TODAY IS MADPD! But you can watch these in replay if you missed it!

If you follow this blog, you’ve heard all the build up for #MADPD!  Here are the Youtube watch links for my two sessions.

6pm CT/ 7pm ET:   Using Tech with English Learners.

7pm CT / 8pm ET:  Newcomer Student Panel

ALL the sessions are here and will be available for replay via youtube when you care to watch them:

Happy Learning!

BAP027 Larry Ferlazzo & The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox

The PD in your pocket is off the charts this week, friends!  I have Larry Ferlazzo on the podcast plus my reflections on the interview.  You can listen on Soundcloud, on other podcast apps, or right here:
Listen to “BAP027 Larry Ferlazzo & The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox” on Spreaker.

Also, we are kicking off #ELLChat_BkClub around his new book, The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox.   If you want the video version, I have it here without my reflections:

Larry is currently teaching newcomers and IB classes at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He also blogs for Education Week and he writes for the New York Times. If you aren’t following him… go ahead and leave this post and follow him here immediately.  You can subscribe to his blog, follow him on Facebook and also follow him on Twitter.  Many of us do all of these because he will better your life as an educator, no matter what you teach.

I have lots of great take-aways from this episode. My favorites are when we talk about how this new book honors our time (NONE of these strategies take much prep time) and how Larry & his co author, Katie Hull-Sypniepski go out of their way to honor people who have shared these strategies. Of course, Katie & Larry share the things they have developed on their own but there are many techniques they learned from others. Larry is right when he says that you can’t copyright a strategy. But how wonderful that they cite the PLN members who shared the strategies with them.

Anna Matis and I are honored to be mentioned in the book as I’m sure are so many other members of our PLN.  What a wonderful thing for our profession to have Larry modeling what we want to teach our students – you give credit to others for their work.


In the show we talk about a recent Facebook Live event on Education Week Teacher’s Facebook page.  In that show, Larry and Katie share some strategies  from her classroom.  I’ve watched it a few times now. If you like this show, you’ll LOVE that one.  With a Facebook account, you should be able to see it here.

As we mention in the show, you can access a ton of companion resources, excerpts and tools for free by visiting this post on Larry’s  blog.

In the show, Larry mentions two videos he uses all the time as examples of citing other people and sharing resources from our PLN.  One is this one from Valentina Gonzales.

and this one I made for volunteers and I’m honored that he included it in the book:

Larry also talked about Student Panels for your PD purposes. We should ALL be doing this.  Here is the link to Larry’s post on this including video of his students giving PD. 

Many people are using these videos of Larry’s students as an example and like me and my students, we have taken his lead.  I’ve seen this by Brad Womack and other members of my PLN.  Always the same story – there are amazing the outcomes for teachers, students and everyone involved when you allow your students to give PD to teachers.

I’m on Cloud 9 this week after interviewing such a hero of mine.  I also got to meet and work with lots of folks from my Canada PLN. Thanks to all of you at the Celebrating Linguistic Diversity Conference in Toronto. Special  thanks to Jeffrey Robinson and his  team for all the hospitality and help presenting. Jeff & I enjoyed meeting face-to-face and presenting over our social media collaborations.

Head’s up:  Challenging you all to do more of that!  Find a conference and submit a proposal with a PLN member you’d like to meet.  Win-Win for participants and for you.  Feel free to use our PPT & resources! Copy it, make it your own and all the resources are here including that presentation.

Lastly, big virtual hugs to my family that I am finally meeting in the flesh. I’ve been part of this community virtually for so long and now I get to hug these folks.  It’s PLNmagic, as Jeffery said this weekend!

Thanks for taking time to listen, watch or read this week.

Don’t miss #MADPD coming up on May 6th! It is an all day, online conference!  These are the watch links for my Tech for ELs session (6pm CT) and for my Students’ panel (7pm CT).

Also, join us for the first #AbydosInt twitter chat.  Abydos Learning is a great project with so many literacy teachers involved in giving staff development and now we want to be connected online with others that are passionate about literacy.  Best writing training I. Have. Ever. Had.  So do mark you calendar for 8pm CT May 6th to chat about Free Voluntary Reading.  Chatting with Abydos trainers is a great thing!

Have a great week folks!


PS:  Please reach out if I can help with training or Seidlitz resources.  We are so honored to be adding to the  field and supporting EL’s and the teachers who teach them.

You Don’t Need to Buy More Resources or kill yourself making them.

Do you teach an ESL class?  Do you teach a content class with newcomers? You don’t have to spend endless hours creating materials for your Newcomer ESL classes.

Take a look at this 4 min video. It is an overview of what my NELD (Newcomer English Language Development) high school class looked like last year.

What do you notice?  Many things jump out to me. Authentic opportunities to use English. Collaborating with peers. Reflecting on their learning. Co-created, high interest text and more.  Support for decoding while we also support critical thinking.

It’s no wonder they are highly engaged and making great progress.

For content teachers, the highest priority needs to be your subject and grade-level learning.  But we also need to move language in content classes.  If you haven’t seen this video with Ms. Stokes of Spring Forest Middle School, please check it out.  These 3 minutes underscore one technique for teaching SIFE students in state assessed classes.  And they actually help teach the others!


Are you at a loss for how to structure a class like this? Are you or your teachers frantically creating worksheets because there isn’t enough out there?  That used to be me but let’s reconsider what our students really need:

They need opportunities to listen, speak, read and write in the target language

They need to be involved at grade level.

