Monday, December 16, 2013

Can You Repeat That? Strategies for working with ESOL students in Kindergarten

I teach in Springfield, Virginia. 

16 of my 26 students speak another language at home.  6 of the 16 have limited English skills. 

This is pretty typical of the schools in Fairfax County. 

As our population changed of course I had to change the strategies I used to work with these children.  

One area I found challenging was Math. 

You would think that Math would be easy, numbers and counting are pretty concrete (and typically a higher performing subject than reading or writing).  But in our school system we ask the children to do a lot of talking about math

As you can imagine my ESOL students struggle with this!  They don't have the English vocabulary knowledge to be able to explain their thinking.  Often they can do the computation but can't explain how they got their answer, and on our assessment this makes them below grade level. 

I really struggled with how to help them.

Then at a meeting a colleague shared a technique I like to call, Repeat that.  Where a student will explain their thinking (correctly!  We don't want our ESOL students repeating mis-information!) and the teacher will call on an ESOL student to repeat what was said. 

It looks like this:

Teacher:  Who can explain how they knew the number was 10?
Aidan:  Well, I know that 10 dots filled on a ten-frame is 10.
Teacher:  Carlos, can you repeat what Aidan just said?
Carlos:  Ten dots on a ten-frame is 10. 

This allows the student to participate without the struggle of finding the words themselves.  It also helps model the math thinking so that at some point the ESOL students can do it independently. 

I also use that strategy to hi-lite the students who are not paying adequate attention in class!

This strategy has worked wonders for my group of ESOL students.  Not only do they hear the good thinking, but they practice explaining their thinking as well.  They get a sense of accomplishment that comes from participation in class conversation, and the confidence to try to share their own thinking next time. 

Now, who can repeat what I just said? :)

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