Sunday, 13 November 2016

Supporting English Language Learners in the Classroom

If you are a teacher who has an English Language Learner in your classroom, then consider yourself blessed.  I have had countless students enter my classroom mid year with an excitement to learn, fear of the unknown and this look in their eyes that screams "hope".  It's an absolute joy for me to be able to watch a student see his or her first snowfall, tie skates for the first time or make friends who are caring and nurturing.

When I'm unsure if I can meet the needs of a student learning a new language, I ask myself "What would I do if I were placed in a country where English was not the first language?"  "How would I navigate around the classroom?" "What would the expectations be?"  What are the cultural norms?"  It often stops me and I say, "What can I do to support this little person?"

I become a detective, looking at ways to foster the emotional, social and pedagogical practices best suited to this child. Get to know this student.  There are great ways to do that if they have little or no English.  Begin by using picture books with families, draw things out, act things out or find a student in the school who speaks the same language.  Allow the student to bring in some photos in or treasures from his or her homeland to show the other students.  Let the class become culturally aware.

Finding a "student match" in the school will definitely provide a comfort zone for the student.  If that is not the case, think of other things.  Often, a multicultural support worker or interpreter is available to you.  Some districts have community centers or welcome centers that can support this.

One of my former students had little English skills.  I kept thinking of ways to support her. She loved music.  She danced beautifully and would pic up lyrics from songs. She loved pictures too. I often dabbled in my own art for her, creating images on my ipad to explain things better.  Then one evening, it hit me.  TEACH THE ALPHABET SOUNDS THROUGH PICTURES!  I remember staying up most of the evening to make sure I would finish this for the next day.  It was a flip strip booklet, targeting alphabet sounds with pictures, and repetition.

She would say and touch the picture, word, repeat the sound twice and then say the letter.  During independent reading, she often reached for her flip book.  I printed it on cardstock and laminated it for her.  She wanted to take it home.  As the sounds registered for her, she would then pick up the words.  When she saw an "ant", she knew what it was.

The booklet became a treasure for her.  Soon, other students were telling new students about it.  I made several copies and it has become a "go to" resource for new students.  

When the flip strips became worn down, I decided to print them into a booklet format.  That way, they wouldn't tear away so easily.  She took the booklet home over the summer.  

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