Last week an EAL Consultant from Catholic Education SA, who I have worked closely with over the past couple of years, invited me to create a video sharing my experiences, observations, data and reflections on the use of Reading to Learn in my English and Italian classrooms. It was a fantastic opportunity to reflect on my own practice, but also to speak to a number of students and hear their reflections about how useful they find this approach to language and literacy. The kids astounded me with the depth of their insights, and I wish I was able to share their videos here (privacy policies prevent me from doing so). Fortunately, their voices will be heard at a formal presentation that the above-mentioned consultant is preventing both overseas and in South Australia. In the meantime, I can publish my own video, so I’ll let the vlog below speak for itself!
I love it when a classroom experiment works!
For some time now I have been experimenting with using Reading to Learn strategies in my LOTE classroom. As an English and LOTE teacher, I am in the fortunate position of being able to play around with the pedagogy in both languages and expand my own knowledge and that of my students in regards to how languages function. For a while I have been using it to build understanding of vocabulary in context in my middle school classes which tended to lend itself to focusing on participants, but I felt the students needed something more.
As mentioned in my previous posts, I am currently involved in a professional development project through Catholic Education South Australia where my main focus is strategies for improving my students’ understanding of the written language system in Italian and their ability to apply in it to their own communications in the subject, as required by the Australian Curriculum: Languages.
I started by gathering raw data on some of my Year 9 students, getting them to write a letter of introduction to me in Italian. Many of them struggled to write more than five lines about themselves.
In order to address this, I decided to extend what I had already been doing with contextual vocabulary and participants, and trial the same methodology in Italian focusing on processes. My aim was for the students to be able to produce a short biography about their favourite band or musician in the target language. The foundation of this was to be achieved during a double lesson this morning.
1. Detailed reading using a model text about the Arctic Monkeys as a ‘hook’. Students highlighted key verb structures and made notes.
2. Cloze exercise using the same text, with verb groups omitted. Students had to fill them into the correct spaces based on their new knowledge.
3. Word bank table containing useful participants, processes and circumstances. Students had to choose a band or musician and add relevant information.
4. Writing – students used the tables to construct ten sentences in Italian about their band or musician. This will be checked before they produce their final copy.
The lesson went extremely well and students engaged for the majority of the double lesson (anyone who teaches Year 9 would know how rare that can be!).
My observations from the lesson
- Highly scaffolded – increased confidence for many students. Some wanted to go beyond what was taught. This was great, however the point of the lesson was to ensure the sentences were structured correctly before moving on, and some were skipping that step in their rush to pack as much information in as possible.
- The students worked silently for an extended period – not because they were told to be quiet, but they were engaged in and concentrating on their own work rather than being distracted by others
- Students who usually struggle with Italian were able to do the task, whilst high achievers were still extended
- Students started to use their own strategies, highlighting the words relevant to their topic, adding new words and asking if they could use the model for structure – showing initiative!
- Students who usually procrastinate actively asked questions, sought support and wanted more information for their own interest and to take their writing further
- More on-task time and independent work.
- Students are being exposed to and are beginning to recognise the features of the past tense without the confusion of going through the structures at this point (one of our challenges is that we never seem to get beyond the present tense with our middle school LOTE learners).
At this stage I can use anecdotal evidence to demonstrate what I feel were the successes of this lesson. Students were clearly feeling more confident about their work, and their questions were less like “what’s the answer?” and more like “how can I do X?” I have gathered some partially finished work samples, but these will be completed next week. Of course, they are not perfect and nor do I expect them to be, but it will be interesting to see how they use feedback given on this piece of writing to refine their final piece for submission. More to come from this very happy Italian teacher!
Today saw the 2013 Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics Association Conference 2013 kick off with the pre-conference workshops. Given the work colleagues and I have been doing with Catholic Education Office, it was fantastic to hear Dr David Rose speak about his pedagogy.
David began by talking about the background of Reading to Learn, before focusing on the Detailed Reading step of the teaching and learning cycle, running participants through how to plan a detailed reading lesson and implement it in the classroom.
The afternoon saw a simulation of a joint reconstruction of a sample text. Participants were positioned as students and recreated a passage from a narrative using the same language patterns. Students love this part of the cycle because it gives them the opportunity to imagine and play with language. They can also share their ideas and build on them and those of others prior to completing their independent construction.
Finally, David took participants through a detailed reading of factual texts, which can be rich in language features that make it difficult for students to access content. These include metaphorical language, unfamiliar technical terms and abstract concepts. The Reading to Learn scaffolding helps students to decode such a text, but also to practise using these language features in their own writing.
The workshop was full of discussion and questions from people from Australia, Scandinavia and the United States with a range of experience in Reading to Learn. For some it was an introduction to David’s approach, for others it was useful to clarify understandings and be challenged to extend their prior professional learning and to network.
Throughout the day there were whispers of building more formal partnerships between the education systems in Melbourne, where Reading to Learn has been used for a decade, and Adelaide and Brisbane who have been working with the pedagogy for the past few years. With delegates from Scandinavia and the United States also in attendance, the potential for individual teachers, educator trainers and educational consultants to network and share ideas about and experience with the pedagogy is exciting!
I count myself as very fortunate to have been involved in Catholic Education South Australia’s Reading to Learn professional development program over the past two years. Given the fact that it has been at the front of my mind for the past term and going into the ASFLA conference next week, I felt it required a descriptive/reflective post to explain my fervour.
Reading to Learn was developed by Dr David Rose and is based on principles of functional grammar. It aims “to enable all learners at all levels of education to read and write successfully, at levels appropriate to their age, grade and area of study.” (http://www.readingtolearn.com.au/) This provides a key point of access to the Australian Curriculum, which also demands that students of all abilities work with age-appropriate, challenging texts across the curriculum. Whilst Reading to Learn was originally developed with EAL students in mind, the strategies are applicable to mainstream students of all levels.
Having said this, I think David Rose explains the theory behind the strategy best:
My Reading to Learn journey began with my colleague’s encouragement two years ago. Getting involved is the best thing I have done for my teaching. It has strengthened my prior knowledge of linguistics, changed my approach to literacy education, and helped me to develop a lot more empathy with my students and what they experience when learning to cope with complex genres in secondary school.
As well as its application in my English and Religion classes, I have also found the pedagogy successful in my LOTE classroom. Whether in English or Italian, I am seeing my students’ confidence and willingness to attempt challenging genres growing by the week. With this, their reading comprehension and ability to produce quality writing is increasing tenfold. It is hard work and time consuming, but the fantastic results make it worthwhile.
Reading to Learn is being used at an international scale, and my colleagues and I have had opportunities to network with visiting teachers from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, as well as teachers from across South Australia. We are looking forward to continuing to share ideas and learn collaboratively at next week’s Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics Association Conference next week in Melbourne.
Some generous gifts to our school by our Scandinavian Reading to Learn visitors.
This program is not just for English and EAL teachers, either. Literacy is a cross-curricular priority, and as a school we are working with staff to develop a consistent approach across the learning areas. This is an on-going process, which is still in its very nascent stages, however there are some promising signs and I will continue to post as we progress through this stage of our Reading to Learn journey.
I would love to hear from other teachers and schools using this pedagogy. What have been your successes and challenges? How do you implement it in your classroom and across the curriculum?