The following was original printed in the Australian Literacy Education Association's (ALEA) secondary school journal Language and Learning (in the) Middle Years some 20 years ago. I first read this piece at a Learning Network week-long workshop on content literacy. Previously, I have shared portions of it on my other blog, the Learning Museum. Dr. Cambourne has graciously agreed to let me share the entire document here.
The Teaching-Learning-Language Connection:
How Learning In the Real World and Learning in the Content Areas are Related
I'm a very good ironer. Although men's dress shirts are my forte, I'm also very good at men's and women's slacks, jeans, shorts, cotton and polyester pullovers and sweatshirts and women's blouses. Women's skirts which are heavily pleated slow me down a little, but the final product is still of very high quality. Two years ago I would have been hard pressed (pun intended) to iron a handkerchief. Knowledge and skill in ironing is something I acquired at fifty four years of age some twenty one years after I had acquired the information skills and knowledge that one needs to complete a Ph.D.
As someone who makes his living observing and thinking about how teaching and learning 'work,' I find it interesting to reflect on the purposes, events and experiences that turned me from a non-ironer to one approaching the status of 'expert.' There are a number of features of the journey from novice to expert that I find both informative and theoretically important.
Firstly there surfaced a need (reason, purpose, motive, desire, intent, commitment) for me to learn how to iron at that particular time in my life. I realised that I had to become a member of the ironers' club.
Secondly when I became conscious of this need I decided to seek help. Usually in situations like this I look for a book or some printed materials that I know will inform me of what I need to know. However this time I found this strategy to be inappropriate. I decided that I needed the opportunity to observe someone who had more expertise than myself. I sought a demonstration. I arranged for a friend to give me a lesson next time she was ironing. We started with a shirt. I stood nearby and observed what she did. She talked as she demonstrated. She explained how she did the sleeves first, then flipped the shirt over, did the front, then flipped it over and did the back, and then the collar. She then told me how she liked to put the area near the shoulder and neck over the rounded end of the ironing board and iron the section where the sleeve joined the the neck and shoulder, She showed me how she did this and flipped it over and did the other sleeve-shoulder area. Then she hung it on a hanger. She explained how to fold shirts in a certain way for travelling purposes. As I reflect on the experience I also realise that she used language in such a way that I could get the general meaning of what she was intending. This meaning was further enhanced by the fact that the demonstrations and the explanations were given simultaneously. She didn't just tell me what to do. She used phrases like, 'I find it easiest to start with the sleeves' and so on. I realise now that we began to share a set of meanings and ways of using words and phrases to represent them. She then demonstrated and explained how to do a pair of slacks. Again I observed, and mentally rehearsed myself doing it.
Then I tried to apply what I'd been observing. I began with a shirt. I tried to flip it onto the ironing board the way my teacher had. It didn't seem to fall into place the way it did for her. Then I tried to position the sleeve so that I could begin to iron it. When I moved my left hand to flatten out the sleeve and align the seams symmetrically it fell off the ironing board and on to the floor. When this happened my teacher said something like, 'That happens to me sometimes too. Here let me show you again and this time I'll try to explain why I'm doing what I'm doing as I do it, and you ask questions when you don't understand. O.K.?'
My learning from that point was rapid. I had about four more joint sessions like this one. My teacher demonstrated and talked out loud, explaining what needed to be done and why. I found myself attending to and engaging with things I hadn't been aware of before, such as the way one can use the seams in garments to achieve symmetry, or the different functions that the sharp and blunt ends of the iron serve. I asked many questions about why she did what she did. After these initial joint sessions during which I received authentic feedback and praise, I began to practise by myself.
Whilst visiting another friend's house I asked her to show me how she goes about ironing. I found myself observing how she did it and engaged her in a conversation about what she was doing. It was then that I discovered something that I'd never been aware of before, namely that the function of the left hand, the way it held and moved the garment for the iron was absolutely crucial for the whole enterprise. I concluded that the key to effective ironing was the left hand, not the hand which held the iron.
