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Developing Educator Expertise to Work with Adolescent English Learners
Module 2 – The Language We Use to Talk about English Learners and Our Work: A Focus on the Conversation with Guadalupe Valdés

By Aída Walqui

OVERVIEW    |    INTRODUCTION    |    PART 1    |     PART 2    |    PART 3    |     PART 4    |    REFERENCES

Part 1: Becoming aware of the impact our use of
language has

Activity 1.1: Read and discuss with a focus on how adults’ words can
impact students

Participants will engage in: Individual reading and small-group discussion

Duration: Approximately 8 minutes

Reading: As Labor Secretary, Finding Influence in Her Past

When Hilda Solís was in high school in California, she wanted to enroll in some advanced courses. The counselor told her she could not, so she asked her mother to speak to the counselor and advocate for her.


  • Read about Hilda Solís’s experience in this New York Times article. As you read about the incident, think about the following questions:

    • What did the counselor tell Hilda and her mother in response to their request? Why?

    • What kind of impact did the counselor’s response have on Hilda? Is this a typical reaction for students placed in that position? Why or why not?

  • Spend 4 minutes discussing in small groups your responses to the questions posed.

Activity 1.2: Reflecting on a personal experience in school

Participants will engage in: Reflection, writing down ideas, sharing in groups of four

Duration: 15–20 minutes


Participants should be grouped in tables of four.

  • Reflect on the following question and write down some key components of your answer:
    When you were in school, did anyone say anything about you that supported your school success or slowed you down? (~3 minutes)

  • Round-robin discussion: In your table of four, and without interrupting anybody, each participant will take turns and share their story. (1 minute per person)

  • Discuss key elements that ran through your anecdotes. (~5 minutes)

  • Each group selects one experience — with permission from the person who shared the anecdote — to share with the larger group. The person sharing should not be the same person who was the protagonist of the incident. (~8 minutes)


Activity 1.3: Creating an inventory of phrases used to describe students that can support or debilitate them

Participants will engage in: Brainstorming and writing a list

Duration: 3 minutes


  • Remaining in groups of four, brainstorm and create a list of phrases that you have heard used in school or other education programs to talk about students, which could have either a positive or negative impact on them.

  • Each participant must keep the same full list of terms that the group produces.

Activity 1.4: The equity line of school talk

Participants will engage in: Creating an equity continuum

Duration: 5 minutes

We are borrowing the idea for this activity from Mica Pollock’s book Schooltalk: Rethinking What We Say About — and to — Students Every Day (2017, The New Press).


While you will be expanding your understanding of equity in other modules, a working definition of equity includes the following elements:


  • The firm belief that all students are equally valuable, have immense potential, and can reach the same ambitious goals. It is the job of educators to develop that potential with respect toward their students and through evolving, critical knowledge about their craft.

  • As teachers get to know students better, they can describe them with increasing knowledge and accuracy, as members of communities who have valuable assets and interest to grow.

  • Students’ growth and needs are framed precisely, not in vague, generalized terms.

  • Students are offered the opportunities they need to learn — not in generic, curriculum-dictated ways, but contingently, responding to their individual needs and current development.


  • Share the list you came up with in Activity 1.3.

  • Collaboratively choose four terms from the group lists — the ones you consider most in need of revision — and produce a poster where you place your chosen terms along a continuum that ranks them from Not Supporting Equity to Supporting Equity.


Activity 1.5: Critical gallery walk

Arrows facing outward at each end of Not

Participants will engage in: Reflecting on colleagues’ ideas

Duration: 5 minutes


  • Each group puts up their group posters (signed with their names) from Activity 1.4 around the room.

  • Individually, each participant receives two Post-it Notes to use to comment on the depiction of terms on the posters around the room that they agree or disagree with. Each participant writes a comment on the Post-it Note, signs it, and places it on the poster on which they are commenting to communicate their reaction to colleagues’ products.

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