Friday, September 14, 2012

Where there's a need, there's a will...PART 1

Don't worry!  I know this is my teaching blog and not my family blog BUT sometimes I just can't separate the two.  There are just too many parallels between the learning going on with a two-year-old and a four-year-old and the learning that I see in the classrooms of bilingual learners.
Today, I want to talk about the four-year-old pictured above.  While she can have her silly moments (as shown above), telling her she is "silly" is not really a compliment to her.  She prefers to be "right"!

From a VERY young age, we have known that this girl deeply wants to be independent, figure out things on her own, and not make mistakes.  Some would say she takes after her mother! :)

All of these desires combine to cause the same little girl (and possibly her mother) to be very cautious when trying new things.  If she (we) are not going to do it well, is it even worth trying?

For example, as a bilingual teacher, I had always envisioned raising bilingual children.  When my oldest was a baby, my Motherese was rooted in my native English.  As she got older, I began to try working with her in Spanish.  Even at her young age, she was quick to resist.  Why was her mom purposefully speaking to her in a way that she could not understand when there was clearly an easier way to communicate? several years and I have one very monolingual four-year-old who has shown no interest in learning a second language...

until the past few weeks...

when she began spending one day a week at a friend's house who has a Spanish-speaking babysitter.  Her little friend, also a native English speaker, has been with this babysitter since she was one-year-old.  My daughter has been observing her friend and caregiver interact with one another in Spanish.

Guess who asked me to teach her Spanish last night at dinner?  Yep!  My sweet little Miss I-don't-want-to-try-it-if-I-can't-do-it-right-the-first-time has found a reason to make an exception to her personality!

Okay, so how does this apply to your classroom?  I am guessing that you have at least one student with a similar personality to my daughter's (and mine).  Some possible indicators:

  • Does he score Advanced on a reading proficiency test but is still rated as a Beginning English speaker?
  • Does she only use the minimum social language required to communicate for fear of making mistakes with the academic language?
  • Does he comfortably speak in his second language in one-to-one conversations with other students but won't speak in L2 in front of the entire class?
  • Will she only check out library books in her first language?
  • Does he only want to create Writing Workshop pieces in his first language?
If the child doesn't seem to have the WILL to take the next step, we must create an authentic NEED that will give them a reason to make some exceptions.  One of the best ways to create a need is to provide an environment the student will want to be a part of and where the L2 must be used.  

I have found a few ways to do this in my own classroom.  Pairing up with a monolingual classroom at another grade level gave my students a reason to select library books in their L2 to share with those students.  Writing a thank-you letter to our monolingual PE teacher to thank her for a fun field day gave my students a reason to write in English.  Asking students to think, pair, and share during English lessons gave students the opportunity to practice their L2 with just one person before being asked to speak in front of the class.

I would love to know ways that you create authentic needs for your students to want to communicate in a second language!  And, I will keep you posted on our slow process of becoming a more bilingual family!


  1. This is a fabulous post. Great ideas and I love your honesty about your own children and your actual experiences. Beautiful ! Thank you!

  2. I have not children yet. But I would love raising them bilingual...
    I totally agree about your creating NEEDS aspect. I always try to do writing projects with other schools so my kids feel the necessity of writing in their L2.


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