Linguistic Supports to Maintain Challenging Cognitive Demand and to Consolidate Learning

Thinking about ways to support multilinguals to communicate their understanding while learning, reminds me of the fact that multilinguals can actually understand more than what they can communicate, especially orally. (Harper and de Jong 2004). When it comes to consolidating learning, language proficiency and multilinguals’ cognition seem to have a complex relationship. The fact that some emergent multilinguals are not yet asking clarifying questions, or ready to express themselves to share their understanding/learning, may cause teachers to resort to low level recall or knowledge questions to check their understanding. To prevent this from happening, Bautista (2014), proposes a variety of tasks, catering different proficiency levels, while maintaining a challenging cognitive demand.

Keeping in mind that consolidation is defined as a stage in learning where a topic or new information is reinforced or reviewed, lessons should be created with opportunities and scaffolds to advance multilinguals from basic recalling skills to more complex thinking. The article Level Up: addressing ELLs’ language proficiencies and cognitive abilities in science classrooms (Bautista, 2014), reminds us of the different considerations given the students’ proficiency levels. Also, she stresses on the importance of supports such as visuals, word banks, background knowledge and vocabulary building, as well as embedding scaffolds.

On page 34, Bautista, shows a very useful chart that shows how Bloom’s taxonomy can be used while providing the necessary supports for multilinguals along a proficiency continuum.

Here are some supports and scaffolds that I have created and embedded in the planners to support access to content and consolidation of learning.

Question Grid (based on Kath Murdoch’s book Power of Inquiry)

Discussion / conversation mat (NGSS and WIDA aligned-Doing and Talking Math/Science)

Connectives, sentence frames, cause and effect (in addition to graphic organizer)

Vocabulary cards, an example of visuals for the current unit of study

Linguistic Supports K-2, Science (Foss: NGSS and WIDA Aligned)

The above research summary led me to explore more information about the role of discourse in developing conceptual understanding within science inquiry. I read the article The effects of scientific representations on primary students’ development of scientific discourse and conceptual understandings during cooperative contemporary inquiry-science. (2014) (M.Gillies, Nichols & Khan). The authors suggest that multimodal representation of the concepts, cooperative discussions and teacher feedback are important for learners to develop understanding. Active learning includes opportunities to ask questions, solve problems, develop explanations, and reflect on thinking. In addition, it is important for learners to be scientifically literate, meaning that they need to practice and acquire the language to reason and process and interpret scientific information. Turns out, reading, writing and speaking are foundational to do science, therefore, these literacy practices are essential to develop understanding and consolidate learning.

As in the previous article summarized, multimodal representations, visual and verbal representations help learners retain learning for longer. Students need opportunities to do visual representations to express understanding, in addition to opportunities to interact/exchange ideas with peers. Engaging in scientific discussions, acting, reading, and writing cooperatively optimize learning. Last but not least, children need to be trained to ask cognitively challenging questions during cooperative guided inquiry.

Concept mapping also proved to be helpful for young learners to organize and represent their thoughts, uncovering their metacognitive thinking. The students in the experimental group showed gains in conceptual understanding, problem solving and reasoning skills.

ELL friendly strategies to promote cooperative learning and reflection are listed below:

Cooperative learning summarized tasks (based in Kagan’s cooperative learning)

Reflection stems (based on Kath Murdoch’s Power of Inquiry)

*the different resources linked have been embedded in different units of study so that they can be incorporated as fitting*



Student Survey, Reflection

Goal setting becomes meaningful when there is feedback, more meaningful when the feedback comes from our students. In the past, I have had opportunities to develop surveys for my students. I created questions aligned to the standards of my profession and my role at that time. Tripod is concise in the sense that its elements are aligned to teaching practices in general. I can process this information through the lens of my area of expertise, second language acquisition.

