Last Monday, I wrote about my summer experience of learning how to ride a bike. Yes. You read that right. You can read Part 1 of the blog post here. It was something I've been wanting to do for a long time. Yet, I was too embarrassed to admit let alone put myself out there. I reflected on this experience and started thinking about ELLs in this country. Those hard working children who are expected to learn a language (a huge task by itself) and succeed academically as well. Here's Part 2 of my thoughts, questions and reflection on this experience. Thanks for reading.
Lessons on Navigating, Balancing, Teaching & Learning
On Performance, Learning Conditions and Practice
Once I’ve learned how to ride a bike, I only had the stamina for a 15 minute ride. Why? Because learning how to do something new requires a lot of strength, perseverance and patience. In other words, it wears you out. Let’s think about that state of emotional and mental fatigue. Picture this: being in an environment where the words and sounds don’t match the ones stored in your brain. You’re immersed in a world where something is new every 3 minutes. People talk. They move. They laugh. You freeze and try to breath. This world is what our ELLs face every day. It’s vital for teachers to remember to give their young language learners time, breaks, support and a smile. Yes. A smile that says, “it’s ok. You’ll get it. Take your time.”
Stephen Krashen’s Affective Filter hypothesis helped us understand about conditions of learning for ELLs. What is the affective filter hypothesis? Think of it as a wall that is built between a learner and language input. When the filter is on, the learner blocks out any language input. Factors such as anxiety, fatigue, low self-esteem and motivation will cause the filter to be on. What can a teacher do? Be supportive of approximations. They indicate thinking from the learner’s end. Celebrating approximations is making sure that affective filter stays low so that they can welcome any language input.
I started riding my bike 15 minutes a day every day. The 3rd week of practice I was able to ride for another 30 minutes and was able to turn corners more smoothly. By the 4th week of practice, my time increased to 45 minutes, smooth rides, and an incredible amount of smiles by the end of my rides.
On finding support & scaffolding
I felt like Leo many afternoons. I didn’t want to be watched. I wanted to try this on my own. Until I had questions that Google couldn’t answer. I needed guidance. I needed modeling. I needed support. Once I could ride my bike, I could only go straight for so long. At one point, I had to turn. At one point, I had to gain a deeper understanding of the brakes so I could stop smoothly before crossing streets. I felt overwhelmed. Learning is social. It makes sense that I’d need someone to help me reach further and deeper into my learning and goals. When teaching ELLs, we have to consider the immensity of their tasks: learn a foreign language and demonstrate understanding and knowledge of academic contents. Not a small task. When teaching ELLs, let’s consider these questions: Who are their resources? Who can support during school? Who is someone they can trust for questions, support or simply a friend? Are students giving a chance to ask for help and clarification during lessons? Are they offered different ways to show their understanding?
As I mentioned above, Roberto Marzano’s nine essential instructional strategies not only included setting up objectives but also talked about the importance of feedback. All learners need to know how they are doing, what’s working, what needs more practice. Feedback has a tremendous influence on students’ performance. If we keep our eyes open constantly for signs of blooming, as Robert Krauss would say, we would always be able to see something that needs to be celebrated!
My friend Olga was that support for me. She cheered me on every mile that I accomplished. It’s true Mr. Lennon, “ I’ll get by with a little help from a friend”. So next time you sit by your dear ELL, remember the journey he’s going through. Learning is such a ride and no one needs to do it all alone.