A ninth-grade science teacher struggles to engage his English Language Learners
David takes a sip of coffee, sits down at his desk, and begins to think. He taught Honors Biology for many years, but is now teaching regular ninth-grade Science for the first time. David’s students are ten English Language Learners, who speak Spanish, Creole, and Amharic, the primary language of Ethiopia. Between his students’ low test scores, fragmented educational experiences, and language barriers, David is struggling to convey the course content. He is frustrated, as he is accustomed to working with students who absorb material quickly and who respond to him with challenging questions and keen insights. In contrast, the students in this class stare out of the window, put their heads on their desks, and to his dismay, talk to each other in their home languages.
David’s daily routine involves giving a lecture about the chapter of the science textbook that students were supposed to read for homework. While he lectures, he points out the pages in the book that coincide with the material he is presenting. However, most of the students come to class without having read the assigned chapter, while others say they read the material but did not understand it. Expecting that his students do not read because they are unable or not motivated to understand the material, David creates and distributes chapter outlines. He makes sure that he uses simple language to summarize the chapters and hopes his students will glean something from his effort, but does not expect much. David is at a loss as to what to do and is on the verge of giving up on this group. He tells himself that he is not a reading teacher and he can’t force these students to do their reading.
As David takes another sip of his coffee, he reflects on the class he just taught. He sighs as he remembers the way Samuel stared at the book with no sign of comprehension and the way Jose and Luis talked to each other in Spanish as he lectured. In addition, although he recalls that Tamika and Yessinia tried to participate in the whole-class discussion, he knows they were not grasping the material based on their most recent exam. David shakes his head and wonders what he should do.
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