Harder content does not mean higher fluency

One of our students has her eyes set on college. She had extensive education in her home country, but her English classes were limited to grammar translation. They had a workbook. She and her siblings bought the book with the answers from the corner store in order to get good grades, but they never put their English lessons into actual practice.

Now they are here. In classes they consider to be beneath them. They think they should be in higher classes all the way around.

And they wanted to make this change immediately. But here’s the problem: They can’t have a simple conversation. They turn to google translate to make themselves understood—though this, too, was a bit stilted. Sometimes we just didn’t understand the translations.

But she wants to be an engineer.

I asked how much she speaks in math class. She said only when the teacher made her talk. I asked how she thought she would do in college if she couldn’t talk freely about the math.

The communicative side of language learning is seen differently in different cultures. But I think that when you need to exist within a culture, you won’t get too far if people can’t talk to you. It’s often the most efficient way to communicate ideas quickly. And if there is no give and take, it’s going to be a really difficult road to travel.

In college classes, it’s not just about the ability to read and comprehend, to listen and react. It’s about communication in every aspect.

Putting students in harder classes will not make them better. It’s great that they want to expand their content knowledge.

Maybe I should have her take the test that says whether you are ready to take college-level classes. Maybe then she would understand that it’s more than just exposure.

The video I have with this blog post is one I sent out to my district. It’s so important that we build in opportunities for our students to use academic language in the classroom, scaffolded in such a way that they MUST use the target language we want them to use.

Passively taking information in is not the same as active use.

I’m going to have to focus on making this happen for my students.


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