Feeling quite the expert now I decided one morning to impress my daughter. I nonchalantly ironed her school shirt for her. She was obviously impressed. I felt I'd become a member of the ironing club. I was an expert.
My transition from non-ironer to expert is an example of successful learning. As such we need to examine it in more detail. What combination of processes made it such a successful teaching/learning experience? I think there were several.
Firstly there was a need for me to learn. This need led me to actively seek demonstrations and actively engage in that which I wanted to learn. I chose to engage in the demonstrations which my teacher gave. This is another way of saying that I actively participated in the learning experience.
Secondly a process of transformation began to take place. I began to reflect upon and think about what had been demonstrated and said. As a consequence I added new information to my old information, (the function of the left hand) and gradually developed a new understanding of the function and purposes of different aspects of the ironing process.
Thirdly, discussion was an integral part of the transition from novice to expert. Although it is feasible that I could have attained the status of expert without discussion, it would have been a much harder task. Language permeated the whole enterprise. My teacher used language which I found accessible. I used similar language to talk my way to meaning, not only with my original teacher, but with others and often with myself.
Fourthly there were multiple opportunities for application. I had plenty of chances to try out my developing skills of ironing both in front of my teachers as well as by myself.
Finally I was engaged in a process of evaluation, reflecting on and subsequently modifying my ways of operating as I made new connections and added new knowledge to my ironing repertoire. My teachers also were engaged in the process of evaluating me, providing me with feedback which further enhanced my learning.
These processes did not occur in a linear sequence, nor did one 'cause' the other. Rather they often co-occurred. For example the discussion I had with the friend I visited seemed to occur simultaneously with the transformation of my understanding of the role of the left hand. Again when I evaluated my performance as being of sufficiently high standard I was able to apply my new found knowledge and skill in front of my daughter.
Academic, School-Type Learning
So what? What has this to do with effective teaching and learning in the different content areas that form the middle and high school curriculum? One way to illuminate this question is to explore an unsuccessful example of a teaching/learning situation.
Recently I had cause to call a colleague who teaches Maths Education at the University where I work. I needed some help with the binomial theorem so that I could help with my daughter's homework. Here is a verbatim account of the telephone conversation I had.
B.C. Hello Grahame. I need to help my daughter understand the binomial theorem, (a+b)2=a2 +2ab +b2. I vaguely remember it from my high school days, but I can't remember much about it. Can you explain it in language?
G.W. That's easy. It means: If you want to raise the sum of any two numbers to the power of two then....
B.C. Hang on! You've lost me. What do you mean, 'If I want to'? Do I have a choice. Why any two numbers? What does raise to the power of two mean?
G.W. Uh oh. I'll have to go back a level with you won't I? Try this: If you want to square any two numbers...No wait a minute, That type of 'If' language bugs you doesn't it. Try this: When you want to square the sum of any two numbers then you....(long pause)
B.C. What's wrong?
G.W. I don't like saying it that way. It changes the meaning slightly and will only lead to confusion later.
B.C. What do you mean?
G.W. Well let's say you want to go beyond 'squared' and 'cubed' and you want to raise the sum of any two numbers to the power of 'n' we have no words beyond 'squared' and 'cubed'.
B.C. I'm getting more confused and lost. What do you mean 'When I want to?' When would I want to raise the sum of any two numbers to any power? What's a power? Why the sum of any two numbers? Mightn't I want to do it with any three or four numbers?
Although I'm not sure why or when I'd ever want to do that. And I'm not too sure about 'squared' and 'cubed' or 'n'. And all that conditional language. Why do mathematicians talk like that?
G.W. I'll go back another layer. Let me see: Let's suppose that you needed to add two numbers together and then multiply the result by itself... Uh oh that's even more confusing isn't it? And what's more it doesn't mean what I intended... it's imprecise.. You'll have to call me back later. I need to think about the language I use. I've never reflected like this before.
