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Developing Essential Academic Language Skills and Language and Technology

Hi everyone

Today I am sharing Dr. Deborah Short’s presentation from CLESOL. Deborah was representing TESOL International at the conference where she serves on the Board of Directors. Whilst much of her presentation was familiar to many of us it was good to reflect on what we do and to pick up one or two new ideas or strategies. It is also good to know that the ideas we promote in New Zealand are also used elsewhere in the world and are based on research.

 I am also providing a small focus on technology and language teaching as this fits very well with Deborah’s  presentation.

Using Sheltered Instruction to Develop Essential Academic Language Skills

Dr. Deborah Short presented at CLESOL on the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) model of supporting ELLs in content classrooms. SIOP provides a good model for lesson planning of academic English skills within content areas.  Teachers are required to always have a minimum of 1 content and 1 language objective when planning and teaching any lesson. The SIOP comprises 30 items, grouped into eight essential elements that help make academic content more comprehensible for ELLs:

  • Preparation: incorporating language development and content into each lesson, meaningful activities
  • Building background knowledge: using students’ knowledge and prior experience to connect to new content
  • Comprehensible input: ensuring that ELLs understand classroom dialogue and texts (for example, adjusting speech, modelling tasks, or using visuals, manipulatives, and other methods to deliver academic content)
  • Using language learning strategies: teaching strategies explicitly to help students learn how to access and remember information, scaffolding strategy use, and promoting higher order thinking skills
  • Interaction: encouraging the use of elaborated speech and appropriate student grouping for language development
  • Practice and application: using classroom activities that build on and extend language and content development using all 4 language modes.
  • Lesson delivery: meeting objectives, engaging students
  • Review and assessment: review of vocabulary and concepts, evaluating whether the teacher reviewed key concepts, assessed student learning, and provided students with feedback, informal assessment

Teachers can use these elements as necessary to engage students in language development and encourage ELLs in learning English. The SIOP strategies scaffold learning and help teachers focus on the language skills students need for success on academic tasks. This type of instruction can be used across grades and content areas.

Vocabulary Development:

Deborah spoke about ways to develop vocabulary:  carefully selecting what vocabulary to teach; building conceptual knowledge and adding related terms; structuring opportunities to read, write and speak the terms; doing word work on affixes; exploring multiple meanings; tapping into cognates, context clues, and on-page supports for unfamiliar words and playing vocabulary games. She then outlined several vocabulary strategies she has found useful.

  • The Frayer Model There is a good definition of this vocabulary learning strategy on Reading Educator. The Frayer Model is a graphical organizer used for word analysis and vocabulary building. This four-square model prompts students to think about and describe the meaning of a word or concept by . . .
    • Defining the term,
    • Describing its essential characteristics,
    • Providing examples of the idea, and
    • Offering non-examples of the idea
  • Concept Definition Maps see http://www.readingquest.org/strat/cdmap.html
  • RIP and Shooting Star Words RIP words are the overused words that you want to put to rest e.g. pretty, nice. Help your students to come up with shooting star words instead of the RIP words creating lists of alternatives e.g. glamorous, attractive etc. You can make interesting graphic wall displays to support these words. 
  • Advanced shades of meaning teach students the shades of meaning between words that are similar, the gradation or nuances of synonyms e.g hungry, starving, famished and ravenous. This is similar to the paint chip swatch samples that show gradation of a colour tone/shade.  Deborah suggests that you might provide the first and last word and they organise the other words, or put them onto cards for the students to order, or ask which term doesn’t belong.  (These are very similar to clines.)

Deborah also strongly supported the use of graphic organisers but recommended that teachers first teach the language which students will need in order to complete them.

Oral Language Development:

Students need support for developing oral language skills as oral language helps to make the connection between reading and writing. Teachers should generate discussion topics of high interest and build background and vocabulary. Encourage students to share ideas and to elaborate. She suggests using verbal scaffolds for elaborations such as: tell me more; what do you mean by that? Who can add on? (Note: Pauline Gibbons as written widely on how to scaffold oral language.) Structure opportunities to practice sentence starters and the use of signal words for language functions (e.g. because, caused, as a result, happen, then, effect etc), and provide language frames. Teachers should model academic conversations e.g. with the use of Fish bowl or Role Plays. They should also link classroom discourse and interaction with engaging reading and writing texts.

Reading Development:  

Deborah’s ideas included:

  • Building background and vocabulary to support access to text
  • Pair fiction and non-fiction texts to capitalise on content and vocabulary.
  • Differentiate selections based on interest and ability
  • Scaffold the reading process, move students towards independence
  • Link classroom discourse and interaction with engaging reading and writing texts.
  • Organise texts around essential questions that give students a purpose for reading. These questions should have multiple answers.

If you heard Deborah speak please add your own thoughts and reflections. Also if you have tried one of her strategies please share how effective it was with your students.  Also please remember that sometimes when students are learning a new strategy that it doesn’t always work well the first time you use it. Students often need repetition of opportunities in order to become familiar with a strategy and teacher modelling of the strategy also helps.

Language and Technology

Technology Online is launching a newsletter for all teachers of technology from years 1–13. The purpose of the newsletter is to reach out to teachers and show them the resources they have, and are adding, to support them in technology teaching and learning.  It will be published twice a term. To keep up-to-date with what’s happening on Technology Online, sign up here.

I am excited by the potential of their latest focus which is the challenges primary teachers face in coming to grips with technology in the NZC and in highlighting the links between learning in technology and language and literacy. 

Technology online have restructured the curriculum support section, added a diagram (which is currently being designed as well), and are working on simplifying the key documents that explain the components and on a set of introductory PD Modules. They have also added more primary-focussed resources and links to literacy. For example, see:

Of course if you are thinking about how to incorporate language and technology into a unit of work don’t forget the wonderful Making Language and Learning Work DVD 3, clip 3 shows a year 7 technology focus on Making Lanterns. Some strategies which I think are particularly useful when incorporating a focus on language into a technology unit of work are:

If you have an example of a great technology unit you have written that also incorporates language objectives why don’t you share it on our resource exchange. Many of our units are very old we would love to have some new ones to share.

Kind regards