Learning More than English

November 30, 2012 at 1:00 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Learning More than English

Higher Horizons GraduationAt the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia we believe that literacy is a survival skill.  We frame our English classes with this belief in mind, teaching English in the context of life skills and everyday language our learners will frequently encounter.  Though our aim is for students to acquire English language skills in speaking, reading, writing, and reading and for them to feel empowered by this knowledge – I have noticed that our students have an added advantage that is unique to our geographic area – their fellow classmates.

In Northern Virginia, we are all so fortunate to be a part of a community that is rich in cultural diversity.  We have the benefit of being exposed to many different languages, cultures, religions, and customs which allows us to expand our knowledge base and  worldview.  While our students are learning English, they are also learning about each other as they work together towards a common goal.

In just one of my classes I have fifteen students who represent twelve different countries and seven different languages.  Last week this class was learning words of frequency; always, sometimes and never.  We went around the room and each student provided a sentence in the context of daily routines for something they always, sometimes, or never do.

One student, a man from Mexico, answered that he sometimes goes to church because he only goes to church on Sundays.

The next student, a woman from Afghanistan, answered that she always prays because she prays five times a day.

The student from Mexico asked her to repeat.

So the woman repeated, “I always pray.  I pray five times a day.”

The man asked again, “Five? I don’t understand.”

The woman then explained when she prays during the day and told the student that she is Muslim.  This opened a discussion in the class about religious customs, what religions the students practiced and how they were different and how they were the same.  The students used the words of frequency, expressed understanding of the concepts different and same, and posed Wh- questions to each other all in English – an entirely student led discussion that began from a desire to understand a culture different from their own.

As the teacher I can provide the English words and structures – but the students are each other’s greatest resource in their education. There is a vast collective knowledge in all of our classrooms and our students are so fortunate to have the opportunity to communicate with each other and learn so much more than English during their classroom experience with the Literacy Council.

Rachel Conn Martin
AmeriCorps Instructor
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Rd., Falls Church, VA 22042

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