We know that youngsters learning a second language have many oral language strengths needed for early literacy development. They have an acuity for sounds, for example, and they know that sounds carry meaning in the shape of words. They develop a core vocabulary of ‘here and now’ words to satisfy their immediate communication needs quite quickly. And they seem to make the connection from sound to letter recognition quite easily. These are all important early literacy concepts and skills that are necessary for children to learn to ‘decode’.
In the long run, though, these children need to ‘grow’ a bigger vocabulary so that they will enjoy success in the later school years when reading comprehension becomes dependent on word knowledge that is taken from text books. We want to build a better foundation. We think this work can get an early start – in kindergarten.
The dual language book project is supported by the following ideas:
We want to involve the family and especially the parents in telling their children family stories that are interesting and that will expand or ‘stretch’ their mother tongue vocabulary.
We want to link this vocabulary to an object that has family and cultural relevance—a family ‘treasure’.
We want the child to bring the object to class, where we can support the story telling in English in small group work. We will write the stories in English and the first language of each child.
We want to target ‘next words to know’ – and purposefully challenge the children to learn lots of new words related to the "Family Treasures" project.
We want to encourage word play, through recycling activities and games that will lead to deep understanding of word meanings.
We want to link the children’s stories to good children’s literature on the same theme that can be explored for meaning and personal connection.
Most of all, we want to create a learning environment for curiosity, wonder, imagination, respect for and interest in diversity; and fun!
We believe …
Listening, speaking, and early literacy skills for reading and writing (l,s,r,w) can be learned simultaneously, in synchrony, by young English language learners (ELL).
These skills need to be integrated and taught in context. Children need to make the link between their unfolding oral language skills and how spoken sounds and words are represented in print.
There is a role for explicit instruction as well as for discovery and play with words in the quest for meaning. However we plan for learning activity, it is with the idea of purposefulness and pedagogical intent in mind.
Traditional literacy skills must not be ignored. Besides, it is the expectation of many immigrant families that these will have a significant place in the ECS program.
Narrative/stories are an ideal vehicle and provide an interesting context for children to develop vocabulary and early literacy skills and concepts, and to acquire cultural information and thinking skills.
The first language (L1) plays an enormous role in the development of the second (L2). The more we can think of ways to increase L1 vocabulary, the better. There is considerable transfer potential, even among 5 year olds.
Children need multiple exposures to new vocabulary and concepts and many opportunities in various contexts to manipulate and practice this new information.
Children primarily acquire new vocabulary from adults who interact with them. If we can provide more opportunities for small group interaction with adults, children will be supported in advancing their language development.
Realia, images, objects and hands on experiences provide a concrete starting point and a reference for understanding language.
Children build on what they already know. We want to activate and access this background knowledge, and take our children forward from where they are.
Each child comes with a different overall language profile represented in either/or L1 and L2. We need to get to know each child individually and track their language development, looking for opportunities to exploit their unfolding bilingual capacities.
Rates of acquisition differ for each child. We want to gain insights into what ‘good language learning’ looks like for each child and track this against the trajectory of his unilingual age and grade peers. We believe it will take a long time for ELLs to ‘come up to speed’ and that shifting levels and types of learning support will be necessary over time.
Read about Dr. Hetty Roessingh and a prelude to the "Family Treasures" project:
At ALCA, we have developed a strong language across the curriculum approach. Teachers are both language acquisition facilitators as well as subject and/or grade level specialists. In order to standardize these teaching practices into the classroom, ALCA partnered with the University of Calgary, lead by Dr. Hetty Roessingh, to plan units thematically but with learner outcomes as stated in the Alberta Program of Studies.
All teachers developed their units using Learning by Design (LBD), an online professional resource tool for ESL teachers. Unit planning included using specific ESL strategies, such as teaching vocabulary within content and recyling vocabulary words, while programming for appropriate language level proficiency. All LBD unit plans also document learner outcomes directly from the Alberta Programs of Study. Complete units are centrally stored in a collection for all ALCA teachers to access.
Among some of the other tools in LBD is it offers free sample units, information on second language and learning, and is an online disucssion board. LBD can be used by seasoned ESL professionals, teachers with classroom experience but limited formal training in ESL, and teachers new to the field of teaching ESL.
In 2005, when the International Languages option was mandated by the Alberta government for students to learn a language other than English in grade 4, ALCA partnered with Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ALDC), a division operated out of Pembina Hills Regional District No. 7, to teach grade 4 students French on-line. As one of three schools in Alberta to participate in this unique approach to learning French, students were exposed to second language acquisition in an innovative learning platform which encouraged learning anytime, anywhere.
Themes were integrated with various interactive learning games and special features such as voice recordings and a designated area for students which was password protected and unique to each individual student. Variety in programming and delivery were flexible as the learning outcomes in the thematic units were not sequenced and teachers could select from a variety of print, blended, and online materials to deliver curricular goals. The students enjoyed learning French on-line to the extent that the school participated the following year in the grade 5 pilot for learning French online.