What are the «Language Arts»?
Elaine Gallagher Developing language arts skills in English begins with ORAL FLUENCY. Without the fluency and expanded vocabulary that reflects oral fluency, a student […]
Developing language arts skills in English begins with ORAL FLUENCY. Without the fluency and expanded vocabulary that reflects oral fluency, a student can’t really develop well in language skills. When teachers use 100% English in the class, based on CLIL philosophy, they promote oral fluency.
Once a student is fluent, then we can build the language arts skills: WRITING/SPELLING, READING, and GRAMMAR.
Spelling correctly is an important and necessary writing skill. Keys essential to good spelling are listening and pronunciation, not writing the words over and over again. If a student listens to a word, sees a picture of the word (when possible), and pronounces correctly, spelling becomes much easier. Understanding the definitions (not memorizing them) also aids in improved spelling ability. Writing the words in games, or gap activities, seeing the words in use in sentences or stories, and identifying words by their shapes are techniques used to stimulate spelling interest among students. These techniques are interrelated with various multiple intelligences so that students’ learning preferences are utilized.
Vocabulary and spelling words should be based based on an eclectic approach to offer variety, and to avoid the boring, predictable kinds of lists that do not stimulate students.
Following this philosophy, teachers and students may find some spelling lists based on phonetic similarity among the words, for example a list of words all with short E’s. Another list may have words that relate to a topic, such as science words or a literature-based story.
The variety among the types of words is intentional and can even be a base of a high level thinking lesson. The creative teacher may ask, «Do you see a pattern or any similarity among the words in this month’s spelling list? If so, what do you see?»
Students thrive on these kinds of questions, and their spelling efficiency also improves because they are interested in long-term learning, not simply memorizing words for a test, which they forget a few days after the test.
Synonyms, antonyms, homonyms (homophones), sight words, phonetically- based words, unusual pronunciations /spellings (such as island…where the S is silent, or often, where the T is silent), and irregular plurals (tooth / teeth) should be introduced to students over time, in an eclectic system of vocabulary expansion to develop strong spelling skills.
Other than speaking fluency, reading ability is a major key in the success of a student or an adult. Books, newspapers and magazines, Internet, reading assignments in work or university all depend on reading success. Writing skills are impossible to develop well if a person does not read and speak with ease and fluency.
Research shows that we learn more vocabulary by reading than by listening, so good texts carefully adds challenging words among easier ones to help the student develop a more varied and useful vocabulary. When possible, stories should be presented in an audio or movie format, as well as in text on an i-pad or book, so that students can listen as they read, or absorb the story in film version, both before and after reading a novel.
By listening to the words, or seeing the actions, as used in the stories or articles, the students hear the words, and they begin to assimilate them in the short-term memory. After listening to the story on several occasions, reading the story, and using words over time, the focused vocabulary words begin to transfer to long-term memory and available to the student to retrieve from his/her brain during speaking and reading activities.
In addition to the vocabulary enhancement as supported by the story vocabulary and phrases, reading comprehension experiences should vary in an eclectic approach by mixing fiction, non-fiction, factual articles, such as biographies and science information, with fantasies and myths.
There is a wide variety of stories and articles available in most on-line books and levels in order to challenge students. Identifying the genre is a high-level critical thinking skill. For this reason, vary long and short stories or articles, fiction and non-fiction, funny stories with serious ones…all with the aim of mental stimulation and challenge for the students.
Teachers should take time with each story or article, not simply rush through to read it and move on to another. There is no need rush. There are no academic police plotting the velocity with which you teach. YOU are the person to determine how much time a book or story or chapter needs to complete tasks. Introduce the reading, focusing the students, before even opening the pages. An introduction can be background information, an anecdote about the topic, drawings, photos connected to the topic, or vocabulary words that are important for clear understanding. Vary your approach.
If the story is in film or audio formats, they can be used as an introduction, to check basic comprehension of the story’s theme, and used during the story, in short excerpts to emphasize a point, with students reading along as they listen. Again, at the end of the lesson, students can listen to the complete story, and, perhaps, draw a story scene as they listen, or design a time-line plotting the story in chronological order.
