Including One, Including All – Roffman & Wanerman

(en español)

Including One, Including All - Roffman & Wanerman 2011

Outdoor playtime has just ended, and the children line up to go into the classroom for lunch.  As the line moves up the stairs, two children are left outside: Harry and Enid.  Harry has run back to retrieve a hat he left in the playground.  Meanwhile Enid is sitting crying at the bottom of the stairs.  I move toward Harry to assist him while our classroom inclusion coach sits down with Enid, but I notice Enid turns her back to the coach.  I abort my motion toward Harry and move toward Enid.  Enid has a relationship with me that she does not have with the coach who only visits once every couple of weeks.  I sit with Enid and ask her to take some deep breaths, modeling deep breathing myself while the coach goes to help Harry.  Enid continues crying but looks at me.  I place my hand on her back and ask her what happened.  Enid lets out a string of unintelligible words in the midst of tears, but amidst the blathering I am able to make out the name of a classmate.  I latch onto that, and suggest we go back in the classroom and she talk to that classmate.  Enid nods, stands up and takes my hand, and we go into the classroom together.

According to Leslie Roffman and Todd Wanerman, “Bodies, relationships, emotions, and brains are all connected” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 21).  For Enid, our relationship helped focus her emotions, my hand on her back helped her calm her body and focus her brain to articulate the issue.  While I did not understand what it was she articulated, the fact that I listened and was able to pick up on something demonstrated for her that our relationship was meaningful and provided the impetus for proceeding.

I could have responded to her refusal to come to the classroom with everyone else with a sharp commandment to move, or a threat of punishment, or, even worse, by picking her up and carrying her.  But had I done so, I would have denied her agency in this situation.  By connecting with her and giving her that moment to make the decision herself to rise and join the class, I showed Enid that she is worthwhile, and that I recognized her as such.  As Roffman and Wanerman indicate, “For emotional based learning to be effective in an educational setting, the teachers need to build strong, positive relationships with the children” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 32).

Our inclusion coach was a great person, and interacted wonderfully with the children, but her limited presence in the classroom sometimes made it difficult for her to connect with the children in the same way as those of us who knew them more personally.  Nonetheless, as Roffman and Wanerman point out, “Each adult—teachers, staff, and parents—can add a slightly different but connected thread of observation and opinion that helps you locate the right expectations for progress” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 114).

The inclusion coach’s assistance in helping Harry get his hat was just as important for Harry, as my taking the time to listen to Enid was for her.  For Harry, it was very important that he get his hat.  He often felt a need to have his head covered, and even in the classroom he would often put on his jacket and keep his hood over his head.  Reffman and Wanerman reveal that “Knowing how sensory, motor, and physical experience can help the child feel more calm, receptive, organized, or safe over time is the broadest and most effective teaching plan you can make” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p.65).

The reasons for Harry’s need to cover his head were not completely clear, but it was clear that there were times when he became overstimulated in the classroom.  If the noise level in the classroom got too high, Harry would begin to get agitated.  It is possible that wearing his hood helped by covering his ears and blocking out the noise when it became overwhelming.  We attempted to get a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to help him with this, but when he wore them he would shout and add to the classroom noise level that led other children to be louder to be heard by their peers when playing.

Roffman and Wanerman make it clear that “Some children’s challenges make it much harder to transition into or enjoy a program and do not allow the luxury of time and patience before plans must be made” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 64).  Harry went through a period in which he would bite other children when he was over-stimulated.  It was something that was on the minds of the other children, even if they didn’t voice it directly.  For instance, after seeing Harry bite another child, Ammon told this story:


Once upon a time there was a princess.  And then she gotted vestido.  And then there was a Elsa.  And then Elsa went to there was a princess.  And then there was a bad guy.  And then there was tiburón bite people.  And then it’s going to bite somebody.  Then the shark bited somebody.  The End.

Though he didn’t reference Harry directly, it was clear that biting was something that was now on Ammon’s mind.  One day we discussed Harry’s biting as a class during circle.  The children came to recognize that this was something that Harry was working on.  They discussed different strategies they could use to help Harry with this issue.

Initially they suggested giving Harry a wide berth when he got agitated.  This was something that a number of children had already begun to do, but it had resulted in children avoiding playing with Harry even when he wasn’t agitated.  Through the course of the discussion the children talked about how to tell when he’s upset and when he’s not upset, and the importance of talking to him and finding out what he’s upset about, sometimes even helping to calm him down.  This discussion ended up helping all of the children become more aware of other children’s emotions in general.  As Roffman and Wanerman state, “If children learn to pay attention to the many different ways people communicate, their social skills will undoubtedly benefit” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 162)

One of the children had a chew toy that he kept around his neck to put in his mouth when he wanted to bite something.  The children suggested getting one of these for Harry.  The children thought deeply about ways that they could support each other, and after this discussion, they became less critical of Harry now that they understood his challenges better.  They played together with him more often and learned to distinguish between times when it was appropriate to play near him and times when it was not.  They stopped excluding Harry from their play and provided him with some of the social supports he needed to help him control his emotions.  Harry was receiving the benefits described by Roffman and Wanerman in which, “in an inclusive setting, all kinds of children can befriend each other” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 10).

Of course, the children weren’t the only ones making accommodations to help Harry through this period.  We found that we needed to increase our staff presence.  When the teacher who had the strongest relationship to Harry was gone for several days, Harry began biting other children again. Roffman and Wanerman tell us that “for children with challenges and inclusion classrooms in general, the right amount of staff is one of the most important elements for success” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 116).  We increased our staff by having a supervisor be in the classroom in addition to the regular teachers and substitute while Harry’s preferred teacher was away.  Having enough teachers provided us with the opportunity to insure that we could be close to Harry and recognize the signs of his agitation before it escalated.

