EEIS News, Volume 29:1 (March 2007)

by User Not Found | 11/04/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Message From the Chair and Chair-Elect
  • Articles
    • Response to a Column by Paul Greenberg, Editor of the Arkansas Democrat: On Giving Standardized Tests to Beginner English Language Learners
    • Maya Vacation School in San Pedro la Laguna
    • Ethiopia Reads
    • Reviews: Insights Into ESL Learners
  • Announcements and Information
    • Web Site Comix
    • EEIS Open Meeting, Wednesday, 5 p.m.
  • About This Member Community
    • Save Friday Afternoon in Seattle for Us!
    • Elementary Education Interest Section: Officers and Leaders 2006-07
    • EEIS News—Call for Articles
Leadership Updates Message From the Chair and Chair-Elect

Dear EEIS Colleagues and Friends,

We want to take this opportunity to invite you to join us at the 41st Annual TESOL Convention in Seattle, Washington, USA, March 21-24, 2007. This year's theme, "Spanning the Globe, Tides of Change," is a vivid image of the interconnected, powerful, natural forces that language teaching unleashes in our classrooms as we engage our young learners in a lifelong journey of language learning and development. The TESOL convention is a time to celebrate and reflect on the important work of language teaching that goes on in classrooms on every continent.

Thanks to all of those who read EEIS proposals for our Seattle convention. Many of these members have years of experience reading proposals and their expertise is valued by the EEIS. This year, we also had some new readers who hopefully will continue to volunteer to read for future conferences. Thanks to Sandra Baillargeon, Liz Bigler, Mitch Bobrick, Christel Broady, Joy Brown, Janice Cate, Nancy Cloud, Michelle DeCou-Landberg, Dan Doorn, Nancy Ferington, Jeffrey Hacker, Judie Haynes, Jake Kimball, Melinda Leitner, Susan Litt, Leslie Kirschner-Morris, Nancy Morse, Linda New-Levine, Janet Orr, Ming-Chi Own, Aija Pocock, Marielena Righettini, Jane Salminen, Tom Salisbury, Marsha Santelli, Gladys Scott, Carlyn Syvanen, Susan Toerge, Alicia Van Borssum, and Beth Witt.

As the conference approaches, most of our attention has been focused on the details of the planning—believe us, there are lots of details! We've been fortunate to be able to attend the annual conference for several years, and look forward to the opportunity to network and be rejuvenated by the dynamic speakers, rows upon rows of publishers, focused discussion groups, and creative presentations. But we realize that most members of the EEIS are not able to attend the conference. So, we need to continue to find ways that our members can benefit from TESOL activities.

We're excited about the new members-only Resource Center at that is being developed on the TESOL Web site. This seems like an optimal place for teachers to share ideas. EEIS members may submit lessons and draw inspiration from others. The site will only be as good as we make it!

The electronic mailing list has been very active this fall and early winter. We're still amazed by the breadth of the EEIS membership. The ability to respond to comments or offer suggestions to a teacher based in the Marshall Islands, Romania, or Iowa is astounding. The e-list encourages us to think beyond upstate New York. Please continue to post your questions and observations on the EEIS e-list.

The EEIS has several committees that function outside the conference, offering another way for EEIS members to become involved in a specific area of interest. Options include the Literacy, Sociopolitical Concerns, Special Education, and Research Committees. Please think about becoming more active in the EEIS by joining one of these committees.

The EEIS newsletter is another format in which EEIS members can share knowledge and information. Anyone can submit an article. The guidelines are included at the end of the newsletter or you may contact one of the editors directly if you have questions. We're proud to say that our newsletter is one of the few that includes color photos with the articles, so keep that in mind as you think about what you might like to write.

The conference is very soon, and we've been busy planning the program and special events for EEIS. We hope to see many of you at the conference. For those of you who won't be there this year, We hope to "see" you on the e-list, in the newsletter, or through committee work.

The EEIS team has worked hard to bring researchers and teachers together who span the globe to share questions and lessons learned.

