Academic Language and English language learners

What is academic language? How do we move
our English language learners beyond survival English? I’m Delia Pompa. Please join me for
our next Colorín Colorado webcast, academic language for English language learners. [music] Funding for this Colorín Colorado webcast
is provided by the American Federation of Teachers with additional support from the
National Council of La Raza. Hello. I’m Delia Pompa. Welcome to the Colorín
Colorado webcast series. Today we’re going to talk about academic language for English
language learners. Joining me is Dr. Robin Scarcella. She is the Professor and Director
of the Program in academic language and ESL at the University of California Irvine campus. So, long title. It must be an important topic.
What is academic language? Academic language is a language used in school
context. It’s the language of text. It’s a language of prestige and power in the United
States. And those who have acquired academic language tend to go on and become very successful
in academic settings. Unfortunately, those students who do not apply
our academic language oftentimes fail and sometimes end up dropping out of school. I believe you brought an example to share
with us. Yes, I did. I brought these two letters from
my student Vaughn. Vaughn came from Vietnam at age five. And she went through all of our
public schools. And you can see that she wrote this letter because she was really distraught.
Because she’d been placed in a beginning level English as a second language writing course
at the University of California Irvine. I was the Director of the Program. And she
was my student. She did not want to be in this class. And so she wrote this letter.
And she actually brought all her work from her high school. And she had poetry to share
with me. And she had essays and a variety of different written work. All of which was written in a very interesting
style of informal, everyday English. It wasn’t academic. And so she wrote this beautiful
letter saying that she had read many books, that she had written and spoken English since-she
said-“since time I come to the U.S.” And all her friends speak English. She always
speaks English with her friends in the dorm, and she “reads many book,” she writes. “Please
do not makes me lose the face. I have competent in English.” And so you then put her through a program
of instruction. Even though she received straight A’s in English
in high school, I had to put her in my ESL academic English sequence of three courses.
And at the end of the year, she wrote the second letter. And so, in the second letter, you could tell
the difference. You can see this amazing difference in her
vocabulary, in her grammatical development, even in her rhetoric. “Hi, Robin,” she begins.
And then she goes on and she asks for a letter of recommendation. Well, she does get this
letter. She does actually get an internship in Washington, D.C. And then she goes on after she graduates from
UCI into graduate school. And you can see what excellent English she uses. Now, is her
English perfect? Native English? No, of course not. But it’s very good. She’s got all the conventions. And she’s got
academic language. She can go into any field she wants to. Now, this brings up the question about the
difference between social language and academic language. Can you tell us a little bit more
about that? Yes. You can see that in social everyday English,
it’s possible to communicate imprecisely without using English grammatically correctly. You
don’t need articles, “the” and “a” to really show what you mean. You don’t need to have
prepositions or use the correct preposition in your language. You can use basic everyday
words. You can make your language very colorful by using slang. You can avoid pronoun reference
if you want to. Especially if the addressee already knows what you’re talking about. Do you need to get to a certain level of social
language before you move onto academic language? What’s interesting is in the United States,
we believe that students must acquire informal English first and then they can acquire academic
English afterwards. In reality, it’s very helpful for students to be able to begin a
conversation and keep it going, have those basic conversational skills. But at the same time, we can be laying the
foundation for academic language. We need not wait until students have completely mastered
informal, everyday English. Well, are there activities a teacher can plan
to help a student understand the difference between social language and academic language? Yes, there are. One of my favorite activities
is giving students a passage of academic language and then a passage of informal language and
comparing them step-by-step. So that students understand: “Wow. When I look at informal
English, it uses a lot of repetition of words. And when I look at academic language, it has
a variety of words and more sophisticated words. When I look at informal English, it’s perfectly
fine to begin a sentence with the words “and” and “but.” But when I look at academic language,
academic language has transition words such as however and moreover and in addition. When I look at informal English, I can use
stuff and slang such as guy, cool, awesome. But when I use academic language, I avoid
using slang.” So there’s big differences. And that’s a great strategy, instructional
strategy for teaching students to recognize the difference. So I give them two passages, one informal,
one academic. And then I have them get together in groups or with a pair, partner, and actually
write out a list of the features that characterize these. I do this again and again. So that
students understand that academic English is different from informal English. Well, you’ve talked about some written examples.
But you started to talk a little bit about oral examples. Is it mainly a written problem?
