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C2C Digital Magazine Spring-Summer 2022

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Welcoming students who are new to classrooms: An interview with Dr. Carol Salva

By Robb Scott, Multilingual Adaptive Systems Newsletter, with Carol Salva, Seidlitz Education


Carol Salva – now a newly minted Doctor of Education (Thesis: Persistence of Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education)  – is an exciting presenter in person and  also has generated a lot of enthusiasm among teachers through her motivational support via webinars, online professional development projects, and interactive web radio shows (voicEd Radio with Stephen Hurley) creating a PD movement featuring her pandemic-era rallying cry: "You are the heroes of this time in history, so go forward bravely." In recent weeks, Dr. Salva agreed to be interviewed via an exchange of messages on one of her favored platforms, Twitter (@DrCarolSalva), to be shared with the readers of C2C Digital Magazine.

Figure 1.  Positive Learning (by anilsharma26 on Pixabay)

Research into learner persistence

Scott: Last year you successfully defended your dissertation on factors contributing to persistence and graduation of students with limited and/or interrupted formal education. What were your key research questions and what can you share about your findings?

Salva: This qualitative study sought to reveal the participants’ perspectives about positive and/or negative factors that affected their ability to persist through to graduation, despite challenges associated with being classified as SLIFE.  Learners identified as SLIFE are students that have limited or interrupted formal education.   The study’s findings offered numerous connections to current reported literature on Acculturation Theory (Berry & Sabatier, 2010). I conducted this research during my doctoral program at The University of St. Thomas in Houston.

Responses from participants indicate perceptions that their success was impacted by how they were received and regarded by new people at their high schools and in their communities.  For example, with respect to faculty, a theme of “degree of esteem” emerged as having a significant impact on SLIFE’s ability to persist.  In other words, these students recognized when faculty held them in low regard or in high regard and it affected their desire to persist.

Scott: You have a contagious enthusiasm and passion for supporting students in building skills to fully participate and succeed at high school and beyond graduation. What motivates you to guide and encourage students (and their teachers) facing these challenges?

Salva: My passion stems from a debt I feel that I owe to educators, community and family.  I grew up in Houston, Texas, to immigrant parents from Mexico.  I was a struggling learner throughout middle and high school.  I struggled not because of any type of learning issue.  The problem stemmed from years of fake reading and avoiding school work as much as possible.  In high school, I found myself several years below grade level.  I remember what that felt like. I eventually became bitter, disengaged, and defiant.  I failed several classes, I regularly skipped school, and I was known to cause disruptions in class.

Despite all of this, there were educators who never gave up on me.  I genuinely wanted them to give up on me.  But there were teachers who kept trying to get me to give more effort.  I did finally finish high school (albeit 2 years later than my peers).  That may have been the end of my years in education.  But as it turned out, I decided to try taking some classes at the junior college.  I was terrified that I would not be able to do the work or keep up with the other students.

Thankfully, I had memories of teachers who used to think that I could do more. I would focus on the memories of them when I needed courage to take risks in class.  Those memories served me well. I also had a supportive mother and family who encouraged me to take on even more challenges.  I have several examples of times in my life where the support of others helped me achieve more than I thought was possible. I have had many instances where others believed in me before I believed in myself.  

I see the same fear I had in the eyes of students who are taking on the challenges of learning a new language, struggling to internalize complex content or coming into a new culture. I know that they are scared but I also know that they can achieve so much if they just believe in themselves.  I have so much gratitude and desire to pay forward the support I have received. I have a deep belief in the abilities of our struggling learners and in all the teachers who teach them.

Supporting learners with interrupted or limited formal education

Scott: What advice do you have for educators that receive students with interrupted or limited formal education?  Can  you offer a good place to start?

Salva: Yes, my top tip for ESL teachers, content teachers, program leaders and community members:  Welcome them.  Create awareness that community is becoming more diverse and celebrate that.  Be intentional about processes across the school that highlight and value the diverse background of your student body.  

I also want to say that I was very nervous to be the newcomer teacher but I have learned that it is the best job in the building!  You get to see dramatic growth in one school year.  I tell anyone who works with new arrival students and refugees to focus on creating a sense of belonging for the student.  Above all, make them feel welcome. Hold them in high regard for the experiences and gifts they bring.  Being new to English, being new to education, having a different culture or background, none of these things are cognitive issues. So language and literacy issues can be deceptive. These are not usually associated with a disability if the issue is a lack of formal education.  