Jennifer and Ari

Articles Response to a Column by Paul Greenberg, Editor of the Arkansas Democrat: On Giving Standardized Tests to Beginner English Language Learners

Patricia Majors,

Drawing on 16 years as a teacher of English to speakers of other languages (ESOL), I am sharing a professional take on Paul Greenberg's syndicated commentary titled "Kids with little or no English need to learn the language" that was published in The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, December 27, 2006.

I agree that immigrant children need to learn English; however, I have some serious concerns about Greenberg's suggestion that newcomers need to take state standardized tests prematurely, before they have enough English to comprehend and answer questions. He is referring to high-stakes tests that are designed to measure academic growth for native-English speakers–children who typically enter kindergarten with a vocabulary of 6,000 or more words and who have a significant internalized grammar. Premature testing of immigrant children gives a false reading. Academic knowledge they have cannot be measured because they lack the language to express it.

Becoming academically fluent in a language is not an easy task. In a nutshell, these are the key points that researchers in second language acquisition have discovered: Basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS) take 6 months to 2 years to acquire, whereas cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) takes an average of 5 to 7 years for most English language learners. Multiple variables such as prior learning, socioeconomic level, and home language cause individuals to master BICS and CALP at different speeds.

Comprehensible meaningful input is essential to learning language. For example, hands-on learning in science and reading a picture book are experiences that promote English learning; reading an incomprehensible textbook is not such an experience. Context is everything. Cognitively undemanding, context-imbedded experiences (i.e., ordering Chinese food by number and referring to pictures posted on a wall) are more comprehensible than are cognitively demanding, context-reduced events (i.e., standardized tests in a foreign language or reading a textbook with few or no visuals).

Greenberg's concern is that English language learners will not be identified and will not receive support to become fluent in English. However, states aremandated to identify English language learners, to assess their level of English fluency, and to provide ESOL and classroom support. There are standardized tests designed to assess English language fluency. In South Carolina, for example, English language learners are tested when they arrive, and every spring they take the English Language Development Assessment. As a compromise with proponents of standardized tests, English language learners take the math sections of South Carolina's standardized tests, including the high school exit exam, during their first year in the United States, and take all sections in their second year. (Understandably, many of them score significantly lower than do English-speaking classmates.)

In his commentary, Greenberg suggests intensive English instruction, not to teach English and to enable English language learners to keep pace in math and science, but to boost test scores (i.e., teaching to the test). Unfortunately, administrators in some states, concerned that English language learners will pull down overall test scores, are asking ESOL teachers to abandon interdisciplinary, holistic teaching that builds language and content and to focus on standardized test preparation instead. Just when English language learners need a broad context to learn English for multiple purposes, their teachers are being asked to narrow the scope of learning to boost scores on one annual test.

Unfortunately, Greenberg's perspective on standardized testing for English language learners is shared by federal and state legislators: If one-size-fits-all standardized tests drive the curriculum, students will learn more and schools will improve. Standardized test scores, after all, can be reduced to statistics that inform the public on the success or failure of public schools in newspaper headlines. With English language learners, however, tests cannot be valid; assessments such as state standardized tests were designed for students who have a grasp of American English and cultural nuances.

By testing immigrant children prematurely, we not only have a false picture of what they can do, but we cloud the picture of how all students are performing. Because standardized tests are expensive to purchase, administer, and score, we are also wasting tax dollars that could be used to teach English language learners to succeed academically–and yes, to take standardized tests when they are fluent enough to succeed.

Patricia Majors is a National Board Certified ESOL Teacher in the Charleston County School District, Charleston, SC. She has been teaching ESOL for 16 years. As an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston, she also teaches graduate courses in ESOL to teachers who are earning their ESOL endorsement.


Greenberg, P. (2006, December 13) English spoken here. Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

URS:, and appearing as Greenberg. P. (2006, December 27). Kids with little or no English need to learn the language. The Post and Courier, 15A.

Majors, P. (2006). On giving standardized tests to beginner ELLs. Submitted to The Post and Courier, Charleston, SC.

Maya Vacation School in San Pedro la Laguna

Carlyn Syvanen,

In December 2005, my husband Steve and I were introduced to the Aid and Education Project ( in Guatemala. We visited Maya vacation schools in San Antonio Agua Calientes, San Pedro la Laguna, Antigua, and Chichicastenango. We were so impressed with the program that we agreed to sponsor two children, a 13-year-old boy and a young woman beginning college. We also decided to return to Guatemala to teach English in one of the vacation schools the next year. Throughout the year we chatted about where we would like to teach. As it turned out, Guatemala style, the site chose us.

