How I Tried to Motivate Students to Read At Home- An old fashioned experiment

Like so many of us teachers, I was having difficulty with students not receiving higher scores on their district and state reading tests. The area that has the most direct impact on these scores is determined by whether or not a student spends time reading outside of class. Many of my middle school ELL students enter 6th grade either on reading level or already behind. From my experience this gap seldom closes. The only time I’ve seen it do so is if students read regularly at home. Reading years below grade level concerns me not only because of its effects academically, but economically as well. A lower reading ability reduces one’s access to higher paying jobs and potentially leads to areas of disenfranchisement.

In the past I would keep track of reading minutes each day & tie it to their grade, set & calculated their goals, had class celebrations, conferenced endlessly, gave PowerPoint presentations tying reading levels to future jobs, earnings potential and state test scores. I contacted parents about the importance of reading as well as sent book boxes/set home with families. But none of that seemed to help. Reading scores continue to decrease or become stagnate. The only things seemingly going up was stress and frustration on everyone’s part. I decided to try a different approach and see how many more students I could get on board with reading more regularly at home for longer periods of time because they wanted to, not because they had to. I didn’t want to overly complicate things. So I went with the old-fashioned yet highly researched idea of ‘right fit books’ and student driven/input.

Second semester, I focused on a group of 5, 7th graders (2 boys & 3 girls). I had students give suggestions of books they read and loved, genres they liked, books other kids in their classes enjoyed as well as searched websites for reviews. I also contacted our library professionals to offer suggestions and help me put together little sets. The class decided to split (boys/girls) and read 2 different books. Besides finding a book I wanted to let the kids know that I too in my busy schedule could find time to read right along with them. The key for all of us was not to make it seems like homework or a chore, but that it something fun for us to do together. So I didn’t take score or keep points. We would read for leisure at a pace that worked for us each week. In the process, I also didn’t want to take up much class time since we already had set units we still had to cover. So we decided on short check-ins where we would as a group we would determine the number of pages/chapters we would complete for the next week. We would also share/discuss what  was surprising/inspiring/upsetting/thrilling/etc. so far in the story. This process fostered students’ connections and offered them access to knowledge/ideas/vocab/concepts which helped them to better link information from various angles and subject matter. It also gave us a new relationship with books and each other. We develop a deepened level of trust and understanding as well as attempted to increase reading confidence and motivation.

Unfortunately though, this doesn’t have a Hollywood ending. Not all students were reading regularly in their free time nor did their district benchmark test scores skyrocket.  But I did have some successes. Four of the 5 students finished the book. Of the 4 who finished, 3 of them went on to read other books outside of our little book club. One stopped reading only graphic novels and moved on to 300+ page books with complicated plots. By the end of the semester she raised her reading by another whole grade level. Two other students didn’t raise their test scores but they did find a genre of book that they really enjoy and went on to read 2-3 more books. One realized she liked teen romance and that other discovered through our book club that he loves books about WWII. The latter commented “This type of book makes me feel like I’m right in the story! It is really hard to put it down. I actually didn’t play GTA last night. I read this instead.”  Three of the 5 also said they were playing around/spacing out less in their ELA classes and taking more advantage of the silent reading time their teacher was giving them. The two that didn’t read any more books outside of class did however go to the library on several occasions trying to find a book/genre/author that interests them. Unfortunately, we are going to have to keep looking. But I have hope and plan to try it out again next year.


Does This Sound Familiar? Did this happen to you to?

Using your past experiences & the future to shape your present…

We have all had learning experiences in the past that have shaped us as people and caused us to act as we do in the present. We can reflect on specific persons we want to emulate or situations we want to repeat. Then of course there are those that we do not wish to imitate and try to avoid. In deciding what to do, we can try not only to look at the past but also the future. Like when creating a lesson, we can apply backwards design to determine our behavior by thinking of what we want to accomplish and how we want to be perceived. Then we can act in a manner that fits with how we want to lead our lives and our teaching.

