I still remember Daniela’s* first day. She started as a third-grader and was brand new to our school. She had attended school in Mexico before arriving in our small Wisconsin town with her family, but communicating in both English and Spanish was a challenge for her. Starting at a new school is hard enough, but starting without the ability to easily communicate can be an overwhelming experience. It was my job as an English language teacher to ensure she was supported to learn and thrive alongside her fellow students. That meant making sure Daniela experienced grade-level content and high expectations.
Working closely with her classroom teacher, we began to introduce new texts and skills. We started with some basic letter sounds using a song and TPR (total physical response) and introducing a few sight words that were repeated frequently in text. While reading aloud, the focus was on meaning-making using visuals and building background to have Daniela hear the words out loud before seeing them in print. The hours were often challenging and painstaking, but we believed Daniela could succeed if provided the opportunities to do so. We utilized proven English language learner strategies such as pair or group conversation activities and reading tasks with a focus on vocabulary presented in contextalongside high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials with built-in supports. With time, Daniela began to make progress.
Fast forward three years, and Daniela is now in the sixth grade. Each year, she has continued to experience grade-level texts as well as the supports she needs to access quality content. Whenever I see her in the hallway, she comes up to me with a big smile and tells me about her day. She is writing and speaking in English. She is learning with her peers at grade level. Having known her from day one, these are huge strides and accomplishments.
Daniela is only one unique student among so many unique students in our district. Over half of our students are English language learners and each one brings different perspectives and experiences. All are eager to learn and all face different challenges in accessing the grade-level content necessary to help them develop and grow.