Despite the need I had, despite my intent to engage and participate with his demonstration, despite the efforts of a sympathetic expert who wanted to teach me what I needed to know about the binomial theorem, despite the discussion we had, no transformation occurred, no application was possible and little relevant evaluation occurred. It was an unsuccessful learning experience. Why? How was it different from the ironing experience I'd had?
Although one could argue that there are many differences between the two situations, I believe the most significant difference is to be found in the nature of the language involved. Because I did not have access to the same patterns of language and ways of using those patterns that my maths colleague had, we shared no meanings that we could bring to the teaching/learning situation. Although he tried to simplify it in order to make it more accessible to me, the nature of the concepts and relationships that were inherent in the particular part of mathematics that he was trying to help me understand could not be adequately expressed or realised when other, different forms of language were used. Because of this the processes that support effective teaching and learning could not be set in motion.
I learned a number of different things from this experience.
Firstly I learned that there was a more than tenuous link between language and learning. If I wanted to understand mathematics, if I wanted to think in the way that mathematicians think, if I wanted to know and learn mathematics at more than a superficial level, then I had to get control of the patterns of language that my colleague obviously had internalised. Only then would I be able to 'problem-solve' like a mathematician. Among other things I needed to become fluent with the conditional 'if-then' structures which seem second nature to him, as well as the tentative, hypothetical abstract syntactic/semantic flavour of the language he used to express the concepts and the relationships between them. I also realised that it was the patterns of language, not just the individual vocabulary items like 'squared' and 'cubed' that I had to get under control.
Secondly I realised that mathematics is not unique in this sense. Each of the content areas in the secondary school makes use of distinctive forms of discourse to frame its concepts and relationships. 'Understanding', 'knowing', 'thinking' and 'learning' in any subject area is strongly influenced by the kinds of discourse which are typically employed. The language of science is different from the language of history,which is in turn different from economics, and each of these is different from the others, and so it goes.
Thirdly I realised that the effective teaching/learning processes which seemed to make my learning to iron so successful could only occur when teachers and learners began to share a common set of meanings which in turn meant that both had access to the same patterns of language.
Finally I realised that if the core of effective teaching and learning in different content areas was the development of shared meaning between teachers and learners, then if effective learning was to occur teachers had the responsibility of helping their learners get control of those forms of language that they themselves had learned to control.
How can teachers in different content areas manage all this? How can they teach the language and content of their subject areas simultaneously? Although it sounds complex and difficult given the time constraints which most middle and high teachers work under, I want to suggest that it's relatively easy to do if we understand how language, learning, and teaching work with and support each other. If we can gain some insights into this relationship, then it is possible to create classroom conditions in which our students learn the language of the subject we teach, learn through the language of that subject area, and learn about the language of the subject area simultaneously as they use it. In order to do this we need to look more closely at the nature of the processes which I previously suggested underpin effective teaching/learning situations, namely:
All learning begins with a demonstration of some kind. There are two basic kinds of demonstrations, actions and artifacts. Someone ironing a shirt and talking about what they're doing is an action. It is also a demonstration of how one irons a shirt. A shirt folded neatly with no creases in it, or hanging on a hanger looking immaculate and stiff is an artifact. It is also a demonstration of what a shirt which has been ironed looks like. Someone explaining a concept like the binomial theorem using different kinds of language, (metaphor, simile) probably accompanied by diagrams and sketches on a chalkboard is also as demonstration, albeit a much more complex one.
Everything we do in our classrooms is a demonstration of some kind which our students can learn from, although sometimes they may be learning things we don't intend, like 'the language of maths is too complex for me'. The kinds of demonstrations we provide are the raw material from which our students construct their meanings. There are two questions we need to ask of demonstrations we provide when we teach:
o Am I demonstrating what I intend to demonstrate?
o Are my learners engaging with what I intend to demonstrate?
The latter one is by far the most important. It doesn't matter how compelling, dynamic, scintillating, exciting, riveting, etc the demonstrations are, no potential learner can learn anything from them unless he or she chooses to engage with them. We need therefore to look a little more closely at the concept of engagement.
