My Mochila, Spanish on the Go! Multicultural books, lessons, global citizenry and more…

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My Mochila: Spanish on the Go! is a monthly curated box of Spanish language content and educational support for monolingual, heritage speakers, bilingual parents, teachers and educators.  Mochila means backpack in Spanish and it will open worlds to various learning opportunities.

*Each month your lesson plan of 18 activities will include:

         Literacy: Listening, Speaking, Reading & Writing

         Literature: Your child will receive a Spanish book to compliment themes

         Music: Your child will receive a Spanish CD

         Arts & Crafts: Everything needed to complete the project

         Parent Resources: Additional support & lessons  

 

The program is designed to assist adults teach Spanish with the help of culturally diverse materials, lesson plans and ongoing support from the My Mochila: Spanish on the Go! team. It provides children with authentic and relevant Spanish language books and lessons. Personally chosen multicultural literature, music, crafts and items are chosen to engage students in cross-curricular lessons while learning Spanish. The best part is that all materials needed will be delivered to their doorstep. It is sure to inspire a lifelong love of language learning and appreciation for cultural diversity.   

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Irma Vazquez, founder of My Mochila: Spanish On The Go! is reinventing what multicultural education and Spanish language learning in the early childhood and elementary years looks like.  My Mochila: Spanish on the Go! provides students with authentic culturally relevant items designed by indigenous groups throughout Latin America and Spain. My Mochila’s partnerships will provide sustainable wages to the countries the students are learning about.  By forging interconnected relationships with the artisans themselves, children and their families will further extend their global citizenship. My Mochila can be transformed from a Spanish language teaching tool to a collection of authentic multicultural heirlooms that can be passed down to future children and grandchildren for years to come.

Irma Vazquez has transformed multicultural and bilingual education. Irma possesses over two decades of hands on classroom teaching experience, including multicultural and second language instruction. She is also the co-founder and current owner of My Escuelita: Spanish For Kids.   She currently serves as a board member of the LMU School of Education Alumni Association. In 2012, Irma supported the launch of the first Southbay California Dual Language Immersion Program as a kindergarten teacher within the Redondo Beach Unified School District. In 2015, Irma was awarded the winner of the Latino Start Up Alliance Small Business Plan “Soy Empresaria” and has been prominently featured in South Bay Magazine. She was nominated for the 2015 National Latina Business Women’s Association “Woman in Excellence” Award and is an active member of the small business community in her local neighborhood. In addition, Irma acts as an expert teacher advisor and early childhood consultant with Little Ripples Preschool in Darfur, Africa and sits on the advisory board for Learning Rights in Los Angeles. She mentors and trains bilingual and general education students in the Elementary & Secondary credential program at Loyola Marymount University.

 

My Mochila: Spanish on the Go! is starting a Kickstarter campaign from November 2 – November 16. Here is the direct link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2106982487/675403170?token=8b927fd2

 

We are excited about this great opportunity to support language learning as well as supporting artisans in and around Latin America.

For more information please visit:

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The Teachers College Reading & Writing Project: August Writing Institute

 

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Teachers College: Columbia University

This week I participated in the August Institute on the teaching of Writing at Teachers College at Columbia University. Upon registering, we were given tote bags with the Teachers College logo, several books and a notebook where we would be practicing and developing our own writing skills during the course of the week. As an educator who loves everything about literacy and writing, I was thrilled to be here.

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We were welcomed by Lucy Calkins, the founding director of The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP). She shared a very personal story about her father. I thought of my own father and how on my to do list there is a huge need for me to listen and understand his story.  Lucy’s words rang true because writing for me has always been a deeply personal and spiritual affair. It also occurred to me that I don’t always honor this personal connection of writing with my students. Unfortunately, in the game of testing, standards and rubrics, I have sometimes been more concerned with the final product than the personal connection of the story or the writing process.

Every day we broke out into small groups. In these small group sessions, we experienced what a writer’s workshop could look and feel like as a student. Our presenter guided us through mini lessons, whole group and small group instructions. She modeled different writing styles: personal narratives, small moments, non fiction, writing reviews, how to and all about books.

