TEAM Scholar Spotlights

The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) have jointly sponsored the Teaching Excellence in Action in Minnesota (TEAM) Scholarship Program for K-12 Minnesota world language and ESL teachers since 2012. Below are highlights shared by some of the teachers who participated in the TEAM Scholarship Program.


Kadie BeckerKadie Becker

TEAM Scholar in 2019
Institute Attended: Exploring Project-Based Language Learning

What did you learn at the summer institute you attended?
The institute “Exploring Project-Based Language Learning” was invaluable in providing me with the experiential knowledge, materials, and confidence to create a project-based language-learning experience and develop a training to help my school’s teachers do the same. The institute highlighted the research that supports this way of language teaching and gave us the practical tools for how to incorporate language learning into a project’s design through thoughtful planning and scaffolding of activities. During the institute, I was able to go through the process of designing a project-based language learning experience for my students, receive helpful feedback from classmates, and create ready-to-use materials and assessments for my unit. In addition to enjoying the institute as a “learner,” I was also able to glean helpful insight into being a “facilitator” for this type of workshop, including how to facilitate feedback sessions and the sequencing of important steps in the process. I also was able to collect engaging and useful material that I could use in my follow-up activity, which was a professional development workshop for teachers at the beginning of the school year on project-based language learning. 

How did you carry out your follow-up outreach activity?
Before the school year started, I was given the opportunity to lead a one-day training on Project-Based Language Learning at my school for our teaching staff.  I focused my workshop on providing teachers with the tools I received from the institute to look at one of their already-developed project-based units through the lens of language learning. I used ACTFL’s three modes of communication (interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational) to help guide teachers’ thinking about the “purpose” of the language used in the project since they are used to thinking about language development through the lens of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. In addition, I used Cherice Montgomery’s resource “Identifying a Student Learning Outcome (SLO) for the Project” to give teachers a sentence frame to guide student learning outcomes (or objectives) and multiple examples to complete the frame. Teachers found these language tools and ways of thinking about language use very useful. Using a pre- and post- survey tool, teachers indicated that their familiarity and sense of self-efficacy in implementing project-based language learning units in their classes had increased due to the training.  

Were you able to use what you learned in other ways?
I am currently in the midst of implementing my project-based language learning unit that I had developed during the institute in my social studies class for recently-arrived, multilingual learners.  It is called “Don’t be Bored!”  What a learning experience for all of us!  While I received a lot of feedback on the project throughout its conception during the institute, actually doing it with the students has been such a learning experience by showing me additional scaffolding that was needed in the area of language production to accomplish certain tasks within the project’s formation. In addition to this insight, I am seeing how students who are learning language and content to accomplish an immediate task are much more engaged in their learning. We have conducted surveys in other classes in the school, used public transportation to go to the Apple store in the Mall of America to learn how to use a video app to make our final product, and explored a local landmark as an example of a cheap and accessible recreational and education activity. One of my biggest “ah-ha” moments so far in the project has been the growing awareness of the multiple cross-curricular connections implementing this project has created and the numerous skills I am able to incorporate into a single project. For multilingual learners who are new to the country and needing to accelerate their English and content learning, project-based language learning is proving to be an effective and enjoyable way to teach (and learn) from my students. 
And we are not done yet!  We still have our final products to create and then advertise to our school what we’ve done. In the future, I plan to share (and have my students share) about this whole experience in a creative, multimedia format for both my colleagues and my students’ parents.

Kadie Becker is the ELL Coordinator at Lincoln International High School in Minneapolis. Lincoln HS specializes in serving students who are recent immigrants and refugees from many countries including Ethiopia, Djibouti, Togo, Uganda, Iraq, Kuwait, Somalia, Mexico, and Ecuador.

Submitted January 2020.


Linda JonesLinda Jones

TEAM Scholar in 2019
Institute Attended: Exploring Project-Based Language Learning

What did you learn at the summer institute you attended?
I realized that by having authentic tasks and authentic deadlines, students really do engage in the process and the product. They see the "need-to-knows" and actually help me to create them. This type of learning is really meaningful to the students since they can see what they need to do to complete this project successfully. They care because they can see that their project is not made up; it is a real product with real meaning. I can see that it really helps facilitate learning in another language, as the students see the need to create something that is entertaining, educational and also easily understandable. 

How did you carry out your follow-up activity/project?
My middle school students’ project was to create a children's book in Spanish. Each student was paired with a kindergarten partner in a Spanish Immersion program at another school as part of longer term  (1-2 year) partnership. During the fall, my students created a bio and a video to share with their kindergartner/partner. The project will culminate with a published children's book, which my students will give to their kindergartner.  Elements of the kindergartner's life, personality, traits, etc. are woven into the book. 

