ELL content mastery through best practices of learning
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Lesson implementation for English language acquisition must use effective pedagogical practices for teaching ELLs. For learning and comprehension to unfold, it is imperative to understand best practices for instruction and learning.
Some best practices for the teaching and learning of ELLs includes: comprehensible input, modeling, guided instruction, collaborative learning and independent practice. Here is a closer look at those five areas.
1. Comprehensible input
The teacher uses target language and tools to help students understand the teacher's words and instructional presentation for learning outcomes of instructional content. These can include context clues, such as use of classroom language, visual aids, gestures, audio, gestures, vocal tones, graphic organizers and other means to promote comprehension.
Comprehensible input can also include building on student background knowledge, using frequent checks for understanding, and allowing opportunities for students to express their opinions and ideas. Through use of comprehensible input, ELLs are given a foundation on which to make connections and understand content.
The teacher uses demonstrations of learning content to help students understand. Modeling can include visuals, gestures, actions, drawings, role playing, writing and other similar demonstrations. There are various forms of modeling: disposition modeling, task and performance modeling, metacognitive modeling, modeling as a scaffolding technique, and student-centered modeling. Teachers demonstrate the modeling before the expected outcomes.
Modeling of all forms helps ELLs make connections between their experiences and the expected task completion and learning. Through modeling, teachers give ELLs a foundation by which to make instruction and learning meaningful. Students can see what is expected of them, are guided through the process and are therefore able to complete the actions. Modeling is essential to the development of English language acquisition.
- Disposition modeling occurs when the teacher demonstrates character traits to build community. This allows students to observe and learn expected behavior.
- Task and performance modeling is the demonstration of what is expected of students in the learning activity or experiment. This sets the expectations for students.
- Metacognitive modeling is the demonstration of the entire thinking process to complete a task. It teaches students how to think through the learning activities.
- Modeling as a scaffolding technique occurs when the teacher models the full process of completing a learning task or activity. The teacher reinforces the process by demonstrating it multiple times so ELLs can make connections and understand how to complete the task.
- Student-centered modeling is when the teacher allows students to demonstrate the learning, task completion, or thinking process. Students become the modelers versus the teacher.
3. Guided instruction
The teacher works with small groups of 6-8 students to teach one to two learning goals on a focused topic. In these groups, the teacher facilitates the learning of the goals in increments of 15-20 minutes.
Guided instruction is always followed up by independent learning tasks the teacher assigns to students or smaller groups of students. Examples of guided instruction are cognitively guided instruction and guided reading.
4. Collaborative learning
The teacher creates a learning environment where learning is social between the teacher and students and also among peers. Student completion of a task to meet learning goals through problem-solving — often in structured groups — is the main focus of collaborative learning.
In cooperative learning, students work together to learn from each other, while remaining responsible for their own learning. This form of learning is engaging because it is active and contextual. Cooperative learning can help ELLs by promoting communication skills between peers, engaging them in higher-order thinking tasks and facilitating exposure to the learning and building of prior knowledge.
5. Independent Practice
The teacher provides students with an independent learning task once students have showed understanding and mastery of the learning objectives. Independent practice is a way for students to complete tasks and assignments to individually practice and demonstrate the mastery of the objectives. The teacher can divide a lesson presentation into main topics.
After students master each topic, the teacher gives a short activity for students to complete. Teachers should give students multiple ways and opportunities to demonstrate mastery. Activities should promote higher-order thinking, problem solving and the performing of tasks that match learning goals.
Independent practice can also bridge the gap between home and school by fostering learning extensions and content explorations at home. Teachers can assign tasks to complete at home. Home learning extensions should try to actively involve parents in the leaning process, too.
There are many activities for guided and independent practice. Those, as well as all strategies of best practices for educating ELLs, will help students understand the instruction and to foster task exploration and mastery. Strategies for best instructional practices help build connections where the student is engaged and able to actively participate in the learning process, in groups and individually.
These strategies promote instruction that is culturally relevant, cognitively demanding and supportive of socially-effective learning. All of these are essential to meeting the diverse learning needs of the ELLs.
Curriculum layout and design should be based on research and evidence-based methods and standards for teaching ESL students. It is creating a map of the entire teaching and learning process to reach and assess the learning goal, objectives, and standards.
Design should include assessments and standards, higher-order thinking, cultural sensitivity, use of comprehension checks, incorporation of prior knowledge, consideration of literacy needs, consideration of language needs, incorporation of knowledge and learning in first language (if possible), 21st century skills development, components of communicative competence and collaboration, and student-centered learning.
Use context clues, cues, cognitive demands, language demands, repetition, learning monitors and individualized learning.
1. Alignment and presentation of content on the paper or screen.
2. Flat versus three-dimensional reality.
3. Ways to model content and learning.
4. Presentation should scaffold instruction into meaningful chunks with not too much clutter or verbiage that is not on the language proficiency level of students.
5. What is the end goal of ESL student achievement for the curriculum? What are the language, literacy and content-area goals/objectives/standards? How will students demonstrate these achievements? What evidence will they show? How will they reach the desired learning for assessment? Ask questions such as these to create backwards curriculum mapping, planning and writing.
6. How and where are students learning? Consider the learning environment of students. Is it in a classroom setting? Is it in small groups? Is it online? Is it in a computer lab? Is it for homework reinforcement or help? The learning environment affects students learning, so design should entail appropriate accommodations for the learning environment so students stay engaged and active in learning.
7. What are the language goals? Consider language forms and domains: vocabulary, syntax and grammar.
8. Include content modeling or examples.
9. Include use of student learning modalities.
ESL teachers should meet with content-area teachers to collaborate in designing and writing learning content that is aligned to content-area standards (Common Core and/or state standards), ESL standards (state, WIDA or similar adopted standards) and the personal learning goals of ESL students in the classroom. Consider the BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicational Skills) of students and how content development can drive CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) development.
Follow or develop a framework for curriculum development. The ESL Learning Network sets five concepts as framework: understand needs, determine focus, set learning outcomes, integrate assessment and demonstrate accountability. Their framework is directed towards adults; however, the same concepts can be applied to other ESL populations as well.
Design should entail formal and information assessment measures. Summative and formative assessments styles and outcomes should be reviewed to consider which is best for the learning goal.
Mindset change and personal support
In this world of fast-changing and complex technology, there are many individuals who do not want to learn how to use technology. People of all ages can learn how to use technology for curriculum design. It involves a mindset from transformation from "I can't do it" to "I can."
Learning takes time and patience. Often individuals do not have the time to learn how to use technology tools for adaptive means. School districts, supervisors and the like should create professional development time and training to teach teachers how to use technology for creating curriculum, supplementing and/or modifying existing curriculum to use with ESL students.
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