Welcome to the Northern Virginia Writing Project’s 2016 Invitational Summer Institute! I’ll be blogging the demonstration lessons and the various activities occurring during our four-week duration. Find out more about the NVWP and the National Writing Project.
Empowering English Language Learners and their Families
Heather Jung, a Teacher Consultant through the NVWP, begins with an introduction about herself and what she’s been up to since she attended last year’s ISI. She’s given in-service demonstrations and presentations for various counties and conferences. She’s here today as part of one of our four interest groups.
English Language Learners
Each interest group is tasked with investigating and reporting on the state of writing with regards to the group’s focus. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first interest group focus in years. The second member, Heather Grant, provides a similar introduction with personal updates. The Writing Project is like the best club ever.
Heather Jung runs us through a mini demo-lesson: Multimodal Literacy: Good ELL Instruction is Good Instruction. Multimodal literacy refers to making meaning through the reading, viewing, responding to, and producing with multimedia and digital texts.
Heather says that MML incorporates all of the aspects of literacy: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. We should care about MML because the traditional ways to acquire literacy skills are shifting from primarily page-based to screen-based. Foundational skills must not be lost in this shift to screen-based literacy. I’m reminded of the digital native discussion. We cannot take for granted that students are automatically familiar with technology because of their generation. Critical literacy lives within every genre and mode of media.
Quickwrite: What do you value in literacy instruction?
What a question! This leads directly into my own presentation (which happens to follow this one). Although literacy is in many ways a simple thing (decoding and pulling meaning from words on a page and making meaning by producing words on a page) But as soon as we begin to tease out the intersections of power inherent in both reading(reading what? are we reading for the narrative or against the narrative? Who gets exposed to which literary genres?) and writing (Who is writing? What are they allowed to write? Who has access to the rules of power characterizing academic discourse?) Ran out of time!
How do I teach multimodal literacy?
If you understand literacy instruction than you understand multimodal literacy. In terms of technology, work within your own Zone of Proximal Development. Students can develop literacy skills through digital social interaction (constructivism). A good way to think about teaching multimodal instruction is as adding a range of experiences and genres vs. whole-scale replacement. Digital texts provide many rich opportunities for rhetorical analysis: analysis of audience, genre, and purpose. We can submit every feature of a digital artifact to close study just like a more traditional print book.
Heather Grant now begins her mini demo-lesson on using poetry with ELLs. She opens with an intense poem she wrote from the point of view of an English Language Learner (specifically a child from Afghanistan). It helps remind us of the way language bombards and hammers children from the instant they step into a school. Learning a language isn’t linear; it arrives in waves. Academic language often takes five to seven years, sometimes longer, depending on the student.
Writing in a second language is intimidating. Teachers can make faulty assumptions about a student’s ability to read and write based on the child’s oral language (which is acquired quicker). Heather says that writing poetry can build a bridge between the spoken word and written word for our English learners. Listening to poetry helps us develop an ear for the cadences and rhythm of a culture and its language. Poetry is first an oral tradition and, like music, doesn’t necessarily need to be fully understood to be enjoyed.
The play aspect of poetry makes for a friendlier entrance point into literacy. Using only a few words to describe complex things can make writing enjoyable and build confidence. It also values personal voice, experience, and culture. Creating and sharing poems can help students not only express their heritage but it also builds cultural awareness among students of all backgrounds. As an added bonus, poetry allows a teacher to cover a wide range of state and ESOL standards.
Sorry about the shoddy image quality, today!
Heather offers us a quick flurry of poetry lesson ideas. I’m not going to type them out because there’s too much to convey in the moment. She discusses breaking apart mentor poems, studying them, emulating them, publishing them, etc. Listen to multiple readings of poems. Read it out loud with expression. Push students to respond with the heart and the gut before they begin analyzing. One of my favorite tips is to allow students to intermix their home language with English when they write.