By Kendra Harding, Diggs-Latham Elementary
“Aha” moments come in many forms. As someone who serves students, I often live for them. Seeing something finally “click” with a kid is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced. Sometimes, though, the “aha” moment is just as much mine as theirs.
I had been having some difficulty with one student in particular. His family recently moved to the area, and being an Arabic-speaking student suddenly thrust into an all English classroom, his frustration was evident. So I started working with him one-on-one. At first, he was resistant to pretty much everything. He didn't want to work on alphabet songs, didn't want to play drums as we learned about colors, shapes, numbers. He had no desire to do anything but meander around the classroom in his own world.
I noticed that if I asked him what we called something in English, he'd immediately
cut me off and say, “La, bel'aarabi!" (Arabic for, "No, in Arabic!"). After a couple
of rounds of this, I started to notice that there were certain words he didn't know
in his own language, so I started with square one: all Arabic. Once I felt that he
had a good grasp of everything in Arabic, I started gradually incorporating English.
This time, he was accepting of it, maybe even a little curious.
This trend has continued. I speak in Arabic through most of my time with him, and try to weave English into the conversation. He's now comfortable with all of his colors (in both languages), and has gained a lot of ground on shapes recently. He still occasionally asks for me to speak in Arabic, and has an earnestness to share his language with me. This is crucial when working with English language learners. Yes, they need vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and all the skills that we're trying to build in English, but we as people serving them have to remember to be curious and not make them feel as if we're taking their language from them.
As stated, this was a breakthrough for me as much as for him. I was taken back to my first experiences overseas, and how I was afraid of losing my connection to my home country. It hit me in a huge way that his resistance wasn't just a kid wanting to be difficult, but rather a way of expressing his own fears and distrust. We still have a lot to accomplish together, but we're building the trust that is necessary to make progress and help him succeed in this new environment.