Magazine article Practical Literacy

Steps for Encouraging Early Independent Writing: A Language Perspective on Whole-Class Literacy Learning Inclusive of EAL/D Learners

Magazine article Practical Literacy

Steps for Encouraging Early Independent Writing: A Language Perspective on Whole-Class Literacy Learning Inclusive of EAL/D Learners

Article excerpt

A language perspective

In the Language Perspectives team, we take the view that students' proficiency in Standard Australian English (SAE) is a fundamental consideration in classroom approaches to literacy teaching. Yet often language considerations are not prominent in education documents, teacher education or teaching resources. Unsurprisingly then, in classroom contexts there is often little reference to whether students' language resources in SAE match those of the teacher or the curriculum expectations. Sometimes, language is just obscured by-or confused with-literacy. (McIntosh et al. 2011)

When discussing learners of English as a Foreign Language or as an Additional Language or Dialect (EFL or EAL/D: from here on collectively termed EAL/D) we must acknowledge that they comprise a highly diverse group. They do not all share the same language and literacy backgrounds, the same levels of SAE proficiency, or the same language learning opportunities. EAL/D learners in this article had many different language backgrounds, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, a range of SAE proficiency, and urban, rural and remote learning contexts.

Language feeds literacy

Students' proficiency in SAE feeds their literacy in English. We all know how we would feel if asked to do even the simplest of writing tasks in an unfamiliar language, even if it uses the same alphabet and most letter-sound relationships as in English: Could we write a recount in Swedish? In Welsh? In Pitjantjatjarra? We need sufficient language -as well as literacy- to undertake writing successfully.

Hence, much of our work in the Language Perspectives team involves looking at classroom practices with a language lens. In this way, we assist teachers to increase engagement and outcomes for students learning EAL/D in whole class settings. When students' SAE language resources do not match those of the SAE-learning context, they can be inadvertently disadvantaged if their language needs are overlooked. So we work with teachers to build up knowledge, strategies and skills for their teacher toolkits to support their EAL/D learners better.

Findings: Existing writing approaches pose challenges for EAL/D learners

As teachers and I worked with students on early writing, we came to realise some of our EAL/D learners' needs were missing from our teacher toolkits, so our strategies and resources often did not:

1 stipulate a foundation of familiar language as a starting point

2 differentiate EAL/D learners' specific language needs

3 consider instructional language load

4 bring all literacy elements together

5 maintain consistency in expectations

Each of these points are discussed below in relation to their purpose in our early writing programs, followed by issues for EAL/D learners.

1. Foundation of language?

In approaches to early independent writing, teachers generally scribe-or re-render-what their students express about their pictures or self-generated symbols, or about an event, experience etc. Young students thus experience the purpose of writing: meaningful language turned into written form with a consistent message. As their literacy develops, they take on representing more of their message independently.

Such approaches presume a foundation of familiar English, because they start with the expectation that students can express their ideas, or explain what they have represented through SAE. The fundamental issue of whether students have sufficient SAE for expressing themselves is bypassed. For EAL/D learners there are multiple benefits of building language for sharing their ideas: If teachers are mindful of 'the language factor', we are likely to select useful language, such as language relevant for a current classroom topic. This language will be recycled in the normal course of our classwork, thus revisited and practised, and reinforcing our EAL/D learners' language acquisition. …

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