Writing Like a Historian – EAL strategies make it into the mainstream

The guardian has published a short piece about the frustration felt by a Year 9 history teacher when confronted with otherwise academically proficient students’ lack of finesse in their written work:

My year 9 class are typical of many classes I’ve taught over the nine years of my teaching career; enthusiastic, bright, of limitless academic potential. But when it came to marking their written work I would be left tearing my hair out at their inability to express their understanding clearly.

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with the principles of teaching of ELLs (especially colleagues who have done the TESMC or ESLEL courses) that students must be given opportunities to bridge the gap between talk-like language and written-like language on the register continuum.  It is great to see the value of these learning principles being acknowledged for E1L learners too, and reflects the field’s long held and demonstrable* assertion that good EAL teaching raises attainment for all learners.

The author describes the seeming dissonance in teaching English in a History lesson, and counters well:

“Why are we doing English in history, sir?” came the question as I asked my year 9 history class what kind of word disarmament was. Having anticipated this kind of reaction I had an answer prepared: “Do we only use language in English lessons?”

He also remarks on the oft voiced concern that teaching language comes at the cost of curriculum content.  One might argue that without the  language skills to effectively communicate content knowledge, then the possession of that knowledge is of questionable value.  But the author goes further and demonstrates that in fact the language is used in the service of learning the curriculum content, and as such each is strengthened by the other.

Read the full article on the Guardian website here.

* see for example Eschevaria, J 2012

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