Tuesday, February 24
Today was our first day with the EAL students. We were divided between different rooms, and I was in Jocelyn Stephenson’s room. I was excited to be with Jocelyn and see how she ran her program.
We did introductions and the kids each showed us on a map where they are from. Seeing how these students are from, literally, all over the world was inspiring. “Multiculturalism” is such a buzz word in our society, but it takes on such significance when you see the human faces behind the word. In Jocelyn’s room there are kids from China, South Africa, North Africa, Thailand and the Middle East – to name a few.
One thing that I found particularly interesting was the students that said they were from Thailand, but have, what I thought to be, Burmese names. I thought maybe I was just mistaken, but I discussed with a few classmates who had been assigned to a different classroom, and they said their teacher had mentioned this. Students of Burmese descent often say they are from Thailand. This is because many of the students are young enough that they spent many years in Thailand refugee camps, if not also being born there. There also seem to be a sort of stigma associated with calling themselves Burmese. I’m not totally sure why this is, but it’s something I’d be interested in learning more about.
Jocelyn ended the class with having the students tell her a word. They will say the word, and she will often define it. I admire the way Jocelyn interacts with these students. She pushes hard and challenges them, but then also gives them a break and support when needed. I am really looking forward to spending more time with both Jocelyn and the students.
Thursday, January 26
Today I worked with Samuna, a seventeen year old girl from Thailand. To begin, we used my vocabulary book about Saskatchewan animals. Samuna was familiar with a lot of the animals, but couldn’t tell me much about them. I had written some facts about each animal and put definitions of difficult words on the back of the page. When she looked at some of the words and definitions she mentioned that some of the words were ones she’s heard in science class, but that she didn’t know a lot of the meanings. We went through some of the words, but I think she was a little overwhelmed by them and preferred to just go through the pictures and names of the animals.
After going through the book, we moved onto Samuna’s homework. She told me that her Communications class is the most difficult for her. She explained that sometimes she knows what she wants to say, but she doesn’t know how to write it down. She had two questions for homework about “how to solve group conflict” that she wanted help answering. With Samuna having just explained her insecurity about writing, I offered to be her scribe if she wanted to tell me her ideas. This worked really well for us. She was able to explain her thoughts a little bit at a time without having to worry that she was using proper grammar. After she was done, we went through what I had written down and from that she put together some sentences to hand in.
This kind of “scaffolding” was really beneficial today. Samuna was able to begin with what she was comfortable with, and in the end still produce what she needed. At UR International we use this approach sometimes, and today I got to see how effective it was. Hopefully Samuna will have other opportunities to practice like that so she can eventually feel comfortable composing sentences on her own!
Tuesday, January 31
Today in EAL the kids were reading a short story, looking for new vocabulary words and examples of personification. When we came in, Jocelyn was just explaining to the kids what personification is. At first I thought to myself, these kids are just learning English and you’re going to teach them literary terms? But on second thought, I remembered that many of these kids are headed into modified academic courses and knowledge of terminology will only benefit them.
Today I worked with Emmanuel. We went into the hall and he brought a highlighter to go over the vocab words he didn’t know. As we began the story, every word he highlighted, I wrote on a paper with a simple definition. It wasn’t long before we had filled the entire paper, front and back. It was almost frustrated trying to read the story because we had to stop at every second word. I don’t know all of the students in the class, but for Emmanuel this seemed way out of his league. He couldn’t read more than a sentence or two without needing the meaning explained.
We were close to the end of the story when the time was up. I don’t tutor on Wednesdays, so tomorrow he will go with Jaren to finish up/debrief. I trust Jocelyn’s judgment on her choice of story, but I know it was exhausting for Emmanuel today.
Thursday, February 2
Today we had another short story to go through. When we arrived, Jocelyn was going over a lot of background details that the students would need to understand before reading. I really appreciated this, because it was also helpful for us tutors to know what the students might struggle with ahead of time.
I worked with Emmanuel and his orange highlighter again today! The story was again difficult, and we wrote down the highlighted words and I worked to explain them. Emmanuel has a better grasp of spoken English than written English. He sometimes struggled to read a word, but if I helped him out, he often could tell me what the word meant. He probably just hasn’t seen a lot of those words in print before. We only got to the second page of the story, but we also had several good conversations about the meaning throughout.
Back at the classroom, I learned that many of the other tutors had also covered very little of the story. The content was tricky for many of the students. However, one tutor and student had almost finished the story, which was difficult for me to imagine. I would love to teach EAL, but that is one thing I think anyone would struggle with – some of these students are at vastly different places. Although I suppose that is true any classroom. While it is what we strive for, I was reminded again today how hard it is to meet the needs of all your students at the same time.