Engagement is fundamental to learning. It's complex and difficult to define because it incorporates a range of different behaviours on the part of the learner. It has overtones of 'attention' and 'attending' associated with it. Learning is unlikely to occur if the potential learner does not attend to what is being demonstrated. And the potential learner is unlikely to attend if he or she does not perceive a need or purpose for the learning. Engagement also has connotations of 'active participation' in that which is being demonstrated. This 'active participation' can be as simple as imagining yourself doing or knowing whatever is being witnessed. This in turn is related to a degree of risk taking. Potential learners can only actively participate if they are prepared to 'have-a-go' at whatever is being demonstrated. Implicit within all of the above is that the potential learner is the one who makes the decision to engage in that which is to be learned. All of these things, having a need or purpose, attending, active-self-chosen participation, having-a-go, can only occur if the learner can make some sense of that which is being demonstrated. This in turn can only occur if the language which accompanies and permeates the demonstrations which are to be engaged with is meaningful and can connect with what the learner already knows and what she or he needs to know.
What does all this mean for the classroom? How can teachers increase the degree to which their students are likely to engage with the demonstration of maths, science, history, economics, industrial arts, and so on., which they provide? Research can help here. Over the last few years some of my colleagues and I have addressed this question. As a consequence of this research we have formulated the following principles of engagement.
Principles of Engagement
- Learners are more likely to engage deeply with demonstrations if they believe that they are capable of ultimately learning or doing whatever is being demonstrated.
- Learners are more likely to engage deeply with whatever is being demonstrated if they believe that learning whatever is being demonstrated has some potential value, purpose and use for them.
- Learners are more likely to engage with demonstrations if they're free from anxiety.
- Learners are more likely to engage with demonstrations given by someone they like, respect, admire, trust, and would like to emulate.
Our research shows that when these principles are applied in classrooms the depth of engagement increases. As a consequence learning is optimised.
Transformation, Discussion, Application
It's hard to separate these three processes in time. They co-occur and the seams between them are difficult to find. In what follows I will describe how each of them supports the others . Let me begin with the concept of 'transformation'.
One can be said to 'know' and 'understand' when one has made that which is to be known and understood one's own. The process of making something 'one's own' involves potential learners transforming the meanings and/or skills which someone else has demonstrated into a set of meanings and/or skills which is uniquely theirs. In the domain of language this is highly similar to creating personal paraphrases. Thus an indicator of the degree to which I 'knew' and/or 'understood' the binomial theorem (or the causes of World War 1, or the symbols in Huckleberry Finn, or Newton's Third Law, and so on) is the degree to which I can describe and explain any of these domains of concern 'in my own words' while still maintaining its 'truth' value. Expressing some concept or sequence of events 'in one's own words' and at the same time closely approximating the core meanings involved can only occur if one has taken control of, (assumed ownership of) the concepts and relationships involved.
The skill equivalent of paraphrase is the development of one's own 'personal style'. No two highly skilled golfers have exactly the same swing as that which was demonstrated by their original teachers and/or coaches. No two pianists will play the same piece exactly the same way. Why else would we have eisteddfods?. No two ironers ever iron the same way. As a consequence of talking to others and ourselves (i.e. reflecting) we each transform what we originally witness into a form that reflects how we interpret the world. We each develop our own unique style.
It seems that in the process of achieving control over language, or knowledge, or skills, (or all three simultaneously) learners are involved in two kinds of transformation. Firstly they 'transform' what is demonstrated to them by interpreting these demonstrations in their own idiosyncratic ways. The way in which one interprets (i.e. constructs meaning) is a function of all of the experiences that one has ever had. While there is usually a great deal of overlap and similarity between the ways in which humans interpret the world, no two interpretations can ever be the same. While potential learners may all witness the same demonstrations and hear the same accompanying words,the meanings that each will create are going to be different in many subtle ways.
Secondly in the process transforming the demonstrations they witness they also 'transform' the schema that they carry around in their heads. This is another way of saying that they change ('accommodate', 'reconstruct') their old knowledge to incorporate the new understandings that they're taking on board.
