From Garden to Garden: Learning English in the Weeds

By Lenore Balliro, Director of Programs, First Literacy

After attending a Teaching ESOL Through Community Gardening workshop at First Literacy, Gillian Burleson realized that even though she is a self-proclaimed “brown thumb,” the idea of teaching English through gardening was especially appropriate for her program. Gillian coordinates (and teaches in) the adult ESOL program at The Welcome Project, located at the Mystic River Development in Somerville. The Welcome Project offers a variety of services and classes for immigrant adults and youth. One of their activities is overseeing some community garden plots. Gillian put the two projects—teaching English and maintaining the garden—together. She recruited a volunteer from Groundwork Somerville to lead a truly “hands on” English conversation group. As they dig and weed and plant, learners acquire new vocabulary and practice language structures while engaging in productive and socially satisfying work.

When I hear of projects like this—where one teacher adapts the ideas and work (freely given) of another, I feel the true value of professional development. The interconnectedness and shared wisdom among skilled, responsive teachers leads to collaborative and supportive teaching and learning. It’s stories like this that make me proud of the professional development workshops at First Literacy. I discovered Gillian’s project through a conversation, not by any formal metrics. Sometimes that is how we learn about the positive spiraling effects professional development has on teachers. Not through formal mechanisms, but through listening.

By the way, the workshop Gillian attended in May 2017 at First Literacy was an outgrowth of a First Literacy Lab grant awarded to Riva Pearson and Brian Jordan at ABCD Mattapan. Riva and Brian collaborated with City Natives of Mattapan to offer a summer ESOL through gardening project. You can check out our Resources section for the creative and useful materials developed as part of that grant and workshop. Go to Resources>for Educators>Teaching ESOL>Teaching ESOL Through Community Gardening, or click here.