One Sunflower

an ELL experience

on November 4, 2009

My assistant and I have worked together for about 6 years now.  It is not usual for teachers and assistants to work together for so long but it is wonderful for me. Maestra is bilingual, speaking Spanish and English, as well as being college educated and willing to learn and try new things all the time.  Because of the emphasis this year on writing stories, I asked her to model the drawing of a story for the children.  Our professional development sessions have also focused on developing our skills as story tellers so she has been practicing in front of our colleagues but this was the first time she was the leader of the lesson in class.

Introducing Maestra as our story-teller produced clapping from the children and I moved aside and sat in the circle as she taped paper on the easel and found the box of crayons.  She chose a blue crayon and drew blue waves on the paper and then started telling her story in Spanish.  The children paid attention to the drawing, guessing out loud about the details Maestra was putting in her picture.  I spoke a few words in English as I guessed right along with them. 

Yesterday, Maestra and I talked through her story idea together.  Our mini lessons have been around drawing people, houses, creating stories about our families so it was important that her story support the same themes.  She shared her idea and we pared it down a bit and discussed the illustrations she might put in the scene to support the story.  The story was to be about a family gathering at the beach in Mexico where everyone is eating and then someone says, “I’m thirsty.”  Everyone realizes they had forgotten to bring something to drink.  One of Maestra’s uncles speaks up and says, “I have an idea.  I will cut open the coconuts with my machete!”  He does, and everyone cheers and has a drink.  The plan was to draw the beach, the little cabana and everyone sitting around the table and coconut trees in the background.

I watched my students as Maestra told her story.  Most of the children in the class speak Spanish and they listened raptly as she included details about who was sitting at the table and what they were eating.  When she mentioned cutting open the coconut, one little boy rubbed his tummy and said, “Yum!!!”   The non-Hispanic children paid extra attention to the drawing because this was their only real clue to the story. Many called out questions about the drawing trying to figure out what was happening and came to some understanding about it.  None of them seemed to have personal knowledge about machetes and coconuts although some of them made references to going to the seashore.

Sitting with my students during the storytelling was an enlightening experience.  If I hadn’t had some prior knowledge of the story it would have taken me awhile to identify the scene and much of the actual story.  I was able to identify the setting and the characters but I needed Maestra to explain slowly about the uncle, the machete and the coconut to understand their significance.  I also noticed that the English-speaking students were much more likely to call out their questions and assert their needs for understanding than my non-English students are during my story shares. 

There is much for me to take from this experience.  It confirmed for me  how important my drawings are for the students who don’t speak English.  The illustrations need to be large and recognizable to children.  It helps to label parts of my picture as I’m drawing, especially those that are going to figure prominently in the story.  Creating a story summary and repeating it slowly while pointing to the parts of the picture are also helpful supports for those who might not understand my language well.

Maestra and I will need to “debrief” this experience.  We talked over the story together beforehand but she didn’t practice drawing it, I think it would be a good idea to do that next time.  The other thing I am curious about is how she organized her picture on the paper.  Maestra is left-handed.  I am not. I realized, watching her, that I often begin my drawings on the left and move to the right.  She did the opposite.  I try to move from left to right because I want the students to “read” the picture that way.  I think it would be a good thing to have a discussion about to figure out whether it is important or not.


2 responses to “an ELL experience

  1. Trout says:

    One Sunflower,

    Will you be sharing the debrief with Maestra about this lesson?
    I’m curious about the left to right drawing/story telling. Do you think it is an important element of drawing to tell/illustrate a story with our youngest children?


    • onesunflower says:

      I spoke with Maestra about her drawing. She had no consciousness of whether she started on the right or the left. I had to reminder her of how she had started drawing the waves and the beach and then moved to the picnic scene. She was more concerned about her ability to draw! We’ve spoken about how we need to be careful about criticizing our drawing ability in front of the children – we need to be role models that everyone can draw just as everyone can write!

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