I was looking back on one of my own experiences as a language learner. My instructors relied on a healthy dose of the grammar approach. They emphasized rule memorization. There was a great deal of repetition and drill and of course sprinkled in was a lot of error correction. Grammatical mastery was definitely the underlying basis of the program, or at least it seemed. It was prescriptive and orderly, leading us first through how to navigate the simple present. Then we were on to the future and simple past tenses. I mastered conjugation pretty well, on paper that is. I also knew a lot of basic vocabulary, phrases and idioms. Yet ask me to be a part of a sustained conversation? That would send me into a panic for fear of my verbal message would not be accurate. When I read and wrote I could take time to comb through the material over and over again, perfecting my message. But speaking?! That was immediate and virtually unfiltered. Spontaneous! That was nerve wracking for me. Why so? From my perspective it was because of the over use of grammar correction.

Please know that I’m an advocate of including grammar into curricula. But what I am not an advocate of is using grammar as a basis/foundation for excessive correction. On a professional level my instructors were passionate about teaching language and came prepared each day. On a personal level they were kind and I sincerely enjoyed their company. They definitely had qualities I would want to emulate. I don’t believe they came to work with the intention of creating an anxiety ridden student who avoided conversations at all cost. But it happened.

The types of learner personality and inner conflicts that students have as pre-college students don’t go away as they enter a university’s door. Being older often only solidifies them. All students are different and we have to rise to the occasion to try to accommodate each of them. In this case of teacher correction, some students take to the task and seek to push onward. Some students will turn off, tune out and drop out of the class. In my case, I wouldn’t drop out because I love language but I was genuinely distressed by my lack of perfection and not to mention concern over disappointing my instructor. From my standpoint, the perpetual correction of my verbal attempts sent me this message, “I don’t understand you. You don’t make sense.”

For those of us who fall into this category of learner, the intense focus on correction created a sense that linguistic perfection must first be attained before basic communication can begin. Unfortunately, often I didn’t understand why or what was being corrected. No mnemonic devices or other strategies were offered to help me construct my own interlanguage. What I implicitly gathered from their feedback was that “I was incomprehensible.”  Subsequently my affective filter increased and my confidence decreased.

This obviously has stuck with me. And I know that things and times have certainly changed with such additions as the communicative paradigm to the list of teaching approaches. But now that I’m the language teacher, I always have some things in the back of my mind when I work with students which are based off of my past experiences as well as what I want to accomplish with students and how I want to be perceived. First and foremost I listen to their message.  Second is to be mindful of the various types of students I serve and try to match my teaching to their learning. Third is to be selective of but consistent with which errors I choose to correct. And lastly is to provide ways via techniques/strategies to help make abstract grammatical concepts more concrete and comprehensible.

I think that reflecting on our past experiences both the good and the bad, as well as developing a backwards plan of what we want to accomplish with our students and how we want to be perceived makes a difference in those around us. We can’t jump into the heads or futures of our students, but we can make choices which have an impact now so that when they do reflect on their experiences, they look back and think of us as being someone they want to emulate and an experience they think is worth repeating.


A Sharing Session/Interview with Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson on Differentiation

 Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson is many things- intelligent, innovative and dedicated. But she is also funny, down to earth and a good listener.  She has all the makings of a great communicator. She draws you in and makes you want to hear what she has to say. Her views and writings on Differentiation are known world-wide and rightfully so. She is one of the major pioneers in education to date and for that we are forever grateful for her insights and talents.

In my conversation with Dr.Tomlinson, you can only guess that our discussion had to touch upon Differentiation. Knowing many teachers and schools who use ability grouping as one of their approaches to meet the needs of their students, I posed the question: “Is it ever OK to pull students out or separate them according to ability?” 

Dr.Tomlinson’s overall view simply put is…….

“No.”  She believes that it is best to start as a whole group and stay that way as much as possible.  She went on to describe an elementary school where she had been invited to observe.  The answer to my question became clearer as she began to describe 3 classrooms, each one different from the next.

The first classroom was learning about shapes, area and perimeter. The teacher lead and perhaps there were worksheets involved, “But you could tell there was no joy. No enthusiasm.” She went on to describe the second class. “The class was moving shapes around on an overhead or Smartboard.” They were looking at volume and area, discussing if they should “make the fence bigger for a dog, etc.” Then there was the third classroom.  She said, “Before I opened the door, I knew this was where it was at! It was full of enthusiasm!” She went on to explain that “the kids were told to design a zoo. They were to figure out how big the animals’ space was supposed to be and how much water was needed. They also needed to figure out stores to help bring in funds to the zoo. And also to keep in mind that the overall space was tight because the zoo was a set size.”