My first goal at the beginning of this process was to focus on clarifying strategies to incorporate an array of ways to explain ideas and concepts. I started creating universal supports for the content areas hoping to reach a wider community of learners with EAL friendly tools to provide an entry point for multilinguals. Despite, my survey indicated that clarify is not an area of growth to focus on at the moment, I will continue refining my skills and practices to improve how I support learners to check for understanding and assisting them to break down complex tasks in the content areas. In my role, it’s always important to be an advocate of all multilinguals by anticipating areas of difficulty and building scaffolds and tools to support their access to important concepts.

The survey also indicated that learners feel that I value their ideas by listening to them and conferring with them to provide feedback and support. This is pleasing to see. I want to continue striving to be learner focused and to value children’s voice by coaching them to become independent learners that make choices based on their reflection about their learning process. There is certainly more I can do regarding conferring with students. It is important for me to go over the data I collect through conferences so that I can plan support in a more strategic way.

There are two areas that I can focus on, based on the results. I will be focusing on consolidate. This is actually very pertinent to what I do. Reviewing and summarizing learning will help me keep focused on targeted objectives. Also, it will be important that I plan small group work in a way that all learning is connected and builds on previously practiced skills. It will be beneficial to practicing summarizing and verbalizing important information. Consolidate is closely related to reflecting, in my opinion. I plan to use some of Kath Murdoch ideas from “The Power of Inquiry” to start using some ideas about learners’ agency and ownership of their learning.

In regard to working with small groups and the goal of consolidating learning, I wish to come up with a system that can help me and all my students to keep track of learning. This will require consistency and follow up.



Clarify – Scaffolding Learning

As I collaborate in the planning process for the different units of study, my goal is to embed universal supports that will allow access to content for all multilinguals. Homeroom teachers already do a great job at using scaffolds such as modeling, providing examples, using learners’ prior knowledge, giving time to talk, asking questions and pausing.

Given the nature of the units of study in the content areas, developing conceptual understanding is a more complex process for multilinguals. Vocabulary plays an important role in developing content knowledge since many of the key vocabulary words represent concepts. Visual supports are beneficial to all learners, word walls provide exposure to new words while interactions promote practice of content area words. Math vocabulary cards and scaffolds have been shared with all homeroom teachers so have social studies vocabulary cards and supports. The next step is to find the equivalent of such key terms in the students’ mother tongue. Another way of scaffolding is by pre-teaching vocabulary terms, so I am meeting with small groups of students for a few minutes in the morning to practice new vocabulary. These practices are contextualized within a short text or simple word problems in the case of math.

During our last collaborating meeting, the social studies summative assessment was discussed. This discussion prompted me to think of ways to align / incorporate beneficial scaffolds based on the language proficiency indicators by WIDA. This is my first attempt to document language targets and scaffolds pertinent to different levels of language proficiency for a summative assessment in the content area.

As I have explored the concept of scaffolding, important implications have become clear to me through my reflection. Scaffolding a lesson and differentiating instruction are two different things. Multilingual learners are to be given a chance to access the same opportunities all learners are presented with. With differentiation, we might give a language learner an entirely different piece of text to read, an altered task, or a modified assignment/assessment. Before considering whether to differentiate or not a task or an assessment for an emergent multilingual, first try scaffolding. Scaffolding will break the learning into manageable chunks and then provide a tool or structure with each chunk. With multilinguals, we preview texts, discuss key words, pause and discuss as we go. First, scaffold, if the learner is still struggling, then we might consider differentiating, accommodating, or modifying a task.

My next post will delve deeper into ZPD, Zone of Proximal Development. In order to meet students where they are and to appropriately scaffold a lesson, or differentiate instruction, its’ important to know the individual and collective ZPD of our learners. The researcher Eileen Raymond states, “The ZPD is the distance between what children can do by themselves and the next learning that they can be helped to achieve with competent assistance.”





Professional Growth – 7C’s- Clarify

Culturally and linguistically diverse learners are to access grade level content areas regardless of their language proficiency. As a teacher, providing access to content area concepts requires thoughtful planning and clarity in the delivery process. This year I want to focus on the goal of embedding scaffolds and tools in the content areas to present and explain content and concepts with more clarity for all learners. Clear examples and language supports will create learning opportunities for students to engage and to monitor their learning process.

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