The premise is that there is not enough diversity in children's books, and we, the authors can create books that better represent the diversity of our readers. My teacher partner is an immersion kindergarten teacher who is the recipient of these books (her students).  We are already having our students learning more about each other. My students are excited about the project; they have also been humbled to work with students whose native language is Spanish!

Would you like to share any other comments about your experience?
This institute really helped me design a unit, which I can successfully carry out in my classroom.  Not only did I design a unit, but a unit, which I think can be shared with other teachers. It is a "Gold Standard" unit and I am proud of it.  Thanks to the collaborative nature of this institute, I was able to create something useful and extremely authentic. 

Linda Jones is a veteran Spanish teacher at Highland Park Middle School in St. Paul where she teaches non-immersion classes in grades 7 and 8. She also serves as the coordinator for the International Baccalaureate Middle Year’s Program at the school.  She has a B.A. in Spanish education and music from Northern Arizona University and an M.S. in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of North Carolina.

Submitted January 2020.


Monica NicholsMonica Nichols

TEAM Scholar in 2019
Institute Attended: Culture as the Core in the Second Language Classroom

What did you learn at the summer institute you attended?
Before taking "Culture as a Core in the Second Language Classroom," I had no idea how to teach the target culture to my students. I also struggled to make the link between language usage and teaching culture. After taking the class, I feel confident that I can teach about the Hispanic culture in a way that highlights its beauty and is relevant to my students. Additionally, the course helped me understand that learning about other cultures is more than naming a few facts and customs. Instead, culture has to do with people’s perspectives and practices.

How did you carry out your outreach activity?
I shared the Cultural Unit on Typical Dishes I designed in the institute with my Professional Learning Community. I also shared the main authentic text I used for the unit and a list of cultural products I would bring to the class. At the end of the presentation I explained some of the successes and challenges I faced when teaching some lessons, since I believe in the importance of learning from mistakes and getting input on how improvements can be made.

Would you like to share anything else about your experience?
I now feel more confident about how I can best teach culture to students. I also know which questions to ask students to give depth to their learning. Additionally, I have been able to design another cultural unit for third graders and I am looking forward to working on another one for fourth graders.

Monica Nichols is a veteran Spanish teacher at Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion in Eden Prairie where she teaches grades K–6. She is currently working on her Master's degree in the Second Langauges and Cutltures program at the University of Minnesota.

Submitted January 2020.

Pang YangPang Yang

TEAM Scholar in 2019
Institute Attended: Teaching Heritage Languages and Learners

What did you learn at the summer institute you attended?
I loved Jenna and J's level of knowledge and expertise in teaching heritage languages with the social justice lens.  It gave me the foundation I needed to be successful this year. The resource sharing within the class was something that I have never experienced in any college course.  Everyone was so willing to share their expertise and resources with the class.

How did you carry out your proposed project?
I have been investing a lot of time making sure I carry out the Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) curriculum, in addition to making YPAR my professional growth plan. In August, I met with my colleague who taught Spanish for Native Speakers III and was also implementing YPAR in her class. Our literacy coach helped us write our units and develop assessments as part of the IB Middle Years Program. Students will be embarking on their action research project soon.

So far, I have shared what I've done with Kare II News and I’ve mentioned the work that I'm doing with YPAR at a few conferences. My principal has been very supportive of YPAR and the work we are doing in the Hmong for Native Speakers Program. After this year, my colleague and I plan to write grants to bring a team of students to present at the 2020 conferences of MCTLC and ACTFL.

How did this scholarship support your work?
This scholarship helped keep me accountable to keep doing the YPAR curriculum with what I learned at the institute. I'm on a journey, continuing to learn and broaden my horizon because I don't know everything yet. I am always seeking ways to improve and make the learning in my heritage class more transparent in how it is related to my students’ lives. I feel that students who are in my Year 3 program will have the skills to problem solve, critically think, and make their community a better place.

Pang Yang has 20+ years of K-12 classroom experience includes the teaching of English Language Learners and Hmong Heritage Language Learners. She teaches Hmong for Native Speakers classes at Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park.  She is an active member of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders and is the co-convener of the National Coalition of Hmong Teachers. She holds a B.A. from Concordia University and a Masters of Arts in English as a Second Language from Hamline University. 

Submitted January 2020.

Kathryn JensenKathryn Jensen 

TEAM Scholar in 2018
Institute Attended: Developing Assessments for the Second Language Classroom

What did you learn at the institute you attended?
I thought that this institute was amazing. Professionally I have been on about a five-year journey in adapting the ways in which I choose to assess my students. This institute provided me with access to the latest, most relevant information possible–and access to a presenter who gave us a veritable wealth of personal as well as pedagogical information. I also found affirmation that I am on the right journey, and also felt that I had some experiences, insights, and resources to share with the other colleagues who attended.

