During the course of the two classes I have taken thus far on teaching English language learners, I have been presented a great deal of information. Many new ideas have been presented to me, but a few in particular really stand out in my mind. One of the ideas that particularly caught my attention was the idea of community mapping. Another idea that got me excited was the Language Experience Approach. Other key ideas for me have been the difference between English phonics and Spanish phonics, the "5 W Plus H Words Chart," and the idea of using alternate text.
The idea of community mapping (Elizabeth Jiménez, Characteristics of Universal Access) refers to taking a look at the local community and seeing what is available. Where are the "funds of knowledge"? Often there are people or businesses in the community that have information or resources to contribute to the school and are a link between the school and the community. The goal is to foster positive relationships with the parents of students and the community in which they live. To do so, it is important for educators to get to know the community. It makes me think of home visits, which used to be mandatory for the Title I pre-k parents. The teacher and teacher-family assistant would visit the students' homes three times a year to share information, give advice, and just gain a deeper understanding about students and their home-life. These were eventually removed from district requirements due to the safety factor and concerns for the well-being of educators. As much as I would love to get out in the community and know what life is like for the students, I must admit I am more than a little hesitant to do so. Elizabeth Jiménez mentioned in the video that not all teachers were enthusiastic about the idea of bringing school events to the local community in the local community setting(s). I would be game for it if it were a school-wide event because there would be other people and security. However, I am not brave enough to venture out much into the neighborhood alone (nor would my husband take kindly to the idea). I have taught at my school for three years, and in that short time I have twice seen the caution tape go up, once right in front of the school and the other time adjacent to it, and learned that a life was lost to violence within a few feet of my classroom and students. As a petite, young white woman I just feel it's not in my best interests to frequent the local businesses, grocery stores and restaurants that my students visit. Yet I would very much like to know what the community has to offer and to make connections with it. I hope I can make use of this idea in the future, but I do not feel ready for it at present.
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In the "Foundations of Programs for English Language Learners-English Language Literacy," Elizabeth Jiménez also outlined the "Language Experience Approach." I loved the idea. One of my favorite things about it is that it starts with a shared experience, and two out of the three examples given (popping popcorn and folding origami) were more hands-on and the types of activities that you should, but do not always see in classrooms. As a teacher of very young students I think it is so important that we give students experiences to help them build background knowledge instead of just trying to teach them more vocabulary from a list and bemoaning the fact that students have no idea what to do with these new words in their reading or writing. After the group experience students move on to retelling what happened. I think often in life we are merely observers, even of our own actions, unless we are forced to reflect upon our actions and how we got to our current situation. I also like that by seeing their names next to what they said, students will get a sense of ownership of the text. The group edit will give me an opportunity to correct English and other grammatical errors at a later time, which will make it less personal to an individual student and will help students hear a better way to phrase sentences. I think initially trying this entire process will my students will be lengthy, but they will enjoy getting to retell the event. I think over time the process will get faster as I get better at it and the students become more familiar with the format. I also think it will help the students to think about sequencing, as that is a skill that we work on. Maybe I can write each person's comment on a separate sentence strip and rearrange them when we are finished (in case we a get our story a little out of order, which we are bound to do). I look forward to trying it next year.
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I was very interested in the section of "Foundations of Programs for English Language Learners-English Language Literacy" (by Elizabeth Jiménez) that stated that Spanish Phonics and English phonics are not the same. Spanish-speakers develop syllabic awareness before phonemic awareness and the reverse is true for native English speakers. Now Jiménez continued from there to talk about reading and the transfer there. As a preschool teacher I am not concerned with the effect on teaching (my students still have over a year before kindergarten), but I am very interested in how that impacts my students learning letter-sound correlations. I noticed at the end of the year that my students who speak Spanish at home seem less likely to know the sounds the letters make. I surmised that that was because it was taking them longer to learn the names of the letters (since they are different in Spanish), and so they were following the same trajectory of native English-speakers, only a step behind due to the language barrier. This course now leads me to believe that the language of Spanish just lends itself more to syllabic awareness than to phonemic awareness. So what is the implication for me? Maybe I need to focus more explicitly on the letter-sound correlation for Spanish-speakers (though I will have a hard time behind more explicit than I already am). Perhaps also when I ask them the initial sounds in words, I could focus on the syllables as well, or maybe I should spend more time having Spanish speakers listen to the alphabet with letter sounds. Initially I think it will make little difference, since I already teach syllabic and phonemic awareness, but maybe over time my increased understanding of what of I am observing will help me to tweak my teaching that my native Spanish-speakers will have an easier time picking up the sounds of individual phonemes.
Though it will be hard to implement in my class of preschoolers, I really loved David Noyes's "5 W Plus H Words Chart" (Interactive Learning and Text Adaptation for English Learners). At the most basic level I think it must help students understand that fundamental question: "What is a question?" Young students have a tough time with the concept. I almost pity presenters and guest speakers when they ask the infamous question, "Do you have any questions?" I try to fight the smirk/grimace that tries to creep onto my face. Most students make a statement about a completely unrelated fact, and the person will keep saying, "That's not a question." Finally, some student will get an idea of what a question is, and then ask a question totally unrelated to the topic at hand. My point is, students need lots of practice generating questions, especially pertinent questions. I may attempt to use this chart as I teach summer school. I will also keep it in mind and ponder ways to modify it in my classroom to do it as a whole-group activity.
The last idea I want to implement in my classroom is the idea of using alternate text. This is also an idea suggested by David Noyes in "Interactive Learning and Text Adaptation for English Learners." There are some books in my curriculum that I think make no sense to the students or are of little benefit. Some are confusing (my personal favorite has illustrations of the seasons changing, which would be fine except they are all depicted on a cow's back - three-year olds think much more literally than metaphorically, which is a fact that should be obvious to anyone who has ever met one). I am working at the same school under a new administration this year, and watching David Noyes speak has motivated me to approach the principal for permission to use alternative text when I deem necessary or beneficial, and to really sit down and find books that will serve as better teaching tools. The immediate result will be increased student engagement and less frustration on my part. The students should also have increased comprehension. In the long run I think my instructional time will be used more wisely, so students should gain a deeper understanding of the texts selected, as I hope to find books that are more at my students' level. I can see how the changes I am contemplating in this paper will benefit my students and make me a better teacher.
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