I have two new students from Korea in my ninth grade class. One speaks no English whatsoever. The other can hold a basic conversation. They both seem like very good students and have willing attitudes. They both have cute pencil cases, very organized notebooks filled with my notes and the Korean translations, and brightly colored, nifty-looking translators.* But now what to do?
They are both getting one-on-one ESL tutoring after school several times a week, which is great, but I teach at this sort of college-prep, wannabe pretentious private school that often gets college level work out of its freshman class. I started the semester with the Fagles translation of the Odyssey, and the kids are reading one or two books a night. This is faster than I would like to go, but I also have to teach three plays and poetry this semester. (My school is talkin’ "depth and not breadth," but they’re not quite ready to do the walkin'). So what do I do with my two new friends to make my class fair and useful to them?
I asked my head last semester what I should do for "Darren," the first of my Korean arrivals, when final time came around. He suggested that I give Darren a totally new story to read along with reading comprehension questions and an essay. That seemed insane to me. The kid needs to use his translator when I say, “Good morning!” So instead, I had him read and write chapter summaries of most of "Lord of the Flies," which took the whole quarter. He answered some short answer questions about characterization and symbols in the novel, and then he wrote an essay. I gave him the final a few days before the test so that he could make sure he understood the directions. His answers were simple but good, and I was happy with the result.
But the Odyssey? And Henry IV, Part 1?
Friday, my brand new student, “Edward”, who speaks a good bit more English, tried to take a reading quiz along with the rest of the class about the Cyclops book, but he wouldn't turn it in. I smiled and promised that I wouldn't grade it; I just wanted to know where he was so I could help him. He said he was sorry, but would not give me his paper. He was quite adamant about it. It was sort of embarrassing for both of us in front of the whole class, so I let it go. He came the today day to apologize to me, which was very sweet, but he still wouldn’t let me see his paper.
I think he wants to make sure his work is perfect, and he doesn’t want to show me imperfect work. But I want to help him and need to know how much of the reading he understands so I can decide if it is appropriate reading for him at all.
I think I am going to find out who the ESL tutor is and contact her to see if she can give me some advice.
*and brand new “American” names. Why? I admit the Korean names are a little challenging to pronounce at first, but that’s my challenge. I think losing your name is pretty big deal.