I really enjoy kicking off my school year with learners by investigating “Who we are” as our first unit of inquiry. Regardless of the central idea for the unit (which can have totally different, broadened focuses), it gives me a chance to explore who my students are as learners.
Immediately, and not even intentionally, I pick up on students who are unable to speak English or if they can, it’s in the very beginning stages of acquisition. Once I’ve identified my EAL students, I’ve also tagged them as #brave #risk-takers #survivors
If I’m really honest, I don’t know if I could survive being in the shoes of one of my five year old non-English speaking students. I really don’t think I could. Having never faced language barrier challenges until I was in my 20s, I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to be immersed in such an environment. I can’t tell you enough how much respect and admiration I have for the students that are put in these situations.
My last post listed a couple of activities that I’m doing in my classroom that are centred around language. I posted before reading the course work so did not explicitly refer to my EAL learners and how I accommodate for their specifically. Only about five of my students use English as a mother tongue language at home and I was sure to comment on the importance of fostering a child’s mother tongue language at home during my recent ‘Hopes & Concerns’ meetings. Some students speak more than one mother tongue as well; our international students really are immersed in a world of language along with other cultural challenges.
Here are some things I’ve been trying out along with links to more information:
In Mathematics, we’ve been exploring patterns. The great thing about patterns, is that they’re visual. They don’t require verbal or written communication to assess student understanding and they’re totally hands on. A student is able to look at examples, watch a classmate and interpret this information by creating her/his own patterns. On a side note, I’m pretty ecstatic that every one of the KG Rainbow Fish seems to have a solid grasp on patterns!
This Kindergarten teacher covers most of the pattern activities we’ve been doing in class but we’ve also been creating paper chain patterns (to work on cooperation skills too) and have been on the hunt for patterns that exist around us!
During Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop, I’ve been trying my best to be animated in giving instructions and in ensuring I’m reading books that have some great visuals to engage my EAL learners.
For Reader’s Workshop, thus far, we’ve discussed and practised how to treat books, identifying positive reading behaviours and starting to establish routines. All of these things have been communicated with demonstrations and even in having students help me role play situations that help us identify the importance of reading. As most of my students can’t read yet anyway, I don’t deal with the struggle of having a student feel ‘behind’ because everyone else is reading…and it’s great to sometimes see those EAL beginners come flying out of the gate and catch on faster than the native speakers sometimes!
We’ve had two really successful Writer’s Workshops sessions over the past two weeks and again, have just been working on finding our groove as writers. We discussed how drawing is actually writing – it’s not just words – and how labels and colours can help us better communicate. Our first writing activity had us drawing what we’re enjoying most about Kindergarten (and then scribed by Neary, Thon or me). For our EAL learners, this just involved having them draw a picture with admiration and acknowledgements by us for their efforts.
Our second activity was our first story writing activity that kind of made my heart swell. After having the students help me to write a story, students went away having had a laugh and they were all engaged in creating their own stories. While a lot of the stories may have been a bit silly and about poop or pee, I was just pumped to see them all engaged and ENJOYING writing! EVEN my EAL students who again, joined in to draw pictures that told a story even if only she/he knew exactly what that was.* To top it all off, at the sharing part of the session, ALL of the students were keen to share or at the very least participate by yelling, “action” to help me out!
*To further accommodate my students, I’ve been using Google translate to help clarify instructions for writing tasks.
PHOTOS COMING SOON
I’ve been using Lucy Calkin’s Guides to Reader’s and Writer’s Workshops to help guide my teaching but have also used some of these sites straight off my ‘Bookmarks Bar’ as a resource to help me understand my EAL learners better: