Oh my, what a week. Let me tell you about it, and then I’ll tell you what I’m thinking…it’s sort of a new path of thought for me. Yesterday I was doing a story vocab lesson on a PowerPoint with my Intermediate English Learners. The room was a little darker than usual, and a few students were out of their normal seats so they could see the screen better. Two mistakes on my part, as it turned out, although this is my normal procedure.
As I was showing them definitions for the vocab in the story we’re about to read, I saw a boy pick something up off the floor. He looked at it and innocently asked if it belonged to anyone. Another kid said it was his wallet. He took it back and I thought nothing of it. A few vocab words later, the wallet owner, all 4’9″ of him was standing before me, and he said, “Ms. Jacobs, I had $22 in my wallet and now it’s gone.” Exasperated, I asked him why he had brought so much money to school, as if that was any of my business. He sniffled a little, and told me that he’d had a twenty dollar bill and a two dollar bill. A friend confirmed that it had been there at the beginning of the period.
Sighing, I continued with my lesson as the money loser writhed in agony. Finally, ten minutes before the end of the period I stopped everything and announced that money was missing and we needed to find it. Before saying anything to the class, I called the Assistant Principal and PASS officer and asked what they recommended I do. They said they would be right over. So, as I tried to get someone to ‘fess up to having the money, we waited.
The V.P. finally arrived, and when no one admitted to him that they had the money, he said they would have to search everyone and no one would go to morning recess until everyone had been searched. With that, they excused me to go to break. I didn’t feel I had a choice, so I left. I sat in my office across the playground and waited for students to begin leaving my room…and I waited. Finally, after about half an hour, well into the next period, they came pouring out, running madly for the classes they were late to. They were followed by a couple of little guys trudging across the blacktop behind the Assistant Principal.
Unsnarling this story was complex. It seems that they searched all the backpacks with no result. A two dollar bill is noticeable, so it should have been easy to spot, but no luck. They found and confiscated a few packs of gum, but nothing more. Then they announced they would be searching pockets. Suddenly a girl said, “Look! There’s some money in the trash!” She fished it out, and lo and behold, there were $33 there!
It seems that the boy who had moved from his seat had found the wallet and taken the money out. He tossed the empty wallet by the feet of the boy who announced that he had found it. As that boy was finding it, the money taker passed the cash to a friend, who passed it to another friend, who passed it on and on until five different boys had handled those bills. Finally, when the pocket searching started, the last boy had tossed it and his own $11 into the trash. So much for building a collaborative community. There was some collaboration going on, but not exactly what I have been hoping for. So that’s the first part of the story.
The second part has to do with the PowerPoint I showed. I received this slide show from a colleague who I respect highly. I modified it quite a bit to fit my own style of presenting, and my students’ ability to comprehend the definitions. In some cases I replaced her photos with some others I’d found, but I kept several of hers as well because I thought they fit the definition better than mine. Now, please don’t judge me, just look at the picture below:
Yes, indeed. The word was “bluff,” as in to mislead or fake something. Many of our students love to play poker, some of their parents are dealers at local casinos, and they understand that concept, so I thought this picture would work as an illustration. I completely missed the little lady in the bottom right hand corner of the picture until it was large on my SMART Board, and a student was crowing, “MISS JACOBS!!! Look at the lady!!” We didn’t spend much time on the word Bluff. Later on, distracted by the money stealing event, I forgot about the lady and showed the slide again in my next class. Again they noticed it right away.
I know this is taking a long time, but here is the thing I’m thinking about. My students seem to be fluent in English. They speak it just like all the other kids who aren’t English Learners. They are learning academic English, or CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). When I told my colleague about the little lady in the picture, she laughed and said she hadn’t noticed it, and neither had a single one of her 100 students. Her students are, for the most part on grade level, or just below. They are not English Learners.
I suddenly realized the complex system of compensation that my students have developed. Reading is difficult, so they rely on what they see and hear and feel to decipher a situation, along with the words they read. They are extremely collaborative when the occasion demands it as well, as the money passing indicates.
This year my granddaughter is in seventh grade, and her school uses the same textbook that we use. Seeing her work with the same stories that my students read has opened my eyes to the vast differences between even an advanced English Learner in my classroom and a student who is on grade level or beyond. The gap is massive, and the English Learners are struggling to use everything they have fill it in. How exhausting and discouraging school must be for them at times. Once again I realize the immensity of my task if I am ever to be able show a drawing where the kids miss the scantily-clad lady and focus on the words.