What do teachers need to know about students who are learning to speak English?
Page 5: Contextual Supports
As we discussed above, it is important for teachers to know their students’ unique experiences, as well as to understand the basic tenets of second language acquisition, sheltered instruction, and culturally responsive teaching. Teachers can further meet their ELLs’ learning needs by applying a model developed by Jim Cummins, a professor at the Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies from the University of Toronto.
In the movie below, Janette Klingner talks about how this framework demonstrates a range of contextual supports for teaching ELLs (time: 2:24).
The movie emphasizes the idea of contextually supporting students. Typically, as students grow older and progress through the grade levels, the context in which academic tasks is presented is reduced. For example, as students advance in grade levels, they are expected to obtain new information from reading a textbook with fewer visual supports like pictures and diagrams. Students are required to gain new knowledge from classroom lectures and note-taking as opposed to learning with multiple modalities (e.g., pictures, graphs, charts, graphic organizers, word walls, gestures). Likewise, as students get older, the information they are expected to learn becomes more cognitively demanding.
Based on Cummins’ framework, do you think the lesson taught in the Challenge is cognitively demanding or undemanding? Is context embedded or reduced? Explain your answers.
The Challenge video is included below to refer to if needed.
This graphic illustrates a range of activities based on the extent to which they are cognitively demanding and the amount of context they provide. The illustration is divided into four quadrants by vertical and horizontal lines through its middle, each end terminating in an arrowhead. The top of the graphic is labeled “Cognitively Undemanding,” while the bottom reads “Cognitively Demanding.” The left side of the graphic is labeled “Context Embedded” and the right side “Context Reduced.” Each quadrant contains examples of that type of activity. The “Cognitively Undemanding/Context Embedded” quadrant contains “Engaging in conversation.” “Participating in art class,” and “Playing sports in PE.” The “Cognitively Demanding/Context Embedded” quadrant is illustrated with “Conducting science experiments,” “Reading a textbook with graphics,” and “Using math manipulatives.” The “Cognitively Undemanding/Context Reduced” quadrant contains the examples “Talking on the phone,” “Writing a list,” and “Estimating the number of candies in a jar.” Finally, the “Cognitively Demanding/Context Reduced” quadrant is illustrated with “Reading textbook without graphics,” “Working complex computations,” and “Taking standardized tests.”
Though the lesson in the Challenge is a cognitively demanding one—that is, the teacher introduces difficult content requiring higher-order thinking skills—her students are forced to rely on language to understand their teacher and what she expects them to do. Note that few meaningful clues are given. The teacher refers to a small poster on the chalkboard and to the household items she will use in her demonstration, but the lesson lacks significant contextual clues and is therefore presented in a contextually reduced way. Because the ELL students have to rely on language alone, the lesson is more challenging for them than their peers. It is likely that they do not fully comprehend the lesson and will be unable to participate fully in future discussions pertaining to it. By contrast, if the teacher were to present the lesson by providing additional supports (e.g., demonstration, graphics, cue cards), she would help her ELL students better understand the content they are required to learn.