1. Think about my content objective. What do I want students to learn?
Students will be able to paraphrase the main idea of a paragraph in an expository text?
2. Turn the content objective into a question and answer it myself.
What is the main idea of this paragraph?
3. De-automatize my thinking: How do I know what I know? What language made it possible for me to answer this question successfully? Analyze the language of the text at the 3 levels of meaning: discourse level, sentence level, and word level.
What am I noticing at the discourse level that allows me to paraphrase this text?
Title: The Comeback Cubs: The Chicago Cubs are headed to the National League Championship Series after a ninth-inning win”
Referring words: That’s, them
Lexical chain = Chicago Cubs is referred to as Cursed Cubs, them
What am I noticing at the sentence level that allows me to paraphrase this text?
Nouns: Chicago Cubs
Verb phrases: won the baseball series, beat the San Francisco Giants, securing a place in the NLCS, getting close to World Series
What am I noticing at the word level that helps me paraphrase this text?
Tier 2 words: cursed, securing, “a place”
Tier 3 words: Chicago Cubs, World Series, home field, NLCS
Tier 1 words: beat, won
4. Chose a language feature from the language analysis that will allow my students to meet the content objective.
Nouns, Verb Phrases, Referring Words
5. For English learners, I will ensure the language feature is something my EL students can, at their language level, process, understand, and produce. I will think of what language supports I need to provide ESL students to meet this language objective. Resources such as WIDA’s Performance Definitions, Can Do Key Uses will help me do this.
Level 3: Language features fit in the Peformance definition of “compound and some complex grammatical constructions.” A support will be provided via visuals and/or sentence frames.
6. Write the language objective using the standard format: Students will be able to + academic language function + content topic + language feature.
Students will be able to paraphrase an expository text using nouns and their referents and verb phrases.
Log in to access more language objective writing resources to support each step!
Text analyis worksheet
Grammar cheat sheet
Tiered Vocabulary Run Down
De Automatize Your Thinking Worksheet
How to Think About Academic Text
Hopefully I’ll be catching several of you at my presentation later on today at the Minnesota English Learner Education (MELed) Conference where I’ll be discussing the dynamic duo of syntax and close reading! However, do not despair as my blog entry this week summarizes my thoughts made and strategies shared at the conference. And a bonus! Conference attendees (& everyone else!) can download the 2 handouts with no log in required. But do so quickly, as I’ll be storing the resources in the members only section by next week! If you miss the deadline, no problem - simply register as a member of the site for your free access to the materials.
As discussed in previous blog entries and as we all know anecdotally from our own teaching experiences, teaching students to comprehend complex text using metacognitive strategies alone is not always sufficient for our most struggling students. We know these comprehension strategies are really more about demonstrating comprehension than learning to comprehend. Kamhi & Catts (2012) go further to say, “Although comprehension strategies may be helpful in facilitating comprehension, they do not address deficiencies in background and language knowledge or motivational factors that research has shown are the most significant causes of comprehension problems (Guthrie, Wigfield, & Perencevich, 2004; Hirsch, 2006; Snow, 2010). Language matters. “Readers must be able to recognize individual words, understand grammatical and semantic relationships between words, and integrate ideas in the text and with past knowledge to make inferences to aid integration and fill in implicit information (Kahmi & Catts, 2012). For students to be able to “summarize” text, identify the “key words,” discern the “most important” ideas, the vocabulary, text structure and syntax need to be understood first. For many students, this language needs to be explicitly taught before they can demonstrate their comprehension of the content text.
One of the most neglected of these text microstructures in schools is syntax, o therwise known as grammar. Grammar has been a taboo topic for years in education as many wanted to distance themselves from the rote instruction most prevalent in the 1950s-1970s in which grammar was taught in isolation, with no function or meaning applied. However, the pendulum has swung so far that we now very rarely make explicit any grammar, even though the syntax, or word order, of school text can be very complex, vary widely between subject areas, and does not match the language most familiar with many of our culturally and/or linguistically diverse students. The language of school, the syntax of school language, best matches that of students representing the “mainstream,” and so language may not an issue for these students. Teachers hopping over the language of the content isn’t a problem for these students. However, it is a significant roadblock for students whose language experiences do not match that of the language of school.
