Today I’m thinking about the composition of my seventh grade class, and a major change I have decided to make at the new semester. This two-period block class has about twenty low intermediate English learners and four newcomers. At this point I have no aide, so I try to teach both groups. Unfortunately, I’m not able to do so sufficiently to meet anyone’s needs. What happens is that when I give attention to the needs of the newcomers, the other students quickly finish whatever I’ve given them to do (or they don’t finish) and they start having fun. Loud fun, which necessitates my returning my attention to them. When I manage to capture their attention with something interesting, the four newcomers quickly finish their assignment and think it’s time for a loud and happy chat time. The end result is that someone is always having raucous fun. Occasionally I do a story bilingually, and that is nice for all of them, but I don’t ever feel that anyone is actually learning anything.
I have a period in which I do the tasks necessary for the ELD program such as CELDT testing, monitoring current and redesignated students and sending out test scores and program placement notices to parents twice a year. There is definitely some downtime in this period, and some of the tasks can be delegated, I think.
On Friday I decided to change the schedule of the newcomers. They will come to the big class for fourth period only. During fifth they will go to science or history as they do now. Sixth period they will come back to me for a one on four English class during what has until now been my ELD period. Newcomers need a lot of attention, and lots of speaking and vocabulary learning. It is not fair for them to receive so little of that while I deal with the other twenty, so this seems ideal given the constraints which have prevented us offering an entire block to just those four. At the beginning of the year, we had only two newcomers, but as that number has doubled the opportunity to actually teach them something has diminished.
I am going to try the book “Side by Side” as a beginning text for teaching them basic oral language and some vocabulary. They will use their Interactive Student Notebooks for collecting and categorizing the vocabulary they learn. They’ve been using these this year, but not very effectively because I haven’t given them very concrete examples. So we’ll start fresh in January, with new notebooks and new examples. This change feels right, and I think the students will be really excited about it.
As for the twenty, the reduction of distractions should help them to focus as well. Although they like the stories we read together, I think that the level of difficulty is such that they don’t grow in their ability to read and understand text. Trying to analyze a piece of text (such as the last paragraph of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”) is a futile exercise if I have to tell them the answers, all the while I’m managing unruly behavior. I think “Uncle” and a change of course is going to benefit everyone. I’ll keep you posted on all this as it transpires!