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Trust and Inclusion in Elementary ESL
Report on Jo Gusman Workshop in Garden City

Diverse Educational Solutions, Inc., sponsored the event The Third Annual CLD Institute in Garden City, Kansas, on July 28th and 29th, 2003, brought 150 educators together to learn from and share with workshop presenters whose names read like a "Who's Who" of current research and practice in the instruction of students from different language and culture backgrounds. The hardest decision for institute participants was choosing among the great selection of one-day and two-day workshops, on topics ranging from early childhood literacy to cross-cultural dynamics of education for CLD students.

Hear an audio clip of this section of the report on Jo Gusman's workshop!

Many of the participants at the CLD Institute, held at Garden City Community College, were teachers from Garden City schools, taking advantage of the proximity and relevance of this learning opportunity organized for them by Dr. Linda Trujillo, Title III Coordinator for Garden City's USD 457. A good number of attendees also traveled from as far away as Lawrence, Kansas, to the east, and Torrington, Wyoming, to the west.

Jo Gusman gestures as she describes ways to lower affective filtersI spent both days in a room with about 40 elementary school teachers from the Garden City area, learning about "Elementary Education Sheltered Instruction," facilitated by Jo Gusman, of the Sacramento, California, school system.

A White Water Rapids of Consciousness

"Stream of consciousness" is a speaking style which can sometimes be quite effective in creating a learning environment with sustained high levels of interest. This mode of discourse is often contrasted with more deliberative styles, in which presenters make certain the audience gets enough of a chance to perceive the logical form of the information being shared. Neither of these typical patterns of instructional discourse fully captures the unique and engaging style of Jo Gusman, whose non-stop chatter might best be described as a white-water rapids of consciousness, interspersed with plenty of large, smooth rocks where winded travelers can catch their breath and see the big picture for a few moments before jumping back onto Gusman's colorful raft and careening along through the spray with her again.

Jo Gusman listens intently to a workshop participantJo Gusman has been teaching in California schools since 1974, and reassured workshop participants that the current standards craze and seemingly endless rounds of high-stakes testing which teachers are stressing under will eventually pass. "Teachers are responsible today for so many different sets of standards that the key is to bundle the standards," she says. "Teachers need time to be creative again." Gusman shared two of her favorite quotes to help us understand the personal philosophy which informs her teaching approach. The first is a simple idea from Henry David Thoreau: "Less is more." The second is from Marcel Proust: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes."

The Daughter of Mexican Immigrants

Jo Gusman has unique insights into the experiences of ESL students because she was an English language learner herself in a rural school near Sacramento as the child of immigrant farm workers from a small village near Guadalajara, Mexico. Her father had a job managing a big livestock ranch, she told workshop participants, "and I only heard English when my mom went to clean the landowner's home." Her experience growing up in a Hispanic family while attending U.S. schools gives Jo Gusman extra sensitivity to the challenges culturally and linguistically diverse children face still today. The truth is, she says, not much has changed as far as bias and discrimination against people of different cultures and languages in America today. Workshop participants--teachers in Kansas elementary schools--shared Gusman's belief that too many of their colleagues harbor feelings of prejudice against the CLD children whose numbers in our schools are on the increase.

Jo Gusman explains the role of comprehensible inputHer perspective as someone who weathered intolerance as a student makes Jo Gusman an effective proponent of inclusion. The worst offense a child in one of her classes can commit is to not be inclusive, she explains.

Gusman notes that in Garden City many businesses now display signs in Spanish, showing their interest in catering to customers from the city's vast Spanish-speaking community. But, she says, in American society "we're still creating our schools as if all our clients were speaking English." U.S. businesses understand they need to communicate with prospective customers from different cultures and languages, according to Gusman, while "schools are going the other way." As one example, she pointed to "English-only" initiatives which limit schools in their efforts to reach out to all students and all families.

Expanding Traditional Definitions of Bilingual Education

Hear an audio clip of this section of the report on Jo Gusman's workshop!

Most of Jo Gusman's practical ideas for improving the classroom learning environment for all children (not just English language learners) have grown from her experiences in the early 1980s at Sacramento's first "newcomer school." Gusman, who received her California teaching license in bilingual education and biliteracy education, specifically for Spanish-speaking children, in 1974, encountered a totally new teaching challenge when she was hired as a kindergarten teacher at this school in a once-abandoned school building in Sacramento. Students at the newcomer school had to meet three requirements: refugee status, immigrant status and no prior U.S. schooling. By 11:23 A.M. on her first day at work, she had 43 students who spoke 12-15 different languages, none of which was Spanish. "I went from being an effective teacher," she recounts, "in a matter of hours, to being a totally ineffective teacher."

