Discourse, the language teachers and students use to communicate, might appear new due to its rise in popularity in professional development, the Common Core State Standards pertaining to Listening and Speaking, and its inclusion in quality reviews (in NYC, it is Quality Review indicator 1.2b and c).
However, discourse has been studied since before the 1930s and there are several key points to consider when facilitating discourse for all students, especially for students who are acquiring a new language alongside learning new content, such as English Learners.
Discourse: Student or Teacher?
Discourse not only involves the questions that teachers ask, but also our students’ response. By limiting discourse to input, which is characterized by student listening, we are not leveraging the power of conversations as informal word learning opportunities (Blachowicz and Fisher, 2006).
Unfortunately, studies such as the 2003 National Center For Education Statistics study on classroom talk showed that most of the talking is done by teachers.
This example shows limited discourse.
||Teacher initiates talk
||ONE student responds
||Teacher evaluates the response
Clearly, most of the thinking is done by teachers. So, here are a couple of ideas to scaffold discourse.
Simultaneity: Everyone participates. When learning new words or directions, leverage the power of simultaneity. Simultaneity is simple and engaging and it simply means that every student is involved in repeating directions, new words, or sharing new ideas. When I use simultaneity, students are eager to add their voice to the collective sound. I share simple rules: 1. We all talk. 2. We stop when I clap. 3. We are quiet because it makes us sound in tune, like when yelling at a pep rally and taking turns yelling part of a chant.
Procedures: You have probably heard of the 10:2 rule, that for every 10 minutes of teacher talk, students should talk for at least 2 minutes. I actually believe that we can increase student talk beyond that ration. When I go over a procedure chart, such as how to pick a right book, I have students TELL me their ideas. I still want to guide them to what I believe is the most beneficial response, so I have students share their ideas to each in pairs and then select their best collective idea and share it with the class. This simple task involves evaluative thinking, students have to judge their own ideas (metacognition). Once we created our chart, we take turns teaching each other.
The University of Montreal (2015) recently added more research verifying this language learning strategy: repeating to others boosts our verbal memory when done in the context of a conversation. So when we have class rules and procedures, have students take turns teaching those rules to each other. When the class is becoming rowdy, have students create an anchor chart in groups that reviews the rules and then invite them to teach the class. This strategy can be done with content as well.
Pronunciation: As an English Learner myself, I had to often take time to listen intently to others pronounce words so I could try to emulate their speech. I had to do this even in high school. In m Advanced Placement English class, I had to pay meticulous attention as to how to pronounce our vocabulary word ‘macabre’. This was before I could go to dictionary.com and listen to its pronounciation.
Our students need a safe zone to mispronounce words, to learn that mistakes are part of the learning process. This helps build their growth mindset. When teaching my students my last name, Mrs. Perot, I often use simultaneity by having them pronounce my name in unison. I often hear students pronounce “Perot” as “Peru”. Before having them talk to each other in a conversation while using my name to boost verbal memory, I have them practice saying “Perot” a couple of times together, giving them anonymity within the whole classrooms’ simultaneous pronunciation. This technique helps the shyest student practice in the anonymity of whole class instruction before small group discourse groups.
Sentence Frames and Sentence Starters help students learn and internalize syntax. Sentence frame provide more syntactic support as opposed to sentence starters, offering us, teachers the opportunity to differentiate our instruction to our English Learners, who are a heterogenous group of students.
I recommend starting the year with sentence frames and sentence starters for almost all classroom discourse, including how to ask to go to the restroom. This approach helps us treat all students as scholars and set our expectation of using complete sentence when speaking, such as: Mrs. _____ may I please go to the _____. Before setting the expectation of speaking in full sentences, I used to have students say: “I need to go” or “restroom”.
Entering/ Beginning English Learners
Provide more syntactic support to ensure accurate response and so students acquire sentence structure.
Example: Sentence Response Frame with options
My best friend __verb +s ______ to school _____how often?________.
walks every morning
rides her bike sometimes
gets a ride on Fridays
Intermediate/Advanced English Learners
build foundation for various types of writing:
- personal narrative (I remember…)
- fictional narrative (I imagine…)
- informational writing (I observe…)
- questioning (I wonder…)
Blachowicz., C. and P.J. Fisher. 2006. Teaching vocabulary in all classrooms. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
National Center for Educational Statistics. 2003. Highlights from the TIMSS 1999 video study of eighth-grade mathematics teaching. Retrieved March 26, 2006, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2003/timssvideo/2.asp
University of Montreal. (2015, October 6). Repeating aloud to another person boosts recall. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 8, 2015 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151006142422.htm
— Ilce Perot
Questions/Comments? Email: Ilce.LitLife@gmail.com