BAP111 Teaching Newcomers What to Say Instead of IDK

I’m working in districts where we have been in school for 5-8 weeks. This show is in response to some challenges and reflections on what I want to emphasize more.  You can listen to this show right here or on your favorite podcast app.

Listen to “BAP111 Instead of IDK for SLIFE and Newcomers” on Spreaker.

An edited transcript follows with links to what I talked about:

This episode is going to be about lessons learned. I think there’s value no matter what you do if you’re a teacher, instructional coach, or administrator.

This is that time of the year when the honeymoon is over!  LOL.  Things are playing out in a certain way depending on what routines you put in place or did not put in place. What I’ve learned is that in many places where we’re not getting things off the ground with students, it’s because this strategy is not in place.  We are realizing that we did not emphasize the teaching of this skill enough.

So let me offer you the strategy, and then I’m going to tell you why it’s so critical for new arrival students.  And this one is important for even your highest flyer in your classroom no matter what you teach. And I’m also going to tell you about a fail, so look forward to that. People always say they love hearing about what didn’t go right or a non-example when I’m trying things.

So this fail is kind of funny too. All right, so here’s the strategy.

The sheltered strategy is to Teach Kids What to Say When They Don’t Know What to Say.

Let me say that again. We’re going to teach kids what to say when they don’t know what to say. Some teachers know this as an “Instead of ‘I don’t know’ poster.” We are working to remove “IDK” from our classrooms.

So let’s think about it a little bit differently. We’re not talking about a poster. Idk is what the students use. Many students text, I don’t know Idk. All right?

Often you will see a poster that says IDK, and it has an X through it in a classroom. The idea is that we are not going to say, ‘I don’t know’ anymore. Instead, we want to encourage other things such as: May I ask a friend for help? Would you please repeat the question? Where can I find more information? May I have some time to think? etc. That’s a fantastic poster to have. The company I work for, Seidlitz Education, sells these great posters of things that say, they’re beautiful.

WHY is this Important?  Can the Students Tell Us?

If you ask the kids, why is it important to say other things instead of I Don’t Know, could they tell us?  Have we talked with them about this and let them come up with answers.  This offers relevancy.

If I asked you to come up with three reasons why it is important for young people to say something instead of I don’t know, I bet you could.  As adults, we have built a skill where we might pause and say something like “Could you give me a minute?”  Or “Can I ask someone to help me with this?”

Just Google It!

You know, the reality is that we don’t use the skill so much anymore.  Now we just ask Alexa.  Or we ask Google. We google it. That’s kind of dangerous for the world, don’t you think?   In the Boosting Achievement book that I wrote with Anna Mattis, we cite researchers that talk about how a part of our brain is starting to atrophy because of technology.  We don’t have to think deeply anymore.  So then it is more important than ever that our classrooms are places where we can practice thinking, be more curious. Be more curious. Don’t just default to I don’t know.

It’s a teenage culture kind of thing, right? I’m sure you can appreciate, even for your own child, do you want them to be okay with not knowing?  So the first one that I always teach is, May I ask a friend for help? Because I’m trying to create a culture of conversation. And as soon as the student says that, we say, yes.  And I’m going to hover around that student, and I’m going to make eye contact, and I’m going to ask them, Are you ok to answer before we come back. I might have to give them the answer. We need them to have a win in that moment in front of everybody. And if they didn’t know the answer, they may not be the only one. They’re likely not the only one that doesn’t know.

Why is QSSSA not Working?

I’m going to talk about the Newcomer classroom. I am always talking about the newcomer student.  This week, I was in a newcomer classroom where the majority of the students have missed large amounts of formal education, and we are at high school.   The issue is that the students are not turning and talking when we want them to.  And we have a really good structure, QSSSA, for students to turn and talk.  But they’re still not talking to each other as much as we would like for them to, even when we encourage the use of native language.  We just don’t have it off the ground.

Modeling for Teachers

A part of my job is modeling for teachers.  So I decided I would model how to get this strategy off the ground with a class where most of the students are new to the target language of English.  I never promise that I can pull off a spur of the moment lesson well.  It is a challenge to model because I don’t know the kids and I don’t know the content.  But I’m willing.  I feel that it is important to be vulnerable enough to do these things to support the teachers. Even if  the lesson doesn’t go as planned, we get a chance to debrief and so we are both going to come out better.

Using Native Language

So remember that most of the kids in the classroom don’t understand what I’m saying. Now, a lot of these kids speak Spanish, so I’m going to just be honest, my first instinct would be to just say it in Spanish. I speak Spanish. And this is not the moment to worry about language acquisition. This is the moment to worry about teaching a skill so that we can acquire more English! Routines, directions, telling a student how amazing they are…Those kinds of messages we need to get across, however we can get them across.  Use your entire language repertoire to communicate these things.  We have Google Translate and I will use it or whatever I need to use to help me , might use whatever I need to make sure they understand.


A key word or phrase is always okay.  – Said by Nancy Motley in one of my first ESL trainings.)

But as the instructor, I want to stay in English as much as possible. I’m the model.  I would only just pop out of English for a moment and come right back in. I don’t want them to think that I will be translating everything. I want them to get comprehensible input (understandable messages) with me staying in English as much as possible. But again, this is so important that I would use my Spanish. Absolutely. Not a problem for me. It always has worked out just fine.