If the affective filter is strong, don't be surprised by some attitude, says Gusman"I was shocked to find I didn't know what to do," explains Gusman. "I found myself staying later and later after school. I had to rewrite all my lesson plans." Five months into the school year, she felt she was still at the same phase and remembers sitting at her desk crying. "I became paralyzed," says Jo Gusman, "and I didn't want to tell anybody." She had hit "rock bottom."

Part of her recovery came from speaking with other teachers in the school. "Everyone was going through the same thing," Gusman says. The rest of the answer came from her growing understanding of research about the human brain applied to bilingualism and biliteracy.

Lessons From Brain Research

According to research summarized by Jo Gusman, in any new situation the human brain has three questions it wants answered immediately:

1. Where am I? (What are the procedures here?)
2. Who are all of these people?
3. What are we doing today?

In order to effectively teach content to English language learners (and Jo Gusman believes many "native English speakers" are also very limited in their English proficiency), it is necessary for the teacher to try to see these three primary questions of the brain from the perspective of his or her students. Welcoming and communicating with newcomers from diverse cultures and languages will entail making certain they get answers to these basic questions immediately and continually. "Everything in the classroom revolves around relationships," says Gusman. "Take the time to understand all of the relationships."

The Affective Filter and Comprehensible Input

Hear an audio clip of this section of the report on Jo Gusman's workshop!

Jo Gusman spent a great deal of time clarifying the meaning of two terms most ESL teachers are familiar with, from research by Steve Krashen and others: affective filter and comprehensible input. She mentioned a number of factors which strengthen the affective filter, which she describes as an emotional shield a child will use to protect himself or herself from further pain or embarrassment. Jo Gusman described a cycle in which a new student is teased, often feels sick, is frequently absent, misses lessons and experiences a delay in language learning.

If your students show you "attitude," that shows the strength of their affective filters against your instructional messages; some students "try to become invisible" instead, explains Gusman. One vivid moment in the workshop was when she had several participants stand one behind the other to show the layered nature of affective filters, for example, the way in which a student's disposition is tied to his or her mother or father's experiences, which in turn are tied to those of other relatives. Building the relationship of trust which weakens the affective filter and opens the channel of communication with a student can be a long process, requiring patience on the part of the teacher.

Remember, You Sound Like Charlie Brown's Teacher

There must be a balance struck between the affective filter and comprehensible input, according to Gusman. Input is words, concepts, visuals, body language... everything. Making input comprehensible means, for example, hooking concepts to prior knowledge, she explains. In order to help workshop participants better grok what a teacher sounds like to a new student in class who comes from a different language background, Jo Gusman absolutely flabbergasted all of us by "wonking" like the teacher from the Charlie Brown T.V. specials for 12 minutes, non-stop. As she wonked, modulating pitch and tone to simulate normal teacher-talk, Gusman circulated around the room, pushing and cajoling individuals to follow her instructions, using gestures and facial expressions to show everything from encouragement to exasperation. About five minutes into this amazing experience, you found yourself latching onto any hint of meaning to try to comprehend. During the Charlie Brown wonking, I also felt a strong urge, which perhaps second language learners would identify with, to "tune out" and reestablish inner harmony.

Jo Gusman demos the color-coded response fan"Never forget," says Jo Gusman, "you sound like Charlie Brown's teacher." That is why it is so important, she explains, to "set up a communication system in a language that isn't dependent on English." One of the many analogies she used was an airport ground crew using Day-Glo wands to guide aircraft at night, just as teachers need to use visually distinctive objects to help orient their students in the classroom.

Laying Down a Classroom Communication System

Hear an audio clip of this section of the report on Jo Gusman's workshop!

The first set of "practical ideas" which Jo Gusman shared with workshop participants concerned "Everybody Respond Techniques," so that children can let the teacher know how it's going during a lesson. She suggests that each student can have "a communication bag," which is a big ziplock bag to keep new communication systems they make each week in class. In creating new ideas for these communication system tools, Gusman suggests thinking about universal systems as much as possible.

