Learning over the Summer Takes on Many Forms for ENL Teachers

Pat Marzola

As we know, ENL teachers often take advantage of the summer months to teach summer school, take courses, and attend workshops. Others make plans to learn about new places, languages and cultures through reading or traveling to different countries. For our July blog, Pat Marzola, an Elementary ENL teacher from West Genesee Central School District, tells us about what she does to expand her horizons over the summer!

Q. Please tell me about your teaching experiences.
I obtained a B.A. in Psychology from St. John Fisher College; I minored in Elementary Education, Sociology and Spanish and I also studied Italian. I have an M.S. in Education from Binghamton University; my specialization was Early Childhood Education, and I obtained permanent N-6 certification. I later took courses at both Le Moyne College and Syracuse University to obtain my TESOL (K-12) professional certification. Over the years I taught kindergarten, third grade and pre-school in the Binghamton area and the Syracuse City School District. I began teaching ENL in the West Genesee CSD in 2012 where I have worked at three different West Genesee elementary schools.

Q. Please tell me about some of the things that you have done to expand your learning over the summer months.
In addition to reading, reconnecting with friends, relaxing, and preparing for the next school year, I have vacationed abroad the last few summers with my husband, Nick. So far, we have visited Italy twice, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic. We got the travel bug when our middle son studied abroad. We visited him in England, and he traveled with us to Italy. So it began.

The John Lennon Wall in Prague

Q. Do you have a favorite summer learning experience, and why is it your favorite?
My favorite summer learning experiences have included sampling the various cuisines, the languages and the overall culture of various countries. It has been amazing! For example, I learned that we need to greet a shop owner upon entering a shop in France. They are not happy with us if we do not, because they appreciate the little niceties. In addition, I have observed the reverence that Italians show their deceased loved ones. The cemeteries are a wealth of love and information. I have noticed that some countries have “louder”personalities than we Americans do. Others may be generally quieter. Overall, my favorite lessons learned are not in the travel books. I learn from sitting at a cafe and people-watching or being at a farmer’s market or park. I enjoy being in the thick of things to really soak up the culture.

Children’s Art from Czech Republic

Q. What were some of the most important lessons related to teaching ELLs that you have learned over the summers to date?
In the Czech Republic, we went to the Jewish District where items from concentration camps were displayed. Thousands of names were listed in columns with their hometowns at the bottom. As we entered a room, those exiting were crying. Displayed on the wall was artwork done by children who were in Dachau. Outside, a voice proclaimed the names of those lost. It seems that an art teacher had been sent to the concentration camp as a prisoner. She decided that it could help the children to continue to express themselves artistically while in the camp. To me, this showed the power of a teacher. The teacher tried to add a touch of normalcy to the horror of Dachau. In addition, as we arrived in the Czech Republic, we encountered a sign in the Cyrillic Alphabet. I stopped in my tracks, and my heart sank. I had absolutely no clue what it meant. I knew that it showed a plane; that was about it for me. I have this framed in my classroom, because I learned that it is not always about English, and I quickly understood how our ELLs must feel!

I mentioned cemeteries before, and in Italy, there are photos displayed on the graves. Flowers are there, too. The sense of reverence and respect was present at the cemetery much more so than is generally in America. I also realized that it was not just about a custom; dealing with these things is something our students experience on a regular basis. It is not to say that one is right and the other wrong, but I needed to understand that these differences in customs exist for my students.

Q. What are you summer learning plans for this year?
We are going to the lands of some of my ancestors: Ireland and Scotland this summer, and I am very excited.

Q. In your opinion, why do you think that your summer learning activities have made you a better ENL teacher?
It helps me to walk a minute (not even a mile) in my English Language Learners’ shoes. I, however briefly or temporarily, have felt what they might feel on a daily basis. I have felt the frustration of having someone not understand me and not knowing what to do about it. I have had times now, when I have an Entering ELL student, that I take a deep breath and feel an iota of what he/ she may be feeling. I have come to realize that everyone does not do things the way we do things. We don’t even do things the same way in the U.S. I saw what I thought was an ATM, and soon discovered that it was an automated pizza dispenser! Traveling to other countries has reinforced in me that while we have a common human core, we are also different- and that is good. We need to respect the differences and hold them close to our hearts!

