At a session at the Washington Association of Bilingual Educators conference I attended last month, the speaker, Sarah Ferris, is an ELL Coach in the Bellingham Public Schools, presented her teaching tip article called Revoicing A Tool to Engage All Learners in Academic Conversations. I found it very helpful in naming some of the work and research I’ve been trying with teachers this year to get ELLs talking in the classroom. I linked it above in hopes that you will find or be reminded of some helpful ways to increase talking in your classroom through teacher revoicing, paraphrasing and questioning strategies.
Remember, if students can hear it, read it, and say it, they can write it and that will translate into comprehension and application!
This school year I’ve been lucky enough to be in a position where I am able have time allotted in my day to research, plan, co-plan, collaborate and co-teach best and next practice lessons with teachers to work toward getting students of differing levels of English language proficiency contributing to the classroom conversations. It has been a blessing to be able to set goals to actually get students talking in classrooms instead of trying to get them to be quiet enough to get anything done!
Now you might think I’ve completely lost my mind but I assure you, kids talking in class, and I mean talking about the things we want them to be talking about and using the language we want and they need to be using is actually really good! We know that in order to understand and communicate what we learn, we do that through the vehicle of language. To be able to understand what we read and learn, to communicate in oral or written word, to process, comprehend and communicate complex thinking, we need to have the language to do so.
Here is an example. ELL students do plenty of inferring all day, in all situations of their lives, not just school. The newer they are to the English language, the more they have to infer about what is happening around them to function, fit in, navigate life and ultimately to survive, let alone learn. Yet until you explicitly teach students what inferring means, how, when and where we do it and name it, they have no idea that is what they are doing all day. We have to provide the language, the structure of how and when to use the language, and to then help them identify how using inferring gets to deeper levels of thinking and understanding.
Part of the process of language learning is the act of using the language in all domains of language acquisition. The domains are reading, listening, speaking and writing. Reading and listening are receptive language functions and speaking and writing are productive language functions. They all go together. If students are listening and reading and taking information in, that is good AND they also need to be producing language in the forms of speaking and writing to really understand and go deeper in their application.
Understanding all of the above leads me to this…We have to get our ELL students
involved in academic discussions in our classrooms all day in all content areas!
This year I have been working with teachers on ways to get ELL students engaged through sentence frames, sentence starters, and learning tasks that involve students talking to each other in whole group, small group, and partner work. We have been finding our ELL students making gains in their writing as a result of the explicit instruction, scaffolding, and increased talk time for all students. Sentence frames have provided access for academic language and how and when to use it and discussion frames have promoted real conversation and dialogue.
ELD Specialist, Marrion Elementary