Today in preschool it was Football Friday! The students learned all about the sport of football, in a glazed over manner so to speak. The teacher was wearing a football jersey and eye black, and she told the children she would paint the face of whoever wanted it done as well. After circle time, the boys loved putting the helmets on and running around the classroom. The back table had pants, helmets, and shoulder pads laid on it. Teddy put on the helmet and was running around and then he put on the jersey with the shoulder pads on top of it. It was quite hilarious watching him explore and put on the different pieces of equipment, even if they were not on in the right order. Teddy and Isaac were the two that put on the most equipment and ran around the classroom yelling stuff at one another. Yirah and Kaitlyn spend the morning with the dolls in the play area. I watched Nora work on her fine motor skills while using an eye dropper to put watercolors onto a coffee filter. Yirah asked me to come to her restaurant, and so I sat in the play area while she brought me breakfast. Theo was the cashier, and Yirah was the cook and server. Theo told me that if I “Got some food”, he would give me some monies for it. I had a lot of fun watching them play with one another. It was a sort of parallel play because they all had something in mind that they wanted to be doing, yet they were all doing it right next to one another. Yirah was scribbling my orders down on her piece of paper. She had a pattern for her scribbles with pink, orange, blue, black, pink, orange, blue, black. Teddy decided to join us and give us “tickets” for dinner. He was busy scribbling away until the end of free choice. The art project was to roll a football in brown paint and put it on paper, but no child really wanted to do that.
Throughout this course I have learned, as well as strengthened my knowledge about teaching and working with struggling readers and writers. I have learned throughout this course just how important it is to understand what the actual problem is that a child is having and what is causing their struggles. It is not enough as a teacher to just say that a child has a reading or writing problem, yet it is so important to helping the child that the problem is understood and recognized. I have learned about the many assessment tools that can be used to find out a students capabilities as well as to pinpoint their struggles.
During class periods and through reading other student’s reflections over the course of the semester I have found that there are so many different techniques that can and must be used with different students. It is highly important that not all students are given the same label, or that they are all taught with the same formula in mind. Not all students are the same and therefore they do not learn the same, nor do they struggle in the same way. Teachers must take the time to figure out what will work for each of their students and not give up when they have a child who is struggling.
While working on my blog in this class I found that I have a very big passion for understanding and working with ELL students. It is not just that they have a problem with understanding the language that we are speaking to them, it is that they simply do not have the same background as one who grew up speaking English. When I think back to creating my Annotated Bibliography near the beginning of the semester I did it on ELL students just because I was mildly interested in them. I found though, that when working with an ELL student the information that I had read about for my blog worked wonderfully with my student.
At first I was hesitant to create a blog for others to look at, I was nervous to have others in the class read my thoughts on the readings and what I was doing for field work until a few weeks into it. That was when I really began to enjoy posting my thoughts and commenting on what other students were thinking. I feel as though a blog is a great way to get students to share their thoughts and work with others in a way that is more beneficial and less nerve wracking than everyday classroom presentations. I will say that it was exciting when people commented on my blog or I saw that someone had read it because I found that knowing that people were interested in what I had to say made it well worth the time and effort it took to put it together.
I feel as though all this applies to working with a struggling reader or writer. One of the most important thing for all children to know is that what they think; their thoughts and words are so important to who they are. If a student is struggling and they feel as though they have no voice and are never given a chance to find it,who is to say they ever will. When working with these children in my future classrooms I now know that I must take the time to reach out and help each one of them to realize their worth and importance through their thoughts and words.
Introduction to Case Study:
This case study was done on an English Language Learner (ELL), named Eli in a Lutheran Kindergarten classroom. This student had no prior involvement with English until he attended preschool the previous year at this school. Through observation and conversation I have seen, tried and considered many avenues one would need to use as a teacher in order to include ELLs in the classroom. The classroom teacher uses many differentiated lesson plans in order to meet the needs of the ELL in her class. Throughout my observation and various methods of testing, I have found that assessment of this student cannot be done in the standard way.
Introduction to School:
The school that I did my case study at was Trinity Lutheran in Port Huron, Michigan. This school teaches children from three year old prekindergarten to eighth grade. The school is located in a neighborhood within walking distance of a local public elementary school. Many of the children who attend Trinity go to the church which is connected to the school, or have parents who work there. Also, most children are Lutheran or attend a Lutheran church. With the tuition increasing the number of students at the school is quickly dwindling. The Kindergarten teacher went from a class of 23 to a class of 8 within a two year period. The small number of students seems to give reason for the lack of diversity within the school. Out of the whole school there were only four children who were not white Caucasian students who came from middle or upper class backgrounds. There were two African American students as well as two Chinese students. The lack of racial diversity within the school in some sorts leads to the lack of experience on the part of the teachers. Most of the teachers have taught the children of middle or upper class Caucasians, so having students who are of any other race is unusual at that school. It causes them to have to work harder in order to work with students who have different cultures and values.