Diane Garafalo
ENL Consultant working for RBERN through SupportEd LLC

Teaching Social Studies = Continuity and Change, or the More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

It has become my tradition to use the summer to recycle some past blogs that remain relevant in light of our challenging work in Social Studies. This blog first appeared in January of 2013, when I was writing for the Teaching American History Program.

My mother has always had handy any number of aphorisms that she would lay on us kids as we were growing up. Whatever the context, her repertoire of pithy pronouncements could be counted on to sum up the situation in a few words:

  • If you act as good as you look, you’ll be OK.” Translation: “You look very nice, sweetheart. Now behave yourself! If you don’t, I’ll hear about it and it won’t be pretty.”
  • There’s no time like the present.” Translation: “Stop watching the Mickey Mouse Club/Lassie/the Ed Sullivan Show on television and get your homework done, NOW! School is your responsibility and I expect you to take it seriously and do your best.”
  • Things will work out the way they’re meant to.” Translation: “There’s no use crying about things that we can’t control or change. Whatever happens, whether we like the way things have turned out or not, we’ll deal with it and we’ll be fine.”
  • And, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Translation: “Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s better. When I was young, we didn’t have all of these electronic gadgets and we survived just fine. Why do we need a computer? I just don’t understand how it works. It seems awfully complicated and time-consuming way to just write a letter.”

My Mom has experienced enormous changes in her 89-plus years. She was born just before the Great Depression, was a teenager during World War II, was a stay-at-home Mom with 3 kids during the 50s, survived 3 teenagers in the 60s and saw us through college, marriage and starting our own families. Her perspective on change is different than mine and certainly different from the young students we teach. Her experience of the world is one of both enormous changes and sustained continuity. She learned how to write using a nib pen and inkwell and is now, reluctantly, using the computer to find information.

How do our students understand the idea of change and continuity in history? From their moment-to-moment perspective, students understand that change occurs when “something” happens. “Nothing” is happening and then there is an event, and things change. The event is the change. Peter Lee thinks that students are likely to see change in history as a single event or a list of events that are discrete and intentional and, therefore, are either good or stupid.[1]. For our students, the idea of change as gradual or unintentional doesn’t make sense. Historians, however, understand that change often has no singular defining moment or any intention behind it. Students see change through history as something linear and mostly beneficial. They think that, as things change everything gets better. “Now” is better than “then”. Historians understand that change doesn’t happen in straight line and that progress in some areas or for some groups is often accompanied by regression in other areas or for other groups (just think about Westward Expansion and the effect on Native Americans.) At any point in history there was always something going on. There was never “nothing” happening. Sometimes change happened very quickly, at other times more gradually or often imperceptibly, visible only to those of us looking back with 20/20 hindsight. Some change was beneficial, some change was not.

Once students begin to see that history is not just a list of events but a very messy, complex mix of change, continuity, improvement, and degeneration they will a have a very different sense of the past. We want students to be able to explain how some things continue and others change in any given period of history and that our evaluation of progress and decline vary depending upon our purposes and our perspectives. So how do we teach work with our students about change and continuity?

  • This teacher demonstrates the ideas of change and continuity using the history of the bicycle, including a complete Prezi and other resources.
  • Here are examples from an article that shows the use of analytical timelines and a “swingometer” to help students understand the idea that change and progress are neither linear nor absolute. (The article is British, so, again, the examples would need to be revised!)

A timeline to encourage the sorting of information into different categories or themes.[2] 

Was the period 1750 – 1900 an Age of Progress?
Key Date Political Events Economic Events Social Events
1750– 1800
1800– 1825
1825– 1850
1850– 1875
1875– 1900


A timeline to encourage pupils to make judgements about progress[3]

Was the period 1750 – 1900 an Age of Progress?”
Things which show progress Key Date Things that got worse
1750– 1800
1800– 1825
1825– 1850
1850– 1875
1875– 1900


A ‘swingometer’ to visually record examples of progress, regress and continuity.[4]

Our students need to know that history isn’t just a list of events that have made everyone’s lives universally better. History is wonderfully messy and full of contradictions and competing points of view. How will you talk about change and continuity with your students? As Mom would say, “You’re never too old to learn.”





[1] Lee, Peter. “Putting Principles into Practice: Understanding History.” In How Students Learn: History in the Classroom. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005. 44.

