Rose Couture

Aspiring teacher. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ― William Arthur Ward


Curriculum as Narrative Part 2

Working Effectively with English Language Learners – by Rob Peterson and Kelley Dawson Salas

For the second part of Curriculum as Narrative, I chose to analyze more in depth the story about English language learners. But for a moment, let’s pretend this is about “Working Effectively with French Language Learners”. I know the assignment is designed for us to make connections with the short stories, and this is the way I connect with this one. As some of you might already know, I am part of the Bac program for education at elementary level (K-5). Therefore, I am aiming to be teaching in a French Immersion school or a Fransaskois school at the end of my bachelor’s degree. I found the short story to be very interesting, but the whole time I was reading it, I tried to imagine how it applied to me. Why would I be working with English language learners? I am going to be in a francophone environment… VOILA! Having this enlightening moment, I then tried to read the story and apply it to a French context. Why would it be any different from English to French right?

In Saskatchewan, there are multiple French programs for both francophone and anglophone peoples. First off, there are francophone schools, usually called “école fransaskoise” where students, who have parents that attended a francophone school, can be found. In these type of schools, every single subject is taught in French from kindergarten to grade 12, aside from the English class. Then we have French Immersion schools where students who don’t have French as a first language, can go to school and learn in French from kindergarten to grade 3, and then be introduced to English classes in grade 4. It is also possible for some student to partake in the Late French Immersion programs starting in grade 6 through grade 12. In addition, there is a Core French program where, depending on the grade you are in, are taught French as a subject for a certain amount of time every week. For example, kindergartener to 5th graders will be having French lessons for at least 30 minutes four times a week (120 minutes) whereas 6th to 9th graders have to learn French for 150 minutes every week, and so on. For anglophone parents who decide to send their children to a French Immersion school or a Core French program, there are many resources available in order for them to be able to help their children with homework and lessons taught in French, such as Canadian Parents for French.

As a preservice teacher aiming to teach in a French environment, I found the short story by Peterson and Dawson Salas really applied to my situation. Like it is mentioned, I will have to constantly remind myself that my students’ first language might not be French unlike me. Therefore, I will have to be extra cautious to speak very slowly and clearly so that my class can understand what I am saying. There is also a possibility that I will encounter students who just moved to Saskatchewan or Canada and don’t speak English or French. That’s where visual aids such as pictures, posters, videos, books, slide shows will come in handier than verbal instruction. By showing kids something visual, they know what the animal, action, tree, etc. is in their first language and therefore, they are able to make connections and for example, be like “oh chat [in french] is just like gato!” (which is spanish for cat). I will definitely use the idea of introducing vocabulary and concepts to my students before jumping into lessons, which will also allow me to evaluate the levels at which my students are at. I probably would also review vocabulary and concepts related to every week’s lessons before starting to teach so that my students are really comfortable with the terms. The idea of using songs, skits and games to learn is also very appealing to me. I even find myself singing French songs to my anglophone niece sometimes and she thinks its hilarious and she really enjoys trying to sing along with me. I have also discovered that many French songs and rhymes have an English version. That would be a very helpful tool for my anglophone students to use in order to make connections with their first language.

The only aspect of the short story I am “iffy” about is the one that suggests not to use whole-class instruction. I understand that not all the students will be at the same French level, Fransaskois or Immersion school, but I think by reviewing vocabulary and concepts with all the classroom would benefit everyone. When it comes to projects, readings and assignments, then yes, I believe working in smaller groups would be more beneficial and I would probably tend to put together teams containing a diversity of students so that everyone in the group gets the chance to be in the shoes of both a learner and a teacher. Including words and expressions from other cultures in my lessons is also part of my plan, as I find myself easily entertained when finding out the meaning of certain words in languages that are unknown to me. This could be an interesting idea of an activity to do with my students. I could give them a sentence in English and have them translate it to French and two or one other language and have them make connections between the words. What are the similarities and differences? Of course the root of the language and the words can be a little complicated, but there are ways to have this activity adapted to different levels.

Overall, I thought the reading of The New Teacher Book to be very interesting and constructive, and I will definitely be using the book in the future. It is something that I will want to have close to me during my first few years as a teacher as it touches multiple issues one can encounter in different contexts. In addition, I will definitely be taking the time to read the whole volume once time permits!


