School & District Management

Language Shouldn’t Be an ‘Invisible Medium’ in the Classroom

By Mary Ann Zehr — January 13, 2010 1 min read
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These days, when many classrooms have English-language learners, content-area teachers need to explicitly teach about language, says a thoughtful article written by a couple of doctoral candidates in the department of linguistics at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, published in the Middle School Journal.

Many regular classroom teachers at the secondary level who are native speakers of English may treat language as an “invisible medium” in the classroom, Naomi M. Watkins and Kristen M. Lindahl write in their article, which can be accessed by members of the National Middle School Association. They spell out how teachers can deliberately teach literacy, which they contend is good not only for ELLs but for all students. In giving lessons, they say, teachers should try to answer some of the following questions: “What background knowledge do my students need?,” “What parts of the text will cause them the most difficulty or challenges?,” and “How can I fill in those gaps to aid reading comprehension?”

The article describes a number of strategies for teaching language to adolescents while also teaching academic content and it is based on some of the latest research. The authors, in fact, cite information from three books that have a publication date of 2010. I’d like to get my hands on the latest editions of those books myself. They are: The Crosscultural Language and Academic Development Handbook (4th ed.); Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners; and Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL: A Resource Book for K-12 Teachers (5th ed.).

The article about how regular classroom teachers teach literacy is part of a special focus of the January issue of Middle School Journal on “celebrating cultural diversity.” Another interesting article in the issue tells about resources for teaching about Arabs and Arab-Americans.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.