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  • 27 Jun 2024 8:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Sara Geres, Adult Education SIG Leader

    Preparing for the U.S. Citizenship Exam with the help of adult literacy organizations

    As the Program Director of a Community Based Literacy Organization (CBLO) in south west Virginia I regularly see adults that are approaching the eligibility to apply to become naturalized citizens of the United States. In addition to a lengthy application process individuals must participate and pass an exam. Adult CBLO’s across Virginia provide programs to prepare applicants to successfully pass this exam which tests the individual's civics knowledge and English language proficiency.

    American History and Civics

    Applicants are required to learn 100 American History and Civics questions. During the exam applicants will be asked a random series of 10 questions and required to correctly answer 6. Here is an example of questions, answers provided at the end of article:

    1. Under our constitution, some powers belong to the federal government. What is one power of the federal government?
    2. The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the Constitution, who was one of the writers?
    3. What is one reason colonists came to America?

    CBLO Citizenship Preparation classes teach learners the context behind these questions and provide opportunity to practice and drill USCIS expected answers.

    Reading and Writing

    To demonstrate sufficient English literacy skills applicants must pass the reading and writing portions of the exam. Applicants will be given a USCIS randomly selected sentence and asked to read out loud. The applicant will be given three opportunities to correctly read one sentence. For the writing section, applicants will be dictated a USCIS randomly selected sentence and asked to write on an electronic tablet. Again, the applicant will have three opportunities to correctly write one sentence.

    Adults who participate in Citizenship Preparation classes are encouraged to co-enroll in appropriately leveled ESOL classes to ensure literacy levels are in accordance with USCIS expectations. Additionally, applicants should be exposed to and encouraged to practice the vocabulary that may be used.

    Here are some example sentences:

            People in the United States have the right to freedom of speech.

            Delaware was one of the first states of the United States.

            Lincoln was the President during the first world war.

    Speaking and Listening

    Finally, applicants are given an oral interview based on the questions from the application, N-400 Form. These questions include complex vocabulary with legal phrasing that can be difficult for a language learner to understand.

    Here are some example questions from the N-400 form:

            Have you ever manufactured, cultivated, produced, distributed, dispensed, sold or smuggled any controlled substances, illegal drugs, narcotics, or drug paraphernalia in violation or regulation of the U.S. state, the United States, or a foreign country.

            Do you now have, or did you ever have, a hereditary title or an order of nobility in any foreign country

    Citizenship Preparation classes break down complex legalese into manageable concepts to ensure applicants have a real and true understanding and are able to respond swiftly and appropriately.

    Through this short article you can see that becoming a citizen can be a challenging process that requires that applicants study and prepare. Adult CBLO’s that provide Citizenship Preparation classes ensure that language learners have equity in becoming a citizen of the United States through the support of structured classes.

    American History and Civics answers:


            To print money

            To declare war

            To create an army

            To make treaties


            (James) Madison

            (Alexander) Hamilton

            (John) Jay




            Political liberty

            Religious freedom

            Economic opportunity

            Practice their religion

            Escape persecution

    USCIS provides citizenship resources for educational programs:

  • 01 Jun 2024 9:20 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Max Nikoolkan, VATESOL Blog Editor

    As educators, we are constantly seeking ways to enhance our teaching practices, connect with peers, and stay abreast of the latest trends in language education. The Virginia Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (VATESOL) conference provides a unique opportunity to achieve all these goals and more. Here’s why attending the 2024 VATESOL Conference is a must for every Virginia educator:

    1. Professional Development and Growth

    The VATESOL conference offers a rich array of workshops, sessions, and keynote speeches led by experts in the field. Whether you’re a seasoned teacher or just starting your career, you’ll find sessions tailored to your needs. From innovative teaching strategies to best practices in assessment, the conference covers a wide range of topics that will empower you to become a better educator.

    2. Networking and Collaboration

    Connecting with fellow educators is invaluable. At VATESOL, you’ll have the chance to network with teachers from across the state. Share ideas, discuss challenges, and collaborate on projects. These interactions can lead to lasting professional relationships and open doors for future collaborations.

    3. Exposure to Cutting-Edge Research

    Stay informed about the latest research and trends in language education. Attend sessions that delve into evidence-based practices, explore emerging technologies, and discuss relevant pedagogical theories. By staying informed, you’ll be better equipped to meet the diverse needs of your students.