[2] Barnes, Steven. “Revealing the big picture: patterns, shapes and images at Key Stage 3.” Teaching History (The Historical Association), no. 107 (June 2002): 9

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

OCM BOCES-Responsive Classroom® Blog: Trauma in the Souls of our Classrooms – Part 3 of 3

For the last three months I have devoted my OCM BOCES-Responsive Classroom blogs to the topic of childhood adversity. I have shared some great resources on this topic.

In part 1: An article called How Teachers Help Students Who’ve Survived Trauma (Lehey, 2014) from The Atlantic – That stated a startling statistic to propel my further research: One in every four students currently sitting in American classrooms have experienced a traumatic event.  In this blog post I shared more statistics of what our country is facing and a few ideas that teachers can do to support children of trauma. Many connections were made with what was suggested and what Responsive Classroom teachers already do.

In part 2, we looked more closely at a great book by Paul Tough called Helping Children Succeed. Continue reading

End of the Year Reflections Shared by Two Local High School ENL Teachers

Kari Free

Lori Dotterer

This month we interviewed Kari Free, ENL teacher from Oswego City School District, and Lori Dotterer, ENL teacher from Jamesville-Dewitt Central School District, about their high school teaching experiences this year. They reflected on some of their biggest successes and share a few of their greatest learning experiences.

  1. Please share a short bio with us about your background and experience.
    Kari:I teach English as a New Language (ENL) at Oswego High School. This is my seventh year teaching high school students; I spent my first five years as an Itinerant ENL teacher traveling between the middle and high school.
    Lori: I am a second year ENL teacher covering for a teacher’s two year maternity leave at Jamesville Dewitt High School.  Prior to teaching, I was a pharmaceutical/healthcare sales representative for over 20 years. I love my new career teaching English as a New Language (ENL)!

  2. OHS’s ENL Classroom
    What are some of your biggest success stories this year?
    Kari: Last year, a student from Ethiopia with interrupted formal education (SIFE) arrived halfway through the school year. I was initially nervous, because I had not taught a SIFE student before. In a little over a year, he has made so much progress! The student is successful in many of his classes, and he has friends in and out of school. He also plays sports in the fall, winter, and spring semesters.Another success story is we will see three of our ELL students graduate on time this year!
    Lori: At JDHS, our seniors have a 15 hour volunteer requirement for graduation. I started a new program where the seniors could volunteer in my ENL classroom to meet that requirement.  Some of the students volunteered during our class time, and others tutored ELL students’ in content areas after school.  It has been very successful in so many ways!  The students’ social and academic language has blossomed, and most are performing very well in their content classes.  The most meaningful result of this program is the relationships these students have made with each other and the social/emotional growth in all of the students.  In one Entering/Emerging class, each ELL student was paired with a volunteer.  With training from me, they worked together on a music related project.  From research to presentation, one could see the pride of the volunteer as “their” student was working and presenting.  When I tried to switch up the partners, none of the students wanted to change!  I hope this program continues to grow and flourish in the years to come.
  3. Did you do some things that you would consider innovative with your students?
    Kari: When our SIFE student first arrived from Ethiopia, our school staff met together to learn about the student’s background, create a collaboration model across the academic departments and discuss the plan for the rest of the year. Administrators, counselors, classroom teachers, support staff and his parents all worked together. We gave our SIFE student some basic assessments to determine his current skill levels. Then the teachers and I created scaffolded activities for him that would help him learn and advance in both language and content. At times, he was able to get one-on-one instruction, and we were also able to have a Teacher Assistant work with him for one period a day.  In addition, we used community resources to help us! When SUNY Oswego was in session, he was in their Mentor/Scholar program where he met with his mentor (an Amharic speaker from Ethiopia) every Tuesday and Thursday after school. Because our student is a hard worker and really tries, he fits in well and he has native English speaking peers who often help him.

