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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Learning from our ESOL partners

Our school's ESOL teacher and I have partnered to work together to build language and literacy skills in an ESOL student.This experience is opening my eyes regarding the process of language acquisition with teens who have zero target language exposure. I understand that every child is different and that students bring a range of prior knowledge and experiences. However, since this child speaks no English, we are building on a blank slate.

This what I have observed from the ESOL teacher:
  • She lowers the students' affective filter 
  • She creates community in her classroom
  • She gives the students time to adjust and to familiarize themselves with English and their environment
  • She is the biggest advocate for her students
  • Her ultimate goal is proficiency in the language
  • She encourages the student's efforts at language production at every step of the process
  • She does not focus on their mistakes
  • She doesn't rush language production before students are ready
  • She doesn't give quizzes and tests on the material taught
  • She uses children's books 
  • Comprehensible input is her biggest strategy
  • The more advanced students help the new beginner students
  • The curriculum is applicable to what students need at the time
  • Testing is only used to measure proficiency and adjust instructional goals
There are obvious differences between ESOL and World Language students. The biggest difference is the fact that students are surrounded by English and what the teacher does in the classroom gets reinforced all day long at school. There is also an urgency and survival instinct that kicks in (particularly in states where people don't speak Spanish) where they  need to learn English in order to survive in their environment.

However, I still think there are so many great lessons that I can learn from my ESOL colleague. During the next few weeks, as I work with this precious child who gives me the best hugs and who sees me as her anchor at school, I want to spread some of that nurturing spirit to my Spanish  students as well. I want to work on lowering the affective filter and furthering the spirit of community in my classroom. I want to use children's books. When someone is learning a new language, beginning readers can be a wonderful tool to teach literacy skills. I need to give them time to adjust to new concepts and not overwhelm them. I need to keep it positive and focus on what they CAN do, not on what they can NOT do. The biggest and most challenging of all tasks will be to use tests only for the purpose of measuring proficiency so that I can adjust my instructional goals.

I think that ESOL teachers are living examples of this saying "They don't care what you know until they know that you care". They are the master teachers of care.

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