Scaffolding Literacy results

I teach both English and Russian. I’ve been experimenting with SL in both disciplines.

In contrast to previous terms, this semester I didn’t work on teaching my English students how to write an essay over the five months. Instead, we did the SL series all the way through to writing plans several times. We talked a lot about author’s intent in fiction and non-fiction alike. We looked at how vocabulary choices and word placement change meaning.

At the last moment, I shared essay form with them. We discussed how what we’ve read follows it. I told them that we were going to compress the process into just five paragraphs, but that essays don’t always have to be that long or that short.

It was the first time in my life that an entire group of ninth-graders turned out first drafts of essays that were essentially perfect form with details that supported the paragraphs appropriately. For the final, they had to look over my rubric suggestions and make corrections, but in other years I would have been happy with final drafts that looked like what these kids gave me for the first time.

I think the same is true of my advanced kids in Russian. Unfortunately I didn’t have quite the same experimental design…that is, with the English students, I’d always practiced essays and labored over them, and we’d never done SL. It’s a little easier to pick apart. Practicing form based on good writing and then following up on it seems to have enormously better results than battling with form that you don’t understand and trying to make it make sense.

One thing is clear; it’s amazing how well that advanced group is reading, and while I haven’t had them doing much speaking or writing (relative to other years), their oral finals were a joy to listen to and the written ones are equally wonderful. They’re filled with detailed writing that I have never seen kids reproduce so well before–the connector words, the little words that add fluency but that are so hard to teach. There’s a much better sense of sentence, if that makes sense.

I can’t prove it, but I think that their increased ability in writing is also due to the SL practice. They commented that it makes them understand grammar without my teaching it. I didn’t respond that I am always teaching grammar, but they aren’t aware of it so much.

Can’t wait to share this with some folks at the conferences this year. I was never able to share it with my local folks because we had politics take over our recent meetings. Maybe I could do it over Skype or something with a couple of interested people to practice. I’m not very good at knowing how long presentations take me with real people.


28 responses to “Scaffolding Literacy results

  1. I’d love to see the method “in action” that is if you’d be so kind to demonstrate it. I’ve read your posts about it but still don’t have a good understanding of how it actually happens. Did you do it at all levels or just the advanced?


    • I would say that it’s not effective for beginners, but I tried it with my adult beginners, and they loved it. It might depend on who is in the class. I took a 30-minute video one day with my advanced kids. Ordinarily I wouldn’t expect to go on so long, but they were up for it and we were flowing.

      Here’s the first segment.

      Here’s the second one.

      And the third.

      It works best with advanced kids (it was originally developed for Aboriginal students in Australia, so I’m one of the guinea pigs for world languages). And…this is just one part of the process, but might show you the part that is most closely related to TPRS.


      • Yeeehaw, that was awesome, Michele! Thanks for the videos and explanations. I’m stealing it.


      • Thanks for the compliment. What are you going to steal??!! Get the book if you don’t have it already…it’s awesome!

        SL is an awesome progression that makes you feel like you know how to address reading (and writing) in a whole new way.


  2. MJ, I am so down with a class from you on skye for SL. Name the time and the zone. I’ll be there. Thanks. It thrills me to hear these kinds of results from your students and this kind of analysis about your practice. Very cool. Your reading geek friend.


    • Thank you so much, Jody. I have to figure out my handouts for NTPRS by the end of May, so would love to work on those, share them with you, and then talk through the draft presentation. It’s a little impertinent to feel that I can attend just one workshop rather than the semester class and then go off and represent myself as knowing this…I don’t really “know” it, but I’m hoping that I can get some other people interested and then we can all decide whether and how it fits in the CI sequence. My feeling is still that it’s a huge tool for the phase when we need to jump kids from basic readers to more advanced, native-writer style reading, but as I said, my adults loved it. One, who had been through the SL training with me, said that when we got to the section of reading that we’d examined, it made it feel like she was reading in L1, and that the sense of confidence carried through the rest of the chapter. She said that experience convinced her she needed to go back and use it in her classes. I think it’s kind of like TPRS in that way; until you feel the power, it’s hard to believe in.

