Bridge the Literacy and Language Gap – One Culturally Resonant Poem, Chromebook Circle Celebrated

Throw Back

Throw back

Rewind to yesterday.

Arab scarves, sidekicks, line leader

Throw back to 3rd grade.

Jeans under skirts,

Silly bands, skinny jeans,

Upper ear piercing.

Throw back.

Fatimah, grade 7


Many educators stand before majority multiethnic students- African American, Pakistani, Dominican, Mexican, Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Haitian, Russian, and Uzbek.  Many wear the traditional garb of homelands they left within the past few months or although dressed in the same clothing of their U.S. born peers, conceptualize themselves as language and ethnic others, different from American students.  Many of us realize that before engaging students in mandated literature or informational texts, writing, language, and discussion, we need to “engage” with them to bridge this real gap for the literacy learning richness of all students-particularly native American speakers in our school.

I take time to personally reach out to my seemingly “other” diverse students by sharing some personal sense of my cultural, ethnic self. This might be a discussion of the Yiddish words I sprinkle in to my classroom talk or the food or family values my mother instilled in me at 12.  It can include using the Chromebook to quickly research the symbols, music, holidays and foods of my culture.   Once shared, I invite them to comment on the connections, if any, this has to their experiences from their home cultural launch base. Students who are shy or not yet comfortable with speaking in English can use the Chromebooks to quickly identify and collect actual music and spoken native language stories, pictures of foods, and symbols.  They can have immediate Chromebook platforms that do not need second language spoken fluency to present their culture.

I generally start poetry specifically beginning with lines like: “Being Jewish means. . .” or “I am proud to be female, white, and Jewish. ”  While colleagues exhorted me that doing this kind of exercise called attention to their also not being ethically diverse (to which I asked if the students did not already notice they were white), the students responded to this opening up and reaching in to react to my home culture Jewish part by using the Chromebooks for writing, talking in mix of their native language and English and illustrating what they identified happily or unhappily with as diverse individuals from ESL backgrounds.

RED HOTSALZA –Dual Language Poems

Five years ago, quite by accident, I found a book with a jazzily evocative title in the Barnes and Nobles bilingual teen section.  Red Hot Salsa –Bilingual Poems on Being Young, and Latino in the United States (2005).  This work edited by Lori Carson included dual language- English and Spanish poems by noted poets such as Gary Soto, Luis Alberto Ambroggio (whose Learning English poem inspired the student poem by a Muslim student which prefaces this work), Gina Valdes, Luis J. Rodriguez and Trinidad Sanchez (a nationally known Chicano poet who lives in Colorado).  While the poems represented only Latino poets, the themes of the poetry anthology chapters-language, identity, neighborhoods, family moments, memories, and victory, all paralleled aspects of the home culture experience of being a diverse “other” that every “self”  (even native American born Brooklynites) experience.  For a poetry anthology project, I decided to partner with the Spanish Language teacher and ESL teachers at Ditmas IS 62 in Brooklyn.  We felt that the combination of a dual language poetry writing workshop, study of published “other” Latino poets, and a mixing of Spanish foreign language and English in some of the anthology poems, would allow each of us to work toward our goals.  The Chromebook use would assure that whatever starting level of English language writing and reading fluency students they could record in English or in native language their cultural identity input and be on an equitable contributory level with their native born peers,  The ESL and  English language objectives were to openly and explicitly engage my students in expressing their home culture as single or mixed (many were from mixed cultural backgrounds) diverse beings in an American middle school plus explore different genres of poetry reading and writing.  All the collaborating teachers wanted to have the students improve their listening and speaking skills as members of poetry community where they would read aloud to one another, hold a poetry open mike event , and have a program where they could read aloud to elementary schools and peers in junior high school.  The Chromebooks became a rehearsal tool which provided students and the ESL teachers and ELA educators with a portfolio of student spoken communications skills over time.  Given the emphasis on speaking and listening tools, Chromebooks were a ready student and teacher aggregate and individual portfolio registry.

I am Latina./Dominican./Proud

One of the anthology poems was by Amiris Ramirez –I am from Quisquella la Bella.  Its Spanish version used: soy (I am) , dios(God), patria(country) and libertad (freedom).  Its English version had each stanza starting with “I am” and every line being of short length with a focus on distinct terms, items, foods, visions and a concluding cultural affirmation-“I am Latina./Dominican./Proud.”   Interestingly the contributors’ bios revealed that Amiris was a student in our New York City public schools when selected for this adult anthology.  She was a perfect cultural bridge for dual language poetry expression, model for our students. I wrote an “I am from” poem about my own Brooklyn neighborhood and my growing up as a Jewish teen surrounded by love, Yiddish, affirming parents, fattening food and Jewish values.

(In excerpt)

I am

from 681 Ocean Avenue

from potato cutlets, broiled chicken and breaded

and choral readings on Shabbos

. . .

I am

From the words

Oy, mamala. Shani, tamale

From the feeling of distress, but of also smiling through it.

I am



Flirty Female

Standing Proud and Tall

First I read the Amiris Ramirez anchor poem.  Then using my poem which I read aloud to them, I showed them (called a “think aloud” in writing workshop structure), how easy it was to write a poem telling about where I , a Jewish Caucasian was from and what my identifying food, value, and family facts were.  They set about happily either drawing or writing their own “I am from” genre style poem. Not only the Latino culture was shared, but also proud statements of varied  home cultures emerged.

Teacher poets can record their own read and think aloud of poems in English and other languages and put them up for their Chromebook community to model spoken language expressive reading and as students enhance their skills some of their open mike Chrome book poetry readings can be uploaded as audio tapes or videos as well.

