How to Know When to Move Forward with Language Learners

I recently was working with a kindergarten teacher who was teaching a group of six kindergarten students, all identified as novice English Language Learners.  My experience observing and working with this group reinforced my own understanding of Andrea Honigsfeld’s research in her recent book, Growing Language and Literacy. In it she solidifies my understanding that English Language Learners arrive at school already possessing a wealth of knowledge that can be used as a foundation to build new knowledge on.  Their prior knowledge and experiences should be valued and leveraged as new skills and knowledge are presented in their new language.

When you integrate students’ prior experiences with their early on classroom abilities to learn from listening, drawing, and working with pictures, you really get to see learning and growth happen quickly. This particular group of students was already able to categorize photos and objects based on oral descriptions, draw pictures based on simple oral descriptions, and understand some of their peer conversations about everyday topics

In the current lesson I was observing,  the teacher was teaching this group of students the concept of the letter E. While she read from a big book, I created a circle map of objects students would be familiar with the letter E, including “pen, hen, and egg.”  Additionally, I added sketches to accompany these words on the circle map.

Once this part of the lesson was complete, I pulled these six students to the back on the rug with me. At first, I asked them to answer yes or no to each question.  I pointed to the letter E and said, “Is this the letter E, yes or no?”  All six replied yes.   Next, I pointed to the word “pen” and repeated the yes or no questioning until all pictures and words were identified successfully.

I moved on to the next level of questioning. I asked students to point to the specific E words I called out one at a time.  I noticed one of the six students looked to his peers for pointing.  I took note that I’d provide further support to this student during our one on one time.

I moved into the final stages of support for this particular group on this day. This time, I wrote a short sentence and chorally read it with them.  Next, I copied the sentence again and cut the sentence up word by word. Each student received one word from the sentence.   After asking each student to read their word aloud to me, I asked them to please help me build that same sentence together, while still keeping it on display for them.  Together, we built the sentence word by word, reading it as a group one more time after.  

Students were as engaged as possible, and excited to develop the same process the next day.

Honigsfeld (2019) explain, “You will start to notice that students at the Emerging level are bridging over to the next language proficiency level when you can elicit longer answers from them.” You can also observe the conversations they have with their peers.