Translation Can’t be our Go-To Strategy for Comprehensible Input

I have no problem using Spanish from time to time but the teacher I was working with does not speak Spanish! And another thing is that several kids in there don’t speak Spanish! I could use Google Translate and I would still use some Spanish translation, though. I would still do it because the majority were Spanish speaking kids and they just communicate kid-to-kid better than they can with me often. They’re friends. So I would do it, but I would be thinking “What about my student that speaks Farsi? What about the child that speaks Arabic? Are they getting it?”  And so translation cannot be our comprehensible input default. And as the year goes on, I want to make sure it’s not because more kids have more comprehension and I should not need to translate at all anything pretty soon. So anyway, the teacher I was working with didn’t speak Spanish, and I want to make sure that I’m trying to model something that they can do easily.

How do I Get Buy-In for This Norm?

Okay, so here’s how it looks if everybody speaks English in my classroom.  I would write “I Don’t Know.” on the board and talk about how it is OK not to know answers.  I’d give them a scenario in life like if I’m at the bank and they ask me, “What is your husband’s mother’s maiden name?”  I might just need a minute. I might know it, but I might just say, “Can you hang on just a moment? Can you give me a minute to think?” My husband might be in the car, and so I might instead ask them if I could go ask him for help.

Most importantly, I want them to talk to each other. I’d like the students to talk and to tell me why is this important.  I want their buy-in. This is a lesson. It is not just, ‘Hey, we’re going to start doing this today.’

We can just write one thing on the anchor chart and add to it throughout the year. But they need to buy-in. They need to understand why it’s important. So I would have that “I Don’t Know” written on the anchor chart and at that point, I would cross it out.  Then I would add “Instead of…” and we can start writing other things we could say onto that poster.

Poster vs. Anchor Chart

Instead of ‘poster,’ let’s call it an anchor chart. It needs to be big enough for the kids on the other side of the room to be able to read it. Any environmental print needs to be big enough, written in big enough print, that it’s usable no matter where you’re sitting in the class. And it needs to be referenced.  Otherwise, it is just decoration.


That’s how it goes when everybody speaks English. So now I will explain what I do when they don’t comprehend much English.

I want to say, before I start to tell you about the simulation, No Forced Output. That’s a mantra in my mind that I’m saying to myself as I walk in front of a class of new arrival students or any students, no forced output. I am not going to force anyone. I’m never going to force a kid to speak in English. When they’re acquiring English, it’s just so cringy. And it is doing the opposite, the exact opposite of what I want, which is a low-stress environment where they can acquire, consume, and comprehend as much English as possible.

I want that to go as fast as possible. And there’s a researcher named Steven Krashen who will tell you it’s really all about reading. And he’s right, in my experience. I want to get them reading with support, high interest, compelling things, acquiring and understanding these words as they start to understand how they sound and as they start to use them, we get it off the ground, and it starts going so fast.

They have to be comfortable for that. They have to be really comfortable. Not freaked out. So whatever I’m doing in front of the class, they can attend to it, they can see it, they can get it. They can start getting little things. They can be comfortable enough to talk to their partner in a low-stress way.


One-to-one is low stress, so use whatever language, but I want them to talk to each other. Some of them won’t even talk to each other in their native language.

Think about that. A turn-and-talk. What could go wrong with a turn and talk in a regular math class?  I’m sure you’re thinking a lot of things.

They’re not talking about what I want them to talk about….

One of them is doing all the talking…

They weren’t paying attention, so they don’t know.

And on and on…

QSSSA is a routine that helps solve for so many of the challenges we face when we want students to Turn and Talk. It’s a top tip. It is our top tip.  I work for a company called Sidelitz Education, and QSSSA is always a Top Tip!  Chris Hagy of Charleston, SC has a padlet on the technique here. And this script by Michelle Gill is popular:

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab


That routine is one of John Seidlitz’ Seven Steps to a Language-rich, Interactive Classroom.  It is a fantastic routine.  But guess what step one is? Step one is teach kids what to say when they don’t know what to say.

Teaching Students what to Say instead of IDK is STEP ONE.

That is step one for a reason. We need low-stress environments where everybody is willing to take risks.  See, I don’t want to force them to speak in English, but I do want to arm them with something they can take anywhere they go in the building and also not be so worried that they’re going to be called on. So this “Instead of “I don’t know” poster that we’re creating, I have a little one for you.

They’re about six to a page and you can just print them out and cut them up and tape them to the desk. Tape them to their agenda.  Have a big one on the wall and also tape these on their Chromebook and everywhere so they can take it with them because it’s a skill.  It is what they might need at the doctor’s office. To use in math class. To use everywhere.

The Fail

Okay, so I’m walking to the front of a classroom where kids do not speak English. The class is for that. And these are new arrival students. And it’s at the beginning of the school year and it’s specifically for students who have missed education. So imagine there’s not much comprehension across the board.  So I went up there and I wrote, I don’t know on the board. And you see kids, they’re looking at it quizzically. So I think, “I’m going to explain this like I always do, but I’ll just use gestures.”

