Posted in ELL, Reading, Reading Strategies

Read All About It

TL:DR; how to help students read and access content areas.

Today, Saturday, April 24, I am a cartographer of curriculum mapping, trying something new, useful, and just a little bit sad, too. I love books and teaching ELA, and while I will still teach reading and writing, listening and speaking, my new role as the EL teacher in an alternative high school shifted my instructional direction.

Basically, I’m tired of students not earning their credits in other content areas. And since I can’t change content, I can change what I do and provide for students, and the space and intentional instruction.

We can many conversations about behind, learning loss, (!) grade level, Lexiles, etc., and the encompassing educational philosophical debates, but my students, right now, sitting in my classroom, are not earning credits, so I’m going to research this and modify through a diagnostician’s perspective.


The English Learner students must meet a protocol to join our building. Currently, the roster includes native Spanish and Marshallese students. The reasons for this are justified, however, the protocols do not guarantee students will come to the building with grade-level skills and strategies. It is an alternative high school whose primary mission is to help student retrieve credits expeditiously. We are on a quarter system: each quarter works like a full semester at the comprehensive high schools. If one could earn .5 credit per class in a semester, they earn .5 in a quarter. Because the instruction and content is truncated, which can be stressful and nearly impossible for some areas such as math and science, students must come to our building with a Level 3 proficiency in one of the EL domains:

But as most of us know, the ‘reading wars’* have been a post mortem blame battle, and I’m still sitting with students who struggle with content area texts. Taking an asset-based approach, my students love to talk, love their families, and many of them work, have started their families, and want to graduate from high school. I take a no-shame approach: we work on vocabulary, text features, etc. And one obstacle for me this past year is being allowed to sit virtually side by side with them in their other classes, like the para-educators do. I’m not going to waste much more time trying to figure out if it’s a trust issue that I can solve, because I can’t. It’s not my problem: what is my problem is helping students access the material in front of them.

My plan:


MondayTuesday – 4 classes +HomeroomWednesday 4 classes +HomeroomThursday 4 classes +HomeroomFriday 4 classes +Homeroom
Check-in day
30 minute online classes
Online students:
Those who chose to be online come to Google Meet classes
Hybrid students: come to the building for instructionOnline students:
Those who chose to be online come to Google Meet classes
Hybrid students: come to the building for instruction
Those who chose Hybrid work asynchronously Those who chose online work asynchronouslyThose who chose Hybrid work asynchronouslyThose who chose online work asynchronously
Fourth Quarter Schedule


Each class period, online or in person, the students will:

  1. Check Skyward for current grade and missing work
  2. Look at their schedule and focus on one class reading assignment:
    • Science
    • History or Civics
    • World Geography
    • Electives
    • PE
    • Math
  3. They commit to getting one thing down during ELA class and must write this intention in their notebook (composition notebook or digital).
  4. Use class time to do a first read of their assignments. The classes are mostly based on reading or viewing content, and worksheets based on reading packets.

Daily Check-In:

Reading Across Content Areas:

Five Words I Heard Vocabulary:

When they come across words in other content areas, they’ll write them on the wall, or a co-constructed anchor chart/word wall. These are the words they’ll also use in their Friday Five vocabulary presentations.

Building contextual knowledge:

My students will be tested this spring. Though the SBA has been waived again this year, the ELPA21 has not. That test doesn’t concern me, but passing their other classes does. Now that we’re back in the building two days a week, and most of my ELA students are physically present, I can support them in their other content areas. My hope is this becomes a habit, we increase text structure, text features, contextual understanding, reading strategies and skills and then build toward assessment and engage in some enrichment activities. I will offer books and choice to read independently, and I won’t settle for just getting them through it. But for now, this is how it has to be.

Reading Wars Resources:

*When I received my teaching certificate for K-8, our professor included phonics instruction and balanced literacy. I didn’t even know there was a problem or debate until this past year.

Posted in Anti-racist work, ELL, Equity & Cultural Competency


In my drafts folder is a post of what I really want to say, things I want to expose, but experience tells me to censor myself. For now. Reframe it, be mindful, professional, and progress.

[TL:DR Skip to the last paragraphs if you want to know what EL teachers do.]

Context: I’m in my second year of EL teaching, and my fifteenth year overall. Straddling between imposter syndrome, confidence, and COVID19 building closure, I stepped in my usual gopher holes. But fortunately (and this is an understatement) I work with an admin and district person who could not be more supportive, intelligent, insightful, and there. And while I had to let go of my institutional expertise and community standing (whatever the heck that means) to leave the district I was in for twelve years, it is hard on my ego to admit that I just don’t have the credibility or trust that others do. And my Ego and I had a long talk, a few, actually, and decided it was okay, that what I do have are these two women who are in the work with me to help our students. Do I wish folks would listen to me? Yes, of course, because it would sure make things easier for our students in the short and long term.

The issue, mixed with lack of trust, an unmanageable amount of stress and fear, is this: I was having difficulty coordinating the support time for the ELs in their other classes. Most districts call this the “Check and Connect” time, and having been on the general education teacher side, I have seen my share of great EL teachers who truly support and help scaffold, and those who just saunter in the room, chitchat about football or the weather, and then walk outside again. I am definitely NOT that teacher. Nor am I a paraeducator (and this contains multiple meanings).

Turns out I was not the only one who met with challenges about how to best proceed to support students during the building closures/remote learning. A few weeks ago, however, I sensed the need for clarification on my role in the building, and put together a pretty cool slide presentation to share. However, I didn’t get the chance, and the reasons are painful to write about. But things converged and aligned, and my admin invited the district point person to share at one of our staff meetings.

But– before all this–I have one student who does her work. She shows up. She’s highly motivated to graduate, and it is in her personal character. I am not suggesting that other students don’t care, aren’t motivated, or any of that. They are trying to survive. And while I was helping her with a science lesson, one of the words was “cement.” For some reason, I asked her if she knew what cement was, and she said no.

Think about that for one minute. Or two. Or sixty. A simple scaffold I’ve done for native English and English learners alike is to pull out the vocabulary from a lesson, do anticipatory guides, comprehensible input, etc. Background knowledge building is critical. Contextual information, also critical.

I wanted to share this with a meeting with my admin and the science teacher, but alas, the science teacher had to back out of the meeting at the last minute.

Last year, one of those quick meetings would have been no big deal. I worked in other teachers’ classrooms, sat quietly, listened. pulled out vocabulary and created support instruction and shared. My colleagues seemed genuinely pleased to have me in the building, and collaboration and cooperation was heartfelt and beneficial to our collective students.

This year, I’ve been accused of lying for my students, giving them “the answers,” and helping them cheat.

Yeah, it’s been awesome.

I am just going to put it in the mental bin that year has been too much. Others have unseen pressures, sorrow, grief, and fear that I do not see, nor do they see mine, and grace is not easily bestowed. I’m not sure some folks know what grace means. If it came in the form of a crystal necklace owned by a pointy-eared woman named Arwen and we could pass it back and forth, sure, it would be easy. Maybe we need to make “grace passes” like bathroom passes for when we need each other to back the heck up and think twice about sending that long, nasty email?

This year, I’m not allowed to sit in on their Google classes. I hope that changes, because the EL students need me there. Not “me” but an EL teacher. One teacher has taken me up on my offer for the SIOP protocols and I wait for students to seek help, but I know it would be better if I was there in real time. Believe me, I do understand other teachers’ fears of having teachings ‘observe.’ We had an instructional coach who blatantly said she would tell admin what we were doing, which is a cardinal sin of instructional coaching.

Trust between colleagues is thin and broken now among many teachers across the country. Why wouldn’t it be? We don’t trust each other to wear a mask. Why would we trust each other in the workplace? I’ve seen it firsthand, and felt the long lasting damaging effects. And I hope one day I get a chance to tell a few colleagues this, to share my story, and because of that I have vowed not to harm and try to maintain trust.

My independence is tethered for a bit, and that is the cost. I will pass everything through my admin, and we’ll do what we can. Moving forward, I will still continue to do the best I can, continue reaching out to students, make my little instructional videos, send my notes and letters, and telling students to reach out to their content area teachers first.

Oh, and we have some cultural misconceptions to clear up, too, but that’s for another post.