Luis Alberto Imbroglio’s “Learning English” with its very captivating hook opening lines- “Life/to understand me, /you have to know Spanish” grabbed the linguistic imagination and the suddenly deepened by adolescent self knowing broad perspectives of many tween and new teenagers from a spectrum of cultures beyond Spanish. A student from a Jamaican immigrant family, shared her insights on life at the age of 12:


For me. . .

Is being black,

Is being me. . .

After reading Gary Soto’s “Spanish,” (also in the Red-Hot Salsa Anthology)- “Spanish is a matter/of rolling rrrrs/Clicking the tongue/And placing /Your hands,” Iqra, a Pakistan immigrant in this country for 3 years   wrote: “Pakistani. . . Being Pakistani is an honor/no matter what people /say about being terrorist/I know it is not/my fault/no matter what/people say I will/never deny the fact/I am a Pak, a proud one.”  Igra got up to read aloud.  She got respectful applause from her peers.  Her recitation was filmed and recorded with her permission/ After her, others asked to share aloud or have read their “I am from” expressions.  Faith , a 7th grader born here had been imbued by her family with a strong sense of Haitian and African ethnic pride.  Excerpts from her powerful and poignant voice included: “ I am from the skins of strong, wise and the pampered glow.”  Chance expressed and drew his Trinidad food culture: “I am/from rotties/And carry chicken.”   Although from Pakistan originally a sea change was occurring for Aneesa who aptly titled her poem “I am U.” Excerpts of it included:

“I am from Pakistan. . . I am from /French fries and chicken nuggets/Strawberries and apples.. . . /I am from Brooklyn.”  This poem captured the arc of Aneesa’s acculturation to Brooklyn with ongoing Pakistani affirmation. Jasmine evoked her neighborhood powerfully and told me she had very deliberately left out “from.”  She titled her poem “I am East New York.”  Excerpts from this poem powerfully depict : “I am East New York/Latinos and Negritos together/Subway stores, no hamburgers. Bodegas and Chinese food . . . I am East New York/Born and raised and loved. Hair salons, flat irons make me cry.”  Marisol, who spoke fluent Spanish at home with her Mexican family, but was also an honors 8th grader wrote her “I am from” poem with a mix of Spanish and English- as some of the poems in the anthology were modeled.  Excerpts from her powerful work included: “I am from las compras/En las sabados and going downstairs/En las tardes to my cousin’s house. . . I/I am from the long /Conversations with my mom in/The kitchen she cooks/And my sister and me listening very carefully. /I am Mexican American/And this is where I am from!!

Not only were these recitations immediately uploaded as videos, but the chromebook community assured that other peers and adults would illustrate, upload public domain images, and even send music files that “fit to the videos.”  Who knew the Chromebooks would take this printed and spoken word project to the next dimension?

Some of the students wrote multiple poems and did art detailing flags, emblems, ethnic jewelry and foods.   Students expressed great pleasure and liberation at being able to use poetry and this open “mike” opportunity to share who they were and “whether they liked “ being in that diverse group.  Some literally looped the videos again and again and revisited to check even more than teacher comments, peer and adult visitor reactions.  Of course, they reacted back to suggestions and shared videos.

There are many poems by various poets celebrating or commenting on home cultures which can be used as anchors to “open” up communication.  These poems can inspire and “open” through the accredited and mandated genre writing a crucial channel for cross cultural communication between diverse students and their teachers from any and all cultures.  Ironically the opening of such a channel can introduce diverse students in a powerful easily infusible way to an opportunity for using language, reading, writing, speaking, and listening as a powerful tool for dealing with internal identify conflict/anguish and sometimes external societal ignorance, rejection or discrimination.

The I am from genre of poetry is cited and perhaps was originated by Kentucky poet-George Ella Lyon- ( Books like Neighborhood Odes by Gary Soto, and Cool Hot Salsa collected by Lori Carlson into a dual language bilingual anthology in 1995 can also be used as anchor collections to prompt I am from genre verse.  This earlier collection includes: school days, home and homeland, memories, hard times, and a promising future.  It contains poems by Sandra Cisneros, Pat Mora, Johanna Vega and Albelardo Delgado. Luis Alberto Ambroggio’s  “Learning English” (in Cool Salsa)  nicely expresses the dilemma many diverse adults and students face as we deal with being “others” in a supposed American society or “others” in a diverse majority group where we are the minority:  “to understand me/you have to know Spanish. . . /If I speak another language/ and use  different words. . . I don’t know/if I’ll continue being the same person.”

Through the use of culturally referenced poetry, teachers of language arts and perhaps social studies and foreign language can use their own home cultures or even supposedly the same ethnic background, to break down cultural and language communication barriers among diverse students.  Once this frees up the “I” that student and adult educator can travel back and forth between “I am from” and “I am going to” with self knowledge and respect for the journey of others. The focus can be on knowing and on talking with “each other” using recorded poetry readings and talks in multiple languages, about our shared common interests and experiences, while explaining through speaking, listening, reading and writing our home cultures.  Chromebooks bridge the cultural, linguistic, and printed language communications only gap, allowing many cultures to converse together as separate and as connected community members, as soon as the Chromebook charges up.  That is digital diversity dividend which enables dialogue and diversity.


Cool Hot Salsa. Edited by Lori Carlson. New York: Random House, 1995.

Red Hot Salsa. Edited by Lori Carlson. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005.

Soto, Gary. Neighborhood Odes. Orlando: Harcourt, 1992.

For a Bilingual Writer, ‘No One True Language’

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 and and find further information at For Sector 5’s Forward Looking Statements, click here.


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