We Gotta Talk It Out!

By L. Rios

Teachers beware!  You might walk into my Science classroom and cover your ears.  Well, perhaps it won’t be that noisy; however, you will find that my students are thoroughly engaged in Science discussions throughout the day.  I encourage what The Essentials of Science and Literacy recommends in chapter 5: A Culture of Talk!  In Science, students often lack the specialized vocabulary, have misconceptions, or do not feel confident to speak up in class even though they may have the knowledge to share.  Science talk gives students many opportunities to engage in discussion as they work in small groups in order to facilitate the use of the difficult vocabulary and clarify misconceptions.

 After reading Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca, I asked my students to engage in a small discussion focusing on what they believed they would have encountered had they been on that mission to the moon.

 Ricky: It has holes.

Kamyrn: But if the holes are there, why are the holes there?

Prudence: (softly responds) They are called craters.

Ricky: I don’t know…

Prudence: (again responds) They are called craters from the asteroids that hit the moon…

Ricky: Oh, I didn’t know that!

Prudence: …because the moon doesn’t have the Earth’s atmosphere…

Ricky & Kamryn: Atmosphere…

(My students quickly wrote down the information they gathered from their peer in their Science notebook.)

  In South Texas, there are many English language learners.  Among all of my students, engaging in “science talk” benefits them the most.  They are able to exchange ideas within a small-group discussion, listen to the vocabulary being used, write it down for future reference, and feel confident to later participate in the whole-group discussion.  From my observations of the practice of “science talk” in the classroom, I have noticed students applying their own reasoning and learning from each other.  The purpose and use of “culture of talk,” as very eloquently and explicitly demonstrated in The Essentials of Science and Literacy, is crucial to students’ linguistic and cognitive development!  The Essentials of Science and Literacy: A must read!

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Review of James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy

By Sarah Schelstrate

“If human learning works best in a certain way, given the sorts of biological creatures we are, then it is not going to work well in another way just because educators, policymakers, and politicians want it to (pg. 66).”

Because of the title you might think What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee is an educational book promoting the use of video games in the classroom.  That is not the case.  Instead Gee focuses on the intricate literacies involved in playing video games (specifically role playing problem- solving games) and gives the reader ideas as to how these literacies can be utilized in the classroom to support a more active student learning environment.  To begin with, Gee develops thirty-six learning principles based on observations and experiences with games.  Next, he clarifies each one with examples using various and easily accessible video game titles.  Then he connects his learning principles to classroom use with practical illustrations.

If you have read Gee’s Social Linguistics and Literacies then you might be a little wary about picking up this book for fear of specialized vocabulary and complicated wording.  However, you will find this book much easier to read as Gee uses less complex language and fully explains each of his unique phrases with several illustrative and easy to follow examples.   He has also included an appendix which cites each of his thirty-six learning principles with definitions for easy access.  Other helpful features include the bibliographical notes at the end of each chapter, rather than citations and footnotes throughout the book, to facilitate comprehension and diminish distraction.

As a middle school teacher I agree with Gee’s surmise that today’s students must be engaged and active learners in the classroom to receive a thorough education.  I can also understand how implementation of his learning principles can lead our students to academic success.  As most of Gee’s examples focus on Science classrooms this is an excellent resource for Science teachers; however any teacher can learn how to incorporate Gee’s video game learning principles into his/her curriculum with a little creativity.

The Book Review of “Voices from the Fields”

By M. Borrego

By S. Beth Atkins, 2000

I am a Mexican like the nine children depicted in this book Voices from the Field. So I found this book culturally relevant to me. I felt empathy for all the characters in this book. They all struggled in one way or another to overcome lives many challenges.  Despite, these obstacles these stories showed hope.  They left you wondering if they made it or not.  All the children in this book had one common factor they either work in the fields or have a family member who works in the fields.  Even with this common theme the stories range from gang involvement, acceptance, and instability.  As different as these children may be they all believe that there is nothing as important as family. Family unity is portrayed throughout the book. There are many photographs of the children and their families. The photographs intensify the emotions as you are reading and seeing actual pictures.  This book did a great job of portraying a minority culture that many people may have not been exposed to.  One story in particular the one of Miguel impacted me profoundly because he reminded me of my own students.  Being that I work at a border town school just like in the book.  As he was describing that his body ached and that he didn’t want to wake up my heart dropped. He also stated that he would rather be in school any day than work in the fields.   Even though I teach first grade I feel my students would enjoy hearing this story and they will be able to make many connections as the reading is taking place.   As a teacher it made me reflect on the struggles my students may have and the many obstacles they face before the school day begins.

Reading to Pre-K English Language Learners

By Zaida Cendejas-Omari              

When I first started teaching I did not know what kind of books to read to my students, I wanted to read very long stories like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Thumbelina. As I kept learning about reading to 4 and 5 year-old ELL students, I learned that those stories should be introduced to students little by little and in ways that they would know them, but also in ways they would understand them and would make them eager to listen to more stories.

Now, as a veteran teacher, I have learned about strategies that should be implemented with young children. In the beginning, I was told that the more I talked to the students, they would learn more. It was not explained to me about the importance of gesturing and the importance of prosody.

The way we read to students should not be boring, not even when we are reading in their home language, and it should not take forever to finish a book, a book should not be lengthy, (even short stories like “A birthday basket for Tia” or “A bicycle for Rosaura”, should be divided into parts of a whole story).

The importance of using the most accurate book that describes the best way the topic being discussed in the class, should be thoroughly studied. Sometimes the easiest books are the best because they explain the story and the topic in a very comprehensible way. Books for 4 and 5 year-old ELL students, should be short stories, mainly about one topic, with one word or one sentence per page or every other page, that way students can read the picture or drawing to gather more information or make sense of what is being said. Here it is fundamental that the pictures, drawings or any other way of art used to represent what the story is really about, and what the author wants the reader to understand or internalize.

 When beginning to read whichever book always starting with introducing the book, by stating this is a book and continuing with the parts of the book, Title, author, illustrator, Book cover, back cover, spine and asking a question for them to predict about the art represented in the Book cover, it creates a routine, that make students feel like they already know every book, that what the book is about will be different, but it would be something that they would be able to be familiar with because they already feel like part of the book.

These details should be considered when choosing books for pre-k students, and as teachers we should make learning enjoyable through literature in ELL pre-k classrooms. This will ensure students get motivated to read.

Thanksgiving Books for the Borderlands

By readingintheborderlands

In honor of Thanksgiving, here are some children’s books for kids in the borderlands.

My favorite Thanksgiving book ever is Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners by Lucille Recht Penner. This book tells the story of the Pilgrims through the foods they ate. Chapters deal with  problems of food storage and preparation on the voyage across the ocean, typical Pilgrim kitchens, Pilgrim manners, and the gradual movement away from English food preferences to American food tastes. The last chapter includes authentic recipes for a typical Pilgrim meal. This is an engaging and enjoyable nonfiction text perfect for upper elementary and middle school.

In the realistic fiction picture book Celebrate Thanksgiving Day with Beto and Gaby by Alma Flor Ada with illustrations by Claudia Rueda, Beto and Gaby look forward to spending Thanksgiving with all their relatives. Unfortunately, a big snowstorm means that one by one the relatives call and cancel. It looks like Beto and Gaby will have a lonely Thanksgiving dinner, but unexpected guests turn the day into a true celebration when Grandma arrives with a group of elderly friends.

Can you eat a turkey that’s become a pet? In Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey written by Joy Cowley and illustrated by Joe Cepeda, Miguel’s trucker papa sends home a turkey with instructions to fatten her up for Thanksgiving. Miguel and Abuelo take care of the turkey, which Miguel names Gracias. While Thanksgiving approaches, Gracias learns how to walk on a leash, is stolen, gets rescued, and is blessed by the priest. Will Papa make it home for Thanksgiving? And can Miguel save his new friend from dinner?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Book Review: “Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology and Discourses”

 By Cecilia

Literacy is composed of an array of contexts that together create a type of language that allows for communication.  James Paul Gee did an outstanding job of portraying the different elements involved in literacy and social linguistics.

In particular, Gee discusses the different types of discourses a human being develops throughout their life and how these particular happenings form and shape each unique individual. 

This intrigued me as a teacher, mother and student because if we are able to see that people come with all types of discourses that were developed while in their early youth, and then transformed with each experience we encounter, imagine the difference it would make if we knew this before we expected them to perform for us in the classroom.  Teachers, especially, would benefit greatly from the information within Gee’s book, Social Linguistics and Literacies because it clarifies the issues that we sometimes look at our students and judge them based on their lack of correct English.  Gee elaborates on the fact that communities are basing “who” and “what” is correct within the school environment and rebuffing attempts of solidarity being made by all of these types of children. 

I began to understand that we are all brought up in different environments with different expectations and experiences.  This shapes who we are and who we will become greatly.  The fact that our primary discourses are learned at the earliest stages of our lives allows us to understand why our students sometimes behave the way they do.  It aids in the teaching style an educator should hold when trying to present a successful lesson to a classroom of 30 elementary students.  Although each teacher experiences unique struggles within the classroom, Gee’s outlook at literacy and linguistics opens the mind to the realities each of our students brings with them when they enter the classroom.  We, as educators, mothers, fathers, and students should want to correct the injustice some of our students are encountering in the classrooms because of the lack of experiences they have acquired.  Literacy is not just the ability to read and write but it is much more than that. It is the knowledge of different “discourses” which are part of our personalities and the knowledge of the beliefs and values connected to these discourses.

Facilitating Literacy in the 21st Century: Social Networking

 By readingintheborderlands

This is the fourth post in a series about 21st Century tools in the literacy classroom.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace are hugely popular, with millions of daily users. While probably best known as a way for people to keep in superficial contact through short, often-trivial postings, social networking sites can be powerful educational tools. 

The obvious use for these sites is for the teacher to set up an account for the class. Students and parents can ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ and the teacher can use the site to announce homework, share student work, and answer quick questions. The teacher, students, and parents can also use the site to share class-related content; for example, if PBS is showing a Masterpiece Theater series that relates to work the class is doing, the announcement on the PBS Facebook page can be shared with the class Facebook page.

 How can social networking tools be used in the literacy classroom?

  • The teacher can pose thought-provoking questions about whatever the class is reading on the Facebook or Twitter page and ask for responses. 
  • When students are confused about a reading assigned as homework they can ask a question on the page for the other students or the teacher to respond to.
  • A group could develop a fictional Facebook page for a book character. Who would be the character’s friends? What would their status updates be? What photos and videos would they post? The same goes for Twitter: how could you retell a story through a Twitter account (check out this example [hotlink “this example”– http://madhattermommy.blogspot.com/2009/05/pride-and-twitterverse.html]. Preview before you show to students–there’s occasional questionable language.)

Given the age limits most sites have, the use of social networking is best kept to middle school, high school and college age students. Also, if you choose to use social networking sites  make sure you have an account specifically for educational purposes. Do not allow students on your personal account.

A related series of blog posts can be found at WOW Currents throughout the month of November.