What’s the Secret?

thinkstockphotos-503844316Jennifer Helfand verses on the ‘musts’ of language learning

Vocabulary and grammar. When I was a child, I thought that these were the only two things I needed in order to learn another language. I thought that if I just had enough words and knew how to put them together correctly, all the gifts that languages have to offer would be mine. Now, after having studied other languages for more than 20 years and having taught English for almost 13, I know that there is so much more to language learning than nouns and verbs. I also know that some of the most essential things a language learner needs to succeed will never be found in any language book or classroom, but deep within their own being.
You must be brave to learn a language. You must face your fear of being laughed at.
You must be wise to learn a language. You must know that everyone has experienced the same fear. You must be even wiser to know that no one is laughing at you. You must be wiser still to know that if someone does laugh at you, the problem is not with your language abilities, but with that person’s lack of kindness.
You must have a sense of humor to learn a language, because being able to laugh with others at your own mistakes will help you remain brave enough to keep making new mistakes and, as a result, to keep learning.
You must be gentle to learn a language, because the best response when you make the same old mistakes, again and again and again, is not “That was so stupid of me,” but “That is me, like everyone else, simply being human.”
You must have fun to learn a language, because language learning, like life, is not so serious.
You must be humble to learn a language. You must admit to not knowing.
You must be vulnerable to learn a language. You must be able to say “I don’t understand” and “I need help.”
You must be smart to learn a language. You must resist the urge to say, “I wish I could speak so fast that I could speak without thinking!” You must remember that thinking before you speak, in any language­­—­in every language—­is a very good thing.
You must be patient to learn a language, because one day may be enough to love a language, but it is not enough to know it.
You must have vision to learn a language, so you can see your progress every day, even if it is small.
You must be open to learn a language, because different sounds and words soon make way for different experiences and ideas. A closed mind can acknowledge them, but only an open mind and an open heart can appreciate them.
You must be present to learn a language, because even though you may wish you had learned the language you are studying five or ten or 20 years ago, you didn’t. And longing to be someone you are not yet—fluent—prevents you from being who you are—a brave language learner. It also prevents you from being where you are, and from seeing all of the opportunities around you right now.
You must be confident to learn a language and believe in your ability to express yourself, and in the value of what you want and need to express.
You must be motivated to learn a language, because in the moments when it feels too difficult, you may feel like giving up. But you can’t give up, because on the other side of what feels hard or even impossible, there are amazing people to meet, incredible experiences to have, and dreams to transform into reality.
You must love in order to learn a language, if not always the language, then at least always yourself. Then on the days when you feel what all language learners have felt—frustrated, like you’re not improving at all, like you can’t understand or say what you need to, like the opportunities you want are far out of reach—you will still remember that your worth is not in how many languages you know or in how well you speak them, but in your heart, and how much of it you give.

Jennifer Helfand has an EdM in TESOL from Boston University and a CELTA from International House Madrid, Spain, and has been teaching ESL in the U.S. and abroad, for the past twelve years. She currently teaches at Drexel University and also provides private instruction.

November 7th, 2016 | Leave your comments

Stressing Classy Communication

Business people group works at a table - TableMargo Gottlieb and Gisela Ernst-Slavit know that academic language is important for all students and essential for English language learners

In a midsized school, a veteran second-grade teacher is working diligently with her students on a unit called Taking Shape. An aspect of Irene’s teacher craft that she values is getting to know her students, how their linguistic and cultural resources can enrich the class, and what fosters their learning. Additionally, during planning time, Irene and her grade-level team pay special attention to academic language use to construct a multishaped model, the product of the unit.
The group of teachers carefully selects relevant college and career readiness standards and matches them to English language development standards to ensure that English language learners (ELLs) have as many opportunities to access the content, engage in learning, and achieve academically as their English-proficient peers. In designing curriculum, the standards, the instructional materials, and the funds of knowledge from the families and community are major sources of academic language in classrooms. Using these resources, the team sets learning targets that focus on the major concepts and highlight academic language.

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November 7th, 2016 | 1 Comment

Helping Students Find Their Voices

thinkstockphotos-511918608Adrienne Almeida examines the unique challenges that ELL students face and the impact these
challenges have on their social-emotional and academic health


Imagine being a student whose family has recently immigrated to the U.S. Your family is often struggling to make ends meet, is undocumented, and lives in poverty. Your ability to speak English is limited, yet you are the most fluent in your family, so you are required to take time off of school to be the translator in adult situations such as doctor’s appointments and job interviews. You have no agency over your situation while you are trying to navigate life as a teenager in a foreign place, deal with adult conversations and adult concerns, and hide from the stigma associated with your home language. Then, on top of all of this, imagine that your school launches a new course that requires you to participate in online discussions or to engage with materials online. You are being asked to master yet another level of communication that is outside of your comfort zone.

