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The Methods and Materials for Teaching English as a Second Language course has been very beneficial and insightful. Jimenez (2010a, 2010b, and 2010c) shared her expertise of the foundation of developing language skills in great depth. Through the characteristics of language like pragmatics, semantics, syntax, morphology, and phonology Jimenez discussed the acquisition of a second language. Also of interest were the various strategies that Jimenez (2010a) and Noyes (2010) provided to further the understanding and the academic advancement of English Language Learners (ELL).
Among my top five favorite theories and strategies lie a vast array of amazing research and ideas to grow our second language students. Learning how students acquire a second language was exciting for me. The knowledge of language acquisition is something that will be a benefit for me for my entire teaching career. My remaining four favorites are all linked to strategies that can strengthen the knowledge and understanding of the English language and academic concepts for students who are learning English. A few of the strategies I have already implanted, others I look forward to putting into practice next school year. These include Jimenez's (2010a) "Idioms Activity" and many of Noyes (2010) ideas. He and I seem to have a similar teaching style. Among his ideas, my favorites were his tips for interactive learning techniques, ways to adapt text to meet the needs of students, and his strategies for building comprehension through the use of numerous graphic organizers. These strategies can assistance my students today and in the future as I fine-tune them and add them to my teacher's bag of tricks.
Stages of Language Acquisition
I am fascinated by the theory of language acquisition. Prior to learning about the theories behind how children learn to speak, I raised two children and watched many other young children begin to develop early language skills. I remember observing my children learn to speak and I can now link their development to the steps of language acquisition. I often wondered about the similarities and differences that would exist between learning a first and second language.
Learning about the stages of developing a first language was very insightful. According to Jimenez (2010c) children begin developing their first language in very predictable stages. In the first stage infants observe their families speaking and begin babbling common consent-vowel patterns heard in their language. This stage usually lasts 6 to 8 months. In the next phase, holophrastic, which lasts 1 year; children begin speaking simple one word phrases, naming things in their environment. In the third stage children begin combining words into short phrases. Stage three lasts 1 to 2 years. In the fourth stage, multi-word stage, children further develop language abilities (Jimenez, 2010c).
Much like students acquire a first language in stages, children also acquire a second language in expected stages (Jimenez, 2010a). The first stage is the silent or receptive stage. Children in this stage are taking in their environment and can respond when spoken to by pointing, gesturing, or giving simple yes or no type answers. This stage usually lasts 6 to 8 months. Following stage one, students begin the early production stage. Children at this step begin using one or more word phrases to answer questions. This stage usually lasts 6 months. In the third stage, speech emergence stage, children bloom into producing phrases and simple sentences. It generally takes a year before students become proficient at the intermediate stage. At this point students can speak longer sentences and ask questions (Jimenez, 2010a).
Comparing the acquisition of a first and second language was eye opening. Many similarities are important to note. These include the first and second stage of both the first language (L1) and second language (L2) development. Children begin taking in their environment, including the sounds they hear, and begin responding to simple questions or commands. They also begin to produce simple words. During the third and fourth stage of both L1 and L2 children begin combining words into phrases and begin to become more proficient in the language. Also of interest is that both L1 and L2 learners tend to struggle with case tense. In both scenarios stages occur in sequence stages and build on each other (Jimenez, 2010a & 2010c).
One main difference exists between learning a first and second language. Children learning a second language, whose parents only speak their primary language, are missing the opportunity to get a strong foundation at home in the second language (Jimenez, 2010a). However, when children learn a first language, they are immersed in that language from birth. It saddens me to think that some parents stop speaking to their children at all because they cannot speak English.
Knowledge of the stages of language acquisition is important in the classroom because students come in at varying levels of language development. Understanding where a student is in the continuum of language development can help a teacher know what an appropriate expectation is for an ELL. It is also a benefit in lesson planning and materials preparation to know the level of language development of each ELL. I can clearly determine the stage my English Language Learners are at presently. They are either proficient or at the intermediate language proficiency stage. I look forward to beginning next school year with this new understanding of the language acquisition process and stages of development. Understanding language acquisition can only serve to further benefit my students' academic experience for years to come.
Interactive Learning Techniques
Noyes (2010) had some great information about interactive learning techniques. He had lots of ideas that could be modified to fit various grade levels and units of instruction. He described constructive learning strategies like experiments and field trips. Noyes also shared the importance of utilizing manipulatives like maps, pocket charts, and using models. He explained realia, using real things like nutritional labels, real animals, rocks, and artwork to help students gain greater understanding of concepts and ideas. In addition, using pictures and acting dramatizations can assist students in the learning process. (Teaching at a performing arts magnet school many of these ideas are things we regularly do in our classrooms.)
So many ideas come into my thoughts when I think of expanding the themes/units I teach to include this idea of realia. I teach a unit on health and nutrition early in the school year. I was excited when Noyes said bringing in real food labels was important, I do that part. However, incorporating real foods into the study is a great way for students to explore, not only new foods, but further their understanding of language and make comparisons to their primary language. I have been trying to think of a creative way to fund this endeavor!
Another unit I teach is on our community, city, and state. This year I checked out a Traveling Trunk from the Nevada History Museum. However, I wasn't as excited about its contents as I thought I would be. Combining Noyes interactive learning techniques, and adding pictures and manipulatives, I'd love to create my own trunk. I could fill it will places my family and I go. It wouldn't hold any treasures from the past, but it could be full of local attractions, museum information, and maps to new a few things. With budget cuts and bus scheduling nightmares increasing every year, field trips are unfortunately becoming a thing of the past for my school. If I could bring a field trip of sorts to the classroom, it would still give my students some of the experience and exposure to the places in our community, city, and state.
Enhancing my lessons with the interactive learning techniques that Noyes (2010) described would benefit my students in many ways. Using pictures, manipulatives, and real items would bring excitement to the classroom. They provide students with hands on experiences and an opportunity to not just read or hear about places and things, but to actually explore them. I think these types of activities would further student understanding of new places, ideas, topics, even vocabulary linked to these units. Interactive learning techniques would also provide students with memories that they may remember for years to come.
Another interesting idea from Noyes (2010) includes his strategies for adapting text to meet the needs of students. His suggestions included using graphic organizers, audio taping all or part of the text, providing live demonstrations, and an anticipation guide.
Providing live demonstrations is a great way to introduce new text to students. (It is perfect for my school!) Depending on the story and theme, bringing in props would really bring it to life. We read a story that takes place in the Midwest during the Great Dust Bowl that my students enjoy. They explore many great websites full of information about the time period and what happened. However, bringing in some of the items discussed in the story would really improve student understanding. Cowboy hats, items linked to horseback riding, and gardening tools are just a few items that come to mind.
Another idea I would love to put to use is Noyes' (2010) anticipation guide. It would take some time reviewing text to develop it, but it could potentially take making predictions to another level. My students have to make prediction about each story we read. Using this format would further their ability to make predictions about what they think might happen in a story, and also track whether or not they were correct.
Because we read a new story every week, I have to admit, I am often guilty of neglecting building the necessary background needed for students to really comprehend what is going on in many of the stories we read. If I began using Noyes (2010) adapting text strategies, my students would grow as readers. Background would be built, not only enabling students to understand the current story, but the information will stay with them as we read and study other concepts as well.
Jimenez and Noyes have been very inspirational to me. I am definitely a non-traditional type of teacher. I often worry if I am reaching all of my students, particularly my ELL. Jimenez and Noyes have developed and fine-tuned many strategies that are truly just good teaching practice. I look forward to using and adapting their ideas into my classroom for many years to come.