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Since my semester is over, I decided to reflect on what I’ve experienced throughout the semester. In my ELNG 200 class, we had a placement in an ESL classroom. As an assignment, we wrote two letters to our professor and connected our experiences to the class. I thought I would share my experiences from my placement! This is my first letter:
October 10th, 2013 was my first day at my ELNG 200 placement! I was very surprised when I walked into the doors of the school I was assigned at because I have never seen a school that has looked like this before. The furniture was colourful and everything looked new! I met with the ESL teacher and she gave me a tour of the school and went through the kinds of activities she does with her students. One thing that I found interesting was that when children pick a book at the library, they should follow something called the “5 finger rule”. When students pick out a book, they should read a page and put down a finger when they don’t understand a word. If you put all 5 fingers down on one page, then that book is not appropriate for your reading level yet.
At around 9:30, we picked up 4 children from grade 2 and 3. Once we got all settled in her room, she brought out a story called “Friends”. The first page had two dogs on it and the name was underneath their pictures. She started out by asking them to read their names. One of the dog’s names was Taco and that went further into a discussion about the student’s favourite food. I think this was great because the students recognized that Taco was a kind of food and connected that to their everyday lives and preferences. We then started the story. Every page had about 1-2 sentences and she got them to read a sentence each in order. It was interesting to see that they are very committed to reading and sounding out the words when it was their turn. A few of them sounded out the words correctly, but the word was said wrong because English is very difficult that way. For example, instead of saying “t-aw-co”, a student said “t-ah(as in [a]pple)-co”. When one student was struggling, the other students would try and help that student read the sentence. This is great for relationship building and for creating a support system within the school.
After reading the story, we looked at strips of paper that included a picture and the English word underneath. She asked the students, one at a time, to find the word she said and then to spell it out. After we did this we joined the class where the students were from and participated in a reading activity. The teacher asked the students to read a book to another person. I sat with one of the ESL students and got him to read a book to him. I realized that he had trouble with a lot of the words and encouraged him to sound out everything he was reading. Another thing that seemed to help was to get him to repeat the words over again to try and remember those words.
My second time in the ESL class was October 17th, 2013. We had two more students in the classroom today, with a total of six. The teacher had training earlier on in the week on a program called PWIM (Picture Word Inductive Model). First, teachers would choose a picture that their students can relate to and the picture is attached to a larger piece of paper. For example, we used a picture of a child’s room with toys. Students are asked, one by one, to pick something in the picture and identify it. Some of the words the children said in my example were “toys”, “vacuum”, “dinosaur” and “garage”. Every student picked out one word from the picture, which came to a total of six words. After that, students are encouraged to sound out the word and to try and spell it. We went over their words multiple times and spelled them out each time. Dawna put the sheet up on the board and asked the students to write the words in their notebooks.
After we identified words in the picture, we spelled the words again, using movements for letters in the “attic”, the “basement” and the “main floor”. Words in the “attic” are tall letters like t, l, f, d, h, etc. Letters in the “basement” are letters that hang low like g, y, p, q, and j. Lastly, letters on the “main floor” are letters that are in the middle like a, e, r, u, i, etc. We then proceeded to the grade 2 classroom again where we participated in the students’ time to read to another person. I read with a different student than last week and I used the same strategy of repetition for mistaken words. I didn’t just want to tell him what a word said if he made a mistake and this student did very well with sounding out the words for himself and figuring out the word.
My third time at the school was on October 24th, 2013 and I was with a different group of children today that were in grades 4 and 5. The day started out with journal writing and they had monsters as a theme. They first brainstormed describing words that they could use on their monster. For example, “sharp teeth” was a term used. They went through each and every word and spelled them out. The students then decided what they wanted their monster to look like and put that description into a sentence. The next step was to decide where their monster was and write a sentence about it. One student decided that his monster was in his backyard. One student I was working with was not really engaged in the activity and was not making any decisions. This student was not writing sentences, so we decided that he could draw a picture of his monster first so he got an idea of what his monster will look like. I read through the list they made and had to give him multiple suggestions until he started working.
In the afternoon, we read through a poem:
Two little bats sitting on a wall
One named Peter,
One named Paul
Fly away Peter,
Fly away Paul
Come back Peter,
Come back Paul
The students all read through the poem by themselves, one at a time. They were asked to identify the rhyming words (wall and Paul). They compared various combinations of words to hear if the words sound similar. The students were then given a fill in the blank worksheet of the poem.
While I’m at my field experience, I try to keep in mind the myths, theories and content that we have learned in ELNG 200. This class has opened my eyes to a lot of ideas that I have never really thought of before. While working with these students, I think about the myths of bilingualism and I free my mind of any of these misconceptions. I’ve realized and heavily thought about how easy it is for people to believe these myths if they are not aware of them. For example, there’s the myth about the child’s brain being monolingual. Parents will become nervous because they are concerned that their children will not be able to separate their two languages and it will result in slower linguistic development.
There’s not really a choice of staying monolingual for children coming in from non English speaking countries. Teachers and peers can’t really communicate with this individual if they cannot understand each other. There is this one student in my placement that doesn’t like to use English in the school and heavily relies on the students that speak the student’s home language. Using their first language is celebrated, but if the students do not dedicate a certain amount of attention to their second language learning, they are not going to grasp English as fast. Like we said in class: if you don’t use it, you lose it! Also, from my experiences, learning a new language is most effective when you speak with a community of people that are learning the language alongside you or to a community of native speakers of that language. This shows how important it is for students to have access to language. Using the language more benefits the child socially and results in communicative competence.
I’ve noticed the dimensions of phonology and semantics in the students. It’s interesting to hear the different phonological sounds that the students use. There was a time in my experience where a student misunderstood me because our sound systems are different. I was going through each sound of a word with this student and I said something that sounded like the letter ‘r’ in the student’s home language. Sometimes in class, students will recognize a word the teacher says because it sounds similar to something in their language. This shows the different semantics in our languages. One student answered a question of her’s with “lala” (I’m not sure if that is the proper spelling) and she asked what “lala” meant. The student responded by saying that “lala” meant sleep in their language. The ESL teacher is always eager to learn new words in their languages and the students are excited to share this with her!
I definitely see the internal and external factors that influence learning a second language in my experience every time I’m there. All of the students are under 20 years of age, so they fit that part of the theory. Most of the students I have encountered are very confident and have a high self-esteem, which results in excellence in communication skills! When students are on the shyer side, it’s hard to tell if they have a high self-esteem or not, especially since I’m not there everyday to get to know them. There are a few shy students that do not seem to want to speak out in class. This could possibly be a silent period for them. Some of the EAL students are shy, but they are excellent at communicating in English. There is a lot of motivation in the classroom from peers and teachers. Students in the class are always helping each other out, as well as the teachers. The students are also reflecting on their own experiences with their home language and with their cultures. The teacher is great with helping the students out with curriculum learning. She is always referring their cultures and helping with clarification. She also creates a risk free environment through her instruction and leading conversations. I also feel very comfortable in her classroom and I can have conversations with her naturally. As I mentioned before, there is access to language at the school because the majority of people speak English.