‘Should Wiretapping Be Legal?’ and Other Video Lessons on ‘Academic Language’

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 23, 2009 1 min read
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Earlier this month, we were discussing on this blog if it would be a good idea to have a YouTube Channel with video lessons from K-12 teachers. Well, check out the “classroom footage” section of a new project called Word Generation to get a sense for how nicely sample video lessons can be packaged so that other teachers can learn from them.

The footage is about a hot topic in education: how to teach “academic language” to students. That means the words, abstract phrases, and structures students need to know to understand school subjects. It differs from the kind of language they use talking to their friends at recess or in the cafeteria. To tell you the truth, I knew this topic was much-discussed in the area of educating English-language learners, a group of students that I’ve specialized in writing about for nearly a decade, but now I find that educators can’t just assume that other students have acquired academic language either, without teaching it explicitly.

I dropped in by video to Chris Buttimer’s classroom of 8th graders (in a school somewhere in California or Massachusetts that is not named in the footage) where he was introducing the topic of the week, “Should secret wiretapping be legal?” The video doesn’t looked canned; it even shows a student walking into class late with a backpack slung over his shoulder. One of the vocabulary words for the week is “notwithstanding” and throughout the video lessons, Buttimer keeps hammering at that word from different angles. “It’s not a word I use all that often, but it’s a good one to know,” he says. At another point, he adds, “Essentially, it means despite.”

But the videos are not just of Buttimer talking. In this mini-series, there’s one of students at work making “target word posters” while Buttimer circulates and makes sure they stay on task. “Guys, they don’t have to be too beautiful, OK?”

There’s a whole lot more to Word Generation: Middle School Literacy Development Using Academic Language than video lessons. It’s a resource developed by Catherine Snow, a reading expert at Harvard University, in collaboration with Boston public school teachers. You can find out more about it at a Webinar on April 28.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.