I spent some time listening to the recording from last week of Bee telling me all about his Thanksgiving break, and I noticed that in his storytelling, he used the present progressive a lot to talk about things that had happened in the past. This was a pattern I had noticed in his writing journals as well. For that reason, I decided to use our lesson today to focus on the past tense. First we did a quick review of how to form the past tense. I realized pretty quickly that this was unnecessary; Bee had a solid knowledge of how to form both regular and irregular past tense forms. He just wasn’t using it in his speaking and writing.
To practice using the past tense, we went through the wordless book, Carl’s Snowy Afternoon, with Bee narrating the story. I think he thought this was a little beneath him, but I had tried to explain that this was a children’s book and might be a little silly, but we were just using it for practice. I still think it was good practice for him. After that, I had him tell me about his day yesterday, using the past tense, and he did a good job with that.
My next plan was to do my writing lesson plan with him, which was about how to use similes to add description to writing. I asked him if he needed to work on his writing journals, having this purpose in mind. However, the first thing he said, as always, was “Can you check my grammar?” I wasn’t sure if editing grammar was exactly what we should spend time on today, but we did it anyway. The result was good though, because it turned out that he had again written a journal entry about past events using mostly the present progressive. This created an opportunity for him to practice in his writing what we had just been practicing orally, and the two things went together nicely.
After this, he wanted to start writing a new journal entry, so I agreed that he could do that, but asked him to try to write everything in the past tense right from the beginning, and he did a great job. He had the most trouble putting verbs in the past tense when they were negated or paired with auxiliary verbs for other reasons; he had trouble knowing which verb to change. If he were to read the sentences out loud, I doubt he would have the same trouble, because he never makes those types of errors in his speech (although this may only be because he rarely uses the past tense in his speech). I thought perhaps he was only making those mistakes because of how focused he was on doing what I had asked him to do.
We did briefly look at the lesson I had prepared about similes, and it was a concept that Bee grasped right away, although I couldn’t tell whether he had ever been taught to use similes as a literary device. He had written a journal entry about finding a mouse in his room, and he told me that he could describe the scene of him chasing the mouse around and say it was “like Tom and Jerry.” Then he wrote that on the day he had been sick, it was as boring as listening to classical music! He seemed to like this method of adding description and detail, especially as a way to add length to his writing.
Since this was my last day to see Bee, I can’t help but think about where he will go from here. My greatest hope is that he doesn’t get discouraged. I have no doubt that his English will continue to improve, as long as he is given the space, time, and grace to be in a learning process. He’s a very bright young man and has interests that will take him far, I think, and I sincerely hope that he will have teachers in the future who believe that about him (as I believe he does now). I hope America and Americans are kind to him for as long as he is here, and that he looks to God to direct his life’s journey along the way.
To assess Bee’s oral language, I asked him to “tell me a story.” I realized that might be a hard thing to ask him to do, so I had some prompts ready in case he didn’t have anything he particularly wanted to talk about. He didn’t need them though; he said he wanted to talk about his Thanksgiving break, which I thought was great. He had no trouble at all maintaining a constant stream of ideas and talked pretty much non-stop for 10 minutes. The voice recorder didn’t even phase him. He gave good, interesting detail, and maintained a logical flow of ideas. As time went on, I kept trying to decide if I should stop him at any point, but he always had more to say, so I figured I’d just let him keep talking. (He actually stopped to tell me when his story was finished : )
I scored him on all four language assessments, just to get a sense of what each one was like. Here are the results:
SOLOM: late level 3/early level 4
TOEFL: late level 3
WIDA: level 4
Stages of SLA: right inbetween speech emergence and intermediate fluency (III/IV)
It was good for me to see that all of the assessments put him at about the same place – certainly beyond the beginner level, and even reaching the end of the intermediate stages, pushing into a stage of higher-level fluency, but definitely not at a level comparable to a native speaker yet. Here are some of the descriptions of language that appear on these assessments that I think describe him particularly well: “Speech is generally clear, with some fluidity of expression, but it exhibits minor difficulties with pronunciation, intonation, or pacing and may require some listener effort at times. Overall intelligibility remains good, however.” “May grope for needed vocabulary at times.”
