A little more language, a little less confidence?

Well, we have done our job so well that now our class is small.

And now, English 1 is HUGE!!!

So now, I’m heading over to Kevin Cross’ class every other day.

What does this mean? It means that Suzy is the constant for seven of our students. Three are still making the journey between both classes. Not quite low enough for ExcELL, but not quite high enough for us to let them go completely.

We had an incident this week–our first week of me coming to Kevin’s class–that makes me draw parallels from first language learning and second language learning.

Second graders are notorious for never doing anything if they can’t do it right. It’s a developmental defect for 7-year-olds. And they can also be quite mean on the playground as they work to find their place in life.

I gained my [really not so] deep knowledge of second graders by reading Yardsticks by Chip Wood. It’s a resource I first started using when I got Responsive Classroom training some years back. For the longest time, I would go to that book each year to find out where my own children were developmentally, what was being asked of them in school, and what was their reality. It was quite helpful both as an educator and as a parent.

But what I’ve found out is that second language learners often not only mirror first language acquisition in language development, but also in their psychological development as they learn to negotiate the world in this new language and culture.

I remember from my own experiences living in Germany as a foreign exchange student that when my language proficiency was low, I was on high alert socially, thinking that others were talking about me, looking at me a little too long. It was a nightmare.

This week, a student was listening to his headphones in the class. I asked him twice to stop, because he was singing along. He rolled his eyes and ignored me. He listened only when Kevin came over and told him that headphones were not allowed in class. Personally, I have no problem with listening to music if we are doing cutting and pasting, which we were. Where I draw the line is when instructions are being given. And this is when the singing happened.

I didn’t think about the possibility until later that the process of ignoring me could be cultural. Where there are both female and male teachers in the room, might he be more partial to listening to the man in charge? But what is even more telling is what came afterwards. He went to my colleague in Excell and told her it was her fault that he got in trouble. We were sending students too early to English 1; they were using their first language in class, and he didn’t want to listen to it, so he tuned it out with his music. If we didn’t send them so early, there would be no need for headphones.

Yep. Right.

Nevermind that I was telling the new students multiple times that they needed to focus on the target language rather than their first language. If they needed help, they should try in English first and then ask a friend if they really could find no way to say it in English.

So we’re dealing with that.

A few questions came out of this, though:

  • Should we be language police? What does the research say?
  • Is there a male-focused bias in this particular student’s home culture? Should I worry about it?
  • Do students get more belligerent in early stages of language acquisition, mirroring the behavior of first language acquisition? Does getting slightly more proficient make you regress in chronological behavior? It’s an interesting idea…

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