Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Spelling & the Bilingual Learner

Don't forget about our giveaway of Blooming Writers/El escritor floreciente! You can submit comments until noon CST this Friday!

I received this note a couple of years ago from one of my former second-graders. At the time, he was in sixth grade and had been in US schools for five years.

I was DELIGHTED to hear from this very sweet and smart young man! The first few times that I read the note, I simply focused on the meaning:

To Miss Grover
How are you? Remember when I used to read Green Eggs and Ham. I would like to see you really soon. Oh, and I'm still really organized. I still want to meet Amity [my daughter].
Sincerely, [student's name].

Gradually, my attention turned from the meaning to the mechanics as I realized that this was not a note from a second-grader. This was a note from a middle-schooler and one that had been one of my brightest students in second grade. There were some errors that jumped off the page because they are not age-appropriate for a typical 12-year-old:

- justo - We find this type of error cute when reading the writing of primary students. Yet, I can guess that a typical middle-school English teacher or any other content teacher is not going to have a clue what Juan meant with this word. I would love to see more samples of his writing to see if this is an error that appears often or if this was a one time slip.

- orgonaizde - A primary teacher would give this error a lot of credit for getting in most of the sounds. But, again, would someone who is not accustomed to reading the writing of an ELL be able to read this word? What makes me the saddest is that he failed to use his #1 resource, his native language, to help him spell this word. If he had used the cognate organizado and simply changed the last letter, he would have spelled the word perfectly!

-sensirly - Here is another example of failing to use that native language as a resource. If he would have used sinceramente and understood that -mente is usually the equivalent suffix of -ly, he could have come so much closer to the correct spelling.

Please understand that I am NOT criticizing Juan nor am I criticizing his sixth grade teacher. If anything, I want to go back and have words with his second grade teacher!!! :) This note was a wake-up call for me that we have to do a better job teaching spelling to our bilingual learners. Being biliterate should be an asset to spelling instead of a hindrance but we have to teach students how to use what they know. Too often, our spelling instruction remains compartmentalized within each language.

Next Wednesday, we are going to start a series about improving spelling for our bilingual students. Stay tuned for free printables and lessons in Spanish and English!

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