Or does it show up in oral language also? Teachers often think that academic English
is not an oral problem. It’s a challenge, both in writing and in speech. And it’s very
important that teachers scaffold students’ development of oral academic language. So
that they’re able to participate in academic discussions and debates and make presentations
in front of their peers. Teachers can use a variety of activities to
scaffold their production of academic language. One of my favorite ones is preparing students
in advance to talk orally in front of others by having them partner up and actually teach
them academic words and grammatical features that they might use in making an academic
presentation. And then the next step is, of course, having
them practice these with their partner before they do the oral presentation. Because too often teachers have students,
English learners, make presentations when the students aren’t prepared. They have no practice in it. They need to practice, practice, practice. Well, speaking of practice, I think we’ve
come to understand that a knowledge of a student’s ability to read in his native language has
a lot to do with predicting how he’s going to do in English. Is the same true for academic
language? Absolutely. We know that if students have
acquired academic language in their first languages, for example, in Spanish and then
they come to the United States, they are able to acquire academic language much faster than
if they didn’t know academic language in their first language. What you’ve described, and you work with elder
students, don’t you? Yes. But we’ve heard that they are beginning to
test younger students for academic language. When ideally should teachers begin to worry
about English, academic language, and working with students? We need to be concerned about teaching academic
language at all grade levels and in all proficiency levels as well. However, when students first
come into kindergarten, we’re not going to be teaching them very sophisticated ways of
writing and ways of expressing themselves in English. We’re going to be teaching them grade appropriate
kindergarten talk, setting the background, the foundation, of academic language. And
so, yes, we’re going to be teaching them the conversational skills of the kindergarten.
But we’re also going to be teaching them vocabulary that’s going to help them to acquire academic
language later on. By the time children reach the fourth grade,
we are going to be transitioning into teaching more sophisticated academic language skills.
And once they reach high school, we’re going to have to make sure that students know a
large vocabulary of academic words used across academic disciplines. And they have access
to and they’re able to use more complicated grammatical structures. Well, tell us a little bit more about how
students of different ages need to learn different kinds of things. Yes, it’s important that we make our instruction
absolutely age appropriate. So when working with the young children, kindergarteners,
for example, we found that young children are great language learners. And they love
to participate in instructional conversations that are specifically designed to teach academic
words, language structures, even the discourse. Just to help our viewers, can you give us
an example of something that a young student might learn that’s academic language versus
what an elder student would learn? Sure. A young child is often going to be participating
in show and tell, for example. But there are very school based ways to participate in show
and tell and ways that are very informal. And the steps of participating in a show and
tell for a young child has to be made explicit. Like what’s a word you would use that’s academic? So today I’m going to “share” with you. Okay?
Not just “tell” or “say” or “talk” about. Learned a new word there. I’m going to share a particular experience
I have had. Okay. Now, you’ve used the words sharing and experience. And these are very
age appropriate. And you they’re sophisticated for a young child. What I wouldn’t expect
a young child to do is a literary, a complex literary analysis. And would you expect an older student to do
that? Absolutely. Okay. Absolutely. Well, you’ve presented a wonderful overview.
So let’s get into some of the detail. What areas of language are specific to academic
language? Are there areas of language that are more specific to academic language say
than social language? Yes. All language proficiency consists of
several different components. So when I think of language proficiency, I always start thinking
of phonology, of phonological component. So in academic English, a young child, anybody,
needs to know the phonological component consisting of the sounds of the English language. And they would have to know how to spell in
English and that’s particularly important in academic language, but not so important
in informal language. And they would have to know the phonological features of the English
language. For example to pronounce academic words. Knowing
the difference, for example, between anthropology and a shift in stress, anthropological; morphology,
morphological… That’s a good example. We don’t often think
that you have to learn the difference. No. And yet, English learners really do need
to know these shifts in the stress. And so the phonological component is very important.
Also, in addition to that, the vocabulary component. We’re not going to see many changes
in our students’ test scores certainly on all of the academic tests we give until teachers
teach vocabulary on an ongoing, everyday basis. Vocabulary’s extraordinarily important in
academic English. Give me an example. Go back to anthropology,
anthropological. How would a teacher actually teach that? Is that by teaching vocabulary?
Is that by giving examples? What does a teacher do to do that? It’s a very good question, Delia. I think
the answer is the teacher is going to teach vocabulary systematically and make sure that
the students don’t just learn the meaning of words, but know how to use a word. So in teaching anthropology, anthropological,
I would have the students listen to the word and repeat it at least three times, anthropology,
anthropology, anthropology. Use it in a sentence from their textbook. So they get to see the
whole sentence as it occurs. And then I would talk about it to teach them
how I would use it, making up other sentences. And then I’d have them use it. And they’d
use it not just alone. But they’d use it in a sentence with a partner. And I’d have to
do this again and again and again. Knowing that all language learners aren’t
great learners at language. But some students just need to have more practice using the
language and practice using the language accurately, not incorrectly. There are so many aspects of language that
second language learners need to develop and learn. How does a teacher choose what aspects
of language to teach as academic language? When the teacher is choosing a reading passage
and teaching reading, the students are going to be doing reading. The teachers, their primary
concern is looking at those words and identifying the words that an English language learner
is going to have difficulty understanding and will undermine the student’s efforts to
understand that text. And oftentimes, that would be an academic
word, not always. And it’s really important for teachers of English learners to know that
it might be important to identify an academic word such as stimulate if a student’s having
difficulty learning. Or it might be important for the teacher to identify a single preposition
or an adverb such as “hardly” or a conjunction such as “and.” The student’s having difficulty learning.
And that will make a difference in the student’s comprehension. That’s different in production. Would the teacher be so specific as to say
here’s “stimulate” and you use it here. Another way you say it is X. Is it that specific? Yes, it’s that specific. It’s absolutely that
specific. It would be good-if you’re only trying to teach students the meaning of words.
And this is the case when you native speakers. They need to just say stimulate means and
you give a meaning and a definition. But for English language learners, it’s different.
Because we want students not just to understand their text. This is where I was going with
your question. But to be able to use the words in production. And we have been ignoring word
use for a long time. And teachers really need to support the way students actually use words. So when students are going to be talking about
the text, they need to know how to use the words. A really good activity for doing that,
for teaching students how to use new words, is to give students a word bank and then to
talk about the words and how they’re used in the text. And then to talk about how the teacher uses
the words. Then to give the students the words, the definitions and a model sentence. And
say: turn to your partner and I would like you to use some of the words we’ve discussed
in describing X, Y, or Z. So it goes beyond definition. Absolutely has to go beyond definitions if
you want children to be able to use words accurately. And we do. Thank you so much. That was a very good overview.
Now we’re going to take a look at a school in Oregon where teachers are working on pinpointing
those key vocabulary words and where young children, English language learners, are working
on reading comprehension as part of their academic language training. [music] To reach Heritage Elementary School, you have
to travel thirty miles south of Portland, Oregon, past hazelnut orchards and Russian
Orthodox churches. We have children who are ethnic Russians from
Russia, from Argentina, Latvia, Tajikistan, Brazil, Turkey, China. These kids can speak
some English. But that’s hardly enough to get by in school. One misconception is that people feel that
once a child starts speaking English and communicating with basic oral communication in the playground
or at school, that child is able to succeed academically. It’s just not the case. Because what some
call survival English is a long way from mastering even the third grade academic curriculum.
For Linea Salzman, part of the job is teaching the kids one word at a time. First in their
native Russian and then in English. Plemya in English it means “tribe.” It’s critical to be this explicit. Because
Russian is so different from English. Totem pole. And the school is relentless in making sure
their students understand what they read. Now, I’m not going to show you every picture
in the book. I’ve chosen a few that I thought would really help us to explore this idea
of fire. In Larry Connolly’s class, the kids are doing
what’s called a picture walk. They use the picture and draw on their background knowledge
to predict what the story will be about. Well I’ve got a big question for you guys.
What do you think this is a story about? Don’t use matches and lighters. Or else you’re
going to get burned. The work may seem painstaking. But Heritage
is committed to creating readers who will have a deep understanding of what they read. So often, the kids move through the text so
quickly that they’re not understanding much. And so we’re using those cognitive strategies
as a way of slowing them down and getting them kind of invested in the text. The last teacher, the teacher mentioned having
students slow down and invest in the text. What are some of the strategies that help
students do that and sort of acquire academic language? Certainly, the teacher doesn’t say
slow down and invest in the text. Not to the students anyway. No. A close reading of text is very important
for English language learners who need to acquire academic language. A teacher can have
the student choose a very short reading passage and read that passage aloud to the students.
So that the students get the melody of the language. Okay. Now, what the teacher is doing is slowing
down. And then after the students hear the language, the teacher can explain what’s in
that very short reading passage and then ask the students to read it again this time focusing
on a few very specific features of academic language. And, of course, the teacher doesn’t
say now I want you to look at academic language. But instead, the teacher might say we’re going
to be looking at how this piece of writing flows by looking at pronouns. And we’re going
to be underlining the pronouns and drawing a circle around the noun to which they refer.
Okay. In this way, the students are learning the pronoun reference system in English. Which is a huge stumbling block. And it improves
their reading comprehension. Because now they know exactly what the he/she, it/we/they refer
to. There’s other things that the teacher can do. One of the features of academic language
are words and their associates, fixed expressions or collocations. We don’t think about it. Say that again? Fixed expressions and? Fixed expressions that are also called collocations.