      OH. When are you out of school? What hours are you available?


    • Jody, here’s a link to my handout. My husband says it makes absolutely no sense unless I am there to explain. Maybe that’s a good thing, and people will be interested. Maybe it’s so confusing no one will come to my presentation.


      • You are right, I do need you to help me navigate (scaffold) this document! I will finish SL before I see you. Hope that gives me a better frame of reference for the conversation. I am such a visual person that I really need to see the examples as the process unfolds. It would be fab to have examples in all languages – seeing the Russsian just gives me another thing to think about I have something in mind that i would love to work on in French. Michele, this is exciting. Thanks for your efforts.


      • EEK. (That’s for Carol!) I hope that people will still be interested in coming, even if the document looks completely overwhelming.


      • when are you doing it, Michelle? Your husband is right. I need more explanation. 🙂


  3. I am totally with you. I will dust of my copy of “Scaffolding Literacy” as soon as this school year is in my rear view mirror. Reading (low scores) is such an issue at my school. How sweet would it be to be able to improve L1 reading scores via L2 comprehensible input? Sign me up. Thanks again, Michele for your thoughtful posts and insights. See you in Denver!
    Carol H


    • If your school is truly suffering, you might want to see whether your TESOL folks could bring Misty and Mary to you. I think we lost out here by not bringing them up for our summer academy (for teachers) as had been planned. Every discipline could use the technique, because the method is focused first on reading. If a whole school used it, all the teachers could use individual sentences and paragraphs to teach this kind of focus on all sorts of different genres: technical writing, opinions, short stories, and so on.

      I am pretty sure that TESOL brought them to us and paid their way.


  4. I’m jumping in with some things this week, since we still have a while yet to go!!

    with love,


    • I can’t wait to talk wth you about the best ways to combine this with ER. I have been experimenting, and would love to try it out on folks, but would need to have people with at least a little bit of experience in Russian. It would take about three sessions to work from a first version of an ER reading up through the SL sequence with a small group at a conference, and even then it would be rushing it. Would love to try though, because it really doesn’t hit you ’till you’ve experienced it!


      • In SL, the authors talk about literate texts as opposed to oral texts. Where do the readers like Pauvre Anne fit in? I am reading SL and almost at the end of the first chapter. I will bring my copy with me this summer and we can have a chat! I will be interested to explore the link between the ER and the SL.


      • I think that PA would be one of the graded readers that don’t get students up to speed fast enough in a regular classroom. We have a bit of a different situation with second language classes, but learning about SL has helped me reach to the next level to make it comprehensible. More later!


  5. Scaffolding Literacy is the name of the book? I am very much interested in reading this. Who is the author (s)? I know that what I’ve discovered recently for myself is that unless the vocabulary has an auditory comprehenisibility, I don’t comprehend it when I read. It is letters and syllables without a root to help me make sense of it. It is pretty frustrating as a reader to not be able to comprehend what you just struggled to read. I have such empathy for my struggling students through my experience trying to learn a new language.


  6. Congratulations MJ. It sounds like you have had a great year with great final results. I’m sure it would be very exciting to be a student in your classes. I’m still loving reading your blog when I can. I don’t think I’d want to learn a language any other way. Good practice makes sense anywhere!

    I’m so glad you have kept on with SL.The texts you target are really important and the better and more literate they are the better the results for students. I’m not headed to summer holidays and will be back to SL using explanation text…


  7. Oh Megan, it’s so nice to hear from you. If you have enough time, could you explain what “explanation text” means, exactly? There’s so much specific language to each of these methods that sometimes it’s overwhelming!


  8. Chill asked, “In SL, the authors talk about literate texts as opposed to oral texts. Where do the readers like Pauvre Anne fit in?”

