes, how do teachers of English Language Learners respond?

Larry’s keynote kicks off a day of great sessions and opportunities to interact.
VirtuEL is the brainchild of my colleague, Tan Huynh.  I’m incredibly grateful to Tan and every presenter.  Here is more about how it works:

Here is the schedule of events for this year:
This year we are offering an opportunity to interact in small groups.  There is NO registration for the conference sessions.  But these small group discussions do require zoom registration for security purposes.  Valentina Gonzales, Steve Sofronas and Larry Ferlazzo will be helping us facilitate those sessions.   Grab your seat for those right here.

Big thanks to everyone who makes VirtuEL possible!  I hope you’ll attend and interact with us on Twitter I’m at @MsSalvaC.  Please use the #VirtuEL hashtag so others can share in your learning!

Take good care!


PS:  Check out my Upcoming Events! I’d love to see you in one of my upcoming workshops for teachers of newcomers.