She asked me to guess which class what which. My response was correct, but I have to admit that I was not happy, nor proud of myself for knowing the answer to this particular question.  The third class was for the ‘advanced/challenged’ math students. The second had the average kids and first class had the low/below average students. And if I went on further, I’m sure that these groupings weren’t just for math, but also spilled over into other subjects as well. She continued to explain that all the teachers were “good teachers and well prepared.” But in the end “the students knew where the joy had gone. They self-identify and identify each other.” They say to themselves, “I know I’m no good at math. Or we are average. Or we get to do cool stuff.” 

She pointed out that the rich zoo scenario could be made for all students to be a part of.  The students should all stay together and the structure put into place to support all the kids. Students can have the choice, for example which animal habitat to focus on and what the store will sell. But there should also be additional supports for kids who have more difficulty such as providing the questions in a specific order, formulas for figuring out area and perimeter as well as providing calculators for them to use. Dr. Tomlinson went on to stress the importance of not seating the same level kids next to each other most of the time. She suggested, “to change them out and keep track so that they can’t figure out which group they are in. The key,” she added, “is to keep it flexible. Work at their reading and readiness level, but also bring them back together with choices of how they want to show what they know via the mode of presentation. They don’t need to be locked into a group.”

Lastly she stressed that “Differentiation is not tracking kids in a classroom” but providing the support all students need to be successful within the regular classroom. If you would like to read more about how to incorporate Differentiation in your classroom check out You will find information on instructional strategies, as well as Dr. Tomlinson’s upcoming presentations or any of her wonderful books. Of course feel free to pose questions to or post questions on the Forum


To Refer or Not to Refer Internationally Adopted Children by Dr. Deborah Hwa-Froelich

 Deborah Hwa-Froelich’s article delivers important information on an essential question when working with international adoptees: How does one identify children who need to be referred for testing from those who do not need additional services? Those of us who have worked with international adoptees and their families know that it isn’t an easy question to answer. Initially the main focus both parents and educators have is on learning English, basic communication and settling in to know one another. But when other issues surface, the question arises as to when testing for further services is warranted. Often schools don’t want to interfere until the student has learned English. That might work with your typical ELL student, but international adoptees are indeed different. How we approach meeting their needs also must to be different. Read the article below to find out what Dr. Hwa-Froelich recommends educators do to best help their students.   For more information about Dr. Hwa-Froelich or the International Adoption Clinic at Saint Louis University, see Deborah Hwa-Froelich’s webpage.

  To Refer or not to Refer: Internationally Adopted Children

 Deborah A. Hwa-Froelich, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

 Professor and Director of the International Adoption Clinic at Saint Louis University

There are close to 300,000 internationally adopted children in the US with many more families adopting children from different countries. Children are being adopted from Asian, Eastern European, African, and Central and South American countries. So they represent children who have been exposed to many different languages and cultures. In addition, because children are typically adopted from orphanage environments, parents often expect their children to present with nutritional, physical, and developmental delays. Understandably, parents wish to immediately take care of any medical needs their children have but may be reluctant to assess or identify any possible learning or developmental problems. Parents may enlist the help of English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors as their first resource thinking that their children are similar to other English Language Learners (ELL). Thus, ESL and regular education teachers are in the position of determining when internationally adopted children should be referred for special education assessment or services.

Internationally adopted children represent a different kind of English Language Learner. Children adopted from abroad are often adopted by families who do not speak their children’s birth language and may not represent the same cultural background. As a consequence, their children stop listening to and speaking their birth language and begin focusing on acquiring a second first language without the assistance of their birth language. In this case, the children are not bilingual speakers but become monolingual speakers of English starting acquisition at a later age. For most children adopted into English-speaking families before the age of 6, they quickly acquire the English phonology, vocabulary and comprehension (Glennen, 2007,2009; Hwa-Froelich & Matsuo, 2010; Pollock, 2007). However, their expressive English development tends to lag behind norms on English standardized assessments and in comparison to the performance of their peers (Cohen, Lojkasek, Zadeh, Pugliese, & Kiefer 2008; Gauthier & Genesee, 2010; Glennen, Rosinsky-Grunhut, & Tracy, 2005).  Other researchers have documented problems with sentence comprehension as well as visual working memory problems (Desmarais, Roeber, Smith, & Pollak, 2012). A recent study comparing 22 studies and 29 participant subgroups found that language delay persisted across the lifespan for many international adoptees (Scott, Roberts, & Glennen, 2011). Possible reasons for this persistent delay may be related to exposure of early adverse care at a critical period of communication development and/or the disruption in language acquisition the children experience following adoption into a new language and culture. In either case, these children are at higher risk of language delay or disorder as well as learning problems affecting academic achievement.