They need to be engaged and participating.

They need to collaborate with others outside of our classrooms.

They need to feel important.

This blog has many ideas to help you achieve these things for your students.  Check our the videos page to see more examples of how this can look.  Nowadays I am constantly challenging myself to find ways to have my students connecting with others and then reflecting on their thinking.  I also want to create opportunities for cross curricular learning. Our upcoming field trip is an example.  This blogpost outlines the steps I’m taking. 


I hope these videos and step by step outlines add to your ideas for how to move away from formulaic curriculum materials and more toward authentic learning.  Reach out if you have any questions!



PS:  Sometimes we need someone to come look at our situations and help develop a plan.  We need to look at our scope and sequence (or develop one) and then see practical ways to help students engage with the plan. We need examples of these activities and how they can boost grade level learning without exhausting the teacher.

I am now working with districts to show teachers how to do these thing.  I can work with you to structure the newcomer class. Or help with inclusion for newcomers or SIFE in content classes.   If you are interested in consulting, just reach out or send this blogpost to your director or ESL support team.

You can email me at

If you have read this far, I know you are doing great things for your students or your teachers. You are the type of person that goes the extra mile to find more resources to support them.  My purpose with this participar offering is just to make your life easier in that endeavor!


BAP008 Extending TxTESOL

Our state conference isn’t over and you can still participate! Check out the twitter chat questions at the bottom of this post and bring your voice. We need you more than ever. I was swept away by the awesomeness of the #TxTESOL2017 conference but I managed to get you some great audio.

You can listen to the show right here

This podcast has some incredible take-aways from Katie Toppel, Katie Gardner, Jenny Vo and our president, Karen Lewis.  The show is a great listen so you can get a feel of the power of people who are passionate.  Teachers, administrators, education partners and students alike!

I didn’t get reflections from enough people but that’s okay because now we have our Wrap Up #TxTESOL4 Twitter chat on Nov 14 @ 8pm. My challenge for you is this: At the bottom of this podcast post we have released the questions. Participate. Collaborate. Advocate.

Our ELLs need us!   If you didn’t attend #TxTESOL2017, your challenge is to look at the hashtag now and come ready to participate in the Wrap Up Twitter chat on Nov 14. Bring your questions based on what you’ve seen and heard.

If you DID attend, I challenge you to pick high impact pieces of learning with links to share and bring those to the chat. Our chats are at #TxTESOL4.  It’s time for us all to step up and be more intentional about how we advocate and how we share what we are learning.  We can change things. We CAN do this!

Here is a video of the conference opening. Karen Lewis, outgoing TxTESOL4 president, opened the event with an inspiring speech and you can watch that here.

#TXTESOL4 Twitter Chat on Nov 14 @ 8pm CT

Here is a head’s up on the questions:

#TxTESOL4 ChatQuestion Sneak Peek by Carol Salva

Also! This is where you can find me in the next few months:

See you at the Nov 14 chat!  If you are finding this site after Nov 14th, no worries.   There’s always great learning in our PLN.

Stay awesome, Rock Stars!!





What SIFE are Teaching Us and Book Study Week One

Look at what these scholars can do!  They helped about 600 educators understand the journey of a newcomer and helped us all raise our expectations for students with interrupted or limited education.

(BTW: This week we kick off another round of the book study so the questions for week one are at the bottom of this post. I know some of you are not here for the book study so I appreciate your grace for the next 5 weeks.  We might reference the book study a lot but I will make sure the beginning of each post has new content for you.)

So for this post, I want to highlight something my students taught us this week:

We need to give them more voice.

Several of my 2nd year newcomers offered a panel discussion at TxTESOL2017.   A few of my 3rd year students came as well because they were from the original class of students in our middle school group and wanted to share about being in high school when you have not had formal education for several years.  These are some photos from the event and if you’re reading Boosting Achievement or if you’ve seen any of my videos, you may recognize these scholars. 

The audience was riveted by their comments.  I am processing video from the event and it will be shared here as soon as possible.  My reflection on this was how profound the event was for the participants AND the students.  It convinced me that we need to do this more.  Because several of the students had interruptions in education or were limited in formal education, their testimony was a big win for English learners and the teachers who teach them. They show that every child can achieve success with support and the right mindset.

One interesting thing is that one of the students told me that maybe he should not participate because he is failing some classes.  This is a young person who only became literate 2 years ago.  I asked him if he was trying his very best.  He said yes.  I asked him if he could read better than last year.  He said yes.  Then I asked him if he was learning in those classes.  Yes. We had a talk about how some people don’t think a person can learn to read in the 2nd language if he can’t read in his native language.  He laughed at that.  That is when I told him that he had a chance to tell teachers that anything is possible… if you believe and don’t give up.  He was energized to go and you should have seen him get all his courage to talk in front of a few hundred people.  The bravery of these scholars brought me to tears. They brought many of the participants to tears and they received a standing ovation.

You see… we don’t expect him to pass all of his classes.  Not yet. But he CAN and he WILL if he doesn’t give up.  Our system is designed to help all students who want to achieve.  It doesn’t feel that way but we can show him how to take advantage of the support.  He just needs to want it.

The voices of these young people were more powerful than anything that any of us could have said at a conference.  They are clear about what helps them.  They are clear about being able to learn quickly.  They are clear about wanting to be challenged but supported.

So, Yes! #TxTESOL2017 was rather amazing.  I’m producing a podcast with some reflections and you’ll see the link for that coming out in just a day or two.  Hat’s off to Karen Lewis and the TexTESOL4 board.

