Back to Scaffolding Literacy

I’ve been preparing a presentation this week for our local teachers on SL, so last night I decided to test some ideas on my adult beginners. I warned them at the outset that this was not really a method for beginners. Luckily they trust me and didn’t make my own doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We had some who were brand-new students; that is, they’d missed the opening two chapters, so I quickly told the story to date in English because two Russian lessons for those brand-new beginners was not going to be enough to let me do that fast enough in Russian.

Then I told the class how I liked this particular sentence because it was setting them up for a lot of other language. I couldn’t use the usual SL motivations: the author is describing beautifully; or this sentence helps us understand the rest of the story; or we can understand a lot about the hero’s character here. (Now that I think about it, that last one would have worked.)

Then I put the sentence up on the board. We made sure that every word was comprehensible. Nothing will work if the meaning isn’t clear. I wrote in Russian and English, “Which words show…” and started asking questions. It didn’t take long before even the kid with no Cyrillic was reading out loud. I played with the parts, and added a few TPRS-personalizing tricks, asking about class members while pointing at the parts of the sentence. (It’s amazing how long one can talk about a sentence.)

Then we did transformations: we took out parts of the sentence or moved them around, and I explained what that did to the meaning. Then I played a game that the SL book suggested: I took out one word in the sentence while their eyes were closed and when they opened it, they got to read the sentence and figure out which word was missing. I gave them five seconds…they couldn’t blurt until I let them. I figure that made everyone re-read the sentence about six more times.

We didn’t do the writing piece, because I don’t do writing in my once-weekly, 45-minute-long parent classes. But just like when I do this with the intermediates, everyone seemed to really like it.

At last we went into the chapter that has the sentence. I forgot to pre-tell this specific piece, and forgot to read it to them before they saw it. Still, the minute they turned to that page, they could find the sentence. It was like magic. And because it started a paragraph with a lot of repetitions, it truly did “scaffold” their reading.

A teacher who’d been to the SL workshop last April said that she hadn’t tried it yet, but she looked like she might re-think that delay. Everyone was excited and happy. I think I need to do SL with my beginning high school students. It helped the parent group with word recognition. Another beginner was able to translate a whole page really fast at the end of the night, and I think that her confidence was shored up considerably by this experience. It certainly gave me a boost.

As for time lines: we spent only 20 minutes on the SL part of the evening.


One response to “Back to Scaffolding Literacy

  1. Amazing! 20 minutes on just one sentance build up. You rock!


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