Saturday, March 17, 2012

Babbles and Confidence

It's the start of spring and that awesome time of year when my students begin to "blossom". I feel relieved this month; my students are finally showing progress. At the same time, I'm finding that I've left some holes in my teaching OR that my students have not fully grasped a skill OR that they "forgot" OR... all of the above.

My students, English Language Learners, have varying levels of English proficiency. The typical reading or math lesson takes us double (and triple) time; I need to pre-teach vocabulary, develop prior knowledge, and spend lots of time clarifying text. I can't get through any kind of lesson without stopping often to make sure my kids are "getting it". We're often weeks behind the other classes.

So this week, during a mini-lesson on alliteration, and after we looked at (and played with) several examples from authentic text and lots of tongue-twisters and trabalenguas in Spanish, I stopped to review the difference between sounds and letters. I wrote "Cassy catches coffee quickly in a cardboard cup" on the board, and asked the class -

"What do you notice about this sentence?" No reaction. (OK, I'll ask it in a different way.)

"CCCassy cccatches cccoffee qqqquickly in a cccardboard cccup. Do you hear anything interesting?"

Blank stares. (That's OK, I'll do "wait time".) Five seconds, ten... fif-

"I know!" one of my buddies calls out. "They all have the same letters!"

"And those letters are...?" I prompt.

Crickets chirp. Five seconds, ten...

Someone's raising her hand - YES! "Tell me charming lady! What do you see? What do you hear?"

"The alphabet!" with a huge smile on her face.

"The alphabet. Yes, the alphabet." (Well, no, that's not what I was asking, but I'll go with it, see if it gets us where we need to go.) "The alphabet has two kinds of letters, and those letters have different kinds of sounds. Can anyone tell me what kinds of letters are in the alphabet?"

Sssshhhhhh. (Geez kids, now you're quiet?)

A hand shoots up. "Yes sir! What kinds of letters are in the alphabet?"

"Upper ones and lower ones!"

"Well... " (I don't want to discourage him, but - )

"Small ones and big ones!" he tries again.

Oh no. Really? (My face is probably changing now. I. MUST. REMAIN. CALM.)

One of my "top" reading group kids raises his hand. Aww. I bet he was waiting to give his classmates a chance. "Babbles," he says.

"Babbles?" I ask. "Babbles?" I repeat. I don't get it.

Another hand waves. I call on him, silently hoping the fire drill will go off.

"And confidence. Babbles and confidence."

Yep. Babbles and confidence.