Stay tuned for other events where you can meet these students and others that might want to participate.  Kids CAN teach us!

***************WEEK ONE of the Boosting Achievement Book Study*****************************


Yes, we are starting the book study!  If you are just cracking the book open this week – you’re still in great shape! The first week of the book study is the Forward by Tan Huynh and the Introduction.  This is a quick read but they are very important parts of the book.  Please take time to read these pages so you can comment with the hashtag #BoostingAchievement on Twitter.

For the next 5 weeks, I will do my best to share a weekly post by Sunday evening.   You may choose to answer some of the questions below or just comment on your reading. Please use the #BoostingAchievement hashtag.  You can use the 1A2 format (Week 1/Answer #2) or just use the hashtag and write in complete sentences so people understand your comment.

WEEK ONE: Where we Are, Forward and Introduction

Feel free to use the Flipgrid for responding as well. Here is the Week 1 grid:

1Q1) Roll call: introduce yourself, name, role, grade levels, country/state etc. Anything you want to say about why you’re participating.  (Welcome!)

1Q2) What makes you interested in this book/topic?

1Q3) How is your school addressing the needs of SIFE (students with interrupted formal education)?

What are your desires for systemic solutions. What are your concerns? What are some things that you are proud of in terms of supporting SIFE?

1Q4) Please reflect on the forward by Tan Huynh (@TanELLclassroom). Tan is a leader in ESL education. What are your reactions to his story? His thoughts on the book? How does his story inform what we do as teachers?

1Q5) Carol writes a reflection about her first experience with a large group of refugees. She has several years of experience as a specialist with a background in ELA, Bilingual Education, ESL and Special Education. She was still worried that she would fail these learners. How can teachers overcome self-doubt?

1Q6) Without romanticizing the situations of SIFE, every circumstance has something that can be used in a productive way. One example is brain research showing that there are possible cognitive advantages when a person is not immersed in technology for years. What are your take-aways from the work of Nicholas Carr & Jane Healy (found on p. 11)?

1Q7) As you flip through the Table of Contents, what section are you most looking forward to discussing? Why?

You may also be interested in supplemental materials for WEEK ONE.    At that link you will find the first post I did on part of the book. That post includes videos and the story of a very impressive English learner, Emily Francis.  She was once a SIFE learner herself and has risen above so much challenge to help us see what is possible.  Follow Emily here!

Hope to see you on the Flipgrid, the Twitterverse or both!

Carol Salva


The New Kahoot App – You’ve been Challenged!

It’s here!  The Kahoot mobile app is now available to everyone and it is THE BOMB!

Just download the new app (just like any other app) and start challenging your students to your Kahoots for homework, during class or any time of day. They can even challenge each other and find other content games to play.

I want to go on the record of saying that I LOVE the app  for English Learners. I had to do NOTHING extra. You guys know that I am all about practical.  What is more practical than doing nothing extra? You just have the kiddos download the app and you select “Challenge” and the Kahoot you would use in class is now able to be played by your students on their own.  On the go!


To try it out, just download the app yourself and then go to your Kahoot dashboard. Select “Challege” when you would normally launch a game. You’ll select the timeframe for it to be completed and then you’ll get a PIN to give to students. I would suggest that you pretend you are a student and plug it into your new app.  That’s it. You’ll see that your Kahoot has been chunked into 3 question challenges.  It’s shockingly easy to use.

Here is the link so you can read more about this on Kahoot’s site.   In typical Kahoot awesomeness, they have created a Kahoot to learn more about the app.  That would be fun to play with your faculty and you’ll walk away a hero!

I have lots of other Kahoot resources if you teach ELLs.  I’m reprinting some of that information below.   But there is a reason that this platform is used in almost every country in the world. It’s great for all learners.

Thanks for playing!

Happy Kahoot’ing!!



Why did I include two pages of Kahoot in my Boosting Achievement book?  Read on.  I should have included more! I have had so many more experiences with the platform!

I have had many roles in my career as an educator but I can honestly say that being a Kahoot Ambassador, is a true highlight.

Kahoot is engaging. There is no doubt about that.  Last year, there were only 6 countries in the world that did not play a Kahoot.  If it is that popular, we owe it to our learners to capitalize on student engagement.  Here are just a few of the uses and benefits I have discovered. You’ll find examples of all of these in different blogposts on this site:

  • Accelerates Academic Language Acquisition with Visuals and Opportunities to Spiral Vocabulary
  • Accelerates Basic Second Language Acquisition with Opportunities to Practice and Internalize Language Structures
  • Supports Authentic Language Production about Content
  • Promotes Higher Order Thinking by Allowing Students to Create Content Assessments
  • Provides Templates/Scaffolds so That ANY Student is Able to Create Assessments
  • Helps us Easily Break Down Classroom Walls to Play Connected Kahoots with Others
  • Facilitates Global Collaboration Among Students in Creating Quizzes
  • Facilitates Global Collaboration Among Educators
  • Provides a Practical Way for Educators to be Culturally Responsive in our Teaching.
  • and so much more!

I have many blog posts with examples of the above if you search in the menu tabs, but where can you start? I start on the first day of school with a Teacher #SelfieKahoot.

After that, I pass out the planning templates that are provided by Kahoot. Each student tells one thing about themselves and the positive classroom culture begins to take shape.

But don’t stop there, once your students create assessments about themselves, they are ready to make assessments about your content.