To me, Bee is very understandable when he speaks, though it’s hard for me to tell whether any of that comes from my hearing him speak so often. It seems that he does not have very many pronunciation errors. There is the occasional word that he does not pronounce correctly that I have to ask him to repeat and work to figure out, but that does not seem to happen very often. It seems to me that the most notable issues with his oral language are grammar and word order. However, these two things hardly ever obscure the meaning of what he is trying to say; they just make it very obvious that he is an English Language Learner. For example, he said thing like, “In the Thanksgiving Day, first, the Mr. T said I’m going to [a friend’s] house, in the forest, very far to the school… I can’t meet my friends, my friends’ homestay is near to sch…Houghton Academy, but I’m very far, I can’t moving in their house.” And, “I can play just computer game, or searching Internet, or… I watching movie or news…” And, “The Friday is Black Friday in Thanksgiving week, so I’m calling to Maggie because Stella… Stella and Jackie is Korean girls. They homestay in Maggie’s house, so I’m calling to Maggie in Thursday, ‘I’m going tomorrow with Jackie and Stella?’ ”
BICS vs. CALP is always a useful thing for me to think about. It seems like Bee is developing BICS very well, and that it’s the CALP that he has very little of and still really struggles with. This makes perfect sense, of course, since, although he studied English in Korea, he has only been in the U.S. (and in an English-speaking school!) for about 3 1/2 months.
At the moment, I’m unsure about how to use all of this information to plan our next (and last!) lesson, but I think our class on Tuesday will help me to be able to decide what to do.
It was ironic that I had to do an oral language assessment with Bee today, because he came into the room talking and didn’t seem to want to stop! I asked him how his Thanksgiving break was, and he told me it was boring, but then launched into a detailed description of his trip to the mall on Black Friday, asking me some questions about it as well. He seemed fascinated by this American tradition. After that, it was no problem at all to ask him to talk some more while I recorded him for the assessment. With the recorder running, he talked for a solid ten minutes about Thanksgiving break and exactly why it was so boring, and what all he had done, including his escapade to the mall in Rochester on Black Friday. By the time we were finished with the conversational part of today, which I had thought would take about five minutes, maybe ten, it was already 8:20. I’ll post my analysis of his oral language soon, but for now I just want to say that after looking at some sample assessments in class, I was impressed by Bee’s ability. He is very easy to understand (at least I think so) and talks freely, with hardly any hesitation. Sometimes pronunciation and inadequate vocabulary trips up the listener a little bit, but for the most part he is very good at making himself understood, and he’s a master at circumlocution. : )
After the oral language “assessment” we worked on writing, which I just did not do very well with yet again. I really wanted to work with him on adding richer detail to his writing, rather than just the minutiae of his every activity during the day. So I asked him to pull out his writing journal, and he started a new entry, which was my mistake, I think, in letting him do this. It seems that, to work on a writing skill that is something other than the initial brainstorming of ideas, you need to have a piece of writing already written, so that you can learn the desired skill through revision of it. Starting a piece of writing from scratch is too hard and too big of a task to focus on much more than idea development.
I had the writing lesson plan that I had written for TESOL Methods, but I did not want to use it because it seemed too discontinuous, too unrelated, to anything we had done before. However, even if it was out of the blue, I think the structure and outcome of that lesson might have been better than my haphazard attempt to just teach him how to add description…somehow… The sad part is that the lesson was even relevant to my goal – it was about similes, which are a great way of adding rich descriptive details to writing. If I had the chance, I would love to do that lesson with him next week, since now the idea that “we’re working on adding description to your writing” is somewhat established, and I would know to choose a piece of writing he has already drafted in order to work on it. However, next week might be the last week I will see him, and I believe we still need to do some oral language work.
The one good thing that came out of today was that I learned some more things that Bee is passionate about – clothes (which I discovered through his story about Black Friday, and which I should have guessed from the way he’s dressed every day), and food! He gave me a detailed description of the Korean food he made with some friends over Thanksgiving break, so I asked him if he cooks a lot at home in Korea. He said that yes, he does cook for his family a lot and really enjoys it. He said he cooks Korean food for his friends here in the dorm too. Ultimately he decided to do his writing journal on this topic, which I encouraged, trying a little bit to get him away from the diary-like entries he seems to always write. However, this was a more difficult sort of writing for him. Rather than simply relating events in chronological order, he had to brainstorm ideas of what he wanted to talk about within his topic, and then organize those ideas, which was very difficult for him, and which I did not do the greatest job of helping him with. I tried to help him make a concept map, but maybe something more like an outline, or maybe both, would have been better.
Next week might be the last time we see each other. I’m hoping I can assemble what I’ve been learning about him and about teaching in order to make the last day a really good one.
I was a little frustrated with how today went, just because I was unsure with what exactly what to do today and how to help Bee with things. My plan was that we were going to do one more word sort with long vowel spelling patterns (long ‘u’), a word sort contrasting ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds, and then we would work on writing.
The long ‘u’ word sort went fine. Bee wasn’t paying attention quite as well today at first, because he had a cold and wasn’t feeling very good, so I tried not to press him for things too much. He did much better on the r/l word sort than I had expected. It seems that when he’s concentrating on it, he has no problem distinguishing between the sounds. It’s just that in the context of normal conversation or reading aloud, he’s having to pay attention to so many other things, so he mixes them up. He did consistently have trouble, though, with words that have both ‘l’ and ‘r’ in them, such as “ruler” and “relationship.” He tends to turn the r’s into l’s in words like that. I’m considering practicing words like this with him a little more next time; however, this is also something that I don’t want to push too much, because he seemed a little bit embarrassed at having me point out that he was not pronouncing things correctly (I never actually said that to him, of course, but I think he figured that out, just from me having him do the sort).
After the word sorts, he started working on his writing journal, in which he has to write three entries on three different topics of his choosing every week. (The entries have to be a paragraph or two in length). He really wanted to go to the library and use the computer to write these, but I had him handwrite the one he was working on with me today, so that he could practice his grammar and spelling without the computer’s help. He wrote about his day yesterday, when he had been sick and was allowed to miss his classes, which he described as a great day, and concluded by saying that he wanted to be sick again! I guess that’s somewhat typical, but I think it’s also just more evidence that school is very hard and stresses him out.
His writing very much resembled the student writing sample that we looked at in class – detailed, but perhaps in the wrong way. It read like a chronological diary entry. He described where he was and what he had done at what time, how long he had slept, etc., using statements like, “It was boring,” “It was good,” “I was so happy,” etc. Also, he could hardly write at first for being so concerned with grammar and spelling (especially grammar). I wanted (and tried) to work with him on word choice and voice by helping him add some richer detail and flesh out his ideas a little more, but I was very unsure how to teach that, and the whole time he just wanted me to go through and correct all the grammar, and he was constantly worried about not having enough time for that, the more time we spent on other things. He told me that the class that he writes these for is “Writing Skills,” and he gets graded on grammar, so I was torn between trying to help him become a better writer, in all of the ways we had talked about, and helping him with conventions so as to improve his grade, which is what he really wanted. In the end we went through and did some grammar things, specifically working at putting his writing in past tense, since he tends to write in the present progressive.
I had tried to draw on his native language a little bit, asking him about whether he added a lot of detail when he wrote in Korean. His response was basically a surprised, “Well, yeah,” (of course, silly teacher!). I tried to suggest that if he felt he could add more detail in Korean, he could use some Korean in his English writing, at least at first, to help get ideas flowing, but then he launched into an explanation of Korean versus English grammar and how that wouldn’t work because the two languages were totally incompatible. I’d be curious to read a translation of some of his writing in Korean, to see what his uninhibited writing is like. Somehow, I bet it would be pretty impressive.
Inspired by the reading from Samway, which described a researcher and an ESL student writing letters back and forth, sharing their own writing with each other, I had decided to write my own “writing journal” while Bee wrote his, for him to read later. I tried to model the kind of description and detail I wanted to teach him how to use, all the while trying to keep it simple enough for him to understand, but that backfired, because he got frustrated trying to read it and said he couldn’t understand, which is not at all what I meant to have happen.
I had meant to do some connecting of parts to the whole today and have him find some words with the long ‘u’ vowel, as well as words beginning with ‘r’ and ‘l’ in his own writing, but with everything else that was going through my mind, I kept forgetting, and we finally ran out of time – all in all a somewhat unsatisfying day for me, in terms of my teaching. Next time, I’m not sure what we’ll do yet. He could definitely still use some word work, I think, so maybe we’ll still do another word sort. However, I think we should spend most of the time on his writing, because part of the problem today was that there was not enough time (only about half an hour) left for it. Between now and then, I’d like to learn better how to teach some of the writing skills he needs to work on.
Today was a good word sort day. We started out by reviewing long and short vowel sounds from the week before. Bee remembered these sounds pretty well. One thing I asked him to do was to come up with one or two words representing each sound, which he had a little bit of trouble with, mixing up some of the short vowel sounds in particular, but he was able to correct himself almost all of the time by thinking about how they were spelled (he did that all on his own). He told me that there are no “long” and “short” vowel sounds in Korean.
For today’s lesson, then, we did spelling sorts. We did a sort that contrasted short ‘a’ spellings with the _a_e spelling for long ‘a,’ and then we did the same type of sort with short and long ‘i’. These sorts (from the Words Their Way website) were good in that they had pairs of words that differed only in the vowel sound, such as “cap” and “cape,” “mad” and “made,” “rid” and “ride,” etc. For these sorts, I just handed him the words and asked him to sort them however he thought was best, and he did a great job. He told me he had sorted the words by sound, and when I asked him about a couple of words, he was very sure about where they belonged. I had him write the completed sorts down in his notebook, as well as a rule telling what the “e” does at the end of these words. He wrote down, as best as I can remember, “Spelling e change the sound. Short vowel go to long vowel.” He understood it pretty well.
The next thing I wanted to do with him was to look at variations of long vowel spellings. He seemed to be very familiar with various spellings for long ‘a’, so we skipped that sort and did the long ‘o’ sort, comparing the _o_e and “oa” spellings. As he was writing down the two spellings for long ‘o’ in his notebook, he had another one of those “aha” moments, with it showing all over his face, which is always great. He said, “Oh, I have a question. So, I think when there are two vowels, it change the sound.” I told him that was right, and he wrote in his notebook, from what I can remember, “Two vowels change the sound. Long o spelling e and spelling oa.”
After the word sorts, we did some reading. I had brought a children’s novel from the curriculum lab that had to do with some of the things he had been learning in world history, but I wasn’t thrilled with the book, and I had never read it, so I asked him if there was anything he would rather read instead. He pulled out his health textbook, which he had to study for a quiz. We read about personality profiles and addictions. (Just for the record, this textbook was much easier for him than his world history textbook – I wonder if that’s the most difficult one). I tried to stop him at different points to help him think about what he was reading, and whether he understood it, which he seemed to. When we came to a good stopping point, I asked him to find me some words in the text that had short or long vowel sounds in them, which he was able to do. Then I pointed out one word that had the _o_e and one word that had the “oa” spellings we had looked at, which prompted an, “Ohhhhh,” from Bee. Connecting parts to the whole seems to work! Imagine that. 🙂
Next week I’m hoping we can review some of these things and then move on to long ‘u’ spellings and the long ‘e’ trees. I’ll continue my search for a good book for him to read so he can hopefully see some of these words in context again. Also, at some point we really do have to do a lesson on the ‘r’ versus ‘l’ sound. Today he told me that he “rost” his iphone, and he consistently referred to “wrong and short” vowel sounds through the whole hour. If I can find a good word sort, that will be in the plans for next week as well.
Today we tried word sorts for the first time. We started with the picture sorts for long and short vowel sounds, which I was worried was going to be too easy for Bee, but it definitely was not. When I was introducing the first sort to him (which contrasted long and short “a” sounds), at first he told me that he didn’t know what a vowel was, which scared me for a second, but then I realized he probably just wasn’t recognizing the word. When I wrote the word down, followed by all of the vowels, he recognized it right away.
It did seem that he had legitimately never heard of the concept of long and short vowels in English before – those words, as well as the symbols, were new to him, but he caught on very quickly.
Unfortunately, I think the first sort we did was the hardest, which was surprising since I think the two “a” sounds are supposed to be the most contrastive of all of them. He didn’t seem to be able to hear the difference in the two vowels at all on the first try; he sorted things all over the place. We spent a lot of time reading the words together and moving things around to different categories before he finally got them all right. Also, this first time, I used the spellings of the words to help him sort them, since he already knew how to spell most of them. That was very helpful to him. Then we did the sort again without reference to how the words were spelled. Finally, I put all of the pictures away and said the words out loud for Bee to tell me which category they belonged in. By that point, he was doing very well. (I think part of the initial problem was that he could hear the difference in the vowels in words like “cat” and “can,” and “train” and “whale,” which confused him; at one point he had actually identified all of the nasals and put them together, which was great).
We spent maybe 20-30 minutes on this first sort, but then I took out a new one (long and short “o”), and he breezed through that one, as well as all of the rest, including “i” and “e,” which I think are supposed to be the hardest to hear. Maybe the whole idea just took some getting used to.
I brought him a notebook and had him write all of the sorts down, and he learned some new words in the process. This also was revealing. I helped him with spelling a good bit; he seemed to want to spell all of the long vowels according to the silent-e pattern, such as “frute” and “sute.” He also tried to spell “cheese” as “chease,” right after I had told him how to spell “bead.” Therefore, the next thing we work on will definitely have to be long vowel spelling patterns. I definitely don’t want to waste any time, but I think I also might want to do some sorts that contrast short versus long vowel spelling patterns with silent e, just to make sure he has that down first.