The classroom consists of eight children. There were several who still were five years old but most children had already turned six. Many of the children in the classroom had gone to preschool the previous year at Trinity so they knew one another rather well. These students all got along with one another very well and were a cohesive group. The teacher had been teaching kindergarten for many years, and still Eli was only the second child she had taught who was an English Language Learner.
Introduction to Eli and his Family:
Upon entering the classroom I found that there was only one student in the classroom who was an English Language Learner. His name for the purpose of privacy is “Eli.” This child had only begun to learn English while attending Trinity the previous year for preschool. He had an older brother who was in the first grade as well. He had been born in the United States and had only moved to Port Huron two years before. His parents had both been born in China and had met in the United States at a Chinese restaurant. His mother had come to America twelve years ago and his father sixteen years ago. Neither of them were fluent in English, yet his father was able to speak conversational English. They taught their children to speak Mandarin, and only spoke Mandarin at home with them. The boys also spoke Mandarin when they met one another on the playground for recess. When the boys were at home they watched primarily Chinese TV, as well as two different shows which were in English: SpongeBob, and Sesame Street. The mother was unable to speak any English, and but she can read it. While living in China, she was taught how to read English, before coming to America. The parents found out about Trinity through an English Bible class so they could be confirmed. When discussing the possibility of sending their children to Trinity, the family brought along one of the teachers’ former students who was able to speak Chinese and he acted as an interpreter. For the first part of the year if the family had any concerns, the interpreter would come along and bridge the language gap between the teacher and family.
Background Information on Eli as a Learner:
Before working with Eli I talked to the teacher to learn some background knowledge on him as a learner. The teacher explained to me where he had been at the beginning of the year and how far he had come since joining her classroom. When he first entered the classroom he was only able to recognize a few of the letters in the alphabet and was unable to write sentences. (Appendix 1) He had a difficult time with communication and his conversational English lacked. He was able to count though. Up to this point in the year he had struggled with his academic English, due to the difference of sentence structure between English and Chinese.
Being an English Language Learner at any age can be difficult for a child, especially when they are the only one in the classroom. When entering the kindergarten classroom, Eli was able to attend class with some of the students with whom he had gone to preschool the previous year. This was of benefit to him as children are sometimes able to communicate with one another through actions without words, so he was not “left out” of playing with the other children in the class. There were challenges in communication between the teacher and Eli because they were not able to verbally communicate at the beginning of the year. There was not only the struggle with basic communication of words, but also of the educational material the class was being taught. Eli was not able to complete all lessons, nor was he able to follow directions or classroom rules. The assessments that were given to him had to be differentiated, and even with differentiation, he was unable to complete the assessments most of the time.
Instructional Strategies of the Teacher:
The teacher explained to me the various tactics she had to use in order to teach and communicate with Eli. When working with his comprehension the teacher used a lot of photographs. The pictures help him make a visual correlation between the English word and the object that he was trying to learn about. With classroom rules the teacher has to act out the behavior that she wanted or did not want him to do. She gave an example of a time when Eli was throwing pea stones out at recess. She had to physically throw the rocks while telling him no. Almost everything that she wants or needs him to do she has to model for him to imitate. Another time they had circle time on the carpet and in order to show him where he should sit and how he should sit she had to demonstrate. The teacher believed this was beneficial in a way for all students, because they all were able to see visual reinforcements of the rules or behaviors they were to partake in.
Testing Eli was another area that presented some challenges. Every child is required to be tested due to state and school standards, yet Eli was unable to complete many of the assessments. (Appendix 2) Eli had difficulties because he was unable to understand the different directions and was unable to have help from the teacher. When she did assess him she used various strategies other than the standard assessments. She would ask him literal questions dealing with colors or easy to understand situations and he was usually able to show some recognition. When asked a question that he did not understand Eli would just give an answer that in many cases did not make sense at all. To aid him with the assessments the teacher has him draw pictures or act out situations based on what she was assessing.