We used the planning templates to outline a research project, to have students create reviews for state assessments, to quiz other classes.. the content and language possibilities are endless.  When students create assessments, they are working at the highest cognitive levels. And with Kahoot, they want to!

My area of specialization is Non-English Speakers with Minimal Education.  With the help of Kahoot, I am able to capitalize on engagement and help students propel their language and learning. But what I am doing works for ALL kids. Check out this blog post on how to use Kahoot for ESL/Non-English speakers. It comes with a 30 min video you could use for PD. You’ll see that the teaching strategies would be helpful to most learners as we all need visuals and opportunities to practice the academic language.

You might also be interested in this blog post on how to create a Holidays Traditions Kahoot (any time of year) that will easily break down the walls of your classroom and facilitate global thinking.

By exploring the menu tab,  you’ll find many more posts on how the tool is helping me propel the learning of ESL and non-ESL students alike.  And it can help teachers learn as well!  We want awesome learning too!  My strong recommendation is that administrators and specialists use Kahoot in faculty meetings and during PD sessions.  You are modeling a classroom tool and your participants will be engaged!

Do you know about JUMBLE? It is a great Kahoot offering that will have your students ordering/sequencing things like words, events, dates.  This post from my talk at SXSW  has better explanation and a link to a practice Jumble I made. So many content areas can use this feature and it is great for ESL!

AND THE BIG NEWS right now is that Kahoot is about to launched a mobile app this month!  Teachers at ISTE were thrilled to see the demo because it will allow us to easily push challenges out to our students for homework or at any time.

So please do look around the site for more examples. Or reach out to me at or on Twitter at @MsSalvaC. I am happy to shoot you a link with examples of the uses I’ve mentioned aboove.

Lastly, I would refer you to the Kahoot Blog.  You’ll find three articles there that I have written about how to  use the platform with ESL students in different, high-impact ways.  Those articles can be found here.

If you have not used Kahoot, just start quizzing with it.  Then you’ll see how easy it is! All these ideas will start making a lot more sense and you can reach out to me or the Kahoot K!rew for support.  They have never failed me.

Hope this is helpful.

Happy Kahooting!


SIFE Inclusion in Mainstream ELA Classrooms

Newcomers and SIFE mastering grade level ELA standards? What if they had limited formal education?   They can.  Our SIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) are every bit as intelligent as the rest of the class.  Their foundational literacy skills (decoding, sight words, etc) will come more quickly if they have the same opportunities for reading as their peers. This post focuses on reading in mainstream ELA classes. A follow-up post will focus on writing.

To illustrate accommodations for SIFE & non-English readers, I have received permission to reprint the following blog post from Evan Robb.  Evan is an author, a principal , and a public speaker.  My background is in ELA so I follow his blog, the Robb Review, closely and recommend it to all ELA teachers.

Evan’s background is such that his reading suggestions already include differentiation but for the purposes of this article, I have made annotations with #booksnaps so that the accommodations for SIFE are highlighted:

Reading in Middle School Classrooms

by Evan Robb  @ERobbPrincipal

Popcorn reading, bump, and round robin reading do not make for great middle school classrooms! Often I am asked what types of reading should occur in a middle school English classroom? Three types or reading should be part of every middle school Language Arts classroom.  

Instructional Interactive Read Aloud

Reading can and should be taught. An interactive read aloud allows the teacher to model in a think aloud how they apply a reading strategy. This modeling during a read aloud builds and/or enlarges students’ mental model of how a strategy works. For this aspect of instruction, I suggest that the teacher models with a short text that matches the genre and/or theme that ties a reading unit together.  Short texts can include a picture book, an excerpt from a longer text, a folk or fairy tale, myth or legend, a short, short story, or an article from a magazine or newsletter.

Here are some skills and strategies that you can model in interactive read aloud lessons:

  • Making inferences
  • Identifying big ideas and themes
  • Identifying central ideas and themes
  • Locating important details
  • Skimming to find details
  • Author’s purposes
  • Purposes of informational texts (nonfiction) and literature (fiction)
  • Literary Elements and how each supports comprehension: setting, protagonist, antagonists, plot, conflicts, other characters, climax, denouement
  • Informational text structures and how these support comprehension: description, compare/contrast, cause/effect, problem/solutions, sequence, question/answer
  • Word choice as a guide to pinpointing mood or tone
  • Vocabulary building with an emphasis on general academic vocabulary, figurative language, and comprehension, using roots, prefixes, suffices, discussing concepts, diverse word meanings, and different forms of a word.


Instructional Reading

Instructional reading should happen during class. Students need to read materials at their instructional reading level—about 95% reading accuracy and about 85 % comprehension. Organizing instructional reading around a genre and theme—for example biography with a theme of obstacles—permits students to read different texts and discuss their reading around the genre and theme.

As an example, the class opens with an interactive read aloud lesson that lasts about ten minutes and occurs daily. Next, a transition to instructional reading. Find books for students in your school library, your community public library, and in your class library and school’s book room (if you have one).  Instructional reading books stay in the classroom, as students from different sections may be using the same materials each day.

A teacher can have students chunk instructional texts by putting a sticky note at the end of every two to three chapters. When students reach a sticky note, they stop to discuss their books with a partner and then a group of four. During this stop-to-think time, students can write about their books, connect the theme to the book, and apply strategies and skills the teacher has modeled during interactive read-aloud lessons.

Partners should be no more than one year apart in reading levels so they have something to contribute to each other. Students reading far below grade level learn with the teacher.

