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Planning for Planning, Language Demands and Opportunities

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For young English Learners, let’s look at entire units ahead of time with three lenses in mind; Language Demands, Language Opportunities, and the Essential Third!

As the co-teacher, my role is to enter the room and provide access to content for second grade English Learners in my care. Since ELs in the general education classroom might be working on a variety of different subjects, I need to prep my understanding of units and be ready to think on my feet and come up with some general strategies. Let’s look at entire units ahead of time with three lenses in mind; Language Demands, Language Opportunities, and the Essential Third.

Mine the unit for Language Demands:  How are the students expected to interact with this content? Do they need to make comparisons, summarize information, debate, identify main idea, recall details? Considering the Cognitive Load Theory, how might I present the language demand with familiar content, so that they may apply it to new content? Are there simple frames to use to bring their attention to the expectation? Literally practicing: _____ and ____ are the same because _______ (or different because _____!) is a supportive way to get students comfortable making comparisons. An easy strategy is to incorporate simple frames into daily talk routines to get students ready for more demanding work.

Mine the unit for Language Opportunities: How can the student use their native language to interact with content and showcase their multilingual skills? Can I develop same language partnerships or groups? What will the process for translation look like? Do I have resources to support this content in multiple languages, or is there technology that we can use to do this work? We call this translanguaging, a conscientious incorporation of multiple languages in the classroom. It’s a culturally responsive approach that will help students to access content, lower the affective filter, and encourage multiple interactions with the content and their language model peers. Students can research in their native language, work with a supportive partner, and present their learning in English.

Identify the Essential Third - What is the non-negotiable content here? What are the non-negotiable language demands? We know that language learning is a developmental process rather than a disability or impairment. ELs possess the necessary cognitive skill set to understand what is presented, but how will I provide the necessary extended time and repeated exposures to keep up with the language demands and transfer new learning from working to long-term memory? One strategy is to identify the essential 1/3 of the unit and interact with that smaller chunk in a supportive and repetitive way. Start with the essential third, and go from there! Finally - choose your favorite scaffolds and plan the fun stuff. Explore, teach, and interact with content with gestures, images, videos, a field trip, tiered questioning, modeling, conversational frames… the possibilities are endless once you’ve determined the demands and opportunities!

Elizabeth Apicella