I will preface today’s piece by reminding readers about something I mentioned in a previous post. I am a worrier.
I find solace in admitting this, hoping there are others like me, but I just can’t help it. Every year, around this time, I get this burning sensation on my left shoulder blade each time I drive into school. It lasts for about an hour, but once I get into my daily routine, it dissipates.
A new bottle of TUMS stands ready next to the empty economy sized bottle still rolling around on my dining room table. I guess I could attribute it to my penchant for all things spicy, but I know better.
Okay, okay! Enough! I know exactly what it is: it’s time for that dreaded state exam. As I mark on average about one hundred compositions every week, that pain in my shoulder returns.
Don’t get me wrong, I see growth. I see my students’ use of great leads that we call “Ba-da-Bing Beginnings.” The thesis sentence and supporting sentences follow. I see great use of appropriate transition words for both personal narrative and expository essays, and many of them start their sentences with interesting prepositional phrases. They know to include a nice well rounded conclusion to each paper. I see it with many, but I don't see it with all. This worries me.
As we hit that critical crunch time, I can’t help but ask myself, “Have I done enough? Are my ELLs ready to tackle two essays in English?”
Only test results will tell.
In the fall of 2010, I was one of a group of teachers interviewed by the College Board and the NWP for a piece called, “Teacher Voices: Immigration, Language and Culture.” I remember being asked a question during a group interview session, regarding what types of changes I would love to see with regard to state or national testing.
Coming from a predominantly Spanish speaking area, I naively answered that I wished students could have all test questions translated into a child’s native language on the actual test. Not a side by side kind of thing with two booklets either, but I was willing to accept anything offered, really.
When I was asked to consider just how many languages that would entail for testers nationwide, I quickly settled back in my seat knowing that would be an expensive and colossal task for test makers to tackle. Impossible? Maybe.
“Okay then, how about the use of bilingual dictionaries during a test?” I thought. I mean, is that out of the question? Once again, I had to look beyond my own little world and wonder if bilingual dictionaries even came in languages other than English/Spanish? I've never seen one.
I sometimes think I live in a bubble.
Whenever my students write, I see their eyes and minds searching for the right words to put down on paper. I know very well that they know what they want to say, but that big bank of words is still developing. Still.
“It takes about seven years to learn (master) a second language,” I recall saying at that interview. “Yet, our students are tested way too soon.” That, I knew, was true.
For years I have been hoping that my ELLs would be allowed to use bilingual dictionaries during testing, just as I allow them to use them during class. Dictionaries of all types are readily available to them, and my large wall of cognates sits there ready to help. Some students use them, others don't.
Well, this year, it happened: linguistic accommodations are in place for ELLs for our state exam. ELLs who meet specific criteria based on the number of years in the program, and linguistic need will be allowed to use English-Spanish dictionaries (either electronic or hard copies), and thesauruses. They will also be given extra time to complete the test.
As human beings, we do it every day. Don’t we all use tools in our daily lives that help us show what we know? Don’t we Google an unknown word? Search for information online when we need facts? Do you ever feel the need to shout out and call a friend? Don’t we pay attention to the red and green squiggly lines on Microsoft Word, telling us to check ourselves, right click, and make the changes we need before sending off an important memo for all to see? Sure we do, and we make no excuses for it.
What do I want for my students to know beyond what the core subjects have to offer? As they tread through academic waters , I NEED for them to know how they can access information, learn to help themselves, and use the tools that will allow them to really show what they know. They are just as entitled.
The test is three weeks away, and their worn out dictionaries sit on the tables each day, ready for use.
Every year, I ask myself the following question:
Have I done everything I can with the resources and time I am alloted? Yes.
Okay then, why am I still worried?? I’m a God loving and God fearing kind of girl, and I know it takes hard work too.
I'm lighting a candle anyway. Let's see what happens.