If this child can’t read, write or speak English, let’s move forward with the mindset that the issue is a lack of opportunity.  Please help them feel valued and welcome in your learning space.  I promise that language, literacy and content learning all come much more quickly when a person feels safe and feels like they belong.  We’ve seen SLIFE catch up (and pass up) students born in this country.  

Many arrive with an appreciation for the opportunity to be in school and a strong desire to learn.  I ask teachers to focus on the “long-game” and to focus on assets the students bring.  Many arrive with what Angela Duckworth calls “grit.”  This is not a new concept in education.  She defines grit as an ability to persevere, combined with effort and passion to get to a long-term goal (Anderson, K. & Francisco, A., 2019). Grit is a character trait we wish we could give all students.

Unfortunately, these students have lived through difficult circumstances and we would not wish that on anyone.  But we need to remember that they have proven that they can get through hard things.  We need to harness that and help them cultivate those character traits and apply them to education.  And, importantly, WE need to create conditions where they feel welcome and it is not so difficult to get through school.  That has a lot to do with high expectations, appreciation for the student and accommodating instruction for language learners.

As for practical steps, a good place to start are online resources that offer guidance for educators working with newcomers.  I recommend the Newcomer Toolkit by the US Dept of Education.  Anna Matis and I wrote a book called “Boosting Achievement, Reaching Students with Limited for Interrupted Formal Education.”  It is a very easy read and offers practical advice for working with SLIFE.  

But teachers can access the concepts and resources for the book right now without purchasing that resource.  My blog, has a book study that does not require the book!  You can read 5 blog posts and access videos that take you through what we wrote in our Boosting Achievement book right now.  There is also a podcast with over 100 episodes on supporting newcomers and SLIFE along with many other resources.

Professional development from Spring 2020 - 2021

Figure 2.  Collaborative Professional Development (by mary1826 on Pixabay)

Scott: During the period from Spring 2020 to Spring 2021, you were prolific in your utilization of internet technologies to build PD communities for teachers to share ideas and encourage one another in discovering ways to grow professionally. You were already doing many of these things, but school closings and "shelter in place" constraints seemed to spark a great deal of creative PD activity. Can you describe what these experiences have meant for you?

Salva:  Professional Learning has certainly changed for all of us.  As it should!  Much like I described for the SLIFE students, we all went through something difficult.  We don’t wish the pandemic on anyone but we need to realize that we came away with some assets we didn’t have before.  Teachers deserve so much respect for getting through these past few years and I hope they give themselves credit for what they are able to do.  

Some of our new assets include new abilities with technology and many of us have more appreciation for asynchronous opportunities in our own learning journeys. Tan Huynh, Dr. Katie Toppel and I were writing “DIY PD: A guide to self-directed learning for Educators of Multilingual Learners” (2021) before the pandemic hit.  We finished it recently and it is the perfect resource for any program leader, instructional coach or teacher who wants to harness what is available to us in professional learning for serving language learners.  It has meant a lot to us that educators and leaders are using the resource.  

It means a lot to us because we have always been champions of self-directed, personalized PD.  A great example of this, and something folks can access right now, is the MLSummit (  It is full of short, youtube videos that help educators make the most of this new reality where our worlds are so full of resources we can use to find our own PD on our own terms.

Effective use of instructional technologies

Scott: You also have focused a lot of your recent attention on technologies that enhance both classroom and virtual learning environments. I know that you represent both Seidlitz and Kahoot! and I am sure you have plenty to say about how they equip teachers to organize lessons that follow UDL (Universal Design for Learning) principles and meet the needs of SLIFE and all students. But can you break it down to just a few basic steps any teacher or parent can follow that will make a significant positive difference in the academic and social success of children and youth?

Salva: It is so true that I am a huge fan of Kahoot!  I can engage a child of any age immediately through games.  A great deal of language and content learning can take place when we lower the stress for students and I have found Kahoot to be perfect for this. We start with a simple Kahoot game about me. This offers a place for visuals of me, my family, my traditions, my hobbies, etc.  

And you can use simple sentences. It also lends itself to repetition (the whole class will willingly repeat your sentences if it means continuing with the game) and exposure to high frequency words.  The Kahoot platform is free to teachers and also has a 1-click feature that turns this game into a single-player quiz.  Now we are really capitalizing on repetition in English.  Multiple exposure to English in print is going to help these students build background for our language.  

