Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tales of "English Language Learners"

Over the years, I’ve done “Residency” consulting days at various local elementary schools. I typically spend an entire day onsite, facilitating Brain Gym® balances with specific children identified as having challenges in various aspects of learning. Some schools have had me come regularly, perhaps once a month. 

These Residency Days have offered a particularly fascinating learning experience for me. I taught elementary school for 23 years, and so was familiar with many different learning challenges, but it wasn’t until after leaving teaching that I came across Brain Gym and became licensed as an instructor. Residency Days offered me a rich opportunity to see just what kind of impact Brain Gym balancing could have on a wide variety of learning issues, as I worked with children with diverse needs. 

One element of school experience that came up regularly at the schools I visited was that of “English Language Learning,” (ELL). Some ELL students truly struggled with their language lessons. It was rewarding to see how, in many cases, just a simple Brain Gym balance could go a long way toward unlocking the ability to learn English for these children. Here’s an example, that originally appeared in my newsletter: 

“Amanda” is a sweet, intelligent young girl, and she was about to be retained in third grade. She had come to this country speaking only Spanish, and had learned English over the last two years. By now she was fairly fluent in English, but somehow, she could not read easily in either Spanish or English, and the school director described her as being “language-confused.”

Amanda arrived for her Brain Gym session and we chatted a bit, and I went on to ask her what area she’d like to improve in. We talked about her learning of English, and she told me how difficult it had been to come to school that first day knowing only three words of English, and how hard it had been to learn. She showed me a book she had with her, and said she wished she could read more easily. She read one paragraph out loud – awkwardly, straining to recognize certain words, and stumbling over punctuation.

Somehow, the goals, “I know where to go in my brain for the Spanish,” and “I know where to go in my brain for the English” popped into my head. I asked her if this was what she wanted, and her whole face lit up. “YES!” she said. I told her that her two languages might be stored in her brain in ways that made them hard to get to, and that a Brain Gym balance might help her go more directly to the language she wanted. She was thrilled with that idea.

Amanda’s balance called for Dennison Laterality Repatterning. This made a huge shift in her Cross Crawl (very awkward before, and now very smooth). Her post-check reading sample didn’t seem much different to me, but Amanda said that reading was indeed a “whole lot easier.” Amanda returned to her classroom, delighted – and I wondered just what change had occurred, and how it would unfold.

Two weeks later one of the teachers at the school asked, “Did you work with Amanda Perez on your last residency day?” It turned out that Amanda’s mother was a close friend of this teacher, and had quite a story to tell. Amanda had come home from school that day and said to her mother, “You’re not going to have to follow me around and make me do my homework anymore! I have a brand new brain!”

And indeed, overnight, homework had gone from a battle, to something that Amanda did on her own, easily, every day. Not only that, both her ease in expressing herself in English, and her ability to write in either language blossomed overnight; and a recent check of her reading skill showed that in two weeks she had gone from reading at grade level 2.3 to 3.0. Amazing, what a “brand new brain” will do!

Six-month update:
The balance described above took place late in the third quarter of the academic year. At that time the school expected to have Amanda repeat third grade, as she was having such a challenge in showing competency in core areas of the curriculum. Up to that point she had earned almost all D's and F's, mostly due to incomplete work.

Her report card for the fourth quarter, following her Brain Gym balance, was almost all A's and B's! Needless to say, everyone was delighted, and this year Amanda is working beautifully in fourth grade.

“I know where to go in my brain for the Spanish. I know where to go in my brain for the English.” This is just one of many different goals that ELL students have balanced for in these Residency Day sessions. Other goals include...

“I hear the sounds of English.”
“I know how to say what I hear.”
“I easily use the English I’m learning.”
I remember all the new words in my lessons.
“I easily absorb English from the world around me.”
English makes sense to me.
“I’m comfortable speaking English.”

One of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had working with an ELL student was with 10-year-old “Enrique,” who balanced for “I’m ready to learn English.” There was a moment in the midst of his balance when Enrique was sitting quietly in Hook-ups, and I could tell he was processing deep emotion. Suddenly it all came tumbling out, as he began sharing how difficult it had been to come to the United States, how much he missed his native land and his friends there, how he hadn’t had a choice about coming, how he’d found himself in a school that expected him to know a different language. His tears flowed freely, then slowed, then stopped, as the tension unwound out of his body. He moved on to holding his Positive Points, and I watched his breathing slow to a more normal rate.

By the time his balance was finished, he could confidently say the words “I’m ready to learn English” – with a relaxed body and genuine smile on his face. And in subsequent visits to his school, I learned that Enrique was, indeed, learning English much more easily now. He caught up with me in the hallway one day, and gave me a big grin and a “Hello, Miss Kathy!” that spoke volumes.

I had always known that English was more than just “one more subject” for these children to learn, but this experience with Enrique brought home to me just how fraught with emotional baggage this particular learning process can be. How can a child learn a skill that is associated with disorientation, grief, anger, and frustration?

I look forward to the day when students everywhere are supported in smoothing out emotional reactions they may be experiencing in relation to any of their lessons, so they can be at ease, and ready to learn. (I'm comfortable learning math. Science makes sense to me. I understand punctuation. I'm ready to write my book report.) Could it be as simple as a bit of Brain Gym training for teachers, the awareness of benefits that are possible, and commitment to put it to use? 

With warm regards,


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