Something that often vexes me is the fact that my students sometimes are so intimidated by the threat of inappropriate word use that they’d rather stay silent or give up than speak to me (a proficient speaker of English and the authority in the room). The free use of language utopia that I hope to have is never going to happen until my English language learners become less inhibited in their use of the language. For this to happen, they have to believe that they will be allowed to speak free of judgement.
Yet, as we rode the bus through the streets of Queens yesterday heading to the Museum of Natural History, I had the rare opportunity to sit and eavesdrop on a conversation between two of my girls. I was pleasantly surprised to hear them engaged in a spirited discussion about the landmarks we were passing. One girl, who likes to talk and is not shy, seemed to be commanding the English language better than I can recall in the two years I’ve known her. Is there an untapped reserve of language in her that she uses with her friends but holds back using in academic situations because she is wary of being judged?
Teaching ELLs can be frustrating because the conventions of English – written and oral – are so multitudinous and laborious. It is hard sometimes to monitor growth and development. In informal settings, though, it is nice to see that growth is occurring. How, though, does that translate to what happens in the classroom?