English was the third language my student, who primarily spoke Dutch, would learn by second grade. She knew how to read in Dutch, but it was laborious and slow. She didn’t enjoy reading, so she wasn’t enthusiastic when it was time for her to learn how to speak and read in English.

The problem was, I was her English language development teacher and I don’t speak Dutch.

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When educators approach this type of obstacle, they first have to get to know their student. I invited my student’s mom to come to a meeting where we talked about her past experiences in school, and we came up with a personalized plan so we could target what she needed. I knew immediately that she would be a successful English learner, because once you’ve acquired a second language, learning another is not going to be as hard.

To get started, I used pictures and Google Translate to communicate with her and have her start learning words. Then we put those words into phrases, and then into sentences.

By the end of her year in 2nd grade, her reading was still not where it needed to be. She still couldn’t decode very well, so I invited her to my summer school. In my school district, we had been given the opportunity to learn about phonics-based instruction methods. Using the district’s Reading Horizons Discovery program, I started helping my student understand how the English sounds work, including vowels and their various sounds. English is such a hard language to learn because you write it one way, but you have to say it a different way. I’m grateful that she was an eager learner.

We did a lot of fun activities and I exposed her and her classmates to great books. She also successfully completed 66 Reading Horizons lessons by the time she left my four-week summer school. More importantly, I got the sense that she was starting to enjoy reading. Her mom sent me a video of my student reading aloud in English, and her mom couldn’t believe it. In less than a year, her child went from not enjoying books and not wanting to read to becoming an avid reader and loving every minute of it.

In 3rd grade, my student didn’t need a lot of support from me because she was just so hungry to learn. She developed true self-awareness and the confidence to say, “I am capable, and I’m going to do this.” She went from dreading reading to getting A’s on her reading tests, and the skills that she has joyfully mastered will stay with her for the rest of her life.

About the Author:

Carol Behel teaches English language development at Weeden Elementary School in Florence and won Alabama’s Teacher of the Year in 2019.