Robb Scott, with Yes/No fan, and Jo GusmanIn the workshop, we made "Yes/No Fans," with green and red construction paper and paper fasteners. On the green sheet, we wrote "Yes" on one side and "Si" on the reverse; on the red sheet, "No" and "No." In a large classroom with many students, this simple communication system allows everyone to respond at once to Yes/No questions from the teacher. Jo Gusman doesn't want her students to wave their answers wildly in the air; instead, she has them hold the answer over their hearts so that she can see it. This procedural matter led her to explain further brain research which, she says, suggests that the human skin is actually the outer layer of our brain, and that the human mind actually resides everywhere in the body. Sources for this data are Candace Pert (The Molecules of Emotion) and Robert Sylwester (A Celebration of Neurons: An Educator's Guide to the Human Brain).

How many of you found something of value in this activity?, asks GusmanGusman very strongly believes that physical movement and coordination exercises are intimately connected to cognitive activity. She herself was continually moving around the room throughout the entire 12-hour, two-day workshop, gesturing with her hands and her face to accentuate each point, and constantly throwing out reflection questions ("How many of you...?") to the audience. These were never single questions, but rather in series, so that, for example, if she asked how many of us were classroom teachers and a certain number of hands were raised, she would modify the question so that administrators, paraeducators and teacher educators, in turn, would be included. Every time Jo Gusman asks a "How many of you.." question, she redirects it again and again until every member of the group has been included.

Another communication system introduced by Gusman included "the punctuation fan," which a student can use to ask the teacher to stop (period), suggest a pause for reflection (comma), indicate enthusiasm (exclamation point), ask a question (question mark) or indicate they have something to say (quotation marks) by holding the appropriate card from their punctuation fan over their hearts.

Another item for the "communication bag" is the color-coded fan. The cards for this fan are cut from bright, flourescent index cards, with the colors carefully chosen by the teacher to match a set of four or five flourescent markers or chalk colors. In math class, for example, the teacher can write a problem and then four different possible solutions, each in a different color. As students discover the answer, they hold up the correctly colored card from their fan. Another option given by Jo Gusman is a fan with 10 different cards, each one a different color, numbered 1 through 10. These can be used for a variety of different multiple-choice questions or problems.

All of these "communication systems" serve the purpose of ensuring that everybody in the class gets many opportunities to respond individually to comprehensible input from the teacher. These underlying communication systems help the teacher to create an infrastructure for learning, according to Gusman.

Establishing Trust in Your Classroom

Hear an audio clip of this section of the report on Jo Gusman's workshop!

Once there is trust, inclusion can also be achieved, says GusmanAfter going over activities to give everybody many chances to respond to meaningful input, Jo Gusman returned to the other key element in a successful English language learning experience for newcomers in our classrooms: reducing the affective filter by establishing an atmosphere of trust. Trust is the first step in creating a productive and inclusive learning community, according to Gusman. "Take all the time that it takes to create trust," she adds.

One nice example of handling a classroom situation in a way that inspires trust is for the teacher to look at worksheet activities from a different perspective. Too often, says Gusman, children striving to learn English will feel a natural inclination to look at what their classmates are doing in order to figure out what the worksheet is about. Instead of interpreting this as "cheating," teachers should realize the English language learner is really just "doing research" to discover what the procedures are.

Once there is trust, inclusion can also be achieved, she says. If we want to understand how to be inclusive, all we need to do is look at "the masters of inclusion," says Jo Gusman. "Gangs look for the disenfranchised." She also noted how others, like what she referred to as "the animal groups" (Elks, Lions, Kiwanis) exclude certain people, who don't get invited to "network."

"Welcome to Our School" Projects

"There is an illusion of choices," explains Gusman, unless you are able to network. Teachers need to show students how to be inclusive." One way she suggests is to have children share their own stories about their names and their families. Another is to engage your students in the production of "Welcome to Our School" videos or Power Points, which can be used to help orient new families to the community, according to Gusman, who encouraged workshop participants to remember the brain's three questions as we guide our students in designing such projects.

It is a lot easier to prepare for welcoming new families and their children in our communities and in our schools if we know they are coming, explains Jo Gusman, who suggests researching migration trends at, or consulting local church groups to determine where they are supporting missionary work (which establishes a refugee connection and often results in churches bringing refugees to town).

Hear an audio clip of this section of the report on Jo Gusman's workshop!

