Muddling through the blogosphere

December 24, 2015
by blogwalker

Treasure Languages Event: Storytelling in two voices

“Each language is shining a little torch somewhere. These are treasures for the whole of humankind.”   Nicholas Evans (Language Matters, PBS)

I’d like to start this post with a shout out to language researchers Robyn Perry (University of California, Berkeley) and Steven Bird (University of Melbourne, Australia) for the incredible work they are doing through the Aikuma Project to preserve dying languages. Robyn has been a featured guest blogger on the TOR Talks blog (a project I co-direct with my school district colleague Kathleen Watt) and has also joined us,with Steven, for a Google Hangout. So Kathleen and I were thrilled when Robyn invited us to come to Oakland (California) for the Sunday, December 13, Treasure Language Storytelling Event.


I was born in Oakland and grew up in Orinda, part of what is known as the “East Bay.” So I was surprised to learn about one of California’s “hidden histories” (not included in history textbooks): The storytelling event was taking place in an area once inhabited by the Chochenyo (a new word for my spellchecker), a division of the Ohlone tribe of Northern California and the first inhabitants of the East Bay. The Chochenyo language died about 70 years ago. But thanks to the efforts of Vince Medina and Louis Trevino, Chochenyo is re-emerging as a spoken language. Vince opened the event by welcoming us in Chochenyo.

Next on the agenda was Leiz (Marc) Yauz-Cing and Lai Saephan, who represented Sacramento’s Iu Mien community. Two years ago, Lai spent 6 months studying the Mien language with Marc, who taught him not only the spoken language, but also how to read and write in Mien. Together, Lai and Marc told a Iu Mien story in two voices. Fortunately, their telling of “Hieh Mienh Gouv” (Wild Mien Story) was recorded.

Before Marc and Lai started their story, the wonderful Koy Saephan, Lai’s big sister (sitting next to us in the audience), shared that becoming fluent in his native language had changed Lai’s life. Their family had fled Laos to Thailand after the U.S. pulled out of the Vietnam War. When they were granted permission to come to the United States, Lai was only 9 months old. Like many refugee and immigrant children, his older siblings took care of him while his parents held multiple jobs. With the siblings naturally wanting to fit into American culture, they spoke English with each other. Therefore, as a child and into his adult years, Lai could not fully communicate with his Mien-speaking parents. Six months of studying Mien changed that – and his life (see more below).

The evening’s last story in two voices was a proverb told in Tigrigna, an endangered language from the African nation of Eritrea: Everything for My Own Kind, or, Our Donkey Is for Our Hyenas.

The closing activity, the Language Champions Panel, was equally powerful. Vince Medina and Lai Saephan were joined by Tigisti Weldeab, an immigrant from Eritrea. As soon as the video is posted, I’ll add it to this post. I still have a lump in my throat from Lai sharing that before he learned his native language, he used to stutter. No more.

Tigisiti shared what it was like arriving in Seattle as a 12 year old, wanting nothing more than to fit in, which meant speaking Tigrigna as little as possible. It was not until she started college and saw that her younger brother was losing the Tigrigna language that she realized the importance of keeping and promoting her native language.

It will be a long time to come before I forget these “treasure language” stories. Each story is now part of our shared community history. And each story provides a window into the challenges of losing one’s native language.

I’ve already marked my calendar for the February 21 Treasure Language Event, which coincides with International Mother Tongue Day and will therefore focus on women storytellers. I look forward to attending the event, both as a learner and as an educator. Given the diverse populations in California schools, with more than 88 languages and dialects spoken in my district, the “treasure language” stories should resonate with all who work with English Learner populations.

Please help spread the word about the Aikuna Project and the February 21 Treasure Language Event. If you, or someone you know, speak a “treasure language” (endangered language) and would be willing to be interviewed, please contact Robyn Perry at or 831-332-4208.

 The living speakers of today’s disappearing languages are equipped to preserve their voices, their unique perspective on the world, and how they have managed to live sustainably in their homeland for centuries.” Steven Bird, Ph.D., Aikuma Project

June 14, 2009
by blogwalker

VoiceThread and the ELL Student

Last week a 4th grade teacher in my district mentioned in passing that her team was looking at movie making as a way to boost skills of their ELL students – in a way that would also boost skills of their non-ELL students.  I can’t wait till next year to continue the conversation with her.

