Loving Our ESL Students to Failure
I was in a professional learning this past Friday and we were discussing how much we love our students. As ESL teachers, we really do. Our classes are safe havens for them; they are one of the only places where they can feel themselves and comfortable. They don't have to worry about how they sound to native English speakers and usually, they have friends in class who speak their native language. Sometimes, our classrooms can feel like home.
We are protective of our multilingual learners and English learners too. If I hear about a student bullying one of my recently arrived newcomer students, you better believe I am finding out who that student is and I am keeping an eye on them. If I hear about a teacher who is treating my student unfairly, whether they meant to or not, best believe I am walking myself up to their room to clarify the situation.
Every teacher of multilingual learners that I have met has a tremendous amount of love for their students. How can we not? They are superheroes, they are here to learn, they have usually been through some tough situations. How can we not want to hold their hands and make them feel loved? Especially the ones who come from the toughest backgrounds and violent countries?
But in this meeting, one teacher and ELD coach said it the best- she said she realized she was loving her students to failure. Ouch! That is a tough one to admit! But I think we all do it to some extent at some point or another in our teaching practice.
She said that when she first started this year and found out it was the expectation that her students had to learn grade-level content just like her English-only peers, she was upset. She thought, how is this fair? But then as the school year progressed she realized that her students are capable- they CAN learn grade-level content and their content doesn't have to be watered down. In fact, it is more equitable to allow her students access to the same content as the other students.
It's all about how the content is scaffolded or differentiated to allow her students access- that is the bread and butter, the meat and potatoes, the sweet spot to teaching English language learners, or multilingual learners!
Here are some small shifts you can make in your instruction to help students access grade-level content.
1. Know your student's proficiency levels. Once you know that, you can go from there to decide your scaffolds and how you may differentiate instruction.
2. Scaffold up- use scaffolds that are for the proficiency level above your student's current level. This is what we call comprehensible input, or input + 1, coined by linguist Stephen Krashen. When we scaffold up, we are allowing space for our students to grow and not stay in the same proficiency level.
3. Continually evaluate your scaffolds so you are not over-scaffolding. Remember that they are temporary and need to be taken away, so go by your daily informal assessments to help inform you of which scaffolds are working and which are not needed anymore.
4. Keep your faculty informed about scaffolding for your MLs and what their proficiency levels are. Give faculty-wide professional learning to keep them in the know about best practices for your multilingual students.
5. And last but not least, how are you changing your mindset to reflect that your MLs CAN? How are shifting beliefs with others around you, whether it's colleagues or administration?
Here's to loving our students to success! What would you add to this list? Comment below!
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I support middle and high school teachers through monthly lesson plans, coaching, and guest speaker offerings in our Secondary ESL Teacher Membership.