It is clear from the literature that socioeconomic status, parent language usage and modeling, cognitive impairments, regional and cultural language variations, appropriate use of language registers for different situations, alternate primary languages, and many other factors contribute to language differences from early on in a child’s life (Hart & Risley, 1995; Payne, 1996; Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012). What is less obvious is how all of those language differences, many of which developed prior adolescence, affect a child’s high school literacy abilities and the necessary teacher responses to these differences as children progress through secondary school to create an equitable classroom for all. Further complicating the issues, secondary verbal, reading, and writing expectations become increasingly complex as the student become more aware of how their ability of communicate effectively affects their social status among their peers. How can a high school teacher account for all of his or her students’ language and literacy abilities, inabilities, and social needs while creating and adjusting curricular activities that best support each student’s individual needs?
In prior generations, most classes were relatively homogeneous, divided by race, ethnicity, ability, SES, and development/disability. Today, inclusive classrooms frequently include children from across the economic spectrum, English language learners, children with cognitive and developmental disabilities, and various ethnicities, all of which introduce different instructional needs into the mix. It seems that the traditional style of the teacher lecturing from the front of the classroom while student take notes is not effective in the current environment because it favors some students abilities over the others. Alternatively, a newer kind of pedagogy that might be more effective for accommodating language differences is to create a classroom atmosphere where students are encouraged to explore ideas with one another while the teacher facilitates the discussion (Cazden, 2001, p. 54). Prensky (2008) suggests
…the basic direction is away from the “old” pedagogy of teachers “telling” (or talking, or lecturing, or being the “Sage on the Stage”) to the “new” pedagogy of kids teaching themselves with the teacher’s guidance (a combination of “student-centered learning,” “problem-based learning,’ and the teacher’s being the ‘Guide on the Side.”) (p. 1).
While Prensky (2008) is primarily concerned about how technology fits into the classroom, this teaching paradigm also provides more opportunity for students to practice using oral and written language, while teachers can differentiate instruction by supporting each student’s language needs as they become the speaker. True interpersonal discussion rarely happens between students in classroom lessons, but if teachers held back from speaking and allowed the language to progress, the nature of the language would shift. Not only will language shift so the teachers can learn about the students’ primary dialects, language register shifts, syntax, and oral prosody, but also the nature of learning changes from explanatory to exploratory providing opportunities for deeper learning (Cazden, 2001, p. 62).
When one operates a classroom as a language environment, he or she facilitates discovery by the students about how they need to adjust their language usage through trial and error. This practice is similar to the Silent Method, which taught language to ELLs and was embraced by the cognitive revolution in the 1970s for ELLs (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012, p. 68). Teacher modeling can gently correct mistakes, and the teacher can develop scaffolding techniques to facilitate better individual language usage for each student regardless of his or her specific differences. In addition, adopting language objectives to supplement content objectives for each topic and making those objectives an explicit goal for the conversational aspects of the student dialog could foster skills practice along with the deeper learning provided by student investigation for all students in the classroom who may be lacking those language skills (Center for Applied Linguistics, 2013). Other SIOP suggestions will also help in a language intensive classroom. These things can assist the teacher in adjusting the classroom to differentiate for the wide range of language abilities in today’s heterogeneous classrooms.
Cazden, C. B. (2001). Variations in lesson structure. In C. B. Cazden, Classroom discourse: The language of teaching and learning (pp. 53-79). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Center for Applied Linguistics. (2013). SIOP resources. Retrieved from CAL SIOP: http://www.cal.org/siop/resources/index.html
Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.
Payne, R. (1996, March). Understanding and working with students and adults from poverty. Retrieved from Concordia University—Portland Blackboard: http://intranet.usd475.org/school/jcms/clinicalinstructor/Shared%20Documents/PovSeriesPartsI-IV.pdf
Pence Turnbull, K. L., & Justice, L. M. (2012). Language development from theory to practice. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Prensky, M. (2008, Nov-Dec). The role of technology. Educational Technology , 1-3.