So, yes, teaching language, teaching syntax is important. But how do we do it with meaning? How do we teach these grammatical structures, not in isolation, but in a functional way that allows simultaneous development of the content objectives? One popular pedagogical structure we can utilize is close reading. Close reading is defined by students conducting a deep analysis of a short, complex piece of text. They reread this text several times over the course of multiple lessons. The purpose in each of these rereadings is defined by a text dependent question that is tied to the content and varies for each rereading. Students deepen their understanding by having collaborative conversations with their peers which focus on the text dependent question. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey have provided four text dependent questions that can frame our analysis of text:
In my work with struggling readers, I developed a template for a close reading cycle that I have found very successful in teaching reading comprehension skills while making explicit the language features of the text. The cycle incorporates 5 lessons over the course of a school week. Syntax was analyzed under the question of “how does the text work?” A blank template of the syntax close reading lesson is found below as well as the sample lesson I presented at the conference today in which nouns, verbs, adverbials, and anaphora were made explicit to students in order for them to identify the main idea of the text.
As teachers do this type of close reading, or text analysis, with students, they will start to see certain language features surface in connection with particular comprehension skills. For example, in order to identify the setting in a story, readers need to know who is in the text (nouns), and where and when the story is taking place (adverbs of time & place). Or to compare and contrast characters in a story, the author will most often use relating words, or “to be” words such as am, is, are, was, were to describe the characters. John was happy. Jill was sad. These words then become “red flags” to readers that something is being compared in the text. I have included below one of my most treasured documents for your free use and download. This document details the syntax patterns most often tied to particular comprehension skills. This is a very valuable resource in that it’s a quick reference when developing language teaching points in close reading lessons. Please enjoy!
MELed 2016 Powerpoint Presentation
Blank Lesson Template for Syntax Close Reading Lesson
Sample Lesson Template for Syntax Close Reading Lesson
Quick Reference! - Syntax Teaching Points to Teach Common Comprehension Skills
Language development objectives are nothing new in the EL world. At the university level, we work diligently to ensure our ESL teacher candidates leave the program writing strong language development objectives and understanding that language is taught through the content in order to make the content accessible to students learning English. However, learning how to write language development objectives is typically not part of coursework for non-ESL teacher candidates. Mainstream teachers often have had very little, or no, training in writing these language objectives.
So, what role do language objectives have outside of EL? Is it necessary for mainstream teachers to understand and develop language objectives in their content lessons if they have EL students in class? What if there are no EL students in the class?
Typically, we think language instruction falls on the EL teacher. This is valid as this person is the specialist specifically hired to teach English to non native speakers. However, EL students, typically those in low incidence schools, often are taught a majority of their day from a teacher who is not licensed or certified in ESL, and, like all teachers in American monolingual schools, the mainstream teacher uses English to teach his or her content objectives. There’s simply no way around it; he or she will either speak about their content, have students listen to the content, have students read or write about the content. This is how we communicate. Language is the vehicle for the content instruction. If a student is not fluent in this vehicle, which is delivering the content, there will be no opportunity to communicate the content; and thus, the content cannot be learned. It is impossible for an EL teacher to design every mainstream lesson. Thus, to be an effective teacher who teaches all learners, every content teacher must be a language teacher.
What happens when a mainstream teacher has no EL student in class which often occurs in low incidence schools? Is language still a concern?
Language, even for native speakers, is something teachers should always be thinking about, particularly when students are not meeting proficiency standards. We have to look at how the instruction is being delivered, which is through language. Yet, most of us rarely think about the language as it is part of our subconscious. The language of school is the language of the academic middle class which represents the teachers themselves. So, the language of instruction is second nature to us as teachers. Yet, it is not second nature to many of our students, who may represent culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds, native English speaking students included.
The answer is yes, while EL students have unique needs that native speakers may not need, language development objectives do have a place in the mainstream classroom. All teachers are language teachers. All teachers must be thinking about what language needs to be explicitly taught in order for students to access the content.
Click here for your FREE copy: Writing Language Development Objectives: A Mainstream Teacher's Quick Reference Guide
Comprehension Monitoring, Predicting, Graphic Organizers, Questioning, Summarizing
These metacognitive strategies are typically a significant part of any educator’s instruction when teaching students how to comprehend text. And for good reason – it’s repeatedly been proven effective (National Institute of Child Health and Development [NICHD], 2000; Vaughn , Gerseten, & Chard, 2000), but the same number of educators who find success with students using these strategies, also hit major roadblocks with other students. Unfortunately, these students are the ones who struggle most with reading.
