The Whole-Class Great Debate: A Discussion Strategy for English Language Learners

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey & Dana L. Grisham

A rule of thumb we have come to find helpful in any language learning environment is that the more one uses a language, the more likely it will be that proficiency develops in that language. Of course, effective instruction, useful models, and other resources are all important, as well.  A resource from the Common Core State Standards website suggests that English language learners, among other things, should have:

  • Opportunities for classroom discourse and interaction that are well-designed to enable ELLs to develop communicative strengths in language arts;

  • Ongoing assessment and feedback to guide learning (p. 2).

Recently, we had the opportunity, as part of a delegation to meet with education leaders in China, to observe a class of middle school age students debate a topic as a way of integrating speaking, listening, and presentation tasks at Tiantong Education Group’s teaching center in Shenyang, China All of the students are English language learners.. The teacher called the process “debate” but we have modified this title a bit to differentiate it from other debate protocols to “Whole-class Great Debate.”

2014-10-14 17-39-10

The students had just returned to class after a national holiday, and, as you may be aware, China is grappling with pollution that causes health problems for many citizens (for example, read this news article about pollution in Beijing).  Students were asked to “state up their opinion” as to whether it was a good idea to stay home during the holiday or to go somewhere, such as the beach.

Students sat in rows, two on each side, facing each other. Initially, a student on each side states an opinion that staying home or going out for the holiday is their preferred option.  Each side then adopted one of the two stated positions.  They met in small groups to come up reasons in support of staying home or going away. Next, a student stated the opinion to which the other side responded. Students they returned to their group to determine counterarguments to those they heard. The process began again. A selected student (a volunteer in the class), then summarized the group’s position.

So far, this seems much like a typical classroom debate. However, to keep the students engaged in the discussions and to encourage them to listen to one another, the teacher developed protocols for speaking to the class. Students were encouraged to stand up and speak up taking turns from one side or the other. The spontaneous nature of standing and speaking motivated students to listen so they might speak. However, at times, more than one student from a side might want to speak. They learned to call “I’m, first” but sometimes it was hard to tell who was actually first. To keep everything moving and in control, students could use a version of “rock paper scissors” to decide who would actually speak first. Finally, each side met again to review their opinions and the counterarguments to their opinions, and a final summary speaker was elected.

ELLs at Tiantong Education Center

The teacher did choose a colleague to come in and evaluate the debate and select a winner based on a rubric for developing and stating an opinion, but it was clear that the debate’s main goal was interaction in English requiring students to listen carefully to each side, discuss their opinions and those of the other side, then speak publicly about it.  The teacher recognized the strengths of each team’s presentation. We hope you enjoy watching this video of the Whole-class Great Debate.

IAIE Representatives

Representatives from IAIE include Jin Zhang, Dana Grisham, Thomas DeVere Wolsey, Marc Grisham (Missing from this photo: Kathy Ganske)

Reference

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2012). Application of Common Core State Standards for English language learners [PDF]. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/application-for-english-learners.pdf

Literacy Instruction in a Brave New World: A themed issue from Kappan

Phi Delta Kappan has just published a themed issue on “Literacy Instruction in a Brave New World” (November, 2014, volume 96, No. 3). For a short time period, you may view and download all of the articles online, for free.

http://pdk.sagepub.com/content/current

magazine cover shows child reading on a tablet

Literacy Instruction in a Brave New World

As literacy and technology expert Mike McKenna states in the opening to his article,

“Technology integration into language arts instruction has been slow and tentative, even as information technologies have evolved with frightening speed. Today’s teachers need to be aware of several extant and unchanging realities: Technology is now indispensable to literacy development; reading with technology requires new skills and strategies; technology can support struggling students; technology can transform writing; technology offers a means of motivating students; and waiting for research is a losing strategy.”

We have a lot to learn, a lot to accomplish, and we need to pick up the pace! I found this issue both practically valuable and thought provoking.

Please go to the Kappan website http://pdk.sagepub.com/ and search for the current November 2014 issue, or click on  http://pdk.sagepub.com/content/current to go directly to the table of contents. I’ve listed the table of contents below (note that Jill has a piece on online inquiry and I have a piece on eText and eBooks). Enjoy!

Literacy Instruction in a Brave New World – Table of Contents

Michael C. McKenna, Literacy instruction in the brave new world of technology

Joan Richardson, Maryanne Wolf: Balance technology and deep reading to create biliterate children

Christopher Harris, Fact or fiction? Libraries can thrive in the Digital Age

Samina Hadi-Tabassum, Can computers make the grade in writing exams?

