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Knowing the Learner

This past week, I tested two different kinds of learners. One didn’t know much English at all, and the other, super fluent.

The way things work with English Language Learners is that we have to test everyone who has something other than English on the Home Language Survey. In this way, we make sure we hit everyone entitled to service.

There was no question about the first. It was simple.

The second, though…

So this student spoke practically as though English were the first and only language at home. Turns out that it was a bilingual household. But the primary language, for school and home, was Hebrew.

So what does this mean?

A little research brought me to this page, which explains the differences between English and Hebrew. Handwriting? Really poor. The student even thought so. Anxiety surfaced around spelling issues. I said just practice was needed. Not to worry. I’m not going to look at spelling.

The relative who was at the meeting also got to glance at the writing and was sure this student would need ELL services.

But it’s a good thing I didn’t try to pass judgement before having read it. Even though the handwriting looked very rough, the words chosen were appropriate for on-grade-level writing. Words like justice and representative and excellent. And text wasn’t copied.

It was beautiful.

And it shows how easy it is to judge without knowing all the facts.

And it highlights how important it is to know your students well. To know that what this student’s issue was was not expressive language at all, but rather the fact that the language of school was one that was curvy and is written from right to left. English is composed a lot more of sticks–straight lines that cross each other. And if you’re not used to writing left to right, well, that has to be really disconcerting.

So… One more tip: Know your students’ first language. It can help keep us all on the right track!


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