OK, not the topic we generally envision when planning instruction for students new to English. Nonetheless, this is exactly the lesson a classroom teacher and I planned for her STEP 1 MLLs a couple of weeks ago.
Ah, I can hear my teachers-college self exclaiming from 1998: “What?? How?!? This topic is advanced, with complex language! Don’t students new to English need simple topics to start? Is there an ESL workbook anywhere?”
Well, Diane of Yesteryear, you’ll be happy to know that we have had the good fortune to work with Multilingual Language Learners quite a bit in our career, and the equally-good fortune to collaborate with dedicated ESL colleagues and educators. Here’s a bit of the learning that happened along the way:
We learned that even if MLLs have a withdrawal instruction period each day, there are roughly 5 additional periods in the day that they have with their full class. That’s 5 periods of math, science, music, health, history, geography, Language, phys ed, or French …
We learned that MLLs need access to grade-level curriculum content and learning, just like everyone else …
We learned that just because English language ability is in the beginner stages, that doesn’t mean background knowledge, skill, and ability is …
We learned that MLLs consistently tell us that they want to contribute in class, belong, talk with their friends, and understand the lessons happening around them …
And finally, we learned there are effective ways to do all of that.
So. Here’s how we taught fluid dynamics and Bernoulli’s principle to an entire grade 6 science class, in a way that meaningfully included the teacher’s STEP 1 MLLs. And bear in mind, I was present for the initial planning stages and one in-class support support session. Kudos to this teacher for the amazing program she developed for her students.
The classroom teacher and I briefly discussed the curriculum, in which students learn about the four forces of flight and Bernoulli’s principle. We located two educational science videos on the topic, one in Arabic and one in Spanish as these were the students’ first languages (what did we ever do before YouTube?). Using simple English and some strategic translation, we told them we were learning how airplanes fly. I took the students aside briefly and showed them the videos, to pre-teach content in first language. The classroom teacher then gave the entire class a picture word bank of key vocabulary related to the unit: flight, lift, drag, thrust, weight, air, pressure … Each of us worked with the MLLs to practice the terms, in English and first language. And the pedagogical bonus of having visual word banks such as these? They can be projected or posted during whole-class lessons. The whole class (not just MLLs) can then warm up each day by chorally repeating key terms attached to visuals – a quick 30-second focus and review exercise for everyone that has the added advantage of giving MLLs critical speaking and listening practice with target English vocabulary. These types of visuals are also great for pointing to throughout the lesson, allowing MLLs to more easily follow what the teacher is explaining. Finally, students had sentence starters and stems to write and speak about what they learned, in English and first language.
And learn they did.
When I returned, the teacher showed me how the week had progressed, with these few simple strategies. The students had sketched and labelled diagrams of the forces of flight, as all of their classmates had. They had practiced the same vocabulary the other students did. They had written simple sentences with support to describe the four forces, and they had accurately demonstrated through visuals, gestures, and first language their understanding of how those forces worked.
Have I mentioned lately that teachers are superheroes? Because when I think about lessons such as these, with the access to curriculum knowledge, the belonging and inclusion, the learning of English vocabulary (just a few terms and sentence starters each day, but adding up over time), I am reminded of the dedication that abounds in this profession, that inevitably leads to student success.
Take that, ESL workbook.