Melody Zoch, Brooke Langston-DeMott, and Melissa Adams-Budde, Creating digital authors

Bridget Dalton, E-text and e-books are changing literacy landscape

Diane Carver Sekeres, Julie Coiro, Jill Castek, and Lizabeth A. Guzniczak. Wondering + online inquiry = learning

Gail Lynn Goldberg, One thousand words, plus a few more, is just right

Kristin Conradi, Tapping technology’s potential to motivate readers

Voter Information Project

We are so pleased to have readers from around the world and hope each votes whenever the opportunity arises. This week, we ask our readers in the United States to check out:

Multimedia digital books: Forward Thinking

Teaching the Language Arts: Forward Thinking in Today’s Classrooms by Elizabeth Dobler, Denise Johnson and Thomas DeVere Wolsey. Published by Inkling

forward thinking

  When I received a copy of Forward Thinking I was immediately struck by the calibre of the authors (Elizabeth Dobler, Denise Johnson and our own Literacy Beat blogger De Vere Wolsey). In turn, each author is well respected within the literacy community for situating their research in classrooms and making strong research-to-practice connections. The six modes of the Language Arts- reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing and visually representing provide the organisational framework of this etext. However, it is the enhanced etext publishing format which I want to particularly draw attention to in this post.

A number of distinctive features encourage active learning environments by combining traditional and electronic content. These features allow the reader to transact with the text in multiple ways through media elements such as, video, graphics, and audio which are embedded in the etext. Readers can watch lessons being taught in real classrooms; have instant access to multiple resource ideas that are shared through video clips (e.g. writing workshop); listen to podcasts of teachers and students; view graphics of work samples and follow hyperlinks to websites. In addition, links between research and practice are featured in interviews with scholars like Don Leu, Dorothy Strickland and Nell Duke. Finally, the etext incorporates a note sharing feature which could be used to create pathways to learning through listening, reading and viewing within a community of learners.

The authors of Forward Thinking note that the book models ways in which electronic resources can be integrated with and used to augment traditional classroom instruction. Forward Thinking  allows us  envision the possibilities when technology is integrated in meaningful ways to enhance literacy and learning in the 21st century classroom.

Mom’s Recipe Box, Old Lesson Plan Folders, and My iPad

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

In an old file box for 4X6 index cards, my Mom kept favorite family recipes. Some of these cannot be found online because they were traded among her friends and relatives long before Pinterest or Facebook made it possible to share a recipe link online.  I wanted to share copies of these with my brother and sisters, but making copies on paper seemed the wrong way to go.  By layering applications, I found I could recreate those 4X6 index cards, make many of them searchable, and share them with family and friends.  I used Evernote and Scanner Pro along with tags that corresponded with Mom’s original index card system (each letter represented a category of recipe, such as “cookies” and I could also add tags for recipes by season or author). Using these apps was far more efficient than using the traditional flatbed scanner in this instance.

Mom's recipe box

Mom’s recipe box

There are many tools for archiving and sharing recipes (click here for one example)  from file boxes, but I also wanted to archive and share the many file  folders full of lesson plans and resources, such as student work samples, that I collected over the years. The same tools I used to store and share Mom’s recipe box worked well here. My manila file folders full of news clippings, handwritten notes, typed lesson plans, and student work samples could easily be converted to a notebook in Evernote. I added tags that roughly matched the file folder label and additional tags for “student work sample” or “lesson plan.”

Eye poem lesson plan

News Clipping

News Clipping via Scanner Pro and Evernote

Some of the items in the folders would fit well in my flatbed scanner with a multisheet feeder. But notes and news clippings might not. Some of the pages were so old I thought they might jam the sheet feeder. My iPad solved this problem along with a scanner app (I used Scanner Pro by Readdle, but there are others). The scanner app uses the camera in the iPad or iPhone to create a scan of whatever paper you have and save it in image format (such as .jpg) or as a PDF file.  I usually choose the PDF format.

Scanner Pro can be easily linked to Evernote so that scans are automatically sent to Evernote.  In Evernote, you can annotate the file with new notes, tag the note, and share the note or the notebook with others. Be sure you consider copyright and fair use guidelines, of course, when sharing the work of others.

An eye  poem by Mario (Mariachi)

An eye poem by Mario (Mariachi)

Evernote has a free and a paid or premium version. The free version will work for many teachers, but if you want to upload many files, a paid version may be a better option; fortunately, the paid versions are reasonably priced. I paid $2.99 for Scanner Pro, an investment well worth the price. Scanner Pro allows me to sync automatically to Evernote and other applications. With it, I can adjust borders easily on the rare occasions when the software doesn’t quite capture the edges of whatever sized document I am scanning.

Resources:

Evernote Also be sure to check out Bernadette’s post, here.

Scanner Pro by Readdle

Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning

Book  cover of Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning

When friends write a book, of course, you’re excited for them and can’t wait to read it.  What’s even more wonderful is when you read the book and it’s terrific – one that you know you will use in your own teaching. Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning by Colin Harrison and fellow Literacy Beat bloggers Bernadette Dwyer and Jill Castek is just such a book.

