Thursday, December 29, 2011

Update on the Language Barrier

First let me say she has come a long way. Her father told us she spoke very little English and didn't understand much more. She is progressing rapidly. It is truly amazing how the human mind works and how quickly children absorb information and can learn new things! I don't think I would be able to make such progress in such a short amount of time!

A side note, the two others in her class speak only English (no translators). Funny, as most of my students are bilingual and some are trilingual-it will be quite the advantage when they are grown!

My second class with her I discovered she knew the words yes and no. Oh the possibilities that opened up! I gained much insight into what she was able to understand. I also learned to phrase things in multiple ways. If I say it one way and it gets a blank stare, I say it a different way. I am by nature flexible and will do anything to help a child learn, so this isn't as difficult for me as it might be for some people. Sometimes just changing a few words does the trick and sometimes it takes 4-5 tries to get her to understand, but it is well worth it. Encouragement has been phenomenal with her. High fives, thumbs up and smiles are universal. And she loves them all :)

Today I was so proud of her!! She was able to trace her name without my help (we have been doing this hand over hand for a month with no independence gained until tonight). It looked very much like a three year old wrote it, but she is three, so this is putting her right at age level!!!

She was also able to match the entire uppercase alphabet by herself. We have a magnetic board with uppercase and lowercase letters and the students match them (uppercase to uppercase and lowercase to lowercase). This has been an ongoing process. It began with hand over hand modeling. Then it moved onto her being able to match (very slowly), one at a time, as long as I was right next to her. She would take one letter, hold it next to the a, see if it matched and move on down the alphabet. This was a long and grueling process, but it was progress. Tonight I was able to sit at my regular seat and she was able to match the whole alphabet independently by looking at the letter and finding it (not going through the entire alphabet). She got lots of smiles and high fives.

Another thing I began working with her on today was comprehension. The curriculum is worksheet based and begins by random words being read and pictures next to them. They have progressed now to the point where the pictures are more obscure. Like the words on one page today were fast, and it showed a rabbit with "speed marks", past and it showed the rabbit going past a turtle and last and it showed 4 white ducks and a yellow one, the yellow being last in the line. We talked about the pictures and I can tell she understands some. It will take a bit for her vocabulary to expand and her knowledge of the words, how the apply to the pictures and also how to apply them to different situations. She is a very quick learner, and I know this will progress as well.

Such a sweet demeanor she possesses and such a will to learn. She gets excited for each baby step, it never ceases to make me smile. There is something to be said about the student when she is in my last class of the night after a 12 hour day and I am thrilled to teach her (I have 8 hours at my first job then I go to Kumon). She brings such a joy to the classroom, I am truly blessed to be her teacher.

On a completely different note, I am proud of another student tonight. I began teaching him when I started at Kumon, over a year ago. He could not write his name and he could pay attention for about 15 seconds before getting distracted (which makes for a long 30 minute class). He is graduating from my class to the next classroom on Monday. Today was my last night with him. It is amazing the student he now is. He is one of my model students and will be missed greatly. He is the last of the students I started with to move up. The excitement in his eyes is definitely contagious :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Don't Hate Me

"Don't hate me, but I need to talk to you when you get here." that was the text from my director at Kumon. I go in and he tells me I am getting 2 of the 4 new students who are all suppose to be quite a challenge. I question him further and he tells me one of the students will be starting at square 1. Ok, I thought, I can do this.

After introducing myself I asked her if she wanted to take her coat off. No response. I figured she was really shy, sometimes it takes the new ones a bit to warm up to me. Her face didn't read fear and she wasn't about to cry, so we proceeded.

From what I gathered in our 20 minute class session I'm not sure she speaks or understands much English. Mmm. . . literally square 1. We did lots of hand over hand work (including how to hold a pencil and tracing the letters in her name), peer modeling (thank goodness the boys in that class are awesome and more than happy to help out). She did repeat the words after me, although it took peer modeling to get there.

How do I teach a child that doesn't understand me?

Upon talking to a close teacher friend she noted, it really isn't much different from your students with special needs (my other job). They can't talk to me either. But I can tell by body language and facial expressions what they are feeling. I think the difficult part with this student is her face is a blank slate: no confusion, understanding or frustration, just blank.

I'm going to see if we know what language she speaks (several are common in the country she hails from). I'm sure I will butcher trying to learn some simple words, but I can try. Also I'm going to see if one of the other students in the class can talk to her in her native language, as he comes from the same country. The tricky part with that is for him not to revert entirely back to that language, but use it as an avenue to tell her basic things she does not understand and to continue on with his learning without this holding him back. . . so many ideas to ponder. . . so many things to consider before executing any one plan.

I wish I had more time with them, an hour a week isn't very much (2 half hour classes). I certainly hope she is getting immersed in the English language somewhere else besides just one hour a week; I fear that isn't enough and she will struggle to learn quickly. But then again, she is young and more easily able to learn complex things like languages. Perhaps I am turning scenarios over in my head and making this a much bigger deal than it is.