Some of my colleagues may remember my raving about an Australian paper I read last year called “Systemic Functional Linguistics,” by Mary Macken-Horarik and Misty Adoniou about Scaffolding Literacy. Some of the key points were that we need to make all input comprehensible, and that we would make much greater gains with children if they were connecting to appropriate, authentic texts. (That was of course music to my TPRS ears.) Well, today I got to hear these authors present, and I do believe that the TPRS world needs to join up with the Literacy Scaffolding Literacy world. The gains that children made in ESL circles were impressive, and I have just now walked through the process with my adults to absolutely rave reviews. (OT comment: they showed a video of an Aborigine girl who was struggling as a 5th grader to read a simple text, having had no success with the phonics system her school had been using. The school turned on to this system of teaching reading, and two years later, she read a very complex text without a hint of difficulty. I almost wept. The presenters said that usually when teachers see the before/after videos of students, they buy in immediately. Her statement reminded me of Susie’s saying almost the same thing about why she shows videos of students speaking and samples of student work.)
There’s no way to reduce an eight-hour day of information (which was even then reduced because ordinarily they teach it over the course of a semester–in an on-line course, by the way) into a blog post that I’m limiting to ten minutes.
Having said that, here goes.
The teacher has in advance decided on some aspect of storytelling to emphasize–it could be the setting, the complication, the communication, or so on.
Tell the kids the story of the text, pointing up new vocabulary as it comes up, with visuals, in the same way you might tell a story on kindergarten day, not reading it but using all the tricks of storytelling that you do when you’re telling a story to your own child–just don’t read. Pay special attention to the piece that you want the kids to pick up on. (In the ESL classes or regular TL classes, this is usually an aspect of writing/reading, so I today I chose the “fascinating” aspects of grammar that we’re working on. That might not quite be kosher.) Then, when you’re sure that you’ve told that story in a compelling, comprehensible fashion, read the story to the kids (and/or let them pick up the texts, and read those). At this point, or earlier, you can use visuals, actors, pictures, or whatever works to help the kids see the movie of the text.
Then after you’ve read together, you tell the kids that you are going to share your favorite sentence with them and explain why you like it so much. You’ve picked a rich sentence that demonstrates whatever you’re wanting them to get out of the text. They have a copy in front of them, and they go through it with you while you explain the chunks and have them underline bits and circle other pieces based on your reasoning. (Today in our workshop, we underlined sections with the teacher as she discussed which parts were answering which questions, and circled the key structures that she’d introduced.)
Mary said that part of why this strategy is successful is that students keep getting the same comprehensible input over and over “the same but different.”
The next part of the lesson, you have the sentence on sentence strips in a pocket holder (gotta get one of those…have been meaning to, and have more reason now) and you end up cutting up your sentence into pieces as you discuss what each word or phrase brings to the meaning. All the grammar is in terms of meaning, even punctuation. No rules, just meaning. It’s so TPRS-friendly! I could see discussing what questions pieces answer. The presenter did say, “Which chunk of the sentence shows where the dog was?” as she pointed to that chunk. By now, the kids do understand the chunk perfectly… While you’re doing this, you can also show them variations on the way the sentence is put together, and possibly explain how different word order would change meaning. The kids are the ones cutting the pieces so that they can be rearranged, and they are the ones who come up and physically move them around (I could see this would work really well on a Smartboard). Even we teachers wanted to be able to do the cutting and the moving! And like when a speaker of a language hears a TPRS story, even though the sentence was from a children’s book and we all understood it, we were all engaged and wanting to take part in the discussion.
Then in the end, we were presented with the sentence in large chunks and a chance to model our own sentences after the example, having changed the “field” (the setting, characters, etc–teachers my age might remember sentence modeling from the old days, but this was in context). We saw some student work and noted the gains that kids made in only a few months.
I didn’t ask my parents to write tonight, but I did get as far as rearranging the sentence parts, cutting off morphemes and showing what would happen if we changed bits. They loved it. Oh…and when they’ve read this sentence and heard it about fifty times already because of the different activities, you can do Ben’s “repeat in a chorus.” Guess what…my adults had perfect pronunciation, and they knew the sentence by heart already (I can still remember the sentence from today’s workshop). I can see how the modeling would work.
Gotta go. A video of today’s session will be available this fall on our district “ASD-Tube,” and there are workshops coming up in DC and in San Francisco that will be similar, even if they aren’t the wonderful Mary and Misty. I think that this strategy has enormous application for at least our advanced language classes.