    I am just re-reading the SL book, and on page 9 it says that …”Literate texts are those … [that] convey more abstract ideas and concepts…’oral’ communication implies a more direct and immediate relationship between speaker and the one spoken to…’literate’ language codes imply a more distant and abstracted relationship.”

    Later, it says that weak readers get stuck in a cycle of books that are “oral” in their language structure, made up of simple sentences and controlled vocabulary.

    Thus I think I was right, though I didn’t come out and say it, that PA is an oral text.

    “Oral” texts are a problem for ELL students, because the gap between what they are reading and what the rest of their classmates are reading is growing all the time if they can’t gain access to the more literate texts. It’s not quite the same in world language classrooms, but at least in my Russian room, there isn’t enough “easy reading” and we have to graduate to the more complex reading sooner than I’d like. Also, it seems as though eventually we want to make the jump into more complex reading, and this is definitely a good way to do it. In my classroom, it requires more time for more typing to get embedded readings in there to scaffold even more.

    In any case, I am definitely looking forward to seeing people in Denver and NTPRS. In Denver, I am supposed to give a short talk on SL, and I think I have slightly longer at NTPRS (maybe an hour in Denver and 90 minutes in Las Vegas). I am looking forward to this as well as feeling a bit worried about what exactly to convey.


    • Thanks for your thoughtful responses, Michele. What you are saying is that although PA would be considered an oral text, it is a valuable girder in scaffolding process to more literate text types?


      • Yes! We have to use these texts because we are starting from nothing. SL was developed to bridge the gap from fluent reading of “oral” texts.


  9. I agree wholeheartedly with definition of PA as an “oral text” because that’s its purpose – to provide beginner students with an opportunity to read what they can understand (basic communication) and practice simple output (basic communication) based on the themes of the book.

    I also agree that our students should be exposed to more authentic texts sooner but here we run into the problem of the texts not being comprehensible. The students have to be ready for it just like the native speakers. You wouldn’t give even the most entertaining story like Harry Potter to a 5 year-old to read – they are not ready for this type of text. They read picture books with simple words to which they can relate. They discuss what they read using the language they know from daily conversations with parents, teachers and peers. Teachers guide them in those discussions and chose relevant reading material.

    To me it is a dilemma: I want my students to be exposed to the “real” literary language but I don’t want to lose them as they deem reading uncool because they run into difficulties in comprehension. If we had kids start language instruction in elementary school or even in middle school then reading literature would be completely normal at the high school level. But oh well… Now the question is how do we walk this line of providing them with literary texts and making sure that they understand it. I’ll have to get the SL book…. when school is out.


    • I agree again! The use of SL with “literate” texts is most appropriate (in my mind) at the highest levels of second language acquisition. It is going to take a while before I decide that it is a worthwhile use of time in a beginning class where CI should be king.


  10. Jody…hope you find this! You’re the only one who kindly volunteered to Skype with me, so I would love to know when you’re available. I’m not quite through making my Prezi, but I think either I can get it done in a flash, or just punt for that part. I am rowing and then erg-ing in the morning tomorrow, but could do something in the afternoon or evening (Alaska time). I could also get together on Monday or afternoon Tuesday.


  11. MJ, Explanation refers to writing, often scientific, that answer why or how something happens. How do crystals form? How is batik made? Why do volcanoes erupt? In a paragraph there is usually a topic sentence and the following sentences focus on cause and effect, (so, when, therefore, but.)

    To be honest I like to introduce explanation through rules of a game that the students are completely familiar with. eg ‘If the player shoots a goal, the runner stops. The next runner then starts. If there is no goal the runner continues till they are home and play continues.’ You can see it is a good place to talk about conjunctions and compound sentences for early writers.

    Good luck at your talk. I think it is wonderful to combine the best of SL and TPRS.


    • Oh…I get it now! It’s what we call process writing. Or at least I call it that. I hadn’t even thought of using that as a source. What a great idea. I really wish I were doing the summer course (well, winter for you!) in Canberra.


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