I am a class teacher for Year Four and five students and a team leader for the middle school. My class and I are a part of the Manaiakalani Google ClassOnAir.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Scaffolding Language Learning into content areas

Prior experience becomes a context for interpreting 
the new experience ...prior experience serves as the contexts 
within which the language being used is to be understood.
Lily Wong- Fillmore

Before I began teaching this year, I set certain rules for classroom talk. One of the most important rule is to listen to everyone's ideas respectfully because everyone perceives things differently and  everyone's opinion is important.

To clarify this idea a bit more I started with one of the lessons from Jo Boaler's week of inspirational Maths. In this lesson the teacher shows a pattern ( as given below) for a few seconds and then questions students on how many dots they could see in the pattern. 

All students gave me the same answer. There are seven dots in the pattern. Then I asked them how they saw it and below is a picture of the different ways they saw the dots. The discussion became very interesting when they realised that everyone's answer was the same though each one saw the dots differently. 

This mini lesson engaged students in lots of talk and confirmed the idea that people see things differently and so it is important to respect everyone's ideas. I noticed that some of the students were struggling to explain their thinking so the more proficient ones encouraged, helped and supported them. 

The above lesson served as an awesome warm up activity for my next lesson where I introduced the tens frames. When I showed the Tens frames, most students made connections with their previous lesson and said that they were dots. I acknowledged what they knew and what they had recently learnt... and then moved them on to simple problems. It was interesting to hear them say things like -
  " There are only 10 dots on it, five on one side and five on the other... This one has just two dots..." The foundation work that had led to this lesson paid off. Students were able to make quick connections and this helped them to learn their basic facts. They quickly translated their mathematical thinking into equations. The golden moment was when they tried to form equations for both addition and subtraction problems.

We kept practicing till we became fluent!

By this time my students were completely drowned in their study of exploring patterns around them. They showed me patterns everywhere they found in their environment. I encouraged them to take pictures of patterns and they saw symmetrical patterns, stripes, crisscross patterns and many more...
When I asked them to explain their pattern, it became very challenging for them as they did not have the specific vocabulary. So we explored words like alternate, overlapping, symmetrical etc. below is a presentation made by one of the students in which he uses the new words learnt to explain the patterns in his environment.

Integrating with Language

Integrating with Maths Strand - Geometry
During their exploration of patterns some students clicked pictures of geometrical shapes and so this was a great opportunity to learn about 2D and 3D shapes. We talked about the differences between the two also identified the characteristics of various shapes. Students learnt the vocabulary related to shapes e.g. what corners, edges, faces and sides were? How a side was different to an edge and what was a difference between a surface and a face?
 As a follow up they had to make a presentation on shapes.

Some of my students struggled to verbalise their thinking, I made a barrier game for shapes and gave them sentence structures to talk about their shape.

Integrating with Reading
Now was the time to know that it is important to learn about patterns because they help us in our daily lives. So I gave them a text on Braille. This developed heaps of discussion - Students said that patterns are important to build something... like a house... or a table... they were important for blind people... Important to them to learn their basic facts...etc. I was very excited to see how my students could make these connections readily and could talk about the topic without being shy.

Integrating with Art

Lastly, Students made a shape collage. They chose the shapes and used their imagination to design a cat or a dinosaur or a mouse. They further explained their what shapes they had used to make their art. Most exciting bit during this lesson was when a one student who is usually not so social, showed most of the students how to put commas when listing things in writing. Students wrote stories like " I have used 3 triangles, 4 squares, 5 rectangles and 2 semi-circles in my picture.
It was just Perfect!

At the end of this whole week long lesson I felt very satisfied as I had been able to engage my students meaningfully into different tasks. Language learning is not a simple linear process. It involves and revolves around the content - in this case patterns and basic facts. By focussing on ways to scaffold my students could not only attain the subject knowledge but also learnt the language. 

It was delightful to see how the sequence of lessons rolled on from one learning to another. By linking tasks to other curriculum areas, it was easier for students to make connections to what they already knew and hang on their new learning to their previous knowledge. During the course of task designing, I have deliberately created tasks where students would get the opportunity to formulate ideas, set and evaluate and reach tentative decisions in a set up that is informal. The aim is to to develop an interactive classroom where students are proficient in explaining their ideas and their thinking. I want them to face challenges, make mistakes and then learn from them so that each student in my class grabs learning opportunities to improve their learning.
My next step would be to continue to link my topics to other curriculum areas so that students have lots of before hand experience to think deeply and critically about the topic of their study.
This is just the beginning...