We were to go to San Pedro la Laguna for 6 weeks. In Panajachel, we were met by Jennifer Kip, an American volunteer, who had been working with education projects in San Pedro for several months. She helped us get our things across Lake Atitlan, find a lovely hostel room, and do a little shopping. We had a day to settle in before we met our classes.

The next morning as we arrived at the school we found that there were three classes: the first had 25 ten-, eleven- and twelve-year-olds; the second was composed of 38 seven-, eight- and nine-year-olds; and the third had 15 five- and six-year-olds. Steve had been planning to be my teaching assistant but because he was a retired middle school ESL teacher he took the oldest students. I had had experience with younger children so I took the middle group and Jennifer took the youngest.

For the first day we had planned to teach the simple dialogue "My name is _____. What is your name?" As I tried to demonstrate the dialogue, calling on different students who would just sit there not responding, a hand shot up excitedly. Finally, someone got it, I thought. I started over: "My name is Carlyn. What is your name?" and he answered "My name is Tin." I thought I had misheard him or that he misunderstood so I kept asking him over and over. But as I was losing the attention of the rest of the class, I moved on with the lesson. The next school day, I met the boy's older cousin who spoke more English and asked him if the boy's name was actually Tin and it was. Later I discovered that there was a favorite restaurant for travelers in San Pedro near where Tin lived called Tin Tin's; it had a mural of the French cartoon character Tin Tin and his adventure in San Pedro la Laguna.

We taught for 70 minutes a day 3 days a week. The numbers dwindled after the first week and we ended up with more manageable classes of 14 to 18 students. We were not sure how much English they learned but every day we taught a new song and helped children understand the vocabulary. Before we taught "Who took the cookies from the cookie jar?" we brought in a jarful of cookies and invited each child to take a cookie. We rewrote "The Muffin Man" so that he became "The Taco Man Who Lived in San Pedro."

By the end of the 6 weeks the children had books with the words to all the songs we learned, several pages of vocabulary words, and "An All About Me" book that they each had made with a picture and sentences about what they liked doing, their families, and their favorite foods, animals, and colors. And as we walked through the streets of San Pedro children would call to us "Hello, my name is _____. What is your name?" We enjoyed our stay in San Pedro so much that we have decided to return next year.

For those who would be interested in volunteer teaching we would be happy to help you find lodging and put you in contact with others. We wrote up our lessons and ideas about what worked best for us and would be willing to share those. For volunteers who are available any time in November and the first half of December, we could put you in contact with a vacation school. For those who would be available during other times of the year we would be able to put you in contact with after-school opportunities to tutor.

Other volunteer opportunities in Guatemala:

Carlyn Syvanen is coeditor of EEIS News and a retired ESL teacher who has most recently been training teachers in China, Kazakhstan, and Mexico.

Ethiopia Reads

Alicia Van Borssum,

In my next life, I've decided I will call my firstborn child Tkasha, my favorite word in Amharic. So what if it means shoulder? I still love the way it sounds! Since last summer, I have been studying Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, for my upcoming trip there. The day after school gets out in June, I will hop a plane for Addis Ababa, along with 8 or 10 other educators, including ESOL teachers, classroom teachers, school librarians, and reading specialists. We will be training Ethiopian teachers to use picture books for literacy instruction. Why don't they already know how to do that? you might wonder. Because picture books, until recently, were not readily available in many parts of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia, on the horn of Africa, is a poor but proud country. There is an alarming illiteracy rate but great interest in developing a reading culture. Ethiopia Reads is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that is spearheading this effort. Founded by Ethiopians and Americans in partnership, the organization has succeeded in establishing a free children's library in the capital, donkey-powered bookmobiles in rural areas, annual publication of a picture book in local languages, and a "Children's Book Week" every April. And all this in just 5 years! This summer, Ethiopia Reads is helping teachers set up libraries in their schools and classrooms. American educators will train Ethiopian teachers to use their new book collections effectively, for better literacy skills and especially for the joy of reading. My role will be to demonstrate strategies for using wordless books. After reviewing over 100 books, I found 10 titles with universal kid appeal. The student body of my elementary school, the World Club at the high school, and many local civic groups and individuals are helping me raise money to bring the set of 10 books to each of the 25 Ethiopian teachers involved in the training. In working toward the goal of $5,000, students here are learning about geography, peace, service, culture, and what it means to be fortunate enough to have books always at their fingertips.

