Inspired by a lesson on Syrian refugees in preparation for a Soup for Syria event at school, I decided to have my students write their immigration stories. "I don't have a story!!" half of my 6 students whined. "Everyone has an immigration story," I said "unless you are a Native American." I had to explain this concept to them, and even then, they weren't really convinced.
I got my students started by having them answer some guiding questions about who decided to move here, why they decided that, how the students felt, and so on. They still found it to be more challenging than I expected. Then, I decided to write a model for them. I explained that it wasn't my story because I didn't immigrate, but my parents and grandparents did.
I read my story aloud to my students. I had kept it simple, and added images to help their understanding. I explained how my grandfather Federico came to New York with a 4th grade education to work first at a Jewish deli, and eventually opened his own bodega called "La Fortuna". He and my grandmother, who arrived in New York with more education than him but still no high school diploma, met and married in New York.
Then, I read to them about how my parents had met in Spain on a train, and had fallen in love and married there. When my father came to live in New York, it was a challenge for him because of the language and being so far from his family.
Somehow, hearing my story motivated my students. I was especially proud of one student who came from El Salvador. He wrote for a whole period without stopping, complaining, or saying he was stuck. He wrote about how he made it over the border on his third try, only to be separated from beloved family members he had grown up with. After spending time in a detention center, he was eventually reunited with his parents, who were living here. Now he is grateful to be here for the education, but misses the rest of his family. His resilient spirit awes me.
I was in turn inspired by my students after reading their stories. I wanted to do something more with their stories. As in the past, I turned to the art experts to help. Patty, my principal, has already provided me with a ton of virtual and physical resources to help my students compile collages. Elena, the arts integration teacher with whom I worked last year on totem poles is helping me create books with the students' writing and collage art.
It is this kind of freedom to be creative and to let the students drive the curriculum that make me so grateful to teach ELL in my school. In other places, it might not be so easy. Stay tuned for the final products at some point! I am so excited to see them. Also, I';m curious if other ELL teachers out there (or ELA) have done similar projects. Let me know!