Introducing this week’s @EduTweetOz host, Cindy Valdez-Adams (@TESOLoz)

Cindy Valdez-Adams

Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education?  What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?

I became involved in education, in particular, ESL education, because I wanted to inspire my students to be the best that they can be, and experience the joys of learning how to learn!  I also hope to inspire them to be resilient, make connections and develop a love for learning.

My learners are not only migrants, most are from a refugee background.  With this in mind, I take pride in making sure that I provide them with a safe learning environment.  In my New Arrivals class, they participate in high challenge and high support teaching and learning experiences.  We have to remember that these learners not only need to develop concepts, but also the cognitive academic language the curriculum demands.  The challenge has always been to move them from ‘everyday’ to ‘academic’ language, and develop deep knowledge and understanding of various language functions.

“Developing Language through the Arts” was created three years ago to provide newly-arrived EAL/D learners most of whom are refugees, opportunities to develop their ability to express and communicate their ideas through various art forms. Learners are given the space to show their understanding of concepts and ideas through painting, drawing, sculpture, drama and dance in a safe and secure environment.  The major outcome of the program was a noticeable increase in the oral language development, substantive engagement, improved confidence and achievement of students.  My newly-arrived learners engage and participate in learning & teaching strategies, such as Visible Thinking routines to foster and develop creativity, higher order thinking and language learning skills.

Partnerships with the broader arts community have also been made including the NSW Art Gallery and Casula Powerhouse Museum, as well as newly-arrived parents of our school community.  This year, The Maritime Museum also joins us in creating authentic experiences for our learners.  I hope to include other Museums into the program.  I believe that museums have a special place in any ESL program, because they play an important role in our society.  “Why do we have museums?” is the first question we ask our learners during their visits.  This way they can see the relevance.

 My Bio….

  • Completed Bachelor of Education Teaching English as a Second Language @UWS in 1997
  • Currently an ESL Specialist Teacher/Mentor at Fairfield Public School. I’ve held the position of Assistant Principal ESL in 2011 to 2013, and have been teaching at Fairfield Public School for the last 14 years.  Previous to this, I was relieving AP in 2004 to 2010.  This year, I was invited to participate in the “EAL/D Mentoring Program”, as a mentor to schools with a growing enrolment of refugee learners.
  • Presented at various conferences, TESOL workshops and seminars. Last year, I presented at ACER’s “Excellence in Professional Practice Conference”.  I’ve also presented “action research” findings/discoveries, and involvement in the “Fair-Go”, “Vocabulary Development” & “EAL/D Leadership” projects, at the “Re-Thinking Multicultural Education Conference”, and other forums.
  • Founder of #tesoloz, a regular ESL ed chat which aims to promote effective EAL/D pedagogy, and expand colleagues’ EAL/D Professional Learning Network through social media.

 Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?

My learners’ resilience to ‘life’ in general, has always been a source of inspiration.  Most of them have come from war-torn places, and this has greatly affected their ability to learn, and develop their first language as well.  Most missed out on one of the most basic human rights…the right to an education.  And so they come to Australia.  They come ready to take on all the challenges that come with moving to a new country, ie survive ‘peace’, learn a new language, and understand ‘Australian’ culture.  What could be more inspiring?

Art works and rich texts provide inspiration to create learning experiences which allow my students to make connections to their experiences, to what they already know, and ‘extend’ their thinking.  Hence, my visits to art museums and the like, have been invaluable.  This is something my family and I have always done, so it’s great for it to have become an important part of the program.  Museums inspire me to think and ask questions, which I share with my learners.  They are authentic ‘learning spaces’ where ‘thinking’ and ‘asking questions’ are highly-valued.  This is one of the many reasons I love taking my learners to these places.

Last but not least, my daughter has always inspired me! I’m sure I became a better educator as soon as I became a mother to her. Her sense of wonder is something I’d like my learners to experience on a daily basis.

What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?