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, book recommendations, Books, burning questions, Burning Questions Book Lists, Classics, Culturally Relevant Teaching, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Curriculum Ideas, ELA, ELL, Equity & Cultural Competency, Genre Studies, Series: White People Homework

Series: White People Homework (22) ‘Canon’ Fodder

I’m going into year 15 next school year, and during this time I can vouch that I continue to seek answers and strive to be a better teacher for my students. This is built on my master’s thesis, which was using engaging children’s literature–I contend this was a solid foundation for my practice. But I’m out of patience waiting for others to catch up. And I’ve encountered this request and steerage multiple times. I’m not a patient person by nature anyway, or so I’ve been told by a friend. It would be my life lesson. I’m beginning to think patience, when it comes to children and education, is highly overrated and is not, as painted, a virtue, but a sin.

And I saw this:

And this:

I would add that I am here for any conversation about books, novels, problematic texts, and the approved “canon.” Districts and district leadership: I beseech you: do not make it so difficult to get great literature written by BIPOC writers in our classrooms. We don’t have time to wait.

Book Recommendations for my current teaching position: link here.

This is a screenshot from a recent Webinar sponsored by the International Reading Association
Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Communication, Creativity, Culturally Responsive Teaching, ELL, Equity & Cultural Competency, Series: White People Homework

Series: White People Homework: Let’s talk (15)

In a Facebook group whose mission is to discuss anti-racism and equity issues (one of about a thousand of these groups) a member asked if it’s “okay to compliment an accent.”

My short answer was “no.” She was not satisfied with this. I told her I would research it further, but my first response comes from being an ELA/ELL teacher, and complimenting someone’s accent or dialect may make them feel singled out, “other” ness. It may discourage students who speak one or more languages other than English, and while they’re working on English will feel self-conscious.

And I am wondering why I am still so irked. Why wasn’t it enough for me to say “no?” The reason is because when a white person doesn’t get the answer they want, it takes a trajectory of time (confirmation bias strength) and friction (cognitive dissonance). She wanted to continue her behavior. I get it. I still like to tell students they’re amazing, beautiful, smart, loyal friends, courageous, and creative. When we’ve done pop-up toasts as a class and they need to speak to/about other students, it’s my honor to help them find ways to compliment one another that’s healthy, loving and profound.

Further Reading:

Note: even the word “microaggression” sounds like “small racism.” They’re aggressions.

What exactly is a microaggression?

This is from a person who works as a dialect coach:

“And maybe, just maybe I don’t want to tell you where I’m from because I might look at this country as being my home. I’ve worked hard to become part of your world. And I love it here.”

Please Know This Before You Comment on My Accent

Micro-aggressions in the Classroom:


Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Argumentative Reading and Writing, being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Big Questions, Close Reading, Communication, Culturally Responsive Teaching, ELA, ELL, Equity & Cultural Competency, Series: White People Homework, Writing

Series: White People Homework- What’s in a name? (14) (Updated)

We’re not a football family in our house. And like many areas of fandom, it’s okay–no judgment on those who love football, and as far as we know we aren’t judged by others. Wouldn’t matter. So forgive me for not knowing who Emmanuel Acho is. Turns out, he’s pretty amazing! And I am so grateful for other media formats who bring people such as him into my life and help me learn.

And I am an ELA/ELL teacher; however, full disclosure, I was not an English major in college. Most of what I learned about mechanics, style guides, and conventions I relearned and created lessons while teaching. My next question is what are the current grammarians and style guide writers determining about the capitalization of Black and White. Here’s what I’ve found:

Black should be capitalized. “White” — not as clear. From the Diversity Style Guide, they link further articles. The consensus isn’t clear (as are many grammatical discussions).