These are words and their associates. They’re words that go together. We don’t often think
about it. But certain words just go together. Like what? We say… peanut butter and jelly. Well, there’s
no jelly and peanut butter. You say salt and paper, not pepper and salt. Mr. and Mrs.,
not Mrs. and Mr. It’s important that students learn these fixed expressions. They’re markers of knowing a second language
well. They’re markers of knowing a second language
well. And they help the student use the language precisely. And when they’re not used precisely,
a convention is broken. They’re expected and preferred. And it irritates the native speaker
when you go in. So that’s an interesting way of looking at
academic language. In some ways, it’s really speaking like a native speaker and being able
to sort of go with the flow. Yes, absolutely. It absolutely is accurately
and effectively and obtaining your communicative objective. So reading closely a text and looking
at pronominal reference is really important. Looking at the way synonyms are used. Looking
at word families, dissecting the paragraph very carefully, and talking about it helps
students to incorporate the language that the author is using into his or her speech. So one of my favorite activities for getting
students to use academic language is summarization. In summarization, what students do is they
read a very short passage and they summarize it orally to a friend. Now, this may seem boring to you or me. But
it’s a real challenge for a non-native speaker. What they do is they appropriate the author’s
language into their own. And they begin to acquire the language. Or they can change partners
several times. And you can…you can actually hear them getting more and more fluent. And,
of course, it always helps to model the paragraph to the students before they do this. You know, I’m thinking as a potential instructor
working with teenagers say and some of the strategies that you describe really make the
student focus very intently on a sentence or a paragraph. What kinds of instructional
tricks does the teacher pull out of her bag to help the student not get bored frankly?
Because they’re teenagers. Right. With teenagers-teenagers are wonderful
to work with because they have such inquisitive minds. And they’re questioning everything.
And so I would first of all explain, make it every very explicit, what the language
objective is. So today, we are going to be working on academic vocabulary of this specific
passage on poverty. Teenagers, being very interested in equity
issues, I would assume that this text on poverty goes along with something in the textbook.
And we’re going to be talking about ways to eliminate or to stop poverty. And so I would
be having them summarize the text and then following that, I would give them some ideas
for ways to stop poverty, some vocabulary and some complete sentences to really get
them going in case they lack proficiency. Then when they pair up, they have already
acquired the language proficiency to participate in a discussion on the topic of how do you
prevent poverty. Because now they know that you can say we can stop poverty by plus verb
plus “-ing” doing the following. And then they can practice using those expressions
in sentences and expressing their own beliefs-this is not boring to a partner before they participate
in an oral discussion with the entire class or maybe even make a presentation in front
of the class. Students always perform to the expectations.
We don’t expect a lot of teenagers. We need to expect more. Once they know that we expect
them to think critically about issues and to use academic language, they will do it.
Especially when they know that we are going to scaffold and help them acquire the language
first, give them adequate time to practice this in a safe environment in which they won’t
be intimidated and then perform in front of their classmates. Now, I’m imagining you have some of those
same skills you have to teach say to third graders. But you’re going to have a different
strategy. Do you have a different strategy at each grade level? Absolutely. It has to be cognitively appropriate
as well as linguistically appropriate. Also keeping in mind that the students affect as
well, at these different grade levels. When teaching young children, young children are
highly capable of learning language. We can teach some features of the language
very explicitly. We can say that two plus two “equals,” with an “S,” four. We can talk
about the zzz sound of a bumble bee. And we can get little ones out of their seats and
moving around which is what we need to do. We can engage them in songs that present them
with academic language and jazz chants as well. We can be using even total physical
response at times to teach them some of the academic words they need to know. We can teach them language games, language
repetition. We can use choral repetition with little ones and direct instruction. Absolutely. I can hear the wheels turning for teachers
watching this thinking: All right, how am I going to incorporate this into my day? Should
this be a separate block of time? Do you setup a separate block of time to teach academic
language? Absolutely. The reason we need to do this
is if we don’t give attention to academic language, it’s easy to overlook it. Now, when
you’re teaching little ones K through three, I would absolutely make sure that they have
access to the curriculum. And in addition, give them that extra time
to learn academic language that they so need. In addition to the core curriculum. And it
needs to support that core curriculum, not be so different from it that it’s yet more
language that students need to have. But rather supporting that core curriculum. When a child, however, comes in at grade four,
that child is going to be so far behind in terms of learning the language needed to learn
academic language in content areas. That student’s going to need to have an intensive language
program with lots and lots of instruction in the area of academic English. Every single day, students need vocabulary
instruction. Every single day if all of their content, they need reading comprehension instruction.