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November 7th, 2016 | Leave your comments

Use Data Effectively to Drive Instruction

group of students and smiling teacher in classroomEvery Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states and districts to provide all students, including English learners (ELs), equal access to educational opportunities. In order to fulfill the law’s requirements beginning in the 2017–2108 school year, educators need the tools and accurate data-collection systems in place to give them decision-making information.
Local school districts and schools will be required to accurately recommend placement in quality language programs, and effectively monitor students’ progress to ensure the district provides the instructional support necessary for every EL to attain the high academic goals established by the state for all students. continue reading

November 2nd, 2016 | Leave your comments

Everyone’s Story Matters

group of school kids writing test in classroomAs a parent and veteran teacher, Katie Egan Cunningham presents a heartfelt case for returning stories to a place of primacy in today’s classroom. As a literacy consultant ,she backs her argument with logic and a deep reservoir of knowledge and experience. And while her tone is collegial and inviting, her approach is research driven and takes into account today’s modern classroom and especially the needs of the contemporary student. In an environment seemingly dominated by standardization and high-stakes testing, Cunningham seeks not only to revive the emphasis on human stories as a central part of the classroom experience but to make sure that every student, from every background, can find the stories that speak to them and in turn find the voice necessary to tell their own unique stories.
Cunningham explains that the power inherent in stories provides young readers with mirrors and windows through which to see themselves and their world. But she also points out that it is more often the case that only the children from dominant social groups can consistently find themselves reflected in their reading choices. America’s classrooms have become increasingly diverse, but the availability of multicultural literature for young students has not kept pace. Cunningham knows that becoming engaged as a reader, taking that first step toward a life enriched by a love of reading, often depends on finding that one special text, the one story that resonates on a deeply personal level. But she also knows that readers cannot fall in love with stories from which they feel excluded.
Not content with merely pointing to the problem and talking about it, Cunningham assumes the role of private consultant and provides a wealth of practical suggestions and solutions. She includes lists of publishers and award-winning authors that represent a diverse range of cultures and topics, as well as brief but engaging descriptions for each. She couples these lists with online resources that will further aid teachers of any level in their pursuit of classroom excellence. Each chapter contains samples of suggested classroom activities that are clearly marked for grade level and for pacing. Cunningham also links these activities to specific texts or other media samples to demonstrate exactly how the lesson will work. She closes each chapter with a tool kit of final thoughts and questions that are designed to solidify and enable the chapter’s content.
Katie Egan Cunningham has produced a work that is as enjoyable as it is informative. The chapter layout, with lessons and discussions, is easy to navigate and flows naturally from each section to the next. The bibliography of children’s and young adult literature alone is a fantastic resource and is augmented by an extensive listing of professional literacy research. Any teacher who works with young readers will find Cunningham’s book to be a refreshing and invaluable resource worthy of space in any classroom.
Brian Snorgrass holds a master of arts degree in English from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona with a primary option in rhetoric and composition as well as a TESOL certificate. He has taught in China and also teaches annual language and music camps for students visiting from China. His research interests include studying the effects of social inertia on issues of literacy, educational equity, and social justice.

November 2nd, 2016 | Leave your comments

TESOL & ASU Partner to Offer Core Certificate

school boy with notebook and teacher in classroomTESOL International Association has partnered with Arizona State University (ASU) to offer its TESOL Core Certificate Program (TCCP) beginning in January 2017. The program will be offered five times a year, and each cohort will have 30 participants from all over the world who will choose electives in teaching adult or young learners.

Revamped to align with TESOL’s Standards for Short-Term TEFL/TESL Certificate Programs and relaunched in January 2016, the TCCP is a 140-hour blended training program that provides a foundation in the theory and practice of English language teaching (ELT) for current or prospective teachers and administrators with little or no formal ELT training.
“TESOL International Association sets and maintains high standards for English language educators worldwide,” noted Dianna Lippincott, strategic innovation manager from Global Launch at ASU. “As experienced English as a second language professionals and teacher trainers, we are thrilled to partner with TESOL to reach even more professionals and beginning teachers with the TESOL Core Certificate Program.”
TESOL’s partnership with ASU will expand its reach, enabling the association to offer the TESOL Core Certificate Program to a wider range of English language teaching professionals. TESOL’s executive director Rosa Aronson commented, “TESOL is honored to partner on this project with ASU, one of the most innovative and creative institutions of higher education in the country. We look forward to offering this type of quality program that will build the capacity of future TESOL professionals.”

