Newcomer Multilingual Students: A Teacher’s Reflections

Blonde, white woman in a grey shirt smiling, with a logo saying Collaborative Coach underneath.

In my role at Collaborative Classroom, I have the joy of watching teachers progress through cycles of personalized, asynchronous learning via Collaborative Coach. As part of obtaining college credit for participation, educators engaged in Collaborative Coach must write an essay about their coaching experience and the impact it had on their teaching and student learning.

One of these educators is Andrea (Andi) Newman, a secondary multilingual classroom teacher at Tyee High School/Highline Public Schools in Washington.

I recently had the great pleasure of reading Andi’s essay which powerfully conveys her passion for working with high school newcomer multilingual students and her determination to provide the evidence-based literacy resources and practices that her students deserve. 

With tears in my eyes after reading Andi’s essay, I immediately knew that her words needed to be shared with a wider audience. Thank you, Andi, for allowing us to share your reflections and for the vital work you do with your students. 

–Katie Fuchs, Collaborative Coach Manager

Discovering the Challenges in Teaching Reading

A black and white photo of a woman, Andi Newman, wearing glasses.
Andi Newman, a high school teacher who works with newcomer multilingual students.

In my tenth year of teaching, I listened to the podcast “Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong” on a long solo road trip. I’d been working with high school newcomer multilingual students for years—and for years I’d been asking other teachers, specialists, my peers, and my mentors, “How do I help kids learn to read in English when they have never learned to read in their first language?” 

Unfortunately, context clues, exposure to interesting and beautiful texts, and close reading strategies seemed to be the only things that secondary teachers and specialists had been trained to offer. I realized that the emerging literacy instruction I had been trained in was in fact the three-cueing system (first letter, last letter, context cues, guess). 

The “Sold a Story” podcast left me in tears of fury. Images of kids marched through my mind. Those who had graduated without being able to read. Those who had not graduated, but had slowly stopped coming to school and disappeared altogether from our responsibility. How could it be that NO ONE had taught me this, in a decade of professional developments, in my master’s program, in my proactive and very specific search for THIS answer? 

Finding SIPPS: A Transformative Experience

Before finding SIPPS® I thought I’d have to piece together a curriculum myself, and I was prepared to do so. 

But then I found SIPPS through a colleague and have been using the program since January 2023. The intention, the clarity, the idea that I could become a stronger teacher simply by teaching this curriculum was an incredible relief. 

The intention, the clarity, the idea that I could become a stronger teacher simply by teaching this curriculum was an incredible relief. 

Implementing SIPPS in the Classroom

I threw myself into teaching SIPPS Plus to a small group in my 28-student newcomer class last year. As I grew proficient in the routines my students who had never been able to read or write started to do so independently. “I have all these ideas in my head, and now I can write them on the paper,” one Congolese student said as she wrote a story about her grandmother (her first time writing anything without using voice to text).

This year I’ve been teaching SIPPS in several different contexts. I’m using SIPPS in a class for older students, on the cusp of graduating, who are still not reading (because I didn’t have this tool when they were in their first years of learning English). I’m also using SIPPS in my classes of newest arrivals, which is where I focused my 1:1 coaching work with Lindsey, who serves as my Collaborative Coach. I was curious why certain students were passing mastery tests, but when it came to reading from Dreams on Wheels, or any other text, they seemed to panic and forget how to blend, forget how to segment. 

Collaborative Coach: Fine-Tuning Teaching Practices

Collaborative Coach helped me to fine-tune my practice teaching SIPPS:

Timing Lessons

  • I timed my lessons, including the timing of each routine. I realized that I had been speeding through the important wait time that allowed the students to do the work. 

Recording and Reviewing Lessons

  • I recorded a video of myself teaching, and my coach suggested allowing students to sound and blend words in a mixed list (and that routine) would help them cross the hurdle of continuous blending. 

Understanding Routines

  • I discovered routines that I thought I knew, but that I didn’t—routines I had missed, like the continuous blending of the mixed reading list, or how when blending a stop sound with a short vowel, the hand motion is different than if the word begins with a continuous sound. 

I’ve watched as things clicked for students when I made these very nuanced tweaks. 

Overcoming Obstacles with Student Engagement

Through Collaborative Coach, I realized again what a rich resource the SIPPS teacher manual is—that although the routines stay the same (which I appreciate so deeply for my own and my students’ cognitive loads), I had been missing the invitations to reflect at different benchmarks on my own instruction and student advancement. I rediscovered the nuances between the choral reading, whisper reading, and silent reading when revisiting the routines at my coach’s suggestion. 

The Importance of Reflection and Correction Routines

A big change in my implementation occurred around the correction routines. Watching a video I taped of myself, I realized that when students blended something incorrectly my frustration was evident; they grew nervous, I’d have them try again, they’d make the same error again, and that would continue. But after watching the videos on the Collaborative Classroom Learning Portal of the correction routines, I retrained myself to keep my countenance neutral, to follow the correction routine (which is often to model the correct blending), and then let students do it successfully. 

The Impact of Slowing Down

I have felt so much urgency to get students reading, especially my seniors who have waited 18, sometimes 20, long years to learn to read that, in the past, I willfully kept pushing us forward, sometimes disregarding feedback on mastery tests, my eyes sliding over the opportunities to reflect on my own practice, missing the nuances—I caved to this urgency. 

My experience with Collaborative Coach encouraged me to SLOW DOWN—a lesson with larger implications for my life, actually.

My experience with Collaborative Coach encouraged me to SLOW DOWN—a lesson with larger implications for my life, actually. To slow down as students blend and segment and sound and read in their minds before we do so together, to slow down my emotional response to a routine or phoneme or a student balking at a full page of text, and to slow down and revisit the program resources in front of me.

Student Success Stories

Last Friday, I sat with that same student, who last year wrote for the first time about her grandmother. There she sat and explored college websites on her computer during lunch. “Maybe this college is for you?” she read off the screen.

I’d never seen her read something on her own like that before, unprompted, just for the pure curiosity of it. She kept reading snippets and clicking on different links, asking for clarification here and there.

A teenage girl of African descent is indoors in her school's library. She is sitting at a table, and concentrating while studying for a test.
A high school female student reading.

I asked her if she found herself doing this more, reading the texts off the world around her. “Yes, I read what is on the bus and the packaging in the store. I read the mail that comes to my house. I am reading more and more,” she said. 

Conclusion: Gratitude and Growth

For years, as a teacher of reading who serves high school newcomer multilingual students, I tried to understand what it was that I was doing wrong. In truth, however, the answer was in what I was not doing at all. 

I am deeply grateful to all those who have created SIPPS and to my Collaborative Coach, Lindsey. They have helped me to refine and expand my practice so that students who once felt only fear at the sight of a page full of text can now sit at lunch and wonder, “Is this college for me?” 

Read another blog about multilingual learners: How Amplifying the Curriculum Supports Multilingual Learners

A blog about older readers: How Austin Achieve AmeriCorps Is Serving Older Readers with SIPPS

Learn more about SIPPS

Learn more about about our asynchronous online coaching, Collaborative Coach