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Embracing the Language Learning Process

Embracing the Language Learning Process –A Reflection of Dr. Gini Rojas’s Differentiation Workshop

By: Bianca Nunes, American School of Brasilia


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“Pretend you are the student,” Dr. Virginia Rojas told us.

This would be the best way to figure out how our students learn and what to expect from teachers. This advice resonated with me the entire conference weekend. I remember being a student in first grade in a new country without speaking any English. I wonder if my teachers pretended to be the student in order to figure out what type of language to expect from us, and also what visuals would help us the most. Now as a teacher, I am positive that if such strategies were more consistent and prevalent, our language learning process may have been more productive.

On August 22nd-23rd, 2015, Dr. Gini Rojas presented at the American School of Brasilia applicable differentiation strategies to meet the needs of all learners in the classroom, especially those language learners. For differentiation, a teacher can vary the content, student product, the strategy or learning experience and student groupings. It is important for teachers to use language in meaningful contexts for students to make connections to their prior knowledge and mother tongue. “Yes,” Dr. Rojas said, “It’s okay for students to use their mother tongue in the classroom. This is called translanguaging.” Students will become comfortable enough with the new language, which will soon bridge into English

In the conference, Dr. Rojas highlighted the importance of establishing collaborative practices between mainstream and English Language Learning (ELL) teachers. Through the implementation of various co-teaching models, both teachers will be able to design cooperative learning activities within the classroom to suit the needs of students. Moreover, when the teacher begins to think like their student, they will understand the scaffolds needed for students to begin using the English language accurately and what is expected from every student depending on their various degrees of English proficiency. This past week, when co-teaching alongside the classroom teacher, a solid change was visible as students were using the appropriate academic language to interact with their peers of all different English proficiency levels. The English language learners were guided with sentence starters and scaffolds such as visuals and choiceboards to enable them to achieve the same task and discuss the topic with native speakers. Both population of students benefited with the differentiation strategies.

As teachers, as soon as we begin to think about how students formulate their answers, a teacher is able to effectively understand the level of language performance expected from a language learner in the classroom. When co-planning with this goal in mind, the mainstream teacher develops the content target, while the ELL teacher develops the language needed in order to achieve the objective. All English learners are expected to learn and achieve the same as native speakers; hence, offering intentional opportunities for cooperative learning through co-teaching, will reflect in students’ appropriate use of academic language. The goal is for the ecological model to emerge where both teachers help each other, one with the content and one with the language, in the same classroom at the same time.

If I think about what I felt in the classroom when the teacher called on me to answer a question in English, I did not have the strategies to form an academic sentence. Now, if we provide these tools for students, they will be able to gain confidence in the new language and not only benefit these students, but all students in the classroom.

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