Clara Gonzales-Espinoza

Elementary Teacher | Albuquerque, NM

Clara Gonzales-Espinoza is an elementary teacher of English language learners (ELLs) in New Mexico. Clara participated in our Common Core in Albuquerque project and has done extensive professional development work focused on the Common Core and ELLs.

In this interview, Clara talks about working with her students and their families to create a culture of success in the classroom. She also talks about her students' lack of exposure to science and social studies content in earlier grades and how she engaged them in the classroom through hands-on activities.


Journal Entries

Reader Response

To better understand the CCSS, I had to delve into how they organized reading skills into a kind of grid. It is a grid that offers a set of skills for readers of every age, and for both fiction and informational. As I read across the grades, I've noticed that the specific expectations for the skills grow.

I also notice what the standards value and devalue in reading comprehension — deeper comprehension and higher level thinking skills — but what skills in particular? By looking at what they give repeated attention to and what they leave out I can better judge what the standards value. For example these phases are repeated:

  • "demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text"
  • "refer to details and examples in a text"
  • "quote accurately from a text"
  • "compare and contrast"
  • "analyze."

These phrases are not in the Common Core: make text-to-self connections, access prior knowledge, explore personal response, and relate to your own life. In short, the Common Core deemphasizes reading as a personal act and emphasis textual analysis. In focusing on textual analysis as the primary means of comprehending and interpreting texts, I have realized the Common Core puts aside theories of reader response.

This is a major shift for me since Rosenblatt, who states quite explicitly that the meaning of texts resides in the interaction of the reader and the text, has influenced my work. If I have two readers reading Charlotte's Web they can't and won't see the same things in it because their own experiences partially shapes their interpretation. Even the same reader at different ages will see different things in the text.

My plan is to assess my student's current reading practices. I'm going to ask them to discuss a story and find out if they veer off into discussions of their own experiences. I know they will continue to need more support with academic, text-based responses.

Helping ELLs meet high standards

Note: Clara describes her work as part of a different Common Core teacher work team in this entry.

Before our work began each participant was asked to identify his or her own experience with CCSS. I had to admit to myself that, yes, I had read the standards and was currently developing a lesson based on a standard — but I really didn't have the background to be able to make meaning of the standards.

The structure wasn't clear to me until after the 3 days I spent with this teacher work team. I began to better understand the 3 components of text complexity and how teachers will need to scaffold students' comprehension of complex texts. I practiced crafting text dependent questions. I was able to examine students' writing samples and identify evidence that students are making progress towards or have met the writing standards. In other words, I was immersed in the work that is crucial for all teachers as they begin to understand how to design and implement lessons.

Throughout our discussions, many teachers asked how ELLs and struggling readers and writers would be able to access the CCSS. Of course, I also had the same questions. I strongly believe that all students should be able held to the same high expectations outlined in the CCSS, but I also know that these learners may require additional time, appropriate instructional support, and aligned assessments that give them the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency.

Most importantly, to help ELLs meet high academic standards in language arts, it is essential that they have access to rich oral and written language, meaning they need to read a lot and be involved in literate conversations in literacy-rich classrooms. I found myself questioning why personal response and student connections were left out of the standards. Working with ELLs, I have learned that they need many opportunities for classroom discourse and this interaction has to be well-designed to enable them to develop communicative strengths in language arts. As I provide feedback to guide learning, I need my students to first feel comfortable about sharing their stories.

Non-fiction reading

A student approached me last month and asked if I would refer her to the "Gifted Program." She is a very intelligent bilingual student who is extremely conscientious about school. As I sat with her and her mother during parent teacher student conferences the issue of nonfiction reading (Scholastic News) once again came up. She continues to struggle with this type of reading. She quite frankly admits she doesn't understand how to read the graphs and maps and often gets confused with the columns.

During our conversation, her mom tells her that knowledge is good and having knowledge will help her to be more informed. She begins telling a story about the day she received a small paper bird for her birthday from a co-worker. She admits she didn't know why she was given this particular bird but graciously accepted the gift. Once she arrived at home she showed her daughter her present. Her daughter shouted, "It is a paper crane & it means good luck." She immediately tells her mother about the story of Sadako & The Thousand Paper Cranes and how Sadako got leukemia because of the radiation her mother was exposed to when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. Her mom gently touched her arm and told her she had obtained "knowledge."

As I reflected on this conference I was reminded that the CCSS stress the importance of informational reading. The grade level specifics for informational reading follow the same logic as those for literature. The difference lies in the kind of comprehension involved. It was evident my student had knowledge about the cause of Sadako's illness. Her understanding of the time period was due to the fact that she had researched World War II.

As I think about how the standards focus readers on the work of analyzing the claims texts make, the soundness and sufficiency of their evidence, and the way a text's language and craft may reveal points of view I am reminded the CCSS for reading literature demand extremely sophisticated reading practices. In other words these standards invite readers into a highly analytical mode, where the reader must read for much more than information. I honestly admit this is new reading work not only for students but for most teachers.

Museum trip

All around me teachers are preparing their students for the upcoming Standards Based Assessment (SBA). Students are given drill sheets, quick mini science lessons, revisiting the RACE rubric for reading and math, etc. Part of me begins to panic and I ask myself should I too be preparing my students. This sudden doubt was quickly replaced with the urgency to plan for our upcoming field trip to the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe.

None of my 24 students had been to this particular museum and some students hadn't been to Santa Fe. They were excited! They had the opportunity to learn about Folk Art from the Andes when Patricia visited our classroom during her pre-museum visit. Students touched the artifacts from the Andes and asked countless questions about where the Andes was located and what was Folk Art. They were fascinated with the handmade masks. As we heard that our bus had arrived we quickly packed up lunches, coats, and backpacks and headed to the front of the building.

As we exited the front entrance we saw a charter bus parked by the curb. Students asked hesitantly, "Is this our bus?" Suddenly someone shouted it is a "Party Bus". Needless to say we traveled to Santa Fe in both style and comfort. Once we arrived Patricia, the educational resource teacher greeted us as we walked through the doors of the museum. Students quickly glanced around as we were ushered into the lunchroom to place our belongings.

The first part of this field trip was to work in the studio. Students quickly gathered around Patricia as she explained the step -by- step process needed to construct a mask. Students were excited about the array of materials they could use. They asked questions about the process and eagerly shared their knowledge. They moved around the studio with ease, laughing and talking with one another. I watched and listened to them. Suddenly I realized I was preparing them for the upcoming SBA. They planned their masks, demonstrated a strategy to achieve their final goal, expressed their thinking verbally, and most importantly they applied the skills they were taught from a demonstration.

It is important to note that the emphasis in the Common Core is on students learning to read and write complex texts independently at high levels of proficiency. Most of my students are becoming independent thinkers but they'll need more nudging to move to CCSS work.