BAP097 Feeling Prepared to Support SLIFE with Dr. Margaret Aisicovich

Experiencing an interruption in education is not a cognitive issue.  It is a lack of opportunity issue.

Dr. Margaret Aisicovich, a member of my professional learning network, agrees.  But her research and experience, unfortunately, suggest that many educators still believe that SLIFE (Students with limited or interrupted formal education) are less capable than other students.

I was delighted to have Dr. Aisicovich join me for a live show with Stephen Hurley.  You can listen to my reflections and some of our chat right here:

Listen to “BAP097 Feeling Prepared to Support SLIFE ft. Dr. Margaret Aisicovich” on Spreaker.

I am using her research in my own doctoral work.  I am still early in my own process but my literature review and preliminary observations are in direct alignment with what Margaret shares on the show.  Part of her research centers around how teachers view their ability to be effective with SLIFE.  Her work was conducted in Manitoba, Canada, and in her area, students who missed foundational education are referred to as LAL (Literacy, Academics, and Language) students.

You can read more from Dr. Aisicovich’s dissertation via the University of Manitoba’s library.


Dr. Aisicovich has a master’s and a PhD in Education. She has been a K-12 principal, has taught grades K–12, and has taught in higher education. While she was teaching, she taught English as an additional language to new Canadians and published two books with her students: How I Got My Name, Lost it and Found it Again and An Anthology of School Stories by EAL High School Students in English and Their Mother Tongue.  You can learn more about her work at her website:

Dr. Aisicovich was born in Poland and moved to Canada at the age of six. She talks about that experience on the show.  Her perspective was so great for my reflection.

A big takeaway for me was how much we need to plan for our SLIFE. Namely:

  • Transitioning to mainstream classes
  • How they will get access to grade-level standards
  • How we will create spaces where they feel valued
  • Creating a system of equity

But a critical part of the equation is whether or not the teacher believes they can support the student.

I keep thinking about the teachers that would cry to Margaret because they did not feel prepared to support SLIFE/LAL learners.  Many of us have felt this way.

This is one of the main reasons I do this show.  It is helping me learn.  The more I learn from colleagues like Dr. Aisicovich, the more prepared I feel to support LAL/SLIFE.  All teachers deserve training to support their under-schooled students.

If you’re feeling like you want more support in this area, be sure to express that concern to your district, province, or your administrator.  And I’m including a ton of FREE resources below to support you.  Also, check out other Boosting Achievement Podcast Episodes on everything from how to teach a student how to read to practical strategies that can happen in every classroom. 

Thank you, once again, Margaret.  We are excited for your book to come out in the fall of 2021.  It is not about ESL or SLIFE/LAL students.  It is a book with tales about the pitfalls, heartbreak, and challenges people face when they choose the profession of being an educator.  Watch the newly released trailer here:

We are excited to have Margaret come back on the show to share more about the book closer to the release date.  Stay up to date on the book by following Dr. Aisicovich on Twitter.  She is at @MAisicovich

Thank you for stopping by the blog/show notes… for supporting my learning journey… and for all you do!

Here are the learning opportunities that can help educators support SLIFE

The Virtual SLIFE conference happened in Nov 2020 and all the sessions are still available on YouTube:

The ML Summit will be happening throughout the month f July. There are several SLIFE sessions:


Tune in for the next podcast with guest, John Seidlitz.  He will be sharing about the upcoming conference “Amplifying the Voices of Unaccompanied Minors”


BAP096 You’re Invited to the ML Summit! (previously VirtuEL)!

I realize that I sent you an email about the ML Summit but it is now just a few days away and I posted a podcast episode about it.  So there need to be some shownotes for it.  So please excuse the repetition or you can use this as a reminder that we start-up in just a few days!  Even if you find this post after July 2021, all the sessions are still there…as are the ones from 2017 to 2020!

Here’s that quick show just raising awareness for folks who don’t know about the virtual free conference:

Listen to “BAP096 You’re Invited to The ML Summit (Previously VirtuEL)!” on Spreaker.

These are the show notes I mention in the show:

Dr. Katie Toppel, Tan Huynh, and I are thrilled to bring you our 5th annual completely free, YouTube conference for teachers of Multilingual Learners.

This is the virtual conference previously known as “VirtuEL” and the one that Larry Ferlazzo just called the “PD event of the summer” if you teach ELs.  Links to everything you need are in this post.

You’ll find all the sessions and info at the ML Summit Google Site


Want an overview?  Here is a “How – To” explainer video on the home page if you’re not familiar with our website or you just don’t want to miss a thing:

Dr. Maneka Brooks is our amazing Keynote on June 24th

She is followed by a full day of Live YouTube breakout sessions!

We begin on July 5th with the first 3 sessions released and a slow chat about them at the end of the week.

That happens again Week2!   leaders in the field interacting with us each week.

Don’t miss the amazing pre-conference sessions happening all month long.  We have the incredible Valentina Gonzalez & wonderful Beth Skelton offering a live pre-conference on July 22.  That day is the only thing that requires registration to offer you a different way to interact.  Space is limited!

And again, July 24th is the big day!

Many many thanks to everyone presenting and engaging!

Katie, Tan & I are so grateful!







Reach out with any questions.

<3 Carol


BAP095 The JCPS Newcomer Academy ft. Gwen Snow and Dr. Irina McGrath

Great things are happening for Newcomers in Kentucky!  What is working for recent arrivals at the Newcomer Academy in Jefferson Co Public Schools?   Principal Gwen Snow and Assistant Principal, Dr. Irina McGrath share some very important actions they are taking to best educate their newcomer and SLIFE learners in their high school.

You can download the episode in your favorite podcast app or listen right here:

Listen to “BAP095 Newcomer Academy Success ft. Snow and McGrath” on Spreaker.

A Source of Pride

I was blown away when Gwen shared that the school is going on its 15th year!

It has become a source of pride and identity for their immigrant community.  This is in alignment with the leadership training Gwen has in terms of the important role a high school can play in the community.  Many of the students are coming back as leaders in the community and making sure that people know that the Newcomer Academy was their school.  How powerful and inspiring!

Some of the big ideas include:

  • Supporting Basic Needs & finding out what is available in the community.

Gwen and Irina shared some of the most foundational things they do including helping families with basic needs.  It starts with knowing what is in your community.  We brought up 211, the United Way Help Line for folks who may not know what services are available in their area.

211 can speak to your students and families in many different languages.  Take Gwen’s advice and call it yourself to see what the experience is like and to be able to better help your families use it.  I found it to be very easy to use and in my high school class, we called it on speakerphone to illustrate how to call the service.

The United Way helpline is available across the US and in many parts of Canada.

The website is also great:

  • Good communication with their parents. 

They hold in-person and virtual Town Hall Meetings regularly.  I was inspired to hear about how important their parents are to the school.  They are available to help them and their students with much more than academics.

  • Social-Emotional Support 

This is a school for recent arrivals and so it stands to reason that many have lived through difficult circumstances.  Teachers have SEL training and the school has SEL Leads so there is a focus on how to help the students with their social and emotional needs.

  • Specific Language & Content Support

Ms. Snow explained that their school provides intense English support.  The teachers are trained to provide instruction in English with a focus on strategies that support language acquisition and content learning for multilingual learners.

Dr. McGrath & Michelle Shory (also in JCPS) have a fantastic supportive website we all need to be following: ELL2.0

I learn so much from it:

Dr. McGrath added that they have structured their scheduling so students receive content support and additional language support. A specific advocacy period is among the innovative classes taken by newcomer students. She pointed out that there is a lot of differentiation happening as all of the newcomers come with unique backgrounds and assets.

Irina was excited to tell us about how she is working with the content teachers to plan for the next school year.  They will be doing action research on specific content strategies for Newcomers.   She explained that they will select a number of techniques, try them out, and then document and share what works for newcomers at different levels.  This will be great information for so many other teachers as well.

  • Standards-Based Grading

Gwen emphasized that it is important for us to allow students multiple ways to show mastery. Grading on the actual standards allows educators to focus on what a student has mastered.  They shared that it also allows them to build on the students’ experiences.

  • Resources

Gwen advises that we take a good look at our resources.  ALL resources… such as  Human Resources for example.  How are they spread across the district and how can they best be utilized?

  • Teach Them How to Be a Student in the United States. 

Gwen reminded us that we are not just teaching them content or language.  We are teaching them how to do school in the US. Irina offered that she remembered being a newcomer and how challenging it is to have to learn everything from how to operate a microwave to how tubes worked in the drive-through at the bank.

  • Welcoming Environment

In many ways, they are both telling us how important it is that we support the whole student. There was a strong message of creating a welcoming environment.  We can all create that.  We have a lot of research around being culturally responsive and lowering the affective filter for students.  It is no wonder their efforts are working so well in JCPS.

I was so inspired by what they tell us is working.  It is wonderful that they have a specific school to implement these ideas and we can learn from those practices even if we don’t have a newcomer center.  The Newcomer Academy is giving students a great start in their education journey.

Thanks again to Gwen Snow & Dr. Irina McGrath!

And thank YOU for listening!


PS: Keep your eyes peeled for the #MLSummit!  (This is formerly #VirtuEL) Search the hashtag and know that I’ll send out info soon on how you can participate in the July free conference.


BAP094 Hope with Agency & Shifting to an Asset Lens

In this show, Stephen Hurley and I reflect on the labels we use to describe our language learners and we end up sharing some practical ways to foster HOPE for our students & our staff.

You can read about it below, listen on your favorite podcast app or tune in right here:

Listen to “BAP094 Hope with Agency & Shifting to an Asset Lens” on Spreaker.

Many people in our field are making a conscious effort to describe students with terms such as “Multilingual Learners” or “Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Learners.”

I am on board with this 100%!  But  I am still on a very public journey of learning and still exploring this for myself.  That journey is sometimes uncomfortable but I mention Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability as we are reflecting.  Her work on ‘putting yourself out there’ has made an incredible difference in my life.