Having children like Harry and Enid in our program helped us become better teachers, and helped the children become more welcoming.  As Roffman and Wanerman point out, “Inclusion, at its best, is a model that enriches every aspect of a program, from the experience of the child, to the skills of the teacher, to the harmony and diversity of the school community” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 8).


I welcome discussion and comments on this topic.  Also, if there is a book that you would like to see me discuss in this blog, please comment on the Recommended Reading page.  Next month I will most likely be discussing the book Psicología del Arte by Lev Vygotsky (2006).



Roffman, L. & T. Wanerman. (2011). Including one, including all: A guide to relationship-based early childhood education. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Vygotsky, L.S. (2006 [1971, 1925]). Psicología del arte (C. Roche, Tran.). Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones Paidós.


Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism – Colin Baker

(en español)

Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism - Baker 2011

As I entered a bilingual preschool classroom I found myself filled with excitement, but also a little bit nervous.  It was a new group of students, a new program I had never been in before, and a new teaching model I had never experienced before.  I was to be one of two English language models in the classroom that also had two other teachers that were Spanish language models.  This is the classroom version of what Baker calls “The ‘one-person – one language’ parental approach in a family,” which he describes as “a well-documented and often successful route to bilingualism” (Baker 2011, p. 113).

It wasn’t long before I found myself well-adjusted in the classroom and fitting in with the language model well.  However, as Baker describes, “there is often a difference between formal policy and the informal practice of codeswitching, with ‘center stage’ and ‘back stage’ choices” (Baker 2011, p. 287).  While I spoke primarily English in the classroom as per our official policy, I would occasionally code-switch into Spanish for a variety of reasons with both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking students.  I noticed this trend among all four teachers in the classroom.

Baker reveals that “codeswitching is a frequent behavior among bilinguals, with a variety of valuable purposes and benefits” (Baker 2011, p. 112).  For myself, I relied on code-switching with Spanish-speaking students to help build a connection with them and help them feel more at ease around me, and also to insure understanding of difficult concepts or during times of stress.  I code-switched into Spanish with my English-speaking students to increase their exposure to Spanish, particularly during times of the day when we were doing a small group activity without one of the Spanish-language models.  After all, Baker tells us that “understanding (and speaking) a second or third language quickly grows once there is sufficient exposure and incentive” (Baker 2011, pp. 104-105), and by using more Spanish with my English-speaking students I provided that exposure.

However, the incentive seemed to be lacking.  The children knew that I was an English-language model and that, if they didn’t understand me at the time, they could rely on me for English a short time later when I switched back into my official role as English-language model.  As Baker states, “If language mixing by the teacher occurs, students may wait until there is a delivery in the stronger language, and become uninvolved at other times” (Baker 2011, p. 228)  Several months into school the year we noticed that the English-speaking students were not progressing in their Spanish as rapidly as we were expecting.  Most of the children were very reluctant to tell stories that included any Spanish, and even when they did they limited themselves to a handful of words.  For example, by late January Sally’s attempt at telling a story in Spanish included only three words:

My Little Pony Babies

Once upon a vez there was a princesa.  And her name was Aurora.  And another one was a mermaid.  And her name was Ariel.  Then another day there were 3 princesas.  They were ponies, but not people or princesses.  Then there was 10 My Little Ponies.  Baby ones.  Baby Applejack, baby Twilight Sparkle.  And then there was Rainbow Dash and Pinky Pie and Fluttershy.  And then so don’t forget Spike.  And then that’s The The End.

Baker reveals that “education cannot be separated from issues of power that affect the lives of bilinguals” (Baker 2011, p. 335).  In our society in general, it is the English language that is the language of power.  One of the reasons we conjectured for the difficulties of the English-speaking students related to the fact that, for a successful bilingual program using our language model, “The numerical balance of native speakers and learners of a minority language is important, possibly tilted to a predominance of minority language speakers” (Baker 2011, p. 305).  Our program, however, was tilted to a predominance of majority language (English) speakers.  While fifteen of the 32 students in the class listed Spanish as being spoken at some level in the home, only three students had Spanish listed as the primary home language.

We needed to do something to offset this balance toward English, and Baker gives us a clue as to the solution when he states, “the dominance of a majority language outside school can be complimented by a corresponding weighting towards the minority language in school” (Baker 2011, p. 223).  The teachers-as-language models approach in our classroom provided equal exposure to both languages in the classroom.  What we needed to do was change the model to favor exposure to the minority language (Spanish).  We did this with a time-based model, using Spanish three days a week and English two days a week.

An unforeseen, yet perfectly logical phenomenon resulted almost immediately from this change.  I began to notice the children engaging in more collaborative language exploration.  As Baker tells us, “Language learning is partly about becoming socialized through interaction with other language speakers in particular social contexts” (Baker 2011, p. 133).  Amanda, one of the quietest and most reserved children in the classroom, but one who also loved to tell stories, had never created a story that included any Spanish.  The day after the new language model officially went into effect, she created a story together with Ammon, a child who had recently begun exploring Spanish in his three most recent stories.  Though this was an English day, Ammon continued his exploration of Spanish by including it in this story as well, while all of the parts that Amanda told were entirely in English:

The Lion Ate the Bunnies

Once upon there was a little bunny.  And then there was a lion.  And then the bunny ran away.  And then there was a tiger.  And then the tiger ate the bunny.  The lion saw a other bunny and ate it.  And then uno conejo y pues una lion.  Then there was 100 bunnies.  And then there was another bunny.  And then there was a lion.  And then there was eleven bunnies.  And then the lion ate the bunnies.  The End.

