I teach second grade at a dual language school focusing on international communication. Demographically, the majority of my students are of Hispanic and Black descent. Many of the students at John C. Daniels speak Spanish as their dominant language. It is through our dual language program that students learn English or Spanish as a second language. As a result, in the early grades, many students’ oral language skills in their second language, more so than in their primary language, are far below grade level. When I formally tested my student’s oral language level based on the MONDO oral language assessment, I found that some of my students scored at a Kindergarten level. Students at this level have difficulty following simple instructions and understanding texts read to them. The majority of my students scored at a beginning First Grade level, meaning they have difficulty comprehending texts above a DRA level of 6 read in class. Only a few of my students scored on a second grade level, in part because many of my students learned to read in Spanish. I found these results alarming.
How can I, as the teacher, force a curriculum onto these students who have not yet acquired the necessary fundamental skills to understand and tackle it successfully? My answer to this question is that I can’t and we as teachers need to make an adjustment in our teaching to account for this. Much of the curriculum we are expected to follow is intended for students who are on grade level. Based on the assessment data I have for my classroom- which is that the majority of students fall below grade level in oral language, leading also to their deficiencies in both reading and writing- the second grade curriculum proves to be too advanced. Many of the books have vocabulary and structure that are too complex for their academic level. I see this a lot in my classroom where my students are able to read at a higher level than they can speak and function. One example of this is a student in my class who is able to read at a DRA level 12, yet his oral language level is so low that he can’t structurally put a sentence together well enough to ask me if he can use the bathroom. Another example I see in students who have low language skills is that they “look” like fluent readers when you listen to them read, but when it comes down to comprehension questions and being able to retell what they have just read, they can not do it. They do not have the language skills or background to support a clear understanding of the story. Much of this discrepancy can be addressed if we as teachers take the time to focus on formal language instruction. We need to remember that you need to be able to speak and listen in order to read, write, and think.
Storytelling is perfect strategy to use with the students at my school because it also fits in with our international communication magnet theme and will honor the students’ cultural roots and individuality. The students at my school have rich heritages and it is through this unit that they will be able to express themselves and learn about the diverse backgrounds of their fellow classmates. Because this unit is focused on second language learners, my partner teacher who teaches the Spanish component will be working with the students who are learning Spanish as their second language, while I am working with the students who are learning English as their second language.