Initial Observations of the Student:
From the initial meeting I had with Eli, I thought that working with him was going to be exciting and challenging at the same time. Eli seems to be rather outgoing and always wanted to be around the other students or the teacher, even though he could not always communicate verbally what he wanted. He was interested in being part of all that was going on in the classroom, and even when he was not able to participate he did not get angry or frustrated. Eli behaved very well for a 5 year old, taking into account his language barrier. The only time he seemed to be frustrated was when each child was working on an assignment individually and he did not understand what he was supposed to be doing. It seemed as though he realized that he was not the same as the other students, yet this did not stop him from trying to play with them given the chance. He did have some challenges with writing sentences due to the difference in sentence structure, yet his sentences were still easy to derive the meaning from. It was interesting though, because he had somewhat a difficult time with speaking aloud to others or answering questions, and yet his writing portrayed that of a child who was more fluent in English.
Students Literacy Activities:
Eli was unable to neither communicate nor use English very well upon entering the classroom. In order to help the student with his literacy, various methods were used. He was given short stories that he needed to try to read, which he would be asked questions upon finishing them. He was also given a lot of pictures with words on them so he was able to see the English word as well as the picture to make connections. He also listened to books on tape that he could hear as well as look at the book while he listened. During free choice reading he often times picked up books that were full of bright images and little text, which showed his lack of understanding of some text.
Interview of Student:
After talking to the teacher and asking about interviewing Eli, she told me that I could try to interview him to see what information I could gain. I gave him a sheet of paper and asked him to write his name; which he was able to do. I had him write down his favorite activity as well as his favorite food. He was able to write these items without a problem. I also asked him questions pertaining to his knowledge of colors. He was able to tell me the names of the colors if I held up something that was a certain color. I asked him to tell me about his family and that was when he told me he had an older brother and a mom and dad. He told me that at home he liked to watch SpongeBob because it was funny. Through this interview I was able to see and understand some of the points the teacher had been making beforehand. Eli was able to talk to me or give answers that were only a few words long. He was able to write out his response to questions, yet it was easier for him to answer questions that had one word answers. It was a little frustrating while interviewing him because I could not make any correlation between his Mandarin and the English I was speaking. This seemed to be a type of barrier between completely understanding his knowledge and background, though I gained some valuable insight into the type of ELL he was. Through the interview it was easier to talk to Eli and make sense of the type of communication skills he had. Although he did not understand everything I was asking and I sometimes had to think before I could respond to what he said, it was easy to find a connection with this child. Through interviewing him I found he was eager to learn and answer questions, and that he really enjoyed being asked questions about himself and his family.
The teacher assesses the students through multiple assessments over different periods of time throughout the school year. One of the assessments that she did at the beginning and near end of the year was a Spelling Bee. (Appendix 3a-c) The students were given fifteen words, which by the end of the year should be sight words for them and they were asked to spell them. When Eli was tested for the first time in September he received a thirteen percent on his test. He was not able to write any of the words completely. For a few of the words he would put the letter that the word started with and for others he would put the letter you might hear the most. So for the word “see” he would only put “C”. The end of the year spelling test was given to him in March. This test showed that he received a 100%. This was a dramatic improvement that had been made throughout the year for Eli. He was able to spell every word correctly as well as write them all neatly. (Appendix 4a,b)
Another assessment that was done by the teacher was Individual Oral Assessments. These were done after lessons had been taught in the classroom. At the of the year he was able to recognize quite a few of the letters in the alphabet by sight, yet had difficulties with hearing rhymes in words, or picking up on initial sounds in words. He also had difficulty understanding the idea of compound words or how to separate those words. By February he was able to identify all letters, code words, separate syllables and even identify blends. This was progress as going from only recognition of letters to recognition of more complicated language skills was a great achievement for an ELL within a six month time period. Another form of assessment that the teacher used with her students was a trifold. (Appendix 5a-g) For these trifold assessments the students had to write their name, list numbers, and write and illustrate a story. At the beginning in September, Eli was able to write his first name and write the numbers from one to ten. For his story, he drew four people with two on the swings and wrote the names of the people in his family underneath. In January Eli wrote his first name and the numbers one through forty-five. His picture was that of him and his mother and his story was, “I love my mom and she like me” He lacked the addition of punctuation as well as the tense of the word like. His most recent trifold portrayed the amount of learning and achievements that have taken place throughout the school year. He was able to write both his first and last name as well as the numbers from one to two hundred. His picture portrayed him with a bowling ball and three pins at the end of the lane. His story read, “I like my partty. I am first. Allen is sogen. Wendy is Third. Jackson are last. It was fun.” With these sentences it was visible that he has made improvement with his punctuation and capitalization. He is now able to show more of his invented spelling and it is easier to see that he still has some difficulty with sentence structure. Although he was not always able to complete every assessment that went with the lessons, he did quite well on the larger assessments the class was given.
