In recent years, Baltimore’s student population has grown more and more diverse, with large increases in the numbers of Latino/a students most predominantly, but also with growing numbers of students from all ethnic backgrounds and nationalities.
My school, in addition to having the largest overall student body for each of the past years during my quadrimular teaching experience there, also has by far the largest population of English Language Learners (ELLs) of any high school in Baltimore City (or, for that matter, any school at all in the city). We have over thirty countries of origin represented and over twenty languages spoken at our school. This is in part due to an accident of geography: Patterson is located in Southeast Baltimore, which is where many immigrant families are concentrated. It is also self-reinforcing: since we have more ESOL teachers than other schools, families of ELLs are more likely to send their children here where we have supports in place for the students to learn English and succeed in school. Not that our school is perfect and all our ELL students succeed, but we can provide supports that other schools–with very few ELLs–have the resources, connections, or knowledge to provide.
This has been a learning experience for me, to go back and rethink my teaching strategies to figure out how to make math and engineering accessible to English Language Learners. This year, I have very much appreciated the ideas and support provided by #ELLCHAT on Twitter, which takes place every Monday evening from 9-10pm Eastern. Earlier this year, conversations I participated in included how to create a welcoming environment in the classroom, and how to support students’ first languages & promote bi- or multi-lingualism.
#ELLCHAT has provided me with a community of educators, some of whom are experts at working with ELL students, and others of whom are going through the same struggles I am. I always feel welcome to ask questions, even if they’re not 100% related to that week’s topic, and know that I will receive some great ideas in response. I have shared my first steps at how I teach ELLs (learning how to say hello in each student’s first language, accepting sketches of object designs instead of written descriptions to prove understanding of key ideas in design for manufacturing). And I’ve received many good suggestions for pushing both myself and my ELL students further in the math and engineering classroom.
This evening, the topic of #ELLCHAT was parent/teacher conferences with families of ELLs. This is timely, since this Thursday is our parent/teacher conference night for report card distribution. Much of the discussion centered around translators, either provided by the school, or an adult trusted by the family. I believe our school district offers to translate report cards into Spanish, but not other languages. And I know my school has access to translators for more languages in addition to Spanish, and has used them for family-school meetings in the past. I guess I felt as a teacher that I had less to contribute to tonight’s discussion (both in dialogue and in questions), since so much of the discussion was about school-based solutions and not at the teacher level. Still, I picked up a few tips that I can use at report card night for parents of both ELL and non-ELL students who come. Plus, I was introduced to a few web resources for ELL family conferences, which I have not yet had time to read through: one, two, three.
I look forward to next week’s chat, about what kinds of support for students’ first language should be available, and to more chats in the future!