Sunday, September 7, 2008

School shoes shined up and ready to go!

Tomorrow will be the start of a full week of school. It will be grueling and intense. The body and mind are still in summer mode; my feet fight the confines of real shoes, begging for flip-flops, and my mind just wants to sit back with an iced coffee and a book.

I did say though, how excited I was to start school again. And I am. I've got a class of 18 beautiful, eager kids from Argentina, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Peru, and Puerto Rico.

They've all been in this country a little over a year, so they have plenty of what we refer to in my field as BICS or Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills. In other words, they have the kind of social and survival English that develops in a couple of years. It will be my job this school year to help them develop their CALP or Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, which we understand can take from five to seven years.

BICS and CALP are a large part of what bilingual and ESL teachers take into account while developing lessons. To the untrained ear, any of my students may appear to have already acquired enough English to function in a general program class. These students, however, are still developing necessary academic language, the language of the content areas.

It's one thing to be able to say, for example "I went to my friend's house this weekend" and another to have the language to express "Precipitation is the term for the falling, condensed water molecules, which come down as rain, snow, sleet, or hail--depending on conditions in the atmosphere." I know that when I see my students tomorrow morning, they'll be able to tell me in English what they did this past weekend. I also know they don't quite have the English vocabulary to discuss Scientific Method and safety, which I must teach this week.

Luckily, I'm prepared to make it happen. Eighteen years as a bilingual teacher has made me examine constantly what I believe about culture, language, learning, good teaching, and expectations.

I'm still learning. I'm still excited. I'm ready to put my school shoes on.

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