In spite of these findings, there are many children adopted from different countries who develop similar to their nonadopted peers. This raises the question of how does one identify children who need to be referred for testing from those who do not need additional services? There have been several studies documenting early English language acquisition in preschool-aged internationally adopted children (Glennen, 2007; Hwa-Froelich & Matsuo, 2010, Pollock, 2007). These studies provide guidelines and data showing rapid acquisition of English vocabulary comprehension and expression as well as means and standard deviations of performance on English standardized assessments. In general, if any internationally adopted child demonstrates a slow rate of English vocabulary comprehension (age equivalencies lower than English-speaking peers) or expression (< 2 years old produce fewer than 50 words in 1st month; > 2 years old fewer than 340 words in 1st year, Hwa-Froelich, 2011a) or is highly unintelligible, they should be referred for further testing by a speech-language pathologist. If a child demonstrates unusual or poor nonverbal communication, or symbolic play, they should be referred for further testing. Other related behaviors include internalizing (passive, moody, anxious) or externalizing (impulsive, inattentive, overly friendly, excessive talking, or aggressive) behaviors, these are indications that the child may need special services from a child or clinical psychologist.

For children adopted at older ages, 8 years old and older, their birth language is more developed and the influence of their birth language on acquisition of the adopted language will be more pronounced. These children will demonstrate typical first language interference errors in English phonology and syntax. If parents provide continued instruction in the birth language, these children’s language development will be similar to other bilingual second language learners. If, however, the parents do not provide support in the birth language, the children will show rapid attrition of their birth language as well as rapid acquisition of the adopted language.

Early intervention is instrumental in helping children reduce or eliminate learning problems. Therefore it is important for professionals such as ESL instructors to identify as early as possible children who may benefit from early intervention.  It is possible for speech-language pathologists, child or clinical psychologists and early childhood special educators to assess and determine whether internationally adopted children are eligible for special services based on the current level of published evidence (for a review see Hwa-Froelich, 2011b).

Cohen, N. J., Lojkasek, M., Zadeh, Z. Y., Pugliese, M., & Kiefer, H. (2008). Children adopted from China: a prospective study of their growth and development. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(4), 458-468. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01853.x

Desmarais, C., Roeber, B. J., Smith, M. E., & Pollak, S. D. (2012). Sentence comprehension in postinstitutionalized school-age children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 55, 45-54. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2011/10-0246.

 Glennen, S. (2007). Predicting language outcomes for internationally adopted children.

Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 50, 529-548. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2007/036)

 Glennen, S. (2009). Speech and language guidelines for children adopted from abroad at older ages. Topics in Language Disorders, 29(1), 50-64.


 Glennen, S., Rosinsky-Grunhut, A., & Tracy, R. (2005). Linguistic interference between L1 and L2 in internationally adopted children, Seminars in speech and Language, 26(1), 64-75.

 Hwa-Froelich, D. A. (2011). Prelinguistic, receptive and expressive language development. In D. A. Hwa-Froelich Supporting development of internationally adopted children (Pp. 149-176). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

 Hwa-Froelich, D. A. (2011). Supporting development of internationally adopted children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

 Hwa-Froelich, D. A., & Matsuo, H. (2010). Communication development and differences in children adopted from China and Eastern Europe. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 41, 1-18. doi:10.1044/0161-1461(2009/08-0085)

Pollock, K. E. (2007). Speech acquisition in second first language learners (Children who were adopted internationally). In S. McLeod International guide to speech acquisition (Pp. 107-112). New York: Thompson-Delmar Learning.

