Tiered texts: supporting knowledge and language learning for English learners and struggling readers
Volume 100 Number 5, May 2011; Pages 54–60
'Tiered texts' are a series of texts that cover a topic at progressively deeper levels of complexity. The use of tiered texts may help English language learners and other struggling readers to access and critique demanding texts. It helps to develop background knowledge, provide contextualised instruction in academic vocabulary, and foster critical literacy. Firstly, teachers identify a topic relevant to the curriculum. They introduce students to it in the form of an unchallenging text matched to their social background and their existing levels of academic learning and knowledge about the topic. During class discussion of this text the teacher deepens students' knowledge of the topic and relevant academic and topical vocabulary. The teacher then introduces a more challenging text on the same topic. They seek to develop students' understanding through modelling, guided instruction and independent practice that offers repeated, varied exposure to the subject matter. Finally, the teacher takes students through the grade-level, 'target' text. The article describes an example of the use of tiered texts, implemented in the school classroom by one of the authors to facilitate the study of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet by her class of ELL students. She focused on the theme of love as a cause of violence. The first-tier text she introduced was a picture book about William Shakespeare and the Globe theatre. She invited the students to compare social life and customs in Shakespeare's time with current conditions, and explored some Shakespearean language and vocabulary, linking, for example, the phrase 'a plague on both your houses' to the plague conditions experienced at that time. For the second tier she used a rap text that exposed the students to a more complex version of the story. It contained contemporary language, but conformed to the format of the original play and introduced key characters and events. At this stage the teacher also drew on students' previous coursework about the principles of plot construction. She also described the format of a play, and guided students through terms such as prologue, dialogue, monologue. She highlighted issues such as violence and prison, comparing their presentation in the play to the students' own life contexts. She also introduced students to the use of a sociogram to organise their knowledge of multiple characters. The students practiced the rap aloud. (A graphic novel might also be used in place of a rap as a second tier text.) On the basis of this learning, students studied scenes from Shakespeare's original play, as the target text. Students applied and demonstrated their learning by retelling the story from one character's point of view, using presentation software, or created a short film clip about one of the characters in a present-day conflict.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
English as an additional language
Volume 30 Number 1, February 2011; Pages 17–19
Students are often called on to compose persuasive speeches, letters and posters, and persuasive writing is a component of NAPLAN assessments. To be realistic in the contemporary world, however, the study of persuasive writing should be extended to cover its online forms, and the use of those forms by advertisers and marketers. Online texts have a number of features. One is the blurring of the texts' purpose: these purposes may be a mixture of persuasion, entertainment, communication and efforts to cultivate the writers' online identity. Another is the capacity to develop a social media identity on sites such as Facebook. A further feature is interactivity. Advertisers and marketers make use of interactive features to involve potential people online, and to sustain this involvement through devices such as competitions. Advertisers and marketers aspire to have their products become 'viral', with dissemination sustained spontaneously via users stimulated by the products' entertainment value. The online world also allows personalisation of sites and web searches, for example through iGoogle: personalisation is also a persuasive technique, in that it fosters 'the illusion of control and individuality'. The same subject matter carrying across the varied media is embedded within websites. For example, the online promotion of a film is likely to involve a video clip trailer, a blog covering production and 'talent', a social media campaign, and perhaps cross-promotion of a book, DVD and television coverage, and a regularly updated and highly interactive fan site and a presence on social media. Sites also encourage users to allow dissemination of their message through email. To be effective online, persuasive writing needs to strive for the first page of search engines' results, and therefore obey the requirements of search engine optimisation (SEO). Despite its importance, this element of persuasive writing often appears to be overlooked in schools. Other issues for students to consider include the ranking of online advertisements, determined by commercial criteria, and the role of analytics software in evaluating results of marketing and advertising.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSocial media
A history of mathematics course to develop prospective secondary mathematics teachers' knowledge for teaching
Volume 20 Number 7, October 2010; Pages 603–616
