Saturday, December 19, 2009

Student Reflection

by Leslie Barron

Becoming Bilingual

Before I started volunteering at Leal I had never been in a bilingual classroom. Over the course of the semester it has been interesting to see how English is incorporated into the students learning. All of the students in Ms. Davila’s classroom speak Spanish as their first language. While many of them understand some English, most cannot speak it well. After learning about different bilingual programs in class it was insightful to see first hand how the programs actually work. The teacher always uses Spanish when speaking with the students in the classroom. When I first started volunteering many of the students quickly realized that I am able to speak Spanish as well as English. For the students who only speak Spanish it did not really matter, but the students who are able to speak English had different reactions.

The second week of volunteering I was reading with a student. The kids usually have to read a short book and then do some sort of writing activity afterwards. She was struggling with the longer pages so we were alternating reading. I would read one page and she would read the next. After a while reading she turns, looks at me and says, “You do know I speak English, right?” This comment was funny to me because the girl was so confused as to why I was trying to speak in Spanish when we could easily just talk in English. I explained to her that although I know how to speak English part of the reason for me being there is to practice and improve my Spanish skills. The same thing happened with a number of other students who are able to speak English. Many times they would say something to me in English and I would respond in Spanish.

As the semester went on I realized my ability to speak both languages was really helpful to the students. Many of the books in the classroom have both Spanish and English. Many times when working with the kids they read the Spanish and then I read the English. I can tell that reading this way helps them understand English much better. Also, reading this way helps me learn new vocabulary in Spanish. Having the books written in both languages is helpful when working with the students on their writing too. If I do not completely understand the story in Spanish I can check the English to make sure I understand correctly and am able to help the students write their reactions.

The students are also exposed to English in their music and drama classes. Neither the music teacher nor the drama teachers speak Spanish, which at first was surprising to me considering how many students speak Spanish. In music class many of the songs they teach are in English. The teacher teaches the students hand motions as well as the lyrics to help them understand what they are singing about. At first I thought it would be really difficult for the students to sing in English as opposed to Spanish, but most of them really enjoy learning the English versions. When given the option one day of an English or Spanish song, most chose to sing the English one. The same techniques are used in their drama class. The students were practicing to perform in an assembly. For the performance they were acting out a part of Where the Wild Things Are. Even though the teacher narrated in English, the motions and acting helped the students understand what she was saying. At first I thought it was strange that the teachers did not speak Spanish, but after participating in the classes I have come to see that exposing the children to English forces them to learn it and is actually better for them then having everything translated into Spanish. It is clear that a number of the students still do not understand English at all, but it has been fun to see so far the children’s improvement in both languages.

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