The process of transformation is enormously enhanced through 'discussion', i.e. the exchange and interchange of interpretations, constructed meanings and understandings. This is another way of saying that most learning has a mandatory social dimension to it. Just as toddlers can only learn to control the oral language of the culture into which they're born by socially interacting with others, older learners also need a myriad of opportunities to interact with others in order to clarify, extend, re-focus, modify, their own learning. Learning, thinking, knowing and understanding are significantly enhanced when one is provided with opportunities for 'talking one's way to meaning'.
What have 'transformation' and 'discussion' to do with 'application' ? There is a multi-layered relationship between the three. When two or more persons collaborate in addressing and/or trying to resolve a problem they are forced to interact with at least each other. This collaboration always requires discussion. As a consequence of the discussion that typically accompanies jointly constructing, and 'understanding' new knowledge or mastering new skills, 'transformation' occurs. Thus, the more authentic opportunities teachers can create for learners to which they can apply their under-developed and/or naive knowledge and skills , the more opportunities they will in turn create for discussion.
This in turn will maximise the probability that what they hear and see others do, think, and say as they address the same problem will cause varying degrees of intellectual unrest which in turn leads to transformation.
It is important to draw attention to one aspect of the application process which is sometimes ignored in teaching/learning contexts. This is the concept of approximation. In all learning in the real world no one expects learners to acquire instant expertise. Novices in any domain of knowing, learning, or skill acquisition are expected to 'work their ways to expertise'. In the course of doing this, their performances will significantly (and continually) vary from that of the expert. My initial attempts at ironing were amateurish compared to my teachers' level of performance. Novice golfers, swimmers, athletes can never hope to, nor are they expected to perform what their coaches demonstrate to them perfectly after one or two demonstrations or attempts. Young children learning to talk and walk make many 'mistakes' during the learning process. They use 'baby talk' or they keep falling over. Potential learners of calculus, physics, history, economics, and so on also need the freedom to approximate, to be wrong. The right to make 'mistakes' (I prefer 'approximate' ) is essential to all learning enterprises. If teachers create conditions in which mistakes are forbidden or punished then learning becomes a problematic enterprise for most potential learners. They cease to attend and engage. (Remember the principles of engagement?) They typically opt out of the learning context, or they become 'safe learners' who are fearful to take risks. Safe learners never transform the demonstrations they witness, they find it difficult to discuss with others in ways that create intellectual unrest, and they rarely can apply their knowledge or skills to contexts outside that of the classroom. The research literature is replete with studies which show that university students who have taken 'majors' in physics, maths., literary criticism, history, social science and often cannot apply what they've supposed to have learned in these specialist areas once the wording or the context is varied from that which was used in the textbooks they used or lectures they attended.
It has been said by many thinkers in the field of learning that if we removed the right to approximate from learning to walk and talk we would raise a nation of mute cripples. We run the same risk of intellectually crippling our students in the subjects and skills we want them to learn in schools if we remove the right to approximate from our classrooms.
This right to approximate is inextricably linked to another part of the teaching-learning process - evaluation.
A continuous thread which is running through any teaching/learning process is evaluation. Potential learners are constantly evaluating their own performance as they engage, discuss, transform and apply it. It doesn't matter whether learners are engaged in learning to iron, play tennis, write an economics essay, tie shoe laces or acquire the oral language of the culture, they are continually asking of themselves 'how am I going?'. Those who adopt the teacher's role in any teaching/learning situation are also constantly engaged in evaluating. They are continually giving the learners with whom the interact information which answers the 'how-am-I-going' question
Let us examine this evaluation process in a little more detail.