And every single day, they need writing instruction. Every single day: writing. They should be
writing every single day. As well as direct scaffolded instruction of oral language. I have a couple of questions that come to
mind. The first is you say every single day. For five minutes every single day? For twenty
minutes every single day? How much time should we devote to this, should teachers devote
to this? Well, I think in the younger grades, students
need English language instruction. The amount of time is going to vary according to their
needs. So if students have instructional gaps in their education, of course, you’re going
to need to give them more English language instruction. Because you need to fill in these
gaps. But if they don’t have instructional gaps
and they come in in grades K through three, it might be enough to give them an extra forty
minutes-a block of time each day of forty-five minutes. That might be just sufficient. Once they get into the upper grades, they’re
going to need more time. More than an hour of daily English language instruction that
includes a component of academic language. You talked about setting up a separate block
of time. I’m also imagining that during the content instruction time, you’re going to
infuse some of the academic language strategies in there. And let’s pick writing. Because
you had some examples earlier. What are some strategies teachers can infuse into the writing
process to focus on academic language? Great. Some very useful strategies for teaching
writing, one is anytime you give a writing assignment, don’t assume that the students
have the language in order to accomplish-to write the assignment. Give them samples of what you expect. Multiple
samples are even better. You know, it’s hard to write. It’s hard for anybody to write when
you don’t know what’s expected of you. So you want to make your expectations abundantly
clear. In this essay I expect you to have a thesis
statement. And I expect you to put it at the very end of the paragraph. Here are some examples.
And this is what a thesis sentence does. So you’re actually getting very explicit step-by-step
instruction. And then an example. And then an example. And also, very importantly
is I give students the vocabulary, their grammatical structures, and some tips for organizing essays
before they start. And I encourage them to use the words and the grammatical structures
and the rhetorical tips in the writing. And I tell them, you know, if you do this it will
really help improve your writing. This is not cheating. This is what I really want you
to do. These are supports. They’re supports. And every time they write,
they get better and better. And this type of advice is very good, not just for a writing
instruction, English language, arts, teachers, say in high school or middle school, but for
the science teacher in fourth grade who is having the students write a lab report. Or for the social studies teacher who is having
the students perhaps write a persuasive essay. So, what I really would like all teachers
to do is to teach writing very explicitly, step-by-step, with lots and lots of support.
And, of course, some instructional feedback. But if you remember the letter from Vaughn,
she had not received any instructional feedback. So she was one of the students who you could
show her a word such as “firstofall” or “secondofall” or “thirdofall” and she would say, well, that’s
a word. I had a student like that. And I said here’s “firstofall”. And the student said,
yes, it’s a word. And I said, no, it’s not. It’s “first of all.” And the student said,
well, no, it’s “firstofall” and “secondofall” and “thirdofall.” And so I had to take out
a dictionary, a learners dictionary, very important. A very confident student. Yes, very confident. But she had never had
any feedback. And so she had looked at the dictionary and she said, oh. It’s first of
all. You’re right. Ah-hah. But if students don’t get any instructional feedback, then
they use forms again and again and again and they’re writing, they will stabilize over
time. And that’s when it’s so important for a teacher
to give some instructional feedback. Not in a punitive sense. But in an instructional,
in a very constructive way. So that students will learn from their mistakes. Learning that
a mistake is neither good nor bad, but just something that is perfectable, that will help
them to learn from. So it’s a low stakes way before you get to
the high stakes. Yes, absolutely. And for some students, you’ll
have to tell them again and again and again and again. You’ll have to be teaching subject/verb
agreement. But they will learn. And that’s what teachers need to know. And it’s, of course,
very good if teachers develop a technique that they use for providing instructional
feedback that the whole school site adheres to. Whether or not it’s just underlining those
words that are used incorrectly or highlighting them or writing in the margin or giving students
some rules or using what I like symbols. Oh, so this is a strategy that I hadn’t heard.
So everyone in the school should use that same approach. Absolutely. We promote this in whole school
districts. So that way when students go from one grade to the next, they don’t have to
learn new symbols. They know exactly what kind of feedback their teachers are going
to give them. They know when the teacher’s going to give them this feedback. They don’t
consider it at all punitive. They expect it. You know, there are so many challenges teachers
face. And this is an area that teachers are beginning to explore. They’re beginning to
explore academic language. They want to do the right thing. But they bump into these
walls. And one of the walls seems to be states taking on alignment of curriculum … of content
actually and language. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Yes. It’s an enormous challenge. States have
been trying to link content objectives and language objectives. I think it’s very important
that teachers know when they’re teaching content that the English language learners also need
to know language. And they need to have language objectives. It’s good for them to know what they’re teaching.
