Saturday, October 13, 2012

Things English Teachers Notice

Or ECE teachers... or speech therapists...

Before I became a teacher - especially a teacher who works with long-term English Language Learners - there are few things I may have never noticed about my children's language development that I now find both fascinating and wonderful.

Penelope has become ever increasingly articulate. She discusses past events with (mostly) proper past tense (i.e. adding the 'ed' ending, she has some irregular verbs down, but not all), present events with present tense (sometimes confusing verb forms - like "I has" instead of "I have"), and future events with future tense (i.e. 'ing' endings).

She also has a significant number of her books memorized, so she "reads" them to us at night, which is both fun and absolutely adorable. I'll have to try and videotape it tomorrow.

She's also become more logical. She can see cause & effect (well, not all the time), and is getting better at solving problems - both simple and complex. She can spell some simple words, so Bryan and I have to be quick when we spell-talk. She's got her name down pat, can write it and spell it verbally. She can also spell "happy" and most of "birthday" (can you tell we have a lot of family with fall birthdays?). She's amazingly creative, draws free-hand recognizable objects and is almost as good coloring within the lines as I am.

I'm really looking forward to when she starts Kinder... I wish they would let her start next year, since I think she's ready. I've even gone over the new Kinder Common Core standards and she's got many of them down already. I know she's going to love school!!

Surprisingly enough, or perhaps, unsurprisingly (if you work in Education),  there are some striking similarities in what my daughter can do with language and what my students can do with language...

And the more I notice the similarities between my preschooler and my students, the more I am filled with both sadness and resolve. Resolve because I want to do everything I can to prepare my students for life outside of high school - not just college or the workforce, but also to buy homes, cars, or start businesses. And sadness because my almost 4 year old has a better command of proper tenses than some of my 16 year old students.

There are a lot of reasons why my long term ELL students struggle so much with grammar. The English language has some pretty weird grammar rules; it is one of the hardest languages to learn (no, really - check out this link!). Many of my ELL students only speak English at school, which limits the amount of practice they get (and, if you're one of those who say their parents should just "learn English already", please refer to the above link - then go live in Poland and learn how to speak Polish without access to language classes... if you're not willing to do that, then stop the nonsensical demands on people who don't have the resources to gain a full command of the language YOU can barely speak.)

ANYWAY, another reason many of my students do not have mastery of English is because we do not have the resources in place to really address language gaps. Teachers work as hard as they can, with the resources they have, to be as effective as possible. It isn't easy. It IS getting better though - a lot of the training I've received in the last year & change has made me a much more effective teacher, especially when it comes to addressing gaps in language acquisition.

I could go on - because there are many more factors that contribute to the language gaps between my ELL students and my English only students (although, to be honest, I see significant language deficiencies in many of my EO students. This is also due to a number of complex factors).

Regardless of how you slice it, there is a large number of children in California (and in the US) who will graduate from high schools with significant language gaps that will likely be detrimental to their economic prospects. And these gaps will likely be repeated in their own children.

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