Independent Reading

Students should always have a book they are reading independently. By encouraging them to read accessible books on topics they love and want to know more about, you develop their motivation to read!

Have students keep a Book Log of the titles they’ve read and reread. Do not ask students to do a project for each completed book, for that will turn them away from reading. A book talk a month and a written book review twice a year on independent reading is enough. Reflecting on independent reading is important; getting hung up on how you will hold students accountable is not very valuable.  Remember, enthusiastic readers of any age do not summarize every chapter they read in a journal.

Students should complete thirty minutes of independent reading a night, and that should be their main homework assignment. Try to set aside two days a week for students to complete independent reading at school. Reading in a classroom is valuable!

Including the three layers of reading into a middle school curriculum brings balance, engagement, and motivation to the curriculum and holds the potential of improving reading for all students. When the teacher models how she/he applies a skill or strategy to a specific text, the teacher provides opportunities for all students to observe how a skill or strategy works. Instructional reading asks students to apply specific skills and strategies to texts that can improve students’ comprehension, vocabulary, and skill because these texts stretch students’ thinking with the teacher, the expert, as a supportive guide. Equally important is independent reading: easy, enjoyable texts that students self-select on topics, genres, or by authors that interest them—texts about two years below students’ instructional level.

Give this framework a try.  The goal is to increase reading and help students learn how to become strategic readers.

Image result for evan a robb principal robb review

Special thanks to Evan Robb for writing such a great article on inclusive reading best practices.  Evan and I communicated briefly to be sure we were on the same page about accommodations for newcomers.  I feel that this is a great example of how the mainstream and ESL teacher can collaborate virtually in support of our students who are SIFE. Image result for carol salva

Language Acquisition for SIFE. Plus Week 4 Book Study Questions

How fast can you acquire a second language? Pretty darn fast if we offer comprehensible input, in a low stress environment, and you are a motivated learner.   If this all happens in an engaging thematic unit that is directly related to grade-level standards… BOOM!  You are both acquiring the language and learning content at grade-level.  Why would this be any different for SIFE (a student with interrupted or limited formal education)?  Every child has unique needs, but this post is about methods to help SIFE aquire English. Read on and I’ll try to explain my understanding.  I hope these ideas are good enough for you to challenge them!

So I believe that when my students acquire language quickly, they are acquiring mostly  BICS (Basic Language) and the solid research by Jim Cummins stating that it takes 5-7 years to acquire enough language for the ELL (English Language Learner) to be working on level with native peers.  I am not disputing this research.  I am saying that you can go faster than the norm with your basic language.  And your teacher can accommodate instruction to allow you to work at grade level the day you arrive in your new country.  All of this can help the learner in the area of motivation which is  a key factor in how quickly a person learns anything.

I want to know all the research I can but I like to go deeper in theories that are research-based and also give us clear strategies for helping students succeed (vs. the research that tells us how poorly ELLs are performing on standardized test, etc..Ugh!)  I also love real stories of people who are beating the odds because they are supported well or they are taking full advantage of opportunities,  growth mindset, innovative ways of learning.  I like to see just exactly WHAT is possible!

I had a researcher tell me that one of my videos of a student accelerating his second language acquisition was an anomaly.  That researcher visited my class and met many anomalies. So he said, “Actually…. it’s the teacher.  The teacher is the anomaly.”  Ha! That’s fine.  I am happy to be that.  Any one of us can be an anomaly (something different than the norm).  Believing that are kids can do more than people might think…showing it…that is exactly how a new normal begins to take hold.


What does it take for your class to all feel like they can beat the odds?  A combination of things for sure.  A key answer for me is this:  Use research-based practices and keep challenging your own mindset and the mindset of your students.  Keep an asset-mentality even in September & October! At the start of the school year when we all get amnesia.  When we feel like the process is going sooo slowly.  Find your like-minded PLN and remind yourselves of your WHY.  And what you know to be true.  Every kid CAN.  Every kid.

Consciously push out any negative, deficit-mentality thoughts you might have about SIFE, Non-English speakers or children from poverty.  It’s important for me to understand where statistics come from. But as we discussed last week, we can get a lot further focusing on the research and statistics that show advantages and possibilities for our students.  When we do this, they know we are serious about believing in them and that begins to help them to believe in themselves.

This week I want to offer more resources that deepened my understanding of language acquisition vs. language learning.  I am using terms that come from my study of Stephen Krashen’s work.   Krashen offers to us that Comprehensible Input is one of the most important factors in how you acquire your 2nd language.  As a teacher, I must make my messages comprehensible/understandable to the language learner.  I can do this with a variety of sheltered strategies.  Some examples of those strategies, are things that work well for ALL students.  But these are critical for our language learners:  visuals, gestures, slowing my rate of speech are just a few.  Below I will offer links to videos that have examples.

For a great overview of Stephen Krashen’s theories (they are so important for us to understand), read through this short document from his website. It is his Theory of Second Language Acquisition with research cited there as well:

I love all the theory. It gives such hope for every learner if we can leverage things like lowering the affective filter and amping up some simple things like gestures and visuals for comprehensible input.  It’s more complicated for sure, but what a practical place to start!

How About Short Classes on ESL? Or a Conference!

So what does some of this look like? Hmmmm……Wouldn’t it be great if you could go to an awesome ESL conference with big name keynote speakers who are proven experts in the field?  And there were a variety of 30-45 min ESL breakout sessions so you could pick the ones that made sense for your reality?  And, Oh! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could do that in your slippers & house robe, on demand, whenever you wanted?