The authors describe a course on the history of mathematics given to pre-service secondary maths teachers, discussing its rationale, processes and benefits. The PSTs complete three projects over the semester. In the projects, they generate reasons why, and how to incorporate the history of maths in school maths teaching, and generate a timeline of historical developments. The completed projects are shared online with the class. PSTs are also encouraged to add to them over the course, and to use the timelines in particular as a resource for later use in their schools. In addition to these projects the PSTs also work on a particular mathematical topic. They prepare a short paper and a presentation about the history of the topic, including cultural influences and the changing ways in which the topic was approached over time. They prepare a short biographical sketch of a person prominently associated with the topic. They also research the links between the topic and current school mathematics, and prepare a lesson about it. They present the lesson to PST peers, who in the meantime read set texts on the topic, then write a short reflective piece on the lesson outcome. The historical treatment of a topic deepens the PSTs' existing content knowledge. For example, the topic might cover pi in terms of its origins in Egypt and Babylon, its treatment by Archimedes, and why this constant is relevant to the measurement of both the area and perimeter of a circle. It deepens PSTs' pedagogic content knowledge, such as awareness of the most frequently taught topics in their subject area, and effective ways and devices to represent them. It allows the PSTs to refresh their learning of topics, and how to select and present topics in schools. It also offers ways to motivate school students, eg by demonstrating the real-world application of sine and cosine to astronomy and navigation, humanising maths in terms of individuals' life stories, or by showing the protracted historical effort needed to reach key advances such as effective mathematical notation. The course also develops PSTs' more general pedagogic skills, developing confidence before a class, selecting didactic or interactive formats, coordinating speech with writing before the class, coping with technological glitches, handling difficult questions, using a professional rather than colloquial style, ensuring that engaging activities also serve learning goals, and lesson closure. PSTs are encouraged to develop skills incrementally rather than all at once. Past students have observed that teaching history of maths in schools offers a fresh approach to content, helps overcome redundancy of learning, and offers scope for students to achieve in maths by drawing on skills developed outside the subject area. The authors teach mathematics at Cornell University and at the University of Delaware.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
The mathematics education debates: preparing students to become professionally active mathematics teachers
Volume 20 Number 8, November 2010; Pages 712–720
The debates over mathematics education in the USA offer a learning opportunity for pre-service teachers (PSTs). The author included a student assignment on the mathematics debates as part of a mathematics methods course for undergraduate PSTs, who were training for positions in secondary and middle school teaching. For the assignment, students examined current research and policy on maths education, as it bears on one of four issues that are currently disputed within the maths teaching community. The issues are high-stakes testing, single-sex classrooms, tracking/grouping of students, and reform-based mathematics curricula. The PSTs worked in teams of two or three to prepare a case for or against each of these arguments. It was understood that they need not personally endorse the positions for which they argued. Each team then gave a presentation of their position to the class, followed by a counter-presentation from an opposing team. The teams were expected to collect evidence from a wide range of sources such as academic articles, government policy documents, newspaper articles and school reports. The presentations covered the historical development of the issue; an overview of their position; a rebuttal of the other side, including a critique of the documents on which their case is made; and a conclusion. Presentations usually included visual summaries delivered via presentation software or overhead transparencies. All team members took part in the debate. The presentations were graded, but not competitively, so the opposing teams had an incentive to share information that helped each side refine its case. Each team was assessed collectively, based entirely on the presentations. They were required to submit a list of references. Other elements of the course included analysis of case studies and textbooks, and exploration of issues such as questioning techniques, assessment, and the use of ICT or manipulatives for learning.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
United States of America (USA)
Five strategies for creating meaningful mathematics experiences in the primary years
Volume 65 Number 6, November 2010; Pages 92–96
The author offers strategies to improve primary students' maths education. One strategy is the use of daily data activities. The children record personal data about their lives, such as the number of pets in their households, and learn to represent it in different forms such as graphs, writing and numbers. The activity is a starting point for understanding the reporting and analysis of data. Extension activities include using different types of graphs to represent the same information. A second strategy is number of the day. Each day children are asked to represent a given number in a variety of ways, eg through pictures, tally marks, and simply equations. The activity develops the flexibility of children's thinking about numbers. It may also alert the teacher to individual students' understandings and misconceptions, for example if a student may reveal a conceptual problem with numbers if they repeatedly use only one form of representation. Peer problem solving is a third strategy. In small groups children consider problems which are based on everyday situations but have no obvious solution, such as the sharing of 20 biscuits among three children, or measuring the amount of water in a puddle. In dealing with such problems the children might use manipulatives, drawings, measuring devices, and discussion with peers. Discussions open the children to new ways of thinking about the issues. Such activities help to reveal the depth of children's learning, identifying for example whether the child understands the principle of multiplication or has simply memorised times tables by rote. Maths games provide a fourth strategy, through which children may collaborate in dealing with mathematical concepts. The fifth strategy is dynamic small group teaching. The teacher groups children by different categories, such as ability, particular learning needs, or interest in particular topics, to ensure that they mix with and learn from a wide variety of peers.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
July 2011; Pages 60–63