Thinking back to the first 4th grade video team I worked with this year as part of an EETT grant, as the group moved into the editing mode, each student picked a role. As the editing session went on, one student, not known for being able to maintain very well behavior-wise throughout an average school day, assumed a new role: wordsmyth. Each time the group would stop to debate a possible better word choice, this student spontaneously contributed a “$5 word.”  I loved being able to listen in on  student-generated conversations on vocabulary.

Last week I wrote about VoiceThread, using the 4th grade project I’ve embedded below, as being a tool for combining writing and technology to promote resiliency. But VoiceThread, like movie making, also builds on the four spheres of language.*; not just reading and writing, but also the often neglected listening and speaking. (*Note: I recommend reading Kevin Hodgson’s post on literacy and writing.)

I have in front of me Omar Lopez’s Lighting the Flame  of Learning for English Language Learners Through the Use of Interactive Whiteborard Technology. I think the “high-quality instructional strategies” he lists apply to VoiceThread as well as IWBs (maybe even more – and VoiceThread is basically free for educators):

1. Learning builds on previous experiences and therefore, ELL teachers need to incorporate ELLs’ prior knowledge, culture, interests, and experiences in new learning.

2. Learning takes place in a social setting and therefore ELL teachers need to provide opportunities for ELL student-interactions.

3. Knowledge taught in a variety of contexts is more likely to support learning across students with diverse learning needs and therefore, ELL teachers need to integrate ELL strategies in different contexts.

4. Connected, organized and relevant information supports students learning of knowledge but also helps them develop higher-order skills. Thus, Ell teachers need to contextualize instruction and use strategies such as graphic organizers that support ELLs’ development of higher-order skills.”

In listening again to the Letters from the Internment Camps VT, I think there is one more huge benefit for ELL students: VoiceThread projects develop a common vocabulary across shared experiences. The students now own the words included in the project.

Also, because VoiceThread is online, it promotes another of Lopez’s findings: “ELLs are more likely to experience school success if educators use long-term consistent strategies across all classrooms, along with efforts to involve parents and the community.” As luck would have it, last week several of the wonderful, inspiring citizens of Japanese heritage I’ve worked with in the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project came by my office.  When I played the VoiceThread for them, they were astounded at how well this group of elementary students has captured what the internment experience was really like. On Tuesday, Reiko Naguma, who joined the VT discussion to fully describe the experience of using the camp bathrooms, returned, bringing with her Flora Ida Ortiz, who 65 years ago was Reiko’s pen pal. Yep, we taped the interview and will soon add a few clips to the VoiceThread.

I can’t think of another technology that would allow these (Title 1) students to so quickly create a dynamic, growing community as well as to create content that will help reserve the living voices of those who experienced exclusion and forced removal first hand. What a powerful lesson on the importance of understanding and protecting the rights guaranteed to all US citizens! What a powerful project for ELL students – and all students, no?!

October 15, 2008
by blogwalker

Technology for English Language Learners with Alice Mercer

Alice Mercer, my friend and next-door-neighbor from Sac City USD, is starting her session on tech for EL students – and special ed too, starting with her third Grade on Friendship.

Alice’s tips on where to infuse technology:

  • record pair shares and oral responses
  • Use online visual tools (Inspiration)
  • Scan and post student drawings
  • Photograph realia and post
  • Post student writing with voice over and images to support
  • Record Readers Theater
  • Do reports on topics

On to  Alice’s take on VoiceThread – like PowerPoint online – Uses VT for front end loading. Concept & Question board. Flickr – sign up for Safe Search parameters + Creative Commons licensing. Teach older students how to do favoring. Select images, right click and save image location. Into menu of VT. Flickr = your own. So use URL, right click and paste to import pictures. be sure to add URL links for credit. Using comment tool, have kids record.

Other tools and suggestions:

  • Anita Archer technique: What would be an example of friendship – or non-friendship.
  • Advanced unit: – Online thesaurus. Has speaker option too.
  • Motivator – makes posters.
  • Start PowerPoint and move into MovieMaker- upgrades PPt because kids write script. Amy Bissonett – Intellectual Properties attorney – helped get permission to transform a Hampton-Brown story. Transformation intellectually by extending the character’s actions via radio show. Transformation = Fair Use.
  • BrainPop – use at beginning or end? Gary Stager upset about BrainPop’s simplicity – but serves as great into our summation.

Lots of well-deserved applause for Alice’s preso:-)

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