Which Students Read at Home?
My class consists of 19 students, of which only 1 speaks English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 speak at least one, if not two other languages in their homes. Most of my students speak Arabic, but many also speak French. I have 3 who speak French and not Arabic, 1 who speaks Spanish, and 1 who speaks a Philippine dialect. All of my students speak SOME English, but to varying degrees. My job is to teach them English, while also teaching them everything we normally teach in school (reading, writing, math, science, social studies etc.) Fortunately, I am certified to teach ESL and have some experience with English Language Learners. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. So, from now on, I will now be doing a Teaching Tip Tuesday geared especially towards teaching English Language Learners. Here’s this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:
ELL Teaching Tip #8: Know Who’s Reading at Home
No matter what your student population, I believe it’s important to remember that these little people we teach all day have lives outside of us. Those lives influence the background knowledge or learning schema of our students. They also give us insight into the student’s culture and how that affects their learning. (See Tip #10 for how culture affects students language learning.) For English Language Learners, knowing and understanding their home life can also give you a hint into the literacy rate of the student and the student’s family. This literacy rate can give you an indicator for the needs of your student.
Most English Language Learners fall into one of the following categories in regards to literacy rate:
1. Parents are fully literate (read and write) in home language (and possibly English); students are fully literate in home language.
2. Parents are fully literate (read and write) in home language; students are not fully literate in home language, but have a base of literacy skills in home language.
3. Parents and students are illiterate in home language.
For students in category 1, where the student and the household are fully literate in their home language, students can use their home language to learn in the second language. Students can use resources such as dual language texts, dual language dictionaries and even google translate to help them learn new vocabulary. These students are more likely to understand cognate words between the two languages and sentence structure. (Anecdotal: My oldest son is currently learning French in an emersion environment. He is fully literate in English, reading on or above grade level. When asked by his teacher to take random words in French and make a sentence, he can identify the noun and the verb and put them in order, even if he’s not 100% sure of the meaning of the words. He can also decode most words in French, because the alphabet is the close to the same. However, he may not always know the meaning of the word, so we spend a lot of time learning the meaning of new vocabulary words.)
Students in category 2 would ideally master spoken English before learning to read and write in English. Since we know this doesn’t always happen, expect there to be a delay in certain skills. Many time these students spend their Kindergarten or First Grade year learning English and find that when they are ready to learn to read and write, everyone else has moved on to the next skill, putting them in a continual “catching up” cycle. One way to assist students in this effort is to encourage parents to read and write with the child in their home language at home, so as to continue building literacy skills while letting students focus on language learning at school. Another way to assist students is use audio and visual translations of certain items, in order to assist in the language learning process. Students who watch the same movie in both English and their home language will be more likely to understand the movie. If there is a person at your school who is fluent in their home language, learning a few important words of that language can help as well. (See Tip #9 on Knowing a few Words of the Home Language.) (Anecdotal: I have seen many incidences where teachers have given students a book in Spanish and assumed that because they could speak Spanish that they could also read it. In my experience, more students fall into category 2 than any other category, so while having books in the home language is nice, – and having parent information in the home language is even better – having audio-visual items that are bilingual is idea for these students.)
Students in category 3 often come to school with little literacy skills. They may not know their colors, numbers, letters, shapes, food names or animal names in their home language, so knowing the translation in the home language may not be helpful for these students. These students benefit from a lot of labeling, both auditory and visual. Students need to know the name of many, many things, so playing games like I Spy or Everyone Find A… can be very helpful to these students. Students may also need songs and dramatic play to help them build up vocabulary. Like students in Category 2, these students will benefit more from audio-visual translations than from books in their home language. However, students from this type of a background are underexposed to their home language and therefore may learn just as much of their home language (if not more, see Tip #24 on how language learning cycles) from this type of dual language as they will English. (Anecdotal: I had a student once who I knew spoke Spanish at home. I was working with him on color patterns, ie. red blue red blue. I pointed to the red and asked him, what color is this? He said “Green?” Try in Spanish, I prompted him, since I know my colors in Spanish, I even asked him in Spanish “Que colores?”. He said “Dos?” (2 in Spanish). In English, although he didn’t know which color was which, he knew which words belonged in the category “colors”. However, in Spanish he didn’t even know what the category meant, as he gave me a number for a response. We spent a lot of time on colors that semester, and he did get them – in English and Spanish!")
Do you want more TESOL Teaching Tips – check back each Tuesday for more. Also, check out my previous tips: