Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Let's get them talking!

Reading, Writing, Listening... Speaking!

I am an English Language Development teacher.  Teachers all through my building send their kids to ELD and to NLD (and other classes like PE, Tier 3, Title I, resource room).  In my job I think about words a lot, and I wish we didn’t use so many acronyms and abbreviations.  They are confusing! Once in awhile a student who doesn’t come to my class asks me “What is ELD?”  I’ve had parents, and even teachers who’ve asked this question.  Sometimes folks will get them mixed up. 

I teach E.L.D.

E is for English - It’s the language some of our ancestors brought to this country from Great Britain many years ago.

L is for Language - Language is used for communicating with one another, usually with words, through speaking and listening or reading and writing.

D is for Development - To develop is to grow. In this class students are growing in their ability to use English for communication, and for learning. 

To become proficient communicators in English, students need lots of practice.  So every day students in my class will read and write, talk and listen.  But, it doesn’t help if we just say… talk more!  Read more!  

Visitors to my classroom will find students engaged in very intentional activities designed to help them with their language practice.  This week, I will share a couple of ways that I encourage students to practice speaking.  If you are a teacher who already does these things, think about ways that you can do them with greater purpose or intention.  Share your ideas with me, because I am constantly thinking about how to do this better.

Speaking: Turn and Talk / Talk at your Table

There have been times in my classroom (after demonstrating a scientific principle, or in a pause during an interesting read aloud, or during mathematical conversation) when I’ve stopped my class, because I know this moment provides great potential for thoughtful dialogue.  I want kids to think more, to talk more about an idea.  But, too often I’ve let this opportunity for language growth slip by my English language learners.  When I say… “turn and talk” or “talk at your table” I’ve noticed that some kids do all the talking.  These have been great opportunities for my confident speakers, and a likely moment for quiet types to reflect on the words of friends.  But, for my students who most need to practice their language, the time wasn’t well spent.

I’ve been thinking about why these students don’t talk, and about ways I can encourage every student in the room to use this turn and talk time well.

The Talking Stick  

With careful planning, each person has their moment to talk as the stick is passed around the group. I might add a sentence frame such as “I heard __ say ___, and I would like to add __.”  Or, “I heard __ say ___ and I agree/disagree because ___.” 

Whose turn is it anyway? 

I want my language learners to have good language models, so I carefully arrange my table groups.  I will say “Red speak first, then pass the stick around the table clockwise.” In this case, my language learner is not in the red seat.  He will have heard a sample response from a friend, and now he can repeat or add on. Table groups can be arranged to switch talking partners.  Sometimes I might have “elbow partners” or “corner partners” or “neighbors across the table” discuss.  I usually guide the turn taking with suggestions such as “Voices on the west side of the room speak first. The student on the East side should be able to re-voice what his partner said.”

Can you repeat the question?  

By using sentence frames and a question answer format, students who need time to process language will hear and see the target language form multiple times.  I might post a sample response on my white board, with a pass-it-on question attached.  For example I might say… “I noticed ___ about these shapes. What did you notice Sara?”  Then Sara responds, “I noticed __ about these shapes. What did you notice Michael?”

Talking partners and shared responsibility.  

Again, I have found it helpful to carefully assign talking partners.  If both partners are close in language ability, there is often more conversation and mutual support in the talk than if one is much more advanced.  This feeling of “we’re in this together” seems to make students less concerned about making mistakes with language, and similarly they are more likely to correct each other’s errors.  Also, when sharing out is randomized, and kids know that either could be called on to share out their common understanding, both are held accountable.  Teams will practice language to make sure both partners can correctly summarize the conversation.