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After she gave a mini lesson, we were sent to draw a picture/sketch to help develop our writing. This I found interesting because some schools frown upon drawing because they think it is not academic in nature. I myself have been told that the drawing portion of my interactive big books were not in line with the curriculum. As a veteran teacher, I have observed time and time again how eager kids are to share what they have drawn. And as we learned, drawing is equally important as the written word because its purpose is to tell a story, share an insight or convey a message. The presenter modeled how teachers can confer with students (individually or in a small group) and how crucial it is to take notes on what the student is doing independently, observe where they get stuck, and how to scaffold support so they use their “writing tools”.

 

While I am in the habit of conferring/conferencing with my students in writing, I have mostly focused on the rubric. I am sad to say that yes, I did mark up their papers, I did point out missing periods and misspelled words.  In our morning group I asked the presenter, “So if I’m not helping them edit and revise and I’m not marking their paper, what exactly should I do?” She said, “Focus on one writing point: structure, development, conventions or processThis will help the student better understand the writing process. The focus is on understanding the process of writing so that they eventually transfer these skills in their independent writing.”  “So they don’t publish a final copy?” I asked. She smiled,”No. They are 5, 6 and 7 years old. They can fancy up a writing piece by adding a cover and coloring a picture. How many times have you asked your students to publish a piece to include all of the revisions you’ve helped them with, and they still copy some, if not most of it incorrectly. What’s more important, the final draft or internalizing the writing process?”  I didn’t answer her because I was having an AHA moment. This was paramount! 

We were asked to write in our notebooks everyday. We wrote a lot. Sometimes I really understood the lesson and went for it. Other times I was at a loss. “What’s a small moment?” I asked. “It’s writing with focus, detail and dialogue.” “What?” I asked again and again. As much as the presenter explained it to me, my colleagues at my table gave examples, I still couldn’t wrap my head around it. But after writing several small moments throughout the week, I understand how necessary it is to put myself in the role of the student in order to help them navigate the process of writing.

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Our final day together, we gathered for a closing celebration. I was exhausted, hot and consumed with rushing back to the hotel to pack and head back home. I sat on the steps of the aisle since there weren’t anymore seats available. But as five brave teachers shared their “small moment” writing pieces I leaned in, wanting to hear their stories. My heart pounded and broke, I wiped tears from my eyes and held my breath. While I couldn’t see any of the speakers, I could hear their words, I could feel their pain and was instantly taken to that small moment in their lives. Their stories were brutally honest and I wondered how they didn’t lose it as they shared to a crowd of over 1300 people.

 

I have lots of ideas brewing in my mind and I know how lucky I was to be part of the amazing TCRWP group. I also need to get my father a notebook so he can share some family stories with me.

The wonderful thing about writing is that it separates the meaningless and the trivial from what is really important. – Donald Graves

 

 

Fireboat Field Trip!

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Fireboat 2 – San Pedro, CA

Today, I experienced our class field trip to the fireboat through the eyes of a child. Earlier in the school year my team teacher suggested we visit the fireboat as a means to tie in the social studies theme – “World of Work”. Confused because I had never in my entire life heard of a “fireboat” I asked, “What’s a fireboat?” I came home that night and asked my family and my childhood friends, who like me, are college educated professionals, products of hardworking immigrant families where English was our second language and Spanish was the home language.  None of them had ever heard of a fireboat. A fellow colleague (also from an immigrant family) shared a book with me and chuckled – “Don’t worry, I had no idea what that was either!” As I read and perused the pictures in the book, Fireboat, I waited for this special day with much anticipation.

When we arrived to the Fireboat Station in San Pedro, I couldn’t wait to put a real life experience to the book that I had read with much curiosity. The fireboat was out, doing a dance with the water. It reminded me of the Bellagio Water Show in Las Vegas.