Fingers, hmmm. How do you say fingers in Amharic? Tat? Tatoch? (finger, fingers) Good words, but I still like Tkasha better.

If you want to find out more about Ethiopia Reads, check out the Web site If you want to make a donation to the summer training project, make out a check to Ethiopia Reads, and send it to Alicia Van Borssum at 15 Fairwood Drive, Hilton NY 14468-1003. Books change lives!

Alicia Van Borssum teaches elementary ESOL in New York State in the Greece Central School District.

Reviews: Insights Into ESL Learners

Carlyn Syvanen,

Hart, W. (2002). Never fade away. McKinleyville, CA: Fithian Press.

Kurtz, J. (Ed.). (2003). Memories of sun: Stories of Africa and America. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Strasser, D. (2005). The heart of the matter. Essential Teacher, 2(3), 20-22.

Teachers are frustrated with how the teaching environment has changed from one of autonomy to more and more prescriptive teaching. We struggle against test-driven curricula, trying to meet the needs of our students as we know best. As funds are cut, we are required to work with ever greater numbers of students, which makes it harder for us to truly get to know our students so that we can make the most informed choices on how to teach them. When the burden of unrealistic testing schedules erodes the quality and the amount of time we have to spend with each student, it is easy to lose track of why we decided to become teachers in the first place. Two of our colleagues have written about their experiences, one in an article, "The heart of the matter," and the other in a novel, Never fade away, both of which serve as reminders of the value of taking time to listen to our ESL students. Memories of sun:Stories of Africa and America provide us with background information on Africa and our students experiences of moving from one culture to another.

Dina Strasser's article, published in the September 2005 issue of Essential Teacher, is an inspirational story about the importance of the personal relationship between teacher and student. In her story "The Heart of the Matter," she describes how as a teacher she needed to stop teaching and to just listen to her student. By taking the time to listen to her student's story, she was able to have a real conversation with him and to develop a relationship that helped her meet his needs better. Her student's story was a poignant reminder of my relationship with students and the many stories that I listened to.

Never Fade Away is a novel by William Hart about a teacher of a basic English class in a state university and his student. This story also builds on background stories of the teacher and student relationship. The story is told through the diaries of the teacher, a Vietnam veteran, and the student, a young woman from Vietnam. John Goddard, the teacher, works closely with his students, many of whom are refugees and immigrants, so that they can pass English 002 in a state educational system that has been designed to keep them out. Others in his school think that English 002 should play a gatekeeper role and keep the "undeserving" out of the university system. The student, Tien Le, is a young woman who finds herself in the United States alone. Her story is very similar to those of my high school students who came to the United States in the 1980s as unaccompanied minors. Through my students' dialogue journals, I could read about their lives, hopes, frustrations, and dreams; in a similar way, William Hart conveys Tien Le's strong and authentic voice through her diary entries.

A way for teachers to help students to find their own authentic voices is to provide stories from people who have had experiences similar to their own. The next book, Memories of Sun: Stories of Africa and America, which I heartily recommend, is not about teachers and students, but is an excellent resource on life in Africa. Most people are woefully ignorant of life in Africa, a place from which more and more of our ESL students are coming. Jane Kurtz, who presented the EEIS Author Session at TESOL 2006, edited this book of short stories written by both American and African writers. These 15 stories are divided into three sections: Africa, Americans in Africa, and Africans in America. The first two sections explain and illuminate some aspects of life in Africa that help build background knowledge for teachers. The third section, Africans in America, has stories that older immigrant students will be able to read and possibly identify with. The experiences that these Africans have shared about the time when they arrived in the United States as teenagers will be recognized by many immigrants. Teachers can use the stories or parts of them for discussions and writing prompts to bring forth more authentic writings from their students.

