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.