Shaping L2 and literacy acquisition: Teachers’ strategies for low-literacy background learners Alan Williams The context • ESL/EAL in Australia (Melbourne), over 30 years of working with different groups of low literacy ESL learners, in schools and in adult education • Research has focused on needs and experiences of particular groups, eg Oliver, Haig & Grote (2009), Miller, Mitchell & Brown (2005), • This has found mismatches in expectations between schools, and families and students • Some specialist teachers within ESL programs with accumulated experience • Some teaching materials, but never enough! • How do successful and experienced teachers work with low literacy students? What are their insights that inform their work with these learners? The study • Investigate the teaching strategies used by experienced teachers of ESL low-literacy background students • See how these teachers see low literacy students compared to ‘regular ESL’ students, and how their needs compare • What has informed these teachers, and how have they learned to work with these students? • What are the teachers doing? – as the classroom is the most significant second language environment for these learners - How may this shape the learners’ SLA and literacy development? Data: Classes • Teachers selected through knowledge of schools with experience teaching low literacy ESL learners – approach school, provider/ teacher recommended by principal or curriculum leader • Secondary, long-term not yet collected • Adult recent arrival learner group based analysis of PD video (AMES 2006) Recent arrivals Longer term residents Primary (elementary) NAP English language school (ESL VELS Companion stages BL – B1) Composite grade 3/4 in low SES high immigrant community (VELS Stage 2 and ESL Companion stage B2) Secondary New Arrivals English Language school (ESL Stages SL - S1) Not yet collected Adult Video of AMEP class, and Community-based, neighbourhood comments of teacher (Pre-CSWE- learning centre, in Inner urban area CSWE1) (ESL Framework, Certificate 1) Data collected • Observation of one class (1-2 hours), notes of class activities in terms of focus on : - language learning, - literacy learning, - other learning. • Content of learning more than learning processes • Interview with each teacher: - their view of the needs of low literacy background learners , - the teaching strategies they use, - how the lesson observed compares to other lessons - how teachers learned about working with low literacy students Observations: Focus of the classes Recent Arrivals 1 • States and Territories of Australia, Capital cities 2 A Long-term residents • ‘Literacy block’: - Vocabulary - Reading a text on Puffer fish - Strategies to use in reading and writing • Recent excursion to the central city • Reading a story about a disabled student joining a basketball team • Health and illnesses, a sick student, writing a note to a teacher • Addresses, and completing an address on an envelope Observations: language focus 1 Recent arrivals Long-term residents • Question structures for asking about factual information eg ‘Are there..?’ • Sentences for providing factual information eg ‘There are…’ • Yes/No answers • Prefixes and suffixes eg ‘dis-..’ ‘un-..’ 2 A • S-V order, and use of adverbials eg ‘We went to….on Friday’, ‘On Friday we went to…’ • Past tense marking of verbs • Adverbials of time • Greetings • Vocabulary of parts of the body • Narrative about someone who is ill and unable to attend school • Text: note to teacher about an absence from class • Numbers eg 140 said as ‘one hundred and forty’, local postcode (3065) as ‘three-oh-sixfive’ • Pronunciations of ‘envelope’ • Word stress patterns • ‘/’ pronounced as ‘slash’ Observations: Literacy focus Recent arrivals Long term residents A • Nothing explicit • Word recognition • Attention to stages and strategies in writing (writing as a process) • Reviewing and revising the mechanics of your own writing • Strategies to use in reading – especially relating prior knowledge to what you read • Parts of books, especially non-fiction: sections, and contents page and what it shows • Drawing gist from a complex text 2 A • Nothing explicit • Using and identifying initial consonants in word recognition • Grapho-phonic relationships ‘f’ = /f/ ‘ch’ = /tʃ/ • Letters and words, copying accurately • Format and layout of a formal note /letter to a teacher • Copying activities, • Repetition • Recognizing words beginning with (letter) ‘a’ • Students following text read by teacher • Recognizing consonant cluster sounds (blends) eg /str/ in ‘street’, /st/ in ‘state’ • Graphophonic awareness – number of syllables in written words • Awareness of upper and lower case letters Observations: Other learning Recent arrivals 1 2 A • Classroom rules (one person talking at a time, hands up to answer, no calling out) • Speaking to whole class from front of the room • Features of Australian capital cities Long-Term residents • Collaborative and team work • Puffer fish • School routines and behaviour (eg student not to sit right next to heater!, hands up, no calling out ) • Explanation when one student leaves class to fulfill duty as school roll monitor for the day • How to speak to the whole class-projection of voice, eye contact etc • Learning as fun • Physical basis to learning • Personal basis of stories and written texts • Explicit instruction on classroom activities, eg reporting to the class (where to stand, eye contact, volume of speech) • Conventions related to addresses in Australia – marking different house types, eg houses and apartments • L1 forms of words students have been learning in English • Stamps and costs of postage in Australia eg 60 cents standard item anywhere, international depends on size, weight , destination Observations: Summary • A lot of attention to expectations of classroom routines and behaviour in recent arrivals, especially in the school sector (strong emphasis on ‘doing school’, statement and re-statement of expectations) • Personalisation of learning for adults • Attending to processes of learning; organising, relating learning to prior knowledge • Language and literacy focus around non-linguistic meanings/content • Long term primary: teacher juggling several levels of literacy development, low-literacy background ESL one of a number (less sharp focus on this group) • Language focus less explicit in school group than in language programs • Often slow pace to complete tasks for low-literacy background classes Interviews: What the teachers say about learning needs • Slow pace of learning of low-literacy background learners, need for constant repetition • Different prior knowledge to schooled ESL learners; less congruent with the prior knowledge assumed in schooling • Learning needs are centred on learning-to-learn skills and development of self-awareness of themselves as learners • Need for concrete, activity base for learning activities • Need to learn important assumed content knowledge and skills for participation in mainstream school • Low-literacy background students need to experience success • Huge perceived gap between current skills and mainstream expectations Interviews: teaching strategies • Extensive modelling of classroom and learning activities • Need for students to achieve and be challenged • Highly structured activities and texts, frequent repetition, revision • Spend a lot of time working with a limited amount of learning material • Control of texts, which are kept basic, in order to focus on essential features (less ‘naturalistic’ texts) Conclusions • Low literacy ESL learners exposed to limited range of input, in highly structured activities with strong visual support, and mostly meanings related to experience and needs • Non-linguistic content learning sets context for explicit focus/noticing of elements of the language-literacy system • Strong emphasis on learning about learning (including thinking about themselves as learners) and school/classroom routines. References AMES Victoria (2006) Into Learning, Melbourne, Australia (Video). Miller, J., Mitchell, J. & Brown, J (2005) African refugees with interrupted schooling in the high school mainstream: Dilemmas for teachers, Prospect 20(2), p19 to33. Oliver, R., Y Haig & E. Grote (2009) Addressing the educational needs of African refugee background students: Perceptions of West Australian Stakeholders, TESOL in Context,19(1) p23 to 38.