RESOURCES

Developing Educator Expertise to Work with Adolescent English Learners

Module 5 – Teaching and Learning Disciplinary Literacies at the Secondary Level: A Meaning-Making Perspective

By Meg Gebhard & Chalais Carter

OVERVIEW    |    INTRODUCTION    |    PART 1    |     PART 2    |    PART 3    |    REFERENCES

Part 1: The Embedded Historical, Economic, and Political Contexts of Schooling

 

Part 1 provides a portrait of the schooling experiences of an English Learner, “Celine,” in “Milltown,” Massachusetts. This portrait includes a description of the support the Milltown Public Schools District provided Celine as she attempted to learn English, develop disciplinary literacy practices, and prepare for college. In Part 1, you will be introduced to some of the historic, economic, and institutional forces that shape how English Learners attending secondary schools in the United States develop the ability to read, write, and critically engage with disciplinary knowledge.

As you work through Part 1, keep the following guiding questions in mind:

  • What is the history of immigration in the community in which you teach or are completing your practicum? (Note that in some communities, students designated as English learners are not immigrants. They were born in the United States, and their families have lived in parts of North America for centuries (e.g., indigenous peoples, Spanish speakers who live in the Southwest).
     

  • How has this community responded to economic, demographic, and political changes over time, especially as these changes relate to the education of immigrants?
     

  • What district-level and school-level programs are available for English Learners?
     

  • What kinds of “high supports” are available to English Learners as they attempt to read, write, and critically discuss “high-challenge” texts and prepare for their futures?
     

  • How are students supported in “talking to learn” in their home languages and in the language of schooling?

 

To explore these questions, you will read about Celine and Milltown; watch a video about high-challenge and high-support instruction and meaning-making systems; and develop an understanding of embedded contexts by collecting, sharing, and discussing information about the context in which you teach or are completing a practicum. You will facilitate your individual and group work by using talking-to-learn practices and recording key ideas in note catchers.

 

Activity 1.1: Learn about the context of a secondary school and its supports for English Learners

Participants will: engage in individual reading (outside of class)

Duration: 15 minutes

In this activity and Activities 1.4 through 1.6, you will read about Celine’s literacy development as an English Learner attending a US secondary school in Milltown, Massachusetts.

Directions

  • Read the following description of Milltown, Massachusetts, and the support the Milltown Public Schools District is able to provide its English Learners.
     

  • As you read, keep the following questions in mind:

    • What is the history of immigration in the city of Milltown?

    • How has the Milltown Public Schools District responded to changes in the city’s demographics and economy over time?

    • What district-level and school-level programs are available for English Learners who attend Milltown public schools?

    • What kinds of high supports are available to Celine as she attempts to read, write, and critically discuss high-challenge texts and prepare for college?

The history of Milltown

Based on a cursory review of government-sponsored city and state websites, the following is known about Milltown:

  • English settlers began displacing indigenous peoples in the mid-1600s (in what is now the US Northeast region).

  • In the 1800s and 1900s, Irish, Polish, and French-Canadian immigrants arrived and supported a growing agricultural economy.

  • Beginning in the 1900s, Milltown began to develop a manufacturing base that continued to attract immigrants from Europe.

  • By the 1950s, newcomers to the area included many families from Puerto Rico.

  • Although there are still seasonal farming jobs available for migrant workers, factory jobs have mostly disappeared. The leading employers in the region are hospitals, other types of healthcare facilities, and K–12 schools and institutions of higher education. The jobs offered by these employers require postsecondary education. They are also jobs for which being fully bilingual/multilingual is highly advantageous.

