¡Mi casa es grande!

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I have been rereading A Quick Guide to Boosting English Acquisition in Choice Time the past day or so, and I was reminded of something I had seen in class a few weeks ago while observing some students during choice time.

While they were working, I heard a group working in one of my building centers with some Brackitz. One of the boys had just finished building a home with the planks and he announced to his group, “¡Mi casa es grande!”

It caught my attention because it was said in Spanish and he, and his group, had been speaking rather excitedly about all they had been building in English. While it was said in a language that was foreign and not understandable to most of his group, they didn’t miss a beat. They all got it. They all understood. And I thought that was one of the coolest things I had seen all day.

One of the things I’ve started allowing the past couple of years, is opportunities for my English Language Learners to speak in their native tongue. While I may not understand, if they are in the midst of play, does it really matter? I teach kindergarten. At this age children, regardless of what language they speak, are still developing and growing in their vocabulary. It’s my understanding that a lack of schema, which is “relevant background knowledge, prior knowledge, or just plain experience,” can hinder comprehension in reading. I think it also applies to language development. If we deny our English Language Learners the opportunities to develop language in their native tongue, it will have an adverse effect on their learning of English.

I think the English will come naturally for my students. Most of my population speaks English. I conduct the majority of my day in English. When in choice time, it’s a good chance that they will be playing and talking with native English speakers. They will get it. A coworker of mine was telling me recently that it takes 3-5 years for English Language Learners to develop social language and 4-7 years to develop academic language. This shows, quite plainly, that it takes time. I am working with kindergarteners. This is not going to be “their year” to master it. My native English speakers are probably not going to master it either! What they need to be given is the opportunities to grow and develop their schema.

Now, back to the book. Why is imperative that we give all of our students ample amounts of choice time? Why is it so important? According to the book, choice time is powerful for many reasons. Some of the ones they listed are:

  • “It is safe.”
  • “It is visual and hands-on.”
  • “It occurs within a sea of language.”
  • “It is accessible to everyone.”
  • “It connects to other parts of the day.”

Choice time is a vital part of my day. It is my belief that some version of choice time should be happening in every classroom from PK all the way through elementary/primary/intermediate school. It’s important for all of our students and their language development.

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