    4. Inspiration and Renewed Enthusiasm

    Conferences like VATESOL provide a burst of inspiration. Engage with passionate educators, hear success stories, and learn from others’ experiences. You’ll leave the conference with renewed enthusiasm for your work and fresh ideas to implement in your classroom.

    5. Advocacy and Community Building

    VATESOL advocates for English language learners and educators. By attending the conference, you contribute to a stronger community of professionals who champion the rights of language learners. Learn about policy changes, advocacy efforts, and ways to make a positive impact on language education in Virginia.

    6. Access to Resources and Exhibitors

    Explore the exhibit hall where publishers, educational technology companies, and other organizations showcase their products and services. Discover new textbooks, teaching materials, and digital tools that can enhance your teaching. Plus, take advantage of exclusive conference discounts.

    The 2024 VATESOL Conference promises a wealth of opportunities for professional growth, networking, and inspiration. As a Virginia educator, attending this conference isn’t just beneficial—it’s essential. Mark your calendar, register, and get ready to be part of a vibrant community dedicated to excellence in language education!

    Remember to spread the word among your colleagues and encourage them to attend. Together, we can elevate language education in Virginia! 

  • 24 May 2024 9:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by April Salerno, Teacher Education SIG Leader

    Ah the beautiful days of summer: sunshine, beach sand, and alarm clockless mornings. In a teaching field where it can seem there is never enough time, summer can sometimes feel like the answer to all our problems. But sometimes, it can also feel like the space where all larger to-do list items lurk (i.e., “I don’t need to worry about that right now; I’ll do it this summer.”). Here are some ideas to help you get some things done this summer without over-stressing your August:

    • For larger projects, make a timeline with deadlines for smaller steps. The whole project might feel too overwhelming, so just take on a little piece at a time.
    • Find a buddy. Divide up tasks, or set a meeting time to do the work side-by-side.
    • If possible, consider organizing your classroom space a little at a time over the summer instead of waiting until right before the school year starts. An hour here and there in the building can go a long way.
    • Think about materials and resources that you need and how community support or back-to-school sales can help you get them in more cost-effective ways.
    • Attend community events near your school that are harder to make time for during the school year (e.g., students’ sports games or community cultural celebrations).
    • Mix in some professional reading with pleasure reading. Maybe there’s a book on a topic that you’ve been wanting to learn about that’s not too dense but that still introduces you to the new topic.
    • As you encounter new ideas, use a system to keep track of them (sticky notes, a notebook just for this purpose, a calendar reminder, or a note on your phone), so you actually implement them next school year.
    • Make sure that no matter what work you tackle, you still get plenty of down time. You need time to recharge.

  • 01 Apr 2024 9:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by April Salerno, Teacher Ed SIG Chair

    The phrase “teaching observation” can prompt many emotions: nervousness, worry, anticipation, maybe even dread. But teaching observations hold great potential for helping us to grow as teachers, especially when they’re conducted in healthy, collaborative partnerships. Teaching observations can help us see what isn’t visible to us when we’re busy in the act of teaching, and they can offer opportunities for us to learn from colleagues. Here are some tips that might help take the scare out of teaching observations:

    • Team up with a trusted colleague. Find someone you respect and that you can learn from. Or ask different people who are real pros at different skills to observe those particular aspects of your teaching.
    • Talk ahead of time about the “ground rules” for your observations. What protocol will you use? What will the goal of the observation be? What questions does the observed person want to know about their teaching? Discuss what observational data might be reported to others, and what feedback is just for the two of you to consider.
    • Observe each other regularly, so you get used to observations and so you can observe for changes over time.
    • Consider whether video-recording would help you see things that you miss while you’re teaching.
    • Ask students to take notes on how you teach a particular skill or how you facilitate a certain activity and get their feedback.
    • After you receive feedback from the observation, try to identify one piece of feedback where you can make a change.

  • 06 Mar 2024 8:23 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Shared from Jody Nolf, VISTA Learning - Literacy Engagement Specialist 

    ESL? Where do I start? How do I communicate? HELP!

    If you’re like many teachers, you might find yourself thrust into exciting new territory this school year.  Schools around the country are seeing an influx of English/multilingual learners with unique needs that extend beyond language learning, and educators are finding themselves in classrooms filled with students they aren’t accustomed to teaching.

