Today December, 8, 2011, I saw some of my third grade ELL students walking down the hall. They had just completed a Language Experience with Mrs. Irwin so they could write about it, so I asked them what they had done. They thought for a moment and replied ” Shuffling.” I had a confused look on my face and thought to myself what sounds like shuffling but isn’t shuffling?? The boys started demonstrating what they did, since they knew that I should understand what they had just told me. “Oh, shoveling!” I exclaimed.
After quickly thinking about these 2 words, I could totally understand how they got these 2 words mixed up. Students of other languages do not always hear the same sounds that native speakers hear. I have had this happen to me. I learned this through some embarrassing moments trying to pronounce some Navajo words on the Navajo Reservation with my Navajo friends. Fortunately, in my experience it was all in good fun and we all got a good laugh. However, I can imagine how hard it would be to have this happen every day at school.
After PLC day, I was eager to find out what interesting activity my Second grade students did with the Specialists. They were trying to tell me something quite exciting, but they did not have the vocabulary. They pointed to the ground and I guessed lots of different words (All PE and sports related), but they kept saying I was wrong. I was frustrated and so were they. Finally, we walked to the gym so they could show me what they were trying to tell me. The missing word was riser, as in the students were singing on the risers. ( They were secretly practicing some songs to honor all of their teachers, I will be sharing the final project!!)
One last example, a Kindergarten student was describing some glasses to me. They were brown and and had frames. The student was really proud of them so I thought they were sun glasses. He said that he had them for a while. He agreed that they were sunglasses, but I wanted to see these cool brown sunglasses so we went to his backpack so I could see them. Guess what? They weren’t sunglasses, they were READING glasses. Since then his eyesight and academics have greatly improved.
How many times does this happen on a daily basis in our classrooms? How often do we clarify mistaken words or concepts in math, science or reading with out being able to act it out? How do we teach students when we don’t know what they are thinking and they do not verbalize their confusion. How do we take the time to do this when we have tests to give and sometimes we do not even know what the students were thinking until well after the fact.