Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What should I know about my ESOL students?

As we return to school each year, we face the daunting task of getting to know our students. Teachers can have anywhere from 20 to 120 students to get to know each year- the task can be fun, but that's a lot of kids to learn about!

Knowing specific information about your ESL students in particular can help you to better serve them. Here are some things that you might want to find out about your ESL students:
  • Home language- Knowing a student's home language can help you when communicating with family, but it can also help you instructionally, especially when the student is literate in his or her native language. For example, Spanish speaking students can benefit from knowledge of cognates. Knowing a student's home language can also better help you understand some of the student's language difficulties as well. For example, many Asian languages do not use articles, so many Asian ELLs have difficulty using articles in English. 
  • English speakers in the home- Knowing whether or not a parent or someone else at home speaks English not only facilitates communication with parents and guardians, but it also can give you an insight into how much academic help is available to the student at home.
  • Student's country of birth and family country of origin- Did you know that many students who receive ESL services and who speak another language in the home are born in the United States? That is not to say there are plenty born in other countries, but a good portion of the ESL population is American-born. However, their parents usually came here from another country and it is important to know which country, so that you can better understand the family culture. For students who did come here from another country, understanding the student's culture can help you to build a stronger relationship with the student.
  • Student's entry date into US Schools- In most cases, this is a good indicator of how long the student has been in US schools. The rare exception is the student who was in US schools for a year and then perhaps returned to the home country for another year or more. Knowing how much schooling a student has had in the US can be a good indicator of whether or not the student is progressing steadily in his or her English language development.
  • Who the student lives with- Understanding the family dynamics can better help you to understand any problems the student may have and can better help you understand whether the student is struggling because of language, or because maybe something else is going on in the home. Many ESL students may have left parents or siblings behind in another country, and may be living with aunts or uncles. Some students may live with extended family. Some students may have many younger siblings and be expected to help with their care. Knowing these things about your student may help you to understand why homework is not completed or why a child falls asleep in class.
The more we know about our students, the better we can understand them. When we understand where our students are coming from, we can provide the best instruction and support possible.

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