Books. Libros. Książki. Livres. книг.

Books. Libros. Książki. Livres. книг.

I work at a local library and the topic for discussion today revolved around our patrons who are natives from a country other than the United States, but have since moved here. Many of these patrons have a limited English proficiency and have ordered books in their own language about an array of topics. Since our small town population, for years, was mainly just English speaking Americans with a few Spanish speakers here and there, our book collection consists of mainly English books, with a small section of Spanish books. Now, since our town population is becoming more diverse, we are shifting some of the books on the shelves to make room for a new worldly section of books in other languages. There was debate over how the books should be organized: Should there even be a separate section? Should the books be shelved by language? Should the books be shelved by topic, regardless of language? Should the language be posted on the spine of the book for people to see?

All of these questions were taken into consideration and the verdict was presented to us today: The bookstore is to have a separate section for “World Languages”, and organized first by language, then by fiction, nonfiction, biography, then by author/ topic depending on if the book is fiction or non-fiction. Also, the language would be labeled on the spine of the book, and flags for countries that speak those languages would be displayed for those who have difficulty reading English to find the proper language.

Patrons can now order books in their own language as well as a version in English to improve their language skills. The title of my blog this week translates the word “books” into Spanish, Polish, French, and Russian, respectively, as those are the languages we have had patrons request thus far. Although I can speak Spanish, I have always wanted to learn Polish as some of my ancestors are from Poland, so I may even take out some picture books in Polish to start learning. Maybe other native English speaking patrons will do the same!

Don’t Discount Content Knowledge

Don’t Discount Content Knowledge

Yesterday I was a substitute in an ESL class. I always love working with  ESL students (hence my graduate program specification) because ESL students have this desire to learn and the look that graces their faces when a concept is finally understood, shows me my job as a teacher does not go unnoticed. So in the classes yesterday, students were at a variety of language proficiency levels. For example, one student just arrived in the United States this week, and he knows no English, only Spanish; conversely, there are students who fully understand English, but struggle reading and writing the English language.

The tasks to be accomplished yesterday were: students had to take an exam testing both their math and English language skills, and students had to look up vocabulary words to go along with the novel they were reading. The math/language test asked the students to write out the numbers in a sentence to tell time, and to spell out an answer. Additionally, students were given math problems in a paragraph, where students had to read the information and then solve the problem. This is where it dawned on me that some of these students are struggling in their academic classes, not because they do not understand the material, but because they do not understand the English language.

We discuss this concept in TESOL classes: how some teachers assume ELL students do not understand material, and sometimes this leads to ELL students being misplaced in special education classes. However, with these math problems on the test yesterday, as soon as I translated the problem from English into Spanish, the students immediately knew how to go about solving the problem. That is exactly what that specific test is designed to do: figure out if the issue lies in content or language. The test that students took yesterday was similar to the Bililngual Verbal Abilities Test (BVAT), which is used to evaluate ELL students through presenting pictures, where students have to identify what is being shown to them; oral vocabulary, where students have to explain synonyms or antonyms of words; and verbal analogies, where students recognize relationships between words. Then, the test is repeated to students in their native languages for questions they got wrong in English.

Although there is controversy over whether BVAT is biased based on if students have been socially/ culturally exposed to various images/ words, the test helps to determine if the student is having an academic content problem, or their answers in English were wrong due to understanding the language. Overall, teachers need to be aware that ELL students may be struggling due to a language improficiency, not that they aren’t able to comprehend the material, and then take this information to structure helping the ELL students succeed.

Are We Falling Behind?

Are We Falling Behind?

Last night I went to the movies to see “Captain Phillips”. Highly recommended! Especially after reading an interview with the actual Captain Phillips who explains the movie is very close to the actual events that took place, I loved the movie even more. It was full of action from beginning to end with an amazing story of one man and his crew’s quick thinking survival skills. For those who are not familiar with the story and/or movie, it takes place on a cargo ship that Captain Phillips is directing through the dangerous waters of the Somali Basin when his ship is attacked by Somalian pirates. The story revolves around Captain Phillips protecting his crew and how he handled the piracy invasion.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the film, I couldn’t help but notice how the Somalian pirates spoke both Somali and English, and pretty developed English at that. However, none of the American sailors aboard the ship could understand Somali. Taking into consideration the amount of interaction the average American  has with a Somalian, I understand it may not be a language many Americans study, but what about other languages?