So for whatever reason, I pointed to my eye in my face. Ha!  I’m going to try not to laugh because it was so ridiculous.  So I pointed to my eye, but then immediately I was like, no, not that kind of eye .. I.   And I pointed to my chest and I saw a kid mouth “me” as soon as I pointed to my chest.  He mouthed me and I was like, yes, like me… I.  And another student pointed at me, like at the teacher, and said, I?  No, no, no… now my mind is racing. I’m thinking, God! Because you know what?  I did this for a living, for years. But every time I go in front of a class, I get slapped back into reality of how hard it really is. It is not easy to teach, period.  But you forget how intentional you need to be to teach newcomers effectively.  But I need this vulnerability. I need to be up there so that I can help. I don’t have to have a magic wand and do anything perfectly.  Or say “just do this!”  I was up there so we can figure out things together. And I know there’s a way to do this with newcomers. I’m just thinking, “Why didn’t I think about this before I walked up here??”

I was like, no, I (pointing at my chest).  Of course some kids got it. “I” is a very common high-frequency word. I like, I am here. Okay, let me just go on to “Don’t”… the word “Don’t.”  So I pointed to the word don’t, and I said, Say “don’t”, and everybody repeated it.

I wagged my finger like, no… like you’re shaming somebody.

Don’t… don’t… Don’t

And one of them said, “no.” And I said, yeah like “no.” But he was saying, “I no?”

No. So when I was shaking my finger back and forth, they were getting “no” like yes or no. So I was like yeah, it’s no…but it’s don’t.   And I’m trying to think, how do you say don’t? How do you convey don’t without saying no? Because the next word is know!

I don’t know.

So then I was like, okay, don’t. Just say don’t, and then no. And then point into my temple….know.


I know they’re thinking, “I no no?  And that no is with a K??”

Okay, right there. Let’s just stop. This all happened in just a few seconds, right?  To me, it is so funny.

Making Things Harder Than They Need to Be

It is so funny because I’m just making it so much harder than it needs to be. As always. As always, I’m making it way harder than it needs to be. Let’s back up.  I could have said it in Spanish because one kid finally did say “No Se?” That’s beautiful. Yes! Throughout the school year, if they say it in Spanish, I’m going to say, yeah, exactly. Or if they get it, yeah. I don’t care if they translate to each other all year long.  I just don’t want that to be their go-to either.  But anyway, as soon as he said No Sé, I wrote No Sé. And they’re like, yeah, okay. But there were still kids in the class that don’t speak Spanish.   But I did see that they can help each other understand this.  I saw a kid turn to another kid and make the gesture like shoulders up, palms up. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Yes. That kids should be teaching. LOL!

That kid should be teaching. Because here’s how I’m going to always do it from this point forward. They all got it when I made this noise, when I shrugged my shoulders, when I put my palms up, and when I made the “I Don’t Know” sound… it isn’t even a word. It is a sound.  So that gesture with your shoulders up and your palms up, that resulted in 100% of them getting it.  And they started laughing, and they’re like, okay, we get it.

I can also invite our kids who do have literacy in Arabic or something else to come and write that over here on this anchor chart. There’s nothing wrong with the native language. In fact, it’s powerful. But I want the English words big as that is our target language in this class.

So they understand this is what we’re talking about. But they needed to understand, just like any class, what does it look like in a class? So let me circle back that little moment that I had in front of that class. That little fail, I call it, was such a fantastic learning opportunity for me and for the teacher.  At least I  know it was for me and I hope for him because we debriefed afterward that we’re just making it harder than it needs to be.

Collaborate with Like Minded Educators

This is the kind of thing I get better at because I reflect on it.  I am reflecting on it right now in this podcast. But I want to talk with or communicate with other educators to remind me of the basic things that are most powerful.  And things like ‘When is native language okay?’  Again, A keyword or phrase is always okay for the teacher. I mean, when is native language okay for the students in an ESL classroom?

Always, always allow and honor their native language.

Students can use your entire language repertoire in this class because I have a language target. I have a language objective today. Our language objective is “We will use language such as “May I ask a friend for help?” and “Would you please repeat the question?”

That’s our language target today. And we all repeated it at the beginning of class in unison because that is low-stress. I’m not forcing anybody, but if we say it all together, you know, and we used it several times in the class, and I’m constantly bringing them back into English. The ones who can speak English, the ones who are able to repeat, the ones who are we’re constantly coaching for that through the entire 39 minutes. But you have to use your native language.

It’s a source of comfort. Your funds of knowledge live there… everything that you’re able to express.

I have a kid who speaks Spanish and a kid who speaks Arabic sitting together. And they do great, but they do use some of their native language. Their common language is English, but they can communicate with each other using everything they have.

We want to create a culture of conversation. And that conversation, we cannot force it all to be in English. But there’s more and more English as we are going through the year. I promise this is the answer. Low-stress environments, low-stress opportunities for output.

Opportunities for output. No forced output. And tons of comprehensible input. Tons of messages that you start to understand, what does that person mean? What are they trying to get across to me in this language?

Comprehensible input would be in the target language of English in that classroom. But comprehensible. So me making that gesture really exaggerated…it’s comprehensible. It was more comprehensible than anything else I was doing up there.   So we just played around with it. We’re just playing around with it.

Partner with Students.  Be Transparent

And you know, what is great about what happened is the kids don’t forget it. The kids won’t forget it if it’s a fail like that. I’m just transparent with them.  I was always telling my students that I’m learning how to be a better teacher every day. That’s what other people say, too.