Monday, February 6
This week my tutoring at the university was cancelled because of a seminar that is being held, so I will get to do EAL every day! Today I worked again with Emmanuel. I feel like I have built a good rapport with him, and I learn more about him each day. He is smart and funny and it has been inspiring to work with him.
To begin with, we finished reading the story from the previous week. Jocelyn had read with kids in class before we arrived to get them all at the same place. She did this so that the kids that were moving slower would still have a chance to finish the story with us today. Emmanuel had become very engaged with the story, and when we paired off, he was excited to tell me what I had missed. Then, we began to read together. He’d read a few paragraphs and then I’d read one to give him a bit of a break.
I noticed today that Emmanuel has a bit of trouble with contractions. When he comes upon them while reading he often stumbles over the word. If I say the word after, he knows exactly what it is and what it means. I wonder if he has ever been taught explicitly about how contractions are made, or if maybe he has forgotten what the apostrophe replaces.
At the end of the day, I got to edit a letter that Jocelyn had the students write to her. It is a letter for the student to introduce themselves to her. Emmanuel communicates effectively through writing. He has a few grammatically errors here and there, but he is often able to self-correct when questioned. He has no lack of confidence when it comes to expresses himself. We finished with the letter and next class, he will correct his errors on the computer and hand it in.
Tuesday, February 7
Today Emmanuel began with his letter. The students were instructed to finish their corrections and print off their letters. Emmanuel had already done the majority of his corrections in a class that morning, so we made a few last-minute corrections and then he handed his paper in. He was one of the first students to complete his corrections and got to be the first student to begin on the new story. Emmanuel was excited about this, because he is on the slower side of the readers in the class, so he is not often the first student to begin something new.
We didn’t get very far into the story before our time was up for today. The story has many difficult vocabulary words, although not ones you might assume. Phrases such as “corduroy overalls” held very little meaning for Emmanuel, who has probably never seen a pair. Tomorrow, Jocelyn has asked us to bring pictures of these things in the story that the EAL students won’t be familiar with.
Today I was filled with such admiration for additional language learners. What a task! They encounter new words and ideas every day. Even those are proficient in English, will come across words like corduroy overalls and without certain cultural knowledge, be left confused. I am amazed at the amount of work it takes to learn a language, but also the amount of enthusiasm these language learners have.
Wednesday, February 8
Today we switched partners, and I was paired with Abshir. He is from Somalia, but spent his life in a refugee camp in Kenya. He has trouble walking because he was shot in the leg as a child. However, Abshir is a bright and happy boy. We spent the first few minutes getting to know one another and he was just as interested in my family and life as I was in his. While our time with our EAL students flies by each day, I think it is really important to take that time to build their trust and your relationship with them. I don’t think that can be undervalued.
Jocelyn had us bring pictures for the story, but there was a substitute today that caused a little confusion. We were asked to bring pictures for one story, but the sub had decided to read that story before we arrived and had another story for us to move on to. I still went over the pictures and the older story with Abshir, and I think that helped him make connections. He had never heard of things like corduroy overalls or a see-saw, but with the pictures he was able to catch on quickly.
Jocelyn had mentioned storyboarding the new story, but the substitute didn’t have much to tell us at the end of class, so tomorrow we are just going to check with Jocelyn about what to prepare.
Thursday, February 9
Jocelyn was quite unhappy with her substitute from yesterday. She hadn’t followed the directions and the kids had moved too quickly through the stories. I sub as an EA in Moose Jaw, and I know how frustrating it is for both the teacher and the sub – so I could really sympathize with both parties. Either way, Jocelyn was working on plotlines with the students when we arrived, discussing vocabulary like “climax” and “denouement.” She lectured for part of the time and then we were to create plotlines with the student of the last story read.
Jaren and I worked together with our students for this task. We guided the boys back through the story and had them tell us key points that they thought were important. The boys worked well together and though our time together was short today, they were able to get mostly finished. Jocelyn assigned whatever wasn’t completed for homework.
On Monday, our group will bring a story board for the new story because of the mix up today. I begin tutoring again at the university next week so I will only be able to attend Tues/Thurs. I wish it would have worked out differently, because it’s been so great to get to know these kids and work so closely with them.
Tuesday, February 14
When we arrived today, Jocelyn had the kids working on transition words. She had included on the board, “first, second, third, next, then,” and the students were working on a paragraph that included these transition words. The class had made chocolate covered strawberries for Valentine’s day, so Jocelyn had them write their paragraph on the process. I found this to be particularly useful, because the students were writing about something they had just done. For their first shot at using these transitions, they had a real life situation to write about. I thought that was great.