 

Milltown demographics in 2020

 

Total population: 44,117

  • African American: 4.5%

  • Asian: 0.7%

  • Indigenous: 0.3%

  • Latinx: 35.2%

  • Multiracial: 2.6%

  • Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander: 0.1%

  • White: 56.6%

 

Median household income: $45,500

 

Median value of owner-occupied homes: $189,000

 

Milltown High School demographics

 

Total enrollment for 2020/21 school year: 1,500 students

  • African American: 3.1%

  • Asian: 0.3%

  • Indigenous: 0.1%

  • Latinx: 35.5%

  • Multiracial, non-Hispanic: 0.9%

  • Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander: 0.1%

  • White: 60.0%

 

Languages spoken: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Kiswahili

 

Four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (2020): 85.0%

 

Number of students eligible for a free or reduced lunch: 75.0%

 

Students with disabilities: 20.1%

 

Number officially designated as English Learners: 20.0%

 

District-level and school-level programs available for English Learners
who attend Milltown public schools

In line with state and federal laws, Milltown provides programs for students officially designated as English Learners. These programs include

  • Pullout classes, in which students are pulled out of general education classes and attend English as a second language (ESL) classes, bilingual classes, or both.

  • Push-in classes, in which ESL teachers and bilingual specialists provide instructional support to English Learners within general education classes.

  • Bilingual education programs, which, more or less, had public and institutional support prior to the passing of a law in 2002 that mandated English-only programs. More recently, there is some renewed support for bilingual education, starting in 2017 when the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education began awarding the State Seal of Biliteracy to eligible high school graduates. This seal signals to colleges and employers that a graduate has acquired advanced language proficiency in one or more languages.

  • World language instruction courses (e.g., Spanish, French, Latin), typically offered to college-bound students.

 

Teacher professional development opportunities for Milltown teachers

 

To respond to changing demographics and the persistent inability of schools in Massachusetts to support the academic development of students designated as English Learners, in 2013 the state mandated that all pre-service and in-service teachers, not only ESL and bilingual specialists, complete course work in sheltered English immersion (SEI) instruction. This mandate requires that all teachers have a knowledge of the process of second-language acquisition and be able to teach content and language simultaneously (e.g., the language of mathematics, the sciences, literature, social studies) in service of an equity agenda regarding the education of English Learners.

 

After 2013, teachers in Milltown received additional professional development in SEI instructional practices, and all pre-service teachers earning a teaching license were required to complete a state-approved course titled Sheltered English Immersion.

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    To protect the anonymity of the student information shared in this activity, the indigenous name for this area is not used. However, we want to acknowledge the indigenous peoples who continue to live on and steward this unceded land.

Additional Reading

  • See Chapter 6 of Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacies (Gebhard, 2019) for a review of federal laws, state laws, and programs for English Learners in the United States.
     

  • See Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacies (Gebhard, 2019) for a critical discussion of the SEI mandate in Massachusetts.
     

  • See Chapters 7 and 8 of Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacies (Gebhard, 2019) for a history of shifting policies and conceptions of equity in US schools.
     

  • See Aída Walqui’s conversation with Kenji Hakuta, English Learners in the United States: A Historical, Policy, and Educational Trajectory.

Activity 1.2: Watch a video about developing high challenge and high support instruction

Participants will: engage in watching a video and taking notes (outside of class)

Duration: 1 hour

Video: The Role of Talk in Learning: Implications for Recently Arrived EAL and Refugee Background Students in Mainstream Classes

In this activity you will watch and take notes on a video that describes how teachers in Australia provide English Learners with high challenge and high support for developing disciplinary literacies by
 

  • connecting content and language objectives,
     

  • providing learners with models of disciplinary language practices, and
     

  • providing high levels of support for engagement in disciplinary discussions.

Directions

  • Individually, watch the second half (25:30–57:18) of Aída Walqui’s conversation with Jenny Hammond, a professor of education from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.
     

  • After you have watched the video once, watch it again. This time, use the Activity 1.2 note catcher to take notes regarding the following topics:

    • Describe some of the features of high-challenge and high-support instruction for English as an additional language (EAL) students in Hammond’s research.

    • Note the connection between content and language goals in the science lessons Hammond discusses.

    • Reflect on what Hammond means by talking to learn and learning to talk (and read and write) in an additional language. Describe some of the ways teachers in Hammond’s study implemented instruction to support EAL students in mainstream classes.

