Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Watching the Inauguration at School

We had major technical difficulties with the internet connection/streaming today at school and I almost missed the whole inauguration. It was (almost) very traumatic.

All of the classes were down in the auditorium by 11:30 and the inauguration was already being projected onto the big screen. (I was impressed that they had gotten everything set up with they way our computer teacher had been running around on Friday trying to figure things out.) We watched until about 11:50 and then the screen went blank. The internet connection was lost and they couldn't get it back. Various teachers were offering up suggestions about finding an actual TV or trying a different news channel. Meanwhile, time was ticking away. Then I saw a second grade teacher making a bee line for the door with her class. I heard her say that it was working on the computer in her room. I followed them up to their room and Obama had just started his speech when we got up there (we missed the actual swearing in). We all huddled around the computer and watched silently as the volume wasn't that great. The cutest part was when the kids joined in singing the national anthem. The whole thing will definitely be an experience I remember forever.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baby Steps

My new student from the Domincan Republic had a pretty good first day. She seemed to be alert and really trying to figure out what was going on in class so she could follow along. She repeated words the other kids were repeating, moved her mouth like she was reading when the class was doing shared reading, and copied off her neighbor to get something on her paper during writing. Then the second day happened and I think it really hit her that she is now in a new school where everyone speaks English and she has no idea what is going on.

In the morning during our extended time period (where I have a group of only newcomers) she started crying. I tried to get the other kids to ask her in Spanish what was wrong. Finally in between huge sobs she told them she was crying because she didn't speak English. The boy sitting right across from her was new in September and now speaks just a little English but understands quite a bit. I told him to tell her how he didn't know any English in September and now he knows a lot of English. He translated in Spanish and another boy (who arrived just a few months ago) shouted in English frantically, "Me too! Me too!" "Tell her in Spanish," I told him. Then I told Willy to tell her that two years ago he didn't speak any English either. He told her even though he felt a little embarrassed about doing so. She listened to them all and even though she still looked distraught I felt like it was important for her to hear.

The next day (her third in the school) she was still upset at breakfast before coming up to class. Her parents sat with her for a while and then finally brought her up to the class. I decided she needed a little fun and got out the "Go Fish" cards, which the other kids were thrilled about too since they love it when we get to play games in class. At first I played her hand having her repeat everything after me: "Willy, do you have a tropical fish?" Halfway though the game she knew all the kids names and how to say "Do you have?" KC, another first grader with tons of personality was having so much fun making jokes and silly faces at the "go fish" pile when she didn't get the right card. The new girl totally picked up on that and by the end of the game all the kids, including new girl, were laughing hysterically and having the best time. Ever since that day she has been totally fine in class, no more crying.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

New Newcomers

I got another new student today. She's a first grader who just arrived from the Dominican Republic and doesn't speak any English (yet). That brings my newcomer group up to eight students! I don't know what it is about this year but four new newcomers in one year is more than I have ever had. The other four students range from two to two and a half years here, so even though they are all "newcomers" there is still quite a range in the abilities of the students in the group. (Especially when you account for some of the being very strong in their native Spanish while others are very behind.) The newcomers are my favorite group to teach so I'm thrilled to be getting a new student. I can't wait to see the students who were brand new at the beginning of the year sort of graduate up to become the students who are translating and helping the new girl.

And speaking of moving up, I've been meaning to write about one student, "Willy," for a little while now. He came to me in the first grade from Ecuador two and a half years ago. At the time he didn't speak a word of English and was incredibly shy to top it off. In the last two and a half years he has learned so much English and grown about a level and a half each year in reading that he's on his way to being almost unrecognizable as an ELL at first glance. He's not there yet, to be sure, but I can really see his progress towards that. It's interesting to see how he fits (or doesn't fit) in the two groups that I see him in. Twice a day he is in my newcomer group working on basic English vocabulary and sentence structures, etc. He can often be heard saying "This is easy!" or predicting what we are about to do and jumping ahead of us on exercises. But still, he needs work building this foundation and each day he does learn new vocabulary and sentence structures that strengthen his academic English. Then, later in the day, I will see him in his grade-level group (with mostly long-term ELLs who are also in third grade) and after the mini-lesson he will immediately say, "This is too hard. I can't do it." With a little extra support and confidence building though, he can. Willy is a very bright student and it's interesting to see him straddle these two groups, one in which he is very confident and another in which he is very unsure of himself and his skills. I love that I have the flexibility to be able teach him in both of these groups because I feel that by working to both strengthen his basic English foundation while challenging him with his academic English, the gap between the two will close rather quickly.

I'm pretty sure that having this big group of newcomers to teach is part of what has made me much more content in my position as the ESL teacher (rather than a classroom teacher) this year.