You guessed it.  You totally can.

Thanks to the brainchild of Tan Huynh, the first annual #VirtuEL streamed live in June 2017.  But that was just the first year and that was only the live date.  The conference is available to anyone, at any time.  No, we don’t need your email, you won’t get spam from us. This is all free and on YouTube.  Just check out the first 5 minutes of Nancy Motely‘s Keynote session from that first year and you will be hooked.

The feedback is very positive.  If you follow these presenters, you can get so much free PD, you won’t know what to do with it all!   These professionals were hand-picked for their track record of sharing free, high-quality ESL training content.

Best of Lists from Larry Ferlazzo

One other website I would check out this week is Larry Ferlazzo’s blog. He spends so much time collecting the best of everything for us!  For content teachers, this post is great place to start: “Best Short Videos for Content Teachers with ELLs.” 

Gotta run but please reach out with questions.  There is so much more to learn from all of us.  That is why we are chatting it up over on Twitter & Facebook.  Please come challenge my ideas so we can think even more deeply about our learners.

Week 4 Book Study Questions!

For more on the book study, please visit my Boosting Achievement Book Study landing page.  It has links to the previous weeks and lots more good stuff.

WEEK FOUR QUESTIONS  (Answer some of these, all of these or none of these. We welcome all ideas, reflections & insight!)

4Q1) p. 48 – 49 Watch the video with the QR Code or here: Emmanuel was preliterate in any language but had a strong desire to communicate with the visitor.  What language standards for emergent readers were met in preparation for Dr. Babaloa? What else stands out about the video or the story on p. 48?

4Q2) p. 50 What is the difference between learning a language and acquiring a language?  Why is the distinction especially important for SIFE?

4Q3) p. 51 & 52 Read US History Experience with Paul Spellman on page 52 that describes how Carol’s Newcomer class prepared for an author visit. This video was made for Dr. Spellman: Many of the students were compelled to read Dr. Spellman’s book. Why? What else did you notice?

4Q4) p. 58 -59 The content teacher and the ESL teacher use language in different ways.  What are your take-aways from this?

4Q5) p. 60 – 61  How is the focus different for the sheltered science teacher vs the ESL teacher who decides to use science in a unit? What stands out to you on these pages?

4Q6) p. 62 Carol explains that English Learners should be assessed according to their level of English language  proficiency.  We must understand the proficiency descriptors to meet students where they are for language when assessing.  But what if that student has not been offered comprehensible input? What can schools do to help content teachers offer comprehensible input to ELs?

4Q7) p. 63 The reality for some learners who are SIFE is that they may not master courses like Algebra I if they do not have the foundational skills necessary for the class.  What hope is there for this student?  Read page 63 and respond with what the author suggests or other ideas you have for supporting these students.

Who Are S.I.F.E? Plus Week 2 Book Study Resources

The Youtube LIVE Hangout for Week 2 should be viewable here on Tues Jul 18 @ 7:00pm Central.  Participants in the book study who wish to talk to each other live are using this platform as a way of collaborating beyond the Twitter slow chat:

The weekly Youtube Live Hangout is fun and worth watching to help sythesise the information in our 5 week study of Boosting Achievement.  The rest of the links for the book study are at the bottom of this post.

Below are two videos to consider as we attempt to answer the question: “Who are SIFE?”

(Resources specific to Week 2 of the Book Study are at the end of this post.)

These are two videos of the same Student with Interrupted Formal Education.  Nabil had no native language literacy and even after weeks of choral reading and foundational literacy practices, he refused to believe that he could read anything. His own fixed mindset was our biggest obstacle.

Watch the first 3 min video to see how we got literacy off the ground with Nabil.

All of these students are SIFE.  Watch this 5 minutes to see how much Nabil could read a few months later and learn more about who Nabil REALLY is:

So again… Who are S.I.F.E?

The Jargon

Last week we defined S.I.F.E. as students who have interrupted or minimal education.  But there are many other labels that can be confusing for people new to this demographic. Here are a few key terms and a short description of each:

Teachers know how important it is to understand this vocabulary. Some of the labels carry special provisions or legal obligations for accommodations. Undoubtedly, we should know which of our students are identified as SIFE. One reason is that it would be wrong to assume that all non-English speakers are SIFE, or somehow below level. This is a common problem because the lack of language causes a person to be perceived as having less knowledge than those who can speak about a given subject.


And what about the words in the acronym S.I.F.E? The word “Interrupted” doesn’t quite cover it if I was born in a refugee camp and arrived in a formal school setting at the age of 15.  The words “Limited” or “Minimal” evoke strong feelings for some English Learner (EL) advocates who feel that they are detrimental to the students. These feelings have merit as studies are showing that labels are affecting how some teachers perceive language learners.  This EdWeek article goes further into that:

Inspiring International Students

I tried calling these learners “International Students” for a while with teachers. We still do that in our larger school setting because they are absolutely international students and that is how they should be regarded by their peers! For example, p. 5 of the Feb 2017 Stratford High School newspaper. Ms. Robayo, a journalism student, did a flattering piece on our newcomers. Of note is that one of these students highlighted in the article spent 11 years in a refugee camp with no running water or electricity.  (That student passed the Algebra End of Course exam her 2nd year in US  schools, by the way, but I digress.)