    • Note the importance of collaboration between content specialists and language specialists.

    • Compare your work to the work of teachers described in Hammond’s study. Note how, in regard to the education of English Learners, the context in which they work is similar and different to the context in which you teach or are completing your practicum.

Activity 1.2 Note Catcher

Prompt

Notes

Describe some of the features of high-challenge and high-support instruction for English as an additional language (EAL) students in Hammond’s research.

Note the connection between content and language goals in the science lessons Hammond discusses.

Reflect on what Hammond means by talking to learn and learning to talk (and read and write) in an additional language. Describe some of the ways teachers in Hammond’s study implemented instruction to support EAL students in mainstream classes (e.g., setting high expectations, modeling content literacy practices, expecting all learners to participate, pairing learners who share the same language).

Note the importance of collaboration between content specialist and language specialists

Compare your work to the work of teachers described in Hammond’s study. Note how, in regard to the education of English Learners, the context in which they work is similar and different to the context in which you teach or are completing your practicum (e.g., demographics, access to the mainstream curriculum, support for learning content and language simultaneously, use of students’ home language in learning new content, collaboration between teachers).

Activity 1.3: Discuss Hammond’s research in Australia

Participants will: engage in small group discussion

Duration: 30 minutes

Based on Walqui’s conversation with Hammond, we know that how students participate in class discussions strongly influences the development of both their content knowledge (i.e., talking to learn) and their language proficiency (i.e., learning to talk, read, and write about disciplinary topics). Hammond’s talking-to-learn approach for classroom discussions (see 41:30–48:25 in the video) has the following characteristics:

  • Teachers model and support how all students, even in highly heterogeneous groups, can participate in pedagogical conversations in ways that are predictable, equitable, and respectful.
     

  • Students are encouraged to use their home language and the language of schooling as they negotiate the meaning of high-challenge tasks with assistance from one another and their teachers.
     

  • Teachers make clear both the purpose of group tasks and what students are expected to produce as a result of their discussion.
     

  • All students are provided with an opportunity to construct new ideas jointly by using their new language as they speculate, question, and engage with one another and curricular concepts on a deeper level than what a more unstructured conversation might yield.
     

  • Some classroom discussions require more structure than others, especially in the beginning as students learn how to participate in deep conversations about disciplinary concepts. Over time, teachers can provide less structure and modeling as students internalize new ways of participating in different kinds of pedagogical discussions.

Directions

  • In groups of 3–4, and using the notes you took in Activity 1.2, discuss the ideas presented in Walqui’s conversation with Hammond and make connections to the context in which you work or are completing your practicum.
     

  • Use the add/agree/disagree/pass participation structure, described in the following box, to guide your discussion and to practice using Hammond’s talking-to-learn principles.

The add/agree/disagree/pass participation structure

To help you practice using Hammond’s talking-to-learn principles, we have designed an approach to structuring how you participate in group discussions: the add/agree/disagree/pass participation structure. When sharing responses in small groups, use this approach to support talking to learn and equitable opportunities to engage in classroom discussions. You can also use this participation structure with your students. Although it may seem overly structured, give it a try and see how it works for you and your students.
 

  • Establish a predictable speaking order (e.g., clockwise).

  • Establish that participants can use whatever language is most conducive to learning and that others in the group will facilitate with translating and the negotiation of meaning as needed.

  • As participants share, they can decide to add, agree, disagree, or pass. For example,

    • To add to the conversation, participants can share an idea. Participants can start their contribution by saying, “In response to [state the discussion question], I’d like to add [state ideas].”

    • Then move to the next participant, who can add other ideas.

    • If the next participant agrees with something that has already been shared, they can say something like, “I agree with the idea of [state idea] because [state reason].”

    • If a participant disagrees with ideas that have been shared, they can say something like, “That’s interesting, but I disagree. I think we need to think about [state ideas] because [state reasons].”

    • If a participant needs more time to formulate their thoughts into language, they can say, “I’ll pass.”

  • Toward the end of the discussion see if they have anything to contribute now that they have heard several responses and have had time to formulate their own response.

Additional reading

Chapters 1 and 8 of Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom (Gibbons, 2015).

Activity 1.4: Note your reactions to Celine’s editorial

Participants will: engage in individual reading and taking notes (outside of class)

Duration: Approximately 10 minutes.

In this activity, you will go deeper into Celine’s experiences and supports for learning content and language in the Milltown public schools.

Directions

  • Read about Celine’s experiences with the Milltown public schools, her experience in Mr. Bank’s journalism class, and the editorial she wrote for Mr. Bank’s class.
     

  • Record your reactions to Celine’s editorial in the Activity 1.4 note catcher.

    • What reactions do you have to the content of Celine’s editorial?

    • What reactions do you have regarding the language of her text?

    • What kind of feedback would you provide Celine to help her publish her editorial and prepare for college?

Celine: A portrait of an English Learner preparing for college in the context of
Milltown High School

Celine, who identifies as Black, was born and attended school in Brazil, where she learned to read and write in Portuguese.

Her family moved to Milltown when she was in 5th grade. During middle school, she participated in the school’s ESL program, which functioned like a school within a school and was located on a separate floor of the large school. She took all of her classes with other English Learners, many of whom were also students of color who spoke a variety of languages, mostly Spanish.

Because of the passage of an English-only mandate in the state in 2002, Celine did not participate in a formal bilingual education program. However, her teachers, many of whom were bilingual, modeled the benefits of multilingualism and advocated to ensure the district provided students with home-language support whenever possible.

By 11th grade, Celine had passed various English proficiency exams and exited the high school’s ESL program. She was then officially classified as a former English Learner. She also had passed mandated exams given in 10th grade to all students in Massachusetts through the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.

Celine indicated that she was interested in attending a historically Black college and wanted to improve her writing ability. With assistance from her guidance counselor and teachers in the English department, she enrolled in Mr. Bank’s untracked journalism class, where she hoped to earn honors credit while preparing for the literacy demands of college.

Mr. Bank’s journalism class

Mr. Banks had a reputation for being a very talented and sought-after English teacher who went the extra mile to support his students. He also designed his courses in ways that invited students to explore complex topics they were interested in and to publish their work for an authentic audience in the school and local newspapers.

He had a master’s degree in education and a professional license to teach secondary English and history. He completed a Sheltered  English Immersion training the district provided but reported that it emphasized what he already knew about good teaching: the importance of developing caring relationships with students, designing interesting curriculum that connects with students’ lives in meaningful ways, and setting high expectations for everyone.

Celine’s editorial

Celine reported looking forward to Mr. Bank’s classes because he encouraged her to develop her voice as a writer in exploring her experiences and feelings. With his encouragement, she decided to write an editorial about her experiences at Milltown High as a person of color and a former English Learner. This the text Celine produced (Gebhard, 2019, p. 27):

Imagine walking into the room and all you see is a classroom full of white native-English speakers. And you think “Am I in the right classroom? Are there more people coming because the bell just rang? Is this a joke?” Sometimes I feel like out of all the people in the school I am the only black person who is willing to take this class. I moved to American from Portugal in 2006. In Portugal, though the majority is white, they speak my language and understand my culture and I rarely felt judged for being the way I am. Also, people come from Cape Verde, Brazil, and many other places. Now in          , I am aware of my race.

 

Sometimes it may feel lonely; other times I think it was done on purpose. Entering a classroom where none of us students are students of color brings an interesting feeling. It makes me think of where to sit or who to sit next to because I don’t know how they will react. And when it comes time to talk about race, you feel you’re the only one there to defend your race, beliefs and culture. It is like being left in a jungle and just has to find out how to survive to the next year or so. It’s sad, disappointing, confusing and it shows the worst in people. The situation in are school happens when it comes to teachers, there are not much African American teachers around. Because of the history of lack of education, now a day’s most African American teachers want to teach in universities, colleges or more multi racial schools. I know that its not done on purpose but since they have a way to balance classes by gender can they have a balance classes by race...The facts show that more than half of the school is composed by Caucasian students, which leads to the probability of not having a lot of colored students in a classroom.

 

There is a need to have more students of color in a classroom and especially in honor classes. Even though the percentages of races is not high there should always be someone else of your race or people of other races that at least make up half of the classroom so that the environment around will feel new, interesting, educational and safe to learn about other people’s cultures and languages. The comfort to speak about race will change and it will make everyone more not be afraid to say what they belief in. During my ELL classes I meet new people from all over the world and learned about new cultures everyday just made me come to class and feel more comfortable. The environment was just what I wanted and liked. When it comes to college I hope to go to any all-black college because it’s just so great to be with people of the same skin, culture, beliefs as you. It also makes you more comfortable and confident about yourself because you know that there are people going thru the same situation as you.

 

But would you ever think that its racism happening every time I enter the classroom? In a school where there are kids from all over the world. Even though it may not have been done on purpose but the effect of it is so big that it could really affect someone. It may seem not normal but it makes you think “Am I the only one that is willing to challenge myself?” Or most importantly “Is there enough people of color in my school?”

Activity 1.4 Note Catcher

Prompt

Notes

What reactions do you have to the content of Celine’s editorial?

What reactions do you have regarding the language of her text?

What kind of feedback would you provide Celine to help her publish her editorial and prepare for college?

After the group discussion in Activity 1.6, add any new topics and ideas you would like to keep track of.

Activity 1.5: Note your reactions to Mr. Bank’s feedback

Participants will: engage in individual reading and taking notes (outside of class)

Duration: 10 minutes.

Like many dedicated teachers, Mr. Banks diligently provided feedback and encouragement on Celine’s paper. As experienced teachers know, giving this kind of feedback can take hours, especially when teaching large classes. However, many teachers do not know how to prepare learners for challenging writing assignments and how to target the feedback they provide regarding language, especially when working with English Learner writers.

Directions

  • Review the feedback Mr. Banks provided to Celine
     

  • As you read, jot down some notes in the Activity 1.5 note catcher.

    • What types of feedback did Mr. Banks provide regarding the content of Celine’s editorial?

    • What types of feedback did he provide regarding the language of her text (e.g., spelling, word choices, sentence structure, text organization, specific aspects of English grammar)?

    • What is helpful about this feedback?

    • Based on your experiences as a student and a teacher, what do you think are some of the limitations of this feedback?

Mr. Banks Feedback

Source: Gebhard, M. (2019). Teaching and researching ELLs’ disciplinary literacies: Systemic functional linguistics in action in the context of U.S. school reform (p. 35). Routledge.

Activity 1.5 Note Catcher

Prompt

Notes

What types of feedback did Mr. Banks provide regarding to the content of Celine’s editorial?

What types of feedback did he provide regarding the language of her text (e.g., spelling, word choices, sentence structure, text organization, specific aspects of English grammar)?

What is helpful about this feedback?

Based on your experiences as a student and a teacher, what do you think are some of the limitations of this feedback?

After the group discussion in Activity 1.6, add any new topics and ideas you would like to keep track of.

Additional reading

See the article “Preparing Teachers to Respond to Student Writing” (Ferris, 2007) for tips on how to prepare learners, especially English Learners, for challenging writing assignments and on how to target the feedback you provide regarding language.

 


Activity 1.6: Discuss Celine’s editorial & Mr. Bank’s feedback

Participants will: engage in small group discussion

Duration: 30 minutes

Directions

  • In groups of 3–4, share and discuss the notes you took regarding Celine’s editorial and Mr. Bank’s feedback.
     

  • Use the add/agree/disagree/pass participation structure to guide your discussion and to practice using Hammond’s talking-to-learn principles. As new topics are discussed, add them to your Activity 1.4 note catcher and Activity 1.5 note catcher.
     

  • Throughout your discussion, keep in mind the findings from Hammond’s research:

    • Teachers model and support how all students, even those in very heterogenous groups, can participate in pedagogical conversations in ways that are predictable, equitable, and respectful.

    • Students are encouraged to use their home language and the language of schooling as they negotiate the meaning of high-challenge tasks with assistance from one another and their teacher.

    • Teachers make clear the purpose of the group task and what students are expected to produce as a result of their discussion.

    • All students are provided with an opportunity to construct new ideas jointly by using new language as they speculate, question, and engage with one another and curricular concepts on a deeper level than what a more unstructured conversation might yield.

    • Some classroom discussions require more structure than others, especially in the beginning as students learn how to participate in deep conversations about disciplinary concepts. Over time, teachers can provide less structure and modeling as students internalize new ways of participating in different kinds of pedagogical discussions.

Activity 1.7: Collect information about your context

Participants will: engage in working in small groups to collect information (outside of class)

Duration: 1–2 hours

This activity supports you in developing a deeper understanding of how English Learners in the context in which you work or are completing your practicum develop content knowledge, associated disciplinary literacy practices, and a sense of the value of their multilingual and multicultural resources.

Directions

  • Form a small group of 4–6 participants with whom you have something in common as a pre-service or in-service teacher. It is best if you collaborate with others who work or intend to work in similar communities, at same grade levels, or in similar content areas (e.g., urban middle school science, suburban high school dual-language program that focuses on math, high school newcomer program).
     

  • Have each participant in the group pick one of the following topics:

    • Historical, political, and economic contexts

      Visit the website for your group’s community and take a tour of the community by car or public transportation. If possible, interview a local resident to get more information about the community’s historical, political, and economic contexts.

    • School district demographics

      Visit the website of your group’s school district and, if possible, interview someone who works in the district and can provide additional information regarding the demographics of the district’s English Learners.

    • School context

      Visit the website of your group’s school and, if possible, interview someone who works at this school and can provide additional information regarding the education of the school’s English Learners.

    • Classroom context

      If possible, make arrangements to observe a class for students officially designated as English Learners and to interview their teacher. In taking notes, it is important to be respectful of teachers and students by protecting their privacy. Use initials or pseudonyms to identify them. In addition, it is important to keep a very open mind about what you observe and to avoid making erroneous judgements about students, teachers, the curriculum, or the school based on a single observation.
       

  • Using the descriptions of Milltown, Massachusetts, and Celine’s schooling experiences in the Milltown public schools as examples, work with your group to collect information about the institutional supports available to English Learners in the context in which you work or are completing your practicum. Collect information individually in the form of electronic notes and website links that you can share with the others in your group with the Activity 1.7 note catcher.
     

  • Your group will share the information you collect during this activity in Activity 1.8.

Activity 1.7 Note Catcher

Group member name

Interest (e.g., 8th grade math)

Topic 1: Historical, political, and economic contexts

Group member name(s):

Directions: Visit the website for your group’s community and take a tour of the community by car or public transportation. If possible, interview a local resident to get more information about the community’s historical, political, and economic contexts. As you explore, jot down notes regarding the following topics.

Prompt

Notes

History of this community (e.g., midsize former mill town and farming community in New England)

Changes in the demographics of this community (e.g., in the early 1900s, immigrants were White and came primarily from Europe; since the late 1900s, immigrants are predominantly people of color who come from parts of Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia)

Changes in main industries or employers (e.g., in the 1900s, paper mills were the main employers in this region; now all of these factories are closed, leaving behind enormous abandoned brick buildings; as of 2019, the leading employers in this community are hospitals, other health care facilities, and a large insurance company)

The current demographics:

  • ethnicity and immigration

  • average income

  • average price of a home

  • points of pride

Other information relevant to the experiences of multilingual students (e.g., jobs that require bilingualism, jobs that require the ability to use specific technologies, jobs that require postsecondary degrees, leading cultural organizations or centers)

Topic 2: School district demographics

Group member name(s):

Directions: Visit the website of your group’s school district and, if possible, interview someone who works in the district and can provide additional information regarding the demographics of the district’s English Learners. As you explore, jot down notes regarding the following topics.

Prompt

Notes

Demographics

Percentages of selected populations (e.g., students whose first language is not English, English Learners, students with disabilities, students with high levels of need, students who are economically disadvantaged)

Dropout rates

Graduation rates

Graduates attending institutions of higher education

State test scores

District-level information regarding language education (e.g., dual-language programs, ESL classes, sheltered immersion instruction, heritage language programs, newcomer programs, ethnic studies programs)

Key federal, state, or local policies (e.g., mandated accountability systems, language policies, approaches to grouping students, availability of honors program for English Learners)

Other relevant information (e.g., information on websites in more than one language, particular points of pride)

Topic 3: School context

Group member name(s):

Directions: Visit the website of your group’s school and, if possible, interview someone who works at this school and can provide additional information regarding the education of the school’s English Learners. As you explore, jot down notes regarding the following topics.

Prompt

Notes

The campus location and surroundings

Demographics

Percentages of selected populations (e.g., students whose first language is not English, English Learners, students with disabilities, students with high levels of need, students who are economically disadvantaged)

Dropout rates (if applicable)

Graduation rates (if applicable)

Graduates attending institutions of higher education (if applicable)

Test scores

Information regarding teachers (e.g., number of ESL and bilingual specialists relative to the population of English Learners)

Information about departments, programs, and the curriculum

Description of hallways, the lunch room, the library, and other common spaces

Other relevant information or points of pride

Topic 4: Classroom context

Group member name(s):

Directions: If possible, make arrangements to observe a class for students officially designated as English Learners and to interview their teacher. In taking notes, it is important to be respectful of teachers and students by protecting their privacy. Use initials or pseudonyms to identify them. In addition, it is important to keep a very open mind about what you observe and to avoid making erroneous judgements about students, teachers, the curriculum, or the school based on a single observation. As you explore, jot down notes regarding the following topics.

Prompt

Notes

Classroom layout (e.g., desks arranged in a U-shape and facing a dry-erase board, displays of student work along one wall, a set of three computers and a printer, a display of classroom norms written in several languages, a large poster of the periodic table)

Classroom routines or a posted agenda

Number of students

Main activities:

  • language focus, if evident during this observation

  • content focus, if evident during this observation

  • connections to students’ language and culture, if evident during this observation

Nature of student participation in discussion, reading, and writing tasks

Access to supports for learning (e.g., textbooks, curricular materials, technology)

Language(s) spoken and use of students’ home language while making sense of high-challenge tasks

Collection of curricular materials (e.g., pictures of handouts, readings, textbook passages that can be read on a cell phone

Activity 1.8: Discuss your context

Participants will: engage in small group discussion

Duration: 30 minutes

Directions

  • Using information from your Activity 1.7 note catcher, share with your group 5–7 points of information that you feel are relevant to your group’s collective understanding of the context in which you work or are completing your practicum and of the education of English Learners in your community.
     

  • Based on this exchange of information, use the add/agree/disagree/pass participation structure to explore the following questions, taking notes with the Activity 1.8 note catcher:

    • What strengths are evident in how this community, district, school, and classroom provides English Learners with high challenge and high support for succeeding in school and preparing for their futures?

    • What potential problems did you note in how this community, district, school, and classroom provides English Learners with high challenge and high support for succeeding in school and preparing for their futures?

    • What actions can you take to provide English Learners in your context with high challenge and high support as they prepare for their futures?

Activity 1.8 Note Catcher

Prompt

Notes

What strengths are evident in how this community, district, school, and classroom provides English Learners with high challenge and high support for succeeding in school and preparing for their futures?

What potential problems did you note in how this community, district, school, and classroom provides English Learners with high challenge and high support for succeeding in school and preparing for their futures?

What actions can you take to provide English Learners in your context with high challenge and high support as they prepare for their futures?

Activity 1.9: Develop an understanding of embedded contexts and meaning-making systems

Participants will: engage in individual reading and taking notes (outside of class)

Duration: 1–2 hours

Reading: Chapters 1 and 2 of Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacy Practices: SFL in Action in the Context of School Reform (Gebhard, 2019)

Directions

  • Read and take notes on Chapter 1 of Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacy Practices. Using insights from this chapter and those developed as a result of your participation in Activities 1.1 through 1.8, answer the following question: How well does Figure 1.1 (page 14) capture the embedded contexts that shape how English Learners learn to read, write, and discuss challenging texts in school? Use the Activity 1.9 note catcher to record your response.
     

  • Read and take notes on Chapter 2 of Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacy Practices. Review Table 2.1 (page 31) and jot down your reactions, questions, or concerns regarding this chart in the Activity 1.9 note catcher.

Chapter 1 of Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacy Practices provides a discussion of the “hard times” that shape the schooling experiences of students officially designated as English Learners. It also provides a model for understanding the embedded text and context dynamics that shape how English Learners develop disciplinary knowledge and literacy practices (Figure 1.1, page 14). This model is informed by a highly contextual theory of language and learning developed by Michael Halliday called systemic functional linguistics (SFL).

Chapter 2, provides a case study of the schooling experiences and literacy development of Celine. As part of exploring Celine’s literacy practices in more detail, Table 2.1 (page 31) provides a discussion of some of the differences between everyday versus disciplinary-specific ways of constructing knowledge with language and other meaning-making systems (e.g., gestures, images, graphs, equations).

Activity 1.9 Note Catcher

Prompt

Notes

Figure 1.1 (page 14) provides a model for understanding the embedded text and context dynamics that shape how English Learners develop disciplinary knowledge and literacy practices. How well does this figure capture the embedded contexts that shape how English Learners learn to read, write, and discuss challenging texts in school?

Table 2.1 (page 31) provides a discussion of some of the differences between everyday versus disciplinary-specific ways of constructing knowledge with language and other meaning-making systems (e.g., gestures, images, graphs, equations). Jot down your reactions, questions, or concerns regarding this chart.

Additional reading

Read Jenny Hammond’s (2006) article “High Challenge, High Support: Integrating Language and Content Instruction for Diverse Learners in an English Literature Classroom.” This article provides an additional example of the concepts Hammond discussed with Walqui in the video you watched for Activity 1.3. Use the Hammond article note catcher to record your responses to this article and any connections to your work.

Hammond article note catcher

Prompt

Notes

What is the context of this study?

  • Who are the teachers?

  • Who are the students?

  • How does it relate to your context?

How does the teacher featured in this article, Kathleen, weave curricular content with academic language?

What is metalanguage? How do Kathleen and her students use metalanguage?

How do students play with language?

How can you provide high challenge and high support for your students?

What questions, additional comments, or concerns do you have about the information presented in this article?

What questions, additional comments, or concerns do you have about implementing this in your classroom?

Activity 1.10: Discuss embedded contexts and meaning-making systems

Participants will: engage in small group discussion

Duration: 30 minutes

In this activity you will review and consolidate your understanding of the topics presented in Part 1 by discussing Chapters 1 and 2 of Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacy Practices (Gebhard, 2019).

Directions

  • In groups of 3–4, use the add/agree/disagree/pass participation structure and the notes you took while reading Chapters 1 and 2 of Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacy Practices to explore the following questions:

    • How well does Figure 1.1 (page 14) capture the embedded contexts that shape how English Learners learn to read, write, and discuss challenging texts in ways that support them in constructing ideas, constructing their voice, and managing the flow of extended discourse?

    • What were your reactions to, questions about, or concerns about Table 2.1 (page 31) regarding the differences between everyday versus disciplinary-specific ways of constructing knowledge with language and other meaning-making systems (e.g., gestures, images, graphs, equations)?

    • If you read the article by Jenny Hammond, discuss any notes, questions, additional comments, or concerns you had regarding context, academic language and metalanguage, playing with language, and providing high challenge and high support in your classroom.