My student Paula, who around 2 months ago turned up at school and couldn't really speak English at all, is doing amazing.
He is learning so fast and I am so proud of him.
Over the past few weeks he has done so many things that I thought he wouldn't be able to do till next year at least.
He presented in front of 50 people about penguins in English... (with support)
He has moved up levels in reading (already) and has learnt so many new words. He frequently makes connections to books he has read and I can tell by that he is absorbing the books and is thinking about them wether he realises it or not. For example, anytime somebody says they are hungry he talks about Greedy Cat being hungry. We visited the zoo, he saw a parrot and started talking to me about Jolly Roger the pirate and how parrots sit on your shoulder.
His writing has improved astronomically as well.
He started off writing this kind of stuff (with support) - unconnected sentences, repetitive structures about himself and what he knows.
We then moved on to trying to write stories... (with support)
And recounts about things he had done (with support)
For this example, he talked and I wrote it for him.
The words written in red were words I wanted him to use; knew he knew orally; but knew he wouldn't know how to write them. He was able to use them in his story by copying them.
We kept writing recounts (stories about things he had done), such as his swimming recount.
And for the first time yesterday he wrote a made up story about a given prompt. This is very difference from a teaching sense, because they don't have direct experience knowledge to draw from. It is not a 'I' story, but has to have characters. This requires thinking from another persons point of view. He also had to think about the setting for himself, as he hadn't been there exactly.
I was amazed.
Then he asked to write another story about a picture prompt some of the other students had.
These pieces of writing really struck me as a great example of how far he has come.
- Firstly, that he had the confidence to write more than one page in English by himself (I didn't write for him).
- The way he is using 'beautiful car, beautiful beach' in his first story showed me he was absorbing things from weeks ago when the whole class was trying to make stories better by adding in interesting words.
- His stories have sequence, and this accurately reflects how he tells me the story aloud before writing it. Memory is working!
- In his giant story, he was able to look at the picture prompt and explain what the giant was doing (literal thinking), but then his story becomes very imaginative and creative. I helped him with the words and spelling, but all the ideas are his. Even the fact that he said the giant got tasered in the foot was incredible to me, because it showed he had thought about the size of the giant and that the solider wouldn't be able to reach anything else but the giants feet. Even though he laughs and plays, he was really thinking about the realities of his story. Also the fact that if the police can't kill the giant, then the soldiers come in to help, is logical in a real world sense. He must be watching a lot of action movies.
- He is learning all the teachers names around the school and making an effort to greet them, and talk to them, to show them he knows them.
- He talks in class discussions now, instead of staring at me confused. He knows that nobody is going to laugh at him for saying something wrong, he knows he will be listened to.
- He comes and tells me when he needs help, and doesn't feel embarrassed for working with me 1:1.
- He is in my maths target group, and loves competing with the other students to see who can learn their times tables first.
- He has made more friends, and is more confident in moving from friend to friend, within and outside the classroom.
The Paula I have in my class today, is a completely different kid to who turned up 2 months ago.
My reflection - why is he able to move so quickly?
I think what has allowed him to move so quickly is a combination of many things, many of them not anything to do with me and my teaching.
- The rest of the class being so friendly and inclusive towards him from day 1 - they initially spoke to him in Tongan so he could understand what to do or what I wanted from him. Without the Tongan speaking students in my class, those first few weeks would have been a nightmare for me. I literally wouldn't have been able to communicate with Paula at all.
- The rest of the kids don't speak down to him - they speak at a normal speed, don't change their words and 'dumb down' what they say to him. This has made him learn a huge vocabulary, very quickly, just from talking to his friends. He then uses those words in his writing (e.g. bullrush, kick tennis).
- As soon as I got him, I asked for help. I knew I would need it and wasn't afraid to admit it. This led to Luti helping me (especially with communicating with the family), Lucina helping me (to assess his reading level and plan for guided reading, also on how to get him to start writing because at first he wouldn't write anything), and Ottilie helping me (observing me with him and giving me feedback). I acknowledge I wouldn't have been able to help Paula so much without my friends and colleagues. Thank you team!
- He is ready and able to learn. He has such an amazing attitude that anything I give him, he takes with open arms and runs with it. At the same time, he isn't scared to ask for help or say he doesn't know/understand. His own attitude towards learning makes a HUGE difference.
- The rest of my class is amazing, and doesn't begrudge that I spent a lot of 1:1 time with Paula (meaning they get less time with me, because I am spending time with Paula). They don't tease him for being dumb or anything like that, they understand is he smart but needs to learn English. They love helping him if I am busy and consider it normal classroom practice to do so.
- Whatever he came with (learning wise), I accepted. For example, in New Zealand we have the numeracy project for maths, which teaches students to break apart numbers, understand why numbers are the way they are, be able to put them back together in lots of different ways etc. For Paula, he doesn't know any of that. He was taught the 'old fashioned' way, with rote learning (repetition) and algorithm. I accepted that that was what he knew, and kept encouraging him to do it that way. I thought if I tried to make him learn 50 other strategies to do what he can already do, it would be a waste of time for him. It also worked well that some of my class can do algorithm as well, so this made his way of thinking accepted and normal (and made him feel smart).
- I listen to him. This might sound stupid, but I honestly think it is a huge part of his success. As I have English as my first language, and don't speak another language fluently, I have no idea what it would be like to be immersed in a world you don't understand, have people expecting you to do things you've never done before and where you don't even know what people are saying to you. I imagine it is exhausting. So when he says he is tired, or he can't do it today, I listen and respect that. We try again the next day, and 9/10 times he is then ready for it.
- My whole school team is on board to help him. No matter who I ask for him, or show his work to, or talk to about him, they are ready and willing to help me. That is an awesome feeling.