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Then we walked inside the station and it was the most awesome thing ever. It was dark, mysterious and beautiful. While we waited for the fireboat to dock, we were given an informative tour. I really appreciate how the firefighter leading the tour emphasized how every firefighter helps clean, cook, organize and maintain the fireboat. It was a natural tie-in to the theme, “World of Work” – a study of the many systems in place needed to keep and maintain a community thriving.

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After the tour, our little ones were given the opportunity to handle a fire hose. They held onto the long hose, waiting patiently to get wet…and boy did they get wet!

fireboat.jpgWhile the little ones waited to get their turn at spraying water from the hose, a student ran up to me and said, “There’s a girl firefighter here, like your book. You have to talk to her.” I eventually talked to the girl firefighter whose name is Valerie (shout out to Valerie and all the other girl firefighters!). I loved that Valerie said that where she’s from, she was raised with the belief that she could be whatever she wanted to be when she grew up. I shared with Valerie that my picture book, Pink Fire Trucks aims to inspire this important message. I could see how significant this was for my female students since it was mentioned a few times on our drive back to school.

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Thank you Fireboat Station 112 for your time and dedication. Today was exciting! It’s important for students of all ages to not only be able to conceptualize concepts they are learning, but to experience them. Field trips are important. And for an adult who had never heard of the word “fireboat” – today’s field trip was extra special.

Visualization Activity: Drawing to Enhance Reading Comprehension

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One of the perks of being a teacher is that I get to share my story ideas with my students. I’ve been working on this particular story since the fall. I’ve gone to several critique groups through SCBWI and used their feedback to revise and edit.  This week I shared the newly revised story and asked my students to visualize it in their minds. I explained that active readers/listeners are able to create a movie with pictures or scenes in their brains as they read, to fully grasp the depth of a story.

I read the story and asked a few questions to make sure they were following the storyline. I then asked them to draw an image or scene from the story. I have to say, I got really emotional when I looked at their drawings. Some of them were so sophisticated and moving…and to think that my little ones are between the ages of 5-7.

These beautiful drawings also confirmed how important visual cues are for readers, particularly struggling readers. It saddens me that in some educational structures, taking the time to draw and color are no longer viable methods for checking understanding. Little people come with so much to express. It’s important that we educators take the time to really get to know our students and their strengths, not just their stretches.  If I were to solely base their academic abilities on standardized tests, I would never be able to see and appreciate their soul. I hope you enjoy their drawings. Granted, I am not providing the story text -their beautiful and creative images tell a story of their own.

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“This story reminds me of the olden days.”

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“I felt the grass with my hands when you were reading.”

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“The girl was really mad at her grandpa.”

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“It’s a far away place.”

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“Did you see the designs I used in my drawing?”

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“My grandfather died.”

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I wanted to make the water really blue.

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“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau

 

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2016: Hands Around The Library

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In celebration of Multicultural Children’s Book Day (January 27th, 2016), we read Hands Around The Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books, written by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya. This powerful story tells of the movement that took place in Egypt in 2011 when people of all ages stood up to protect the great Library of Alexandria. The story is told in first person, making it easier for young children to follow and understand the importance of this protest, in a country where people’s freedoms were not being honored. The story begins…

          Once upon a time, not long ago, many people in Egypt were

          sad and sometimes angry, because they were not free to speak, 

          or vote as they wished, or gather in groups. They knew about 

          freedom, but only from books, or the internet, or whispering inside

          these safe walls of our Alexandria Library. 

The collages by Susan L. Roth are also really creative. They are rich with colors and emotions.

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          After reading the story, we made a systems map on why libraries are important. The students had great understanding of the functionality of libraries and made many connections. Some of the comments were that libraries are important because it’s a place for learning and knowledge as well as reading about important people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman.

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Library Systems Map by k/1 Students

We then listed the overarching concepts that were mentioned in the story and discussed how people can change the world for the better. We asked the students,  “What do you stand up for? ” and “How do you make the world better?”  We took pictures of them holding a whiteboard where they wrote what they stand up for. In response to how they make the world better, answers ranged from helping my mom, picking up trash at the beach, feeding the homeless and being nice to my sister. I was really pleased with the depth of understanding my little ones demonstrated and hopeful that our young will continue to carve out a path of peace, freedom and justice for all.

