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Educating Today’s Newcomers
I have older SIFE students that can't write and do not understand the basic functions of print. Where do I even start? I don't want to pretend that it's easy to engage SIFE students who need so much all at once. It's not. But remember that your SIFE students are intrinsically motivated, and they do have life experiences to draw upon, and they will build on their own successes, no matter how small at first. One specific strategy I suggest for students at this stage is to try using graph paper and have them write each letter on the appropriate line, separating each letter into boxes using block print. For example, the letter 'f' will use up two boxes. The letter 'a' will fit into one box. By the way, if teachers are using cursive writing to model for students, there is a strong possibility that their newcomers may never have been exposed to cursive so they may not recognize the letters. Download your free "Graph and Word" strategy card.
What if my students are struggling to grasp the vocabulary I am trying to teach? Try using cognate strategies as a springboard for learning. These students may or may not lack the technical background knowledge but they will make phonological (sounds/letters) connections. Cognates seem like a ripe area to exploit as a fundamental building block.
As a content area and English-speaking teacher, I don't have the time, nor the language knowledge to attempt teaching cognates. How can I use cognates? As educators, we sometimes forget that our students are not blank slates, and the use of cognates is a perfect way to engage students by asking them for help. Students themselves will recognize and hear their native language imbedded in the content vocabulary and will be eager to offer the teacher assistance. Word relationships, such as cognates, are strengths we can incorporate into our daily teaching practices. Cognates, in particular Spanish and English cognates, should be explored and presented as tools for teachers, even if they do not speak Spanish.
What are cognates? "cognate" simply means related in origin, and they share a common definition. There are 3 types of cognates, and there are also false cognates:
- Identical: These cognates are spelled exactly alike but in some cases are pronounced differently, (area - área and animal - animal).
- Oral Cognate: These cognates sound almost alike but are spelled differently, (arc - arco and capacity - capacidad)
- Less Obvious: These cognates are spelled nearly the same and are pronounced differently, (circle - círculo and center -centro).
- False Cognate: These words look alike but do not have the same meanings, (exit - éxito and globe - globo).
One of the benefits about teaching cognates is that there are many similarities in English to other languages, especially Romance languages such as Spanish or Portuguese. This also applies to content and academic vocabulary; teachers can use this opportunity to teach content and academic vocabulary simultaneously. Informing students to apply the knowledge they already own from their native language to navigate through unfamiliar text is essential.
Why do my Newcomers not want to speak English? Well, they can't; some are still at the pre-production stage. The question I ask the teacher is how old are the students you are referring to? The students referred to are almost always in reference to our middle and high school adolescents. These students are so desperately trying to fit into their new environment and are embarrassed and inhibited by their lack of English fluency. They gravitate to other students who have similar cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Gently remind them how wonderful it is to know their primary language and that your job is to help them acquire a new language so they become truly bilingual. If we demand that they not use their native language, teachers will have very little success in getting them to use English. It is up to us to establish a classroom environment of trust that provides newcomers with the encouragement as well as the opportunity to learn English.
A+RISE recognizes that SIFE students as well as educated newcomers have specific academic needs and socio-economic and cultural differences. These needs and differences contribute to their individuality and define who they are today. In order to allow them to define who they become tomorrow, we can equip our teachers with instructional and practical strategies. SIFE students are capable of great things, and in many cases have overcome extraordinary personal and social circumstances to come to the United States and attempt to find their American Dream. I feel very passionately that we owe them our best resources, our best instructional strategies, and our best efforts as educators.