I have heard Instructional Coaches say they don’t model because they don’t want to take the power away from the teacher.  NO.  You won’t take the power away from that teacher. I don’t believe that for a minute.  Let’s hold students to a higher regard. Partner with the students. I’m trying to get better about that.  Right when I walk in, if they let me introduce myself, I want to say “Hi, I’m Dr. Salva. Your teacher and I are both learning.  We’re always learning. I hope for you that your whole life you will be learning. So today we’re going to try some things together because I want to learn, and he wants to learn. And we’re always working together to get better at things, to get better at teaching you. And so what I learned from you, too.  And you guys learn from us.  So we’re going to try some things in here and see how they go.”

I mean, that’s just transparent because we’re all still just on this journey, all of us, me, the teacher, the principal, the kids, all of us. Hold them in high regard. We are all learning together, okay?

So Instead of, ‘I Don’t Know.’

Here are some things for my journey of learning lately on supporting teachers:

It’s not a poster. The strategy is not a poster because a poster is just decoration. If the kids aren’t using it, if we haven’t implemented it. And so if you look around your room and it is a small thing where kids can’t access it, or if we only talked about it one time, that’s where we learned, okay? We haven’t emphasized it enough.

We haven’t made it a norm. We haven’t made it our default. We haven’t spent time making sure our highest kid in the class uses it, because we ask them questions that they would need to use it like, “Can you tell me more about that?” Or “Can you say it another way?” Or “Why? Why do you think that?”

Are we using this to help with rigor?  Those kinds of higher-order questions would have your highest kids going, hhhmmmmmmm….  So you can offer them, “Okay, do you want a moment? Do you want to use something from the poster?”   We want all the kids to see that it’s for all the kids. So your highest kids have to buy into it. And if we want our students to buy into this technique, we need to give them the relevancy.  We need to explain all of this and make sure they all understand why it’s important.

Motivation – Helping Them Find It

We had kids speaking in their native language to each other and coming up with ideas of why it’s important because that was the thing. We need buy in from students. We need them to buy into this.

Larry Ferlazzo has written a lot on how to help kids be intrinsically motivated. I’ll link to one of his articles. Here are the four things.

I say them all the time. (I’m a Larry Ferlazzo groupie.) The researchers agree. If you want kids to be motivated, if you want people to find their motivation, intrinsic motivation, put these four things in the environment.

  • Relevancy like I just said, why is it relevant? How is it relevant? Why is it relevant to you? Why should you care.
  • Relatedness that’s relationships. Teachers have relationships with students, and students have relationships with each other, and we want to work on those because it really helps motivation. So relevancy, relatedness another one is:
  • Autonomy or choice.  So I give them that anchor chart, and you can choose whatever one you want to say. But how much choice you have in anything helps you be more motivated about doing it. And then the fourth thing that Larry writes about is:
  • Competence.  A sense of competence. That doesn’t mean I’ve mastered it. It means I feel myself getting better at it.  I’ve had a little win.

So that whole technique instead of I don’t know, it’s not a poster, it’s a skill. What do you do when you don’t know what to say? What can you say? So that’s what I was saying.

Recap on Some Things That Can Go Wrong

What can go wrong is that we can have it to where it’s just a poster. It may even be a poster that they can’t read. So to offset that, to mitigate those challenges, we would use it more often. Explain it. Explain the relevancy.

Have kids talking to each other, your relationship with them, hold them in high regard that you want their opinion about why it’s important and even using it, explain to them, we’re doing it in here, not because I’m the teacher and I want you to answer it’s because your voice is important. Your voice is important. And you may just need a moment. You may just need your friend to remind you of something. You may not know the answer, but that’s okay. You know a lot of other things, and together we know a lot.

Don’t Force Output but Expect Them to Use These Phrases?

So it may sound counterintuitive. Like what I’m saying is make sure they know what to say, but don’t force output. Okay…I don’t care if they say it in Spanish.  I don’t care.  I mean, once they’re comfortable.  If I get a brand new student that come this week, I’m going back to relatedness. I’m going to have a conversation with them one on one, and I’m going to use Google Translate to make sure they know that they are in a safe place. That I’m not going to randomly call on them. They’re new. I’m going to respect their need for support, but I’m going to have a lot of conversations with them.  They’re going to be pretty comfortable sooner versus later.  They will be ready because they’re in a classroom where we do these things and they’re going to see this is how we roll in here. This is a very safe place. So when I do finally call on them, it’s okay for them to answer in whatever language. It’s okay for them to use their entire language repertoire to answer.

Or they can even give me a signal.!  They can even point to it in the book when they are new or nervous.  And I’ll say, “Yeah, right!  The answer is landforms. You see this?   Landforms. What he’s saying is ‘This week we are studying landforms’. That is the right answer! Let’s all say that…”

If I’m trying to get complete sentences out of everyone’s mouth, we can do them in unison. And I can honor this child, whatever their language.

So think about your language learners. If you’re teaching language learners, they have different proficiency levels, and so a brand new student is not the time to force output, but they can be included. Inclusion!  They can understand way more than they can say usually. So let’s make them comfortable. They can attend, they can repeat, and in low-stress environments it all works better.  Remember, low stress opportunities for output.