The difficult part arises when the teacher chooses text, stories, reading passages, textbook
passages, to help them-help the students acquire the content standards. Because anytime they
choose a reading passage, there’ll be a number of different language objectives that could
be taught. And when they teach a different reading text
or have the students do a different oral language assignment, they’re going to need different
language objectives. So it’s not possible therefore just to take the language content
and objectives and just align them without looking at what it is that children do with
language in the classroom and what it is they’re reading in the classroom. So not losing that focus on language and deliberately
teaching language. That’s right. You have said so much to us. Why don’t you
take a sip of water? Well, I want to talk about another issue. And that has to do…it
relates to what you just talked about. English language learners often are taught by many
different teachers. And I wonder who’s responsible for teaching academic language? We are all responsible for teaching academic
language. Teachers are responsible for teaching academic language. In the elementary school
it’s the primary instructor who has the responsibility for laying the foundational piece for teaching
academic language, a strong English language proficiency, a language proficiency in phonology
and spelling and the sounds of the language and grammar and vocabulary absolutely critical. And in the upper grades, that individual is
going to be responsible for teaching academic language of reading, writing, speaking and
listening. However, in the-the individuals in elementary school should be working very,
very closely with a reading specialist. If students can’t read, they can’t develop
academic language. And the elementary school teachers need to be working very closely with
their ESL, ELD specialist, absolutely. We get into sort of a classic question around
that when you get to high school. Yes. Let’s take the example of the biology teacher. Oh, yes. Perfect example. Biology teacher is teaching something that
doesn’t seem very language related to some people. So how does that biology teacher support
academic language? The biology teacher has a critical role. The
biology teacher, first of all, should be relieved to know that I don’t make that person responsible
for teaching reading. If the child cannot read, doesn’t know how to decode words, that
biology teacher doesn’t have to become a reading specialist. We have a scarcity. I know some biology teachers. Yes, they don’t have to worry about that.
Nor does a teacher have to worry if they’ve got somebody who’s just beginning language,
learning, just arrived in the United States. The teacher should know how to teach survival
skills, yes. But we really are required by law to make
sure that that beginning language learner gets enough proficiency to access language.
And a biology teacher will never be an English language specialist who can give that foundational
piece. The biology teacher, however, has the responsibility
of teaching reading comprehension. And those biology texts are very, very difficult. And
so the teacher needs to teach a variety of strategies, including using graphic organizers
and note taking skills. So that the students can access the reading.
The biology teacher absolutely has the responsibility to scaffold discussions in biology using academic
words and using the text. The biology teacher absolutely has the responsibility of teaching
any kind of writing associated with the biology. So that might mean, for example, teaching
that lab report or teaching students how to conduct an experiment and write it up using
inquiry. I imagine there are also a lot of opportunities
for teaching vocabulary in the content area. Oh, it is. And should that be a specific strategy? Yes. And that’s where content vocabulary should
be taught. Content vocabulary in the high school should be taught in the content class
and reinforced in other classes, such as the ESL class. The best place to teach the word
photosynthesis is not in an ESL class. The best place to teach it is in a biology class. In context. Absolutely. And so that the student really
understands what photosynthesis is. Yes, you can teach photosynthesis in an ESL classroom.
But you’re just going to be teaching the bare basics, a very rudimentary knowledge. This
is not academic language. So the content teacher plays a key role in teaching ESL, ELD, English
learners. One group that presents teachers, all teachers,
a number of challenges are students who are newcomers. Who come to us at the secondary
level. Often haven’t had a lot of education in their own country in their own language.
And they have a short period of time before they have to graduate from high school and
get all the credits. What is the role of both language teachers and content teachers in
getting them to a level of having some academic language? We have a responsibility to our students,
to all of our students, no matter when they enter school, no matter what their educational
backgrounds are, to teach academic language. We have some excellent approaches and especially
some good curricula materials available to provide students with the intensive English
language instruction that they need at the secondary levels. Students who arrive late in our system do
need more instruction. We far underestimated the amount of instruction in English that
they acquired-that they need to acquire academic language. So they might need to be in a three
hour or four hour intensive language classroom and then take some other classes in addition
to that. And it might be the case that they need to
take summer school. They might need to go before school, after school. If they need
an extra year afterwards, our goal is to make sure that they have acquired enough academic
language so that they can go on and be successful in the United States. And so I would say,
yes. Give them more. Absolutely. It seems to me that we often as educators
of English language learners focus on that group of students who just came in, the newcomers.
But there’s also another group of students who are long-term ELLs, who have been in this
country a long, long time, who have some of the same gaps in language, in academic language. I know on a day-to-day basis, you work with
college students, you work with older students. What are some of the challenges there? And
what are some of the strategies? What can educators do at that point? Oh, thank you. This is the largest growing
population that we have in the United States. Our newcomers, especially at the secondary
level, is rather small compared to this huge group of students that we have. Instruction,
instruction, instruction. Practice. But knowing that it’s practice perfect makes good practice,
not just practicing. Students tend to acquire the language of those with whom they associate.