The National Association of Black Journalists does not capitalize Black in its publications, including the NABJ Style Guide. Many of the terms related to Black and White people in The Diversity Style Guide come from 100 Questions & Answers About African Americans. The team that put together that guide decided to capitalize Black and White, according to editor Joe Grimm. After much research and consideration, the editor of The Diversity Style Guide elected to capitalize Black and White when used in a racial context, but most would say it’s not incorrect to lowercase those words.
This article was written in 2011: When referring to race, should ‘black’ and ‘white’ be capitalized?
Original Post:

However, when words labeling an entire people are at the root of a language dispute, that’s reason enough to seek direction outside of our usual resources, especially if the resources are outdated. If your editorial directive is to call people what they want to be called—including names, pronouns, and labels—then look to Black media outlets like Ebony and Essence for accepted usage and avoid overriding their terminology. By capitalizing black and white, we also make necessary distinctions between color and race—black hair and Black hair—similar to distinguishing between native and Native. Don’t wait for your style guide to catch up, because it’s waiting for you to demonstrate sufficient usage.


This article lead me to this page: Center for the Study of Social Policy:

This is the dilemma we need to address:

We believe that it is important to call attention to White as a race as a way to understand and give voice to how Whiteness functions in our social and political institutions and our communities. Moreover, the detachment of “White” as a proper noun allows White people to sit out of conversations about race and removes accountability from White people’s and White institutions’ involvement in racism. We are also reckoning with the threatening implications of capitalizing “W” in “White,” often used by White supremacists, to establish White racial dominance. The violence of capitalizing White in this context makes us grapple with the history of how Whiteness has functioned and thrived in the United States; acknowledging that, yes, White people have had power and still hold power in this country. While we condemn those who capitalize “W” for the sake of evoking violence, we intentionally capitalize “White” in part to invite people, and ourselves, to think deeply about the ways Whiteness survives—and is supported both explicitly and implicitly.

Language is powerful, and oftentimes I think ELA teachers don’t teach the true power of capitalization, punctuation and syntax. Because it “wasn’t on the test” we spent the past 14 years teaching to a test that uses excerpts like out-of-context entrails on an autopsy slab. I am going to call on my other experts on history and language to ask their thoughts. I will and do capitalize Black when referring to race, and have been using lower case “w” for white people. My instinctual response was because capitalizing the “w” felt like a nod for white supremacy. However, CSSP makes a strong case. (No pun intended.) Language is ever-evolving and shifting, sometimes for honest, descriptive and precise communication and sometimes for nefarious and subtextual racist communication. This article was written in 2015 by the Columbia Journalism Review: I think we can all agree that we need to be mindful of language and do our best to stay current and mind the impact.

And also, ELA teachers, be especially mindful of your use of Martin Luther King’s, Jr. works.


Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Critical Thinking, ELL, Equity & Cultural Competency, History

Series: White People Homework: (11)

What I tried to say in this post, But Justin Schleider (@SchleiderJustin) said it so much better:

I am specifically talking to White people because we are the ones who created the problem and we are the ones who need to work towards rectifying what we have done. Plus I can only speak to the groups I am a part of and understand.

Still, others may be young and just entered the field of education. You have been raised in a White bubble (like myself) and through the purposeful guidance of our communities and family, you have not fully grasped the magnitude of the problem that permeates school. Now is the time to listen before you act. Listen to queer Black feminists and the leaders in social justice within the world of education such as Val Brown and Dr. Rosa Perez-Isaiah. Listen to professors of sociology like Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom. Once you have listened follow the people who have been doing the work for years. Nothing you are thinking of is new. Activists have been working toward collective liberation for years. You as well are just coming into the fight in the 10th round. And we need you.

And to my fellow white teachers, whether you teach English/Language Arts, History, Science, Math, an Elective, Music, etc.–we need to talk about language and literacies. Everyone, and I mean everyone, code switches. No one speaks the ‘standard’ or “formal’ language all the time. So if you’re using language or policing BIPOC students’ language as a mean to silence them, stop. Thanks.

This is an area of study I must do more research: since becoming an ELL teacher with my ELA endorsement, it’s important for my students for me to do my best and do better.

Posted in ELL

Summer Series of Saves: Culturally Responsive Teaching (V)

Spoiler Alert: We still have a lot to learn about one another.

I invite you to sign up for Genius and annotate articles, too.

This article is an overview of what sociolinguistics are:

This article is an overview of linguistic terms:

This article defines what ‘crossing’ is:

This post is a holding post: just to keep some ideas hitched up until I have time to sort through them.

But most importantly, read Sharroky Hollie’s Ph.D., work.