ELL Teaching Tip - Be Patient Through the Silent Period:
Every year, it seems that I have at least one ESL parent at the beginning of the year who is stressing out about the fact that their child doesn’t speak or understand any English. I spend lots of time comforting them, and convince them that they’ll be speaking English and understanding me “by Christmas”. Then, I go back to my class and feel like I am talking to myself for the first two months. By December or January, it’s true, they are all talking and understand the majority of what is going on in class. Then, somehow I forget how frustrating those first two months were, as I enjoy how far they have come. This is the true joy of the “Silent Period”.
This year is no different. I have two precious children in my class who look at me with that glassy eyed look every time I talk to them. They giggle at my attempts at Arabic and ask for Google Translate to understand basic directions. They don’t talk – except to ask for the “toilet” or tell me they don’t understand. I am patient, but I also get frustrated. Here are some things I do to ease the frustration and remember to be patient.
1.) I remind myself of the “Rule of 100”, which I picked up in my SIOP class way back when. The Rule of 100 says that a student needs to deal with a new word 100 times before it is automatically ready in their brain. So, yes, I am saying the same thing I said yesterday and the day before, but they haven’t heard it 100 times, yet!
2.) I let some things go. Some things just aren’t worth stressing about just yet. For example, on our Daily Math, I’m okay with pulling out the equation and leaving the numbers for the students to solve. They just aren’t ready to read and dissect a word problem just yet. They’ll get there, but right now, it’s not worth stressing out them – or me!
3.) I record them. I know this sounds crazy – but getting a recording of the little bit they can say, or read right now, and then re-recording them in a few months, will prove to you how far they have come.
4.) I go back and talk to (or think about) previous students. The most heartening thing for me this year, is to talk to the four students I had last year, who came to me with no English. This year, you almost can’t tell that they are ESL. They understand everything that is going on and respond in good, clear sentences. I know that last year at this time, they were giving me that same glassy eyed look, and if they could do it, so can this year’s babies.
5.) I celebrate the small victories. Today, both of my No-English babies completed their entire Calendar Book page on their own! (They do the same activities with different numbers every day – so it is a matter of repetition.) I jumped up and down and kissed their brains (literally!) I make a big deal of these success for them AND for me. This time is frustrating for us both, and I need to remind all of those involved that this is only a temporary situation.
Do you have any students in your class who are in the “silent period”? What are your tips for surviving this challenging time?
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