Scott, K. A., Roberts, J. A., & Glennen, S. (2011). How well do children who are internationally adopted acquire language? A meta-analysis. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54, 1153-1169. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2010/10-0075)

More about the author:  Dr. Hwa-Froelich is the Director of the International Adoption Clinic at Saint Louis University. She has her Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Her work focuses on the inter-relationship between social factors influencing communication development.  She has studied the influence of culture, poverty, maternal-child interactions, maternal mental health, and disrupted development on child learning. What I appreciate most is that Dr. Hwa-Froelich stresses working together with all stake holders in a child’s life. She engages in interdisciplinary research and seeks collaborative relationships with educators, counselors, pediatricians, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and public health faculty as well as community leaders.  She concentrates on socio-cultural, socioeconomic, and social-emotional factors that impact children’s communication development.

She is currently working on three projects studying: 1) memory and social language development of internationally adopted children, 2) language development of internationally adopted children, and 3) generational shifts in learning attitudes and behaviors of undergraduate and graduate students majoring in communication sciences and disorders.

For more information about Dr. Hwa-Froelich or the International Adoption Clinic at Saint Louis University, see Deborah Hwa-Froelich’s webpage.






          “When Did Teaching Grammar Become Such a Dirty Subject?” 

Do you feel a little guilty when teaching grammar to your students? Do you teach grammar more that you admit to in your professional circles? What happened in our profession that has caused this anchor of language to become a ‘dirty’ subject? Why is there such a stigma in our profession?

How did we get to this point? 

If your first foreign/second language learning experience came about in high school or college, there is a high probability that the grammar approach surrounded the core of your learning. Chances are you memorized lists of rules and participated in repetition and drills. It is very likely that your teachers strove for linguistic accuracy in combination with a lot of error correction. Grammatical mastery was a foundation of your learning. It was neat and tidy, prescriptive and orderly. First you learned the simple present tense. That was followed by the future tense, then past tense and subjunctive tenses, etc.  You may have learned your tenses well, and a lot of basic vocabulary, phrases and idioms, but were terrified to utter a word for fear of miscommunication and more correction.

Your well-meaning teachers provided a constant stream of corrective feedback, searching for linguistic accuracy. Unfortunately, you were not really sure what your errors were. What you did derive from their information was that “my message must be incomprehensible!” Your affective filter increased and your confidence decreased.

When you went to school to become an ESL teacher, you probably learned a ‘new’ and exciting paradigm: the communicative approach. Ah, the wondrousness of it! You were captivated by the idea of communicating a message and not focusing on grammatical perfection! Sigh of relief!

Later you found yourself prepared to teach your own class of language learners. You based your teaching on the idea of communicating. You brought in realia and created real world situations for students to acquire their new language. You were and still are very student oriented and utilize proven teaching strategies. But as you become a more seasoned teacher you realized the importance of grammar in building communicative competence and fluency. YIKES! Now what???

Do we need grammar?

As you might recall, grammar actually consists of many different parts of language. It includes phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics. As all languages have a grammar system, then you can easily say that languages wouldn’t exist without grammar. Grammar and language are a synonymous relationship. And when you really look at it, if you teach your students about the alphabet, how to read and write or about the meanings of words, then you ARE teaching grammar!

Most of the time when ESL teachers are talking about the dreaded ‘grammar’, we are referring to 2 components of grammar in particular; syntax and morphology.  Somehow these have become the big grammar ‘no-nos’. I think this occurred for several reasons. The first is that those of us who learned a second language in high school and college under the grammar approach may still have some discomfort and perhaps even a little distain for grammar. Another reason is due to the communicative approach being so ingrained in us. It made us happy to throw aside the smaller bits and pieces of language to focus mostly on the overall message. Lastly I think that these smaller, discrete pieces of language like morphology (plurals, verb tense conjugation) are just very difficult to teach! We don’t have a lot of resources that are fun and easy to implement. So we shy away from teaching it at all. Yet at the same time as we move through our teaching careers and as our students are moving through our classes year after year, we discover more and more that these pieces of grammar are a very important part of learning a language.

Has the communicative paradigm hindered students’?

