Meeting the Challenge of Content Instruction
by Judith O'Loughlin, Judie Haynes
Discover how the standards movement currently sweeping the US will have a positive impact on the education of ESL students, while also presenting instructional challenges to ESL and mainstream professionals.
The standards movement which is sweeping the United States has directly impacted on the curriculum and methodology of K-8 ESL programs. Second language learners, as well mainstream students, will now be required to learn state-prescribed content curriculum and often demonstrate this knowledge through performance on state-mandated tests. In addition, TESOL's ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students has focused attention on the learning needs of ESL students by bridging the gap between the traditional ESL curriculum and the development of academic proficiencies. Although these mandates will have a positive impact on the education of ESL students, they will present instructional challenges to ESL and mainstream professionals who work with second language learners.
The role of today's ESL teacher is expanding. The TESOL Pre-K-12 Standards help to facilitate the incorporation of content-based instruction into ESL curriculum. However, content materials used by ESL students in subject area classes must be adapted to provide comprehensible input in science, mathematics, social studies, and language arts. ESL teachers will need to provide inservice for mainstream teachers, helping them learn how to adapt their content area curriculum to the language needs of their ESL population.
How can this be done? Where do you start? Inservicing mainstream faculty in some of the basic tenets of second language acquisition, methodology, and terminology is a necessary first step. Then, ESL teachers need to demonstrate techniques for adapting content area instruction. The following areas should be addressed:
- What advance preparation is necessary before instruction?
- What teaching techniques best serve second language learners?
- What learning strategies do ESL students need to develop?
- How can teachers accurately monitor the comprehension of English language learners?
- How can a classroom be more effectively organized for content instruction ?
- How can teachers design realistic assessment for ESL students to match their developing comprehension?
Advanced Preparation is essential
Before a mainstream teacher stands in front of the classroom, advance preparation is essential in order to provide necessary adaptations in content area instruction and materials for second language learners. Teachers must consider what they should do to make the content information accessible to their ESL students. They need to determine the language level of instruction appropriate for the ESL students in their class. Teachers should:
- Evaluate their second language learners' listening comprehension skills. How much do they understand?
- Simplify the language of instruction, not the concept being taught.
- Work toward depth, not breadth of information, presenting materials in a clear, concise, comprehensible manner and eliminating all peripheral, nonessential information.
- Impart information through oral, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning modalities.
- Use graphic organizers, such as webs, Venn diagrams, and charts, to make information more accessible to second language learners. Content materials present text which is too dense for second language learners.
- Present content area vocabulary and concepts using realia, picture files, and hands-on activities.
- Examine their ESL students' backgrounds and learn how their past experiences will effect learning. The impact of students' backgrounds on learning will depend on the their previous schooling, home languages and cultures, and the concepts important to those cultures.
- Understand that ESL students may not have experience with all of the concepts being taught in American schools. For example, concepts such as freedom and democracy, perceptions of time, and right to privacy may be different or non-existent in many cultures.
- Build background knowledge before teaching a lesson.
One of our roles as ESL and bilingual specialists is to encourage mainstream teachers to employ teaching techniques which make content area information more accessible to our students. Here are some ways this can be accomplished:
Getting Mainstream Teachers Involved
Simplify the language of abstract concepts by retelling content information in easier English. Use simple sentence structure (verb-subject-object) and high frequency words. Avoid the passive tense and compound and/or complex sentences. In questions, avoid negative phrasing, such as "all...but," "except," or "which answer is not?" In this type of questioning students are required to first comprehend all the information, match the correct facts to the question, and finally weed out the one incorrect item.
Actively help students build connections and associations in order to access background knowledge or previously taught information. This can be accomplished through teacher-prepared outlines and study guides.
Provide students with written as well as aural messages. Outline what you are saying on the chalkboard or have a classmate take notes for second language learners.
Always write assignments on the chalkboard. This will ensure that your ESL students know what the homework is.
Modify the assignments for newcomers. Choose one question or a few key vocabulary words for them to learn. This technique allows students to participate, but doesn't overwhelm them.
Allow more advanced English language learners to tape your content lessons so that they can listen to what you have said as many times as necessary.
Provide concrete examples of vocabulary words through the use of visuals, such as flash cards, games, and puzzles.
Model "Think-Alouds" to increase student comprehension. "Think-Alouds," are orally or physically demonstrated by the teacher. They show ESL students what strategies they should use to determine the correct 2:51 PM; locate information within a text; or to organize study materials.
Directly teach learning strategies. Teachers should demonstrate how to organize information in outline form, how to select the main idea and supporting details, and how to sequence and summarize. Techniques such as marking essential concepts and vocabulary with a highlighter, labeling diagrams, using word banks, and organizing information on various types of graphic organizers, maps, graphs, time lines. and flow charts, are important skills for second language learners to acquire. Learning strategies empower our students to become active learners rather than passive recipients of information to be memorized.
This article originally appeared in the print edition of TESOL Matters (April, 1999).
© 1998-2004 Judie Haynes, www.everythingESL.net