I had the best Math lesson with my 2 “newcomer” boys today. After 4 months trying to get them excited about learning, something clicked.
Both boys arrived in the state within the last 6 months, having no proficiency with English; both boys speak Spanish with their families; both had interrupted schooling before entering our second grade. Neither boy can read or write in their first language, nor in their second. Neither boy is fluent with basic math facts; actually, when they started. school with me, neither boy could count past 10.
It has been a struggle to help them learn English and catch up with Math at the same time. We struggled most of all with school appropriate behaviors – “No, you may not run in the classroom,” “No, you may not play with blocks right now,” “No, you may not climb on the desk.” I began to hate the word NO as much as they did. But slowly, we figured out how to add more YES to each day.
In my worry about the progress of these two, I connected with our Literacy Coach and she made time in her schedule to meet with the boys before they go off to their Language Development teacher. Our coach, happily, is a native Spanish speaker so could provide much more first language support than I could with my stuttered words and phrases. Our goal was to identify where the gaps were and find a way to fill them.
Working with them is exhausting. One is in need of constant praise and encouragement, the other is in constant motion and would much rather be playing. We’ve settled on a combination of sticker chart encouragement, time with learning games on the computer, and breaks to draw and color to help them get through the grueling work of learning in a language they have not yet mastered at even the most basic level.
Today, we were working with coin values. While the rest of the class tackled story problems with money, the boys and I sat together with plastic coins and learned their names and values. “Count 5 pennies. How many coins do you have? How much money do you have?” A round of high fives for accurate work and on to nickels, then dimes, then quarters. We traded 5 pennies for 1 nickel, we lined up 4 quarters to make one dollar, we counted out 20 cents. High fives, big smiles, and a sense of accomplishment ended our day.
These two boys are wonderful. They are thoughtful, kind, and funny. School is not their favorite place to be, but now that they know the drill, they do their best to follow rules. I love having them in class, but have been really frustrated by what I saw as their lack of progress. Today they helped me remember that we all work at our own pace, and even when it seems someone is not listening, they hear. They have been mulling things over all this time, and today were able to draw on old lessons to learn new things.
Today, I felt like their teacher.
And that has been the best gift I got so far this week.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, all.