In a recent edition of Educational Leadership, I came across a great article which describes a classroom scenario in which a teacher is scaffolding the teaching of new content, with complex language, to a class of learners with mixed English language proficiency. The key to success, the author argues, is for the teacher to 'view language learning and cognitive development as mutually dependent and create ways for students to learn language while they learn content'.
The article is well worth a read in full, but some of the key strategies the author highlights for supporting ELLs in tackling complex content include:
- Interact with new new words rather than introduce. Explore them in context as they arise, modeling how to infer word meaning from context clues, multiple times and ways, throughout a reading.
- Pay more time developing students’ understanding of words that represent concepts; this will support students’ acquisition of technical terms that are best taught in the context of the reading.
- Identify root words that may be core to the new concept learned and then exploring its derivatives (e.g. digest, digestion, digestive, digesting, digested)
- Use visuals, such as word walls and graphic organisers, to cement vocabulary development. Not only does this provide support for learning new words but helps to explore how words are related within a new concept, therefore helping with the overall concept development.
- Provide opportunities for ELLs to interact with language in a safe and structured context; for example, by establishing effective student partnerships, facilitated by appropriate pairings, protocols for paired talk with clear purposes and expectations.
- Provide sentence frames to support the language learners in being able to articulate new content knowledge/ concepts.
- Use nonverbal aids, such body language and especially gestures, to support association of new meanings (new research has just shown how gestures can help children learn Mathematical principles more deeply).
Reference: Arechiga, D. (2014). Tackling complex texts with Language Learners. in Educational Leadership, 71: 3.