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Stories by English Language Learners

By Leah Shafer 05/17/2017 4:11 PM EDT
When Reading Gets Harder
For years, we’ve thought that the answer to boosting adolescent reading comprehension lay in building students’ vocabulary. Teens often struggle with the jargon and advanced terminology they encounter as they move into middle and high school, so educators have designed curricula and interventions that explicitly teach these complex words. But these strategies aren’t always fully effective, according to literacy researcher Paola Uccelli. As she writes, many of these interventions have yielded “significant growth in vocabulary knowledge yet only modest gains in reading comprehension.” Too many...
By Bobby Dorigo Jones 05/15/2017 3:23 PM EDT
Asil Yassine
Over the course of her teaching career, Asil Yassine has witnessed many broken promises to the children of Detroit. She’s seen, she says, “poisoned water fountains, a dearth of books, or mice shooting through the hallways” of buildings. Yassine enrolled in the Language and Literacy (L&L) Program to learn how to better fight these systemic failures, and find strategies to teach English to her many immigrant students. At HGSE, Associate Professor Paola Uccelli’s Bilingual Learners course gave her important new perspective. “Before we even touch pedagogy, we have to deeply understand what it...
By Usable Knowledge 02/21/2017 7:54 AM EST
Different components of children's faces brought together to create one face
Asil Yassine, who taught English-language learners (ELLs) in Detroit before enrolling in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, was herself an ELL student as a child. Drawing on her experiences as learner, teacher, and researcher, she offers guidance about the crucial support that ELL teachers can provide. In a short video (below), she remembers her own school days — and how hard it can be to be “different.” As an ELL student, what did you wish your teachers had known? Lead the charge and encourage your entire school to make this meaningful vocabulary switch: Instead of ELLs, call them “...
By Bobby Dorigo Jones, Iman Rastegari 02/07/2017 11:32 AM EST
Asil Yassine
As Commencement approaches, we look back the impact our students made over the course of their year at the Ed School. A teacher’s first couple of years in the classroom can be trying, even more so if they are tasked with teaching children who know little English. Master’s candidate Asil Yassine admits this was true for her in her two years teaching grades 6, 11, and 12 in Detroit. “I didn’t really know how to support my own English Language Learner (ELL) population,” she says, even though Yassine herself had struggled to learn English while in elementary school in Plano, Texas. She enrolled...
By Lory Hough 08/23/2016 7:45 PM EDT
Have ESL, Will Travel
For many adults, trying to learn English can be challenging, as Heidi Larson, Ed.M.’04, and the Ed School students she mentored last year found out. Some adults don’t have access to English-language learner (ELL) classes because of cost or distance. Others have access but, given the busyness of their lives, can’t attend classes on a regular basis or focus fully on the material. However, one thing most adult learners can easily access is a mobile device, like a smartphone or tablet. Knowing this, Larson started working last fall with students in two of Professor Chris Dede’s technology classes...
By Lory Hough 08/23/2016 5:15 PM EDT
Study Skills: Gladys Aguilar, Ph.D.
Growing up, Gladys Aguilar spoke in two worlds: Spanish at home with her parents, who had moved to the United States from Mexico when she was a toddler, and English at school in Los Angeles. The two worlds rarely mixed. So when Aguilar’s homeroom teacher asked her to give the sixth-grade graduation speech, the 11-year-old wrote it the way she had every other school assignment: in English. “My teacher read the speech and said, ‘Great. Now write it in Spanish.’ I was so surprised and reminded her that I speak English. She said something beautiful, something that changed who I was: ‘Of course I...
By Andrew Bauld 07/28/2016 1:05 PM EDT
Yefei Jin
The careers that HGSE alumni pursue in education once they have graduated are varied. And, for many new alums, their next steps begin to take shape long before they have left Appian Way. In this new series, Up Next, we check in with several alumni from the class of 2016 — all working on new projects that were born or developed at the Ed School — as they innovate, build, and create. School can be a daunting experience for many students without also adding the additional hurdle of learning in a language not your own. But for over 5 million English-language learners (ELL), that is exactly the...
By Andrew Bauld 02/23/2016 3:37 PM EST
Hollyburn
Hollyburn Elementry, a K–7 public school in West Vancouver, British Columbia, has the enviable position of being located in the top-performing school district in Canada. Still, the school faces a unique set of circumstances. Its population — primarily composed of recent Chinese, Korean, and Iranian immigrants — is transient, with 40 to 60 new students a year in a total school population of around 220. Further, the student body includes 53 percent ESL students, with 21 percent of students speaking no English at all. So, how can Hollyburn provide a superior education to all students equally...
By Leah Shafer 01/11/2016 12:53 PM EST
Outloud
Language and literacy expert Catherine Snow has one piece of advice for principals, superintendents, policymakers, and every aspiring educator: It all comes down to reading. “Every other initiative that leaders might undertake is less important than making sure that the students in the schools learn how to read,” she says. But a school devoted to literacy ought to envision more than just sustained, quiet, independent reading, suggests Snow, who leads an intensive mini-course this month at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on what education leaders need to know about how kids learn to...
By Bari Walsh 10/01/2015 4:20 PM EDT
Bilingualism as a Life Experience
What do we know about bilingualism? Much of what we once thought we knew — that speaking two languages is confusing for children, that it poses cognitive challenges best avoided — is now known to be inaccurate. Today, bilingualism is often seen as a brain-sharpening benefit, a condition that can protect and preserve cognitive function well into old age.  Indeed, the very notion of bilingualism is changing; language mastery is no longer seen as an either/or proposition, even though most schools still measure English proficiency as a binary “pass or fail” marker. It turns out that there are...

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