Sally quickly latched onto the idea of creating stories together with other children, and the following day, Sally and Amanda created a story together:

Cat [Sally] [Amanda]

Hoy a gata.  And then it went all the way to [Sally].  But [Amanda] was the owner.  But [Sally] was the mom.  And dos gatos came.  And una vez una flower bought there was a big grande monstruo named Teacher Jeff.  But uno vez and dos gatos came again.  And then there was a kitten, a baby one.  And it went to its mommy [Sally] mamá cat.  And they love each other.  And the baby kitten was named [Amanda].  But dos más grande Teacher Jeff.  Love you, love you, love you, love you, love you, love you, love you, love you, love you, love you.

A word count reveals this story to be a whopping 16.67% in Spanish, a huge leap from Sally’s high of 6.78% from before the shift in language model, and Amanda’s 0.00%, and this time both children were using Spanish during the parts of the story they told.  In fact, by the time a month had passed from when we announced to the children that we would change the language model, Sally was creating collaborative stories that were as much as a quarter in Spanish, with herself contributing a great deal of the Spanish (as with the following story she created with Brandon, a child with less experience creating collaborative stories, in which the only Spanish word Brandon contributed was “plantos”):

Plants Versus Zombies

Once upon a time there were zombies.  And then there was plantos.  Then a cherry bomb came and explode the zombie.  Then there were sunflower with sun.  And una vez una grande monstruo como [Brandon].  Then there were still more bombs and explode the bad guys.  Then one hundred zombis como se llama [Brandon], [Brandon], [Brandon], [Brandon], [Brandon].  Then [Brandon] came and eated all of the zombies.  Then [Brandon] comió todos monstruos.  And they save everyone from the zombies and monsters.  To be continued…

The striking thing about this story is not just the quantity of Spanish used, but the sentence structure.  She’s using descriptive language (i.e. “grande monstruo como [Brandon]” – big monster like Brandon) and verbs conjugated appropriately for past tense (i.e. “[Brandon] comió todos monstruos” – Brandon ate all monsters), while at the same time continuing with the flow of a story that is engaging, with a clear beginning setting the stage, heightened tension in the middle, and an ending that resolves the conflict and sets the stage for the possibility of more in the future.

As for Amanda, the collaborative language exploration she was doing with other children helped her Spanish growth so much that she too, like Ammon, began including Spanish in her stories, even on English days.

Elsa and Anna

Uno vez Elsa.  And then there was Anna.  And then Elsa froze Anna.  And then there was Hans.  And then Hans got killed by Anna.  And then Anna and Elsa married with the prince.  Then Elsa said it was Anna’s birthday party.  And then there was Kristof.  And then Anna and Kristof married.  And then Olaf ate the cake.

By changing the classroom language model, we implemented an effective tool toward helping children on their road to bilingualism.  Baker tells us that “To allow students to make progress in both languages, there needs to be strategic classroom language planning” (Baker 2011, p. 288), and our conscious adoption of a new method served as that planning.


Next month I will most likely be looking at the book From Lullabies to Literature (Birckmayer, Kennedy, & Stonehouse 2008).  If there is a book you would like me to discuss in my blog please comment on the Recommended Reading page.



Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism, 5th edition. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Birckmayer, J., A. Kennedy, & A. Stonehouse. (2008). From lullabies to literature: Stories in the lives of infants and toddlers. Washington, DC: NAEYC.


White Teacher – Vivian Paley

(en español)

White Teacher - Paley 2000

The local library had recently added some toys to the children’s section. There was a large number of blocks in a variety of colors, but there were only two dolls: one White and one Black. Most of my students, however, were neither White nor Black. I recall seeing Jonathan, a Vietnamese student, playing with the Black doll one day. He was holding it very gently and carrying it around as any parent would their own baby. I smiled inwardly at the sight as I went to go help another child locate a book on a shelf. A moment later I noticed a commotion between Jonathan and Samuel, a Pakistani student. I went to see what was wrong, and now I saw Jonathan holding the White doll, while Samuel was holding the Black one. Jonathan said that he didn’t like the other doll because it was “brown.”

At first I wasn’t sure how to respond. Vivian Paley discusses how her training and her colleagues had brought her to the point where “I was unable to mention color in the classroom” (2000, p. 9). It was a taboo subject, so when the topic came up among children (as it typically does in a diverse classroom), she did not know how to approach it. In Jonathan’s case, I needed to get to the heart of his concern. As Paley states, “doll corner play at its best contains some of the freest expressions and most thoughtful observations in the kindergarten” (2000, p. 84). I needed myself to remain thoughtful and not react spuriously to Jonathan’s statement, so I asked him to clarify his desires. He told me that he wanted the doll that looked more like him.

Unfortunately, the reality was that neither doll looked like him. The White doll may have been closer in skin tone, but the facial features were far from being representative of Jonathan’s own face. Paley tells us that “The challenge in teaching is to find a way of communicating to each child the idea that his or her special quality is understood, is valued and can be talked about. It is not easy, because we are influenced by the fears and prejudices, apprehensions and expectations, which have become a carefully hidden part of every one of us” (2000, p. xx). How could I value Jonathan’s desire to find a doll he could identify with while not encouraging prejudice against those dolls that did not share his features.

I feel it would have been easier in some ways if Jonathan were White. I think about the term “White privilege,” and the idea that racism is an institutionalized oppression of a minority group by a dominant group. That is familiar territory. Ever since I was a child I have felt that oppression of minorities by a majority group is wrong, and I would speak out against racism when I saw it. For situations of expressions of identity by members of a minority group I instead applied the term “nationalism,” recognizing this as a means to confront the oppression that they face.

My years of teaching in diverse classrooms have helped me to realize, however, that nationalism is not necessarily a positive quality to promote. In this instance the nationalism I was observing was a member of one minority group seeking to express his identity by devaluing another minority group. As with Vivian Paley, I felt that “teaching children with different cultural and language experiences kept pushing me toward the growing edge” (2000, p. 112). I needed to rethink my approach to interracial and intercultural conflict in the classroom. The diversity of my classroom provided an opportunity for me to help the children address some deep-seated biases toward other minority groups.