I love identifying the students this way but teachers need explicit terms to understand what interventions and support a SIFE student might require. If we take the words limited or minimal out of descriptors, we run the risk of confusing education professionals that seek support to serve ESL students.

While I think there is value in finding labels that lift students up vs. bringing them down, I don’t think the answer for our SIFE lies in changing the acronym (again). In fact, to play devil’s advocate, a challenging circumstance can be the very thing that propels a person to achieve MORE.

For example, many of my refugee students (some who are SIFE) take strength in the label of “refugee.”  A mantra in our class is “We can do more BECAUSE we are refugees” or “We can do more BECAUSE we are immigrants.”  Consider that Albert Einstein was a refugee.  Heck, both Jesus and Mohammad are included as “famous refugees” on this list.

As educators, we have the power to offer alternative ways of dealing with challenges. I don’t advertise who is SIFE in my class but I do conference with students individually and I make sure they know that every cloud has a silver lining. What they were learning when they were away from school will benefit them and benefit our class.

We can inspire our students to draw upon the strength and optimism of others. They can benefit from Nabil’s story above and from that of Emily Francis & Tan Huynh who are education heroes who prove that you can become more than your label.

In fact, the label can be what propels you.


Think back to the introduction of the book. You remember the chaotic class of African refugees at the middle school?  Nabil, mentioned above, was in that class and the videos above are from that class as well.  Below are photos (Scroll all the way down for pictures) of just a few more of the many successes realized by those scholars later that school year.  Ask anyone who was employed in my district that year.  The group had a reputation of being unteachable, unmanagable. Their situation seemed almost hopeless. Looking back, it seems that quite the opposite was true. They not only learned to “do school” their stories have become the hope for so many!

PHOTOS!  Who Are the SIFE & Refugee Students I Describe in the Introduction of the Boosting Achievement Book?  

We are still finding out!

At the end of the introduction, I describe a conversation I had with Francies. He is the student who tells me about losing his mother.  Francies ran in the AAU Jr. Olympics that Summer and came in 17th in the nation. (Thank you Family Point Resources Outreach Center!)


Francies now runs for our High School track team.  (The Stratford High coaches support literacy efforts by having him read before training!)

The class attended African iXchange and met Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter pictured here with the students and other African dignitaries.

Seven of our SIFE scholars won scholarships from the YMCA for the writing they did in the video above.  Our class won 1/3 of all scholarships awarded that year.

Noella reads another 500 word essay to thousands of people at the Junior League in Houston in support of Young Audiences and Arts in Education.

Young Audiences partnered with our school to offer lessons from Impande Ye Africa and the students performed with them in the Carnival Houston Street Parade that summer.

We had a great year.  More of it can be seen here:  To be sure, we had many, many challenges and sometimes I felt like literacy was not moving at all.  But they did begin reading and many skipped several years in reading levels.  These scholars taught me and my partner teacher, Ms. Dierschke, that getting to know them… really getting to know them.. was key in valuing who they are as people and then helping them realize what is possible.

Also, an update on Osama, from p. 22.  He was not SIFE but he was being mistaken for an off level learner because of his initial testing scores when he arrived this school year as a refugee non-English speaker.  He is the one in the cap & gown with me here:

I’m excited for parts 2-4 of the book where we get into specific strategies that boost achievement for SIFE. But I bet you can see many here already.

Whether you have the book or not, the post above, the way the questions are phrased, and these resources should help you interact quite a bit with our online book study happening July 9 – August 12th.

Here are the week 2 questions but you can also find them on the BOOK STUDY LANDING PAGE along with the questions for every week of the study.

WEEK TWO QUESTIONS  (Answer some of these, all of these or none of these. We welcome all ideas, reflections & insight!)

  • 2Q1)  p. 12 “…not all refugee students are SIFE.” Do you think this is a common misconception? How can we help change that perception?
  • 2Q2)  p. 13 “…teachers need to be prepared to teach language, in addition to content, to maximize English language development.”  What is your best advice for content teachers who are new to SIFE?   
  • 2Q3)  p. 15 Every Student Has a Story: These are just some examples of a newcomer backgrounds. Are your students’ backgrounds similar or different than these?
  • 2Q4)  p. 16-p.18 What are additional ideas for making students feel instantly welcome? Or why do you like some that are mentioned here?
  • 2Q5)  Use the QR Code on p. 18 or visit to analyze the 2-minute video of Carol’s newcomer classes. There are brand-new classmates, SIFE and also students with special needs in these classes.  That said, it took only 15 minutes for the class to be able to rearrange desks in under 30 seconds.   Why is this video important? (ie: implications for cooperative learning, classroom culture, expectations for diverse learners, or anything that is significant to you.)
  • 2Q6) p. 19-21 only scratch the surface of Culturally Responsive Teaching, a very hot topic in education right now. What would you add to this? Or what part resonated with you and why?
  • 2Q7) p. 22-23 Osama is a refugee in his 1st year in US schools. He was not SIFE but he appeared delayed in math, initially scoring at a 7th grade level in placement tests. Update: His math teachers used sheltered instruction, he finished the year passing Pre-Calculus, graduating, and he received scholarships to attend college this fall.    How can you use Osama’s story? Could it guide you in your role as you work with ELs, other professionals or any type of learner?
  • 2Q8) p. 25 – 31 offer examples of different methods a district, a school or a teacher might use to gather information about newcomers and learners who are SIFE. Are any of these realistic in your role?  If not, what other means can you share?

Please message me to participate in this week’s Google Hangout. I will add the link here when it is recorded.

