Thursday, May 22, 2014

Making Graduation Momentous

Holly Niemi on making graduation momentous

Many of my ELLs are some of the first in their family to graduate from high school.  They are proud of their accomplishments, as are their families, but they are not as familiar with American graduation traditions.  The month of June is filled with many seniors’ open houses and graduation parties, but this is not the case for my ELLs.  I want them to have a graduation to remember, so as an ESL department, we host an annual “Senior Showcase” that celebrates, and is a tribute to, our graduating seniors.  The ESL teachers and ESL underclassmen plan the graduation celebration.  Underclassmen ELLs divide celebration duties: making invitations, compiling a guest list, selecting music, preparing gifts, making a video featuring our graduates, and a video highlighting our school year, as well as booking an event room in the school, planning the menu and decorating. 

Invitations & Gifts
Our seniors are the guests of honor, but other guests include current ELLs, monitored ELLs, and exited ELLs, some American students who collaborated with us throughout the year, as well as administrators and teachers.  Each person receives a hand-delivered invitation made by our ELLs.  On the day of the celebration, our ESL seniors come to the front of the room when their names are announced during their part of the video to receive gifts.   We used PTA funds to purchase each senior a journal that every underclassmen ELL signed and wrote a personal congratulatory message, as well as a CD containing a copy the ESL Senior Showcase video and annual ESL photo highlights. 

Photo provided by Holly Niemi

Celebration Entertainment & Festivities
We book a large event room in the school.  We take one period to set up, one period for the celebration, and one period to clean up.   We decorate each table with a tablecloth and flower arrangement, borrowed from the cafeteria.  As the ELLs enter the building, they deliver their food, which is labeled and set out.  ELLs and their parents graciously donate enough food to serve 100+ guests. 

Photo provided by Holly Niemi
 As the students enjoy a variety of ethnic cuisine, we play a video compilation of senior interviews.  Each senior’s country, flag and short farewell speech is set to music.  The end of the video highlights our field trips, excursions, and various activities from the past school year.  A short clip is provided below.  

This is truly one of the highlights of the year for our ESL program.  It gives our ESL seniors a chance to be recognized and our underclassmen ELLs a chance to show appreciation.

Photo provided by Holly Niemi

Monday, May 12, 2014

Components of Cross-Cultural Competencies in Action: Part 2

In this second of a two-part series, Holly Niemi shares how her school celebrates cultural diversity.

An earlier blog entry entitled Part 1:  An Introduction of Cross-CulturalCompetencies provided readers an introduction of the four cross-cultural competencies, including awareness, knowledge, skills, action and advocacy.  Now, Part 2 takes the concepts a step further and puts them into practice.  Here are a variety of different initiatives and programs to increase cross-cultural competencies.  While reading, be cognizant of which level of cross-cultural competencies each practice represents.

Cultural pride on display
First, our school showcased ELLs’ cultural pride in a prominent area of the school. Our display case highlighted ethnic clothing, jewelry, and food, as well as photographs of cultural celebrations and traditions of our ELLs' native countries.  Additionally, a picture of the showcase and an article explaining of its contents were posted on the school blog. (This is an example of Knowledge).
Student collaboration

Second, we created, developed, and implemented an ESL and foreign language collaboration during National Foreign Language Week that aimed to celebrate and strengthen cultural diversity in our school. ELLs shared their unique perspectives and vast world knowledge as they taught small groups of foreign language students cultural dances to music from their native countries, then spoke on a panel about their culture, beliefs, heritage, perspectives, and experiences. (This is an example of Skills).
Student collaboration

Furthermore, the foreign language students participated in classroom activities in order to build prior knowledge before our cultural dance lesson and panel discussion.  The pre-activities included an empathy building simulation, as well as a Venn diagram exercise comparing and contrasting immigrants and refugees.  (This is an example of Awareness and Knowledge).  Additionally, after the program, some foreign language students volunteered as student tutors in the ESL classroom, where as others took a more active role of reaching out to ELLs in their content area classes and around the school.  (This is an example of Action & Advocacy).

Third, we planned a collaborative field trip between our ELLs and gifted learners. ESL plans an annual field trip that is always to a new destination, this year’s trip was to a local history museum. In order to maximize ELLs' time at the museum, ELLs were assigned to groups with a gifted learner serving as the group leader and museum tour guide. This helped ensure that ELLs found their way around the new environment in the allotted amount of time and completed their scavenger hunt. Most of the gifted learners had been to the museum before and those that had not were fluent in English so that they were able to read the exhibit descriptions to ELLs in simplified English.  (This is an example of Skills and Action & Advocacy).

World Affairs Council
Next, the World Affairs Council, a local non-profit organization in our area, presented to our ELLs and 10th grade World Cultures classes on the topic of   “Understanding Contemporary World Religions.”   The ESL department organized this event in order to promote a deeper understanding of key contemporary international issues.  This collaboration connected our ELLs and over 200 students in the World Cultures classes in panel discussions. (This is an example of Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills).

Understanding World Religions
Last, to extend the “Understanding Contemporary World Religions” program, the World Cultures classes visited the ESL classrooms to explore world religions from the perspective of our ELLs. ELLs shared about their religious beliefs and customs.  World Cultures students traveled from station-to-station to complete their religious “passports” on Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Multi-denominations.  ELLs prepared brief presentations and stations for the World Cultures classes. The project allowed ELLs to interact with native speakers in a leadership role while increasing their English language proficiency, as well as allowed the World Cultures students the opportunity to gain a first-person perspective of contemporary world religions. (This is an example of Knowledge and Skills).

Overall, these initiatives aimed at promoting diversity and inclusive practices that will expand our students’ experiences and encourage cross-cultural awareness and highlighted cross-cultural competencies.
All photos provided by Holly Niemi.

Monday, May 5, 2014

An Introduction of Cross-Cultural Competencies: Part 1

In this first of a two-part series, Holly Niemi shares how she increased student and staff cross-cultural competencies in her school.
Photo provided by Holly Niemi
With the growing diversity in public schools, it is imperative that teachers and students develop and increase their cross-cultural awareness.  Increasing and managing cross-cultural interactions can be a challenge for any school, but by building on the components of cross-cultural competencies, this process can be readily developed.  Increasing the students’ and staffs’ cross-cultural competencies will enable them to more effectively interact with people of different cultures, most importantly and directly English language learner (ELL) populations. 

One professional goal I set for myself this year was to increase the students’ and staffs' cross-cultural competencies in our high school. To begin with, I explored and expanded my understanding of the concept of cross-cultural competencies.  After some research and reading, I came to the conclusion that the components of cross-cultural competencies are four –fold: awareness, knowledge, skills, action and advocacy.  Each component builds on the next and becomes progressively more complex.  The first level is awareness, which is gaining an understanding of one’s self, one’s socialization, stereotypes, beliefs and cultural norms.  The second level is knowledge, which is learning about others whose experiences and values are different from one’s own.  The third level is skills, which is gaining experience in cross-cultural interactions.  Lastly, action and advocacy is being able to make changes beyond individual relationships that create a lasting impact on society.  Combined, these four components result in a deeper understanding of different cultures and world views.

In my past experience, I have seen a variety of activities, programs, and initiatives geared toward awareness and knowledge, but not building and continuing to skills, action and advocacy.  Therefore, my professional goal was to implement change at the skills, action and advocacy levels to increase our school's cross-cultural competencies.  Look for Part 2:  Components of Cross-Cultural Competencies in Action to see how this theoretical concept can be put into practice for increasing schools’ cross-cultural competencies.