“21st Century Education” has meant that everyone working in education today need to ‘have-a-go’ themselves.  There is a real need for educators to develop a ‘growth mindset’, and our challenge is to pass this on to our learners as well.

For ESL Programs in particular, it is time to ‘re-think’ the New Arrivals Program.  You could no longer teach ‘everyday’, ‘basic’ words and vocabulary on a weekly basis, eg Week 1:  School, Week 2: Family, etc. through simple teaching and learning strategies.  Vocabulary development and “everyday language” (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills), need to be developed through high challenge and high support programs.

ESL Programs need to focus on developing metacognitive skills that will ensure that our EAL/D learners are able to function in their mainstream classrooms, including the ability to problem-solve and collaborate with their peers.  The learning should be made visible to our EAL/D learners, and their ‘thinking’ supported with the necessary scaffold.  Our challenge, as EAL/D educators, is to make the curriculum accessible to our learners.  One of our main goals is to ensure that they experience success.  Most importantly, we need to make sure that our EAL/D learners are able to function in the “real” world.

 If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?

I would make sure that all educators are aware of their own Emotional Intelligence.  This might translate to educators being more ‘in-tune’ with their learners’ ‘real’ needs.  I quite like the “STARS for successful settlement and learning” model developed by UNICEF in 1999. “Students from refugee backgrounds need a safe secure learning environment where their individual needs are considered.”  (Teaching refugees in my classroom, DET 2010).  The key elements are Safety, Trust, Attachment, Responsibility and Skills.  Without going into too much detail, the idea is that our first role as educators is ensure that our learners feel safe and secure, before we could expect them to learn literacy and numeracy skills. I believe the same thinking could be applied to ALL learners, including our teachers and parents. Schools are all about creating and nurturing ‘relationships’.

I would also make sure that The Arts are given more time, attention and funding in schools.  The Arts is very much inclusive, and presents an even level playing field for ALL learners.  I like the idea that there is no right or wrong answer in art, as it comes down to the individual’s interpretation of the art form.  My EAL/D learners are not only learning the language of learning, but also the language of visual arts.  There are strong links between the elements of art, and visual literacy in rich texts, for instance.  The Arts, integrated in other subjects could prove very beneficial to ALL learners.  Visible Thinking routines could also be developed alongside visual arts to support EAL/D learners articulate their thinking in ANY languages.

What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?

EduTweetOz is a great social media platform for ALL educators, most coming from different disciplines and subject areas.

Being an EAL/D educator, I hope to inspire others to re-think how they deliver ESL teaching and learning programs in their own schools.  These questions will hopefully encourage us to think deeply about substantive student engagement, and what does this look like for our EAL/D learners in both the New Arrivals Program (NAP) and the mainstream classroom where they receive ‘in-class support’:

  1. How does creating engaging learning experiences assist learners in seeing the value in the New Arrivals Program?
  1. How do I ensure that my learners are able to RESPOND deeply & meaningfully to what they read?
  1. How do I ensure that the strategies I use in the New Arrivals Program are being implemented in the mainstream classroom? Where is the TRANSFER?
  1. How do you ensure that our EAL/D learners are able to access the curriculum?
  1. What does an ‘inclusive’ mainstream classroom look like?
  1. What challenges do our EAL/D learners face during Problem/Project-based Genius Hour or SOLE learning sessions?
  1. How do our EAL/D specialist teachers support mainstream classroom teachers? What does a successful ‘team-teaching’ model look like?

There are many ways to structure the ESL Program in schools.  They key is knowing your students, their language background and life experiences.  Making them feel “included” is crucial to any ESL program.

 Is there anything else you would like to add?

I truly hope that I can inspire others to have the courage to ask questions and teach through what they’re passionate about.  Mine happens to be the arts.  It could be anything really.  The important thing is that we pass on to excitement and enthusiasm to our learners.  Because as it turned out, ‘passion’ is rather contagious!

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