    Depending upon their home country, English/multilingual learners arrive with various levels of education, life experiences, and background knowledge. Some students have interrupted learning experiences (SIFE or SLIFE students) and tend to struggle with literacy in any language. Others might speak and understand their heritage language (often referred to as the L1), but cannot read or write in that language. Many educators are finding themselves overwhelmed and underprepared to meet the needs of their newcomer students, but there are simple strategies and scaffolds educators can use to better educate this diverse population of learners and acclimate them to the American classroom.

    Where Do I Start? 

    Start with a smile! A welcoming environment immediately puts students at ease and reduces what is known as the affective filter, i.e., any barrier to learning such as anxiety or lack of confidence. Students are more apt to learn in an environment where they feel a sense of safety and encouragement. Once students feel safe, true language learning can begin, and there is no better place to start than with introductions. Welcome your students and embrace their unique backgrounds.


    One way to foster communication is through authentic experiences. Begin with “hello” and model simple yet important greetings like “How are you?,” “What is your name?,” and “My name is….”  Students will not only learn how to engage with others in their new language, they will also learn language that helps them identify themselves and others and their roles in the community with phrases like “Mrs. Carter is my teacher,” “Alana is my classmate,” “I am a teenager,” and “I like to swim.”

    Vista’s series for newcomers in grades 1-12, Get Ready!, opens with these themes and is specifically designed for both elementary and secondary beginning-proficiency students. The series also offers educators easy-to-follow lessons that demonstrate welcoming rituals and celebrate identity.

    TPR—Total Physical Response

    These engaging lessons also allow teachers to employ the TPR—Total Physical Response—method of teaching. TPR is a great way for educators to convey meaning, while newcomers can use TPR to show their understanding of language. Newcomers wave or high-five their classmates when learning to say “hello,” and point to themselves when saying, “My name is….”  These students begin to understand general welcoming rituals in a language-rich, authentic setting.

    Visual Cues

    When working with newcomers, teachers of all grade levels and content areas can present lessons with visual cues as an effective way to convey meaning. In the Get Ready! series, each page of instruction contains photographs, symbols, or images that accompany both academic and practical language (often referred to as “survival English”). Students see children on the pages who look like them, while also learning how to interact appropriately with others in their world.

    Visuals are also useful in acclimating newcomer multilingual learners to their new school. For example, you may use graphics to create a daily schedule for students. While the words “lunch” or “cafeteria” might be unfamiliar to a newcomer student, pictures of food and a room with children eating creates meaning and context for a student learning to navigate their school day. Such familiarity builds confidence, while also developing the language.

    Oral Fluency

    As newcomer multilingual learners become accustomed to their new language and environment, the need for verbal expression grows. Simply stated, these students should be encouraged to speak and utilize their new language. However, many newcomers experience what is known as a “silent period.”  This silent period should not be dismissed as merely a passive activity devoid of any learning, however.  The silent period is an excellent opportunity for newcomers to absorb the language that is all around them. Oftentimes, educators mistakenly associate lack of speech with lack of understanding. This is not always the case. Many multilingual learners are not yet at a level of comfort where they wish to demonstrate speaking skills, but they are able to show their understanding through other means, such as drawings, pointing, or role play, and these less-confident newcomers should be encouraged to do so.  Teachers can, however, reinforce speaking skills in a very low-stress setting. Get Ready! allows students to practice their oral fluency through the program’s embedded speaking exercises. These activities can be assigned for at-home practice, one-on-one, or with a shoulder partner if desired. This feature also allows students to try out their speaking skills while avoiding whole-group (choral) reads or echo practices, where the entire class is involved.

    Working with newcomer English/multilingual learners doesn’t need to be a nerve-wracking experience. In fact, many teachers find that after the initial fears subside, these students are apt to be engaged and motivated to learn. With the appropriate scaffolds and strategies in place, students can learn English at a steady pace and can achieve academic success alongside their native English-speaking peers. The key is implementing the right scaffold, or level of support, for the student’s level of English proficiency. And just like structural scaffolds, learning scaffolds are designed to be adjusted as the student learns. For example, as multilingual learners grow in their new language (called the L2), teachers will discover that they don’t need to employ as many visual or verbal cues as when their students first entered their classroom. Classroom labels such as “pencil” or “notebook” can be removed once students have mastered those terms—and master them they will. With the proper supports and a nurturing environment, these students can be successful!