This was my story. . . I had Harvey & Goudvis’ Strategies That Work dog eared with the accompanying sticky notes to break down the text into meaningful parts, record their questions, predictions, monitoring, and then, Nessel’s Thinking Strategies was always there with excellent graphic organizers to organize all of this great thinking. And it worked! Beautifully worked with a majority of my suburban, mainstream class. Yet, each year, I would have a small number of students who just didn’t get it. After all of this scaffolding and support to demonstrate their thinking, their metacognitive strategies, I would ask these students to tell me what they just read, and all I got were blank looks. With my bag of “research based best practice” tricks empty, how did I respond? Well, what else was there to do. but move on to a more capable, or who I thought was more capable, student who gave me the answer I was looking for. But I cringed as I knew it was my lack of knowledge, not the students, that was holding them back. And I cringe now knowing I built myself back up as a teacher, as a practitioner, by finding a reliable student who could demonstrate my teaching was still “good,” even though the previous student just showed me loud and clear that it was not.
But, now, I know better. No longer can I accept success when my middle and high fliers show success. My success can only be defined on the success of all students. We must dig deeper and find ways to make text accessible for all students.
So, why isn’t strategy instruction enough? Why can it not be our stand alone, go to when teaching students to comprehend text? Kamhi & Catts (2012) explain it perfectly, “finding the main idea or making a summary is more likely to be the product or result of comprehension rather than the cause. Although comprehension strategies may be helpful in facilitating comprehension, they do not address . . . background and language factors or motivational factors that research 2010] has shown are the most significant causes of comprehension problems (Guthrie, Wigfield, & Perencevich, 2004; Hirsch, 2006; Snow, 2010). The students who were able to tell me a strong summary of the text were simply demonstrating their comprehension. They already got it. I was not teaching students how to comprehend.
Before we can teach metacognitive strategies that demonstrate comprehension, we need to teach students how to comprehend. To do this, we need to teach students how to unlock the language of the text. How is it organized? How is it ordered? How is it connected? We need to show students how text works at a broad level (the discourse level). If that’s too complex, then we drill to the sentence level. If that’s too difficult, drill to the clause level. Move down to the word level if needed. Focus on language to ensure comprehension.
Where do we begin? How do we teach this? Thanks to people like Beverly Derewianka and other scholars dedicated to the work of making the language of school explicit has made our job easier. Through their work from the Sydney School, they have analyzed thousands of texts, and determined the key text types, or academic genres, that most occur in Western schools. We not only know the type of texts students are expected to comprehend and learn from, thanks to Derewianka and others such as Maria Estela Brisk, we also know deeper details like the language & text organizational features students will encounter in each of the these genres. So, writing our language objectives couldn’t’ be clearer or easier. And once we know the students understand the language, they will have full, equitable access to the content objectives.
Free to you is a comprehensive list of the most common academic genres used in western schools that details how each genre is organized & the language features of each genre. This will be your go-to guide when making text accessible to all students. To access this free resource, be sure to subscribe & register to www.ericksoneducationalconsulting.com!
Story Circles: An Oral Language Development Strategy that Makes Space for All Students’ Language Traditions While Also Making Academic Language Explicit
In language, we have four modalities of communication: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. In schools, we are often most focused on developing reading and writing, not as much on oral language development (maybe thinking the vast majority of our students are coming to us speaking and listening just fine so let’s get them reading & writing!) However, what we may forget is that the language spoken is most likely social language, or what Cummins calls Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) which will not have the same language patterns as academic speech. To teach reading and writing, we need to bridge students from oral to the written language. If we don’t explicitly teach the structures of academic oral language, then, we are building a bridge from the social oral language to the academic written text of school which we may not find very successful, particularly with students whose oral discourse patterns do not match the academic discourse patterns of school. Consequently, a gap in reading and writing achievement is born.
While we want to make the language of school explicit, we also need to recognize that these language forms in academia are based on middle class European American language traditions. The diverse language traditions students develop at home may not reflect the mainstream; however, their value is not any less. For example, the language of school incorporates two common forms of storytelling – a recount and observation, both of which convey experiences in a linear fashion. Another method of storytelling not modeled in schools is a more “topic-associating style” that is more episodic and thematic (See below for examples). However, all three styles successfully communicate experiences; thus, they should all hold value in the classroom.
Erin Elizabeth Flynn details in the latest September 2016 issue of The Reading Teacher a great classroom strategy that not only explicitly builds students’ academic oral language but also incorporates and values the diverse language traditions of all students, thus creating a multilingual and multiethnic classroom. While her focus is on its use in the early childhood classroom, this strategy could be modified to be incorporated into any age classroom that is building reading and/or writing skills. A description of her technique is included below.
Story Circle Strategy with Examples of Common Storytelling Forms Adapted from Flynn, E.E. (2016) Language-Rich Early Childhood Classroom: Simply but Powerful Beginnings. The Reading Teacher, (70)2, 159-166.
