Tuesday, second period

Remember D'Nealian?
Remember D’Nealian?

It’s been a long time since I last posted. I’ve just had a hard time organizing my thoughts. I’ve completed 70 hours of volunteering, and right around hour 50 things started getting real. Two years from now, I will have nearly finished school, including student teaching. That’s exciting–two years seems like a long time, but I’m going to need that much time to get prepared.

Instead of trying to summarize everything, I’m going to describe one class last Tuesday. This is an Orientation level class, which means that the students start with no English, and possibly little schooling in their native language. It’s a lot of vocabulary building, reading simple stories, and sometimes writing sentences.

Second period was approximately 12 students when I started, but it’s doubled in size since late March. (One student also moved up to Level 1–I’m so proud of her!) It’s always awkward to start a new class mid-term (I speak as a student and guess how a teacher would feel) when you’re not sure what the student’s background is, but when the student has trouble communicating in your language, it’s extra rough. I saw a girl a few weeks ago copying the warm-up off the board letter by letter. Not even word by word, but letter by letter. I don’t know if she gained anything from that lesson, but two weeks later, she seems to be making progress.

We had two more new students, because why not? It’s the second week of May. These two seemed to pick up on directions and how the class works fairly quickly. I worked with one, since his partner didn’t speak his language. The other was seated next to a fellow Somali speaker who did a great job helping her.

First, everyone did partnered reading. One student reads while the other holds the bookmark (so they have to follow along), then they switch. This method makes more sense in Level 2, when they switch by paragraph, than it does in Level O, where they switch sentence by sentence.

The stories they read in Level O are fairly interesting and often based on true stories. The students in 1 & 2 read a lot of books meant for little kids, which I imagine can be boring. There are a few simple books for ELL students about things like taking the bus to school and getting a job that are much more age-appropriate, but there’s a need for many more (assuming they can make money and the schools can afford them).

After that, they answered questions about the story guided by the teacher. While this happened,  the teacher put me to work cutting some paper for another lesson. This teacher tends to be apologetic when she gives me simple tasks like cutting paper or organizing folders, but I don’t mind. It’s part of the job, it’s helpful, and I can pay attention to the activity in class while I do it.

In the last 15 minutes, the teacher asked me to lead the class in spelling while she did some prep work for a later class. I had seen her do this exercise many times, but I had never led it before. The teacher asked students to hand out 8″ x 11″ white boards, markers, and erasers. I called out a word from the story they had just read (the teacher made a list). The students write the word on the white board and hold it up so I can check to see if it’s correct. I tell people when they get the word right, correct mistakes, and write the word correctly on the board.*  I find it really fun for some reason. It feels like a game, even though I don’t keep score.

So that went great! The teacher was happy that she got to do her work, the students were enthusiastic about the activity (they like the game, too), and I got practice leading the class. I’m working on giving simple instructions, since that’s necessary in all teaching, but especially when your audience has limited English skills. I’m making progress. Even just cutting the amount of times I say “probably” by 80% helps. Eye roll.

I did give the students the word “race” to spell, and about half of them wrote “rice.” I said, “Oh, no, ‘rice’ is a different word. Listen carefully: ‘race.'” To which they replied, “What’s rice?” Uhh…it’s food. White food. Little white food. Chinese food has a lot of rice. How do you explain what rice is? I could have said “arroz,” but that would help the African kids not at all. So I don’t know if that was helpful, but they don’t need to learn everything in one day.

One thing I should have done differently: ask for volunteers to pick up the boards, markers, and erasers. I just said, “Hey, someone pick this stuff up,” but it wasn’t any specific student’s responsibility. The students are great about helping, but they need to be prompted sometimes, especially when they’re thinking about getting to their next class. So, noted.

Like I said, it’s becoming more real. I know everyone’s first year is tremendously hard, but I believe I can get through it and do this job. This might even be the elusive passion I’ve searched for, although if it’s not, that’s OK, too.  I think that, as long as I like the kids, I can handle the hard parts.

*BTW, my teacher handwriting is pretty sweet! It’s hard to write on the board, and neat handwriting hasn’t always been easy for me. Especially if it has to be neat and large. But after a little practice, it comes out nice, if a little crooked. I find writing in a nice hand to be very satisfying, and I had no idea i had so much D’Nealian left in me. Thanks, Mrs. Kennedy!

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8 thoughts on “Tuesday, second period

  1. I realize you’ve got a lot to do, but maybe you could write a short story for the Level 2 kids that would be interesting for them (maybe about adjusting to a new culture) but also at their reading level.

    • Hm…I’ll think about that. The books they read are rated by difficulty level from A-Z, from pre-K through 8th grade. I’m not sure who ranks them–maybe the Wellstone teachers do.

  2. The A-Z ranking system is used throughout Minneapolis and (obviously!) other school systems. I don’t know where it was first developed. I know in Minneapolis, the goal is to have all kids reading at level D by the end of kindergarten. So I’m sure it’s hard to find books on that level that would be at all interesting for older children or young adults.

    • As it happens, one of the teachers got a big box of new books delivered, and she was looking up the letter levels on the bookseller’s website. I believe this is a new system for Minneapolis Public Schools. I like it because it lets students work at their own pace and stay at their level until they’ve mastered it. That’s assuming it’s practiced the way it’s intended to be.

      It’s frustrating when they have to answer Who, What, When, Where, Why about a book that has very little action in it. But reading something that’s age-appropriate but too difficult linguistically is frustrating, as I’ve found in reading stuff in Spanish.

      Next time I see Maisie, she’ll have to give me a reading demo! I think all the level 1 kids I work with are at D or above, so that’s somewhat encouraging.

  3. Just found your blog, I love reading about your experiences. For a question like “What is rice?”, I would probably access pictures on the internet…My students are generally not international, but many are culturally isolated and have little background knowledge and I use google image search a lot. I generally use it before the kids read and make a little slide show to provide visuals for new vocab and terms. High Noon Books (highnoonbooks.com) makes some very good hi lo materials (high interest/low readability). -Ann (mrs krabapple from adl)

    • Nice to “see” you here, Ann! The teacher I work with at summer school uses Google Images, and that seems to work well. I actually have a few thoughts re: technology in classrooms that I’m going to try to write up this weekend.

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