I found this book to be exceptionally useful for many reasons, but I will highlight just two of those reasons here.

First, Colin, Bernadette, and Jill are not only experts in technology and new media; they are first and foremost experts in literacy instruction. They have taught children how to become engaged and successful readers and writers, and they have taught and collaborated with teachers on effective literacy instruction and technology over many years. Their deep knowledge and on-the-ground experiences with children and teachers is demonstrated in every chapter. They speak directly to teachers, acknowledging the realities of today’s schools and the pressure to achieve high academic standards with all students, while offering a vision and concrete classroom examples to inspire us to embrace the challenge.

Second, this book provides a comprehensive blueprint for integrating technology so that children are more successful with print-based reading and writing AND are developing the new literacies of reading, learning, and communicating with eBooks and on the Internet. Bernadette, Jill and Colin complement a chapter on reading eBooks and digital text with two chapters on Internet inquiry – one focusing on the search process and the other focusing on how to compose and communicate through multimodal products. These are areas where we need to make tremendous progress if we are going to prepare our students for a future world that will be more multimodal, more networked, and more dependent on individuals who are creative, strategic, and collaborative.

I’ve copied the table of contents below. You will see that this book offers teachers multiple pathways for moving forward on their own journeys of technology and literacy integration. Enjoy (I know I will)!

Table of Contents

  1. Using technology to make the teaching of literacy more exciting
  2. Strategies for capitalizing on what students already know
  3. Strategies for using digital tools to support literacy development
  4. Strategies for using eReaders and digital books to expand the reading experience
  5. Strategies for teaching the information-seeking cycle: The process stage of searching for information on the Internet
  6. Strategies for teaching the information-seeking cycle: The product stage of searching for information on the Internet
  7. Strategies for encouraging peer collaboration and cooperative learning
  8. Strategies for building communities of writers
  9. Strategies for building teachers’ capacity to make the most of new technologies

Textisms: Violating Ye Olde Grammar Rules

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Are textisms ruining students’ capacity for using standard English? Textisms, J2LYK, are those abbreviations and other shortcuts kids and many adults use when writing in some digital formats such as short message systems (SMS- an abbreviation for short message system referring to those messages sent via wireless communication devices, usually a cell phone) or when using social media such as Twitter. Many people seem to think so.  However, the evidence is growing that this is not the case.

Sketch Texting

Sketch Texting by Guillaume Perreault (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Children, as they grow, are quite adept at understanding the contexts for different registers of language. If they are taught when a given register is appropriate and when it may not be, their ability to adapt to the context seems to increase (see Townsend & Lapp, 2010). Moreover, affinity groups often develop jargon that is unique or understood only by participants in that group. For example, those who participate in online discussions on Facebook or using SMS and are interested in horses, understand that “UD” is a textism for “unplanned dismount” (Cloud 9 Ranch, 2012). You can guess what happened to the rider. Online gamers have textism all their own, as well. Many other textisms are very familiar to wide audiences. LOL, OMG, ROFL–all good examples of those that many people recognize. Of course, textisms are mediated by the technology used to create and transmit the message, as well. The 140 character Tweet is an example demonstrating that a limited number of characters imposed by the technology might encourage use of emoticons, abbreviations, and so on.

A 2009 study (Plester, Wood, & Joshi) found no correlation, or relationship, between students’ use of textisms and their capacity to use traditional spellings and language features. A new study (Wood, Kemp, & Waldron, 2014) examines the  long-term results when children and young adults use textisms, especially as those textisms relate to purposeful violations of grammatical conventions as opposed to errors. The results demonstrated that the subjects in the study showed no negative correlations between their abilities to use conventional grammar appropriate to their ages and their use of textisms. The study seems to suggest that use of textisms means that students are adding a literacy skill to their repertoire rather than replacing one skill set with another.

References:

Cloud 9 Ranch. (2012). How many of these textisms do you use? [Facebook post]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=235772239879305&id=222644657746917

Plester, B., Wood, C., & Joshi, P. (2009). Exploring the relationship between children’s knowledge of text message abbreviations and school literacy outcomes. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27(1), 145-161. doi: 10.1348/026151008X320507

Townsend, D. R. & Lapp. D. (2010). Academic language, discourse communities, and technology: Building students’ linguistic resources. Teacher Education Quarterly, Special Online Edition. Retrieved from http://teqjournal.org/townsend_lapp.html

Wood, C., Kemp, N., & Waldron, S. (2014). Exploring the longitudinal relationships between the use of grammar in text messaging and performance on grammatical tasks. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. Early online release. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjdp.12049/full doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12049

Image Credit:

Perreault, G. (2010, December 5). Sketch texting [drawing]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/guillaumeperreault/

Read more:

Texting Benefits for Teens
IM, SMS, Texting: A Glossary for Teachers
Spell Check and Writing Tasks in High School

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