Teaching in Western Sydney has been my passion, particularly in regards to teaching working class and middle class students. One aspect of this process is recognising the children who find it much more difficult to engage with our pedagogy, some of who may be inherently gifted, but many of which who are also simply just not equipped to reach higher stages of education.
Much has been written on this in academia.
One of my favourites is Basil Bernstein's work on elaborated and restricted codes in Class, Codes and Control: Volume 4.
|Bernstein is best known for his groundbreaking work in the sociology of education and, to a lesser extent, for his love of knitwear|
Bernstein's writing concerns itself with research conducted into the disparity between IQ results when working class children are tested both verbally and non-verbally. The resulting discourse theorises (without getting too much into the research here) that the lack of vocabulary endemic in the working class is a contributing cause to said children being unable to articulate and understand abstract concepts.
To put it simply, the more words that we understand and have at our disposal, the more we are able to name that which we cannot see. A large lexicon allows us to create context where we previously had none - it's our ability to call upon and create new systems of understanding that allows us to assimilate new knowledge and understand abstract concepts. How could we do that if we lacked the words to articulate anything from outside of our immediate, everyday context?
So what do we, as the classroom teacher, do about this?
In some cases, such as teaching a Stage 4 targeted class for students with additional learning needs, I've found that the easiest way forward is to work on vocabulary. My friend and mentor, Kira Bryant, comes back to this a lot under the banner of 'building the field'. I've written more about this aspect of grammar here.
Such students often struggle to access longer or specialised text because they lack both the contextual information and vocabulary to decode it. In order to scaffold a greater capacity to engage with new texts we need to build the field around the text, and this means increasing a student's ability to use unfamiliar words. The resource below, which works as part of a Year 8 unit on the theme of Survival, assists in achieving this end through the following steps:
- Students pull words from the word banks at the side of the sheet to complete the story about Bill and his encounter with a monster. There are five word banks: adjectives, verbs, adverbs, nouns, your choice. There are a variety of examples that fit each blank spot in the story, allowing for multiple possible creations. This kind of activity, where kids place new terms in context, is supported by research from the Focus on Reading program developed by the NSW Department of Education. A lot of research on grammar and literacy supports the idea that the best way to learn new words is to try them out in the context of a sentence. Students respond much better to this than copying out definitions.
- Something I've noticed when students do this activity is that they will scan through the available terms and then ask me what a certain one means. I'll tell them and then they'll try it out by slotting it into the sentence. Some students will think I've just given them an answer 'for free' but the point here is that they've just learned and used a new word - and that's what it's really all about.
- After finishing the story it's always fun to get some students to read their completed work out. There's a definite sense of accomplishment from these students in that they chose the words from the word banks themselves and - especially for those who have never written a story of this length before - there's a new sense of ownership that builds valuable confidence in writing.
- Students should then complete the title at the bottom of the sheet. This is a form of summary, or abstraction, and forces the student to boil the entire text down to its theme or essence - not always as easy for students as we might think!
- Included in the resource below are also some follow-up activities that engage further comprehension skills through facilitating visualising, predicting, and creation of symbols. I'm a big fan of getting students to create symbols to represent ideas, it's one of my favourite aspects of the Aboriginal 8 Ways of Learning pedagogy and it works really well for a whole range of kids - not just those with Indigenous backgrounds. The use of visualisation and predicting are from the Super Six framework, and support increased comprehension.