Formal Assessment of Student:
During my time with Eli, I was able to test him on his letters and sight words. The teacher gave quarterly assessments that she had done three previous times allowing me to do the final quarter assessment. He was able to recognize every letter in the alphabet, including all upper and lower case letters, regardless of the fonts that were used. He was also able to recognize two different lists of sight words, each containing twenty-four different words on them. I was able to note the words he had struggled with during the earlier parts of the year and make comparisons as to how he had progressed. (Appendix 6a-d) I found this method interesting because, I was able to see his progress altogether. I also was able to give him a Phonological/Phonemic Awareness Preassessment. The idea that it was a preassessment did not make sense to me at first because it was supposed to be done before a student had learned anything, yet the teacher showed me the one he had been given at the beginning of the year and he did not understand any of it. So, giving it to him in the middle of the year showed the progress that he had made. When I gave it to him though, he had several struggles, yet was able to self-correct himself on any errors. It was very interesting looking at the progress and actually being able to use some of the same assessments the teacher had previously used. (Appendix 7)
Conclusion and Reflection:
Although my time with Eli was short, I learned quite a bit about working with an ELL student in a regular classroom. Eli was not far behind his peers socially or emotionally he just had a difficulty with the language barrier. He was persistent and never gave up on an assignment or task. He has made significant progress throughout the past school year and I feel he will continue on for the rest of his schooling. Although he was not able to always tell me or the teacher what he was feeling or wanted, it was interesting how the other children picked up on his thoughts or feelings. Children seem to have a special language that is not spoken that allows them to work with one another and communicate without using words. Eli still has a long way to go before he is completely proficient in speaking and using English. This may be overwhelming for his parents or teachers who are to come, but if they look at where he started they may see just how much he has improved already.
Eli is now able to write sentences with the correct punctuation, and he is able to write words and spell them correctly for the most part. He is able to recognize all letters and numbers and even is able to speak conversational English at a far more proficient level than when he entered kindergarten. Throughout my time with Eli I found many different aspects of working with him to be intriguing and even confusing. It was confusing to think that a child would speak English only at school only and only Mandarin at home, because to me, it would seem as though the parents would want him to speak English on a regular basis and practice it while he was at home. I found it interesting that his parents sent him to a private school when they knew he mostly spoke Mandarin. This caused me to wonder what their reasoning was, considering if they sent their children to a public school, they would probably have a specialist who would be teaching or working with their student more one –on-one. I found the tactics that the teacher used to be very beneficial to Eli. One important instructional practice to note was that the strategies that she used were not merely beneficial to him but to the entire class. Having an ELL in the classroom caused her to go more in depth with her explanations and descriptions of lessons. When she was acting out how she wanted Eli to behave and what she wanted him to do I thought about doing that one day for an ELL I may have in my classroom. After having previously worked with ELL students who were pulled out into a special classroom it was beneficial seeing what it was like to have an ELL who was strictly in the classroom with no pull-out. Watching the teacher differentiate her lesson plans was very thought-provoking because it made me question the methods that are used when preparing a lesson for a student who may not even understand any of the directions in the lesson. One of the biggest things that stuck out in my mind was when the teacher told me about one of her first assessments she did with the student. The directions stated to write a story about spring. When asked to do that, Eli simply copied down the directions because he did not even understand what she was saying. This led me to think about how frustrating it can be when working with an ELL. There are benefits if one has the ability to speak some of the language of the student, so that there can be some communication. Yet, if there is nothing they can verbally talk about, it can cause some rather large barriers. I felt as though the teacher did a wonderful job of including the student in lessons by giving him photographs or big words or pointing things out. It also helped that the other students in the class wanted to help him and were willing to work with him when he was struggling. I feel as though this experience was very beneficial and it has caused me to sway towards working with ELLs in my future. I find the challenges and obstacles of working with ELLs to be a cause for frustration to an extent, yet it is the job of the teacher to help all students to the best of their abilities. If a teacher is not able to work with an ELL nor is able to help them, then there is a need for assistance. ELL students have the same rights as all the other students and need to be given the same opportunities. In the classroom it may be hard for teachers to meet the needs of every student all of the time, but there is a need for them to try to the best of their ability. It can be said that working with an ELL is very challenging and will present the need for much differentiated instruction, although working with these students can also yield great benefit for the teacher. Not only does the teacher have the opportunity to teach a child English, they also may be the link to the child communicating with the world around them.
Field Work is always an experience in and of its own. There are never two classes who behave the same way or two teachers whose methods are parallel. Also, you never learn the same thing, and the experiences are always beneficial. While doing my hours and working with my case study I was able to experience the immersion of an ELL student in a small Lutheran classroom. Many of the students in the classroom knew one another as well as the teacher so the classroom was tightly knit.