The communicative paradigm has created a generation of better communicators. But I also think that the focus on holistic communication has had its downsides.  We want students to focus on conveying and understanding messages. This has been a huge plus in our profession. Yet I think we have to keep in mind that when students listen holistically, they glean the basic meaning from the information around them. In doing so, they are listening in a very general way. Therefore when it comes to the smaller pieces of language, the details like morphology, they are missing those refined parts of language. It is a boost for our students and our profession to have second language learners be better able to convey and interpret messages. At the same time, we could further strengthen our programs and our students’ linguistic competence by incorporating more systematic grammar instruction. A big part to this new reality is retraining students to hear the smaller, discrete points of language. We need to teach our students how to understand and convey to the larger message but also provide opportunities for them to listen and use smaller pieces within the message as well.

So now what?

When looking at syntax and morphology, I think we are doing a better job at teaching syntax in general. I contribute this to a couple of reasons. First as nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. are larger ‘pieces’ or ‘units’, they are easier to maneuver in a similar pattern across various sentence structures. Secondly, there are numerous high interest materials for teachers to use like games, word order picture cards and color-coded systems. These resources help us teach syntax and make it more concrete for our students.

On the other hand, there are not as many fun and interesting resources to teach discrete grammar points like plural /s/, irregular past tense verbs, etc. Most of the time there are the same ‘old fashioned’ resources like the ones that we used when we were learning our first foreign language. They consist of the typical grammar approach framework; a page with multiple grammar points listed, followed by repeat and drill written exercises. Ugh! No wonder the disdain and discomfort!  What continues to make learning and teaching these discrete grammar points so difficult is that there are so few resources that supply a framework and scaffolding techniques to show students how to use the correct forms. Hence the disdain and discomfort continue!

What to do?

With syntax and morphology in mind, reread your students writing and take note of what your students say. In a relatively quick analysis you can easily come up with a few initial areas of focus. Select the misuses that jump out at you as being the most frequent. Then teach mini-lessons using techniques which incorporate all four modalities (reading, writing, speaking and listening). It works best when the techniques are based around a framework or structure which helps students learn discrete grammar points. That way the framework for distinct grammar points can be applied or weaved into other lessons. The framework will help make the abstract grammatical concepts more concrete which aids in increased recall and application. At the same, to further cement learning, incorporate students’ existing knowledge of English and connect with their first language. This will keep students’ affective filter low and their confidence intact. By having this framework incorporated into everything they do, students turn to this scaffold as a natural part of their language process and usage; until they no longer need to use it as their proficiency increases.

When creating techniques and teaching students keep the following in mind:

1. Incorporate all modalities (reading, writing, listening & speaking) – Aids in cementing the correct forms. Working mostly from one modality will not supply adequate transfer to other modalities.

3. Connect to Ll – Enables students to see how language works and how making these types of misuses are ‘normal’ J

4. Use explicit feedback- Assists in raising awareness and self-correction placing the learning in the students hands.

5. Make it fun and connect to what they know- Keeps motivation high.

6. Provide structure or framework- Makes abstract concepts concrete and supports recall.

7. Focus on student strengths and prior knowledge- Prevents damage to student motivation and self-esteem. Show what they DO know.

8. Train students to stop, think and apply a grammar technique or strategy- Facilitates breaking the cycle of old habits and forming better ones.

This may be a lot to take in, but we would be happy to provide examples or be a sounding board for your own ideas on strategies and techniques. IF you have any questions, would like some specific examples of frameworks to help you OR if you have frameworks/best practices you want to share with others please contact us!! We would be happy to get the word out.



                                                   International Adoptees – Not your typical ELLs…

Like many ESL teachers, I have had an influx of students from all over the world. With each and every new wave of families, we have to adapt and learn how to best serve them.  Over the last decade, I have been working more and more with students who were adopted internationally.  At one point, twenty percent of my students were international adoptees.

I soon realized that even though these students came from homes that spoke English, there were many issues that needed to be addressed and remediated. Just because the parents spoke English, it didn’t mean that they understood the linguistic, emotional or educational needs that come to bear when adopting a child internationally.  Nor did these loving parents understand or know what the best course of action was to help their child. They often turned to the school, who then looked to me… the lonely ESL Teacher, to find answers for these struggling families.So I began to sift through dozens of articles to prepare myself for the task.