One other piece of information I learned was that one hour is too long to spend on word sorts alone, unless perhaps it’s taking a longer time than expected to investigate a certain pattern. I think spending about thirty minutes today would have been good. As it turned out, we spent about 45 minutes doing word sorts, because Bee had to leave a little early, and I think he was tired of it by then. Next week I think I will plan a reading lesson as well. My ideal book for Bee would be a really interesting chapter book at about a 6th or 7th grade level, with some well-done pictures, that has to do with Korea. He loves to talk about his country. Today I was asking him about whether it gets as cold in Korea as it does here, and he lit up while talking about that.
I am perhaps not doing the best job connecting the literacy work we’re doing with things that are meaningful to him. Actually, I feel like I’m not doing a great job of connecting with him in general. With us it’s all work, while it seems that other tutors are developing good friendships with their students, even having meals together in the cafeteria on the weekends. But I think that sort of thing is harder (or maybe not even appropriate or necessary?) in a mixed-gender situation. Any input on this would be greatly appreciated 🙂 Maybe I could tag along sometime when some of the other tutors are having meals with groups of academy students…
Today with Bee I did a spelling inventory. My plan was to start with the Upper Level Spelling Inventory and then switch to the Elementary Spelling Inventory if necessary (if he misspelled five of the first eight words), which is exactly what happened. Switching to the Elementary Spelling Inventory, he spelled 12 words correctly out of 25, scoring 44 out of a possible 62 feature points. Analysis of the spelling inventory shows that he has a good command of initial and final consonants, short vowels, digraphs, and blends. The first trouble spot that came up was long vowels, which places his developmental level between the early and middle within word pattern stage. It was to be expected that he would have trouble with the features listed after long vowels in the inventory, such as other vowels, unaccented final syllables, harder suffixes, and bases and roots, and he did in fact have trouble with all of those. However, he also showed mastery of inflected endings and syllable junctures, which are higher level features, showing that despite general trends, these developmental stages truly do not always progress in order. That said, I will try to focus on his trouble spots using word sorting activities these next couple weeks. I want to start with some of the most basic word sorts in the within word pattern stage, such as the sorts that contrast long and short vowel sounds, just to get a sense of where he’s at with his word knowledge. Then we’ll move on to long vowel spelling patterns. I will bring some of those sorts with me as well this week, in case the beginning ones are too easy for him.
The spelling inventory did not take nearly as long as I had anticipated, so we ended up having a lot of extra time this week, for which I had not planned anything. I started by just asking him to write me a paragraph (a narrative) about a trip he had taken with his family. He did a great job. We looked over his writing after he was finished, and I tried to pull out one or two of the bigger issues in his writing that we could sort of form a lesson around. We looked mostly at using the past tense. He knew how to form the past tense, even when some of the verbs we looked at had irregular forms, yet he hadn’t used it in his writing, which I think is indicative of a particular stage of learning a new language feature – you understand it, can recognize it, and can even apply it when prompted, but do not yet use it spontaneously.
Following this little exercise, I gave him the option of continuing with this sort of a lesson or having me help him with his homework. He chose to have me help him with his homework, which was, somewhat appropriately, his writing journal. We went to the library for this so that he could type it up on one of the computers there. I was glad that I got to watch him do this, because it was very revealing. I had been somewhat shocked at his spelling inventory, because I had looked at some of his (typed) writing before, and it did not seem like he should have had that much trouble with what seemed to me like simple words, compared to words I had seen spelled correctly in his other writing. What I failed to realize, of course, was that Microsoft Word corrects all of his spelling errors. There are a lot of words that it auto-corrects as he types, so that he may not even realize he has spelled them wrong. Capitalization is auto-corrected as well. The misspelled words that Word doesn’t auto-correct get underlined in red, and when Bee sees that marking there, he right-clicks the word to bring up a menu of spelling suggestions, and he simply chooses the one that’s at the top of the list. No editing skills or word knowledge required. Maybe students should be required to hand-write rough drafts of all of their papers in school…
I must say though, I was very impressed by the content of his writing. He gets to choose the topics for the entries in his writing journals, and one of the topics he picked was “The Grounding.” He wrote about being grounded by his dorm parents for the past two weeks because of breaking a campus rule. He concluded by saying that he thought grounding was the best rule in all of Houghton Academy, because it was an awful punishment, and he would certainly make sure to never do anything that would get him grounded again. Maybe he was just being extra reflective because he was doing a writing assignment, but I was very impressed by that judgment he made of the purpose of a rule and what makes it effective, especially having been somebody who was punished by it.
Also, he got an A- on the essay he wrote for his World History class (mentioned in the last post). He seemed to think that his teacher gave him that grade out of pity, but I read a little bit of it, and it seemed pretty good to me, especially in terms of content. Maybe he was able to get some extra help with it. I was glad to see that he got a good grade on it.