November 2nd, 2016 | 3 Comments

Online Interactive Japanese has launched a comprehensive Japanese program that includes grammar, vocabulary, and exercises for learning how to read and write the complex Japanese characters, creating an integrated learning experience that allows users to advance at their own paces.
Erik Gerrits, founder of, says, “Our courses are more thorough than any other online platform, and we help language students to learn with maximum efficiency, without forgetting anything. With features like text and video chat with other users, as well as new lessons added regularly, our course is perfect for those who are serious about learning the Japanese language.”
Lessons begin with an explanation of a new grammar point. Students then practice this grammar, along with some new vocabulary, by translating sentences from English to Japanese, with help to correct mistakes and keep students on the right track.
All of the Japanese sentences in the course are accompanied with audio recordings by a native speaker to make sure that users will learn to correctly pronounce Japanese. There are also comprehensive lessons on writing and reading Japanese characters, with the ability to trace characters using the mouse or touchscreen.
Mr. Gerrits adds, “We’re continuously updating our courses to make them as effective as possible. In the future, we plan to add more reading and writing practice to all of our courses. An exciting feature we plan to introduce is to let users write their own short stories and correct those of other users—a challenge which will really test their command of the language skills they have developed.” has huge ambitions for the future. The company hopes to digitize the entire theoretical part of the precollege school curriculum within five years. The goal is to enable students to interactively learn all subjects at a speed and level that’s right for them, utilizing materials crafted by top educators. According to Mr. Gerrits, they will be able to learn twice as fast in this way, and with less exertion and more enjoyment.

September 12th, 2016 | Leave your comments

Curing Initiative Fatigue

TeacherTeachers who are bombarded with short-lived projects and underused technology are in danger of losing their enthusiasm for new initiatives—Stacy Hurst and Laura Axtell explain how to kick off the new school year with buy-in from everyone


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September 12th, 2016 | Leave your comments

On the Road to Multilingualism

guero-img_0519-copyBilingual rapper GüeroLoco takes us on his passionate journey to promote language learning and allow students to reap the benefits

Welcome to the journey! iBienvenidos al viaje! I’m really excited to get this school year started and to get back out on the road again. For the past three years, I’ve traveled all over the U.S. and Mexico to perform and speak to students about the importance of learning other languages. With students in many countries learning three to four languages before they’re out of high school, “English only” just doesn’t make sense for our students in the U.S. I used to be the kid in Spanish class wondering, “why am I studying this language? How am I ever going to use this in my life?” After some motivation from the Marine Corps, and meeting some great people, I now use the language every day and I can’t imagine where I would be without it.

I have also had some amazing opportunities during this educational journey, and I’ve tried to learn something from everyone I’ve crossed paths with along the way. Teachers and administrators have opened their hearts and classrooms to me, and I’ve been able to learn so much, not just from them but also from their students. Being able to see multiple dual-language and biliteracy programs across the country has given me a unique perspective into the world of multilingual education. My journey of going from a commercial hip-hop artist to a bilingual-educational hip-hop artist has been filled with loving and compassionate people who have helped to guide me. What I’ve learned along the way is that everyone’s approach is a little different depending on their area, the school they’re in, the district leadership, and many other factors.

While I’ve been in hundreds of classrooms during the school year, I’ve also been able to attend many dual-language and world language conferences across the country—I even delivered a keynote at the 2015 CABE Conference. Last year, I also attended the mega dual-language conference, La Cosecha. It was a life-changing experience for me, and I’ll definitely be back this year. Seeing dual-language educators from all over the world working together to do the best they can for their students really reinforced to me that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ll get a little more into that later. But first, the journey.

After having the opportunity to travel all over the U.S. and Mexico, I’ve learned that sometimes life is more about the journey than the destination. This is about both. On the journey to get back to La Cosecha in 2016, I’ll be attending and speaking at various language conferences, meeting educators, and performing for their students. We’re starting out in California then following the map to Colorado for CABE again (this year with my bird friends from Avian Kingdom), Indiana, New York, and the East Coast all before September is over.

October brings Cuba, Florida, and Texas with the TABE Conference, before we finally arrive in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to perform and present at La Cosecha in November. This year, I hope to be more prepared­—in 2015, I was invited to attend the conference for the first time, and the experience was phenomenal. I have to admit that it was a bit overwhelming for me, though. Seeing so many educators from all over the world who are hungry for knowledge and techniques to bring back to their students is nothing short of inspiring. Knowing the battles that we’re up against as educators is important to developing the most effective ways to fight those battles and to educate our students to the highest levels possible. As

their mission states: “La Cosecha offers the unique opportunity to share best practices, resources, and current theory and practice, build networks, and fuel our community’s efforts to build a better future for our children as we ‘harvest’ the best of our multilingual and multicultural communities.”