We all do. And so our students, such as my student whose
letter you read, came into the United States and acquired the language of the friends with
whom she associated. And she speaks a wonderful variety of informal English. But as you noted,
it won’t do her very much in terms of getting her ahead in academic settings. So what we need to do is make sure that we
get-that she attends to the language by using dictation exercises, for example. By using
both oral close, a sentence completion activity. Or a written close activity where students
fill in the blanks as we dictate a passage. They need to summarize. We tell passages they
need to write a lot with intensive feedback. And yes, we know that they can achieve high
levels of success. They can become bi-dialectal, bi-lingual, multi-lingual. For older students and for younger students,
there must come a time when the support for academic language needs to sort of pull back.
The teacher needs to pull back. And they need to become independent users of academic language.
Does that happen magically? Or are there some strategies? A lot of our schools hope that that would
happen. But we can’t teach on hope. So what we really need to do is plan very explicitly.
Think about it as I do with my own child, going onto college and beyond. You want to
make sure that the child develops good learning strategies that will help that child to continue
to learn. I want all English learners in the United
States to know about learner dictionaries and to use them. A learner dictionary is not
just a dictionary that an individual has. Tell me, because I don’t know what a learner
dictionary is. They’re wonderful dictionaries. Many different
publishing companies have them. They’re really good. They tell a student what a word means.
And then they give the students a lot of information about the word. They give the students even
grammatical and discourse information about the word. So they might say the word “discriminate”
is used with the word “discriminate against someone.” And then they give sample sentences.
So I tell all of my students, whether native or not native, that they must have these dictionaries
for English language learners. They’re actually written for students. They’re very appropriate
beginning at grade four and beyond. So it’s a teacher in your pocket sort of. It’s a teacher in your pocket. So they need
that. They need to have self-editing skills. So that’s why if teachers begin correcting
young children and children love corrective feedback. They don’t think it’s wrong. They
expect a teacher at age five and six. They’ll begin to give instructional feedback
in the very young ages. And continue it. But always with the goal of making the student
a self-editor. So that the student, when the student is finished with the ESL, ELD class,
when he’s in a mainstream class, the student goes to them and says, okay. I’m great in these aspects of language. And
I’m not so good in these aspects. I’m going to have to continue to work on subject/verb
agreement. I know that I have a weakness in word forms and related parts of speech. And
I’m going to be correcting those. Because, you know, our goal in schools is
not to make people perfect native English speakers. But we want to help people achieve
a mastery over the English language as best as they can get. You know, we’ve talked a lot about what teachers
can do to help students gain academic language. And we often put it all on teachers. But what
about other people in the educational system? What about principals? What about school district
personnel? What can they do to help here? Thanks, Delia. It’s so important that we get
principals and vice principals, everybody in the administration, to understand that
it’s not easy to teach academic language. And students really need to have good curricular
programs. They need to investigate the very best curricular programs for teaching academic
language. So that the students have a coherent program
for English language development. And we need to get the principals in the classrooms to
watch the teachers. So that they’ll understand how hard it is to teach academic language. And to make sure that teachers get the appropriate
support to teach academic language. We’ve had three generations of teachers who really
haven’t had much instruction in grammar themselves and can’t tell the difference between a noun
and a preposition. Oh, dear. And oftentimes, they’re ashamed of that. There’s
no reason to be ashamed at all. That was just the case of our public schools. So what role does professional development
play in all of this? Should administrators be shaking professional development in a certain
way? Yes, they need to make sure that when teachers
are teaching content, for example, they may need to know how to scaffold the content to
make sure that they’re teaching language objectives. And when I’m in classrooms and I’m watching
teachers teach in Los Angeles or wherever I am, I notice that what teachers are having
the most difficulty with are language objectives, identifying what language they can teach to
help students access the content and participate in the content instruction. You know, teachers often talk about not having
the time to plan together and collaborate together. What ideas do you have for creating
that space for teachers to collaborate around common academic language targets? Yes. Thank you. Teachers do need the time.
It takes time. It takes them time to learn the language themselves. To teach students
and the strategies. And so they need to have lesson planning time in which they come together
to talk about the curriculum for English language development. So that they work together as teams with their
ESL, ELD coaches, with the reading specialists, the reading coaches, with the administration,
with all the specialists in the schools. So that they give students more of a seamless
education. And they get everybody on the same train going in the same direction. I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface.
