In my book English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work, I talk a lot about looking at English Language Learners through the lens of “assets” instead of “deficits.” Their stories and experiences, even tragic ones, are examples of “assets” that can be used to deepen learning in the classroom.

Last week, in my United States History classes with Intermediate and Beginning English Language Learners, a prime example of this was front and center. We were just about to start a unit on the American Civil War, and I asked students to talk with their family members about civil wars that occurred in native countries — what happened and how it affected their families. You can see all their responses here at our class blog, but here are a few samples:

My parent remember that during the civil war in thier country, many people die.It was a chaos, people fight each other but they like brothers and sisters.It make them feel sad and anger.

In civil war my mom said their was a lot voilence their was nothing to eat chid was crying during the war their was nothing to drink

My father tell me that when the war begain in lao and the soldier came to kill the hmong people and my family run to the forest and hid atfer that my family came to thailand

After those family discussions, and the sharing of them in class, I think it’s safe to say that my students are approaching learning about the Civil War on a much deeper level than many other mainstream students. I’m going to approach other U.S. History teachers at school to see if they’d like to spend a portion of a period having their students connect with mine about their experiences….