One author who turned our questions into answers was Dr. Boris Gindis.  He is a developmental psychologist based in New York, who specializes in working with international adoptees and their families.  Dr. Gindis writes in a way that is clinically based, yet very easy to understand. What’s more, he has generously contributed dozens of articles online as well as posted his responses to parent questions.  Dr. Gindis’s contributions and expertise are invaluable and much appreciated.

An article in particular for ESL Teachers and Educators is linked below. He explains that one of the main differences between the needs of our typical ELL students and international adoptees is that they are never actually bi-lingual.  Dr. Gindis also suggests we need to shift towards a more remedial service delivery when working with international adoptees. To read more of his enlightening  article and learn more about the types of services he provides, click below.


MORE ARTICLES listed by topic at the Post Adoption Learning Center (PAL) website:–Ph-D-/2

YES MORE ARTICLES listed by topic at the Center for Cognitive-Developmental Assessment & Remediation website:

When Pull Comes to Push: Co-Teaching from Both Sides of the Door

We recently had a posting on the Forum about “How to Make Push-In Programs Work.” How timely that our next Featured Author, Liz Warner, writes about ‘Push-In Programs vs. Co-Teaching’.  In a climate of shared and responsible teaching for ESL/ELL students by all stakeholders in a school, it is important to reconsider how we deliver the ‘Push-In’ model. I often find myself in the quandery of “What do I do when I’m in another teacher’s classroom? What is the best way to organize and structure our time to have the greatest impact on student learning?” In reading Liz’s article, I learned that there are several approaches to Co-Teaching. However there is one feature that ties them all together and is the key to its success.

Liz Warner is a teacher leader who is dedicated to helping other teachers. She has been working in education for over 30 years. Liz has won numerous awards as a teacher including Outstanding Young Educator, Pythian Sisters Outstanding Teaching Award, The Artemis Award, National Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and Teacher of the Year. Liz has worked with Pearson, Inc. as one of the National Faculty for SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol). In 2005, Liz started Warner Education, LLC, to meet the needs of mainstream classroom teachers challenged by ELLs in their classrooms. Liz has spoken at many national and international conferences and in the process has trained thousands of teachers over the years.

After reading, share YOUR Push-In/Co-Teaching experiences in the Everyone, Stop & Look section of the site. Also check out her website at

When Pull Comes to Push: Co-Teaching from Both Sides of the Door

                                             By Liz Warner

About 3 years ago, while serving as an ESL Program Coordinator in Reno, NV, I began to hear a lot of administrators profess how “pushing in for ESL was better than pulling out.” I am unsure how this became a pervasive sentiment for our elementary schools, but most of our 65 elementary schools started asking ESL teachers to “push in” to classrooms.

What I quickly realized was that there was a huge problem…. ESL teachers had no idea of how to go into someone else’s classroom! They had been so used to living in their closets behind the kitchens of our schools that to move into a classroom and find their place was difficult. They did not want to step on the toes of the classroom teacher. After all, it was not their classroom. Many of our ESL teachers almost begged to be allowed to again pull students out of the classroom. They knew how to DO that!

Not only did ESL teachers not know how to push into a classroom, but the classroom teacher did not know how to have another certified teacher work in their rooms. Many times, ESL teachers were directed to sit at a table in a corner with ELLs and to “keep those kids on track” while the teacher taught. Sometimes, the ESL teacher was asked to take the role of a teacher’s assistant, which obviously did not go over well with ESL teachers. Sometimes, the ESL teacher would show up and say, “What do you want me to do today?”, essentially taking the role of an assistant.

Did I say “BIG PROBLEM”? I started looking for training so that I could help both our ESL teachers and our classroom teachers. There was NOTHING out there. SO, I decided to develop my own training for teachers.

I liken co-teaching to an arranged marriage. In other cultures, there is a process for an arranged marriage. While you may not get a choice of who you will work with, your path can be paved to be a bit easier for you both.

BEFORE Co-Teaching

Planning, Planning, Planning! Oh, did I mention PLANNING? A great deal needs to be settled before coteaching. Teachers need to settle all those intangible things that kids seem to pick up on regarding parity between teachers. How will we handle discipline? Pencil sharpening?

