REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
My teaching life has changed dramatically, from EFL in a private monolingual Japanese engineering high school/college, to ELL instruction in Vermont's Winooski school district for kindergarten and first grade students from a diverse mix of language and cultural backgrounds. The experience is challenging, invigorating and loads of fun! In my new position, I am privileged to work closely with eight talented classroom teachers, as well as fellow ELL teachers and support staff, to provide support for up to 54 English language learners (ELLs). This past week, my services extended to accompanying and chaperoning kindergarten classes to Shelburne Farms, a fantastic local farm that provides educational programs to local school children. The power of experiential learning was evident in the enthusiasm of these young learners. From the moment we stepped on the bus, students were besides themselves with excitement. Some of these children had never been on a bus, and their eyes roamed the landscape, their bodies bouncing up and down in their bus seats, unable to contain their curiosity.
At the farm, we were greeted by experienced educational leaders who outlined the days activities. Students were split into small groups of 8 to 10 and went off to participate in engaging learning opportunities and games. We began by learning about tomato plants, as one student was dressed in a costume to teach the parts of tomato. This visual was incredibly helpful for the ELL students, and Christie Nold, the Educational Program Coordinator at Shelburne Farms, did a fantastic job of supporting new English speakers with vocabulary repetition, songs and verbal cues.
The students learned the five things tomato plants need to survive: sun, water, air, space and soil. They went on a treasure hunt to find each of these five items to complete a beaded bracelet. As they did so, they also learned how to work as a team with attention grabbers such as "magnetic toes" (all students in a circle with toes touching) and "make a circle make it round, make it round, make it round, make a circle, make it round, make a circle" to the tune of "London Bridge is Falling Down". Learners who had barely spoken a word since their first day of school less than two weeks before were verbally identifying things in their surroundings: cars, tractors, birds, animals, plants, flowers, etc, and raising their hand to answers Christie's questions. It was a great opportunity for me to connect with my students and see what they are capable of.
In the garden, we picked strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, carrots, green beans and corn. All of which students gobbled up. We met and pet cows, goats, chickens, sheep, pigs, donkeys and turkeys. We sang a song to shake a jar of buttermilk and turn it into butter, then ate the butter we'd made on crackers. Children were adventurous. I saw many of them look skeptically at food or animals at first and then find the courage to give something new a try. On the second day, students even had the chance to milk a cow and feed baby goats. We ran, ran, and ran some more, up and down hills and through the forest. Smiles were abundant. It was an exhausting blast! It's no surprise that quite a few children fell asleep on the bus ride back to school.
This field trip was organized by the kindergarten teachers at JFK to spark students' interest and curiosity in gardens, because they will be participating in a year-long project called "The Kinder Gardens" as part of a school-wide initiation to incorporate project-based learning into classroom curriculum. I think that all of the kindergarten teachers would agree that this trip was a huge success in that regard.
I plan to use the pictures I took to make a book that I can use with the ELLs to review what they saw and help them build vocabulary and language to access other aspects of the project through-out the year. I look forward to more fun times with my new friends!