Several years ago when I heard Sandra Cisneros speak about her development as a writer I was reminded of the importance of bringing writings into the classroom from a wide variety of authors. She had been reading books written by the great writers of previous years and trying to style her writing after theirs. As carefully as she had read them she could not see her life in their works. She could not see her house described by them. She had to find her own voice to write from her own life, that source for our true, authentic writing, and thus was able to write House on Mango Street.

New materials become available all the time to help us bring the lives of our students into our classrooms so that they can participate in reading about people who share their experiences, hopes, and dreams. This way we can help our students to find their own voices and to be able to tell their own stories. I hope these two books and article will help you to find more ways to bring your students' lives into the classroom.

Carlyn Syvanen is coeditor of EEIS News and a retired ESL teacher who has most recently been training teachers in China, Kazakhstan, and Mexico.

Announcements and Information Web Site Comix

Bill Zimmerman,

I want to share with you news of my newest educational project and also ask for your help in making it a success.

I've just launched a new Web site––where children and adults can create their own comic strips. They can select from 10 fun characters with different moods–happy, sad, angry, worried–and write words for blank talk and thought balloons to make their characters talk and think. There also are story ideas and prompts to help users create graphic stories.

The site can be used by educators to teach language, reading, and writing skills, and also for students in English as a second language programs to facilitate self-expression and storytelling. Parents and children can create stories together and print them to create comic books or e-mail them to friends and family. Others will find the site a resource for helping others be creative, calm down, and have fun.

I am hoping that you will share with your colleagues, teachers, students, and readers of your publications and resource lists. The site is free, with no advertising. Any help you might offer in getting the word out about this project is very much appreciated. If you can suggest other people or groups whom I might contact to make them aware of the site please send me their names and e-mail addresses or phone numbers. Relevant Internet resource sharing groups would be helpful, too.

As one who learned to read with comic books, I know that creating comic strips can help people tap into their creativity and practice their language and storytelling skills. The site stems from my lifelong mission to create resources that help people find their voice and express themselves. The concept for is derived from my earlier books, Make Beliefs and Make Beliefs for Kids of All Ages (which can be found on my other Web site: A Make Beliefs interactive feature appeared for 13 years on my syndicated Student Briefing Page for Newsday and in National Geographic's World Magazine. Many of my books are used to help students find their writer's voice. I hope you like and will use it in your work and personal life. Your feedback is welcome.

Bill Zimmerman is a journalist, author, and teacher. For 14 years he created the nationally syndicated Student Briefing Page for Newsday, which taught students about current events. It was nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize. He is the author of 16 books for youngsters and families that can also be used in educational program. Bill teaches writing to immigrant students at the College of Mount St. Vincent's Institute for Immigrant Concerns in New York City.

Zimmerman, W. (1987). Make beliefs: A gift for your imagination. New York: Guarionex Press.
Zimmerman, W., & T. Bloom. (1996). Make beliefs for kids of all ages. Riverside, NJ: Andrews McMeel.

EEIS Open Meeting, Wednesday, 5 p.m.

We want to take this opportunity to invite you to join us at the 41st Annual TESOL Convention in Seattle, Washington, USA, March 21-24, 2007. This year's theme, "Spanning the Globe, Tides of Change," is a vivid image of the interconnected, powerful, natural forces that language teaching unleashes in our classrooms as we engage our young learners in a lifelong journey of language learning and development. The TESOL convention is a time to celebrate and reflect on the important work of language teaching that goes on in classrooms on every continent.
The Elementary Education Interest Section Business Meeting is the place to be for those interested in elementary education. Help make EEIS responsive to the professional development that you and your colleagues want and need. Support EEIS with your voice and actions!

EEIS Open Meeting, Wednesday, 5 p.m.

The EEIS team has worked hard to bring researchers and teachers together who span the globe to share questions and lessons learned. Let us continue to hear your voice at the EEIS Open Meeting!

Ari Sherris, EEIS Chair-Elect 2008

About This Member Community Save Friday Afternoon in Seattle for Us!

Spend your Friday afternoon in Seattle learning about exciting new research about young second language learners and the creative work of Caldecott Medalist Gerald McDermott!