What are some other resources you can tell us about quickly before we wind up that teachers
could use or turn to in developing academic language? Yes, thank you. If you go into our websites,
and I’ll leave you a list of our websites, you’ll find that we have developed many websites
for helping teachers develop grammar, vocabulary, a discourse of English language for helping
students correct their own writing and for developing their grammar and vocabulary. We also have useful websites where teachers
can have the most recent sort of cutting edge research on what works for teaching English
language learners. We will certainly put a list of those up on
the website. But is there one right now that you could tell us about as an example, a website,
that’s good for teachers to go to? Yes, the “What Works” website is an excellent
place. Because it gives very useful information about the types of strategies that are research
based, that have been tried and tested with English language learners. And it demonstrates
some of those for teachers as well. Are there misconceptions out there about academic
language that you feel that we need to address? Oh, yes. Give us a few. Oh, yes. There’s one misconception is that
it takes students so many years to acquire academic language. Maybe seven or twelve or
ten. It can take students forever or never to acquire it if they don’t get exposure to
academic language, lots of practice in using academic language and instruction in using
academic language, including instructional feedback. So the amount of time is going to really vary
greatly depending on how much instruction that they get in academic language. Another
myth is that we can teach academic language in an ESL or an ELD class and then students
don’t need any afterwards. That is a complete myth. Students, all of us, including me, need instruction
to improve academic language development after they left the ESL, ELD class. Or after they
left their English classroom. Everybody is in the process of acquiring academic language
and improving upon it. Including me. That’s a good way to put it. And we need to continually be working on it
with support. Now, what happens if you don’t get those supports or if you stop working
on it? Your language tends to plateau. And so that’s why we need these continual supports. One other myth is that academic language is
easy to assess. Not so. It’s very poorly defined for assessment purposes. Research is just
beginning to develop that will help us identify the features of academic language that are
accessible at the various proficiency levels. So we’re in the experimental stages. So a
test of academic language is necessarily going to be experimental at this point. So right now when we get test scores back
on proficiency, we’ve got a slice of what students do academically. Absolutely. And we need to do some more work around that. Absolutely. You have been in this field so long and you’ve
done so much. And it was just fascinating talking to you today. Would you like to leave
us with some thoughts? Have you some thoughts today? A final thought perhaps. Yes. If you looked at Vaughn’s letter, my
student, who came into the United States at age five, and you can see her tremendous improvement
with instruction at the end of a year. Now, it might take some students three years, four
years, five years, a lot of instruction to acquire academic language. It’s highly teachable. Our students are extraordinarily
bright. We’re talking about one of the hardest working groups of students in the United States
who have achieved great heights academically. We need to support them by teaching them academic
English. Thank you for that insight. That is I think
a valuable one for all of us. And thank you for sharing all your knowledge with us today. It’s been such a pleasure to talk to you. And thank you all for joining us for this
Colorín Colorado webcast. For more information about the literacy of
the young English language learners in your life, please visit us on the web at
Again thank you for joining us. And take care. Funding for this for this Colorin Colorado
webcast is provided by the American Federation of Teachers with additional support from the
National Council of La Raza. [music]

12 Replies to “Academic Language and English language learners

  1. If this people knew where English developed or was born, they wouldn't talk so proudly of English. Academic language dear ladies are words stolen or borrowed from many highly educated European Countries. This took place on the 6th and 8th Century. And by the way you just mentioned Spanish, this is a very good example. For Spanish people academic language are everyday words. This is an example for you: building = Edifice  Topology = Topological I think I make my point. other words such Inception = Incepccion  This mean beginning. English borrowed words from the Danish, French, Latin, Dutch, Germanic’s, and even Norwegian, Finish, Swedish. So to me what you talking about Academic Language, to us are everyday words. A very poor Programme. I speak fluently in 7 Languages big deal your little video to glorify the pathetic English Language.

  2. Just I thought: Please send me a letter in you opinion "Academic Language" and I will reply to you. I challenge you to fool me or as you put it we need to teach the uneducated from another countries who are not so sophisticated as English people. WOW I just heard you use the word photosynthesis that is a Latin word as well Spanish. Just to help you both so you don't have to look it up the word in Spanish is: Fotosintesis. I love to see a letter written in your wonderful Academic Language.

  3. You"re amazing Dr. Robin Scarcella, you teach something fundamental and basics knowledge of languages, I want to be your student in PHD. Salute for you.

  4. The interviewee is so bright, andi am keen to look up the website link talked in tbe video ,but there is no links in the description area…

  5. Very informative and well discussed, as well as, so need to be heard. Academic language is very important for all to learn, practice, and study.

  6. When teaching English, most programs foster common, informal conversation. When learners want to study abroad, they are in big trouble… Some of us are here to help 🙂

  7. I'm soooooooooo inspired by Dr. Robin Scarcella's interview! I've been an English teacher here in South Korea for more than 13 years and I honestly feel I'm still struggling with my own Academic English. We Koreans tend to focus more on Reading comprehension and Grammar than Speaking and Writing in an EFL context since it is much easier to have objective results with multiple choices. As an English teacher, I feel the urgent need for students to know how to use the academic English words in writing. I 'd love to study the strategies, and activity ideas so that I can teach my students different register English including formal and informal English. While listening to Dr. Robin's interview, I wish I were the student that Dr. Robin mentioned in the video. I felt more Thank you for uploading this amazing video and the website. Thank you sooooooooo much! 🙂

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