    By: Jody Nolf

  • 29 Jan 2024 8:15 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Andrea Smith, Education Consultant SIG Leader

    An increasing number of consultants are recognizing the critical role DEI plays in effective educational support. Let's be honest, the educational consulting industry hasn't always been a shining beacon of diversity. Many services are inaccessible to low-income families, and consultants haven't always reflected the full spectrum of experiences students navigate. We observe biases in recommendations, standardized test prep strategies that favor certain learning styles or cultural backgrounds, and a lack of understanding of the unique challenges faced by marginalized communities.

    Education opens doors, shapes futures, and fulfills potential. Yet, for many, those doors remain stubbornly shut, their futures dimmed by systemic inequities that permeate our educational landscape. As educational consultants, we hold a significant responsibility: to ensure our services serve not just a privileged few, but uplift and empower students from all backgrounds and walks of life. That's where Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) come in, as guiding principles for a more just and equitable future of education

     We can start building an inclusive future by:

    • Diversifying: We need consultants who represent the diversity of students we serve. This means actively seeking professionals from underrepresented backgrounds and building mentorship programs to nurture future generations of consultants.

    • Centering equity: It's not enough to simply "check the box" of different identities. We must proactively address systemic barriers, advocate for equitable access to resources and opportunities, and challenge our own implicit biases.

    • Culturally responsive strategies: Understanding students' backgrounds, learning styles, and lived experiences is key to providing effective support. Consultants need to develop culturally responsive strategies that cater to diverse needs and learning preferences.

    • Amplifying marginalized voices: We must create platforms for students from marginalized communities to share their experiences and perspectives. This not only enriches the dialogue but also allows us to learn and grow as practitioners.

    • Partnering for change: Working alongside community organizations, educators, and families is essential. Collaboration allows us to identify needs, share resources, and build a comprehensive network of support that extends beyond individual consultations.

    Embracing DEI in educational consulting isn't a one-time event, it's a continuous journey of learning, reflection, and action. It's about building bridges of understanding and support. It's about ensuring that every student, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to reach their full potential. As consultants, we can be agents of change, not just for individual students, but for the future of education itself. Let's open those doors, shine a light on untapped potential, and empower every student to walk confidently through the halls of their dreams.

    Join the conversation! Share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas on how we can further strengthen DEI in educational consulting.

  • 02 Jan 2024 9:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Dr. Juvenal E. Abrego, Administration SIG Leader

    WIDA Preparation 

    The administration of the WIDA ACCESS test is always a stressful time for schools.  LIEP teachers and testing coordinators become highly stressed for a period of weeks as they navigate the difficult world of administering the ACCESS test. Some helpful tips for LIEP teachers to prepare are:

    • Ensure all rosters are printed and all students are accounted for, This should include verifying new enrollments, and matching students’ registration to the testing website. 
    • Set a date and time to meet with your school administration to determine a plan of action: Dates, location, classrooms, testing administrators and proctors. 
    • For the listening portion of the WIDA assessments headphones are used. LIEP teachers must have a supply of earbuds or headphones that can be used for the audio portion of the test. If this is not the case, the school administration will need sufficient time to place an order. 
    • A helpful recommendation for LIEP teachers to avoid make-up testing is to have a designated daily make-up room and session, so that this becomes an ongoing process. 
    • Some schools have found success in training classroom teachers to take the test to be WIDA testing administrators. This can expedite the administration process as several grade levels or groups can be tested in a week. 

    In summary, the administration of the WIDA test does not have to be a painful process or a two month event. Sufficient planning and  thoughtful preparation can lead to a successful WIDA administration with minimal interruptions to the school’s instructional day.

  • 07 Oct 2023 9:15 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Isra Nikoolkan, VATESOL Blog Editor

    Image preview

    The VATESOL 2023 conference was a resounding success thanks to the participants as well as the vendors. The VATESOL board would like to share information from one of our vendors, CodeVA.

    CodeVA offers free E-Learning Asynchronous Modules on demand. No assignments. No live meetings. No camera requests.

    Just the information you need to get started with CS, including the state standards and key resources. In addition they give you ways to explore how you might begin integrating computational thinking and computer science into any content area(s) you teach!

