The diagram above shows the Teaching and Learning cycle which I use to inform my planning on almost every lesson or scheme of learning that I create. It is a framework that all teachers should use when teaching any sort of academic language and content.
I have used it both in my intervention classes with EAL learners and in the mainstream classroom. In the mainstream I have used it to support secondary school EAL learners in how to approach key pieces of writing that they are expected to complete with a focus on the language that is required. In intervention classes I have used it to focus on writing in a particular genre that supports my EAL learners in the mainstream classroom. I would also recommend it for use in the primary classroom as a way to support learning how to write in the different genres that you expect learners to write in.
Professor Pauline Gibbons is a proponent of the cycle and her book English Learners, Academic Literacy, and Thinking: Learning in the Challenge Zone has a lot of great practical strategies that can be used to help inform planning and use the approach to maximum effect. The book comes highly recommended by me and in my opinion every teacher that is a teacher of EAL learners should have a copy of this book. You can order it from Amazon by clicking this link.
As you will see the cycle is split into four distinct sections that can either all be used or sections can be used to help our EAL learners develop control over the types of academic language that are needed to be a success in the mainstream classroom. I would say that it is a good idea to follow all four parts of the cycle but I have used the various stages at different times.
In a content classroom building the field or setting the context is where you will deliver the content that is required to successfully support writing in a particular genre. It is where you will need to make links to prior learning and build the background of your EAL learners.
There are a wide range of strategies that can be used in the teaching and learning cycle and some of those are part of my page on classroom strategies. For instance, in building the field / setting the context you could use:
Any number of strategies could be used that help EAL learners to build their understanding of the content that they need to know.
In the setting the context / building the field stage you could also look at some of the key vocabulary that is needed for this particular content area. I have a range of strategies and approaches to this that you can read about by clicking on this link which includes a range of vocabulary learning strategies.
In the modelling / deconstructing stage you need to provide EAL learners with model texts that eventually (in the independent construction stage) you want them to produce. This is a crucial stage for investigating the types of academic language that is needed to successfully write a response in. At this stage using specific language learning activities is a good idea as it will help your EAL learners to develop a greater understanding of the kind of language that is needed. You might develop specific language learning strategies or activities that look at language such as:
- Modal verbs (can, could, would, should, might).
- Connectives that are related to the specific genre you expect your learners to write in.
- Tenses – what specific tenses does the genre require?
- Academic language such as nominalisation or the use of the passive voice.
Some of the strategies that you use at this stage could include:
Each of these classroom strategies have a specific focus on language learning and could be used at the modelling / deconstructing stage as well as the two subsequent stages of the teaching and learning cycle.
The next stage is the joint construction stage and at this stage the teacher works with the EAL learners to develop the first two stages into a piece of writing that exemplifies what you want your learners to produce in the final stage. At this stage the teacher directs that learners to the content that needs to be included and the language that is needed.
I have used the joint construction stage in a number of different ways and it is like a piece of shared writing. As teacher you direct the learners to the particular stages that are included in the writing process as can be seen in the diagram below:
For EAL learners modelling the writing process is an essential part of them learning to become more successful writers and this should be explicitly taught to them. Hence, the best place to do that in the teaching and learning cycle essentially starts at the joint construction stage.
In joint construction, you ask your learners lots of directed questions that enhance their understanding of writing a model answer. Questions such as:
- How should we start our paragraph?
- What connective should we use here to give an example?
- Is there a better word we could use here rather than ‘x’?
- Which modal verb could we use in this sentence?
- How do we link this back to the question?
Questions can be asked to the whole class or you could get learners to discuss in pairs or small groups before whole class feedback and discussion.
As you are writing, preferably on the whiteboard displayed for the whole class to read, ensure that mistakes are made and corrections are done. Again this is an essential part of the writing process that needs to be explicitly taught. It is also good for EAL learners to see that mistakes are part of writing and it is vital that self checking is always done.
Another thing to bear in mind, is that you have displayed in the classroom the key language features of the genre you are writing in as well as a plan of how to write the response that has the content you have investigated in the building the field stage. Again, explicitly referring to these models the types of thinking that a successful writer goes through.
The final stage is where learners ‘put into practice’ everything that has come from the previous stages of the writing process. The independent writing stage is where you give your learners a similar question or response that you want them to create having used all of the teaching that has come from previous stages.
It is important that your EAL learners are given a quiet environment to construct their own answers and that a time limit is set. You also need to ensure that you refer to the five stages of the writing process. From my own experiences EAL learners, in particular, often forget the revising and editing stage and in the independent construction stage of the teaching and learning cycle they get an opportunity to develop their skills of these crucial areas of writing.
In summary, I hope that this blog post has shown you the value of using the teaching and learning cycle to develop your EAL learners control over language, especially academic language or the language of the curriculum. A wide range of strategies and approaches can be used in each stage of the cycle to enhance learner’s writing skills. If you have not used the cycle before it comes highly recommended by me and I have seen great success in the types of writing that my learners can produce. I would also argue that it can be used with Non EAL learners as well as EAL learners.