Special to CSMS magazine
For ten hours I had the opportunity to observe a second grade classroom at Peters Elementary located in Plantation, Florida—a suburban town near Fort Lauderdale. The classroom has 22 students; three of them are ESOL students, a boy from Burma and two girls from Haiti. The three kids started school on 2008, they are learning English with the help of a cooperative teacher and school staff that are teaching them how to read and write. While they are learning English, their parents are also doing the same by going to an adult ESOL program at night at a community school nearby.
During the observation, I could see many different characteristics in the students that helped me identify their culture. The classroom was very colorful. The students were doing different activities like science project, bottle people and building environments. At the end of the projects, the teacher organized a project exhibit in the cafeteria for parents and students. With the bottle people I got the chance to learn a little bit about the students different cultures; some students had to make a report on an important character. Many African American children chose President Barack Obama while some others chose Oprah, Michael Jordan, and then build the character in a bottle. For the science fair project, they planted seeds to learn in what soil they grow faster and easier. Each student had to build an environment. The Haitian students build tropical environments with beaches, fishes, and palm trees. After finishing the projects, the students had the chance to show their work to the parents during an evening session.
The ESOL students are learning to interact with one and other; one of the Haitian girls showed a sad and uncomfortable personality. She was crying and sat by herself and didn’t want to participate in the classroom activities. Even though the teacher got close to her and asked her if something was wrong, she didn’t want to speak. Ms. Harper told me that sometimes she feels frustrated when the girl can’t understand her explanation. So after presenting the lesson to the class, she sits down with her and explains it again to her. The two girls from Haiti are close friends. When they have a chance to talk, they do; and after any activity is explained, they sit together and tell each other what they understand about the instructions given by the teacher.
The boy from Burma interacted very well with other students. He likes to draw and spends most of the time doing it. He is learning to read. I had the opportunity to read a story with him. He is really trying hard to learn the different sounds, punctuation, and doing reading comprehension. Second grade students are really trying hard to read as many books as possible. There are shelves filled with different reading books where the students get to choose a book and then take a computerized quiz after they finish reading it. This is part of a program called Accelerated Reader (AR)—a program designed to promote reading comprehension and fluency. On one of the shelves, there are multicultural books. Some are in Spanish, and they tell stories of kids from other countries—good for promoting cross-cultural awareness and self-esteem.
After talking to the classroom teacher, Ms. Harper, I learned many important things about ESOL students. The school organizes activities for parents, teachers and students. For example, that week I was there, they were going to meet at Mc. Donald’s on what they call Family Night, in which they all have the chance to interact with one and other. Ms. Harper also told me that she meets or calls the kids’ parents on a regular basis to let them know about their students’ social and academic progress. She also told me she is not sure the parents of ESOL students really understand when she talks to them. An example she gave me was when the students don’t do their homework assignments, she calls the parents to stress the importance of homework. The parents always say they are going to help. Yet, there is still no homework. So Ms. Harper is not sure if they understand, or if they simply don’t care.
Another activity I got the chance to see with ESOL students was a test that is given every week to the students in order to evaluate academic progress or lack thereof. The test is done in another room with a school teacher evaluating listening, writing, reading and speaking. The results help the teachers know what the problems are and in what area to work harder. After observing this classroom, I got different ideas on how to include ESOL and multicultural curricula in my lesson plans.
Even though the school is doing a very good job in promoting tolerance, I think a multicultural fair would also be very interesting every 2 months—possibly at the end of each marking period—in which students would have a chance of explaining to others about their culture, religion, beliefs, food, flag etc. For instance, students would be encouraged to do a presentation on their countries of origin; it would be very interesting if parents could also participate and share with the students stories about their countries’ history, food, beliefs, values and all other elements that characterize their culture.
As a teacher, I would organize an activity where students make flashcards and write the words in English and in the language spoken at home. This would make the learning process easier. After observing the second grade class, I learned many things that I could put into practice the day I start working as a full time teacher. I come from Colombia, and there, I made many observations of different schools, but never had the chance to observe a class with ESOL students. Going to Peters Elementary opened my eyes to a reality that is common in this country: having students from different countries and cultures in classrooms. I also learned that including and making these students feel a part of the classroom will help my teaching career immensely. It will make the classroom environment much more conducive to learning.
Note: Susana Marques is a student at Nova Southeastern University. She majors in Education.
Also see Great tools to understand the culture of Colombian students in American classrooms