Starting at 2:00 pm
Academic Session: Lessons Learned From Second Language Research With Young Learners
Room: Sheraton Seattle/Metropolitan A Room.

Rita Elaine Silver, Singapore; Discussant: Thomas Scovel, USA; Kris Van den Branden, Belgium; Johanne Paradis, Canada; and GyeongHee No, Korea.

Have you ever asked any of these questions?

  • What can we do in preschool to get nonnative speakers ready?
  • When will the kindergarteners be on grade level?
  • Am I really facilitating on-task talk when my first through fourth graders are in pair and group work? On-task/off-task talk: How much does it matter for language development?
  • Are my young second language learners using verbs in the same way they would if speaking their first language?
  • Do my young second language learners and native speakers learn verb tense and aspect in the same order?

If you'd like to learn the answers to these questions, then attend the EEIS Academic Session, which will present research with young language learners in international contexts and will focus on how teachers can promote second language development. Presenters will discuss language preparation, conversational interaction in pairs and groups, and lexical, grammatical, and narrative development from research with preschool, kindergarten, and upper-elementary language learners.

Then move to room 3a of the convention center at 5:00 p.m. for

2007 EEIS Author Session: The Language of Myth: Interpreting the Human Spirit
Gerald McDermott

The images of world mythology constitute a universal language that illuminates our common humanity. Inspired by these symbols, Caldecott Medalist Gerald McDermott has created many beautiful picture books during his long career. His rare ability to evoke the power of myth through simple language and brilliant art has garnered him a large international following. In this presentation, McDermott will illustrate, with bold, graphic renderings of timeless tales from around the world, the transformative power of myth.

A Joseph Campbell Foundation fellow, Mr. McDermott was born in Detroit, Michigan, and now lives in California. He is currently at work on the illustrations forJoseph Campbell's Favorite Tales. Visit his Web site at

Elementary Education Interest Section: Officers and Leaders 2006-07
Chair Jennifer Brown
Incoming Chair Ari Sherris
Immediate Past Chair Judy O'Loughlin
Secretary Elizabeth Bigler
Historian Betty Smallwood
Newsletter Editors Carlyn Syvanen
Janet Orr

Steering Board Members

2007 Sandra Baillargeon
Judie Haynes
2008 Janice Cate
Dino Salin
2009 Carol James
Laura Lukens

Nominating Committee
Judy O'Loughlin, Chair
Mary Lou McCloskey
Nancy Cloud
Leslie Morris
Joy Brown

International Concerns Keiko Abe-Ford
Literacy Esther Retish and Judy Haynes
Research Sonna Opstad
Sociopolitical Concerns Monica Schnee
Special Education Leslie Kirschner-Morris
Convention Guide (we need a volunteer!)


Electronic Mailing List Sonna Opstad
Judy O'Loughlin
Web Content Manager Jake Kimball

Noncommittee Designations

Literacy Buttons Christine Pankonin
Hospitality Booth Ede Thompson
Art Dino Salin

EEIS News—Call for Articles

EEIS News is soliciting articles on research and classroom methods, materials, and practices related to English as a second or foreign language in any elementary education setting.

EEIS News welcomes articles that apply to classroom situations and that focus on ESL/EFL classroom practices/instruction, second language acquisition, language assessment, advocacy, administration, parent/public concerns, and other related areas. In light of the newsletter's electronic format, authors are encouraged to include hyperlinks.

Submission Guidelines

Articles should

  • include a title, author, and author's e-mail address
  • be no longer than 1,500 words
  • include a 1- to 3-sentence (approximately 50 words) abstract
  • contain no more than five citations
  • follow the style guidelines in the Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, Fifth Edition (APA)
  • be in MS Word or ASCII format

    Please direct your submissions and questions to
    Janet Orr
    Carlyn Syvanen

EEIS News Publication Schedule:

July 15 Submissions due to EEIS News editors
August 15 Compiled EEIS News submitted to TESOL for copyediting
September 15 Newsletter distributed to EEIS members

January 15 Submissions due to EEIS News editors
February 15 Compiled EEIS News submitted to TESOL for copyediting
March 15 Newsletter distributed to EEIS members