By Kim Miklusak
This week I performed interviews as part of an ELL grad project in assessment to discover how students brainstorm for an AP English Language prompt. I selected two students who are second language learners and who have struggled in different ways during the year. I cannot overstate how useful I found these interviews! Many teachers instruct and model brainstorming. Some require that students to demonstrate planning for X minutes before they can write. What I think these interviews made clear to me, however, was where specifically in the planning process students struggle. This information will provide teachers and students with clear steps to possible solutions.
For example, my first student is a native Urdu speaker and speaks Urdu as her home language. She exited ELL during 3rd grade. Listening to her speak through her planning, we could pinpoint two main concerns: defining terms in the quotation and how to move from brainstorming evidence to outlining a main idea based on the prompt. I am going to provide her with some graphic organizers to help scaffold the process better for her.
My second student is a native Spanish speaker and speaks Spanish as her home language. She was in bilingual education through 3rd grade. When planning, this student skipped the unknown vocabulary in the quotation and jumped right into prompt. Once we talked through how to use context clues to define terms, the prompt became much easier. Because she has not internalized steps to understand unknown words, she relies on "what it sounds like" and then moves on to working through the prompt. I was able to provide her with other ways to figure out unknown words such as using her Spanish cognates.
I realize that interviews are incredibly time consuming: each of these took 10-15 minutes and could easily have run longer. It would be impossible to do with every struggling student. However, I highly recommend using this form of assessment for a few of your students in any subject area and grade or possibly using the iPad to require students to verbally explain their whole planning or problem solving before they write an essay or complete a math or science task in order to go back and review with them after they if need be. The information gained was invaluable!