Sunday, December 5, 2010

U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

Want to find out the mechanics of refugee resettlement? How about where different refugee people groups can be found in the U.S.?  Look no further than the U. S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.  Find opportunities for project funding, links to service providers, photos and the latest on legistlation, politics and news from Washington and around the globe.  Click here to visit the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration or look for the link under "Resources."

First Words: Are they really colors, foods or household goods?

Ok. Perhaps it's just me, but almost every adult or community ESL textbook I have seen highlight low frequency vocabulary words for explicit instruction.  I wonder how often words like "tomatoe", "pink" or "vacuum" are really needed for beginning English speakers in everyday conversations? I won't mention the title, but I did a comparison this past summer between the vocabulary listed for explicit instruction in an intro level ESL textbook and the first thousand most frequently used words in English.  Less than 50% of the vocabulary from the textbook was high frequency and many of these lower frequency words were even listed in the top 2,000 high frequency word lists.  I could go on and on, but I rather give you a link to Ogden's Basic English word list, which is a mere 850 words.  Ogden list, borne out of his methodical sifting of the 25,000 word Oxford Pocket English Dictionary, resulted in the elimination all the vocabulary that might be explained by pairing simpler words together, thus arriving at 850 words. Thanks Ogden!
Click here to visit the Basic English word list or look for the link under "Resources."

The Speech Accent Archive

The Speech Accent Archive is available to us through George Mason University. The site allows you to browse through and listen to the many English accents found across the globe.  Simply click on an area of the map and then on the flag which marks the location of a particular accent.  If your students are having a difficult time understanding the spoken English of individuals from New York or Georgia, Paris, China or Spain, then this site it for them! Each speech example lists the age and origin of the individual speaking in the clip and every clip utilizes the same short reading, making comparisons that much easier.  
Click here to visit the Speech Accent Archive or look for the link under “Resources.”

Another great tool for pronunciation!

Three cheers for the University of Iowa and their web page, Phonetics: The Sounds of American English! This website is another great online tool for pronunciation instruction and practice. Instructors can learn the technical and laymen terms used in pronunciation instruction and students can make great use the sites explicit instructions and visuals to identify and differentiate sounds, watch how each sound is produce via computer animation as well as video clips and practice pronunciation on their own!  
Click here to visit the Phonetics website or look for the link under “Resources.”
The Center for Applied Linguistics - don’t let the name scare you away from this fabulous resource! CAL has been working with the U.S. government and resettlement agencies all across America and overseas to collect, develop and share resources on various aspects of refugee resettlement. CAL is also home to the Cultural Orientation and Resource Center, where you can network with other service providers to share and swap best practices or take a look at the latest research and statistics.  Visit the CAL or COR Center website to find information on the languages, cultures, special needs and resettlement of refugee people groups or look for links to these pages under "Resources."

Free Training for Adult ESL Teachers

New American Horizons Foundation exists to assist immigrants in integrating into their communities within the United States. This site is particularly useful for those who are new to the adult education field, as it offers video training for adult ESL instruction. You can purchase the training materials at production cost or watch videos online.  

Click here to visit NAHF’s website or follow the link on my “Resource” list.

Tools for Pronunciation

Well, the end of the fall semester is here and I thought I would share with you a few pronunciation tools that I picked up along the way. Pronunciation instruction is so important for ESL students no matter what their background is.  Not everyone can be web designers or code writers, but just by virtue of the fact that you found your way to this blog demonstrates that you are tech savvy enough to use Audacity software inside or outside of your classroom.  Audacity is free digital sound recording and editing software that works three platforms, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows and GNU/Linux.

Teachers and students alike can utilize Audacity to analyze, compare, contrast and practice English pronunciation.  You don’t need to be familiar with every feature or watch any training videos.  All you need is a computer microphone and perhaps some portable speakers and you are ready to go! What is the point of repeating sounds or words without any way to check if your pronunciation is correct? Use Audacity to record native and non-native speakers to compare and contrast their speech.  Playback a student’s speech and watch students become aware of the difference in their speech and that of native speakers.  Because the software is free, students can download the software to their home computers for additional practice outside of the classroom!  
* To download Audacity, click here to be taken to the website or find the link on my Resource list!