There are three levels of reading difficulty:
1. INSTRUCTIONAL LEVEL:
- Stories / articles, new to the students, are intended to be at this level, depending, of course, on individual students. This is slightly above the students’ vocabulary and reading level. Perhaps there are 10% of the words that students do not know, but guided by the teacher, they learn them, and, therefore, grow in reading skills. Teacher-guided lessons are essential to the development and growth of reading skills at the Instruction level.
2. INDEPENDENT LEVEL:
- This is at the students’ actual reading level, where he/she has no difficulty in smooth reading. Perhaps there is one unknown word on a page, but from the context, usually the student can figure out what it means. This level is for relaxed, leisure-type reading. While students may not increase vocabulary at this level, they can increase fluency and reading speed.
3. FRUSTRATION LEVEL:
- No child should ever be placed at this level where he/she does not know 2-3 words out of every ten words (20%- 30%). No learning takes place, and children learn to hate reading.
In exceptional cases of children far below others in his /her class, try an easier text, or develop story vocabulary with the child prior to the reading lessons, using drawings or picture/vocabulary flash cards. Assigning the child to a peer partner can help, if embarrassment will not be an issue for the student to be assisted. Encourage the child to listen to stories at home on an auditory or movie CD. Putting e-books on an i-pad is proving to be a great stimulus to poor readers because they love the i-pad technology, so learn to read better to by developing vocabulary, using context clues, and using the text in a more relaxed manner than with a traditional book.
This frustration-level situation is common with students new to the language. In these cases, if only one or two students are at frustration level, a peer-partner, and patience and support by the teachers can ease the child over the frustration level with time, leading the student to the instructional level, which is the goal.
If, however, the majority of your students are trying to read a text or story that is way above their capabilities, obviously you, the teacher, will need to select an easier text or story, one at the instructional level of the students. YOU are the one in charge; you should know your students’ abilities. Have confidence in your ability to make these decisions, which should not be made by a text or editorial company.
Worst-case scenario, if you absolutely MUST use a text or story way too difficult for your students’ reading levels, present the story or topic verbally, using pictures, films, photos, and examples, introducing basic vocabulary for students to learn. Students will not actually READ the entire story, but they will be introduced to the plot, the characters, the time and setting, some vocabulary, and will listen to an audio or see a film version of the story so they can grasp the major concepts. The teacher will use 100% English in all explanations and examples to promote language development based on CLIL philosophy.
Teachers need to understand a basis for grammar so they can guide students for better fluency.Grammar is an explanation of how a language is organized and used.
Grammar explanation cannot be well-understood until students actually are using the language with some fluency. In no way should we expect student to memorize grammar rules or examples. Grammar points should be presented only as a guide, in casual passing.
Once students are at A-2 level, with oral fluency, they’ll be ready to understand basic grammar explanations. Identifying basic parts of speech, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs is acceptable. Basic verb tenses (present, past, future) can be introduced in third grade. Once students understand and can use these basic tenses, they can move on to present progressive verbs, types of sentences (declarative, imperative, interrogative), and irregular verbs.
When CLIL philosophy is used, with teachers speaking 100% of the class in English, students acquire correct grammar much more easily. Knowing advanced tenses, cases, the subjunctive are not essential in primary grades. When more advanced grammar skills have been modeled by teachers in everyday speech, students will learn them easily during middle school and high school.
The goal, teachers and parents, is NOT to pass a language exam! The goal is to have students who enjoy English, who have oral fluency with a large vocabulary, and who are eager to learn more! Putting fear into them with undue emphasis on their exam performance will result in students «hating» grammar.
I LOVE GRAMMAR! Why? Because, even as a native speaker, I was never expected to memorize patterns or rules or lists. We spoke English, wrote it, read it, and received explanations along the way from our teachers. In high school is when we actually learned advanced tenses. The emphasis was always placed on what «sounded right», with grammatical reasons explained.
The teacher must speak English 100% of the time, helping to model fluency and grammar for rhe students.
I promote a spiral approach to grammar, whereby similar grammar points are introduced in various grades over time, repeated for thorough practice. The «natural approach» to language acquisition, as supported for 30+ years by Dr. Stephen Krashen and Dr. Virginia Collier, emphasizes that activities that use the language in games, fun, oral practice in the classroom, and in routines is more effective in long-term grammar acquisition. This is the position that I support.
Now you know that LANGUAGE ARTS consists of writing/spelling, reading, and grammar skills. Of course, ORAL FLUENCY is the first skill to develop.