What 10 Immigrant Children Taught This 61-year-old Retiree

I volunteered to teach K- through fourth-graders at a summer reading school. This was significant for a couple of reasons: I am a 61-year-old woman who never had children, and the only experience I've had in education was working as a reading tutor for an hour a week. I was assigned to a class of about 10 kids, all from immigrant families. They were between the ages of 6 and 10 and had varying degrees of skills in their heritage language, English and reading. That's right, unlike me, all of these children could speak multiple languages.This reading program has a seven-year history and is well-organized, well-attended and, most important, well-intentioned. I went through a half-day orientation with about 50 others. My expectation was to teach the kids the way I had been taught, the good old American way! Also, my expectation was the kids would have a difficult time adapting to that method because it would be new to them. Nevertheless, I threw myself in to try to help these children learn English and to read at the same time. Was I naïve.Here is what I learned, or better yet, here's what the kids taught me:Immigrant children are being taught the same American curriculum with all the customs, idiosyncrasies and inferences as U.S. children.Yes, I know you probably think that's the right thing to do. But allow me to give you an example of this myth.If 6-year-old Johnny went to the Congo and was trying to learn Swahili, would he understand the concept of International Francophonie Day, a Congolese holiday? Would Johnny be able to pass a test on the subject if the books were published in the Swahili language and culture? Oh, and the teacher speaks only Swahili.Let's turn it around. Imagine you are a 10-year-old Ugandan immigrant struggling to learn English. If you were handed a book in English about Halloween and told you would be tested on the concept, how do you think you would do? By the way, all of the books are in English only. (The school where I tutored represented 34 languages.)  Continue reading...

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