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Short Stories Continued

Heather’s Moms Got Married

In this short story, Mary Cowhey, a 2nd grade teacher from Northampton, Massachusetts explains the family diversity in her classroom and how she approaches different family situations with her students. Talking about gays and lesbians does not necessarily mean that we are introducing sexuality to children in the classroom. It is just showing the kids that everybody is different and that it is ok to be different from one another. If one kid raises a question about what being “gay” is like, you can simply answer that it is when two people from the same gender love each other in a romantic way. It is also very important to answer the kids’ questions about the matter and not just put it under the carpet. Once again, a teacher’s actions and/or inactions can be the difference in whether or not the child will develop prejudices.

Out Front

Annie Johnston discusses the importance of gay teachers “coming out” to their classroom to encourage positive gay role models. Straight, bisexual and transgender teachers can also help create an environment free of “slurs” that target gay people by establishing an anti-slur policy and taking action when students do not follow the rules. Support groups for gays/lesbians within schools are also very important so that children feel they have the opportunity to talk with people that are found in a similar situation in a safe environment. By establishing policies in the classroom, teaming up with other teachers and working your way through the school, we are creating an environment where kids and their families will feel safe to expose their identity to others without being bullied or left out.


‘Curriculum is Everything That Happens’

In an interview, Rita Tenorio discusses how important it is for new teachers to go beyond what is written in the curriculum. As a teacher, educating children towards multiculturalism and social justice is one of the most important things we have the power to do. New teachers need to be ready to learn from their colleagues, superiors and from people in the community who have social and political consciousness. It is also possible to find pertinent information and discussions related to education online. By doing so, it is easier for teachers to be involved and to keep focus on their goal to teach towards social justice. Teachers should encourage children to share a little bit of their background with the classroom and as a result, both teacher and students will learn, correcting some assumptions they might have had in the past.


Working Effectively with English Language Learners

There are many different programs for second-language learners and bilingual learners that teachers need to adapt their teaching methods to. Even though the children might be learning a new language, it is respectful for teachers to include a few sentences or common expressions in their students’ native tongue. This method demonstrates that we are culturally sensitive and the students might want to share some information or traditions of their own with the classroom. The teacher shall not single out students to read material aloud for the child might be very uncomfortable and not wanting to participate. Teachers should teach vocabulary words and concepts with visual aids rather than through lecture and verbal instruction before whole-class lessons. Reading in groups, acting plays and skits are ways to encourage kids to learn in a fun/stress-free environment.


Teaching Controversial Content

This short story demonstrates the fears that teachers and new teachers can encounter when they want to introduce controversial content in their lessons such as social justice and cultural diversity. You have no idea how the parents, teachers, students, colleagues, principal and community will react to the subjects you introduce in your classroom. There are schools that are more conservative than others, but if the teacher communicates with his superior and his colleagues about his intentions, the odds are that they will welcome the change or just not care about what you decide to teach in your class. “Only you” have the authority to decide what you will be teaching. By doing this, teachers are promoting changes in the classroom and the school context as well as encouraging the students to think critically and correct pre-conceived ideas.


Unwrapping the Holidays

Dale Weiss shares with us the “December Incident” where in his first year of teaching in a conventional school, he had to face a few problems concerning the celebrating of Christmas in the school. Not everybody celebrates Christmas so he decided to introduce his students to Hanukkah, Christmas in Mexico, Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice, to introduce his class to cultural diversity, not religion. The principal thought it was a great idea to try to apply this openness to the school community, but some teachers felt like they were being challenged by a teacher who was fresh out of school. Some conflicts appeared, but overall Dale decided maybe he should of just applied this to his class to start and then gradually work his way to have his colleagues partake and then the school.

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Reading 4: Framing the Family Tree

How Teachers Can Be Sensitive to Student’s Family Situations

Sudie Hofmann explains that teachers need to be careful when they talk about ‘family’ in class. We should not be making assumptions when it comes to our students’ families. Teachers should be using open terms like “adult at home” or “friends and families” when they want to gather some sort of information about a child such as forms that are sent home. We cannot know what the child’s family situation is, we do not know if the child is adopted, has gay parents, only has one parent, etc. Therefore, we have to be really cautious when we bring up the family in a class discussion or during school events, our job is to make everybody feel welcome and comfortable. For these obvious reasons, educators should stay away all together from family projects such as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, because if we offered an alternative for the students without a parent, it would still make them feel excluded and uncomfortable. If we want to learn more about a child’s important people around them, we can assign an essay that does not require them to be in the spot in front of the whole classroom. I also find that the Me Pocket project is also a good alternative to have the students share with their peers or to have a brief view of what their situation at home is like.

