I suggest that students must be taught the codes needed to participate fully in the mainstream of American life, not by being forced to attend to hollow, inane, decontextualised sub-skills, but rather within the context of meaningful communicative endeavours; that they must be allowed the resource of the teacher’s expert knowledge, while being helped to acknowledge their own ‘expertness’ as well; and that even while students are assisted in learning the culture of power, they must also be helped to learn about the arbitrariness of those codes and about the power relationships they represent.
As an English Language Development (ELD) teacher in an international school in the capital of Europe, I get students from a very wide range of educational systems. These 8-12 year old elementary students come to me in their first year of academic English and, for most of them, their first year in an international school setting. In the quote above, Delpit refers primarily to the ways race and class influence how students understand and access the expectations of the dominant culture; in my context, students and parents come from all over the world with a multitude of expectations of what “schooling” and “language learning” mean. As well as introducing my students to the language, it is also necessary to take the products my school values as assessment tools and break them down to their functions and communicative purposes. Additionally, it is important to honour the voices of all students and help them develop an understanding of the writer’s process from the beginning of their language learning journey. In this post I’ll explain how my colleague and I merged the methodologies of Functional Grammar based literacy instruction and the Writing Workshop model in my Foundational ELD classroom.
One of the key elements of academic literacy assessment for all students (at least in my context) is the narrative writing prompt. Different education systems place value on different assessment tools; students come with varying degrees of experience with writing narratives, with the many of them having no experience with writing a cold prompt in an assessment context. Therefore, in order for students to ever be able to effectively demonstrate their English skills in my school context, they have to be taught the narrative genre as part of learning the language.
My school context favours an explicit approach to exploring the communicative purpose(s) of a given genre using an instructional method based on “Functional Grammar.” Using this methodology, we approach a genre from the perspective of how and what a writer wishes to communicate (for example, does the writer wish to persuade or provide instructions?). Additionally, we understand that different genre forms demand different language functions (how do we use tense in a persuasive text as opposed to an instructional text? How do clause structures differ in the two genres?). Furthermore, traditional parts of speech, such as nouns, verbs, prepositions or adverbs are taught to students in terms of their functional purpose within a sentence. For example:
I‘m so excited, because my best friend from summer camp is going to visit me in Portugal next April.
In the sentence above, I colour-coded words and phrases according to their function. We define the functional sections as follows:
Participant = answers the questions “Who?” or “What?”
Process = answers the question “What’s happening?”
Circumstance = answers the questions “Where?” “When?” “Why?” or “How?”
In this way, students not only know traditional grammar terms, but also how they function in larger chunks of meaning within a sentence. Further, this process teaches students how to analyse their writing to determine if they have made an error.
In my context, we approach instruction using a gradual release of responsibility framework involving phases of modelling, collaborating, scaffolding, and independent practice of the genre with feedback. Almost immediately, ELD students can be communicators in this new language and as such they need instruction on the writer’s process, as well as the stylistic qualities of good writing and how to clarify one’s writing through editing. To this end, my students benefit from an intentional merger of the structure and formula of the Functional Grammar and Writing Workshop methodologies. The merger looks something like this:
Community “Talking” Circle 10 – 15 minutes
Adapted from the “Positive Discipline” framework, the “talking” circle gives students accessible, repeated and predictable language structures and allows them to share their feelings and thoughts in a safe and caring context.
Dance Break 2 minutes
A brain break, mostly for the grade 3&4 students.
Lesson 10 – 15 minutes
This is the traditional mini-lesson scheme. The mini-lessons are the time to introduce the modelled texts, discuss issues of grammar and structure of the genre, present important elements such as theme, stance or characterisation, etc. My mini-lesson structure looks more or less like this:
Independent Writing and Conferring time 20 minutes
During this time, students may write on a topic of their choice, using the elements highlighted in the mini-lesson. Additionally students will use this time throughout the unit for repeated practice. For conferring, I float between students, providing individual support (as illustrated in this post) and feedback on specific errors or successes.
Sharing time 10 minutes
One thing the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life challenge really highlighted for me was the undeniable importance of sharing one’s writing with others. While it may seem like a sacrifice-able add-on at the end of the lesson, I have found sharing time to be enjoyable and enormously helpful in boosting my students’ confidence in their writing and spoken communication.
In this way, I aim to combine two approaches to literacy instruction. My goal is to make expectations and purposes for “the genres of schooling” explicit, while also promoting student voice and ownership of their writing. Students become members of their English language community by understanding how to produce language for “valued” assessment practices, while at the same time developing and supporting others as writers and artists in their learning community.
Many thanks to Matt Hajdun (@HajdunHomeroom) for his expertise on the Writing Workshop model and for his collaboration, guidance and support in developing this hybrid program.
Follow the author of this post on Twitter @Learn_thru_it .