Low-stress output could be one-to-one. That would be a whisper read to my teacher. That would be with the students getting comfortable talking to the person next to them one-to-one.

A Culture of Conversation

And I can walk around and listen.  I can get a formative assessment. That’s better than me calling on one student that doesn’t know the answer or only calling on the professional answer. Always, if I call on somebody and they don’t know the answer, they can ask me something from the poster, or they can even point to the one on the poster and I can say “Yeah, this one says, May I ask a friend? Let’s all say that. May I ask a friend? Yes.  Okay… everybody. Ask your friend what do they think? And we’ll come right back to this person.”

But again, I’m going to make sure they have a WIN. See, with QSSSA, and Teaching kids what to say instead of IDK, you’re well on your way to a very language rich, interactive classroom.  I’m just asking you to respect the need for support of a brand new student, but in a way that allows them to acquire the language as quickly as possible.

I’m going to wrap up the show now and thank you for helping me reflect that’s, what I just did. This is my journey of learning. And thank you to everybody that’s allowing me to work with them and support them in their classrooms, in their districts, with training, with modeling, with coaching. Reach out. If you have any questions about that, you can find me on Twitter.  I’m @DrCarolSalva  or Come over to Facebook with us.  I’m also on Instagram but I don’t check that regularly. Sorry.

Last Thought

One more thing on “Instead of I don’t know.”  Think about the cumulative effect of that over a person’s life. Think about a student, what effect you’re having if you help someone build that skill right now over the course of their lives. A person who doesn’t just go, “I don’t know,” especially in this age of technology. What does that do for them in their working groups, in their lives, as they walk through their day, as they get their first job, as they get their next job? Look at the long game, always. Let’s look at the long game and realize the effect.  That’s what I’m asking you to do is realize YOUR effect.  Little things add up and they have major effects over a person’s life. So that relatedness that relationship you’re building with that student, it makes a difference.  Hold them in high regard. Hold every one of them in high esteem. Their voice is important, and you want them to have that skill so that as they go through life, they can show what they know and they can get the answers they don’t know, and they can add to their knowledge because the sky’s the limit.

Please stop and reflect on the huge impact you’re having on students. Thank you for everything you’re doing.


PS:  Check Out Upcoming Events!  We have a lot of places we can meet IRL!!


BAP109 Small Moves, Big Gaines with Author Nancy Motley

Our guest on the show today is the amazing Nancy Motley. Nancy is a former educator who has held many roles in education from elementary through high school.  She is now a Senior Consultant with Seidlitz Education where her role has her delivering powerful and relevant professional learning. She also supports teachers in their environments with coaching and mentoring.  Nancy is with us today because another part of her role is to write and develop new products.  Her newest book, Small Moves, Big Gains is now available and she is here to share tips from it.
Make sure to tune in because she shares some of the content from the book for free in this interview.

You can listen to the show on your favorite podcast app or right here:
Listen to “BAP109 Small Moves, Big Gains with Author Nancy Motley” on Spreaker.

Or you may prefer to watch the show on YouTube or right here:

There has never been a better time for a resource like this.  I was fortunate enough to attend an all-day conference with Nancy where she shared many of the easy-to-implement strategies along with the research and specific steps to cultivating these into habits. Everyone loved how “do-able” the strategies are.  Not only are they things we can actually manage to do easily,  they also offer big gains in terms of getting kids to talk more, think more, and achieve more. (hence the subtitle of the book!)

What are Small Moves?

In the show, Nancy talks about what she has learned in her many years as an instructional coach.  Like many of you, I am a  lifelong learner and I always want to improve my craft.  But Nancy makes some great points about why we might have difficulty making big changes.  There is a lot on a teacher’s plate, there are things that are not in our control, and so on.  This is exactly why this resource is so powerful.  Nancy highlights the research of habit-formation and suggests that we work on building small habits that lead to big gains.

She shares two specific small moves in the show that we can use right away.

Nancy also shares her criteria for one of these “small moves.”  For a move to make it into the book, it must be:

  1. Work for ALL learners (MLL, Gifted, Bored, Over-Achiever, etc..)
  2. Work in ALL contexts (PreK-Calculus and all content areas)
  3. Actionable
  4. Requires little to no prep
  5. Able to be implemented in 2 min or less

The show really offers some great insight into how changing a few habits can have a profound effect on our pedagogy.  It is easy to see that once we are doing some things with automaticity, it would be easier to take things to the next level with more habits.

She even shares a few ways to make habits stick when you are cultivating them.

My Take-Aways

I had so many learning moments in this conversation.  One of my biggest takeaways is that I need to focus on what I am already doing and think about how I can stack a habit on top of that.  The more I use this resource, the more I can see just how much I am over-complicating things.  I am definitely making some things harder than they need to be. Since this interview, I have tried a few small moves that she suggested in my professional learning workshops and I am super happy with the results.  It is really bringing me so much clarity on how to continue to improve.  I’m excited about trying more small moves now that I’m thinking differently about my habits.

Where can you get your copy?

You can get your copy of Small Moves, Big Gains on Amazon or on the Seidlitz Education website. 

Just check out the hashtag #SmallMoves to see a lot of buzz about this resource!  Like she says in the show, we absolutely need drastic change and major shifts sometimes.  But she is right, there are “no drastic shifts that happen outside of small deliberative moves toward that goal.”  So the greatest gift we can give to teachers is a do-able way to automate some moves that get us to a place of big gains.