Many other countries require students to learn AT LEAST English, but most other countries know their own language and two others. Are we too dependent on other countries learning English for business and interactions? Shouldn’t we take it upon ourselves to learn certain languages?

At least in New York, it is required to take three years of a language; however, many students stop after high school. I took Spanish for four years in high school and then another four years in college, but I would not consider myself  bilingual, although I am working towards it. Would it be better for our country’s future to start students learning languages in Elementary school, to soak up more knowledge in hopes of graduating more bilingual students who enter the “real world”?

Our country is becoming more and more diverse, especially with the Hispanic and Latino population, among others, rising. Therefore, it is only beneficial for more people to learn another language.

TESOL methods in the flesh

TESOL methods in the flesh


A student in my 11th grade English class is from Ecuador. She is here for one year as part of an exchange program and her goal is to learn English so when she goes back to her native country, she will be able to get a job. She went on to explain to me about how in Ecuador, in the business world, you are not even looked at as a candidate if you do not know at least two languages. Through our conversation I learned a lot about the Ecuadorian school system and how the English language they are taught is more of a ‘British English’ than an ‘American English’. Also, there are no paper handouts. Students receive CDs for every class with all homework assignments and handouts to be completed at home and submitted online. This alleviates papers being misplaced, and students receive instant feedback. I thought this was quite creative; maybe I will use something similar in the future with certain units.

After school one day, she came to see me to go over a vocabulary quiz. We have discussed, in many of my TESOL classes, the benefits and detriments for ELLs (English Language Learners) to use dictionaries to translate words, and this debate presented itself when my student got many answers wrong on her vocabulary quiz because the English words she translated into Spanish to study, have more than one meaning.  Therefore, she did not do well on the quiz. I showed her other methods to study the English vocabulary words, such as creating sentences with the words in both English and Spanish to see contextually how the word should be used. Unfortunately, she has not be assigned an ESL class to help her with learning English, so I meet with her after school to do some word work and help her achieve her goal. She is a bright, kind, and motivated student who just wants to better herself by going to college and obtaining a career in business and she should be given every chance to be able to do so. She even understands more material than native English speakers. So once again, what I have learned in TESOL classes holds true: as teachers we should not discount a student’s ability to comprehend material simply because she does not know English well.

She gave me this change purse for helping her. So nice!

It’s that time of year again…

It’s that time of year again…

Summer has once again come to an end as the fall air is upon us. The days of reading a great book while the waves crash at my feet has been replaced by nights of grading papers and lesson planning- for the time being at least.

I had all of these expectations upon graduating college. With my new acquired B.A. in English, a minor in Spanish, and a teaching certification, I thought I would walk right into a teaching position. My hometown high school even had an opening for an English teacher- it was fate.

Then reality hit me. I did not even make it past the resume round. #postgradlife

I then understood this whole getting a job thing was going to be more difficult than anticipated. Since last year, I have subbed in numerous districts and I am currently at my second leave replacement. Although I am gaining tons of teaching experience, I still cannot wait for the day when I have my own classroom, with my own students and I do not have to start my first day with, “Hello. I’m Ms. Letteriello and I will be your teacher until Mrs. (___) comes back from her maternity leave”.

However, I have come to find substitute teaching and leave replacements are not so bad. I am making contacts with many districts and learning tips from veteran teachers. Also, by seeing how different school districts run and the classroom management situations I encounter, I have a plethora of information to discuss during interviews.

If you are a newly teaching graduate and are experiencing the same feelings I had about a year ago- do not give up! Here are some tips I have learned:

1) Do not rely on OLAS (if you are unsure what OLAS is, it is a NYS online database for job postings) Go to the schools’ websites or directly to the school.

2) Be open to traveling

3) Write thank you cards. *Handwritten cards go a long way too*

4) Do not let one bad experience with a student bother you. Just remind yourself everyday is a new day.

5) Get your masters in the meantime. From talking to teachers and principals about the myth “if you have a masters you won’t be hired” the majority said to pursue a masters. (So here I am in the TESOL program)