BY JEFF NACHTIGAL , Californian staff writer
Friday, May 22, 2009 5:42 PM
If there’s a flaw in how we educate English language learner students, Terry Tripp says, it’s the assumption they aren’t as smart as other students.
Teachers can counter this by “upping” the standards and expecting only the highest performance from every student, he said.
Tripp, an English teacher at Golden Valley High, turned idealism into action this year by challenging his English learners — some of whom started learning English just four years ago — to write their stories for a book.
To prove he meant business, Tripp asked his advanced placement English class to contribute to the book as well.
“They may struggle to learn English, but they’re just as capable,” Tripp said about his English learners.
Tripp, who published a book several years ago, was inspired by the Los Angeles Freedom Writers students who wrote about their lives.
After months of story drafts, rewrites, peer edits and a healthy degree of skepticism that their stories would appear in a published book, the authors stood in Russo’s Books this week to autograph copies of Secrets Of The Undiscovered Writers: A Student Anthology.
The authors write about things you’d expect to hear: young love, high school trials and tribulations.
And there are stories like Sandra Hernandez’s “My English Challenge,” about “growing up in a place where people looked at you differently because you stood out and didn’t know the language,” she said.
Or Paulina Martinez’s “My Moment of Truth,” her story about moving to the United States from Zacatecas, Mexico, four years ago to meet her mother for the first time.
“I hope to write more stories. Maybe one day I’ll be a writer. This will help me,” Martinez said.
Martinez, 17, worked for five months, as she put it, “rewriting, pronouncing, learning new words” for her two-page story.
“I had to really get into it,” said Martinez, who plans to attend Bakersfield College next year and transfer to Cal State Bakersfield to study psychology.
Before, student writing was for a teacher and at best was taped to the classroom wall or the refrigerator, Tripp said.
“Now their writing can be seen by the world, and their friends come up and say, ‘Hey, I read your narrative, it was great,'” he said.
Tapping into his students’ intrinsic motivation — people will actually read their stories, so they work harder — was just what Tripp was after.
Tripp created a Friday Night Lights situation with English, said Kelly Reese, an English learner project specialist with the Kern High School District.
“He is covering everything that a great English learner class should be, and he did it in a way that fostered this intrinsic motivation that’s so important,” said Reese, who said the project is one of the best she’s seen in five years.
Last year Golden Valley assistant principal of instruction Vickie Spanos asked Tripp why he had purchased hard copy journal composition books for his class.
With the weight of the journals, Tripp was conveying the message that their language, words and thoughts meant something, and they should approach their writing that way, Spanos recalled.
“Reading the stories I was amazed at the level of learning of our English language learners and how well they are mastering the language. That’s hard to do,” Spanos said.
The night of the book signing, everyone was proud, especially the parents, some of whom speak only Spanish.
“All of us want to make learning meaningful and relevant, and I think this was an effective tool to do that,” Spanos said.
Tripp financed Secrets with his checkbook. Proceeds from the book (the book sold out at Russo’s, but a second print run is scheduled) will go into a school account to pay back Tripp, and support next year’s publication, which will be more creative, with short stories, Tripp said.
For “Thankful Dreams” author Alex Olvera, a sophomore, the attraction of being published will help propel him to English fluency and mainstream high school English classes.
“Everybody wants to have their name in a book, your name is right there, you wrote something,” said Olvera.
“I felt proud of myself,” he said.
Photo credit: Alex Horvath, TBC
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