Just as important as making schooling explicit to all students is making space for the cultures of all students in our schools. One impactful way we can do this is by allowing students to see themselves in the literature they read - making books accessible in which the main characters may look and act like children like themselves. As a teacher, the trouble is this is often easier said than done. Beautiful award winning chapter books like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry or The Watsons Go to Birmingham or picture books such as Ruby Bridges can quickly come to mind when we think of multicultural children’s literature. These books are often easily found at the chain bookstores or Scholastic Book fairs. Yet, while these texts are wonderful, the trouble is they are not “just right” books for most elementary students to read independently. Additionally, while the content is historically very relevant, they may not be relevant to the contemporary daily lives of today’s 7-11 year olds who may be looking for an easy, fun read about kids their age doing things they like to do. As a literacy specialist, I made it a goal each year to seek chapter books, particularly series, that showcased main characters of color in which the majority of elementary students could read independently. Here is a list of texts I found my students have enjoyed over the years. The list is, of course, always evolving as additions are made, and so will become more comprehensive over time. I am always looking for ideas - Please send suggestions my way!
Multicultural Chapter Book List Independent Levels - Elementary
It is no secret we have an achievement gap in education. In my home state of Minnesota, overall proficiency in reading was close to 60% on last spring’s state assessment whereas 40% of students qualifying for free and/or reduced lunch reached proficiency. Even greater gaps were seen in the state math and science assessments between economic student groups. This is not new information. We are all well aware that students in the middle class, or from the “mainstream”, perform better as measured by written assessments than students from the working class.
“Academic gap,” “Early Learning Deprivation,” “Disadvantaged backgrounds” We hear these buzz words very often in education. Typically used in well-intentioned ways, but most definitely should cause us to reflect on the underlying cultural tones of the message.
These terms must be used with caution as many may mistakenly conclude these terms indicate students' socialized experiences are lacking in some way, or even deprived. Dell Hymes (Cazden, John, & Hymes, 1972) warns of the inappropriateness of labeling children in this way. Instead, Hymes (1972, p. xx) strongly asserts, "if the contexts that elicit or permit use of that competence are absent in school; if the purposes to which they put language, and the ways in which they do so are absent or prohibited in school," it very well may be moreappropriate to say the child is repressed rather than deprived, placing the onus on the school rather than the child's background. Furthermore, research supports any difficulty with content may well have nothing to do with the child's cognitive processes but more with the linguistic properties of school (Clark, 1969; Donaldson, 1963).
More compelling evidence that we need to explicitly teach the language of schooling to all students rather than assuming students understand content area language structures.Join the journey as we explore language and literacy.
“If we do in the future see a generation of teachers emerge with a lively and critical understanding of the role of language in the ways we mean, and hence in the ways children work and think in schools, we will witness considerable change in the ways teachers and children work together. . . Language will become no longer the hidden curriculum of schooling. Instead, its essential role in the structuring and organising of experience and information will be properly acknowledged. Whatever the age group taught, whatever the "content" of concern, whatever the mental skills to be developed, teachers will be able to consider and answer the question: What is it that my students need to be able to do in language order to be successful in this learning activity.” (Christie, 1985)
What will your students DO in language in order to be successful in your lessons? This is the directive Frances Christie put forth to us as teachers over 30 years ago; yet, language remains the implicit, hidden curriculum of schools, and not surprisingly, we are still facing a major achievement gap amongst students based on socioeconomic status. What’s the connection?
The language of school is inherently academic: the vocabulary, the text structures, the oral discourse patterns, and the syntactic patterns differ from the language patterns many students have been socialized in and are most familiar with. Yet, explicitly teaching these language features and patterns are not the norm in school, and not part of our teaching in the various content areas: math, science, social studies, or even language arts. Why not? Well, our science curriculums aren’t focusing on syntactic patterns or linguistic genres. Neither is math nor social studies, for that matter. Yet, the language of each of these content areas is unique to that content area. There is indeed a language of science, a language of social studies, a language of language arts, and students must demonstrate proficiency in each of these literacies; otherwise, it’s impossible for them to meet proficiency standards in these curricular areas. At least one modality of language (reading, writing, listening, speaking) is always carrying the meaning of the instruction, and if students aren’t literate in one or all of these modalities, then, it will be impossible for students to participate fully. Thus, we must teach the language of the content in order for students to access the content.
So, how do we start to do this? How do we think about what all of our students need to do in language in order to successfully meet our content objectives? Join the journey as we explore language and school.