In one of my classes I have two English Learners. And they're not just learning English, they're also learning the Roman alphabet. You might imagine that those two tasks, combined with having been in the US only a very short time, and combined with the "exotic" vocabulary used in secondary math, would create extremely high hurdles to success for these students. It's clear that they're struggling to understand.
We adopted new math texts this year for the course these students are taking. With the adoption came two "consumables" per student per year; we had a choice of a practice problem workbook, a "standards" workbook, a notetaking guide, and several other choices. Our school chose the practice workbook and the standards workbook (the better to prepare our students for standardized testing in April).
As part of the adoption we teachers got all of the overhead transparencies, including those for the notetaking guide. I've been using those transparencies to guide my daily instruction, since so much of what I say is included on the transparencies so I don't have to write it all down. Also, if there are practice problems to do, I can demonstrate and graph the answers on the small graph provided on the transparency.
My native English speakers have no difficulty taking notes; my English learners are having difficulty, and often resort to dictionaries to translate words I write, or words on the transparency, into something they can understand. Taking notes is exceedingly laborious for them; what can I do to help?
Yesterday it hit me--why not get them hardcopy booklets of the same notetaking guide that I'm using on the overhead? That way, they'd only have to "fill in the blanks", which is what I do on the overhead, and they can look up unfamiliar words later. Also, the notes are structured neatly for them, which should help them better understand when they study.
I contacted our district math guru yesterday and asked her if she could get me a couple from the publisher. She replied that other schools had chosen that booklet as one of their "consumables" and that she'd have some sent to me. Talk about service, they arrived during class today. The students were thrilled.
When we piloted the materials last year, we tried the notetaking guides. I myself was not impressed with them; I got the impression that most students just filled in the blanks in order to fill them out, and didn't use them to study at all. In other words, they were better off taking their own notes. My English Learners, though, can and will use these booklets as a tool.
Today was not the best day I've ever had as a teacher, but in this instance at least I feel like I've scored a small victory--I was able to get two students an additional tool that might help them be successful in class.
I'll take such victories whenever I can find them.