I have recently written an article for the educational online magazine Innovate My School on academic literacies, i.e. the need to recognize that different academic domains / school subjects come with different literacy requirements and thus with different linguistic demands placed on students. The article is very practical and offers several ideas on how to teach language as demanded by specific subjects – the article is directed at mainstream teachers.
Please see the first three paragraphs from the article below – for the rest, please go to the Innovate My School page.
15 / 07 / 2015, Diana’s diary entry (EAL student, arrived two years ago from Latvia):
“In period 1 today we do History and Mr Smith asked us to write happen on the day when World War 2 start in 1939. That was quite easy, actually. It was fun looking at the pictures and writing little sentences about what went on. After tutor, in period 2, it is Maths, and we do something named word problems. They are small stories and we answer with numbers. But Miss Brooke said they are like stories – so why do her problems say, “Molly buys 6 CDs” and not “Molly bought”? I don’t get it! And then in Science we did about metals, but I don’t understand. Mr Hutchinson talked about “is done” and “is made” and “are formed”, but why is he using two verbs? – this is nonsense!”
The language errors above are on purpose! Imagine such an EAL learner going from lesson to lesson – History, Maths, Science – and at each point being bombarded with different types of language and thus different types of academic literacy. In period 1, History, the student was exposed to Past Simple, being asked to write a story about what happened during the War. In period 2, she was told that word problems are similar to stories, but then why exactly is it that such stories are written in Present Simple (“buys” instead of “bought”)? And finally, Science is full of passive voice phrases (“is made”, “is formed”, “has been done”), grammatically difficult structure, composed of what looks like two verbs: 1 – “is”, 2 – “made”. It is in fact a passive voice structure consisting of the verb “to be” (is) and past participle of a verb (“made”).
The academic literacy / language in these three subjects is a source of significant confusion to our Latvian learner!