For those of you who are unaware, I am teaching at an American school in Morocco. In my class of 19 students, I have 3 native English speakers and 16 EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students. We call them EFL instead of ESL (English as a Second Language) because after they leave my classroom, they go home to speak their home language EVERYWHERE they go, at home, on the streets, in the stores. In the states, our ESL students hear English (at least a little) outside of school, which helps with the emersion process. Here, in many cases, I’m all my kids get when it comes to English, which makes my job even more interesting.
One of the places this language becomes most apparent is when I am teaching reading. Many of my kids are still reading pattern books (I see the _____.), which is actually the same level as my own son. However, the difference between teaching my students and teaching my son (who is a native English speaker) is that when my son looks at the picture, he can easily fill in the last word (only sometimes needing to use the first letter of the word as a cue). When my students look at the picture, they often have no idea what they are looking at (in English). Don’t misunderstand this and think they don’t know anything. They probably know what the picture is in two or three other languages (Arabic, French, Spanish, Phillipino are all languages spoken by students in my room). However, we are reading in English, so we take a lot of our guided reading time talking about vocabulary. In the long run, these students will be ahead of the average American student, because they will know how to read in 3 languages (eventually). Right now, they are definitely behind average first graders in the states, because they are ALL language learners.
Okay, so by now you’re wondering why I titled this post What is a Mop? Well, one of the activities built into our text books (Next Sunday I’m doing a whole post on text books, btw), there are all these “phonics builders” where students look at the picture and circle the initial consonant sound or the final consonant sound – really pretty good activities. The problem is that my students might not know what the words are. I had TONS of students tell me that a glass started with a K. (I am thinking they were either thinking cup or keiss, the arabic word for glass.) Even my native speakers do not know some of the pictures, due to the difference in culture here. For example, there was a picture of a pie, which my kids have never seen, since people don’t eat pie here. But, the one that got me the most was the mop. They do sell mops here in Morocco, but people don’t use them. Instead 99% of people use a broom or squeegie on a stick to push around a large cleaning rag. Or they simply use the cleaning rag, while bent at the hip in this cool zig zag motion. Either way, none of my kids, not even the English speaker who spent the first 4 years of his life in the UK knew what a mop was. So, the moral of the story is when you are dealing with students, don’t forget that their language and background knowledge can DEFINITELY influence their performance, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent, they are simply looking at life through a different lens that you are.
BTW – this is the reason that I use so many graphics in my word wall cards, which you can find here. If you have ESL students, you might want to grab a copy to help with your vocabulary and word family lessons.