Stephen offers me a T. S. Elliot Quote that sums up the way I often feel about what we do and our learning journeys:

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at where we started, and know the place for the first time.  – T.S. Elliot

I still use the term “EL” and “ELL” when working with clients but I want to use different language when it is not necessary to be specific about students who are receiving services.

In fact,  Dr. Katie Toppel, Tan Huynh, and I recently authored  a book where we make sure to limit the use of the term “EL.”   As I speak to Stephen, you’ll hear me talk about the term “CLD” or “Culturally and Linguistically Diverse” students.  Katie, Tan & I know we want to use something other than EL when we refer to the students we serve, but we are still debating the right term to use.

It’s great to see that things are changing and more people are adopting asset terms to describe our diverse students. The current round of #MLLchat_BkClub (formerly #ELLchat_BkClub) is studying a fabulous book by Diane Staher Fenner & Sidney Snyder.  Notice the term being used to describe the students.

I feel strongly that we need to describe our students and refer to them in ways that reinforce all that they bring.  But I do worry about the confusion that can happen when we are not clear about who needs services, who needs what scaffolds, who we are advocating for.

Let’s be Clear.. AND Asset-Based

I work with districts and I am hired to help educators not only accelerate language acquisition but also to support SLIFE & other ELs access grade-level content.  That requires that we are clear about which demographics and subpopulations we are referring to.

But I think we can do this.  I feel that I can walk into a school and talk about ELs & SLIFE in terms of what we can do to support them.  In the same conversation, I can marvel at how wonderful the support is for all the Multilingual Learners.  I can tell a student that it is exciting to see them grow as a bilingual scholar.  I can assess the environment and talk about how inviting it is or isn’t for a culturally and linguistically diverse community.

In our live conversation, Stephen Hurley makes a good point that new terminology is always changing based on research and based on our perspective of the world.  He talks about the intersection of multilingualism, cultural diversity and linguistic diversity.  I think he is right… it is a complex place to be.

Some of Stephen’s Journey

Speaking of perspective, Stephen talks about how his own perspective was changed when he began interviewing speakers for the Shifting Linguistic Landscapes conference.  You can hear a great deal of it for free right here on

I highly recommend you check out that series.  You’ll get an opportunity to hear more about Translanguaging from the keynote Dr. Ofelia Garcia as well as other leaders in the field.

Stephen Hurley (who happens to be the founder of VoicEd radio) is constantly learning.  He speaks in this chat about the fact that embracing diversity in your classroom brings an opportunity to invite new perspectives.  YES!  His thoughts around that are wonderful to hear and great for our reflection.

Multiple Perspectives

As we discussed multiple perspectives, I told an anecdote of a newcomer who furthered everyone’s language and literacy by recounting how the history of the Texas-Mexico war was taught to him in his country. 

I mention how much language we get off the ground when we have engaging conversations and even debates. I always ask students to use language such as:

“I see what you are saying, but have you considered…?”

“That is an interesting point of view. From my perspective…”

“I agree that…”

“Tell me more about…”

But for these kinds of highly engaging discussions, the classroom needs to be a safe and respectful environment for everyone.

I talk to Stephen about one of the practical things I do in my classroom to achieve this.  We always set up a social contract.  The steps I use are from Capturing Kids’ Hearts, a program/training that some of my colleagues had received.  I write and talk about it here. 

I also shared my thoughts around supporting teachers who are burned out and having a difficult year.  I don’t believe the answer is to give up and think that the teacher can’t benefit from coaching or training right now.  Yes, many are in a high-stress place, and many are overwhelmed and their work is so difficult.  But that is the reality for the students that we serve.  The answer is not to say, “you don’t need support.”  The answer is to create a low-stress environment where people are having wins… where their voice is valued, and where we are all learning.  Administrators that work to create this atmosphere are modeling what we can do for our MLLs


Before we wrapped up we got on the topic of what gives people hope right now.  Hope is the answer for teachers who are burned out, students who are going through difficult circumstances, even ourselves and our families.

We all need hope and, lucky for us, EDUCATION offers so much hope.  Stephen made connections to the sense of agency around Hope.  He mentions a book by Thomas Homer-Dixon entitled Comanding Hope.

Stephen goes on to point out the difference when we say

“I hope that…”   (a wish)


“I hope to…”  (now we have agency!)

In these challenging times, I will continue to try to offer hope to as many students, educators and education leaders as possbile. But as Stephen says, I want to offer hope that comes with a sense of agency, not just a wish.

It reminded me of a quote that our newcomers memorized.  It can give students a LOT of hope… with agency!

So at the end of the day, I am still doing the work of being as asset minded as I can for our students.  You’ll likely contine to hear me fumble through different ways of describing our students and I appreciate your grace in that.  I’m working on what sounds right and feels right for different circumstances.

I’d love to hear what you think about the terms and how it is affecting your world.  Please comment here or find me on Twitter or Facebook let me know!

Thanks for

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!