On Monday, August 27th, I walked into a classroom of nineteen students. They were all Hispanic. And their English proficiency? All over the place. No one could write their numbers and I mean no one.
None of my students could write the number three, for example. All I kept getting were “trees.” Five was “fife,” “eight was “eihg,” and four was “for.” I was just dumbstruck. And as I walked around and corrected some spelling verbally, the letter “e” in English kept getting confused as “i” in Spanish. The confusion was so severe for one student that her random assortment of letters implied to me that she was phonetically writing all of her numbers as she understood them in Spanish. She was trying so hard to complete the assignment but her effort was getting her nowhere. When looking at her assignment, I could not decipher the logic within her spelling at all. What on earth was she writing and why?
And then the flood of frustration kicked in… How on earth, I thought, am I suppose to teach these students to write six digit numbers in WORDS when they can’t even write me ONE? And don’t get me wrong, I knew that these students knew their numbers in standard form but in word form? No. And why couldn’t they!? How on earth did these students manage to turn eight and not have some of the simplest sight words ingrained? I was furious.
So I took it upon myself to work with them over the next two days on spelling. Why? Couldn’t I have done something more “productive” with my time? No. Spelling our numbers correctly and independently was our number one priority.
Why? Because my students MUST leave my classroom at the end of the year literate. We will work on it tirelessly in my math and science classroom. After all, how they speak, write, and read English is crucial for their success. It says so much about our intelligence to other people. And as a fellow ESL student, I personally understood how critical it was to master this skill before we moved on.
Thankfully, bless the lord, I did not need to wait long to have the fruits of our labor pay off. By Wednesday, my students were capable, able, and willing to write me six digit numbers in standard, expanded, and word form… My phonetic speller was even volunteering in class to spell out numbers!! I cannot describe to you the joy I felt in my classroom as I witnessed my students get it and doing it on their own! I was so thrilled that I even made a cheer out of it with my class. “On the count of three, 1… 2… 3… YES!!!” I even jumped around a bit. Okay, maybe a lot. I was so happy. And while only a small victory, it felt like the biggest battle we had won. Now to win a few more.