SOL Challenge Day 3 – writing in a new language

imgresMy part time job is testing! Don’t get me started – I am not a firm believer in all the testing but it is what I do to help out one of our schools in my retirement years! (another story)

Right now we are testing our English Language Learners. They have four tests to take.


  • A Listening test
  • A Reading test
  • A Speaking test
  • A Writing test

Wednesday I had a small group of new comers to the country – many having lived in refuge camps for many years – having arrived here a year ago or maybe less. They were a mixed group of 4th and 5th graders. They had been involved in a fight during lunch and now I was asking them to sit down to a computer – listen to directions and writing in a booklet.

I know you are teachers and can image what this might have looked and sounded like. Most of their comments were not in English so I am not sure what was said but I do know how they felt about it. I can’t blame them. I can’t image what I would do if asked to sit down and write in another language.

We struggle to settle, listen to directions but I pushed through. I told them I knew they could do this and they needed to show me their best. Amazing, as all children are, with time they settled and began the task in front of them. I would say they all tried. They all wrote something and we got through it.

It ran against everything I know as I writing teacher and as a writer but it was an assessment I keep telling myself. It was a chance to see what they know and can do. The problem is the classroom teacher will never see this writing. They will see a score.

I saw students who were afraid, who didn’t know the language or how to spell work hard, push through when they couldn’t follow the directions of a computer. I saw students write three separate pieces on different topics. I saw struggling students work super hard to write in a new language. I know their score will not show what I saw or what these students felt.

I wonder what I would have done if I was sitting in their place at that age?? I wonder if their ELL teacher will process with them what this test felt like and what they can learn from it. I hope this will not just be a score that sits on someones spreadsheet someplace.  Because for all their behavior issues and learning issues they tried really hard.


P.S.  The second grade group came in ready to write and write they did. They were amazing writers. They also have been in the country longer and are younger. They transition faster the younger they are it seems.

Something to think about during this month of writing. What would it be like to have to write in a language you don’t know?

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Reflection, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to SOL Challenge Day 3 – writing in a new language

  1. Wendy says:

    Mmm, lots to think about here. I taught ELD for fifteen years. At one point in time, it was allowed to read the reading test aloud to students who had been here less than two school years. Their score would automatically count as failing, but it wouldn’t count as having not taken the test at all. I had some kids who were so new that they would have failed anyway, and I figured I could find out more about their understanding if I read it to them. I remember how hard one seventh grader worked, how carefully he listened and then analyzed the questions. His score would have been a “nearly meets” which was HUGE considering how little time he’d been here, and how little education he had in any language. As his teacher, I got to see what his comprehension strengths and weaknesses were. As a student, he took a test that was challenging, but not overwhelming or demoralizing.

    The next year, it was decided that reading the reading test to a student was not allowed. Sigh.

  2. elsie says:

    My heart breaks for these students. I know I would be at a loss in another land and especially if the alphabet looked different from what I was used to seeing. These kids do work hard.

  3. Kristy L says:

    Sometimes I have to stop myself, to really put myself in my ELL student’s shoes. I gave up on my Spanish minor (I’m still kicking myself for that) after 4 years in high school and two in college because my next class was Lit. And I was terrified. So I can’t imagine being a high school student expected to follow along and keep up with everything going on around me. In another language. Ugh. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Joanne Toft says:

      Your welcome! I am kicking myself for not keeping up with my Spanish – may go back now and really try to learn the language. It bothers me that I do not know a second language.

  4. Tara Smith says:

    Ugh…thank goodness the kids had you and your kindness.

  5. arjeha says:

    Testing is a struggle for most. Results are just numbers that don’t always reflect what the student put into taking the test. Glad you were there to guide these students through the process.

  6. Linda Baie says:

    You must have shown such care, Joanne, for them to work hard no matter how ridiculous it seems. I cannot believe those in power believe that this is helpful in any way. Thanks for sharing about those wonderful kids.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s