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Placement in After School Program Reflection #3

jayah's picture

     I am a tutor at an after school program;  there I assist Latino children, mostly Mexican, with their homework. I have noticed that the majority of the students speak in Spanish, which has caused problems for them when it comes to reading and spelling in English. When I sit at the table full of first grade students, they have trouble recognizing certain words like "they" and "can." They do, however, know how to sound the words out. For example, when I tell them to sound out "can," they say "kuh kuh kuh- uh uh uh- nuh nuh nuh." The children just have a problem putting the sounds together in order to figure out the word. I end up telling them the word, then I try to make a learning experience out of it by putting different letters in fromt of "-an" so that the students can recognize the words. I put a "b" to make "ban," then a "m" to make "man," but the students still seem like they do not understand, as they shrug their shoulders and say "I don't know," when I ask them. Even when the word "can," pops up again later in the text, the students still fail to recognize it, even after the long lesson.

     I compare these first graders to my neice, who is also a first grader at a public elementary school. She can easily spell words like "can," "and," "the," and even more complicated words. She can read a whole book now. What is different about the pace of learning, is the fact that my neice speaks only English, and her mother is able to help her even more on her homework when she gets home, whereas these children speak both Spanish and Englsih and most of their parents do not speak English, so cannot help the children with homework. I find that when I am helping the students with homework, they get annoyed or easily distracted by small things; for example, they start tapping their pencil and making beats or say "I can't do this; I don't know!" while putting their head down. One student even said, "I'm dumb. I can't do this!" which upset me. The student was more than capable of doing the work, but just had no patience. I wanted to sit there and work with him one on one, but students kept walking up, tapping me, asking me to help them. In this program, the students need one on one help, but there are so little volunteers, that it makes it impossible. When I tried to console the little boy, assuring him that the work was difficult, but he would be an expert soon, he rolled his eyes and begin speaking with his friend in Spanish. When I told him to concentrate, he did for a while, until he came across something else that he did not know the answer to.

     The fact that many of the students struggle on things that I believe first graders should know, prompted me to ask the students about their school teacher. I wanted to know how she reacts when her students no longer pay attention? What does she do when the students seem to lose hope? Does the teacher have a teacher's assisstant? Does the teacher have trouble getting the students to read? DO the students learn at a similar pace? Do the students strictly speak English in class? Does she speak to the students in both Spanish and English? I asked a student the last question, and he says that his teacher only speaks in English.

     I struggle often with getting the students to only speak in English around me because I do not want them to share answers and sometimes I do not know what they are saying because I am not that good at understanding spanish. I do not want to tell them that at my table, Spanish is prohibited because that would be like saying speaking spanish is "inappropiate" in that setting, but it is not. I did not want make them feel like speaking Spanish is wrong or strip away their way of expression, I simply wanted them to stay on track.I did not know how to do that. Speaking Spanish seemed to distract the students from focusing and speaking "academically," which is needed when doing spelling/reading homework.

     It is very hard teaching bi-lingual students spelling and reading because many of them in this program, do not speak "academic English." I I do not want to tell them the answer, but at the same the students really may not have any idea. I try to teach them, but it is hard, with there being so many children, and their restlessness does not make it any better. The students do come from a seven hour shool-day, so it is hard to get the child to focus. I do find it easier to help the students with math rather than spelling. I believe it is because of the language barrier.Some of the students do need help woth counting because they may skip a number from time to time, but for the most part, it is easier to help them with.

     Working in this afterschool program has been an experience!