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Reading 3: Q/A

“What can I do when a student makes a racist or sexist remark?”

Rita Tenorio says that teachers should not ignore or put under the rug those comments because of the message it will send the children, “I’m ignoring the situation, therefore it is okay”.  The teacher needs to look at who made the remark and why, stand up for the person or the group that got insulted and have them speak out how they felt when they heard that remark, and then discuss with the classroom how it made them feel to hear that. These “problems” are not really problems when we are using them to educate children about racial and social justice.


Reading 2: ‘Brown Kids Can’t Be in Our Club’

Raising Issues of Race with Young Children

Even in grade 1, kids are not too young to learn about racial awareness and social justice. Some of them might be hesitant at first, but they will love to explore and learn all the things they have in common with their classmates. Rita Tenorio says that children grow up in a racist society and therefore they end up mirroring the attitudes of that particular society. They make assumptions based on what they are shown or taught, but they don’t necessarily fully understand what they are doing, they are not aware that it is wrong. Even though we might assume that kids are too young at the age of 6, to be introduced to these sort of things, they are not! We, as teachers, have to challenge the assumptions the children are making in order to have an influence in their behavior towards classmates. It is possible to explore the nature of racial and cultural differences in an age-appropriate way. Here are some examples of activities you can do with your classroom to explore racial and social justice.

Me Pocket: The kids have clear plastic sleeves that they can fill with photos, pictures, drawing or anything that will tell us more about them and what is important in their lives. It is great for sharing stories with your classmates and the kids will love to learn new things about their peers and see what things they have in common. The teacher should participate in this activity as well.

Partner Questions: This is an activity that helps the development of social skills by communicating ideas to your partner and listening to others’ perspectives.You can ask a question such as: ‘What is the meanest thing someone has ever said to you?’ The students discuss the question with their partners and then share with the classroom if they want to.

Remembering Someone Special: Activity you can do at the end of October (Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, All Soul’s Day). This activity promotes the learning of others’ traditions to remember their ancestors or people that have passed away. The kids bring artifacts and stories to class, as well as the teacher, and then they can share with their classmates.

Let’s Talk About Skin: Start a discussion with your class ‘Have you ever heard someone say anything bad or mean about another person’s skin color?’ Discuss what to do in these situations. ‘Where do your ancestors come from?’, ‘Do we choose our skin color?’, ‘How do you get your skin color?’, ‘Is it better to be a certain color?’ (these are questions that can help for other activities or add to the discussion). The kids can also find an object that matches their skin color and display it together for their peers to see.

Writing About Our Colors: reflect on skin color then write about it

Those activities are very interesting and constructive. The parents are happy about it and see a positive attitude in their child. These are the first steps towards awareness of race in the classroom.

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Reading 1: Teaching in the Undertow

In the short story Teaching in the undertow from The New Teacher Book, Gregory Michie demonstrates the importance of new teachers to keep focus on their goals. As a beginner in the profession, you must start with something small and always remember to look at the bigger picture when it comes to evaluating your teaching methods. By starting with something small, teachers are not exhausting themselves trying to reach a very big goal that is harder and that contains more challenges. New teachers have to follow specific plans. You want the content that you are presenting to the classroom to be meaningful and to make a difference in the student’s perspectives. Therefore, you have to work really hard at finding reliable sources and exciting content to introduce into your days. Also, teachers should not post-pone finding information and planning because you will eventually fall behind, opening the door to the “easy” content and methods, and having a direct impact on the students. It is also important to develop connections with colleagues, superiors and people from the community in order to get some tips, ideas or even have them evaluate your work to tell you what you need to be working on or what you need to cut out from your teaching methods. Instead of focusing on the negative and thinking that you are not making any difference by teaching against oppression, you have to keep in mind the positive aspects. Examining what went well in your classroom helps. You might not see the impact of your teaching right away, but like everything else, it takes time and you will see that you are making a difference if you are patient!