by Christina Ponzio
When he was a sixth grader in intermediate ESL, Gabir* would only write about soccer. Just as the topic remained the same–-a short story about a game-winning shot or a news article about famous Argentinian soccer player, Messi–-so did his language use. Writing conference after conference, I was challenged to help Gabir push his writing, and with each composition, he would ask me how to spell the same words, forming familiar sentence patterns.
Even though I had helped many English learners, or emergent bilinguals, find their voices in writing, I knew Gabir’s struggle went beyond needing to learn a new language. He had experienced great hardship after leaving Iraq two years earlier: losing both parents, residing in a Syrian refugee camp, and enduring months of interrupted schooling. The eager look in Gabir’s brown eyes often hid these experiences; in class, he was an enthusiastic reader and…
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