I stand up for…

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The MCCBD team’s mission is to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book.

Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books*Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk*Candlewick Press

Silver: Lee and Low Books*Chronicle Books*Capstone Young Readers

Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books*Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh* China Institute.org*

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can view them here.

A free copy was sent to me for an honest review and I was not compensated.

Observations on American Sign Language & Bilingual/Bicultural Education in Latino Communities

UC San Diego - School of Education in ASL/Bilingual    Studies

UC San Diego – School of Education in ASL/Bilingual Studies

My cousin Marco had a presentation at UC San Diego, where he received his graduate degree in American Sign Language, English Bilingual Education. The presentations were in American Sign Language (ASL) while several interpreters voiced what was being signed. While I listened with great interest, I saw the many similarities between the bilingual education program in the context of the deaf community and bilingual education programs in urban and Latino communities.

I was particularly interested in learning more about Anthony J. O’Donnell’s work. He said that hands, in the context of signing, can alter the meaning of words. The following day I got to spend some time with AJ over a cup of coffee.  I had never been in the company of a deaf person and was unsure how we were going to communicate. He brought along a tablet and began to communicate with me through writing. And while AJ is adept at writing quickly and effortlessly on the tablet, it took me a while to get through a thought. But he was patient as I spelled out words, finger by finger.

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I learned that just as spoken words have slight and varied nuances depending on pitch, tone, pronunciation and context, so do signed words. The rhythm and flow of hands, their movement, rate of signing as well as patterns used, add and change the nuances of their meaning. I thought of how words have shades of meaning and how these subtleties are sometimes challenging for English Language Learners (ELL’s) to grasp.

My cousin, who is a hearing individual, has been learning ASL. He loves languages, learning about their cultures and its people. He knows English, Spanish, Arabic and now ASL. He works in an urban school for the deaf with students who are predominantly Latino. During his presentation, Mark raised some valid points that I had never considered. Just like ELL’s are balancing English and a home native language, his students have several languages and forms of communications to contend with. Firstly, his high school students are born deaf, to hearing families. They come from immigrant families where Spanish is the home language.

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Another presenter mentioned the need for deaf children to read and learn about deaf role models so that they see themselves in literature, history, music, and the community at large. This again highlights the need for teachers, parents and librarians to include multicultural literature in schools so that underrepresented children or children of color recognize the inherent beauty of their culture and language.

I shared with AJ that the presentations made me realize how similar the struggles and needs of the deaf community are between ELL’s and those that are considered “others” in American mainstream culture.  AJ openly shared that he knows what it feels like to not be seen, not heard and not validated. And while I do not share the struggles he has faced as a deaf individual, I can empathize because as a Latina daughter of immigrant parents, my experience has been one of straddling two worlds. I have my mainstream English world and the culture of my home where English and Spanish are mixed together, Spanglish.  My childhood friends and I have mastered the ability to codeswitch, depending on who we are speaking to. When in a professional setting, we speak with each other using academic English. When we are together in a relaxed setting, we speak to each other in Spanglish, use urban words and phrases and other forms of colloquialisms. However, mainstream culture says that only academic English is considered correct and that the culture my family is from is somehow less than. But when we consider the main function of language, it is to communicate, to express oneself, to connect.

I feel fortunate for having been introduced to the deaf community, or as AJ prefers, the signing community. It has its own language system (ASL): a language system that is not made up of simple hand gestures, but a system with intricate structures that allows for the deaf community to communicate with each other just as deeply and profoundly as any other language in the hearing community.

AJ- thank you for teaching me something new, for allowing me to ask you a million questions and mostly for your gracious manner and intellect. You are a brilliant man.

Marco- felicidades primito. Your curiosity and passion never ceases to amaze me.

Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varies. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.

-Noam Chomsky