Language Arts Strategies

Nine Strategies for Reaching All Learners in English Language Arts

After careful consideration by the administration and the teaching staff, the Edwards Middle School decided to implement the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time (ELT) Initiative during the 2006–2007 school year. This decision was made because the school was unhappy with the performance of its students on district- and state-mandated tests. Since that time, ELT has developed into an essential component of the typical school day. As a result, students now receive an additional 60 minutes of support instruction in certain fundamental academic subjects, such as English and mathematics, as well as an additional 90 minutes of elective instruction in areas such as the arts, sports, music, and other enrichment activities.

I was teaching English as a second language (ELT), and I wanted to make sure that my students got the most out of the experience, so I looked for ways to improve my approach to individualised learning in the classroom. The Readers and Writers Workshop is one of the instructional methods that I draw inspiration from when developing my approach to teaching students in a customised learning environment. This strategy ended up being really useful in terms of optimising ELT.

Readers and Writers Workshop: An Instructional Model

The combination of the workshop format for teaching English with an extended 60 minutes of ELT help for the students who are struggling in my class gives a fantastic launchpad from which to plan and implement tailored instruction in my classroom. The educational model known as Readers and Writers Workshop places the emphasis not just on students’ roles as learners, but also as readers and writers who are actively engaged in the process. Students receive mentoring both as readers and writers, during which time they work on touchstone books in an atmosphere that is encouraging and collaborative with their mentor. This instructional delivery system, which consists of the following phases: There is an intrinsic relationship between reading and writing that exists inside this instructional delivery system.

1. Mini-lesson (10-15 minutes)

During this stage, the instructor will demonstrate a reading or writing method to the class so that the students can practise it on their own. It could also include a “do now” activity to draw on the prior knowledge of the pupils. Students might develop a schema based on a particular method that the teacher had taught in a prior class, or they can participate in an activity to determine how much of the day’s instruction they were able to remember. (See an a sample lesson plan (PDF).)

2. Guided or independent student practise (40-45 minutes)

This is a period of student work time that has been allotted for the purpose of practising the method that has been modelled. During this stage, the instructor will move throughout the classroom, stopping to confer with individuals and smaller groups as necessary. He takes notes, does informal assessments, and offers one-on-one support to students who are having difficulty learning the material.

3. Some introspection (5-10 minutes)

During this stage, the entire group will have the opportunity to discuss and go over the objectives of the lesson, share what they’ve learned, and think about what went well and what could be improved.

Because the workshop approach allows for both autonomous and collaborative learning, it encourages students to take responsibility of their own education and the process of acquiring new knowledge. A great emphasis is placed, throughout this methodology, on learning that is centred on the pupil.

Educating and Engaging All Students in the ELA Classroom

I continue to collaborate with other English language arts teachers both inside the building in which I work and throughout the school district in which I work. I take part in the process of planning and designing instruction, as well as inquiry-based studies, collaborative coaching and learning, and other activities. Because of these exercises, I now have a toolbox full of research-backed strategies that have proven to be effective in engaging students in reading and writing in an English Language Arts class. I have one support ELA class Monday through Thursday, in addition to the four core ELA subjects that I teach Monday through Friday. Two of my required subjects are inclusive, and each of those classes has a third of its students participating in individualised education programmes (IEP). My pupils on the Individualized Education Program (IEP) are supported by a specialist who co-teaches with me. The specialist and I also arrange lessons to ensure that all pupils are able to properly access the material. We conduct frequent check-ins and customise lessons to match everyone’s needs. Our classes are designed to help students develop their reading and writing skills to the point where they can think critically and continue to educate themselves throughout their lives. The following methods are implemented by us:

1. Encourage individuals to read on their own.

The the first day of class, we stress the importance of letting students choose out their own reading material. We demonstrate how to select a book to read and how to critique it. Students are also encouraged to choose books that are at their own reading level rather than ones that are at a level that frustrates them or is too tough. Every day, students spend thirty minutes reading and then fill out a journal entry based on what they’ve read. (See sample reading questions (PDF).) Students are not only increasing the breadth and depth of their reading knowledge, but also developing their capacity for sustained reading.

2. Develop a reading and writing curriculum that is driven by products.

Plan your units so that they are driven by the product. (See a sample lesson plan template (PDF).) Have a central focus or an important question in mind for the education that will be provided throughout the unit. It needs to become the focal point of all teaching, which will make it possible for students to become proficient. When students are aware of the goals of the lesson and what they are expected to learn, they are considered stakeholders.

3. Methods to prepare for reading and writing in advance

Incorporate pre-reading and pre-writing strategies into the learning process in order to construct schema. Before reading and writing, having students do activities like “what I know, what I want to know, and what I learned” (KWL), “quick-writes,” and vocabulary exercises is a highly helpful way to tap into students’ existing knowledge and help them make connections in their learning. In addition, quick-writes are a wonderful source of seed ideas for longer pieces of writing. Increase the breadth of your students’ vocabulary by having them preview the text’s vocabulary before they read it and by giving them opportunity to locate at least three synonyms for words that are unknown to them.

4. Making meaning

Offer instruction in fundamental reading methods by means of a teaching strategy based on reciprocity. These reading strategies include predicting, imagining, questioning, clarifying, and summarising. When students have mastered each of these tactics, have them read in small groups of three or four and apply the skills to what they have read. Students should be encouraged to switch roles throughout the learning experience. They are constructing meaning and gaining comprehension of the text by their interaction with the text.

5. Annotation of the text

Instruct the students to underline or mark the areas of the text that contain the primary ideas as well as the solutions to the specific questions. Annotating a text is a great way to make sense of it and provide evidence to back up your responses.

6. Ask text-based evidence questions

Encourage students to substantiate their replies with specific evidence, and challenge them to do so. In order to get students to identify certain lines from a text and describe their ideas about the lines, you can use graphic organisers in the form of t-charts.

7. Immerse students in the genre

Before beginning to write, make sure that students have ample time — anywhere from one to two weeks — to analyse text elements and structures, as well as to read and learn from mentor texts and other forms of literature.

8. Give a few other possibilities for writing.

When students are looking at mentor texts as part of their reading assignment, it is helpful to give them a variety of writing samples to learn from. Instruct students in a wide range of genres. Modeling, conferring, and working together with other authors are all great ways to foster learning and practise of the craft of writing.

9. Engage in analysis and interpretation

On order to extract meaning from a piece of writing, you should instruct students in methods that place an emphasis on analysis and interpretation. Have them investigate the writing styles of various authors and the ways in which they utilise language.

Working with students twice a day is one way that I use this paradigm in ELT. In the morning class, everything is driven entirely by the curriculum; the workshop is being utilised by the students as a tool to further their own education. I guide them in the afternoon to help them remediate the skills they need to increase their comprehension so that they can better understand the material.

Have you tried out this workshop format before? If you have, do you know of any other strategies that can help you individualise the learning experience for your students? In the comments box below, please share any questions you have or experiences you’ve had.