Category Archives: Scaffolding Literacy

Quick Writes

Today I took a different tack on quick writes than I have before, and was surprised at how well it turned out.

I was going through some vocabulary with a German II class in preparation for a song we’ll be looking at tomorrow and nothing was working.  I had a good line of PQA questioning set up–asking about whom they would let ride with them if they were seen on the side of the road–but there was just nothing happening with one class.  They sat and grumbled.  One student just flat out told me she wasn’t going to do anything at all that day, and I had might as well show a film.  Other students just stared down at desks.  I was enforcing rules, coaxing responses, etc., but just absolutely nothing was doing.

So, tired of doing all the work when they weren’t giving me anything, I instructed everybody to pull out a piece of paper and write for five minutes using as many of the words on the board as possible.  Normally I’d go longer, but I barely got the five today and I knew it.  Grumble grumble grumble.  I gave them a few words they requested, but mostly that was an exercise in pulling teeth as well.

Now with a pile of reluctantly-written papers in my hand and still a good fifteen minutes left in class to fill, I just started reading them aloud.  Normally I would wait a day, rewrite them into proper German and get a reading exercise out of this, but I didn’t have that luxury today.  I asked them to guess who wrote what, and then just started acting out and reading what they had.  I pulled in all the scaffolded literacy tricks of using voice inflection, pantomime, referring to words on the board, you name it.  I needed these stories to work.

And for some reason they did.  People perked up, started laughing at the examples, and just appreciated what other people did.  Most of the stories were some really clever varieties of the PQA discussions I was railroading through earlier, but they totally made them their own.  It was interesting that a few sourpusses had basically set the prevailing mood when speaking, but in writing the majority of them opened up somewhat and the investment was there.  By the end of class, several people were lobbying to do this type of quick writing / instant feedback reading in the future.

So, one more arrow for the quiver.  If I can’t get something going verbally some days, I’m going to use the quick write / instant read to shake things up a bit.

SL for The Pledge

We’re out of school on a no-electricity day (obviously we have it at my house!) so I wanted to share that I used Scaffolding Literacy this week in my English classes to review the Pledge of Allegiance.

There’s something magic about this technique. The system of telling the kids the answers and then asking them always seems so elementary to me, especially when I use it in English. But the kids love it. They feel like they’re really learning.

Those people who saw me do the Pledge demo at in-service or at conferences might have thought it could be somewhat boring. I was also wondering how it would go over with kids, but once again, the results amazed me. The kids were enthusiastic, and they started to be very confident in answering questions, in a way that they hadn’t been with anything else I’d done. I think that SL is an aid to group bonding, as well as being a tool that helps me get better at teaching.

The kids are anxious to read the text about the Pledge now. They were disappointed that I didn’t have it ready for them right away. Who knew?

Now I’m all fired up to be using it in the Russian classes again. So cool!

Canberra Scaffolding Literacy Wiki

Remember how I said that there is a Scaffolding Literacy Wiki? It is building! I am hoping that some World Language teachers can add to the excellent materials there.

Some of the lessons that people have developed are so beautiful and detailed that they’re setting a pretty high mark, but what that means is that a novice like me can read and understand them. It’s a very useful template.

Here’s the SL Wiki address:

If you’d like to be a part of editing or adding to it, ask to be a member.

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.

SL, continued

It was such a pleasure to teach the adults the other night that when we were done with testing the other day, I asked the kids if they would help me videotape the language orientation of an SL lesson. We used a couple of sentences from a book that we’ve finished lately. They know the context, and they’ve read it fairly quickly, but I liked the way these sentences supported the “world” of the text and reflected what the hero had just experienced.

I’m going to put it up in ten-minute sections, posting it onto MSU Clear. I use their (free) Rich Internet Applications for Language Learning. Here’s the first ten-minute segment. I started to get the hang of adding subtitles by the end of the first part.

I forgot a few things. First of all, I didn’t have a copy for the kids to annotate, and I didn’t have some key words on the board. And I realized by watching this how messy my room is!!

Megan, are you reading this? If so, could you comment? I know you don’t know Russian, but you do know SL a lot better than I do.

When I watched this segment, I was struck by how reticent most of the kids were to begin with. By the end of the lesson, they had gained a lot of confidence, and they were answering together.

Part 2 (you have to click on the subtitle name to see the subtitles). By the beginning of this part, all the kids are answering together. It’s a big difference from the beginning of the last segment.

SL and other notes

We’re starting to prep for a big competition next month. Usually I don’t really prepare kids in any way, but even though they still do okay, they are nervous because they don’t think they’re prepared. So this time, we’re doing what looks like preparation through the TPRS lens. That means that when I have a text on Moscow, we use it to talk about Anchorage, whether this is a cultural capital, what museums we have here, who likes to go to them, whether students like opera, ballet, or plays, and so on. I’m trying to keep thinking, “How can I use this cultural material to learn more about my kids?” Once we’d read and talked, the kids did another Laurie-inspired mural. They drew, and I walked around looking at their drawings, asking questions. Then we did the second level of an embedded reading. Crafty, eh? After we read and talked about that, they had to figure out which pieces they needed to add to their mural. I’m hoping that with all the reading and listening, talking about Moscow will come easily, and they’ll be able to compare at least these two cities.

