Teaching ESL is one of the most rewarding parts of teaching. I love when a student that does not speak English has an “Aha” moment. I love these milestones for all of my students. However, nothing gives me the warm and fuzzies more than when an ESL student jumps a major hurdle.
With teaching ESL also comes the struggle of not being sure. Not being sure if you are pushing them enough. Not being sure if you are pushing them too much. Not being sure if your modifications are helpful, or if they are even the right modifications. It’s a constant battle with what you think is going to work and what actually does work. I have taught ESL for eleven years now in different settings. For my first few years, I taught first grade ESL self-contained. I only had a small number of ESL students in my classroom. This was wonderful, however, the one part I felt they were missing was the peer modeling. As the years went on, this model changed and moved to first grade ESL inclusion. I struggled with being happy that there were peer models and frustrated that I could not meet the needs of all my students the way I wanted to. I am currently teaching fifth grade in a departmentalized model and my homeroom includes ESL students. While I do not see them all day, I help with their modifications and see them for writing for an hour a day.
All of these models are extremely different, but all have one thing in common. What do we do when they are new? What do we do when that newcomer walks into your room? While I know enough Spanish to help my Spanish speaking students, we have many other languages that walk into my classroom that I am unfamiliar with. I do not have all the answers. Nor, do I feel like these strategies will help every teacher, every time. However, I will share what works for me with my newcomers when they walk through my door. I feel if I stay consistent with these things, then I am more likely to find success.
Give Them Space, But Do Not Ignore Them
This is the most important yet the trickiest one. Many teachers when they have a newcomer, are uncomfortable with how to react. Many of these newcomers are walking into a setting that is completely new. They are overwhelmed, confused, and nervous. Usually, far more nervous than you. Sometimes we want to focus on them the entire day to let them know you care and are aware they are there. Other times, we don’t want to overwhelm them so we hardly talk to them at all. You may not even realize you are doing one or the other. However, if you are conscious and focus on this the next time a newcomer walks through your door, it will benefit you both. Speak to them slowly in English. Show them what they need to know and then let them acclimate to their surroundings. Check in often with them throughout the day. But the last thing they want is for you to make it even more obvious that they do not fit in with the rest of the crowd.
Assign Them a Peer Mentor-But Closely Monitor This Relationship
Chances are they would much rather have a peer showing them the ropes instead of you. If you happen to have someone that speaks their language, this is even better. However, if you don’t, find a responsible peer that is not too overbearing, or too shy. Allowing your newcomer to warm up to a student that can help them with their day, is the best thing for them. Make sure, however, that you watch this relationship closely. You do not want your student to feel a friendship has been forced on them. After a day or two, see if they would like another student to help them. You know your students best, and can be the best judge of this.
Use a Ton of Visuals-Especially Room Labels
An ESL classroom should have the essential parts of the room labeled. I like to use real photographs with these labels instead of clipart. My reason for this is that students can generally relate to a real photograph more than a drawing, and able to visualize better. That’s not to say I never use clipart or drawings, I often do. However, when it comes to labeling, I like to stick to photographs. You can check out these labels from my store by clicking here.
Keep in Contact With Their Parent/Guardian
Sometimes we forget how scary and intimidating it can be for not only the child but for their parent as well. Many of these parents are adjusting to new jobs, homes and routines. They are also most likely worried sick about having their child start in a new school environment. I am always sure to keep in close contact with parents and guardians, especially those first couple of weeks when everything is new and intimidating. I like to reassure them that their child is doing well, and brainstorm if they are having trouble adjusting. But also just to let them know that all of these emotions and feelings are normal! I also find that using progress reporting more often will help your parents feel more in the loop. They will appreciate that you took the time to keep them informed.
Check out these great ESL progress reports from Raise the Bar Reading that are extremely helpful to use for parent contact!
Remember it is a Slow Process
I remember when I first started teaching ESL becoming extremely overwhelmed when my students were not making instant progress. Some of them were in their silent periods for much longer than I anticipated and it completely overwhelmed me. Eventually, I realized that all students are different and some will take longer to adjust. We need to stop thinking about this as a reflection on our skills and more about how we can help these students progress into the next phase. Once I stopped stressing, so did my students! Anxiousness will rub off easily on our little ones! Remember to stay calm, focused, and remember the fact that this adjustment is more overwhelming for them, than us!
If you would like to take a peek at my ESL Newcomer pack to get your ELL’s started, click here!