Shy Town

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 01 2012

Week 2, let’s do it.

So this week is the beginning of the second week of teaching and my third week in training. It’s also my birthday week, and the 4th of July holiday week. I’m already looking forward to sleeping in on the morning of the 4th when the kids (and therefore the teachers) don’t have school.

This week everything is switching up, all my collab members are rotating teaching assignments so I’ll be teaching Phonics this week when last week I was doing the reading comprehension. I also get to sing the letter sounds song (a great resource for helping kids learn their letter sounds) twice a day and then do all the support teaching for my other two collab members.

One of the biggest issues we, as a group, have realized we’re up against is the immigrant status of our students. 75% of our 20 person class are chinese immigrants (as my old roommate Tori said, “Well that’s helpful that you know Spanish then…”). When we all first started teaching at this school we didn’t think this would have much of an impact on their actual learning. We knew that most of them would be ELL (English Language Learners), but that’s to be expected in most Chicago schools. However when we started doing diagnostic assessments of their reading, writing and oral language skills we discovered that while they can all write their names, none of them can sound out the letters in their names. They don’t know their letter sounds. I never realized up until I got into this classroom that those things can be taught separately. I always learned the letters and the sounds they made in one fell swoop, but these students have memorized the letters, their capital and lowercase versions, and the ones in their names and have completely missed the concept that they each have an individual sound. One possible explanation is that for chinese students, learning Chinese is different than learning English (in many ways, of course) in that you don’t sound out a character, a character is a word, and a word is represented by a character, you don’t sound out any letters or characters to make a new word. So the concept of sounding out letters to make words is entirely foreign to them (no pun intended). However, these students are young, 3-5 years old to be exact, and they need to know their letter sounds in order to be successful in Kindergarten. So my collab has been working double-time to help these kids learn their letter sounds.

We sing the letter sounds song, have a letter of the day, have a song that includes the letter of the day, and have a writing workshop where we encourage students to write (but usually they just draw pictures). Anytime we work with our students we encourage them to sound things out. Some of them are catching on, but unfortunately, most of them look at us with those lost puppy dog eyes and say they don’t know the answer. It’s heart-breaking, because you know all they want is to tell you the correct answer or at least try to, but because they haven’t been taught, because someone determined that for whatever reason they weren’t ready for this content, they’re already behind in school.

Sometimes I hate how real this achievement gap is, and how I feel like I’m having a staring contest with it, trying so hard not to blink.

4 Responses

  1. “It’s heart-breaking, because you know all they want is to tell you the correct answer or at least try to, but because they haven’t been taught, because someone determined that for whatever reason they weren’t ready for this content, they’re already behind in school.”

    I would be careful about making this kind of assumption. Kids – well, people in general – often don’t retain information and skills on the first pass (or the second, or third, or fourth, etc.) at the material. Especially when it’s not being taught in their own language. Have you ever gone full-time to school where the language of instruction was not a mother tongue of yours?

  2. momster

    “Sometimes I hate how real this achievement gap is, and how I feel like I’m having a staring contest with it, trying so hard not to blink.”
    I Love this sentence! It should be posted in Arlington County Schools offices! And all other places where teachers are trying to help kids bridge the gap.
    I love you too! xxx000 mom

  3. Dad

    Lack of the necessary language arts is frustrating, yes, but wait til you see how rapidly they make progress. It will be rewarding!

  4. Anonymous

    What an exciting challenge! Could you explain a little about how it works with this school and your training? Your collab team just comes in for a few weeks, then you move to a permanent placement?

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