Learning To Teach in 2 Languages

Instructors hone their skills in program put on by UNM and Albuquerque Public Schools

Eight-year-old Jorge Alonso couldn’t quite decide which athlete would look best in a pink suit, pink boots and a tall pink cowboy hat.

Should he paste the face of a baseball player on his drawing, or would a golfer look better?

Geri Tuttle, 35, was trying to help Alonso make a decision, asking him which newspaper picture he liked best.

Alonso is part of an English as a Second Language class at Dolores Gonzales Elementary School on Atlantic SW, across from the Rio Grande Zoological Park.

Tuttle is part of a different class at Dolores Gonzales. She is learning to teach English to students like Alonso and his classmates, 6-year-old Bryan Aguilar, and his 8-year-old sister, Dayanne.

“I needed more strategies to take back to my kids,” said Tuttle, a special education teacher at West Mesa High School. “I have a lot of kids who were not proficient in either language.”

Tuttle is one of about 25 people enrolled in the ESL/Bilingual Summer Institute, a six-week, three-course program put on by the University of New Mexico and Albuquerque Public Schools and funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

This week is the program’s last for the summer. Afterward, some of the students will be certified to teach ESL and bilingual classes. The others still must complete one or two courses at UNM for certification. Most of the program’s students are APS teachers.

The idea of taking the ESL and bilingual program out of the university’s classrooms and into elementary schools for the summer was developed three years ago by Holbrook Mahn, 54, an associate professor of literacy and language at the university.

The move gives the program’s students practical and theoretical experience. In one hour, they get to work with children, helping them with their English and arts and crafts. In another hour, they sit in elementary school-sized chairs and desks, listening to a UNM professor lecture about the history of bilingual education.

The students also got a chance to work with some of the children’s parents, who were taking ESL lessons at Dolores Gonzales school as well, Mahn said.

Mahn began teaching ESL in Denver in 1967. Two years later, he was in Los Angeles in a school with a big gang problem.

“If students didn’t get quickly involved in school life, there was the pull of the gang,” he said.

In that classroom, Mahn said, he learned it was important to show students how to use the language, not just bombard them with grammar lessons.

The sooner they learned to speak English, no matter how much or how well, the better the chances of keeping them in school, Mahn said.

“One of the key things is confidence.”

Mahn is also helping to teach the importance of allowing languages other than English in the classroom.

Janet Wolfe, a volunteer tutor at the Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute, used to tell her students they could only speak English in the classroom.

The summer program at Dolores Gonzales has prompted her to change her approach. She now begins each weekly two-hour lesson by having her students, employees of the school and mostly Spanish-speaking, translate Spanish sentences into English.

“I start them out in their language and move them into English,” Wolfe said.

“To get them to learn English, especially in this city, when they don’t have to speak the language, isn’t easy.”

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