Special to CSMS Magazine
Good lesson planning is quintessential to achieving success for both teachers and students as confirmed by Rummelhart (1995) quoted in the Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners (chapter 2). Rummelhart goes on to say that in order for maximum learning to achieve, lesson plans must contain lessons that are capable of allowing students to “make connections between their own knowledge and experiences.” Whether ELL students are enrolled in self-contained classrooms or in inclusion classes with mainstream students, effective planning might be an elusive dream if concrete content objectives commonly called identifiers are not activated to identify students’ current academic strengths and what they should know. These two identifiers must be thoroughly analyzed and then be made as the holy guidance by which teaching and learning can take place.
When planning lessons for our ELL students, Gunderson (1991) states that they are five factors one needs to take into account. They are:
- The students’ first language (L1) literacy.
- Their second language (L2) proficiency.
- Their reading ability.
- The cultural and age appropriateness of the L2 materials.
- The difficulty level of the material to be read.
The first language, as well as the other factors, is an important element to take into account. However, there are nuances that cannot be overlooked. For instance, in most states and, in Florida in particular, where I’m from originally, a Home Language Survey is required upon registering a child to a public school. It is commonly used as the first criterion for ESOL placement. If a language other than English is spoken at home, then a placement test is immediately introduced to determine language classification (Proficiency level). Too often, American born children from immigrant parents are placed or misplaced in ELL classes for the simple reason there is a foreign language being spoken at home.
While we must agree to the idea of having a home language survey, we must also take into account that many times the child’s fluency and proficiency are very limited in his or her mother tongue; whereas he/she speaks flawless American English, thereby does not require placement.
However, one must recognize the relevance of background information, especially when it comes to performing a task analysis. It will help teachers to better frame their lesson plans in order to “lessen the gap between what a student knows and what he or she must learn.” (Vogt, 2000) The author even goes further by emphasizing in the initiation of small group mini-lessons—through vocabulary building, picture or text “walk” through the reading material, role playing or experiential activities—to provide what he calls a “jumpstart” or an activation of prior knowledge before the work period or the main lesson is presented.
In my school, there are several non-negotiable items that teachers MUST include in their lesson plans. Shortly after the Sunshine State Standard and the ESOL strategies are introduced, there must be an essential but generic question based on the topic being covered. It must soon be followed by a much narrow question which constitutes a “focus” question. For example, if the essential question is about prepositions, the focus must be on the types of prepositions. Then, a five-minute warm-up is introduced to active prior knowledge. That is quickly followed by another five-minute mini-lesson as a stimulus, gearing up to the main lesson of the period.
In all, the 5 factors for effective planning mentioned above, if fully executed, will provide the necessary scaffolding that will ultimately enable students to meet grade level standard.
Note: Astride Peterson is a reading coach in Orlando, Florida. She wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine