Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Text Complexity in Foreign Languages

As we know, beginning learners of a second language cannot likely read at the same lexile level as their native language.  We cannot simply place a foreign text in front of a student and think that "Google Translate" is an appropriate learning strategy for when students do not understand.

We must take into account many factors:
  • embedding background knowledge (embed high frequency vocabulary)
  • number of new vocabulary encountered within the text (not so many that it distracts from understanding)
  • scaffold the text
    • consider tiering the text by 3 levels
      • basic information (simple sentences)
      • basic information plus a couple of more details (a few complex sentences)
      • basic information, more details & more details! (mostly complex sentences)
Below is a Diigo List I created of articles related to learning strategies specific to reading and vocabulary for foreign language learning.  This pairs well with Common Core & Text Complexity.  It is imperative we scaffold reading and embed learning strategies within our lessons in order to best support reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition for foreign language students (click HERE for my post on scaffolding).  Not only will tackling text complexity in foreign languages help foster language learning, but it will extend to supporting text complexity for Common Core as well.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

CSI: Curriculum, Scaffolding & Instruction

Curricular resources often arrive in pretty boxes inclusive of textbooks, workbooks, media and technology.  While many of these resources are great tools, frequently educators lose sight of the fact that resources are not curriculum.  Oh how I wish these pretty boxes came with warning labels stating...

"Resource Crime Scene! Do Not Cross! 
Investigators Only!"

Typically, canned curriculum is scoped and sequenced in a linear row.  When instruction is delivered as such this creates one dimensional learning.  Much like a domino effect, the moment a student stumbles all subsequent pieces fall down.

Prior to investigating resources, standards must be prioritized. These priorities are the key skills required for progressing as a learner. Standards and learning objectives must clearly define what is essential for students to know and be able to do.  Once these priorities are established only then can we dig into resources.  In order to throughly investigate, we must rid of the pretty packaging, dump out all of the pieces and begin to select what will support our priority standards.

left photo credit: sergiofloro via photopin cc
right photo credit: shannoninottawa via photopin cc
When building curriculum we must give thought to how learners will grow from the most basic levels of taxonomy (or depth of knowledge) to the most advanced.  As teachers dig into resources they must purposely select activities to support each level of understanding.  Selecting, pairing and reorganizing activities and resources in accordance with levels of understanding will ensure all learners have fair opportunities to demonstrate growth. This means we must also scaffold assessments in order to accurately assess each student (click HERE for my post on reality checks to guide instruction).  Scaffolding is a lot like Jenga. Once a solid foundation is in place we can then begin to remove the support pieces one at a time.

right photo credit: Mara Tr. via photopin cc
left photo credit: conform via photopin cc
If learning is messy, then so too is teaching. When done right, it is organized chaos. Students do not all require the same amount of support.  Students will not all acquire the same level of understanding within the same time frames. Therefore, both the teacher and the student must work together in order to determine when support pieces can be removed and when they need to rebuild. Descriptive feedback between teacher and student guides the learning process (click HERE for my post on transforming point chasers to knowledge seekers). When students are vested in this process it is no longer about a grade being done to them; it is now about students owning the direction of their learning.

When resources drive the curriculum, teachers often lose sight of learning objectives.  Unfortunately, this results in moving targets and/or places focus on targets so far beyond reach that many students are left without ever hitting the mark.  Carefully crafted C.S.I. (Curriculum, Scaffolding & Instruction) creates visible learning targets within reach of all students by:

  • bridging past, present and future learning objectives
  • providing activities, resources and assessments to capture all levels of understanding
  • highlighting what every student knows and can do
  • embracing the struggle with content and process in order to grow
  • allowing students to grow from his/her own level of readiness
I firmly believe every content in very school should have a C.S.I. Team (or call it what you like) to investigate these details in order to ensure fair learning opportunities for student growth.