I recommend taking it a step further and creating a quiz about your students.  Ask them for a trivia question about THEM.  How old they are, hobbies, number of siblings… their choice.  Then create some quizzes about your class and play them together.  Again, we have an engaging opportunity for oral language practice (read all questions and answers in an echo-read/I read-you read fashion) and we are building community in this activity.   

Finally, I would use these quizzes to point out test-taking strategies.  Guide students to come up with good distractors and explain what that means.  Change questions to include “Which one is NOT…” There are so many possibilities when we have students engaged in a game of Kahoot!  A goal of mine is always to eventually use this activity (co-creating quizzes) with content they will see in up-coming lessons.  I can give students the right answers to grade-level content quizzes and ask them to come up with distractors and create quizzes on their own, with a group or as a class.  

Now we are building language and background for content they will see in their grade-level classes.  We did this way before the pandemic and, thankfully, Kahoot made it easy for everyone to do online and asynchronously.  I offer lots of Kahoot tips on my blog and on Kahoot’s website.

What's next?

Scott: What is next for you? Where do you see the field of instructional technology going in the near future?

Salva: I have always relied heavily on technology to enhance the learning of my students.  When we work with language learners, simple tech can help us communicate, and offers students a way to get more comprehensible input.  There are lots of apps for learning English and they offer great practice for people who are willing to put in the time.  But the teacher is always the most powerful catalyst for learning.  Armed with what technology provides, we can really propel the learning of language learners and proficient English students alike.  

In our DIYpd book, we quote ISTE standards.  For years ISTE (The International Society for Technology in Education) has been encouraging us to use tech as a portal to the world.  The “walls” of our classroom are a facade and we can see that more than ever now.  

We are also encouraged to support students to use tech to become innovative thinkers, designers of content, knowledge constructors, digital thinkers and more.  I strongly encourage educators to use basic translation tech to help students feel safe and welcome, but to look beyond basic uses of technology.  ALL of our students can now have the world at their fingertips.  Use technology the way ISTE recommends and you will  propel their learning and your own. 

Figure 3.  Future Successes (by ar130405 on Pixabay)

As for me?  I am going to continue to work for Seidlitz Education to come to districts across the US and Canada to support teachers.  It is my dream job and I am honored to work with them.  I will continue to podcast and to keep looking forward.  I just want to keep getting better at all of this.  I have a strong focus on getting better at getting better.  That is a never-ending activity.


Anderson, K. & Francisco, A. (March 6, 2019). The research behind the TED Talk: Angela Duckworth on Grit. Digital Promise (Blog).

Berry, J.W. & Sabatier, C. (May, 2010). Acculturation, discrimination, and adaptation among second generation immigrant youth in Montreal and Paris. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 34(3), pp. 191-207. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijintrel.2009.11.007

Salva, C. & Matis, A. (2017). Boosting Achievement: Reaching students with interrupted or minimal education. San Antonio: Canter Press.

Toppel, K., Huynh, T. & Salva, C. (2021). DIY PD: A Guide to Self-Directed Learning for Educators of Multilingual Learners. Irving, TX: Seidlitz Education, LLC.

U.S. Department of Education (2016-2017). Newcomer Toolkit.

About the Authors

Carol Salva is an award winning educator with proven success working with unschooled/under-schooled, multilingual learners classified as SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) or ELD (English Language Development) students. She is a key Seidlitz Education consultant for training, coaching, modeling, and supporting program leaders. Carol is a co-author of Boosting Achievement: Reaching Students with Interrupted Or Minimal Education and a co-author of DIY PD: A Guide to Self-Directed Learning for Educators of Multilingual Learners. She has taught elementary, middle and high school.  
Dr. Carol Salva holds a Masters degree in Education Administration and a doctorate in ethical leadership from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. Along with her ESL certification, she is a Certified Gomez & Gomez Dual Language Trainer and a Certified Abydos Writing Trainer. She is a Kahoot Ambassador and the co-chair of the NAELPA professional learning committee.

Her Twitter handle is @DrCarolSalva.  Her email is 

Robb Scott is a co-editor of C2C Digital Magazine. He has lived and worked as a teacher and teacher educator in Kansas, Colorado, New York, Ecuador, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. He has served as president and webmaster for Kansas TESOL and Kansas CEC. His education includes degrees from the University of Kansas (B.A., M.A.)  and Kansas State University (Ed.D.), as well as a certificate in negotiating across cultures from the Fletcher School.

His email is 
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