Be sure to add to the Boosting Achievement Padlet and read through it to get a sense of how folks are synthesizing what they read.  It should deepen learning for all of us!

BE BRAVE and record 90 seconds of reflection to the flipgrid! Just hearing thoughts from others and adding your own will boost our own abilities to serve SIFE students.

What is Possible for S.I.F.E? Plus Week 1 Book Study Resources

Yes, the book study is starting! Questions are at the bottom of this post and this post ties directly to Week 1!

For the next 5 weeks, I will publish a post that will have new content for anyone serving English learners and will also offer more information and resources to go along with our Boosting Achievement #ELLChat_BkClub book study. I will include specific book study information at the end of each post (scroll to the bottom for specific questions).

What is Possible for S.I.F.E?

Imagine that a non-English speaking student arrives at your middle or high school campus.  This student has little or no literacy in their native language because they lack formal education.  This young person has social emotional needs because they have had to endure war, displacement or a life of mobility. Their age dictates that they must attend school with peers regardless of their limited educational background.  Your district has no “newcomer center” or the center is full so they will be enrolling at your comprehensive middle school or high school.

These students are known as SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education) and their educational background may be minimal at best.

If this scenario seems overwhelming, we have good news.

It is true, due to events in our world, this demographic is growing in public schools around the globe and they need special attention for their circumstances. But these students can not only survive in regular secondary schools, they can thrive! And our pedagogy can grow to better serve the entire class because of researched based strategies we will employ to address their needs.

All we need to do this week is realize what is possible for these students.

Check out the Introduction to the book.  **Do not skip the introduction**  It is written by Tan Huynh.  He is arguably one of the most influential  educators sharing on Twitter and his story will frame what we can expect from this book.  It will also likely move you on an emotional level.  The questions at the bottom of this post align to his writing.

In addition to the book’s introduction, we can look around our world today.  Let’s just reflect on just ONE of the many examples of SIFE who are having success today.  This story goes a long way to help our mindset and that of our students.

Emily Francis

Emily Francis was a SIFE student who entered high school in New York with a 6th grade education from Guatemala.  At 15 years of age, she was a recent immigrant, a non-English speaker who was far below her peers in literacy and content learning. She was also helping to raise her siblings because mom was working all hours to support 5 children on her own.

Today, Emily lives and works in North Carolina as an ESL teacher (yay!).  Among other accolades, she was the Teacher of the year for W.M. Irvin Elementary in 2015 and Teacher of the Year for Cabarrus County in 2016.  Incredibly,  Emily is an ELL #FAB5Squad Teacher for the Teaching Channel. 

Just a few of her press appearances & mentions here:

2018 update!  Emily is on the Ellen Show!

Emily is an amazing example of how our Students with Interrupted or Minimal Education CAN overcome obstacles and they CAN succeed in life. They can, in fact, become some of our most important leaders.  Please check out Emily’s blog if you’d like to know more about her journey.  You can also listen to a recent podcast where she is interviewed by Derek Rhodenizer on Beyond the Staffroom.

Here is a 3 min video of how I met Emily & her students:

If you are reading Boosting Achievement, you can skip to p.41 to read about it. It is also detailed in this blog post.

Next week we will look at who our SIFE students are and what basics we should know to help serve them.


Week 1 Questions & More Resources

To support teachers of these students, Anna Matis and I have written Boosting Achievement; Reaching Students with Interrupted or Minimal Education.  It outlines best practices for serving Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (sometimes referred to as SIFE or SLIFE).  It is full of practical techniques that are resulting in success for SIFE and newcomer students in my current classroom. It is the result of our combined years of teaching experience as well as professional ESL and ELA consulting.


During Week 1, you may want to listen to Tan Huynh’s interview on the Rolland Chidiac Connects podcast. He wrote the forward that we are reviewing this week and he tells his story at the beginning of the show.  Tan is another ESL education leader so his perspective, coming to America as a refugee, is another important narrative for us to consider.


Participants are free to deviate from the following questions and post reflections, #BookSnaps, add insight and advice to the group over the current section.

WEEK ONE  Where we Are, Forward and Introduction

1Q1) Roll call: introduce yourself, name, role, grade levels, country/state etc. Are you a returning participant or a new to this group?
1Q2) What makes you interested in this book/topic?
1Q3) How is your school addressing the needs of SIFE (students with interrupted formal education)?  What are your desires for systemic solutions.  What are your concerns?  What are some things that you are proud of in terms of supporting SIFE?
1Q4) Please reflect on the forward by Tan Huynh (@TanELLclassroom). Tan is a leader in ESL education. What are your reactions to his story? His thoughts on the book?   How does his story inform what we do as teachers?
1Q5) Carol writes a reflection about her first experience with a large group of refugees. She has several years of experience as a specialist with a background in ELA, Bilingual Education, ESL and Special Education.  She was still worried that she would fail these learners.  How can teachers overcome self-doubt?
1Q6) Without romanticizing the situations of SIFE, every circumstance has something that can be used in a productive way.  One example is brain research showing that there are possible cognitive advantages when a person is not immersed in technology for years.  What are your take-aways from the work of Nicholas Carr & Jane Healy (found on p. 11)?

1Q7) As you flip through the Table of Contents, what section are you most looking forward to discussing? Why?

Thank you to everyone reading this blog.

I’m inspired by how many educators want to spend time reflecting on our SIFE. I feel strongly that as we get better at serving them, we get better at serving all students.

Stay awesome,