Through the video lectures in this course and the previous course, I have gained a great deal of new knowledge that will assist me in being a better teacher to my English language learners. The top five ideas that will stick with me throughout the rest of my teaching career include: Krashen’s Affective Filter, Cummin’s Common Underlying Language Proficiency theory (CULP), the importance of being a Culturally Responsive teacher, the Four Domains of Language, and how to Differentiate Instruction.
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I am not a fluent Spanish speaker, but after teaching at a school with a high ELL student population and taking many conversational Spanish classes I’ve picked up enough of the language to help me get by. However, I still do not feel comfortable speaking Spanish in front of my peers, students, or their parents. The Affective Filter theory (Krashen, 1981) helped to explain the reasons why I was so uncomfortable in speaking the Spanish language around others. I finally understand why some of my students aren’t picking up the English language as fast as others. They may have the skills necessary to communicate in English, but they lack the self confidence and motivation needed to try something new such as learning a new language. It can be very intimidating to learn a new language. Not only are you trying to transfer your native language skills into a new langauge, but you also have to worry about your accent, grammar and correct pronunciation. The fear of making a mistake can hinder the process of acquiring a second language; therefore, I will try to lower my student’s affective filter by making my ELL students feel as comfortable as possible when speaking English. I will try to speak more Spanish around them so they can see that they aren’t the only ones trying to learn something new. We will go through the learning process together and they will know that it is okay to make a mistake.
I truly belive in the Common Underlying Language Proficiency (CULP) theory developed by Cummins (1991). I’ve seen first hand that when my students are proficient in their native language, it makes it easier for them to transfer those skills into the English language. I’ve had some students come to me with little or no native (L-1) language skills. It’s a very long and difficult process to help those students acquire the English language since they have virtually no knowledge base to work with. It’s almost like teaching an infant a new language only more challanging since you can’t spend all of your time working one-on-one with just that student. You can’t give them all the attention they need in order to catch them up to the rest of their peers. Also, you have no control over what happens when they leave the classroom. Most of those students get no exposure to the English language once they go home.
The course lectures have taught me how important it is to be a culturally responsive teacher (Gay, 2000). In the past, I have tried to incorporate a lot of my student’s culture into my lessons. However, I have not done a very good job of teaching them about culture’s other than their own. I have a few non-Hispanic students in my classroom whose culture’s I’ve neglected this year. I put too much emphasis on my Hispanic student’s and did not do a very good job of making my students aware of all the other culture’s throughout the world. Now that I am more aware of what it means to be culturally responsive I will do a better job with the student’s I have next school year. I plan on teaching them about the Italian culture since that is my heritige. I also would like my student’s to do a research project on themselves. They would get to interview their family members, bring in pictures about their life, and present their findings to the class. Not only would this activity give the students a chance to find out more about themselves, but it would also teach my students to appreciate the fact that we are all unique.
The Four Domains of Language are listening, speaking, reading and writing. I learned that listening and reading are receptive while speaking and writing are expressive forms of language.
I find that many of my ELL students have great receptive language, but are lacking when it comes to expressive language. I can attribute that to the fact that we spend so much time trying to teach our ELL students the rules of the English language such as phonological awareness, phonics and vocabulary. As a result, we don’t put enough emphasis on fluency or writing. My ELL students are able to decode and can read in English if I were to put a grade level passage in front of them, but they are not fluent and would have a very difficult time writing a summary of the text they just read. In order to address the lack of expressive language, I conduct timed fluency checks will all of my students on a regular basis. My students chart the amount of words they read in a minute and are constantly trying to increase their fluency. I also have a fluency center in which my students can work on their rate and accuracy through the use of repeated readings. They enjoy working with a partner and listening to each other read. We also do a lot of reader’s theatre, poetry and plays to work on making them more comfortable with speaking the English language. In the area of writing, we use graphic organizers in every core curriculum area. My student’s also have a journal in which they have five minutes of “free writing” each day. I want them to have as much practice as possible in the areas of reading, listening, speaking and writing so they will be proficient in all four domains of language.
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Finally, in the area of differentiated instruction I think I’ve come the farthest. With the influx of Response to Intevention/Instruction (RTI), I’ve made more of an effort to differentiate my instruction not just for my ELL students but for all my students. I not only take into account my student’s language codes when planning a lesson, but now I also look at their proficiency levels and background cultural factors. When I plan center activities I now try to have lessons that will fit the needs of all my students. I want to challenge my advanced learners as well as provide activities that will make my below grade level students feel successful. For whole group lessons, I make sure to tap into my student’s prior knowledge of a subject, set the stage for learning, place a large emphasis on vocabulary, incorporate graphic organizers, provide realia, and ask higher level thinking questions. These are great strategies not just for ELL students, but for all students.
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