Tuesday, July 26, 2011

An Eye Opening Experience...

I am attending an amazing training this week - Stellar Summer Institute {Science for ELLs}. Today, I had a major AHA moment and it will forever be on my heart {I know it will change the way I teach!}

Let me give you a little background about me. I am bi-racial, half Hispanic and half Caucasian. So growing up, my father never taught me Spanish {it was like his secret language - he would use it talk to his family when he didn't want me to listen} I tried to learn it - I took 2 years in high school and attempted to learn in college {I failed miserably} I can pick out words here and there and usually make a good attempt to know what someone is saying. I have always caught flak from others for not knowing how to speak it {I really struggle with this}!

So today during our training we had two amazing speakers who are from UC Berkley and also help create FOSS kits. Right after his introduction, he began only speaking in Spanish. {Remember it is an ELL conference and most of the people were bilingual} At first I just sat there and tried to pull out the words I knew and attempt to piece together what he was saying. I could see everyone at my table nodding their heads completely understanding what he was saying. Then he began using a powerpoint of vocabulary words with pictures and a definition in Spanish. I knew he was giving us a science lesson and I thought I was doing ok trying to get what he was saying. As he continued to give the lesson he began to use gestures with the science materials we would be using. He modeled blowing on a piece of paper and questioning whether it would go up or down {he put his finger up and down}. I was still feeling ok with what he was presenting - I could pull out the word velocity and that he was asking us if we blew on the paper which direction would it go. Then all of a sudden he said something and everyone in my group started talking to one another in Spanish. I was completely lost! I was so uncomfortable!! Words cannot describe what I was feeling {scared, nervous, worried, frustrated, embarrassed}! I was frustrated because I was so lost in what was going on {I basically checked out}...but then I was embarrassed because I was worried that the people at my table would look down on me because I should know Spanish. I honestly wanted to run to the bathroom. I finally got the nerve to tell one of my teammates that I didn't know Spanish. She turned around and began to explain what he was wanting us to do. The rest of my group members kept talking in Spanish, but used gestures with their hands so I could understand.

The speaker then started to speak in English again and asked us to talk about the experience with our table groups. It was strange because even though I didn't know Spanish...many of my teammates were uncomfortable too! They are more comfortable with conversational Spanish, but weren't as comfortable with academic language {science vocabulary and terms}. Like me, the gestures and the pictures helped them to know what the speaker was asking of them. It made me realize some things and reinforce what I've been taught {these are just my observations and thoughts based on my experience with this activity}!!

1. Science could be its own language - there are so many terms and vocabulary for people to know and understand {it's usually foreign to all of us}. With this said - ELL strategies work well in science for ALL STUDENTS!!

2. We will have different levels of ELL students - some will be transitioning straight from a bilingual classroom, others could have mastered conversational language (BIC) , but still struggle with academic language (CALP). We need to know what type of supports our students need from us!

3. We must continue to use strategies {visual aids, modeling, repeating, etc) with all ELLs - no matter what their level is!!! I would have been so completely lost if the speaker hadn't shown vocabulary with pictures and modeled what he wanted us to do! And it sounds like my teammates who weren't as strong with the academic language also benefited from the strategies!

4. We MUST make sure our students understand our lessons, directions and what we are asking of them!! It is our job to make sure they are learning! We must pick up on their cues {checking-out or getting uncomfortable}!! If we loose them - we may not get them back to complete the lesson or worse they may shy away from future lessons!

5. Use your other students as a resource!! We always say we learn best from one another! It could also be said that students feel more comfortable asking another student for help than asking the teacher {this is how I felt during this activity - I was way too embarrassed to make the speaker stop to let him know I wasn't understanding!}

6. I feel like I have a better understanding of how intimidating it can be to be in a classroom where you don't understand because of a language barrier. I will always do my best to never make my students feel the way I did today!!

I can't put into words how eye opening this experience was for me! It's like with anything that is taught - someone can tell you and you think you've got it...then you get hands on experience and you have a deeper understanding.


  1. Fantastic post Audrey!!!! I definitely would have wanted to run to the restroom too:)
    I wish I could speak Spanish too!! I'm glad your teammates helped you out... sometimes I wonder when I am talking whether the kids really hear or just hear that lady from "Charlie Brown" :) Sometimes I think that's how it is for my ELL's. You made some really great points! What an eye-opening experience. Thanks for posting about it!:)

  2. What a great post!! Thank you for sharing your feelings. I think it's too easy for all teachers to forget what it's like being that "one" person in the room who doesn't know what's going on.

  3. Hey Audrey,
    Awesome, powerful reminders:) AND, might I add those strategies that work for ELL work for ESE too!! I just got my ELL certification last year and as I was taking all my classes, I couldn't help but think how similiar it all was to teacher ESE (learning disabled/language)kiddos. I teach conversion, so I have a large mix of those kiddos with me and use tons of visuals, gestures,modeling, repetition....the list goes on. Actually, those strategies help ALL kids:) Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience!!

    4th Grade Frolics

  4. Wow! Thanks for sharing! Your post was great--I was starting to feel uncomfortable just reading it! What great reminders of what we need to do to reach ALL kids! Thanks again.

    Lifelong Learning

  5. Wonderful post! I love my Ell students. I have my certification in ELLs and have been teaching ELLs for 9 years. This year I have 15 ELL students on my roster out of 30. Thanks for sharing.


  6. What an amazing learning experience! I know I will have one Ell student this year and your reflection really opened my eyes to what his school experience might be like. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thank you for your kind comments!! I was so happy I got to talk to the speaker today and let him know how powerful that activity was for me!! It still blows my mind!

  8. So glad you shared this with me... This is a classic "strategy" folks have used (successfully) to help people understand what ELLs go through. I haven't used it in years because I felt (until reading your blog post) that it was overdone and hokey. I guess not. It still has power and can illustrate a point more powerfully through experience. So even when we teachers/professors think something has been done a million times, maybe we shouldn't throw it out. Experience is certainly very powerful ...

  9. I definitely think you should use it...it was very powerful for me! I think the key though was that everyone at my table spoke Spanish and I couldn't. So you would have to have some Spanish speakers involved to really take them out of their comfort zone!

  10. Anonymous7/27/2011

    great post/blog Audrey!! I'm very proud of you!

    Jessica :)

  11. Thank you friend!! I'm glad you like it ;)

  12. I can really relate to this! It really does change how you look at the situation and improve your teaching. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.