If learners are going to evaluate their performance they need help (or feedback) in answering the 'how-am-I-going?' question. This help or feedback typically comes in the form of some kind of response from whoever happens to be in the teacher role. In order for this response to be useful and to be acted upon several conditions need to be in place. Firstly there needs to be an authentic supportive relationship between teacher and learner. Without this kind of relationship learners are unlikely to engage with the feedback which the teachers give. Teacher response to approximation is an important aspect of this relationship. If learners get their fingers rapped with a pointer every time they hit a wrong note when learning the piano, the probability of them continuing to learn or attend is considerably reduced. If the teacher continually demeans or punishes the learner for not being correct, that learner ceases to engage deeply with the teacher's demonstrations. In short, if learners are continually given negative evaluations, then engagement typically becomes superficial. So does their subsequent learning.
Secondly if there are other learners involved in similar kinds of learning there needs to be a strong sense of collaboration and collegiality within the group. Without this sense of community, discussion which can give learners the feedback that facilitates transformation is unlikely to occur.
Putting the Theory into Practice.
So how does one put all this into practice? Given the forty minute period, given the large numbers of learners that most content teachers must deal with each week, given an examination system which emphasises and tests knowledge of content, how do busy teachers set up conditions which will enable learners to maximise the degree to which they get control of both the language and content of the subject area?
While there is no sure-fire, never-fail recipe or set of tricks that can be offered there are some general strategies that some research that some of my colleagues and I have been doing that should be of help.
For sometime now Jan Turbill and I have been observing and documenting how a group of teachers with whom we have established co-researching relationships went about creating teaching/learning contexts which reflected the principles described above As these teachers learned more, experimented more, reflected upon what they did and why they were doing it and then shared their reflections with us, we began to identify clusters of characteristics which each of their classrooms seemed to have in common. These included such things as:
- that were rich in print displays and displays of students' work;
- which had desks arranged in ways that encouraged interaction;
- which had lots of readily accessible reference materials, fiction and non-fiction books as well as readily accessible art and craft supplies;
- which encouraged students to move around and interact with each other.
Conceptual/social environments which:
- organised learning experiences and demonstrations from whole to part;
- encouraged high degrees of verbal interaction between students, and between individual students and the teacher, low degrees of 'sit-up-shut-up-and listen' teaching;
- encouraged individual interactions between teacher and student which were characterised by high proportions of open-ended questions and responses (Why do you think that? What else might you do?);
- provided high degrees of scaffolding and support for individual students' learning;· encouraged lots of student sharing and discussion of their written products and the processes and strategies they used to construct them;
- communicated high expectations that students would take risks and feel safe about 'having a go' (approximating);
- provided multiple opportunities for student reflection through learning journals and small group discussion.
Although each of our co-researcher teachers set about creating their classroom settings in individual ways there were a number of common strategies that each employed. So far we have identified the following strategies which were employed:
Consciously creating a pro-learning, pro-reading, pro-writing ethos or climate
The teachers we worked with did this very subtly through the language they used and the messages they continually gave. They used the language of invitation, explanation, justification and support, more than the language of management and procedure. Learners were invited to participate in activities and events that would enhance their learning. Connections and patterns were continually explained and pointed out. Teacher and learners were expected to justify why things were done the way they did them. The messages which teachers continually conveyed were messages about the way that learning leads to empowerment, how getting control of language makes learning possible, how sustained reading and writing are very powerful ways of getting control of language.
Making explicit reasons, purposes, processes
Making learners consciously aware of why certain things are to be done, and what processes are involved in doing them was a common feature of these classrooms, e.g.
We are going to spend 10 minutes at the end of our period in writing about what think we learned in this period because writing helps you understand and think in ways that will make you a better learner.
I am going to read to you from this text book while you follow with your eyes and minds because hearing the patterns of language that this writer uses will help you get them inside your head and this will also help you understand the content better.
Letting learners in on the secrets of how reading and writing should be used in different subject areas
Our teachers spent time explaining and demonstrating how they read, wrote, learned to spell
Here's how I learn to spell words that are important in this subject area.
When I get stuck with writing an essay I sometimes go and read a book. Often I get a lead or a phrase from that book which helps me over my blockage. Here's an example…
Here's how I would go about answering this question in an exam. Watch me while I think out loud and write on the chalkboard.
