Developing Language for All
As teachers, we may never really stop to think how important and vital the thinking about language, or “metalanguage” is to our profession. In the rush of our busy lives we often do not stop to think about the words we chose to use for certain purposes, or the meaning of certain phrases in our daily conversations. We may take for granted the importance of developing language for our students and for ourselves. As adults, we know that reading, writing, and speaking will develop our language skills. But for students, we need to teach them the methods and strategies to begin to develop their general and academic language skills.
As common core curriculum is integrating itself into the public school system, it seems that the focus on critical thinking and the use of academic language to express one’s thoughts and ideas as well as understand others is the prevalent practice among progressive teachers. Gone are the days of simple repetition and learning to get the right answers on a test. Now, students and teachers are encouraged to analyze and critically think about their reading and writing repeatedly. Students are being taught to frequently stop and ask, “why?” Why is this important? Why does this matter to me? Why will this help me understand? It seems the function and use of language has shifted into a different light.
The good thing about developing language for all our students, is that the strategies to do this will work for all language learners, whether they be monolingual, bilingual, or multilingual. Regardless if they come from privileged backgrounds or impoverished ones. Using strategies that build language awareness will work for all those willing to learn. Strategies to teach students how to gain meaning from language will transfer into their adult learning.
One strategy that I like to use is making the classroom a language rich environment. Using word walls of content specific words, as well as academic words that reoccur as a theme in the area of study should be visible and accessible for students to refer to as needed. Using visuals and realia around the classroom to develop concepts and meaning is also important. Having students use the frequent high academic terms in their conversations about the topic will emphasize their learning. Another strategy is providing opportunities to discuss and have conversations about the subject or material that student’s are reading. Students with limited second language abilities may first discuss in their native language to develop their ideas about the topic. Then, they may slowly practice expressing themselves in the second language they are mastering. By using scaffolds such as sentence starters, writing frames,guiding questions, and choral reading, students’ anxiety or affective filter, is lowered and their ability to learn a language increases.
With the right tools, intention, reflection, and environment, bi-lingual students will be able to learn a second language proficiently and at their academic level, while being able to maintain and possible develop their primary language simultaneously. It’s all a matter of how we as teachers approach the task at hand.