believed everyone around me was
judging me as such.
That day in the market, my affective
filter was about as high as it could
be. But once the woman showed me
the scale, I had the context I needed
to both learn a new word (pesar, to
weigh) and complete the task I’d set
out to do.
Put yourself in the student’s shoes;
imagine the intense frustration caused
by insufficient context. Creating a
context-rich environment, in which
English language learners can participate and learn effectively, means differentiating curriculum and activities
in response to students’ readiness to
learn and their learning profiles. With
enhanced context, students are less
likely to get stuck.
Think multimodality: Add visual,
tactile, and kinesthetic supports to
learning activities. Bring in objects
related to the lesson or unit that students can tinker with. Use pictures
where possible to teach key words and
build background knowledge. Display
exemplary work samples and model
tasks step by step so students hear and
see what they need to do. Accompany
all oral instructions with a written
version that students can refer back to.
When teaching about the Indus-
trial Revolution, I show images of
factories, canals, and steam engines.
We discuss these images together as
a class. I bring in spools of thread, a
replica shuttle from a 19th century
loom, and woven cloth for students to
touch. Students compare what they see
around our school building to images
of preindustrial architecture. They rep-
licate water power: Four students put
their right hands together and stick
their left hands out (the turbine); the
rest run to them in a line (the river),
causing them to turn. The subject
comes alive for students, helping them
better understand academic text and
create academic writing.
Give Them Breaks
It’s an incredible effort just to understand what’s going on around me. . . .
I haven’t been able to get myself to do
much of anything.
Functioning in a second language
is incredibly mentally taxing. Mental
exhaustion is unavoidable for those
transitioning between cultures. Add
in constant unfamiliarity with one’s
surroundings, and the mental effort
required just to get through the day is
huge. English language learners often
experience mental tiredness (Igoa,
1995). The tiredness may be only
compounded at home by a high level
of family stress—because everyone has
made a tough transition.
For me, this mental exhaustion
came and went for months. I didn’t
experience it every day, but it appears
in my earliest journal entries and is
still there 10 months into my Mozambique experience. At times, I felt an
unusual need for sleep, probably
because my brain just needed a break.
In large groups, I sometimes stopped
paying attention because the conversation moved too quickly, straining
my mental capacity. Often, I needed to
pause a few minutes before plunging
back into the murky world of functioning in a second language.
Keep in mind how much each ELL
you teach is dealing with every day. If
a student is disengaged or has her head
down on the desk, check in privately.
Allow a break, if necessary, and invite
that student back into the activity
later. Pare down learning activities to
their most necessary components—
and lighten the load for a particular
student if necessary. Even telling a
student you understand and asking
him to just do his best can be comforting and helpful.
Understand Being “In Between”
I’m being pulled in two different directions by two different cultures. The
difficulty is that the two are mutually
People who move from one culture
to another eventually begin to adapt to
life in their new home. Invariably, the
adjustment leads to a sense of being
“in between.” They no longer fully fit
into their old culture, yet they don’t
fit into the new. This state can last
for years. Ideally, with guidance, students will integrate the parts of themselves represented by each culture,
embracing both the old and the new as
part of who they are (Igoa, 1995).
My in-between stage began with
much frustration and even anger.
Between 7 and 10 months in the
country, various aspects of the new