Each month I interview people in the education world about whom I want to learn more. You can see read those past interviews here.

This month, Lydia Breiseth from Colorín Colorado, the popular resource site for teachers and parents of English Language Learners, agreed to be interviewed.

Can you explain what Colorín Colorado is and what it does?

Colorín Colorado is a bilingual website with free resources for parents and teachers of English language learners (ELLs).  We are based at the public broadcasting affiliate WETA in Washington, DC, and our resources include parent reading tip sheets in 11 languages, articles about ELL instruction, webcasts, podcasts, multicultural booklists for kids and teens, and bilingual author interviews.

Our audience keeps expanding as the need for ELL material continues to increase around the country and even around the world – we have regular visitors from other countries that have growing immigrant communities like Canada, England, Ireland, and Australia, and we also have a strong Spanish-speaking audience in Latin America and Spain.

How did Colorín Colorado get started?

When WETA launched the Reading Rockets website with information about younger readers a number of years ago, the staff began to receive questions about whether the parent information was available in Spanish.  The Reading Rockets team had the brilliant idea to launch a version of the website in Spanish with the name “Colorín Colorado,” which is a phrase used in Spanish storytelling:

!Y colorín colorado, este cuento se ha acabado! (“The story has ended!”)

While it’s not the same as “Happily ever after,” it plays a similar role in ending a story, and it is recognized across Spanish-speaking cultures as a reference to books and storytelling.  What the website creators anticipated was that this phrase would resonate with Spanish-speaking parents, and they were right! We still get e-mails from people thanking us for using a name which evokes such happy memories from childhood.  (Of course there is also a challenge in that many people think we are in the state of Colorado, and so we get tourism inquiries about the Rocky Mountains, invitations from real estate agents in Boulder, and special updates from the Twitter account “Denver Happy Hour”…but we see the name as a great learning opportunity for our English-speaking users as well!)

In the meantime, as we were building an audience of Latino parents, the American Federation of Teachers was receiving more and more questions about serving English language learners from teachers in urban districts where ELLs were concentrated, and all signs pointed to teaching ELLs as a hot topic for educators.  So WETA and the AFT, knowing that Colorín Colorado already was serving the families of ELLs, came together to offer parent and educator content in English and Spanish.  It was a prescient partnership because once ELLs began to enroll in larger numbers in rural and suburban districts, Colorín Colorado was already there as a resource for the teachers and administrators who hadn’t worked with ELLs as much in states such as Kansas, North Carolina, and Maine.

How do you create new content for the website?

We have a number of teachers and researchers (including our amazing AFT ELL educator cadre) who write articles and recommend resources for the website, and I develop some new resources as well.  We also try to build on questions and ideas that come from our website visitors and the members of our online community, as well as those questions I get when I’m at conferences and workshops.

In terms of the actual production, our website shares a web team with the other educational websites at WETA: Reading Rockets, AdLit.org, LD OnLine, and BrainLine. I manage the new content and partnerships for Colorín, and other staff help with graphics, video, technical behind-the-scenes work, newsletters, etc. across Colorín and the other websites.

We have a unique online model because the AFT invests in the creation of new content and resources up front, and then we make it available for free to all web users, whether they are AFT members or not.  Online professional development is becoming increasingly expensive with the increased demand for video, and so this to me seems like a very democratic way to help teachers — especially at a time when professional development may be reduced due to school budget cuts.

How and why did you get involved in education and specifically with English Language Learners?

I taught English after college in Ecuador, and I had a wonderful experience teaching professionals and graduate students while I was there. I also began to develop my own teaching materials and created 2 workbooks’ worth of worksheets and activities for ESL classrooms, which felt like a big accomplishment after I had pulled all of my materials together!

When I came home from Ecuador, I knew I wanted to continue working with the Latino community in the U.S. since my Spanish had gotten stronger and I had a better sense of the trends in the growing Latino community around the U.S.  I continued to teach ESL and Spanish to students of all ages in part-time jobs, and then I got a job working at the Telemundo affiliate in Washington, DC.  As I thought about those crazy telenovelas and soap operas, it was not initially my idea of “saving the world.” As it turned out, though, I had the opportunity to build the station’s outreach to local non-profits serving the region’s Latino community, so I was much more involved with the community than I originally expected.

My favorite station events (besides the great concerts with Shakira and Juan Luis Guerra!) were the reading / family literacy events.  The station also had a nightly Spanish-language newscast, and as a result I was able to follow the events affecting DC’s Latino community closely.  During that time, a nearby county in Northern Virginia cracked down on undocumented families, which threw the county’s school districts – and the districts in neighboring counties – into chaos.  I learned a lot about the intersection of immigration and schools through that story, as well as about the important of bilingual outreach to immigrant families. Without knowing it, I was pulling my interests in all of these issues together, so that when I had the interview for the position at Colorín Colorado, I realized that everything had finally fallen into place, which was a bit of a surprise even to me!

You see a lot of what’s going on with ELL’s around the United States.  What do you think are some of the most interesting practices, studies, and/or trends that are going on now?

I am uplifted by the national interest in dual-immersion programs like those featured in the new documentary Speaking in Tongues.  I think it’s wonderful that these programs focus on the benefits of being bilingual for all kids rather than on just the benefits of learning English. Of course there is a sad irony that families of English-speaking kids are often able to muster more public support for these kinds of programs than the families of ELLs can, but I hope that with increased enrollment in dual-immersion programs around the country that trend begins to change.

What books do you recommend for teachers who want to become better teachers of ELL’s?

There are lots of great books out there written by ELL teachers and experts with concrete, practical ideas, strategies, and resources – and more are being published all the time!  There are so many, in fact, that we’ve just launched a new section on professional books by category so that we can help spread the word about these books and so that educators can see the range of titles out there.

I am excited about all of the books we’ve included in the section, but three of my favorites for classroom strategies are:

Literacy Instruction for English Language Learners

By: Nancy Cloud, Fred Genesee, and Else V. Hamayan

The More-Than-Just-Surviving Handbook: ESL for Every Classroom Teacher

By: Barbara Law and Mary Eckes

Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas

By: Judie Haynes and Debbie Zacarian

Upcoming topics that we’ll add to the section include books for administrators, assessment, and working with ELL parents.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to share?

I’d like to express my admiration and appreciation for you and the teachers in our schools who continue to make a difference in the lives of kids despite so many obstacles and frustrations in their work.  It seems to me that while it’s always hard to be a teacher, it’s especially hard right now because we have lost sight of the art and joy that so many teachers bring to their classrooms, as well as the successes that can’t be measured by a test.  I wish you and everyone well during this school year, and I look forward to continuing our work on behalf of ELLs through Colorín Colorado!

Thanks, Lydia!