As we seek to engage ESL learners in literature, life and literacy discussions, the dilemma of how to make “American” literature and nonfiction books “relatable “ for ESL middle school students emerges. This “relatability” need results ESL teachers selecting literature of the immigration experience. While such literature validates the students’ experiences as newcomers, it does not help them begin to acculturate as American“insiders” on par with native USA peers. ESL middle students can and should read American native memoirs. Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award winning Brown Girl Dreaming, memoir in verse is perfect for them. But given some second language acquisition necessary catch-up and American cultural familiarity deficits, how can this be achieved so both American born natives and ESL Learners can share as one the universality of Woodson’s memoir ? Use of Chromebooks can support making this award winning and deep work accessible to all middle school and beyond readers.
Although Ms. Woodson, an African American who grew up in South Carolina and Brooklyn, shares her life story in verse, the format, brevity and chapter flow guarantee a connection for ESL students. For example, her poetry memoir chapter detailing how she came to be named “Jacqueline” is translates to the naming of all readers. The poem is titled: “a girl named Jack” (www.jacquelinewoodson.com/books-ive-written/poetry) details the discussion among Jacqueline’s father, mother and aunts about an apt name for her. It is on her website along with photos of her and a fact and answer section plus interviews. Although in the 60’s when she was born the use of a boy’s name for a girl was not as frequent as it is in millennial culture, Jacqueline’s father argues for her to get his name, “Jack.” His argument is that it was a “Good enough name for me. . . /. . .Don’t see why/she can’t have it , too.” But Jacqueline’s mother weighs in for the tradition of giving a girl a typical girl’s name: “We won’t have a girl named Jack.”
Chromebooks can engage all students in equal access digital media viewing:
Students can also share gaining insight about Woodson as a physical being and as a writer by checking out as class an interview she did with Good Reads (www.goodreads.com/2082184-brown-girl-dreaming) or Time for Kids (www.timeforkids.com/node/170201/print). Students can also see at least one or two of the You Tube videos she has done which can be curated by the teacher for grade and age appropriateness. This allows students to prior to text study anticipate the sound of Jacqueline’s voice and her appearance and style. They can also pose questions about her and her work and then raise their hand or check off these questions on a list of questions she answers or topics she discusses during the interview. Twenty years ago, this shared intimacy with a living author would have only been possible if the school were lucky enough to secure a personal visit by the author. Now with chromebook situated communications, students can conveniently from their regular classroom seats view footage, see personal photos and experience their author and if lucky even Skype with a willing author. This visual and audio connection with the author as his/her work is being studied enhances the text engagement, comprehension and lifelong love of literature for many native born student readers, but crucially enables it for ESL students who can with peers view and listen to the author.
Once students have been digitally engaged in the author life, lifestyle, and talk, all students –ESL and native born – can ponder what’s in a name from Woodson’s poetic perspective and from their own cultural experiences.
How to use this “naming” experience poem:
Before sharing this poem with ESL middle school students, tap into their life experience with the naming process. Go quickly around the class have them share names in their cultures which are specifically ones that would be given to boys and those that would be given to girls. Among the boys names suggested by diverse students in a multiethnic class might be: Mohammed, Anwar, Ramon, Juan, Amadjon, Azvair, Parvis, Haijab, and Savlat. Girls names included: Aiesha, Aisha, Luba, Samandar, Maria, Maribelle, Zannatul, Javariya, and Madina.
Next ask, how they and their families would react if a name were chosen for a new sibling or cousin that were normally given to a child of another sex. Encourage them to share aloud their cultural perspectives on this issue. For more advanced in English ESL learners, allow them to go home and ask family members or older siblings how they would react to a name that is a female or male one be given to a male or female child. Then they can share these family responses.
For example, one student from Mexico noted that in his culture giving a boy a girl’s name would be embarrassing, but he was told that by adding an “a” to a boy’s name, a girl could carry that name without worry. The male “Luis” could become “Louisa.” Azvair noted that in his country girls can sometimes get boy’s names. His aunt had been given a boy’s name Sem, but in United States, it was restructured into “Saima.” Farizana noted that in her Urdu culture some Muslim parents give girls boys names.
Build on this oral history research and interviewing by asking the ESL students now living in the United States how they will choose their children’s names. They can examine current American use of names like Taylor (Taylor Swift, female and Taylor Kinney, male), Miley, Pat and others for both sexes will affect their decisions. These very real next stage upcoming choices can motivate ESL students to write authentic arguments for or against same name use for both sexes. Their arguments can then also be shared and compared with those of Woodson native American born peers.
ESL students can model their own memoir narratives or blank verse snapshots about their own naming by families. They can include snapshots of themselves as babies and other, memorabilia such as christening blankets or outfits or rattles or jewelry/ribbons. These can be uploaded and imported into their blank verse memoirs.
This template can be used: Teachers can then edit student work and post as an evolving poetry magazine with members of peer classes and invited adults weighing in with audio comments and perhaps their own poems and baby pictures.
_a girl named _______________/___a boy named___________
First paragraph/stanza- the suggested name for the child offered by one adult
and why this adult felt it was a good name choice
Second paragraph/ stanza- Response of another adult to this suggestion
Third paragraph / stanza- what the adults resolved to name the child
Fourth paragraph/ stanza- the child’s reaction to this decision now that he or she can reflect on it.
Among ESL students and among native born American students, many have a chance to ‘rename “themselves at the upper elementary level or have their names – as legally listed on student records or rosters “Americanized” deliberately by the students themselves. Some of the American born students opt for initials (R.L. Stine), use middle names or go by a nickname. The naming of names and the changing names belies the Gertrude Stein adage “A rose is a rose is a rose.” But the commonality of being named and ultimately naming oneself is part of the universal life. Using chromebooks to access students to video, audio, imagery connected with the themes of Woodson’s memoir makes the powerfully written and crafted English language work a second language platform to engage ESL students as peer readers in “naming” themselves using YA literature. In doing so they begin to “name” their own universal reading, writing, research and communicating talents. They dream their own dreams of becoming writers and begin to acquire the second language skills to make those dreams come true.
Woodson, Jacqueline. (2014). Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.
Dr. Rose Reissman,
Academic and Grant Funding Director for Sector 5
About Sector 5,
Sector 5, Inc. (OTCQB: SFIV), is a Proud American Corporation, that sells, manufactures and develops new innovative consumer electronics under Sector 5 and other brands. The Company markets its partnership with Google approved Chromebooks to educational organizations, other B2B and B2C sales channels, with retail sales on Amazon. It is in development of several new products to serve the educational, business and retail markets. Follow the company on http://www.twitter.com/sectorfiveinc and http://www.facebook.com/sect5 and find further information at http://www.sector-five.com. For Sector 5’s Forward Looking Statements, click here.