I spent the very first three weeks of my summer student teaching in a title I elementary school. I worked with and learned from an ESL teacher who taught small groups of ESL students from all K-5 grades, language levels, and backgrounds. However, we spent the largest amount of time with kindergartners and two very new speakers from Guatemala. Within a week of finishing this wonderful experience I found myself interning here at Blue Ridge Literacy for the summer. At BRL we only work with adults which is a completely different experience from the three weeks I had just spent in an elementary school. I went from teaching 5 year olds to 50 year olds within a week.
After hearing this, many people ask me which experience I like more: working with children or adults, and I truly value different aspects of each experiences for their certain strengths and weaknesses. For example, the different motivation levels between children and adults is incredible. Even the older new speakers had a much greater desire to learn the language than the kindergartners and first graders. With adults it’s even greater which makes a huge difference. Adults also have considerably more life experience. You’re able to show them an object, say what it’s called in English, and then they know. Many concepts or objects that we were teaching the children they had no prior knowledge of. This is simply because they are still trying to learn their native language as well as English and don’t have the prior knowledge that adults have. Because of this, lessons didn’t move as quickly because you would have to spend more time on certain topics; however, you wouldn’t have to review as much during the next lesson. It has been studied and proven that the earlier you learn a language the easier it is to remember, make connections, and progress. This is another difference I’ve noticed. Children are constantly retaining information and progressing at a rapid rate. With the adults, we will teach a topic over the span of whole weeks and are always reviewing old material because they need that constant practice in order to progress. The last big difference that I’ve experienced is the content that we teach. With the elementary students, we are teaching them as you would any foreign language in a school. We go over sentence structure, vocabulary, conjugating verbs, sight words, and every other fundamental language skill that you can learn through worksheets and fun reading activities or games. These adults have come here to America and need to know the necessary language and skills in order to get by living here. Therefore, we teach them how to say their name, address, days of the week, how to read a bus schedule, make a doctor’s appointment, etc., and in doing this they are learning the language as well.
After having these two experiences, I can confidently say that I like working with adults more. I enjoy the content we teach and they are much easier to talk to about their stories and different cultures which is extremely interesting to me.