Learn with Nancy

If you are able to learn with Nancy in Dallas, Texas on Sept. 30, 2022, be sure to sign up for that open workshop.   You get to spend the whole day learning from Nancy and a copy of the book is included in the registration.  The link to get more information and register is right here.

You can also reach out to Nancy to bring her to your district.  Many education leaders are booking the “Small Moves, Big Gains Training” where Nancy comes to your district in person or virtually to train teachers on the concept and the moves.  I highly recommend this for any district.  It is exactly what teachers need right now.

You can reach out to her at

You can also follow her on Twitter here:  @NancyMotleyTRTW


At the end of the show, I also mention where we can connect in the near future.

Fall 2022 brings these two opportunities that are open to anyone.  I will be a keynote at the TEXTESOL conference this year along with Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld, John Seidlitz, and Dr. Stephen Krashen.

I also have a full-day pre-conference on Rapid Literacy for Older Emergent Readers on Oct 13th, just prior to the TABE conference.  Both are in Houston Texas.

Or feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to bring newcomer training to your district.  You can email me at or find me on Twitter or Facebook. 

Thank you for listening to this show.  I am excited to share ANOTHER place you can learn from Nancy.  She is one of the featured speakers for this year’s ML Summit happening on July 9th.  Even if you hear this show after the 9th, that talk will still be available on this website:

So another big thanks to Nancy for all she shares with us!

And as always, a BIG thanks to YOU for doing this self-directed learning today.

I’m sending you positive vibes.

Take good care,

<3, Carol

Lessons & a Boost for you! MLK to Valentine’s Day Unit for Jan to Feb

I hope this finds you healthy and with hope for positive outcomes this week.

If you know ANY Newcomer teachers, please share the following podcast episode with them.  I always get TONS of thanks like this when I share these lessons for the Newcomer classroom.  They are ideal for January – February.  They focus on Kindness & History but the main goal is to engage our students and accelerate their language acquisition and build their self-esteem as learners.

CLICK HERE for the episode:

Thanks for all you’re doing!


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


BAP078 VirtuEL 2020 is THIS SATURDAY!

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

Listen to “BAP078 VirtuEL 2020” on Spreaker.

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

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

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

Audience: K-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take good care!


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

BAP072 The Second BELIEVE_Cafe LIVE with Dorina

Huge numbers of teachers are struggling with mental health to different degrees.  This podcast addressed mental health of teachers and the stigma of mental health issues in the profession.  Dorina Ebuwa joined me for another call in show.

*Disclaimer: No one on this show is licensed to offer advice on mental health issues.  This show’s focus is on how we are all coping with the stresses of the current pandemic and how we are growing our own emotional intelligence.

We take calls that have us discussing lack of engagement from students and how to help ELs when you can’t be with them.

You can listen the show in two parts right here:

Part I

Listen to “BAP072 2nd BELIEVE Café LIVE with Dorina” on Spreaker.

Part II
Listen to “BAP072 Part II 2nd BELIEVE_Cafe LIVE (the rest of it)” on Spreaker.

In this episode, Dorina mentions:

Wendy Turner, M. Ed.


Dr. Brene Brown

Both are incredible folks to follow!

Big thanks to the folks who called in.  This week we had: Shaley Santiago, Michelle Van BalkomJody Nolf & Dr. Irina McGrathcall in with questions and insight.  We appreciate them and everyone who is listening.

If you are looking to UP your own social emotional intelligence, I can’t recommend Dorina’s #BELIEVE_Cafe series enough!  Take just a FEW minutes in the morning to grow how you respond to what is going on right now.  You’ll thank me.  Here is her playlist so you can get caught up 

Here is more on what Dorina can do for you and your district:

We hope you are enjoying these LIVE shows!

Here are other places you can find me:

Free Kahoot for ELs webinar on May 6th!  Register here:

Free Seidlitz Education Webinar on SLIFE.  This one is May 11th. Register here:

The above opportunities are free and this site has a TON of free resources for you.  But here comes the plug for online training or coaching in case you have a need for that.

I’d Love to Come and Work in Your District!

The Seidlitz Education team is really on a roll with our online trainings.  We are providing full day, half day and multi day sessions where we are modeling practical techniques for serving ELs that work in a face to face or online classroom. You can reach me at  Here is some recent feedback:

Thank you to our clients who are able to continue working with us. We are honored to support them!  And thank you to YOU for your desire to self-direct your learning on behalf of your students.  We have plenty here on this site for you!  Reach out if you need something specific.

I’d love to hear from you!



Supporting SLIFE & Marginalized Populations During Covid19

This article was originally published in  Larry Ferlazzo’s EdWeek Teacher column which you can read right here. You should definitely check out that article for more insight from Tan Huynh and Sara Said.

Refugees and Recent Immigrants, Keeping the Achievement Gap to A Minimum During Covid19

By Carol Salva, Educational Consultant, Seidlitz Education

The Challenges

One of the biggest challenges facing educators during this Coronavirus pandemic, is how to support students who were already at a disadvantage academically.  While remote learning can be difficult for any child, Language Learners and students of poverty face unique challenges as the world shifts to distance learning.  