In another class, I started the writing phase for a sentence that we have been working through in a Scaffolding Literacy model (see the category on the right sidebar for more information). First we spelled some tricky combinations, reading in “sound chunks” as we went. Then we made a table with the questions in a column on one side, and they wrote the answers from the sentence on the other. Now the kids are going to use that question table to be able to write answers that will create a new sentence. I’ll put in an example from my English class, since it showcases the same query that I have in Russian. What I need to know from Megan or anyone else who is doing SL more proficiently is, what do you do about conjunctions? I just stuck an “and” box in there to encourage them to make a compound addition to the sentence.

Also, I got this idea of the frame from the book. Is it what Misty and Mary do? It seems to work for my kids, because it leads them into writing a literate sentence.

The transformations phase of this process is really strong. I love how it helps me expand on my students’ vocabulary or, rather, on their knowledge of their own vocabulary. And they are so happy when we do the activity where we turn over the words and they have to figure out what the missing word is. (I’ve mentioned before that I love how high-schoolers want to come to the front of the class to cut up the phrases and the words!) It continues to amaze me to what extent SL allows me to talk about grammar through meaning, and how interested the kids are as we talk about those meaning questions. I’m getting a better handle on doing it in Russian. The biggest issue is that I always forget a step or two, and a lesser one is that I don’t know enough variety for sentence forms. All of our sentences are opening sentences in Russian. About missing steps, I believe that, unlike TPRS, SL requires all these steps (I say that because TPRS used to have way more than the famous three). They are necessary to achieve the kind of repetition that the kids need, so I end up telling the kids that I made a mistake and we all go back.

Sentinel sentence

Grimm tidings

Last week I was sitting in my room before school with a stack of readers on my desk.  I had been reading over on Ben’s blog about how many people are starting their classes with readings and centering the CI discussions on the reading, so I wanted to give it a try.  A student then came in to ask what we were doing later, saw the readers and really gave me the stinkeye.  You know the look.

I know it too, so I asked him to make me a better offer.  He responded with “Why can’t we do the original Brother’s Grimm stories?  I love those.  My favorite is Iron Hans.”  Keep in mind that this is one of those kids who sometimes torpedos the class, and who just barely is hanging in school at times.  He’s been reading the originals on his own time?  This needs some investment.

So I pull up the original text and realize that not only can this kid do it, but most of my German IIs, not to mention my German III/IVs can handle them.  I’ve invested so heavily in high frequency words during the past year, that they already knew 70-75% of the words in the originals as written.  I simplified the text for some of the more archaic phrases (“He encountered misfortune” got changed to “Something bad happened“; “proceeded” became “went“; etc.) in order to make the familiar word count at least 85%.  Game on.  Lose the readers.  We’ve been doing the Brothers Grimm ever since and they love it.

I’ve noticed that my advanced class can chew through a block of text with very little difficulty in one day.  I put up the question words “Who” “Where” and “What happened” on the board and fill in the columns of pertinent details.  Using Scaffolded Literacy procedure, I pre-tell the story chunk acting it out using props (My wild man in a cage today was a stuffed bear under a metal stool), and define the key words.  Then we read the text, and using the columns on the board I have students do a re-tell based on those key phrases.

I also stole a trick from MJ and had my advanced class draw illustrations for the story block we are reading, which I then present to my intermediate classes to see.  I wanted to work the phrase “would have been” with that class in particular, so I had three people in the class draw pictures of what would have happened if they “would have been” there in the story.  Then when all the pictures were done, I used them with my intermediate classes to illustrate the story.

This has been going quite well for about a half of a week.  We’re moving slowly, but interest is high as long as I build in breaks.  Today, however, I got lucky and remembered an idea from last summer.  I took todays chunk of text and threw it into Wordle before I started reading it with my intermediate class.  The story is about a wild man found in the forest who is thrown in a cage in the king’s court.  The king’s son plays with a golden ball in the court, which rolls into the cage, which the wild man won’t give up until the boy opnes the door.  What came up out of the wordle was the following:

We went through the main terms quickly: man, king, ball, boy, court, cage, etc. and were able to preview the main ideas coming up.  Looking at this wordle also made it easy for me to know what terms to write on the board for the discussion/retells. What I wasn’t prepared for was how curious my students were for some of the secondary smaller terms: body, iron, ground, etc. that they kept asking me about before we started reading.  The Wordle poem was compelling enough for them, that I was able to spend more preview time on some words and I had to break of the process rather than the other way around.  So far so good.

Pictures are worth a lot

Today I started putting into practice the pre-reading that Carol Gaab demonstrated; it goes perfectly with the Scaffolding Literacy pre-reading phase. I used pictures to help show the meanings of words, and then talked about them with the kids. For “washes up,” I had a very comical morning guy, and it cracked the kids up. Here were third- and fourth-year kids who wanted to discuss how many legs it looked like he had (one, with two feet), and how many fingers (looked like six). We got a huge amount of mileage out of that picture, from using the target phrase about the kids’ habits to all the specifics of his appearance. Tomorrow I’m going to pull it up again and use it for kindergarten day somehow. I’m going to remember to throw in these silly pictures.

Now it has been kindergarten day; having written this yesterday, I forgot completely. Instead, we were doing many other kindergarten day activities and got kind of lost in them. One that might be of help to those who want to practice the “I” form is the same game we’ve mentioned earlier…everyone is in a circle with one chair too few. A kid stands in the middle and makes a personal statement. Everyone for whom that is true has to move. Whoever is left standing makes the next statement. I absolutely LOVE doing that game, and my kids had been begging for it since the beginning of the year. It’s a good once-a-quarter game.

Sentence race

I’m beginning to feel like a broken happy record. I love this mix of SL and TPRS. I think it’s what we need to get kids to the transition to continuing language education. Today my little class of advanced kids got down on hands and knees and put our current sentence into place. We had cut all the morphemes off, and they were saying aloud the words to be able to spell them. (I got the book, and found the bits I’d forgotten, so we couldn’t do writing just yet. That will be tomorrow.) Every kid had the right grammar as they said the words; every kid was saying the words correctly, and they were happy as little clams to be manipulating these words and their endings. Even the level 2 kid who is in there by a scheduling problem was helping put the jigsaw together. These are high schoolers, all down on a terribly grubby brown rug that is so old it is disintegrating.

Warning…SL doesn’t really have kids putting the sentences together anywhere I can see. I wanted to do “transformations,” during which you either rearrange the sentence and/or take out words to discuss the effect that those rearrangements have on the meaning. It’s pretty cool.  If a person had a sentence-strip holder and proper sentence strips to write on (or a SmartBoard), she wouldn’t be taping sentences to the board or having to lay them out on the floor. But I needed the sentences to be in shape for arranging, so the kids got to do it.

We started with FVR today, did the sentence thing, went to reading our difficult story (in which they were responding to subjunctive like nobody’s business), and then they discussed whether the journalist had been being polite to open a locked door in a stranger’s house and whether they’d do that in another house.

We followed by creating a quick skeleton story around some song vocabulary and then reading the four levels that I’d created for the other class (in which the little girl got lost in the woods and ate the wolf before finally taking the flowers to her grandmother)

So now I’ve got the embedded story that they created and the other class will be able to read theirs, and we can expand on all of this…

Another random thing that happened today was that after we finished FVR, we were talking about what was interesting to them. One boy was reading about Strauss-Kahn and his visit to the IMF in a newspaper, and the specific word for “visit” was new to him. Another girl had the same word that she picked up in “The Blue Carbuncle” (sp?) and she told us that it was curious they both had that word. Then the same word turned up in our reading! HF vocabulary. . . I guess maybe I should add it to the list.

Darn. My English word collector had 36 words by the end of class.

What’s working

Trying to stick to ten minutes again! I forgot that “rule” I set myself last year.

In the advanced class today, I led a discussion about two sentences from the short story that we’ve been reading in Scaffolding Literacy style. I managed to have a conversation about the sentences with only three words in English the whole period. Example of a part of the discussion: “This part of the sentence shows us what happened. It was sets up what happened. Class, which two words tell us what happened?” Oh my gosh. I couldn’t believe that I could simplify the language enough to do that. Then I went on to the part where the kids cut off the morphemes.

“There is an “o” here because it was. Class, why is there an o?” It turns out to be actually somewhat easy to do this with an advanced group. I need to videotape it. I could not believe how excited high school kids were to cut letters off. We finished discussing the grammar, in Russian, about two sentences. Then we went on and read another part of the story. Tomorrow, we’ll see whether kids can recombine the sentence. And they’ll do the modeling. It’s surprising to see how engaged they are. My grammar brain is happy because I’m actually teaching grammar, but all the kids are getting a big flow of comprehensible input. Guess what…when the bell rang (for an 85 minute class), they all gasped.

If I didn’t know how to do TPRS, I could not possibly do SL and stay in the target language. And if the kids hadn’t had TPRS, they couldn’t have understood what we were talking about for that time. This is positively thrilling.

In my intermediate class, we did the drawings in the top boxes/lower boxes as I’ve explained earlier for reporting a story, and that worked really well too, especially when I explained how the top row is what I want them all to be able to say/read/understand/write, and the stuff underneath is the details.

Out of time!