    JDHS’s ENL Classroom
    Lori: Most of the lessons in my ENL classes are based on Project-Based Learning (PBL). It allows the students to focus on the required content while maintaining an authentic learning environment as well as targeting their interests. Projects allow my ELLs to experience language and content through using their prior knowledge. For example, I had a class of Entering level students who, well…, were not that motivated.  I tried to find content-based authentic learning for them in the areas of their interest.  For one project, the students chose a hobby or sport that they liked which connected to one or more of their different content areas.  First, they chose a leveled article and answered comprehension questions. I provided tools for scaffolding language structure and function like sentence frames, sentence starters, word banks and graphic organizers which helped my students to break down the language. Next, they found related photos and wrote captions.  Then, they researched their topic and prepared a Google Slides presentation, which they presented to the class.  Each student was also required to ask at least one question to the presenter.  Throughout these projects, the students learned content–area vocabulary, key concepts, and small group discussion skills.  It was a great learning experience for all of us!
  4. Were there some important lessons to be learned this year, and if so, what will you do differently next year?
    Kari: I learned that co-teaching can be difficult when an ENL teacher is co-teaching in four different classes with three different content teachers per day and yet no co-planning time. I would like to have a common planning period with my co- teachers next year, but that is not always possible to schedule. We will meet soon to discuss the best ideas for collaborating and planning lessons for our ELL students’ success in the next school year.
    Lori: As with any second year teacher, there are many things that I learned this year!  I learned that with ELL students I need to be prepared to diverge from the plan and be extremely flexible! Because PBL was so effective with my high school ELLs this year, I plan to learn even more about teaching ELLs using this strategy for next year by reading the resources on this website created by the Buck Institute for Education.
  5. Can you give any advice to other ENL teachers based on your experiences during this school year?
    Kari: Be the best you can be for your students. Put yourself in their shoes when you feel frustrated. If you recognize that the students need a five or ten minute break, let them have one by transitioning to fun collaborative learning games and activities related to your lesson. When ELLs have work to do related to their content classes, support them through vocabulary, visuals or close reading, but don’t do it for them. ELLs can complete their own assignments with the right support and scaffolding!
    Lori: Please, please, please pay attention to your students’ social and emotional needs-especially in high school.  I understand that academics are important, but I promise that academic success will follow when your students’ social and emotional needs are met!

Diane Garafalo is an ENL Consultant on special assignment with Mid-State RBERN through SupportEd LLC.

Are you “Making the Grade” with the Four C’s of Involvement?

How well do you involve business, community, and higher education members in learning experiences with your students? Are these members an integral part of your culture and curriculum? Take this quick quiz to see is you “make the grade”:

  1. Yes or No:
    Do you involve students in either a physical or a virtual tour of a workplace or institution that aligns with a topic of study?
  2. Yes or No:
    Is it part of your practice to job shadow or interview people in your content area for a deeper understanding of the tools and processes used to communicate, share information, solve problems, produce & create, and make decisions?
  3. Yes or No:
    When launching a PBL experience, have you invited business, community, and higher education members to participate?
  4. Yes or No:
    Have you asked members of the public to serve as judges on a panel or to evaluate student/team products?
  5. Yes or No:
    Do you provide time and opportunity for students to contact and communicate with the public as part of their inquiry?
  6. Yes or No:
    Are members of the public involved in developing success skills and creating a product for public presentation?
  7. Yes or No:
    Has a community agency or business challenged your students to solve an industry-specific or community-based problem and then used their proposal as a solution to the problem?
  8. Yes or No:
    Do you have relationship with one or more public members who might co-design a PBL experience?

Continue reading

Integrating School and Community: The Many Benefits for ELLs and their Families

Liverpool ENL Family Event

This month we interviewed Katie Knapp, Elementary ENL teacher from the Liverpool School District. She tells us about the many ways that the District collaborates with the community to help ELLs/MLLs and their families.

Q. Katie, please give me a short bio about your experience with ELLs.

A. I have been fortunate enough to work with ELLs for the past eleven years. I began my teaching career in the city of Syracuse, working with ELLs at G.W. Fowler High School, followed by teaching at Blodgett K-8 School. I made a switch to Liverpool Central Schools in 2011, and I have been teaching there ever since. Continue reading

OCM BOCES-Responsive Classroom® Blog: Trauma in the Souls of our Classrooms: Deeper Learning – Part 2 of 3

Last month I started a 3 part series on childhood adversities. This blog series was inspired by an individual study that I did as part of my professional development for my Responsive Classroom Certification.

The main resource we used for the study was one that I would highly recommend, Paul Tough’s book Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why (2016). You can visit Tough’s website and either buy the book or download it for free! It would make for a great professional book talk book for whole faculties to share with one another. I made so many connections with Tough’s book with the work I have done with Ruby Payne and Eric Jenson and their work on Poverty. Tough starts his book answering the question why poor children struggle in school and what to do to best respond to children who live in stress. Continue reading