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on secondary Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE).  More specifically, the under-educated students who are new to the English language, are new to American education and may also be new to technology. 

I want to begin by calling out the profound lack of equity we are witnessing where these students are concerned.  We can’t ignore the division between those with access to digital media and those without such access (van Dijk, 2020). We need to shine a bright light on the negative outcomes of the Digital Divide and demand a change moving forward.  But I’m going to push that soapbox to the end of this article and start by offering ideas to help teachers of SLIFE be productive at this time.

The Essential Messages

If you are supporting a language learner who is SLIFE, and may not have access to technology or may lack the experience of using technology, I highly recommend that you align your efforts with four essential messages recommended by John Seidlitz (2019) for working with English Learners (ELs).  


  • You are important.
  • What We are Learning is Important.
  • We Will Not Give Up on You.
  • You CAN do it.


The Ideas

Ideas for sending the YOU ARE IMPORTANT message:

  • Reach out to these families regularly. 
  • Communication apps like Talking Points or Remind
  • Text, call, write letters or postcards. 
  • United Way Helpline (2-1-1) or for area services
  • Immigrants and Refugees and Schools: Laura Gardner, consultant. Family Engagement for Refugees and Immigrants Resources.
  • Book drive & distribution
  • Try to reach through friends or family.
  • Include them in class meetings via phone 
  • *Any of the following efforts helps send the message that students are important.

Ideas for sending the WHAT WE ARE LEARNING IS IMPORTANT message:

  • Be explicit about why the work is important.
  • Get training in the basics of Balanced Literacy to be able to infuse reading and writing support in virtual lessons. 
  • Get training in the basics of Second Language Acquisition and techniques for working with English learners  Free webinars abound for this right now
  • Encourage native language literacy.
  • In the absence of technology, we can send home different leveled readers and encourage students to list, label and copy text in combination with illustrations, creating models or using native language.
  • *Many of the other ideas give the message that what they are learning is important.

Ideas for sending the WE WILL NOT GIVE UP ON YOU message:

  • Check in regularly and continue to offer ideas for reading and writing.  
  • Share public broadcasting stations and any education programs. ie:
  • Send authentic letters and ask them to write back.
  • Organize community partners postcard writing campaign.
  • Remind students to read as much as possible (in any language). Remind them of how they are going to gain literacy, the importance of being in print as much as possible. 
  • Find resources at this padlet ( for engaging projects that students can do asynchronously & share synchronously.  Websites for self directed reading are also included there.
  • Remember that many virtual meeting platforms allow call-in from a land line or cell phone – include them as much as possible.  The tech on your end can help you communicate.
  • Send links for videos that teach them how to use an ipad, a chromebook, or other technology.
  • Remind/show students that youtube videos can be slowed down, closed captions in different languages, other language support with tech.
  • *Many of the other ideas give the message that you’re not giving up on them.

Ideas for sending the YOU CAN DO IT message:

  • Show students their progress often.
  • Share stories of inspiration with all students.
  • Create a video to show students how to use chrome extensions for text-to-speech, voice-typing, etc.  
  • Send links for youtube videos with culturally responsive narratives of people, like them, who have overcome similar challenges
  • Send printed blog posts, links, passages of the same type of inspiring narratives. Many are located at this padlet:
  • Council students to understand the plan for learners who may not pass a class or a grade level.  They need to remember that summer school, repeated attempts, tutorials, are all opportunities to improve and get closer to their ultimate goal.
  • Make sure they understand growth-mindset.  We get smarter, we improve, with more effort. 
  • *Continued effort and support should lead to gains that help reinforce a student’s perception of their own abilities.

The Long Game

I’ve worked with under-schooled learners for many years and I’ve been amazed at the positive outcomes they can realize when the student and the educator focus on what is possible in the long run.  Students who arrived having experienced years of trauma, with no native language literacy, go on to not only catch up, but pass up native English peers. In my experience, these students make the most progress when we partner with them to understand how they are going to advance in their literacy and how they can participate in grade-level learning.  One student, Kamal, who still lacks native language literacy, recently told us that he follows the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he feels like giving up. He tells himself that he needs to keep moving forward. You and your students can listen to Kamal right here:

The Inequity

I want to lift up all education professionals for the amazing work being done to support these children and all children.  I applaud everyone scrambling to create packets so that every child has some type of curriculum materials while away from school. And many of our colleagues are risking personal harm to provide these materials or even a new electronic device to students like these.  We should be grateful because much is possible with these tools. 

That said, we must realize that we are not offering equity.  

Our goal must be equity, and when we say equity we are talking about a level playing field. An equitable learning experience would mean that we are meeting students at their level academically and offering access to the grade level content regardless of their proficiency in the language of instruction and regardless of their socioeconomic status.  

Your Plan for Moving Forward

As we do what we can to support students with limited education it is important to reflect on what we might have done differently if we’d known the pandemic would have us at home for so long. One of the silver linings to this devastating virus is that so many people are seeing the inequity that advocates of marginalized populations have seen for years.  The world can’t look away from it right now. When schools go to remote learning, the Digital Divide grows greater.  Knowing this, seeing what we are seeing, is it any question as to how we must plan for the future?  We can help the students who have limited access to tech and little understanding of how to be productive in this current academic environment. We CAN help them.  But they shouldn’t be at such an alarming disadvantage.  The inequity should never be this profound again. Administrators and program leaders must learn from this experience and prioritize these learners in their new and improved plans they will make for the next time we take school online. 


