Dual Language SchoolsWelcoming and Supporting Newcomers

09/2019
Author Photo: Shawn Slakk

By: Shawn Slakk

CEO and Founder of ABCDSS Consulting Consortium

Photo for: Welcoming and Supporting Newcomers

Thankfully, the school year is off to a good start for Mrs. G. She met all of her students and their families and introduced herself and her expectations to them. Mrs. G is glad that before her students arrived she familiarized herself with their folders, spoke with their teachers from last year, checked their instructional needs, learned a few things about each of them such as where each student is coming from and where he or she attended school last year. Mrs. G has all this information at her fingertips in her planning book since she took notes as she reviewed. She’s already started using the groups she planned and is already considering adjustments. (To see what Mrs. G reviewed, read Five Essential Practices to Set Your Year on Course for Success.)

At lunch today Ms. Z, the counselor came to Mrs. G’s room with Mateo, a new student from Nicaragua. Mrs. G was expecting him since she had a note in her email that Mateo would be matriculating today. She has a desk, some supplies and his groups, all ready for his arrival. Mrs. G even practiced what little Spanish she knew and was able to say “Hello, how are you in Spanish?” When Mrs. G greeted Mateo with “Hola, ¿cómo está?” his eyes brightened, and he started to answer in rapid fire Spanish. Mrs. G tried to explain that she doesn’t speak Spanish, “just enough to say hello.” Mateo looked at Mrs. Z the counselor, who explained that Mrs. G doesn’t speak Spanish and that Mateo will need to work on his English. Mateo’s smile dimmed a little. Mrs. G explained to Ms. Z that she practiced the greeting in Spanish so that Mateo would feel welcomed. The counselor translated for Mateo. His smiled returned. It got even bigger when Mateo was shown his desk, the supplies and his classmates who do speak Spanish.

While Mrs. G was waiting, she reviewed Mateo’s records and realized that there isn’t much there. Ms. Z’s note from this morning let her know that Mateo hasn’t been in school regularly for many months and the English Language Development screener has him at Novice or Entering, which means he is just starting his journey toward learning English. Nevertheless, Mrs. G is prepared! At the end of last year, she attended a professional learning session especially focusing on Newcomers and she has been looking forward to improving her practice and working with Mateo.

Mrs. G started with a warm welcome and honored Mateo’s first language by greeting him in Spanish. She has supports and strategies ready and has grouped him with students who also speak Spanish. His group will help model the language and answers that all students are expected to use. Mateo’s teammates, his support system will help him practice what needs to be said and, as needed, give him the answer word by word.

Since every content lesson starts with previewing and practicing vocabulary for all students, Mateo can start right away. Mrs. G knows this is important since the sooner Mateo starts working on his English, the better.

All went well for the rest of Mateo’s and Mrs. G’s day. Later that afternoon when Mrs. G met with her colleague Mr. H who has Mateo’s older sister, they chatted about the newcomers and shared the day’s experiences. Mr. H was surprised when Mrs. G said that Mateo was already talking. He had heard that emergent bilinguals have a silent period and aren’t ready to participate for up to a year. Mrs. G reminded Mr. H that at the professional learning session last year the school learned that the Silent Period is only “a theory and that no empirical research supports this thinking.” By providing gentle supports, they do begin talking and participating the first day (Calderón & Slakk, 2017). Mrs. G also promised to share an article (Myth Busters in Dual Language Learning by Kathleen Leos) she just read about neuroscience showing that students are engaged in learning at all times whether listening, speaking, reading, writing, or thinking. Learning depends on language and brains are never ‘silent’ (Bialystok, 2011). Mr. H seemed interested and agreed that even though he and Mrs. G don’t teach the same grade both would benefit from planning together to help Mateo and his sister.

On the way home, Mrs. G remembered that she needed to review tomorrow’s previewed vocabulary and add in a step for the phonics differences between English and Spanish and see if there are any cognates she knows and can add to the vocabulary preview steps. Mrs. G also wants to review the comprehension partner triad reading strategy she learned last year to use with Mateo’s reading partners. While each partner reads their sentence, Mateo will do his best to echo read so that he starts to learn the cadence and rhythm of English. Finally, Mrs. G plans to craft some sentence frames Mateo can use when he and his team start their writing assignment. Mrs. G remembers that it is ok to have Mateo just repeating what his teammates say or copying what they write for the first few days. This will get Mateo started and emphasize that now is the time to work.

She also knows that Mateo will quickly improve his English thanks to the vocabulary previewing, comprehension partners and sentence frames. Mrs. G is happy that Mateo is already building his vocabulary, reading comprehension and writing skills all while working on content also.

The supports and strategies in this vignette are based on the strategies and supports found in Integrating language, reading, writing, and content in English and Spanish by Calderón, Espino & Slakk, 2019 published by Velázquez Press. For other suggestions and ideas about emergent bilinguals, ELs and helping them aquire language and literacy skills, follow Shawn on twitter @abcd2sco. To contact Shawn, visit Amano, Baxter, Clarke, Dunne, Sinclair and Slakk Consulting, email him at shawn@abcd2sco.com or request help via this website www.dualalngaugeschools.com.

Bialystok, E. (2011). Reshaping the mind: the benefits of bilingualism. Canadian journal of experimental psychology, 65(4), 229-235. doi:doi:10.1037/a0025406

Calderón, M. E., & Slakk, S. (2017). Promises fulfilled: A leader’s guide for supporting English learners. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Calderon, M., Espino, G., & Slakk, S. (2019). Integrating language, reading, writing, and content in English and Spanish. El Monte, CA: Velazquez Press.