17 January 2007

too much English

I have a new little girl in my class. We're so glad to have her! Not only is she sweet, sparkly and cute as a button, but this puts our total to 9 boys and 5 girls. Alice doesn't speak any English yet and is encountering schoolwork that is harder than at her previous school. She's hanging in there (and, of course I've made many modifications to help her cope). But, today, it was all too much for her. At 3:00, she just burst into tears and wanted her Papa! I hugged her and reassured her, got her sister to come give her a hug and then helped her to be really busy--with me in close proximity. I also set the timer to 30 minutes so she'd know how much longer she had in school.

It just all got to be too much. I know how difficult it is for me to sit and try to make sense of Russian for an extended period of time. Three days of school in English was just overwhelming. But, she stuck close to me for the last half hour, the class was kind and concerned (whew--but most of them have btdt at some point) and the time ticked away. No more academics for us--just the guessing jar and some rug time instead!

I do love the fact that she continues to speak her mother tongue (mt) to me all them time. I speak English to her--with lots of visual support and pantomime, she asks a question in her mt--completely expecting me to understand her and without any visual cues, and I answer in English--with more visual support. It works pretty well most of the time. She's the most verbal esl student I've ever taught.

She's plucky and determined, so I don't think it will take long until she's speaking. There's just a switch that flips in these children and they go from glassy-eyed to talking. My other two no-English students are now starting to speak, one more than the other. My esl kiddos last year spoke more quickly and more fluently--but one was a CHATTERBOX who was just dying to talk to me and to her best friend. Her determination to speak rubbed off on the other two and so they all made good progress in their spoken and written English.

Today's meltdown made me think of all those new families who brought home a school-aged child. I imagine that the English immersion these children face is often just as stressful...and there's no timer ticking down to the time when they will be back with people who speak their mt. Any stories you want to share?


Calico Sky said...

Kate what great practice for when your daughter is home (and that is going to be soon!!! - positive thoughts!!).

Melissa said...

I hope our child learns to speak English as quickly as your students do.

Maggie said...

When Vladimir was with me it took us a couple of days to work out our "language" (my broken Russian, his broken English, and lots of lots of pantomime). At first I learned Russian from him much more quickly than he learned English. Then all of a sudden a switch flipped and he was picking up phrases and words and reading... it was amazing!

But then a second switch flipped and it was as if he grew weary of all the English he was being bombarded with. He put on the brakes and practically refused to learn anything more. So I got some kid's books in Russian and some Russian children's music. Plus, I started calling some of the other host kids so he could chat with his friends on the phone.

After that, he went back to learning English at a rapid pace. Just being able to hear and read some Russian gave him the familiarity and comfort he needed -- then it wasn't so overwhelming.