Hammond, Z. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Otheguy, R., García, O., & Reid, W. (2019). A translanguaging view of the linguistic system of bilinguals. Applied Linguistics Review, 10(4), 625-651.

Seidlitz, J. (2019). Sheltered instruction in Texas: second language acquisition methods for teachers of ELs. Irving, TX: Seidlitz Education.

van Dijk, J. (2020). The digital divide. S.1.: Polity Press 

Villacorta, M. A. (2006). Contingencies of self -worth: Implications for self -determination (Order No. 3208564). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (305313439). Retrieved from


BAP059 Tonya and Carol Preparing for their ELevate Keynotes

Tonya Ward Singer is back to challenge our thinking!

Tune in to this episode to hear me collaborate with Tonya in preparation for the keynotes we are giving at this year’s ELevate conference. Tonya is the Oct 2nd Keynote and I will be keynoting Oct 3rd!  Because you subscribe to this blog, you are going to get a lot of the learning in this show.  But we would love to have you join us for the conference as well and here are the details:

ELevate: Elevating English
Learner Success Conference

CLICK HERE to learn more and REGISTER

Wednesday, October 2, 2019 & Thursday, October 3, 2019
Holiday Inn – Route 66  St. Louis, MO

You can get a lot of the learning by tuning in right here or watching the YouTube version of this conversation right here:

Tonya and I decided to sync up so that our keynotes were in alignment. We decided to go ahead and record our conversation so you could get a peek into what we will be sharing and how our messages connect to each other’s.

In this show you will hear us mention a few folks so here are the links to follow them:

Katherine Dierschke is the student teacher I mention.  Katherine is now a certified teacher and is still and excellent ESL educator!

Emily Francis was mentioned when we talked about texts that are “Mirrors and Windows.” We also make sure we mentioned Emily Style who is credited for coining that expression.  It has to do with students seeing themselves in books but also having books that give them a view of the world beyond their current surroundings.

Here are a few, but not all, of the topics we discussed in this conversation:

  • The power of being humble
  • Higher order thinking skills for all students
  • Partnering with your students
  • Having engaging conversations even if they are uncomfortable.  Conversations that disrupt!
  • The hierarchy that exists in classrooms, campuses and even within our profession
  • Dialog about how the hierarchies are shaping our action and our inaction
  • Really listening
  • Opening Doors to Equity – Tonya’s first book
  • Stepping into the classroom as a learner
  • Having ambitious goals and trying things
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Confirmation bias

WOW! Those are a lot of topics!  I’m so honored to get to talk to Tonya about these things. She is an important part of my PLN and you can see why.  I hope you are also following her.

Here is the registration link to the conference:  ELevate: ELevating English Learners’ Success 

Check out these hashtags to learn more:

  • #BoostingELexcellence (tweets about our keynotes)
  • #ELExcellence (this is Tonya’s latest book)
  • #BoostingAchievement (the book I wrote with Ana Matis)

I love that Tonya ended the show with that quote:

“May we all have the humility to listen and challenge our own thinking.”  – Tonya Ward Singer

Thank you for checking out the blog.  Please join me on Twitter.  I’d love to hear from you.



Here are other places you can join me IRL!

Detroit on Oct 10th for 7 Steps training:

I’ll be kicking off KYTESOL this year with a full day of Boosting Achievement!  Don’t miss it on October 4 & 5th

I’ll be the keynote speaker for BCTESOL in British Colombia in the fall. FULL DAY of Rapid Literacy Pre-Conference Oct 24 and then the Keynote on Oct 25!

Coming to Colorado as a featured speaker for COTESOL on Nov 8th.

One of THE BEST DEALS around will be Boosting Achievement in Springfield,  MO on December 5th.  Excited to partner with RPDC -Agency for Teaching, Leading and Learning in Missouri!


Watch VirtuEL19 Live Saturday June 15 at 10am ET

The day has arrived!

Once again, Tan Huynh and I are bringing you a this non-profit, virtual conference that removes the physical, financial, and time barriers for teachers of English learners.

This year, we are thrilled to bring you Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld and Dr. Maria Dove as our keynote speakers. You will love their keynote address and the incredible breakout sessions that will follow.

Check out the line up and all the watch links here:

If you are able to catch the conference live, you can interact with breakout presenters via Twitter or the chat features of their YouTube live sessions.  If you miss the live conference, the entire event will be available in replay just as #VirtuEL17 and #VirtuEL18 are still on the site for your viewing.

Thank you, Tan!

My co-founder, Tan Huynh said it best when he posted about this on his blog:

“We know you want to learn and add to your existing skill set.  We also know that PD can be costly in terms of funding, travel, and time.  We’ve removed much of these barriers.  Come join us at for two hours of learning and networking from some of the best in our field.” 

My doctoral classes have started so I am not available to be there live for the entire conference but I’ll pop in and out on breaks and I am SO GLAD this is all available for me to watch in replay that afternoon. I some of us will still be tweeting about it!

Huge thanks to Tan and to ALL the presenters of VirtuEL!

We need more sharing like this.

Hope to see you there!