I'm always learning. As a teacher, it's important that I remember to learn from my students, and ask them to learn from each other.
Student's Ways of Thinking
Through my classes at Michigan State, as well as my experience in classrooms, I have learned that student's don't always get the 'right' answer. However, when teachers phrase questions that don't have one correct answer, students think through problems more, and they become engaged and invested in the lesson. Instead of asking students to factor a polynomial, ask them how they might do so, and why. Instead of asking students what the definition of dystopia is, ask them how they could explore the nuances of the term and then explain them to someone else. The latter questions and explorations offer ways for teachers to understand how students are thinking about academic concepts, but encourages and values the ways of thinking students bring into the classroom. My students tend to do better when I ask these types of questions, and they tend to participate and invest in each other.
Importance of Students' Home Languages
Terri (not her real name), one of the students I've tutored, was a freshman in a high school ESL Algebra 1 class at the time. She, her brother, and her two cousins were from Tanzania, having only been in the United States for about two years. I worked with all four of them on basic algebra concepts, such as quadratic equations, graphing, radicals, and solving formulas. As we worked, I asked all of them to explain to each other in their home language what we were doing. Even though I don't understand their first language, I could see, based on the work they did along with each verbal set, whether they were understanding the problem or not. Whenever I asked them to explain it to me in English, though, they did not do very well.
- It's important to use students' first language(s) to solidify concepts.
- Embedding a student's first language within a lesson helps scaffold otherwise difficult lessons.
- Valuing a student's first language as constructive and important shows respect for your students' language, culture, and person.