Year Two, Week Two: How do I really reach them?

Well. Seventh grade is just a high energy age. Now that I’m in my second year of teaching this difficult group, I realize the imperative of implementing and maintaining behavior modification techniques. Things like giving “row points” and tickets for doing something right, using Love and Logic, setting an alarm a few minutes before the bell rings to get them back under control and get the room back in order all seem to work to keep more of the control in my hands. I have decided that I will learn to do this well. I just don’t know how long it might take!

One thing I notice is that it takes them a long time to learn new things. My students are English Learners, but all are Intermediate to Advanced in their level, so I don’t see that the taking a long time is really connected to language. They just seem to need a lot of repetition and returning to the lesson. What I don’t understand is how the other ELA teachers use the McDougall GUM book and Vocab and Spelling books successfully. These books contain vocabulary that seems so difficult to me and it is completely decontextualized. It is not related to the stories in the anthology at all. The words are used in a sentence and from that one sentence kids are supposed to find the contextual clues to define it. But the words are hard and the sentences don’t contain a lot of information that is part of my students’ schema. Yet the other teachers are demanding that those books be ordered because they use them every day. The pretext for ordering them is that the kids need to learn the mechanics of English. I don’t disagree with this, but don’t see how this material leads to the learning of this important information. I wonder if I just haven’t caught on to something. If that’s the case I hope I get it soon.

Speaking of English Learners, this week I had an encounter that highlighted the opinion that many people have of ELD classes. One of my colleagues knew of a student who was in my class who really doesn’t know a second language. He was designated EL as a young child, and now must test out of that designation. It is out of my hands and no note from a family member can change it. He doesn’t have to be in an ELD class, but his test scores place him soundly there. He is an intermediate to early advanced student on the CELDT, and below basic on the CST. He is at or below the level of all the other students in my classes. This colleague accosted me on more than one occasion about him and asked in a very disparaging way if he HAS to stay in ELD classes, even though he doesn’t know two languages. I was unable to hide my offense at her attitude toward my class. I use the same curriculum and follow the same pacing guide as the other seventh grade English teachers. My kids are slower at learning the material, apparently than the other kids, but that is not due to anything I do. At least I don’t think it is. It seemed like her words were a demonstration of an attitude toward ELD classes that is somehow prevalent among many ELA teachers, as something less than, something that just doesn’t measure up to the level of mainstream English classes. Classes where they use McGUM worksheets daily to teach language mechanics. Hmmm. Maybe it doesn’t. And come to think of it, I see that as a good thing. I will continue to explore all this. Year two. Yeah!

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