From BICS to CALP: One example of an EAL lesson to support an inquiry classroom

*crossposted from Language and Literacy for Learning*

“Give them a compelling reason to learn English.”

Thank you Katrina Schwartz for writing a great article in Mindshift, about language barriers and deep learning. One thing that stuck was “..give them a compelling reason to learn English.” When I read something that strikes a chord with what I believe about language learning, I am eager to read about lots of classroom examples. What do other teachers do to facilitate language development in an inquiry classroom? To my knowledge there is one book written on the subject called Ladybugs, Tornadoes and Swirling Galaxies (on my desk if anyone cares to read it).  So I set out to think of an example in my own teaching to reflect on how language learning can be supported in an inquiry classroom.

For a unit of inquiry on simple machines, I wanted to give my English language learners some practice for their summative assessment in which they would need to explain how their design worked using two simple machines. I had thought about how I wanted to assess how well the students were using the academic language (CALP) of the unit and decided the best way would be to let them design their own invention and explain how it worked.

We started by watching a clip from Wallace and Grommit and talked about the inventions he made and how they worked. We then looked at some other inventions before they spent time drawing and thinking about their own. I only gave them one criterion to start with, so as not to interfere with their creativity, which was that their invention needed to have at least two simple machines.

Interaction and scaffolding

Once they finished I asked them to explain two things, in order to build their language: what it was for and how it worked.  While doing so I micro-scaffolded for language in our conversation. People who spend time with very young children know that the first language develops by scaffolding and interaction and I’m a great believer in using dialogue to build the means for thinking and language. The words in bold in the example below are examples of target language I wanted to hear students use:

Student: I made…. I made a robot… he puts things up…to make it easier…
Me: Right, a robot to lift things for people. What kind of things does he need to lift?
Student: it’s made for building houses and stuff….so….
Me: I see, so you designed this robot to make construction work easier for people…
Student: It works like this… the arm goes around..
Me: Oh I see, so it’s wrapped around, is it?
Student: yes.. it’s wrapped around the arm like here…

Involving students in the assessment

I involved the students in the assessment by deciding together what an explanation of their invention should have:

We also decided on the kind of words we needed and the sentences to use by referring to our word wall, which the children had previously built themselves.

I then showed them an explanation of Wallace and Grommit’s design and we highlighted more special unit words.

In this final product, you can see the use of the words lift, force, designed and wrapped around:

Beginner students
The beginner students were able to label things in their drawings and I helped them write longer sentences by giving them the words which they then had to put together:
I used Google translate and the help of the stronger Japanese student to help my complete beginner and he wrote most of his explanations in Japanese. I also used the Bitsboard App which he had previously used for flashcard games, so he could recognize and listen to words and phrases again.