77. I have 3 ESL students in my PALS class. How do I check for understanding without singling them out? What is the good mannered Spanish way to ask if they understand / need help? For instance, is it better in this casual class to let them get by without responding or taking part in class discussions and just let them try to listen and pick up more English, or insist that they try to take part?

I am going to assume that the PALS class is part of the Health curriculum and deals with interpersonal relations. I am going to assume that, in this class, students (probably older students, at the intermediate or secondary level) bring their problems for general discussion, or the teacher asks for general interpersonal situations that the students may wish to discuss in a "casual" classroom setting.

This class is an ideal situation not only to discuss interpersonal situations but also cross cultural interpersonal situations. This is the reason I would very strongly encourage ALL students to participate, to ask and respond, and to understand the points in the discussion. The main thrust of the above question, then, is "How do you that, how do you help ALL students participate fully in class discussions --especially the students who are English Learners, that is, students not totally fluent in English? How do you help ALL students participate to their fullest extent?"

Well, the PALS teacher needs to do several important things:

FIRST, (s)he must begin to work in close cooperation, coordination and integration with the English-As-A-Second Language (ESL) teacher. BEFORE the ESL students --the English Learners-- attend the PALS class, the vocabulary and the language of the situations they will discuss in the PALS class must be introduced, practiced and mastered. In the ESL class the students could role-play the situations while learning the vocabulary and the content-area-specific (HEALTH) language to describe and discuss the interpersonal relations addressed in the role-played situation.

Now, this means that, at least for part of the PALS class, the teacher must have a very specific situation and use the specific vocabulary that the ESL students practiced in the ESL class. Participation by ESL students will EXPLODE if they bring to the PALS class the English language they need to participate in the discussion. ESL students in the PALS class must listen with understanding and speak with known vocabulary. For this level of participation by ESL students to occur, the HEALTH and ESL teachers must work together.

SECOND, the PALS teacher may need to revise (h)is/er class schedule so that, at the end of the lesson today, for example, the students may express the situations they may wish to discuss the NEXT DAY. Asking at the beginning of the class what situations students wish to discuss PREVENTS the ESL and content area teachers from working together. The English Learners cannot receive any help developing the language of the lesson BEFORE the actual lesson. ESL students will NOT participate in a situation where they cannot listen with understanding nor express themselves using known words.

THIRD, I would like to suggest to the PALS teacher –and to ALL teachers-- something I do quite successfully in all my classes and demonstrations: I NEVER ASK "Do you understand?" Why? I have never found a student who says, "NO." The question "Do you understand?" in English, Spanish, French (the language I speak) or in any other language is almost ALWAYS answered "YES!" (Although I know the student DOES NOT understand!)

Instead, I prefer (1) to ask a question that gives me evidence the student really understands, and (2) rephrase that question several times until I have complete evidence, by the kinds of responses I get, that the student indeed understands!

Teachers can help students participate by ASKING questions THAT STUDENTS CAN ANSWER CORRECTLY. Thus, the most important job of the teacher is to ask the RIGHT question of every student; and then rephrase and rephrase that question until the student provides complete evidence of understanding.

I have provided many examples of how to ask and rephrase questions in many of my answers to teachers’questions. Here is one more example:

The teacher asks Student A: "Can the word fašade be read applying phonics rules?

If NO student gives the right answer, the teacher rephrases the question and asks Student B:
(With strong body language that says "AGREE.")
The word fašade can NOT be read by applying phonics rules, would you agree?

Teacher rephrases the question again and asks Student C:
The word fašade can NOT be read by applying phonics rule? What would you say? That fašade can or can NOT be read by applying phonics rules?

Teacher rephrases the question one more time and asks Student D:
Would you say that fašade can NOT, or that fašade can be read applying phonics rules?

Teacher ALWAYS returns to the original question and to the student –Student A--who could not answer it:
"Can the word fašade be read applying phonics rules?

I am extremely confident that if the PALS teacher follows the three suggestions provided above, ALL students will actively participate in (h)is/er class!!!


For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.


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