When introducing inquiry-based learning to the science classroom, teachers should consider replacing the traditional ‘cookbook lab’ with an inquiry based learning experience. The cookbook lab is characteristically linear and prescriptive, directing students to answer set questions and offering learners little control. Such labs do little to encourage inductive reasoning. They tend to generate ‘piecemeal understandings’and limit communication between teacher and student, and they are are usually unstimulating to the learners. In contrast, an inquiry-based learning experience offers the chance to stimulate students. It encourages them to evaluate and compare alternative explanations, and justify their own answers. There are several steps in transforming a cookbook lab to an inquiry based learning experience. Firstly, simplify the materials list, but also include materials that the students may not need, so that they are called upon to select relevant materials themselves, in discussion with peers. Secondly, make directions less detailed, while ensuring that safety precautions remain clearly in place. The third step is to remove any existing charts, tables or worksheets on which students record their data: students should be required to generate their own ways to organise and present their results. During class work students should be encouraged to develop scientific process skills, such as those needed for observation, classification, inference and the generation of hypotheses. Students should also be encouraged to consider alterative explanations. Teachers should resist the temptation to answer students’ questions themselves. Teachers may choose to introduce inquiry based learning gradually over the school year. They should not be discouraged if initial results are modest. The article includes sample ‘cookbook’ and inquiry-based lab sheets on the topic of conductors and insulators.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Inquiry based learning
Promoting active involvement in today's classrooms
Volume 47 Number 4, Summer 2011; Pages 174–180
The author suggests methods to engage all students in the classroom. At a large group level, one method is known as unison response: all students are expected to respond as one to a prompt such as a question or a visual or auditory cue. The students respond, for example, by calling out a response or by flashing a response card. Unison response may be useful in cases which call for a short factual answer. It may also be a suitable means to develop reading fluency, as struggling readers learn inflection by articulating words together with peers. A second large-scale method has each student recording their answers simultaneously on dry-erase boards; the teacher moves about the room inspecting students' responses. This method allows students to modify answers easily. It also provides practice in capturing thoughts succinctly in writing; for example, students might be asked to define a concept, relate concepts, predict a storyline or list words that rhyme with a prompt word. Writing on the boards might be used as a follow-up exercise to the shorter unison responses. Small-group methods may also be used to engage all students in the class. One method is known as numbered heads together. In small groups students discuss an assigned topic; for example, strategies for solving a maths problem, or the evaluation of a piece of writing through a rubric. Each student is given a number. After the discussion the teacher requires all students assigned a particular number to present their group's thinking to the class. A second, more complex small-group method is the jigsaw. One student is nominated to lead each group, while other students are assigned particular sub-topics and provided with information about them. The students are reassembled into 'expert groups' of peers assigned the same sub-topic. They discuss it in detail, and rehearse presentations they will each give on the sub-topic when they return to their original groups. A further method to promote engagement, relevant to reading comprehension, is reciprocal teaching. The teacher models the comprehension strategies of questioning, summarising, clarifying and predicting, reading a passage and thinking aloud about it. The use of these techniques is gradually transferred to the students. Think-pair-share is a three-step process in which the teacher presents students with an open-ended question, which students consider individually then in pairs. Peer teaching has pairs of students take turns in tutoring the other on a given topic, within a structured format. This range of active involvement techniques help to keep students involved, in contrast to traditional classroom participation by volunteer or randomly selected students.
Teaching and learning
Parents as partners: tips for involving parents in your classroom
Volume 87 Number 5, 2011; Pages 7–8
The value of involving parents in the classroom is widely recognised, but is sometimes difficult for reasons such as their work commitments, negative prior experiences of school, or lack of awareness of their value or of how they might participate. The author suggests a range of direct and indirect ways to encourage parents' involvement in the classroom. Write a personal letter of welcome to each parent at the commencement of the school year. Postcards may be sent to the students as well, either at the start of the year or to mark a memorable moment in the classroom and share it with their parents. Parents should be encouraged to sign up to contribute in some way to the school. Separate sign-up sheets should be available for involvement in the classroom, at home or on special occasions such as field trips. Parents should be asked to nominate their preferred form of contact. Work should be organised for parents to do if they appear unexpectedly to help out in the class. Parent workshops are valuable to convey to them the potential value and nature of their contributions, and as a chance for the teacher to explain their educational approach. They are also a useful venue for explaining the expectations of the parent as volunteer; for example, the need to maintain confidentiality about students, and the need for punctuality. Ongoing communication with parents is important; for example, through newsletters and surveys. It is useful to set up a parent resource library containing articles, books and book lists explaining educational practices and strategies.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Parent and child
Parent and teacher
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