Befitting the United States of America's unique status as a cultural melting pot, the nation's educational system has learned to adapt its traditional method of English language instruction to suit students who primarily speak another language at home. The concept of English as Second Language (ESL) learners has emerged during the last few decades to recognize the need for teachers to customize their lesson plans, becoming more inclusive in terms of accessibility to ESL students. In light of the fact that ESL students are far more likely to absorb English during their earliest years, many school districts have elected to integrate ESL instruction within the 1st and 2nd grade levels, in the hope that this proverbial head start will enable the majority of ESL students to effectively utilize English in the educational setting. Recently, I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to observe a 1st and 2nd grade combined classroom from the standpoint of ESL instruction, and I devoted my research period to studying the teacher's processes and procedures, with special attention paid to her ability to express foster an environment of openness, her use of expectations to produce optimal learning objectives, and her encouragement of diverse viewpoints. The following review highlights my observations of this instruction, while providing a comprehensive contextual analysis to determine the effectiveness of the teacher's approach to educating ESL students.
My observation of classroom activities began with a reading comprehension exercise, with students being divided into groups of four to five students. Students who speak English as their second language were grouped together and provided with both Spanish and English versions of the book being read, with alternating sessions of English and Spanish in-class discussions to facilitate comprehension. By altering her lesson plan to include a separate group for students still learning English, the instructor has aligned the instructional activities involved in group readings and discussions with the school's stated objective to keep all students in compliance with the state standards for English Language Arts and Reading. A student struggling to master the basics of English will often fail to retain basic elements of a story's plot if they only read it in their second language, but when both Spanish and English readings are used in conjunction, it appeared that their overall comprehension improved dramatically. The teacher also emphasized the value of cultural diversity with this exercise, which spanned a week of class time, by including a bilingual book for all students to read and discuss. By introducing the wonderful children's book "Sparky's Bark/El Ladrido de Sparky," the instructor reflected her openness to cultural diversity, and encouraged English speaking students to become aware of Spanish, which fostered an air of cooperation among the ESL and their English speaking counterparts.
During the assessment portion of this exercise, and others I observed during my in-class research period, the instructor made it quite evident that she maintains high expectations for each and every student under her supervision. By emphasizing performance-based assessment methods like class discussion and call-on-and-answer sessions, the instructor compelled students to demonstrate their grasp of recently taught material in fun and interactive ways. For example, after the reading comprehension exercise described above, the instructor had each group step in front of the class to talk briefly about their take on the story read in class. When the ESL group made their presentation, they were allowed to do so in Spanish, with the instructor translating for the English speaking students in the rest of the class. During my interview of the instructor after the observation period concluded, I found out that this decision was motivated by her concern for the ESL student's comfort level while speaking to the entire class. By translating for the ESL students, the instructor allowed them to comfortably display their comprehension of the recently read story, while also reinforcing the concept of cultural diversity to the rest of the class. In terms of English education, the instructor also had the ESL group give a private presentation in English, with only the instructor and myself present, so that any mistakes with English could be made without the intense pressure and scrutiny that peer groups can apply. In this exercise, the ESL students were understandably shaky with their word choice and pronunciation, but under the instructor's tutelage, the group began to show that English came naturally to them when the pressure to perform perfectly was removed.
After speaking more in depth with the instructor, I discovered that she possessed an admirable desire to integrate the ESL students in every class she teaches through innovative yet effective means. She was cognizant of the economic disparities that often exist between ESL students and English language speakers, and expressed her intention to level the playing field by designing projects that require little to no external resources. By crafting her instructional methods to involve materials and tools that can be found in the classroom, the instructor can make sure that ESL students are not limited by the effects of poverty or other factors that are out of their control. After observing this instructor's progressive approach to ESL instruction, I am confident that the students under her supervision are receiving a quality education balanced by the need to acquire English skills, and respect for the diversity of cultures that exists in America.
While previous passage describes the instructor's approach to teaching the subjects of Language Arts and Reading Comprehension, my second day of in-class observation focused on her strategy for teaching basic mathematics to ESL students. The first activity I witnessed was a basic counting exercise, with all students in the class reciting the numbers 1-20 together. During this activity, it was apparent that the English speaking students were far more enthusiastic about counting in their native language than the ESL students, and their participation in the exercise was halting at best. However, the instructor quickly transitioned into the same exercise, only now the class was asked to count from 1-20 in Spanish instead. The ESL students were immediately more engaged in the activity, smiling and contributing to the sing-along counting session. Finally, the instructor merged the activities together to maximize the potential for positive learning outcomes, by having the class count from 1-20 together, but with a single student offering the next number. The instructor set an alternating pattern for this activity, with the number "one" starting the count, followed by "dos," "three," and "cuatro." This exercise forced the English speaking students to absorb Spanish speaking skills, while enabling the ESL students to actively participate in the activity while also learning English numbers.
Another interesting class project I observed during my in-class research period was based on the main holidays in both American and Latino culture. Beginning with Independence Day in America and Cinco de Mayo in Mexico, the instructor delivered an informative lecture to the class about each holiday's history, the reasons we celebrate it today, and various customs and traditions associated with each holiday. The ESL students were called upon to contribute their personal experiences with Cinco de Mayo, explaining to their English speaking classmates how their mothers cooked traditional meals and played festive music. This allowed the English speaking students to ask questions and indulge their curiosity, and eventually the exercise resulted in an impromptu discussion between the ESL students and the rest of the class, with everybody sharing their favorite holiday moments and memories. Watching the students interact with one another on an equal level, as only children seem capable of doing nowadays, was a refreshing scene to take in, because so much of ESL educational standards are based on dividing students into groups and separating them from their peers simply based on their cultural background. The instructor was able to surpass the limits of state-mandated standards while…