These teachers also explained and discussed such things as how learning works and some of the academic debate about different theories of learning, why accurate spelling and punctuation is socially important and a host of other similar topics. These discussions were linked to students' own reading, writing, learning, spelling beliefs and experiences.
Modelling, demonstrating, thinking aloud
The strategies of modelling and demonstrating accompanied by 'think-alouds' were frequently used by teachers in these classrooms. As one of them commented:
Through reflecting on my own reading, writing, and learning behaviours when I was getting control of this content area or this topic I was able to identify invisible things about reading, writing, and learning that potential learners can never hope to witness in a normal demonstration. I realised I needed to make such things explicit. e.g.
I want you to watch as I show you how I go about writing an essay in which the key words are 'compare and contrast'. You watch and listen because I'm going to think out loud as I do it so you can understand what I'm thinking and the decisions I make.
Setting up conditions which allowed learners to 'talk their way to meaning'
These teachers encouraged learners to discuss, share, compare, explain, justify, regularly with each other in small and large groups. This is because they believed that the language which their students brought to school with them was the only medium available for them to get control of the other forms of school language they needed to control in order to be successful learners. In one of our discussions an analogy emerged which I think helps explain why these teachers believe that opportunities for students to 'talk their way to meaning' are important.
The language which a learner brings to any learning situation is not unlike the thin rope that dockworkers use to throw up to crewmen on a big ship which is about to dock. The thin rope is used to pull up the thicker, heavier rope which is used to tie the vessel up. The language a learner brings to school with him/her is all that is available to 'pull on board' those other forms of discourse that need to be controlled.
This is why some of our teachers felt a strong need to devise ways of helping their students use the language which they already had some control over (e.g. Aboriginal English, working-class English) to get control over those forms which would make it possible for them to know, think, learn and understand in ways that would empower them in the culture. This would include knowing how to use one's own language to ask appropriate questions, understanding how paraphrase using one's own language was a useful scaffold in getting control of other forms of language and so on.
Providing multiple opportunities for reading and writing
Just as learners can be helped get control of meaning through 'talking one's way to meaning' in discussion with others, so they can also be helped to get control of the written forms of text that characterise different subjects through sustained reading and writing. Thus these teachers made reading and writing regular features of their sessions. Students were encouraged to keep personal learning logs which were used for purposes of reflecting upon the content and processes of learning. Some teachers provided time in some sessions for silent reading of a range of resources relevant to the topic they were teaching. Some maths and science teachers set exercises in which formulae and or the working out of problems were to be written in narrative and or procedural text as well as in mathematical symbols, (a kind of transformation). At the end of some units of content these teachers would help the class jointly construct 'summary charts' of the main points or concepts which the unit had covered. These were displayed and re-read at regular intervals. A variation of this was to turn written texts which contained important concepts and information into labelled 'flow-charts' which captured all the relational concepts in the text. All these teachers took time to work out what kinds of discourse needed to be controlled in their content areas and gave their students opportunity to work out , collaboratively, the criteria that made them 'good' examples of writing in that content area.
Authentically valuing learners
These teachers valued their students' beliefs, knowledge, and language. They did this by encouraging personal responses to literature or texts which were different to theirs or to other students' and drawing attention to the difference in ways that supported and valued each interpretation. They used these unconventional interpretations (i.e.'approximations') as scaffolds to help their students clarify inappropriate or faulty connections that they might have made, and thus gradually helped their students converge toward the conventional understandings they were seeking to achieve.
These classrooms work. The students in them begin to display the characteristics of a thoughtful yet critical literacy and continue to develop it. These classrooms are characterised by a disposition to use language, particularly written language in ways that empower both individuals and groups. In these classrooms learners question, define, analyse, criticise, evaluate, elaborate, paraphrase, influence, persuade, inform, negotiate, probe, clarify. They are immersed in and internalise many different literate forms. They are continually nudged from being interdependent learners toward becoming independent, self governing learners.
If we a going to survive as a nation (perhaps as a planet?) in the 21st century, we need as many of them as possible graduating from our schools.