A. Grace Martin

Author, Student Teacher, Optimist and Promoter of Self-Empowerment

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Visiting an English Language Learner Program

Posted by agracemartin on March 5, 2015 at 11:00 AM

The following is a reflection assignment from my Social Context of Education class in which I visited a middle school program for English Language Learners (ELL) also called students with English as a Second Language (ESL).

When I visited the middle school’s ELL program, the first thing that I noticed was the clearly amicable relationships that the teacher and educational assistant had with the students. The teacher knew what activities each student was interested in. I noticed that a student was using the Internet on the teacher’s computer, and the teacher asked, “When did you start playing that game?” To me, this demonstrated the teacher’s authentic awareness and personalized connection with the students.


This relationship seemed to make the students feel comfortable and at liberty to joke around. The teacher had a relaxed manner with an easy sense of humour. When students talked out of turn, they were not berated, punished, or even singled out. The teacher would simply say, “Hmm, I wonder why I’m hearing voices but no hands.” He did not once tell students before class to speak English only, allowing them to talk with their friends in any language they chose. In class, however, he said, “Please try using English—even if you are talking across the room when you shouldn’t be.” I liked this style of classroom management because it encouraged practice of both the English language and North American school norms. If I were to apply this strategy in a classroom without ELL students, I would adapt it to say something positive, like: "please use proper grammar" or "be polite even when you are talking out of turn."


While sitting at the back of the classroom, one of my fellow student teachers made a comment about a few of the girls being too young to have nose piercings. I sincerely hoped that none of the ELL students heard this comment, and I whispered to my colleague that it is culturally and religiously significant in South East Asian countries for girls to get piercings on the left-hand side of their nose. This further reminded me of the incredible importance of knowing your students’ backgrounds to avoid offensive or uncomfortable situations due to misunderstanding.


The teacher started the school day with a daily writing page. He wrote a prompt on the board: “if you were principal of our school, what would you change? What would stay the same?” I noticed that the teacher first asked if anyone knew what a principal was. It would not have occurred to me to ask this question, but the teacher knew his ELL students might not recognize the word at first glance. One student did not know the meaning of “change,” so the E.A. quickly said, “to make different.” I thought that it must be an acquired skill to give a simple definition quickly, and that a teacher might need some practice to do so. I was struck by the fact that I take communication in the English language for granted, especially with what I would deem to be “simple” words. I am not accustomed to defining common words, which could be a challenge for me if I have an ELL student in my future class. I am more than willing to practice this however, because simply vocabulary can also benefit a wider range of students with differing reading levels.


I liked the daily jobs, in which one student had to read the calendar, and one student had to read the weather forecast for the day. This got two students a day speaking in front of the class in English. I thought that it was a great idea to have another board with common language on it that the teacher changed each day. He wrote, “What a horrendous morning! Today Is Moonday February 2rd, 2015. Tomorrow iS Tusday and. Yesterbay was Suhday. Different animals had tales…” This looked like an effective daily exercise to correct mistakes and spelling of very common words.

As the class corrected the spelling together, one said that it was the wrong “tale.” Immediately the teacher said, “Oh wow! You know what that means! We need to get out our book for what? That’s right, homophones!” I liked this strategy because it is clearly a fun way to sprinkle in homophones into daily instruction. The students got excited about homophone time. They drew a monkey next to the word tail. Pictorially, such visuals seem to be the best way for ELL students to differentiate between homophones. After drawing pictures, the students came up with simple sentences to practice their writing.


For a while I wondered why the teacher asked students to color their pictures. It was a very time-consuming task. Surely the time could be better spent? Then I realized that it was the end of the period. Coloring provided a break without changing the class. Also, slower-working students were allowed to continue coloring while the class worked on their corrections on the board. I later asked the teacher and he commented that all of his ELL students are immigrants who have not acquired skills that we normally do in elementary school, like coloring and using scissors. He has to be very patient and offer his students a lot of time to complete their work.


Then the students were split into groups. The four groups were reading, playing apples to apples, playing boggle, and reading games on the iPods. Each group went to each station and rotated. It was beneficial for me to work with a small group because I was able to answer questions and get a good feeling for their level of comprehension.


Before teatime, the teacher held interviews (meaning that he sat at the front of the classroom to talk with students by asking them questions, then allowing the students to interview him). It was an approach to encourage student conversations in English and also gave the daily job students time to serve tea. I appreciated that the teacher took time to get to know his students and learn that they enjoy having tea when talking in a circle. This clearly made a strong, culturally significant connection with them. He told us that for him, the biggest part of his job is identifying his students’ needs and modifying his instruction to meet those needs.


In my future science teaching, I can help ELL students by giving definitions in two ways: one as the science textbook definition, and one using simpler words to be more commonly understood. When I teach science courses, I can offer multiple ways to say the same thing, meaning that I can teach a concept using different words. On examinations, I can differentiate tests to have the same question worded in different ways and give ELL students more time to complete their work. This approach contributes to a universal design for learning (UDL) that can also benefit students with learning disabilities as well as ELL students.


In the future, I can give more time for ELL students to write notes down. I think that one way to approach this is through a flipped classroom. Students can watch a lecture video at home at their own pace, pausing and rewinding the video until they understand the content. In class, I will then have more time to answer questions that arose from the video and give students time to collaborate with their peers while working on practice problems or other projects.


I think that the most important implication for my future teaching is for me to know my students and do background research into their cultural values. Truly the first step in the teaching profession is to build relationships.

Categories: Teaching Blog , Acceptance and Tolerance

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