Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Classroom Teachers & ESL Teachers: Working Together for Student Success

Today I'm thrilled to be hosting Lindsay Marcaccio on the blog to talk about her experience with ELs and how classroom teachers and EL teachers can work together for student success.

Just like our students, we as teachers are always learning. It was no surprise to me when I arrived in the UAE that I was about to experience a huge learning curve. I had never taught ESL students before, and I was excited to see how they learned differently from native English speaking students.  I quickly realized that if you have never worked with ESL students before, the differences can be overwhelming. The simplest communication takes time to understand, and it takes a lot of inferring on the teacher’s part to understand just what a student is trying to say, especially if they are trying to explain something.
“Miss, he beat me!”
 “I don’t cant!”
“Shu hadda?”
Keep in mind, the he referred to above was actually a she. Someone’s being beaten? What is going on! Boy was I confused.  It was only with the help of my experienced colleagues that I was able to get through those first few days, weeks and months! “He beat me” really means anything on a scale of “she grazed my arm” to “she tapped me on the arm a little harder than expected”.  Moving on from the simple conversational English that was challenging to understand in itself, I found myself wondering, how on Earth am I supposed to be teaching these kids words like photosynthesis and quotient?
On a normal day in the beginning, here’s what happened:
Introduce the activity. Model the activity. Do the activity together. Give students an independent task.
Me - “Do you understand what to do?
*Children shake their heads, yes.*
Me – “Any questions?”
Silence. *Some children shake their heads, no.*
Walk around the room. 3 hands up, 6 students looking around the room for answers. All the same question: “Miss, what I do?”
            Teaching ESL students can be challenging but also very rewarding. As ESL teachers, we are kept on our toes by always trying to find new ways to help our students understand. Using the right words and speaking at the right speed when explaining something to these students can make the difference of whether or not the student will be able to comprehend and complete a task. Finding the right materials can be a challenge, especially if the student’s first language is something other than French or Spanish. Most ESL resources available are made for the other official languages in North America, however with the increasing number of refugees and immigrants the need for more resources is also increasing. ESL teachers can be a great support for classroom teachers. The ESL teacher may better be able to assess the students’ needs and where to start, ultimately making the classroom teacher’s life a little easier. A teacher and an ESL teacher together may find or create resources specifically for a child.

English language learners need to focus on different skills than native English speakers because they generally take longer to comprehend and retain this second (or sometimes third) language.  The curriculum was made for students who speak English, and it can be very challenging to imagine how you will teach the same content, skills and strategies to students with varying levels of English. There are many simple accommodations that an ESL teacher could suggest depending on the situation, such as using extra visual cues and pictures to explain activities or a series of events. Those who have worked with ESL students before have a better understanding of how to interact with these students and what strategies might work best when teaching them. The classroom teacher may also have helpful strategies that they have used in the past with a struggling reader in English that could be beneficial to an ESL student. By working together with the classroom teacher, the students will have the best chance at being successful!

My name is Lindsay Marcaccio. I am a Canadian teacher and traveler living and working in the rural part of Abu Dhabi, UAE. I have been teaching the core subjects to ESL students for 3 years - grade 3 and grade 5. 

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