With over 300 presenters and 2,400 attendees from more than 35 states and six countries at La Cosecha this year, educators will have plenty of options to fill their instructional tool boxes and get a little food for the soul too. Teaching techniques and best practices for dual-language students are featured at the conference, but there’s so much more than that. As most dual-language educators know, our jobs aren’t solely about academics. There is a social and a personal component that sometimes influences us to stand up and advocate for our students. We also need the tools and guidance to be fully capable of doing that. Meeting and networking with educators who have “been there, done that” is one of the most effective ways to learn how to best advocate for our students. This is what makes La Cosecha and other conferences so special, along with all of the academic aspects. They really are convocations of the most awesome minds in dual-language education across many different strands.

For me, as much as it is about academics and advocacy, La Cosecha is also a cultural experience in itself. The backdrop for the conference is the gorgeous and historic city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In countless ways, Santa Fe is the perfect city for this particular conference. Take a brief walk through the city and you begin to see the intricate ways in which the indigenous, Mexican, and European cultures are woven together to form their own distinct New Mexican identities. The speakers and performers at the conference reflect this spirit of diversity and culture. This year, the conference will also feature a live benefit concert with Grammy-award-winning Latin fusion group La Santa Cecilia and the all-female vocal and percussion ensemble Mala Maña.

The focus on American Indian and Indigenous cultures at the conference is a breath of fresh air for our Native brothers and sisters. At statewide conferences in New Mexico (DLeNM and NMABE) and Colorado (CABE), my eyes and heart were opened to the importance of Indigenous-language retention and expansion. When we lose language, we lose culture, and we lose history. Even more powerfully, I’ve seen first hand how Indigenous students have a stronger sense of identity, and of their own history, when they’re encouraged to learn their ancestral languages. La Cosecha puts a major emphasis on tribal language programs and brings in Indigenous educators from all over the U.S. In this way, the work that is happening in the individual states is shared with educators from all over the world.

We’re living in exciting and innovative times, especially within the multilingual-education community. The support for programs from educators, parents, and the scientific community has never been greater. In November, voters in California will vote to possibly repeal the state’s ban on bilingual education. The California Association for Bilingual Education has been at the forefront of raising awareness and fighting for this repeal. California isn’t alone in its fight either; multilingual education is under attack across the U.S. The idea that there’s a law against bilingual education is backwards to even think about. But it’s also the reality of how much work we still have to do.

Embracing Our Roots — Fortaleciendo nuestra comunidad bilingüe is the theme of the 2016 La Cosecha conference. I come from a German/Irish background, and I would love to know more about my family and my history. I would love to be able to embrace those roots in an authentic way, but I don’t have that link to my past. By the second generation, my family had already lost the connection to our language. The connection to our culture followed shortly after. What if my family and other German Americans had been encouraged to speak both languages? How much would that have changed the U.S. landscape and our attitudes toward language learning? We can only speculate, but one thing is for sure: loss of language = loss of culture. Encouraging all of our students to embrace their roots is crucial to allowing them to grow as individuals and to giving them a renewed sense of community. Multiple studies have shown that including culturally relevant material in the learning process leads to higher comprehension and retention. Academics, advocacy, and culture are the primary focuses of La Cosecha. I think that’s why I’m so drawn to this dual-language conference-—it’s one of a kind.

I originally got into dual-language education working with middle school Latino students in Indianapolis, mostly the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. Our students learned in English and in Spanish. They had an open space to learn about themselves and their histories. We encouraged them to discuss and write about the issues affecting them and their families. We also advocated for them and taught them how to advocate for themselves. Learning about themselves and those issues seemed to give a sense of pride to our students. Knowing that their teachers would go to battle for them also gave them a confidence which translated academically as well as socially.

This experience set the stage for the rest of my life. It’s where I went from being musically focused to educationally focused. At the time, I had no idea that the two would one day collide to become my life’s work. Now I do my best to use my music in a positive way, and in an educational way, to help students see the possibilities that I didn’t see as a young person. At the end of the day, their future is our future.