How did you share what you learned?
Immediately after completion of the institute I took the knowledge I had gained and directly applied it during a summer curriculum/CSA (common summative assessment) writing session for levels 2-4 of high school Spanish. I referred often to the written and online materials provided by the institute. In addition, I was able to provide a PD session to all of the world language teachers in our district during our back to school workshop week on changing assessment paradigms and the application of the use of rubrics as we move further towards standards-based grading. The session was well received and I was asked to provide a follow-up session later in the year. My district is better for me having been granted the opportunity to attend.    

Do you have any other comments?
I am so thankful for this opportunity to grow in my own professional capacity and to share what I learned. Empowered and knowledgeable leaders can lead the wave of change which can show the world the importance of what we do!

Kathryn Jensen is veteran a high school Spanish teacher at Coon Rapids High School. She holds a B.A. in Spanish and a Master’s of Education from the University of Minnesota.

Submitted February 2019.

Elizabeth ButterfieldElizabeth Butterfield

TEAM Scholar in 2018
Institute Attended: Growing Learner Language: A Hands-On Approach to Developing the Language Learners Produce

What did you like best about the summer institute on Learner Language?
The connections I made at the institute were very beneficial to my teaching. The class emphasis on teaching language that is functional and practical, as well as focusing on critical thinking has informed my lesson planning all year.       

How did you apply what you learned in your classroom?
I started the year with an ESL class that was focused on justifying a position on a controversial topic, and supporting that position with facts. This required research and vetting of sources. I used academic language frames that encouraged critical thinking while improving academic language use. The institute has made me a better ESL teacher by giving me tools that actually empower the students to take ownership of their own learning-- specifically error correction and analyzing their own writing.

What would you like other teachers to know about your experience?
I’m really grateful for the professional development that I’ve gotten at CARLA, it has helped me to advance my career and given me confidence as an ESL teacher!   

Elizabeth Butterfield taught ESL for four years at the secondary level at the VOA High School, an urban alternative high school in Minneapolis. She received her education in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Hamline University.

Submitted March 2019.

Alyssa WarneAlyssa Warne

TEAM Scholar in 2017
Institute Attended: Teaching Language Through the Lens of Social Justice

What did you learn at the CARLA summer institute?
I was really inspired by the summer institute I attended. Firstly, I gained a much more in-depth knowledge of how to incorporate social justice themes into the curriculum we already have and how to help students navigate complex and often emotionally-charged topics. We came up with lots of culturally responsive ways to build community and trust in the classroom so that students can feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on potentially divisive topics and to develop a baseline understanding of our own cultural identity and, therein, cultural biases. Secondly, perhaps the thing we could most immediately implement was our ongoing discussion of "hot moments" and how to acknowledge and handle them when they arise in the classroom. We were able to share and reflect on moments that had already happened and brainstorm ideas with other participants on how to better address a similar situation in the future. I have found myself relying on our list of "preventive" actions often during this past semester and my students and I have enjoyed a very open, healthy, honest classroom environment as a result!

How did you use what you learned in your classroom?
For my follow-up activity, it was important to me to create something that could feasibly be implemented this school year, and since we teach in collaborative teams with common summative assessments for each unit based on the ACTFL Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) model, it needed to fit within our already established curriculum and be "teachable" by all members of our collaborative team so that our student data can be collected and shared with administration. I chose to create an entire unit of study for Spanish 3 (Intermediate-Low proficiency) around the theme of child labor practices in Argentina. Using our pre-existing curriculum components of childhood and school vocabulary, paired with health and wellbeing from the subsequent unit, I created a 4 week unit that guides students through exploring their own childhood experiences, learning about the current situation in Argentina (children are exploited in the harvesting of mate tea leaves) and demonstrating comprehension with a reading and listening IPA, and finally explaining the causes and consequences of this practice coupled with personal anecdotes from their own lives in a formal letter to a mate production company in Argentina that the students would actually mail or email at the end of the unit.

Do you have any big takeaways to share?
At a time when language programs are at risk in public high schools, it was so empowering to create interdisciplinary connections and present language learning to all stakeholders in a way that aligns with common core standards and so clearly supports 21st century learning and the development of independent, aware, global citizens! I would highly recommend this institute to everyone - especially those willing to push themselves in their pedagogy and practice towards an activism-based critical pedagogy.

Alyssa Warne is a high school Spanish teacher at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota. She will present information related to what she learned through the TEAM Scholar Program at the 2020 Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in Minneapolis.

Submitted February 2018.

The TEAM Scholarship Program is sponsored by CARLA and the MN Department of Education and is cosponsored by the Minnesota Council on the Teaching of Languages and Cultures (MCTLC).

Note: CARLA wishes to recognize Carole and Jim Hynes for their generous support of this scholarship program to benefit Minnesota language teachers.

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