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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 3: Watching the Conversation with Guadalupe Valdés

Activity 3.1: Watch and take notes on conversation about impact of terms used to talk about English Learners

Participants will engage in: Watching a video, note-taking (outside of class)

Duration: 1 hour

Webinar video: What’s in a Name? The Terms We Use to Talk About English Learners, the Theories They Reflect, and Why Labels Matter

This activity focuses on watching and taking notes on a video of a webinar conversation between Aída Walqui and Guadalupe Valdés. The webinar explores the role that language plays in the academic and civic development of English Learners. 


  • Draw a triple-entry journal (like the one below) for your notes.

  • Watch the video.

  • As you watch the video of this conversation, listen for ideas that you are already familiar with and for new ideas. Record your notes on these ideas in the triple-entry journal.

  • After you finish watching, write down two questions that you would like to ask Dr. Valdés.

Triple-Entry Journal

Ideas I am already

familiar with

New ideas that are

useful to me

Questions I would like to

ask Dr. Valdés

Activity 3.2: Sharing ideas around the table

Participants will engage in: Sharing ideas

Duration: Approximately 3 minutes


  • In tables of four in class, do a round-robin sharing (one person talks at a time, nobody interrupts) of the ideas that participants wrote down in each of the three columns of their triple-entry journals in Activity 3.1.

    • The round-robin should focus on one column of information from the triple-entry journal at a time. The first person only shares two ideas. Then the turn rotates. When it is your turn, only add ideas that have not been mentioned before.

Activity 3.3: Expanding awareness of how we use language to talk about our students and our work

Participants will engage in: Reflection and note-taking

Duration: 20 minutes

Many of the ways we use to talk about our pedagogical activity and our students have not been widely examined to understand their meaning and potential impact on others. For example, when we say “minority students,” we imply that this is a condition that students own and display, inherent to them. If we instead say “minoritized students,” we assume the term relates not to a characteristic of the students, but to a label that has been ascribed to them by others and, thus, is in need of being removed.


Another example of the impact of the language we use with students is provided by Hilda Solís in the text you read in Activity 1.1. Remember? When she was in high school in Los Angeles, she wanted to take some advanced placement courses. She went to the counselor, who told her she “was not college material.” Undeterred, Solís asked her mother to go to school and advocate for her. The mother, unfortunately, got the same response: “Your daughter is not college material.” The counselor added, “Why doesn’t Hilda become a secretary just like her sister?” Speaking to the graduating class at Hunter College in 2009, Solís roared to the audience, “And I, the daughter of immigrants, did become a secretary, the nation’s labor secretary!”


Solís combatted the negative stereotypes and deficit-based language through her own individual effort. However, that role should be one that we educators undertake. We need to change the ways in which we refer to students in order to create more equitable classes and ensure high-quality learning opportunities for all of our students.


The following activity can be done either individually outside of class or in small groups in class.


  • Read the phrases in the table below that need to be replaced because they may cause harm to students. Analyze what the phrases are conveying: What images are being created? What realities are being constructed that may become self-fulfilling prophecies? Who is the actor in these phrases? How are students portrayed?

  • You may add expressions to the list that should be removed from educational discourse because of their negative, deficit-based impact.

  • In the second column, suggest several alternatives that are more positive ways of referring to students.

Phrases that are commonly used to refer to students or to the opportunities we offer them. (What harm may they cause?)

Phrases that could be used to replace the expressions in the first column.

I delivered my lesson.

This student needs remediation.

At-risk students

When did these kids go off track?

Long-term English Learners


Language is acquired.

I allow my students to …

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