I learned a lot with this experience because I had not previously worked with an ELL in the classroom, only in a pull-out situation. The teacher of the classroom did a fantastic job of including every student in her lessons with differentiation in order to meet the needs of the ELL as well. She was very active and had to demonstrate the work that she wanted the child to do much of the time, but it was well worth it.
Looking at the progress that the ELL had made from beginning to end of year was very beneficial. I was able to see where he was along the learning curve or across the spectrum of a normal kindergarten student. He made significant progress with his reading and writing and even his conversational English became more clear throughout the year. It was not always easy to understand what he was saying or what he wanted, but most of the time by using visuals or listening for key words one could pick up on and understand him.
This experience was highly beneficial and has led me to consider working with ELLs as a teacher myself one day. I know that having ELLs in the classroom is becoming more common as time goes on, yet I would even consider being and ESL teacher in the future. Overall I highly enjoyed working in this setting and with this student.
One of the things that I like to do if possible when I am in a classroom is do something with them to give to their teacher. Since I did all of my hours within a short period of time I spent a lot of time with the class and really was able to get to know all of the students. Sometimes teachers are not able to do something for memories that incorporates all students so with my creating this canvas with them it gave her a keepsake from this class.
The reason this incorporates with my ELL student I worked with is because in order to do this I had to give the students directions and tell them what to do. With the ELL he had a very difficult time understanding when I was directing him to keep his hand straight so I could paint all of it. It took one of the other students sitting next to him showing him what to do before he could do it correctly. One of the big things with ELL students is mirroring or copying what someone else is doing. Before working with this student I did not fully realize all that was necessary to even help an ELL follow simple instructions.
During my Field Work experience I had the opportunity to not only work with my student with reading and writing. I was able to observe the way that he interacted with students during group time, and play time. He was not always able to tell the other students what he wanted to do with them or ask them to play with them, yet he was always included. The children all played together and did not leave him out even thought he was an ELL and did not speak too much English.
One of the most memorable instances happened one day when the children were at recess. They were all playing on the playscape while I sat with the teacher watching them. One of the little girls in the class came running over to us just beaming. She was so excited and began quickly telling us what had happened. She said, “We just taught Eli how to laugh in English!!!”. Watching her face light up as she talked about that moment was a wonderful experience. She ran away smiling back to her classmates and continued playing. Only several moments later she returned again beaming. She told us that, “Eli taught us how to say Mom in Chinese, its Mama.”
Both of those small experiences led me to think more deeply about the connection that children have and their understanding with one another. When the child came over and shared what she had learned it was with pure excitement that she talked about those two incidents. Children have a way of interacting with one another that is far less complicated than adults do. The children in the class knew that they were different from one another but they did not let that get in the way of being friends. Imagine being an adult and meeting someone who was an ELL, you would hear them laugh or try to talk to them about their family with a completely different mindset than that of a child. I think sometimes we all need to do that, to look at others especially those who will be in our classroom through the eyes of a child. We need to recognize that not all students come from the same background but we cannot let our previous knowledge stain the lens we use to look at them with.
This chapter focused on writing strategies that can be used with students. One of the ideas the text used to help motivate struggling writers was journal writing. This type of writing was something that I had done in school, in Kindergarten and First Grade. Each child had their own journal and could write about whatever we wanted. We wrote in our journals when we first got into the classroom until the day started. Our teacher would look at the journals throughout the week and would make comments or write back to us. In my journal I would often times write little notes to my teacher or make comments about things I had done, or was going to do. On a visit home recently I looked through my memory books my mom had made for all my schooling and found my old journals. It was incredibly interesting to look at the invented spelling I had used, or the information I had thought was important. It was fun looking back at where I had come from and even more interesting to analyze my writing skills. I hope to continue with journal writing in my classroom when I become a teacher. Another very interesting thing that I saw when looking back at them though, was the way that before I was able to write sentences I would use many pictures to portray my thoughts.
I feel as though journal writing or even drawing if a child is unable to write well at the beginning can be very beneficial. It helps the student have a physical book showing their progress in writing. It would be helpful for parent-teacher conferences because it shows the child’s creativity or their imagination. It would also be helpful when assessing a child in the classroom. Since journal writing often times does not have a prompt it can really portray the interests and ideas that a child might have. This can also be used to help struggling writers because as they might be nervous to write in front of their peers this is something that the student will share with only their teacher. The teacher may choose to write back or comment in the journal if they choose, but they do not have to. This can be helpful to students who need support with their writing or even for those who just like having their work read. Overall, I feel as though journal writing is beneficial not only to the student, but also to the teacher and it can show the progress a child makes over an extended period of time.