It is important to help children see that, despite superficial similarities, underneath everyone is unique. As Paley states, “Friendship and love grow out of recognizing and respecting differences” (2000, p. 131). However, perhaps more important is helping children see that, despite superficial differences, underneath everyone is alike. As Paley suggests, “it’s a source of comfort to be able to identify with someone else’s feelings” (2000, p. 124). If I can help Jonathan see that beneath the differences are common interests perhaps he can grow to welcome the diversity in his life. I spoke to him about how some of the children he plays with are brown and that everybody has different skin tones. I pointed out two children he often enjoys playing with, both of whom had darker skin that Jonathan. I drew attention to Michael, an Ethiopian student, and to Samuel, the child with whom he had been in conflict that day. One day in the middle of the following week Jonathan spontaneously came up to me and said, “My Daddy is brown.” His father is also Vietnamese, but has a darker skin tone than Jonathan. This unprovoked statement of fact revealed to me that he was seriously taking to heart the conversation we had in the library that day.

Paley states that “children know they are each different in style and story; they listen eagerly and identify with one another’s separate visions of pleasure and pain, of strength and weakness, of love and loss. In their play, they reveal the intuitive and universal language that binds us all together” (2000, p. 135). As teachers it is our role to become a part of that story, to become a part of that binding. The more we can help children see that, though differences exist, there is something greater that makes us all human, the more we can help them to create a better world in which they can become agents for social justice and change.


Next month I will most likely be discussing The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home by Jonathan Kozol (1990). If there is a book you would like to see me discuss in this blog please comment on the Recommended Reading Page.



Kozol, J. (1990 [1975]). The night is dark and I am far from home: A bold inquiry into the values and goals of America’s schools, revised edition. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Paley, V.G. (2000 [1979]). White teacher. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Learning and Not Learning English: Latino Students in American Schools – G. Valdés

Learning and Not Learning English - Valdés 2001(en español)

As I sat on the bus reading Learning and Not Learning English by Guadalupe Valdés (2001), I found myself breaking down in tears about halfway through the book. The story that hit me the hardest was that of the child referred to as Lilian. The struggles she faced pushed her farther and farther away from the classroom. As Valdés puts it, “She entered a new world, and she found a way to survive. Her survival, however, had little to do with doing well in school or with learning English” (2001, p. 75).


Power and Agency

Lilian existed in a society that marginalized her language experience. At her school, “mainstream teachers largely viewed the ESL teachers’ role as making certain that English language learners would be kept both out of the way and very busy” (2001, p. 40). The more her reality was pushed to the side, the more detached she became. It wasn’t just her own school experience that pushed her aside, however. The social pressures existed universally in her town, leading to a jailed father, an out-of-work mother, and a roommate who abandoned them when they most needed help with the rent.

We live in a society which not only maintains this power differential, but actually actively promotes it. As Valdés renumerates, “language is always situated within larger discursive frameworks” (2001, p. 156). The reality is that English is the dominant language in this country, and this country’s imperialist approach to international relations has made English a dominant language in the globe. It is made dominant by virtue of the power associated with those who speak it. While not consciously aware of the power dynamics associated with use of the language, many people in the United States reinforce its power and that of the forces that bring it to the world by refusing to acknowledge that other languages have value as well. Valdés points out that “power is exercised both through coercion and through consent and that, in many cases, people ‘consent’ to preserving the status quo and to maintaining existing power relationships simply by accepting established practices without question” (2001, p. 155).

Power can be exerted in many forms, and the role of schools is to reinforce the power of the state. As Valdés describes, we live “in a political climate that has become increasingly hostile to immigrants” (2001, p. 18). Individual teachers may make efforts to move students toward a more liberating view, but the system of schooling in this country is designed in such a way as to validate the power and dominance of a certain class of people while devaluing others.

This is done at times through a power differential between teachers and students. This differential exists in any classroom, whether the teacher wishes to acknowledge it or not. I have myself felt the influence that my power has had on students, and I recall a very painful interaction with one very shy third grade student in a multilingual classroom. Casey’s native language is Spanish, but he also spoke English fairly fluently, although not as much so as most of his peers. Occasionally they would use Spanish when speaking with each other, but generally they conversed in English with both teacher and peers. Unlike his peers, however, Casey was enrolled in special education services specifically for language arts. He missed the majority of the language arts portion of the day due to being pulled out for these services. By the time I asked Casey to share a story he had written in English, all other students had already shared their stories over the course of a couple of weeks.

While examining the videotape of the lesson after the children had gone home, I wrote in my journal that day:

Casey (9.75) is sitting at his desk, aware that his turn has arrived, but still unwilling to share his story with his peers. As I prepare to introduce Casey’s story he calls out desperately, “Nononono, don’t start! Mr. Daitsman, please. I’m begging you, please.”

I ignore his pleading voice and speak to the class. “Alright, we have one last story.” I turn to Casey and attempt to reassure him with my words even as my physical presence invades his privacy by reaching out for his notebook. “You can stay here if you want, just give it to me.”


But Casey is powerless in this classroom. In elementary school, it is the teacher who wields all the power, and the children must succumb to it. I rely on this power dynamic even as I delude myself into believing that I’m trying to make things easier for him. I change tactics. I have convinced myself that if I can just keep reiterating that Casey has control over the situation that perhaps both he and I would come to believe this. I explain to the class that Casey doesn’t want to act in his story and that he is therefore going to stay in his seat. This seemingly innocuous pronouncement of Casey’s exercising his own power in the classroom glosses over the fact that what I am about to do next completely overrides his autonomy when it comes to his intellectual property.

Casey takes his plea to his classmates, telling them, “It’s too short.”

As he says this, I begin the casting process and tell the class, “There are two characters in the story. The characters are Casey and his friend.” My stating this right on the heels of Casey’s pronouncement of how short his story is turns out to be catastrophic to my goals of trying to build Casey’s confidence, as his classmates begin to make fun of Casey’s story before it has even begun.

I feel myself losing control of the situation. Suddenly everything I know about dramatizing children’s stories, everything I’ve been trying to do with this activity is being undermined with the very last story we share in the first round of dramatizations. Instead of building community, I’m now driving it further apart. Instead of being a champion of inclusiveness, I have opened the door for the ridicule and ostracization of a child with special needs.

I interrupt the growing pandemonium, “Hey, hey, hey, hey!” I catch myself. I’m not sure if Casey realizes that the other children are making fun of him. I feel the need to find a way to make it clear to the class that it’s not okay to make fun of Casey while at the same time still trying to coax Casey into actually wanting to share his story with the class. If I draw attention to the fact that they’re ridiculing him, Casey is going to draw back even further. I solve my dilemma by once again invoking the element of power. Rather than making it about Casey, I make it about myself, “Did I say you all could start talking about the story right now?”

The class quiets down, but Casey remains reluctant and says, “No, I don’t know.” He groans as I take his notebook from him and ask him if he’s come up with a title yet. He tells me that he hasn’t and explains, “I only just came here.” He is referring to the fact that he had spent the past two hours in his special-education class. As I ask the class which table was next in line to be in a story, Casey asks to go to the bathroom. This is the third time he’s asked me since he got back as we were beginning to act out stories today. I know that he hasn’t had a chance to go all morning, but for some reason I still feel like he should be in the room while his story is being acted out.

I tell him, “After we talk about your story, alright?” I pose it as a question, but really it’s a statement. We both know that what I really mean is that he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. I address the class, “Alright, table six, who wants to be in the story?”

Casey mutters, “Nobody.”

I assign roles to the two volunteers and remind them, “It is a short story.”

Casey confirms this, saying, “Very short. Very short.” There is some snickering and Casey says, “Shorter than half.”

I remind the class, “You know what, the first stories we were doing were pretty short too. Because people didn’t have a lot of time to write, so it’s okay to have a short story.”

This explanation isn’t acceptable to Casey and he takes advantage of this opportunity to self-depricate even further, “No it’s not okay. I’m in third grade.”

I wonder if he’s feeling the pressure of being pulled out of the classroom for special education services, but I put that question in the back of my mind and instead ask, “Alright, are we ready?”

Casey puts in one last plea, “No, we’re not.” I ignore him and begin reading the story.

Valdés reveals that “motivation is a crucial factor in language acquisition. Isolation creates a climate in which youngsters have few incentives for learning English” (2001, p. 151). In the example of Casey, he had been driven to despair as he compared his skill to that of his peers. The pressure that I exerted in my position of power as his teacher served to demotivate him further by denying the reality of his own perception of his work. As a student who did not have the same level of English language competency as the majority of his classmates, he had been made to feel that his perception of his language capabilities was not worthy of recognition.

Valdés makes it clear that teachers “must help students to find and create insurgent voices—voices that question the reality that surrounds them” (2001, p. 159). After my eye-opening experience with Casey I modified my approach, and by the end of the quarter he voluntarily published one of his stories in the class’s anthology. If I hadn’t reflected carefully on the moment that day, I could very well have missed the role my own exercise of power was having on Casey’s sense of agency, and his experience could have turned out much like Lilian’s, in which “The village child who first wrote about being happy and about wanting to learn English had turned into an angry and rebellious young adolescent” (2001, p. 83).


Racism and Oppression

As I was writing this blog entry I glanced over at a newspaper and saw two words in the headline that made me stop what I was doing and read the article. Those two words were: Racism over. It seems that the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a law overturning Affirmative Action in Michigan schools. The idea that racism could end simply because a small group of (admittedly very powerful) people declares it so is so outlandish that I find it difficult to comprehend how the justices that voted in the majority opinion could have the gall to make such a declaration. Immediately my thoughts turned to Elisa, another of the case studies Valdés discussed in this book.

Elisa “saw herself as an English speaker who had some limitations but who was learning more every day” (2001, p. 98), however her ESL teacher “felt strongly that allowing students to move forward with weak skills would result in many complaints from the mainstream teachers who had agreed to take on more non-English-background students” (2001, p. 99). Though Elisa performed well on a language competency exam, her teacher held her back. This was the reality Elisa was up against at every stage of her academic path. Arbitrary policies overruled demonstrated competence, and she found herself entering high school in courses that would not allow her to attend college afterward because “no ESL classes or sheltered classes met college entrance requirements” (2001, p. 107).

Is this racism? Is there an oppressive state toward non-English speakers in this country? A few months ago a friend of mine told me “Not having something offered in one’s language is incredibly oppressing. It limits one’s life chances.” But Elisa’s case seems to indicate that the oppression goes deeper than that. The oppression is not just a result of lack of language ability, but rather systemic constraints on those who come from a certain background, regardless of their language growth and competence. As Valdés concludes, “The teaching of English to immigrant students, rather than being a straightforward and unproblematic practice, is a contested site in which there is a struggle about the role and the future of immigrants in our society” (2001, p. 159).

I plan on examining some of these issues further next month when I will most likely discuss Vivian Paley’s White Teacher (2000 [1979]). If there are any books you would like to see me discuss in this blog please comment on the Recommended Reading page.



Paley, V.G. (2000 [1979]). White teacher. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Valdés, G. (2001). Learning and not learning English: Latino students in American schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Reading Magic – Mem Fox

en español

Reading Magic - Fox 2008

I recall attending a workshop on multicultural children’s literature. The presenters had a table displaying a large number of books. I instantly recognized a couple of them from a distance, but it wasn’t until I got closer that I realized that every single book was depicting African Americans in the illustrations. I recall wondering at the outset of the workshop why they were depicting only one culture in a workshop about multiculturalism.

Mem Fox indicates that “The more we read aloud to our kids and the more they read by themselves, the more experience they’ll have of the world through the things they encounter in books. And the more experience they have of the world, the easier it will be to read” (2008, p. 104). If we are only exposing children to books of their own culture, how are we going to help children to get that greater experience of the world?

The workshop presenters teach in a classroom with all African American children. They discussed the metaphor of books as both a mirror and a window, allowing children to see themselves as well as to open their eyes to new experiences. They presented these two images as side-by-side, with one graphic showing a full-length mirror and the other graphic showing an open window. As I considered this, I wondered if it might be more appropriate to consider books as a closed window, where one can see one’s own reflection in the glass imposed on a new landscape.

The challenge of finding appropriate multicultural books, then, is one of finding books which both speak to the experiences of a child while at the same time introducing them to new worlds they have not yet seen. A closer examination of the books in the workshop revealed that they all accomplished this. Fox states, “Entertainment is the teacher. Subtlety is the key” (2008, p. 53). Though the themes represented a wide variety of subtle concepts, they were all entertaining to the presenters’ students partly because they all depicted characters that the students could connect with.

This is where I have a dilemma. While books depicting African American characters are not as common as those depicting white characters, it has become possible to find a significant number of them. But in my classroom, the majority of my students are Vietnamese. Very few books depict the experiences of a Vietnamese child growing up in the United States in a way that allows children to connect with them. On top of the cultural disconnect, there is also the issue of language.

Having books in the languages that children speak are immensely valuable as well, not only for the ability of children to connect to the text, but also for children to build a foundation of understanding of the written word. As Fox reveals, “The more we know about a language… and the more of that language we know, the easier it is to read it” (2008, p. 87). Books that are not only bilingual but also bicultural are very valuable, but also very rare. I have in my classroom books that were written in English, and later translated into another language due to the popularity of the book. Much fewer are the books originally written in both languages by authors who represent the cultures. Most of the books that I have in my personal children’s library that meet these conditions tend to be very text-heavy and written for older children.

Fox tells us that “if every parent—and every adult caring for a child—read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to the children in their lives, we could probably wipe out illiteracy within one generation” (2008, p. 12). But this entails there being books available to read to the children. Not just three token books, but three genuinely engaging books because “It will do more for a child’s literacy to own one much-loved, beautifully written, trouble-filled book than to own lots of tacky, unappealing books in which the child shows no interest” (2008, p. 135).

My challenge, then, as a teacher, is locating such books. Given the scarcity of these books, I decided that I needed to remedy this. I approached a Vietnamese friend of mine with a proposal to create a children’s book together. With his expertise in Vietnamese culture and my understanding of what is appealing to children, we have drafted a book together that my students could connect with. But then we were faced with the problem of illustrations. Neither of us is very skilled at drawing.

This presented a major dilemma, as Fox reveals that “The pictures tell a thousand words and help unlock the action of the story” (2008, p. 58). I know that many publishers provide beginning authors with established illustrators to help increase the visibility of the book, but I worried about the lack of Vietnamese illustrators. How would someone unfamiliar with the culture depict a Vietnamese household? And what would we do if we are not able to find a publisher?

With the help of another one of my Vietnamese friends, I located a couple of artists in Vietnam who seemed interested in the project, but they quickly removed themselves from the project when they realized the intensity of work involved in illustrating an entire picture book. I decided to take my cue from one of my favorite children’s authors, Nina Crews, and utilize photographs to depict the backgrounds. At the time of this post I have currently completed illustrations on about 15% of the book using computer-generated character illustrations imposed on photographic backgrounds.

The text has already been translated into Vietnamese by my co-author, and I once asked the mother of one of my Vietnamese students, Danny, to read it to him. As she began to look at the text, she started to tell me that it would be too difficult for him. I found that interesting because the very same text had raised concerns from my co-author about possibly being too simple. As Danny’s mother began reading, I saw the excitement of recognition in his eyes as she read words to him that were unintelligible to me, but occasionally elicited excited exclamations from him in English that demonstrated understanding of the story. Fox tells us, “there’s no doubt that little kids—and big ones—love being read aloud to” (2008, p. 26). If this story, unillustrated, can provoke such enjoyment in Danny, I can only imagine what his response will be when the illustrations are added.

I have mentioned in a previous post my attempts at reading to the children in Vietnamese. Without my understanding of the language, my attempts met with humorous excitement from the students, but I am now fairly certain that they were just humoring me when they told me my pronunciation was right. Even if I was pronouncing it accurately, Fox makes it clear that “Reading isn’t merely being able to pronounce the words correctly, a fact that surprises most people. Reading is being able to make sense from the marks on the page” (2008, p. 79).

I have taken multiple steps to help remedy this. On one account, I recently began learning Vietnamese after assisting my co-author in developing a free online course for Vietnamese speakers to learn English. My fieldwork getting translations in various dialects helped build my awareness of resources available in my neighborhood to learn Vietnamese. But not all of my students speak Vietnamese, and after Micah, an Amharic-speaking student, raised his objections to my offering to read a book in either Spanish, English, or Vietnamese, I invited his mother to come read the book to the class in Amharic. Ever since then, our weekly trip to the library has usually been accompanied by a different parent come to read to the children. At times other children in the library have sat down to listen to the reading as well.

It’s wonderful to see such engagement from the children in the reading process. As Fox makes clear, “if we’re able to raise happier, brighter children by reading aloud to them, the well-being of the entire country will ramp up a notch” (2008, p. xii).

Next month I will most likely be discussing the book Learning and Not Learning English by Guadalupe Valdés (2001). If you have a book that you would like to see me discuss in this blog please comment on the Recommended Reading page.



Fox, M. (2008). Reading magic: Why reading aloud to our children will change their lives forever, updated and revised edition. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Publishing.

Valdés, G. (2001). Learning and not learning English: Latino students in American schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Pensamiento y Lenguaje – L.S. Vygotsky

(in English)

Pensamiento y Lenguaje - Vygotsky 2012Llegué en un templo para celebrar el Año Nuevo Lunar.  Había estado allí por unos pocos momentos antes de una de mis estudiantes corrió hacia mí y me dio un gran abrazo.  Todas las personas en el templo hablaban vietnamita, pero, sin mi estudiante, no los podía entender.  Vygotsky dice que, “La función primaria del lenguaje es la comunicación, el intercambio social” (2012, p. 21).  En este ambiente no puedo participar en tal intercambio social.  ¿Cómo debería sentir mis estudiantes en mi aula cuándo no hablan inglés?

Es por esta razón que también utilizo los idiomas de mis estudiantes en mi aula.  Los estudiantes que hablan vietnamita me enseñan palabras del idioma, el cuál es hablado por la mayoría de mis estudiantes.  Cantamos algunas canciones en vietnamita, y utilizo las pocas palabras que sé cuándo puedo.  Como Vygotsky expone, “El éxito en el aprendizaje de una lengua extranjera es contingente de un cierto grado de madurez en la nativa” (2012, p. 131).  En esta situación, por mis estudiantes, la “lengua extranjera,” no es extranjera, pero tampoco es la nativa, aunque tiene similitudes con ambas.

Lo importante es que está siendo utilizado como medio de comunicación.  Vygotsky declara, “la función prmaria de las palabras, tanto en los niños como en los adultos, es la comunicación, el contact social” (2012, p. 35).  Y en mi aula la comunicación es muy importante.  Una actividad más importante es la dramatización de los cuentos que habían sido dictadas por mis estudiantes.  Aunque todos de mis estudiantes hablan otras idiomas en sus casas, en mi aula prefieren contar sus cuentos en inglés, porque inglés es la idioma común en mi aula.  Y entonces, a veces pueden contar cuentos juntos.  El siguiente cuento se dictó por dos estudiantes, Nhung, quién es vietnamita, y Maxine, quién es china:

Once upon a time there was a monkey go in the princess house. Because the princess fall down, the baby cry and Mommy helpeded the baby. And then ’cause the window fall on the people. Danny eat food with his Mommy. And then the baby cried.

[Érase una vez había un mono ir en la casa princesa.  Porque la princesa se caer, el bebé llorar y Mamá ayudodado al bebé.  Y entonces porque la ventana caer en la gente.  Danny comer comida con su Mamá.  Y entonces el bebé lloró.]

El cuento contiene errores, pero es comunicativo.  En esta historia las estudiantes están explorando los conceptos de peligro y de ayudar.  ¿Qué es el significado de caer?  ¿Cómo afecta a la gente?  El bebé lloró cuando la princesa se cayó, entonces la madre ayudó al bebé, pero no a la princesa.  Y cuando la ventana se cayó sobre la gente, el bebé lloró otra vez, pero Danny y su madre comieron, inconscientes de la ventana.  El bebé fue la personaje más importante del cuento, y las palabras las ayudan describir esto.

Y también las niñas descubrieron que las palabras escritas son diferentes de las palabras orales.  Vygotsky manifesta que, “En el lenguaje escrito, como el tono de la voz y el conocimiento del tema están excluidos, nos vemos obligados a usar muchas más palabras y de modo más exacto” (2012, p. 166).  ¿Por qué el bebé lloró?  Porque la princesa se cayó y entonces la ventana cayó sobre la gente.

Y estas dos estudiantes de culturas diferentes encontraron algo común en esta tema.  En ambas culturas, los bebés lloran y las madres los ayudan.  Para Nhung, también pudo traducir la palabra “baby” (bebé) en vietnamita.  Maxine no pudo traducir la palabra en el momento, pero después vendría a disfrutar de traducir palabras al chino.  Y hacía.

Y las palabras son muy importantes.  Vygotsky nos dice, “el uso de la palabra es una parte integral del proceso de desarrollo, que mantiene su función directriz en la formación de los conceptos genuinos, a los que conducen estos procesos” (2012, p. 101).  Porque palabras son tan importante para el desarrollo, es importante que los niños las encuentran frequentamente en su idioma nativo.  Tengo libros en todos los idiomas de mis estudiantes.

Éste será la tema del próximo mes, donde hablaré del libro Reading Magic por Mem Fox.  Si hay un libro que le gustaría que yo discutirse en este blog, por favor comente en la página de Recommended Reading.


Fox, M. (2008). Reading magic: Why reading aloud to our children will change their lives forever, updated and revised edition. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Publishing.

Vygotsky, L.S. (2012 [1934]). Pensamiento y lenguaje (J. Itzigsohn, Tran. & Ed.). Mexico City, Mexico: Ediciones Quinto Sol.

Teaching in 2 Languages: A Guide for K-12 Bilingual Educators – Reyes & Kleyn

(en español)


Teaching in 2 Languages - Reyes, Kleyn 2010Since I first began teaching more than seven years ago, I have had students who have spoken more than a dozen languages.  My students over the years have spoken Amharic, Arabic, Cantonese, English, French, Hebrew, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Punjabi, Spanish, Tagalog, Urdu, and Vietnamese.   According to Sharon Adelman Reyes and Tatyana Kleyn, “All teachers can and must find ways to show students that their languages and cultures are not just valuable tools for learners, but valuable parts of who they are” (2010, p. 39).  I have always valued the diversity of my students and sought to learn bits of their languages while they were in my care, and in more recent years have encouraged my students to do the same.  By demonstrating an interest in their language, I am also demonstrating that it has value and helping to curb the attitudes such as those found by Josie Freeman and Rebeca Madrigal in which “Not all of the families believe that learning their native language is an asset to their academic and personal growth” (2010, p. 124).