Gusman prepares to show a vocabulary activity called The ABCs of It AllJo Gusman concluded her two-day workshop with an overview of the National Reading Panel's key elements of reading instruction, and how to address these while not sacrificing all your efforts at reducing affective filters, increasing comprehensible input and, in general, maintaining a meaning-rich classroom environment. Since federal funding for "Reading First" programs is heavily slanted in favor of the NRC's dictates, it is important for teachers to be certain their reading instruction addresses the five NRC elements of reading: vocabulary, comprehension, phonics, phonemic awareness and fluency.

Don't Overdo It on Phonics

Of these five, according to Gusman, the most important are "vocabulary" and "comprehension." The most ineffective of the five elements, taken in isolation, she says, is "phonics." The key to working with phonics, says Jo Gusman, is "do it quick, dirty and move on." Another key she suggests is that "you eat it, dance it, move it and sing it." The main problem with phonics, says Gusman, is that a lot of the sounds don't exist in an English language learner's first language. The worst thing a teacher can do is to try to teach phonics outside of a meaningful context, she says.

To help teachers remember the five elements of "phonemic awareness," Jo Gusman introduces "Ms. Bimss," whose name is an acronym for "blending," "isolation," "matching," "segmentation" and "substitution."

Gusman has a lot to say about the fifth NRC official reading element, "fluency." She wants teachers to recognize the connection between the vestibulary system (inner ear balance) and pre-reading skills. "Move as you read," she says, suggesting that the teacher occasionally lead the class on a marching line around the room as they are reading out loud. "It is important to add movement to the fluency process," she explains, referring to research by Carla Hannaford (Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head) and Paul and Gail Dennison (Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole Brain Learning).

One of the most important things to teach children about narrative reading, according to Jo Gusman, is "instead of focusing on words you don't know, focus on words you know....Scan for familiar vocabulary. Then make a movie in your head. Then make predictions."

Gusman is currently preparing a seminar for the Bureau of Education and Research to help teachers deal with the NRC's top five reading elements. The seminar will be given in a number of U.S. cities, including Honolulu. Many other resources to help teachers and schools more effectively instruct children from diverse cultural and language backgrounds are available through New Horizons in Education, Inc., of which Jo Gusman is the president. The Web site is not live yet, but will be The regular mailing address is:

New Horizons in Education, Inc.
Jo Gusman
3101 Miramar Road
Sacramento, California 95821-6134
(916) 482-4405

The name of Jo Gusman's workshop and resource handbook is "Practical Strategies for Accelerating the Literacy Skills and Content Learning of Your ESL Students." Another great book she showed us was "Reporting to Parents in English and Spanish" (Ammie Enterprises), which has templates for letters from school to home for any occasion which might arise. One more book she highly recommended was "Uncomfortable Neighbors" (Gorham Printing), available through New Horizons, which explains, in Spanish and English, social miscues and cultural misunderstandings which can occur.

You Had to Be There...

This article about Jo Gusman's recent workshop at the Garden City CLD Summer Institute has failed to convey the enthusiasm for teaching and the sensitivity for different cultural and linguistic perspectives she demonstrated. The above list of practical ideas only touches the surface of the many relevant suggestions Gusman gave during two full days of non-stop instruction. "Some of these ideas will be 'keepers,'" she explained at the start, meaning new activities teachers can use right away. "Others will be 'polishers,'" she added, meaning ways to enhance what we are already doing, because, as her principal at the newcomer school in Sacramento told her back in 1981, "even silver and gold need polishing."

Jo Gusman motivated and challenged 40 teachers in Garden City to go back to school this fall with a renewed determination to help their students succeed. And she gave everyone dozens of ideas and activities to make it happen. "Turn to the person next to you," she said near the end of the two-day seminar, "and tell them 'I am so privileged to sit next to you because you get it.'"

The genius of Jo Gusman's approach to teacher education is that we did indeed feel, for at least that one fleeting moment, like we did really get it. And that experience of that feeling sticks with you, pushing you to recreate it in your own teaching.

I was walking on air as I headed out of this year's CLD Summer Institute in Garden City. I have a greater sense of confidence that I can make a positive difference at school this year.

I understand better than ever before why our teachers, especially our elementary school teachers, deserve our unending gratitude and respect. And I believe, based on Jo Gusman's message, that more and more children from diverse and at-risk backgrounds will have positive school experiences which evoke the same gratitude and respect.

Story by Robb Scott, Hays, KANSAS

2003 ESL MiniConference Online