I worked with Abshir again today. He wrote his paragraph almost flawlessly, and he carefully explained the process to me – “first, we washed the strawberries. Second, we heated the chocolate in the microwave,” and so on. After he finished his paragraph, Jocelyn had an informal “quiz” for the kids about the past 3 stories we have read together. We worked with the students and they were allowed to reference the stories if needed. Abshir knew most of the answers without looking back at his book. He needed to be reminded a few times about writing full sentences. When I reminded him, he would look back at the question and see the words he would need to use to create a full sentence. Rephrasing the words from the question is a strategy that somebody has probably taught him, and it was neat to see him read the question to himself and then pick out the words he needed.
I think the thing I took with me today was the importance of relating student writing to real life. The students in Jocelyn’s class understood the use of sequential transition words because they had just done an activity that involved a number of steps. They didn’t have to struggle for ideas of what to write about, because they were provided with a real life application. I think that’s a great example of scaffolding, and moving students from the known to the unknown. As they become more familiar with using transition words in their writing, they will be able to apply them to more abstract pieces of writing.
Thursday, February 16
Jocelyn had the students begin a story today called, “The Test,” about an African-American girl working for a white family in the United States. I’m not sure when this story was originally published, but it is about the blatant racism the girl encounters when going to get her license.
I read with Qi’an today, a 16 year old girl from China. She is quiet, but has a good grasp of the language. Sometimes her reading is better than her actual comprehension, so we stopped often to discuss or explain. To fully understand the story, students would need to understand a bit about slavery in America, but the idea of discrimination or stereotyping is something that most people understand. I tried to make the story relatable by using lots of examples of discrimination that Qi’an might understand or be familiar with.
I thought this was a really interesting choice of story for the EAL classroom. I admire Jocelyn’s courage in confronting these ideas. The students in her classroom are minorities in our society and may deal personally with racism in their lives if they haven’t already. Issues like racism don’t disappear by not talking about it. Jocelyn has been open and honest with her students in discussing the racism in our society – past and present. I think Jocelyn’s ability to address racism will only equip students to deal with these things in the future. I feel like I learned a lot today for myself as a teacher.
Tuesday, February 28
Today was my first day back after the break, and it felt like it had been so long since I had seen the kids! Next week, Jocelyn will be starting Hamlet with the kids next week, so this week we are doing the prep work for the play. For many of the students this will be their first encounter with Shakespeare, and there is a lot of background knowledge that would be beneficial for their understanding of the text.
For the half an hour, Jaren, Kaleigh and I worked together with Mook’prusoe and Qi’an. We had printed a character web for them, as well as pictures of vocabulary words that they might be unfamiliar with – such as dagger, grave, coffin, etc. The character web was really helpful for the girls, and we went through several characters, their roles, and relationships to one another. Jocelyn had already began doing this with the class, so this was a good refresher for them.
The vocabulary pages weren’t as helpful, as there was a lot of information to take in and the students hadn’t even begun reading. I think it overwhelmed them more than anything, especially after we spent significant time on the character web. Seeing that the girls had already taken in a lot of information, we switched back to characters and wrapped up with a quick explanation of acts and scenes.
I think as a teacher it is really important to know when your students have had too much information spewed at them. It comes back to building a good relationship with the kids and being able to recognize when their eyes glaze over and their head is swimming. We gave the kids a lot of information today, but I think we were all able to realize when enough was enough. There’s no point in overwhelming them, we want them to get the most out of our time together as possible and they can only engage with so much content at a time.
Thursday, March 1
Today was our last official tutoring day! It is strange how fast it has gone, and also how quickly we have all formed genuine and meaningful relationships with these students. It has truly been a blessing to get to spend time in this classroom and to learn a little about these kids. They are all so incredibly gifted and each have such powerful and unique stories to share.
Jocelyn began hamlet with the students today. When we arrived they had just finished Act 1 Scene 1, and she had the students write a sentence or two about what had happened. I appreciated that she didn’t have them write out long summaries, but just enough to show that they understood. After, we moved on to Scene 2. The kids chose parts and we read aloud together as a class traditionally would. I’m not sure how much all of the students understood as we read, as they are all at vastly different places. Jocelyn did stop occasionally to clarify certain passages, although I’m sure a lot of it went over some of the kid’s heads.
Overall, it’s been so inspiring to be involved with these kids. While I’ve had experience with refugee and immigrant children before, it never ceases to amaze me how eager these students are to learn English. Their thirst for learning is moving. I love learning, language, and most of all, I love people. I hope I have an opportunity to teach EAL in the future!