Because of my investment in connecting with my students and learning the languages spoken in my classroom, I am generally able to find parents willing to mentor me in their language.  But one year is not enough time for me to become fluent in a language from these few bits and pieces picked up from students and their families before they move on to another classroom.  Greater depth is needed and, while my community may predominantly use one culture or another, it is always but a pocket within an English-speaking world and my encounters with my mentor parents are too sporadic to be effective.  The act still held value in that “When we consider carefully what families bring, by conducting home visits or even just by asking questions, we find that parents can contribute to a wide range of content areas by sharing their real-world experiences” (2010, p. 146), but for my personal path as a language learner it was not enough.  I used to speak Spanish fairly well in early childhood, but even that language has eluded me through these basic interactions.  As Reyes and Kleyn reveal, “when there are aspects that differ from one language to the next, explicit instruction becomes necessary” (2010, p. 98).

However, language instruction programs usually require either attending classes (which can be complicated to work into a schedule that already includes both college and teaching), or paying a great deal of money for programs like Rosetta Stone.  However, just over four months ago I discovered a free program called Duolingo.  It was created only about a year before I found it, and its educational model uses translation of sentences to teach the language.  As you become more advanced you are encouraged to help translate articles from the internet (regular readers may have noticed over the past several months that I have been adding comments to my older posts which read “Thanks to the assistance of the Duolingo language community, this post is now available in Spanish / Gracias a la comunidad lingüística Duolingo, este publicación está ahora disponible en español”).

I was skeptical of the instructional model in the beginning.  After all, based on my knowledge of language instruction I feared that translation-only instruction was not an effective pedagogical method.  Elizabeth Silva indicates that it is also important to “incorporate links to prior knowledge, preview unfamiliar vocabulary, and provide visuals” (2010, p. 129).  However, as I was making a dedicated effort to learn the language, and I didn’t limit myself to Duolingo’s pedagogical strategies, I found it to be quite an effective primary learning tool.  I continued to follow my usual course of trying to learn all the languages of my students, including Spanish, by talking to them and their families.  I would also occasionally call up my Chilean relatives, play games like Scrabble in Spanish, and engage in online conversations in Spanish with other Duolingo users.  I found that as time went on I was able to communicate more and more effectively with my Spanish speaking students and their families.

I vividly remember the moment one of my students came up to me out of the blue and asked me, “¿Qué estás haciendo?” to which I replied, without even realizing the student had spoken in Spanish, “I’m putting away the food.”  We both laughed when we realized what had just happened.  Not only does this moment reflect a defining point of progress in my own development, it also represents one in that student’s as well.  When I first met this student they had attempted to deny that they spoke anything other than English.  Since that time the student has not only acknowledged that they speak Spanish, but even gotten to the point of code switching in the classroom.  Reyes and Kleyn reveal that “The extent to which a person actively alternates between cultures determines the ease with which competency in both cultures will be maintained” (2010, p. 33).

In addition to the language learning strategies I have already mentioned using to help me learn Spanish, I have also taken to reading to myself in Spanish.  At first it was a few books from my collection of children’s books, but the vocabulary in those books was rather limited.  While I realize that, as Reyes and Kleyn reveal, “learning vocabulary, unlike learning the phonological or morphological system of a language, is a never-ending process” (2010, p. 76), I wanted to do as much as I could to facilitate my vocabulary growth as I reached the more advanced stages of the structural knowledge I gained from Duolingo, so at a certain point I made a decision that I would find something with more advanced language that would also captivate my interest.  After asking a few bilingual teachers and getting suggestions that only partially appealed to my interest, I discovered that a book written in Russian and translated twice into English, and one that was the topic of the post that launched this blog, was available in Spanish as well.

As I read Vygotsky’s Pensamiento y Lenguaje (2012) in the classroom during our independent reading time, many children have taken to looking at it as well.  The idea that “children need to read to learn and not only learn to read” (2010, p. 69) is reinforced when the children see me reading an informational text and they decide to pick it up themselves, not because it has exciting pictures as the other books in the classroom do (which it does not), but because reading is an inherently noteworthy act.

It is my hope that, after taking a trip to Mexico to solidify my conversational skills this summer, I will obtain my bilingual endorsement and begin truly learning yet another language spoken by my students.  Duolingo has helped me to see that it is possible to learn a complete language rather than just a few simple words and phrases that are useful in the classroom.  Seeing how much I have learned from Duolingo in Spanish, I am constantly in search of bilingual people to help Duolingo develop courses for some of the other languages spoken by my students.  Currently it only offers courses in four of the fifteen languages mentioned at the beginning of this post, with bilinguals currently contributing to two others.  That leaves another nine languages with no foreseeable means to learn them in the same manner as I have now learned Spanish, but perhaps by the time I have learned those six languages the other nine will either be available or I will have discovered another free pedagogical source as effective as Duolingo.

In the meantime, I will continue reading and learning in Spanish.  I hope to have finished reading Pensamiento y Lenguaje in time to make it the topic of my one year anniversary blog post next month, which I hope to write in Spanish as well.  If you have other books you would like to see me discuss in the future, please comment on the Recommended Reading page.


Reyes, S.A. & T. Kleyn. (2010). Teaching in 2 languages: A guide for K-12 bilingual educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Vygotsky, L.S. (2012 [1934]). Pensamiento y lenguaje (J. Itzigsohn, Ed. & Tran.). Tlaxpana, México: Ediciones Quinto Sol.