If two teachers are to co-teach, which model will you both be comfortable with? Will you be “supportive co-teachers” in which one person takes the lead in teaching while the others rotate among students to offer support? Will you parallel teach, each taking a small group, as in centers or stations? How about complementary co-teaching in which one teacher adds or complements the teaching of another, such as modeling note-taking while the other teacher teaches the class about note-taking? These two teachers are both working on the same lesson, and supporting each other. Team teachers divide the lesson and often “tag team” the lesson. This method takes more planning but all methods are effective if the teachers work collaboratively together to plan the lesson. This means that co-teachers should have common planning time with their teachers. Sometimes, at an elementary school, this is difficult, but it is a must that teachers have face-to-face time to plan.

DURING Co-Teaching

Teachers work their plan during teaching. No one gets a “break”. Whatever the plan, both teachers are teaching, no matter the model they have chosen for that day’s lesson. Both are respectful of the other teacher and working toward showing students how LUCKY they are to have TWO teachers.

AFTER Co-Teaching

Teachers reflect on the lesson and how well they worked together. Was what they did best for kids? Teachers make adjustments and commit to work the plan and revisit their plan in a few weeks.

I’ve had some wonderful comments from teachers who have attended my workshop and are now co-teaching instead of “pushing in”. If you want to know more about the workshop, do contact me at or visit my website at .

Liz Warner, MA


Creating Collaborative Cultures 

Featured Author- Dr. Bev Nance on “Collaboration”,   Originally Posted September, 2011

As ESL Answers impetus is in collaborating with other ESL/ELL Professionals, it is fitting that the focus of our first article be on ‘collaboration’. This topic is so important not only in the confines of this website, but also in our professional practice. We may find ourselves weary of getting ‘too involved’ in students’ problems because we are uncomfortable with the expectation that we are the sole individual with ‘all the answers’. Or we may find ourselves jumping in head first, maneuvering our way around others in attempt to produce a solution. No matter the situation, the best case scenario which will produce the most impact on student learning is having others to help carry the problem through to its resolution. We need to work together with staff in our buildings to help change the culture from one which puts ESL/ELL Teachers as the lone steward to find solutions for all ELL students, to a school culture of shared, responsible leadership.

 Dr. Bev Nance is a principal, teacher, leader, consultant and author. She brings a wealth of knowledge     and experience to the table and is considerate enough to share that with us.  Dr. Nance has co-authored a book called Principals Who Learn. She said “We spent a good amount of time deciding on the title. Most of the key ideas in the book pertain to all educators in general. Whether one is an administrator, a department chair, a team leader, or a teacher, it is always an advantage to the individual and to any groups, to participate in collaborative decision-making.  The title may just as well have been Educators Who Learn.” Here she relays some of her insights on collaboration in the following article, “Creating Collaborative Cultures.” After reading, share  YOUR collaboration experiences in the Everyone, Stop & Look section of the site.  Also check out her website at

Creating Collaborative Cultures 

By Dr. Bev Nance

Think about it. How many meetings do educators attend in a week, a month, or a year? How many of those meetings are productive?…………..                 

 How are decisions made, who makes them, and are all the people impacted by those decisions always considered or consulted? Can we be sure if the best decisions are made without including those most affected by the outcomes of those meetings? Are the most important citizens in the community, the students, given strong consideration in the decision-making? The key to determining the answers to these questions is in the quality of communication and collaboration.

So how does one determine the quality of the communication and collaboration in a group or organization? The answer to that question lies within my favorite advice: “Instead of asking what’s wrong and how do we fix it, ask what’s possible and how do we create it?”  In developing a collaborative culture, the mental model of everyone concerned must move from accepting a culture of command and control, to one of sharing collaborative responsibility; not an easy task. How does this happen?  

  1. Everyone must accept and practice the art of listening to all voices, not just the loud ones and not just the familiar ones. 
  2. Everyone must be willing to give time, energy and effort towards looking at new possibilities, i.e. be willing to change and move from avoiding to embracing risk.
  3. Everyone must make a concerted effort to develop and ask the right questions, e.g. to ask,  “What do we know?” and move from expert to learner.
  4. Everyone must be willing to move out of his or her comfort zone, moving from seeking calm to valuing tension.
  5. Everyone must be willing to make a shift in thinking, from looking at parts to seeing the whole.


 None of these actions is easy to consistently practice. They require time, reflection and most importantly, the belief that the efforts will result in the desired outcome: a collaborative and effective learning organization.



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