Over the next few months, I’ll have an up close and personal look at some of the most effective multilingual-education programs in the country and their methods for success. Not being attached to only one classroom allows me to perform for tens of thousands of students and educators with the messages of multilingualism, positivity, and the power of believing in oneself. This enables me to learn from some of the best dual-language educators in the U.S. They will be the first to say that the best teaching methods and practices are steadily evolving. It’s a constant learning process ,because multilingual education isn’t set in stone-—it’s still very fluid. There’s no magical answer that will raise our students’ reading levels, test scores, and linguistic comprehension. But there are plenty of effective options and combinations to make all of that happen. It’s up to us to seek them out and integrate them into the classroom. When we do, the results will be there. Much love and have a great school year!

GüeroLoco (, AKA Mr. GL, is an award-winning bilingual-educational hip-hop artist focused on motivating students to learn another language and realize their potential to succeed. He travels the country performing for students, educators, and parents. GL has been the keynote and featured speaker at several language conferences in the U.S., including the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), Dual Language Education of New Mexico (DLeNM), the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), the New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education (NMABE), and the Texas Association for Bilingual Education (TABE). He is originally from Indiana and currently resides in Los Angeles. His contributions to Language Magazine cover his current educational tour, travels, and experiences working with dual-language students, conferences, and educators across the U.S. Keep in touch with GL on Twitter at @GueroLoco or at

September 8th, 2016 | Leave your comments

Testing Benefits

 Mariana Castro shows what language proficiency assessments have to offer educators of English learners

If you are an educator, chances are that you have had or will have a student who is learning English as an additional language. Some of these multilingual students are eligible for language support services if their English proficiency limits their access to learning academic content. Districts typically have specific policies for identifying these students. Once these students are identified, by federal law, they are required to take an annual language proficiency assessment to confirm their eligibility for additional support until they are considered English proficient. Language proficiency assessments are used to monitor eligibility and language growth over time vary by state. Some states, like California, New York, and Texas, have developed their own assessments. However, most states join consortia, like ELPA 21 or WIDA, for enhanced support.
Language proficiency assessments like the ones described here are considered summative assessments; in other words, they provide information on the learning that has already occurred and are typically used to meet policy requirements. However, while the main purpose of these assessments is accountability, the data from them can be used to enhance the language development of students. Here are some ideas of how to use the data from language proficiency assessments:
Identify/Monitor Language Goals for Your Students
Data from language proficiency assessments can help identify specific areas of focus for schools or districts. Whether you work as part of a leadership team or a professional learning community, collect data specific to the various language domains available through your assessment: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and any other composite scores available, like literacy, comprehension, and overall scores for all of your students.
Important reminders:
Do not use the information from your language proficiency assessment as the sole data point when making decisions. Always try to collect other data and triangulate all of your points of data.
Remember that language proficiency assessments show the performance of students at one point in time, so they do not account for average performance of individual students. However, when aggregated, they can provide one perspective on how groups of students are performing.
Monitor Language Development Over Time
In the same way that language proficiency assessments provide you with information about language performance at a point in time for a group of students, if the same data is collected over time, you can look for patterns in the language development of your students.
Considerations in Using Data from Language Proficiency Assessments to Monitor Growth:
Use the right score: Some scores from language proficiency assessments are better when trying to identify language growth across time. Raw scores, for example, are not appropriate when comparing scores from two different test forms or students. This is because typically a raw score does not take into account the difficulty of the items on the test. In some of these assessments, like ACCESS for ELLs, proficiency levels are interpretations of the scale scores that account for the grade level of the student; therefore, those levels may not be appropriate when looking at growth over time. The best score to use from ACCESS for ELL is the scale score, because its calculation accounts for the difficulty of the items, but it is not specific to grade level.
Use multiple scores: Triangulate data from multiple sources related to language growth to get more comprehensive and useful information about your students’ language use, including classroom observations across various contexts and situations.
Involve others: Make sure that you use language from classroom observations, but also from informal spaces, extracurricular activities, and home, whenever possible and available.
Using Data from Language Proficiency Assessments to Guide Instruction
While data from language proficiency assessments provides good information for goals over time or large groups of students, this data can also be used in other ways to guide teaching and learning. Enhancing the use of academic language across different contexts provides students better access to academic content and with increased opportunities to participate meaningfully in teaching and learning. For children and youth who are multilingual, and for whom English may represent a barrier to demonstrating what they know and can do, language proficiency assessments are an additional tool. Language proficiency assessments provide opportunities for students and their educators to focus on the development of language, serving as models, sources of data, and catalysts for a more intentional education.
Mariana Castro, PhD is director of academic language and literacy initiatives at WIDA Consortium, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison. For more information about the uses of ACCESS for ELLs, visit

September 7th, 2016 | 3 Comments

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