Claudia H. Navarro is an ELL educator in Miami, Florida. In this interview, Claudia discusses some of the strategies she uses to help struggling students master new content, shares ideas of helping students apply for college, and offers some advice for new ELL educators.
I work for a home language assistance program. And my role as a paraprofessional is to work with the students, the English language learners, from levels one through four. The most, the majority of the students that I get in a classroom are levels one through three. And I teach them what they learn in the classroom. I re-teach it, which are science, history and math in their home language.
I help them in the projects, how to interpret also the instructions from the classroom. So they can know what to do. I am a resource for them. So I try to be as helpful for them as much as possible. So they can understand, have good grades and succeed.
Social support, the social support that they need is they should have always someone in the school that could be a resource for them, that they could go to when they need to in regards to a counseling, advising. I always found that they need a lot of advice in what to do in their future studies. What to ... who to go to, how to apply for higher education, where should they go. And tell them what their resources are out there for them.
And emotional, they always need someone in school that shows that they care for them, you know, and be there for them whenever they need them.
Always taking into account that the student is in great need. Sometimes they misbehave because they don't understand the subjects in the classroom because they are speaking to them in English and they don't understand anything. So they find other ways to react.
Scaffolding in science
When they are struggling in science, I will, depending on what we're seeing right there in the moment, I do bring visuals. I have charts. I dissect the chapter in sections. So everything is not so overwhelming. So the student can understand that better.
Because if they haven't seen that a specific thing before, it's more difficult to understand. So explaining it in smaller sections is easier for them to get, to grasp, than if you give them the whole chapter and they have no idea what's going on.
I think it's very important for them, the students to learn content in their native language because they can understand it better, of course. Content is difficult already for them. So if it's in their language, it makes it easier.
They're in a new country, let’s say we’re talking about a new kind of history. This is sort of new for them. It's not their history. So they have to grasp the concept better in a different concept. So they need to learn it, slowly and to understand why, how this nation became to be the nation that it is.
So it is very important for them to know it in the language, in their language. If they learn it in English, maybe they'll get ten percent at most. So instead of learning it in a language that they don't understand and something totally new and they won't have the interest either to learn it or understand it.
Sometimes teachers do think that they already know a little bit about the subject and the concept. And that makes it very difficult for the students. Because the students don't have any background knowledge or they will not understand the concept at all.
They probably can go through the motions and do the work, but that doesn't mean they understand it. So that's why it's very important to explain it to them very slowly, very carefully, making sure they understand the concept.
this class is about U.S. history. And this teacher is always sending the student a lot of work and is going at the same pace as the rest of the classroom students.
And they are going to ... they are doing the chapter section by section. But the student is not getting anything. It's like this person is sending the student to make thirty definitions of a bunch of words that this student doesn't understand, have no idea what it is all about.
And then after that, answer the questions at the end of the section, six questions that the student doesn’t understand the history at all. And, of course, doesn't understand the language. So that child is totally lost.
And they're assuming that they're getting the information.
And this teacher, particular teacher, is always using certain websites to translate. According to that teacher, it's a good translation. I saw that translation. And it's totally off. It's not correct. It's not accurate.
So the student is more confused than ever. Because he doesn't understand in English and doesn't understand it in Spanish.
Translation websites they are not very accurate. When you put the information, it translates it literally. And that's not necessarily the message that's trying to be conveyed. So I suggest to use a lot of caution when you use a translation website or not to use them at all
Colorin Colorado, I use it as a resource in many ways. I use the tip sheets and give them to parents so they can help their own kids at home. I use it as resources for research and see what in certain topics what is it that I can use in the classroom. And also to tell other people about it. Colorin Colorado is a wonderful website which I recommend to everybody. All educators should use it.
An important teacher
There is this teacher that I had when I came to this country…and she taught a class, an English class. When I came to the country, my sister had enrolled me in different classes so I could improve my, so I could learn the language. I didn't speak any English at all.
So I had this class which was an English class, a regular English class, for regular students. And she was telling me something to do and I didn't understand. So I told her that I didn't understand her. I said, “I don't understand you.” And she took it personally.
So it was very ... it was an awkward moment. And so she told me to call my sister. So I brought in my sister. And she told her what had happened. And she told her, “Well, she doesn’t speak any English. So don't give her the regular lessons. Just accommodate for her.”
So she did. And so she gave me some different assignments than the regular students. And that helped me a lot. And we became best friends. So even though it was an awkward moment and she didn't understand, she was willing to use alternative method so it could help me.
A special student
Yes, I have a student that right now she already graduated from high school and she is doing her second year in the university. She is in the University of Florida, a very good university. And she always came to me for help in her home language. So that's what I did.
But I also helped her further than that to be able to, for her to apply for university. So I really guided her throughout. And I saw her potential. And she was very ... she was willing to do what I asked her to do. So she could go to a good university. And she did. And she's doing great over there. So that's a wonderful story.
Working with ELLs
Remember that they need at least six years to gain academic knowledge in the language. Because they understand what you're saying, they don't necessarily understand the concepts. So they can follow the directions, but not necessarily know and learn what you're teaching them.
Keep in contact with the parents always. The first thing you have to do at the beginning of the year is reach out to them. Invite them to your classroom. Invite them to see what the student is learning. And send notes, not necessarily negative notes. But always positive notes are very good. But that way also you can establish good rapport with the parents. So if you establish good rapport with them, the students will want to learn too. They know that you care. And the parents know that they can rely on you. And they can continue anytime. So that's one of the most important things I'd recommend.
Claudia H. Navarro is currently an ELL paraprofessional at Howard D. McMillan Middle School in Miami, Florida. In this role, she provides an individualized support system for students in the sciences, social sciences, and maths through the school's Home Language Assistance program. She also has provided extensive support for students preparing to apply for and attend college after graduation. Ms. Navarro has been a paraprofessional for 16 years, working with students of all grades levels, including special education students and ELLs. The mother of two sons, she is also a member of the AFT ELL Educator Cadre and recently earned a bachelor's degree in Special Education from Miami-Dade College.