National Geographic Lesson Plans

As I was browsing my friend Regina's website, I noticed a link to free lesson plans from National Geographic.  National Geographic, producers of the award winning documentary film "God Grew Tired of Us, have provided high school and adult ESL teachers with a fabulous online bank of lesson plans.  Even greater still, National Geographic teaches geography related content to students via the refugee perspective in a lesson plan entitled "Through the Eyes of a Refugee." Click here to find National Geographic lesson plans or find the link listed under "Resources."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Look Inside Refugee Camp Schools - Mae La Camp

Recently I was asked by a local educator to share with him my experience of the Karen people of Myanmar, also known as Burma.  The reason for his inquiry was due to the difficulties several schools in Austin have been having as they try to meet the needs of Karen students.  There are no words adequate enough to describe the life of the many Karen who have been resettled in the U.S. Most individuals have no context or prior knowledge with which they can build mental pictures of the refugee life.  In my experience, Karen people are reserved, friendly and caring people.  As for school aged children, the tribal community assists in their discipline and care.  When children misbehave, and they do, Americans might be shocked to see a mother or father simply responding with a wry smile and mock indifference.  If mom or dad later becomes tired of a child's behavior, they can simply pass them over to another tribe member for a time.  This form of child rearing must work sufficiently well, because as I mentioned, the Karen are a calm, well behaved, friendly and hard-working people.  However, when a group of Karen are inserted into our American context, the same form of discipline is no longer applied uniformly. If you click here to view a short video of Karen children at school in the Mae La refugee camp in Thailand, you might have a hard time believing any of my descriptions of the Karen are true.  However, it is true and if you want to get to know more about the Karen and step into their shoes, please click here to watch a 4 minute video on the plight of the Karen people of Burma or visit the following websites:  Karen Konnection ,  U.S. Campaign for Burma.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides for the world's refugee population, most of whom are currently living in refugee camps around the globe.  The UNHCR website is a treasure-trove of information for those who want to know more about the refugees among us.  The website contains editorials on current events, links to partner organizations, country and people group specific information, as well as a plethora of statistics on every aspect of refugee life you can imagine. Though it may seem daunting, it is well worth your while to comb through the dense amount of material available to you on this site. 

Click here to be connected to the UNHCR website or visit the link provided listed under "Resources."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Resettlement- Step into a Refugee's Shoes

Every time I see the trailer for this film, I tear up. While I was working in refugee resettlement, I showed this film to my co-workers, some of whom were former refugees themselves. The follow morning everyone of them came to me and told me how the movie had brought back vivid memories and feelings from the past. So despite the fact that this film covers the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, much of this poignant film also mirrors the lives of refugee people groups from all over the globe. Please take time to watch.  The film is award winning, narrated by Nicole Kidman and I know if you watch it will stir your heart. God Grew Tired of us is available for rental online or at your local video store and may even be purchased from various vendors, such as

Check out the film trailer here or by choosing the link to your right, under "Resources."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Educating our refugee and ELL students

      I recently read an article from the Brookings Institution, which cited some rather pertinent information that I would like to share with you.  According to 2004 data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, "Of the 10 countries that carry out resettlement programs, the United States accepts more than double the number of refugees accepted by the other nine countries combined, resettling approximately 2.5 million people since 1975." While I was working in resettlement in 2007, the U.S. government increased the annual refugee cap from 60-70,000. Under the Presidential Determination for Refugee Admissions, the Obama administration has likewise authorized an increase in the cap on annual refugee admissions, offering resettlement during the 2011 fiscal year to 80,000 refugees. Setting politics aside, all the data which I have read thus far indicates a continued increase in the number of refugee students school districts will serve in the years to come. So, how are U.S. schools fairing at present with the education of the nation's K-12 English language learners [ELLs]?
     According to the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, of the 49.9 millions students enrolled in the 2007-2008 school year, just under 11 percent were English language learners.  In the state of California the number of ELLs in 2008 outnumbered the combined total of the five other states whose ELL populations rank highest in the nation: Texas (701,799), Florida (234,934), New York (213,000), Illinois (175,454) and Arizona (166,572). The NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] reported in 2009 only 12 percent of 4th grade ELLs were at or above proficient in math, compared to 42 percent of non-ELL students. The scores were even worse for 8th grade Ells with a mere 6 percent at or above proficient in math, compared to 38 percent of non-ELL students. In my own state, Texas, ELLs graduated from high school at significantly lower percentages than there counterparts, 39 percent v. 78 percent.  
     It should come as no surprise that the needs of our refugee students are not being met, especially when some schools are still sitting refugee students in a corner with a few crayons or markers for entertainment, rather than attempting to educate them.  I personally find such notions incomprehensible! As incoming refugee populations are being spread out from major cities and resettled in less urban areas, perhaps we need to form some type of staff development program that will break down barriers and give teachers the tools they need to assist this particular ELL population.  
    I would love to hear how others are meeting the needs of refugee students in their schools! What do you think or what are you doing in your local school?