Friday, 26 September 2014

Scaffolding a learning path

Adult ESL literacy is a learning-centered classroom – learning to learn is crucial for success of the learners with the literacy needs! 

The teacher’s role is to establish a partnership with the learners and equip them with the tools (in our case – learning strategies) that will allow them to grow more independent in their learning and succeed on the language tasks. Instructors will have to select or develop learning activities and provide scaffolding in the way that learners are able to achieve their goals and apply their skills in real life. 

There are a few things to consider while designing learning tasks for the literacy group. 

 1. Choose tasks that provide opportunities for collaboration. I often rely on peer support and tutoring. I strongly believe that adult ESL literacy learners are perfect tutors to each other, but the ability to work with a learning partner, learning management and socio-affective skills must be developed and nurtured consistently over time to bring in results. Therefore, my favourite tasks are those that require learners to ask and answer something with a partner. 

 2. Before introducing written text, make sure that there is a lot of oral practice: drill, chant, sing, clap, move the bodies as much as necessary. Hand-in the written text when the learners are quite familiar with it orally, and you may see how much easier it will be for them to acquire it. 

3. Build confidence by helping learners to interact with as many classmates as possible; transfer their learning outside the classroom; encourage them to use their skills with the learners from a different class; arrange inter class activities, etc. 

4. Set measurable outcomes. When thinking of a task, see whether you can identify real life communication, language and literacy outcomes. This will come in handy during the performance evaluations. 

 5. Select tasks that allow for heterogeneity, that can be easily adapted to different levels of complexity to support learners with lower literacy and challenge those who are self-directed. 

 And a few examples to peruse (please be aware that it’s work in progress; my intention is to give you a few ideas to build on): 

 Dialogue frames 

 This is a simple dialogue, it can be introduced as a dialogue frame where you start with the prompt, elicit the answer, drill it orally, record it on the w/b, and then hand-in the worksheet. I’d like to point out a few features present on this sample: I try to consistently use certain images to build learners’ understanding of the tasks that they work on in class. You can see here two images that stand for the speaking and listening skills, and an image of two stickmen having a conversation for the dialogue. I repeatedly use the images accompanied by the meta-language to point out the skills and learning management involved. For example, before proceeding to the task, I would elicit what the skills are, how many people are involved, and what they are doing. I have noticed that in a very short time learners build a small bank of language learning words that they are able to recognize instantly such as ‘listening’, ‘speaking’, ‘reading’, ‘with a partner’, ‘ask and answer’, ‘questions’, and so on. 

 If the learners achieve their task, you can celebrate it with them, or you can take a step further by increasing the difficulty if appropriate, possible or desired. 

 Enabling collaboration

This is an example of a transfer activity build on the previous dialogue frame that encourages collaboration among learners and involves language and literacy skills. 

It can be revisited with an additional task.

Filling in a form

This task definitely allows for heterogeneity and you can easily make it more sophisticated by adding more information to the form or slightly formatting it. 

 And finally, let learners observe themselves and others learning successfully. 

I’d like to thank wholeheartedly Jennifer and Natasha for recording this precious series of videos that I use with my learners to observe how the teacher interacts with the learner and alongside the language build their confidence and motivate them to take charge of their own learning. 

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