Imagine IT Phase 4: Identifying potential problems
Two of the dilemmas of an urban school teacher that Anna Richert explores in her book, What Should I Do? can be high poverty and language differences among the student population. My school deals with both of these issues, but I will specifically focus on language issues in this phase of the project. There are over 30 languages spoken at my school, and the new language learners in my classroom often speak different languages than one another, which makes communication and teaching grade-level content very challenging.
One of the big ideas for my ImagineIT project is to have small groups of sixth grade students create Public Service Announcements (PSAs) addressing the question “Where Does the Water Go?” at the culmination of each unit of study in our Earth and Space Science curriculum. In each of my three sixth grade classes, there are 4-5 students who are new English Language Learners and new to the country. Some are refugees. Their English Proficiency levels are at the very beginning stages. I try my best to include them in the hands-on portions of our science classroom, but when we are doing a reading or a project that requires much communication with others in speaking, listening, reading or writing, I have the ELL students work on beginner level texts that are somewhat related to the science topic that the rest of the class is reading or studying. For example, while the bulk of the class is reading a two-page informational passage about weathering, erosion and deposition, the ELLs may be reading a 1st or 2nd grade level text on erosion and landforms, with pictures and basic vocabulary definitions. I would like to include my new ELL students more meaningfully into the big question of my project “Where does the water go?” but the language barrier is a challenge. When the small groups are working on creating PSAs, I would like to find a way to have the newer ELLs contribute in a substantive way. One possible solution might be to have these students say one sentence during the PSA in their own language and use google translate to also say it in English.
Reference Richert, A. (2012). What Should I Do? Confronting Dilemmas of Teaching in Urban Schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.