      *   Designed for PK-8 educators of all grades, students, and subject areas.
      *   Great starting point for anyone interested in integrating CS!
      *   Virtual, Asynchronous. On your own schedule.
      *   No prior knowledge or experience required.

    For more information, click on:

  • 19 Sep 2023 10:10 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by: DRC

    Reading is top of mind when it comes to closing gaps in student achievement and the Virginia Literacy Act calls this out specifically, stating that (source):

          “Every family will have access to online resources to support literacy development at home, and will be able to participate in the development of their child’s student reading plan”, and

          “Every teacher of students in kindergarten to grade 3: Uses evidence-based literacy curriculum for the entire literacy block assesses student learning using approved literacy screeners routinely throughout the year.”

    It comes as no surprise to members of VATESOL that English Learners (ELs) have unique needs when it comes to reading instruction, nor does it surprise EL teachers that most of the reading instruction EL students experience takes place in the general education classroom, with dedicated teachers who may not have a background in Second Language Acquisition. Given that 9.6% of K-12 students in Virginia are ELs, it stands to reason that all teachers need to be informed on what works best for their EL students when it comes to reading instruction. They also need to have the data necessary to make informed instructional decisions. One way to do this is to utilize the LAS Links Progress Monitoring and Student Report.

    ... for full access to DRC's blog, please click this link.

  • 16 Aug 2023 1:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Kathryn Manning, K-12 SIG Leader

    Starting out the new school year--how will you make an impact?

    Around this time of year, we’re all busy bustling about, getting classrooms ready to be the place of welcoming and warmth for all newcomers and returning students. To help with your fresh start to the year, consider the following questions:

    How can I better engage with parents?

    In what ways can I support my learners to continue towards their journeys of success?

    How can I inspire collaboration and understanding with content teachers and staff?

    Here are three ideas to help answer some of these questions, or get your own creative thoughts flowing:

    Family Engagement

    To set a tone for valuing parents’ funds of knowledge, try encouraging them to participate in parent interest surveys or a back-to-school activity. While many parents struggle to answer questions about summer vacation, pivoting to asking “How does your family spend quality time together?” instead can bring out more valuable information.  Many of our Hispanic families for example, enjoy participating in barbecues with both immediate and extended family. This information could possibly inform future back-to-school events for parents, where teachers and parents can get to know each other over grilled vegetables and smoky meats. During school registration or back to school nights, parents can be invited to contribute a welcome back message or express their wishes for a successful school year for all students.  Imagine a growing list of positive messages in all parents’ languages to set the tone of “your language belongs” at school. 

    Reaching out to Teachers and Staff

    At the start of the school year, leap into action with an ELL Newsletter (particularly useful for itinerant ELL staff) to keep coteachers and staff on the same page and excited to start collaborating. Content can range from ELL-specific teaching tips to fun facts about learners’ home countries (a tidbit contributed by Staunton City Schools) or even introducing yourself if you are a new addition to the team.  Adding a section on FAQs can also help with commonly asked questions related to identification, exit requirements, ACCESS testing, etc. to further support members of your team in understanding learners better. 

    Supporting Students Towards Continued Success

    Reevaluating and reflecting on our own teaching practices is a great way to ease back into the school year. Are we continuing to give students the space they need to use language, both inside and outside the classroom? In her presentation at CAL’s Improving Instruction, Assessment, and Policies for Secondary English Learners Across the Content Areas, Amanda Kibler gives key considerations to evaluating the language spaces we create for our learners.

    She challenges us to evaluate our curricular materials and scaffolding methods to determine how they support learners in their language practices: are we as educators overemphasizing accuracy, repetition, and simplicity?

    Who are our students and how do we communicate their value in the classroom? Kibler stresses the importance of reframing our mindsets to encourage classroom student talk in what she terms critical dialogue to support co-construction, intellectual purpose, and community support and respect. To guide our learners in this endeavor, we can create spaces for students to have agency in the classroom, engage with authentically-relevant questioning, and share their multilingual and multicultural voices and perspectives in knowledge building, while also building norms together to further this goal.

    Kibler, A., Valdés, G., Walqui, A. (2021) Reconceptualizing the role of critical dialogue in American classrooms: Promoting equity through dialogic education. Routledge.

    What great ideas have you had for back-to-school activities and resources? Feel free to share with us at VATESOL.

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