Current understandings of the importance of providing students with tasks within their Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978; McLeod, 2018) and providing appropriate scaffolding suggest that this will support learning growth. According to the High Impact Teaching Strategies document (State of Victoria, 2020), scaffolding has a 0.53 effect size. Scholars working within the EAL/D context have indicated that we should be aiming for high challenge and high support in our tasks to maximise student engagement (e.g. Hammond, 2006) and they unpack the key principles underpinning ‘support’ (e.g. Gibbons, 2015). Students learning additional languages also benefit when they are provided with challenging tasks and given high levels of support to facilitate success. With regard to the teaching of writing, Derewianka and Jones (2016) provide a useful description of the teaching-learning cycle. It involves:
Building the field (activating students’ prior knowledge, ensuring they are familiar with the content and have the necessary language to engage with the content)
Supported reading (students engage with texts related to the topic or the genre)
Modelling or deconstruction (modelling the writing process and explicitly making students aware of the structural, linguistic and functional aspects of the goal text)
Joint construction (the teacher and students, or students in pair or groups work together to create a text)
Independent construction (students write their own text in the target genre)
Within the Languages space, Conti (Smith and Conti, 2016) and others remind us of the link between student efficacy and student motivation; if a student feels they have the knowledge and skills to complete a task, they are more likely to actually undertake the task.
So how can Languages teachers leverage literacy skills and knowledge to improve their language students’ writing?
Five literacy strategies Languages teachers can leverage to support students' writing:
1. Find opportunities for students to share their English literacy knowledge and literacy knowledge in other languages they know.
2. Identify the tools, strategies and materials English and EAL teachers use and adapt them for your language.
Secondary teachers should consider researching the literacy resources used by primary school teachers as they are often very clear for students to understand.
3. Use the same metalanguage (at least initially) as the English teacher does.
Using the same terminology is an overt sign that literacy does not reside in English (the language or learning area).
4. Encourage students to be curious about texts from the target culture.
Have them analyse and compare them to see how their current knowledge can be transferred and/or adapted when writing in the target language.
5.Promote and model a positive mindset around writing in a new language.
Encourage students to see it as a communication challenge; they should ask themselves ‘How can I communicate my ideas using the linguistic resources I have?’ (rather than rely on translation).
Scaffolding writing for learners of additional languages
This section describes a sequence of learning activities that scaffold students’ creation of a written text based on a series of visual images such as a wordless picture story book, cartoon pictures, even a related series of artwork pieces such as McCubbin’s triptych The Pioneer. The aim is to illustrate how scaffolding writing in an additional languages classroom might look, remembering that scaffolding is necessary (the job couldn’t be done as well or at all without it) and is only intended to be temporary.
Models of teaching writing in English and EAL, like that described above, typically contain multiple stages which may include elements of building the field, text analysis/deconstruction, modelling, joint text construction, culminating in independent text production (e.g Gibbons, 2015; Herzberg, 2012; Dept of Education WA, 2013). In essence, the various writing models represent different ways of scaffolding students in the task of writing a piece of text. Languages teachers can adopt and adapt this staged and scaffolded approach to teaching writing since it is evidence-based and students should be familiar with it.
One of the key elements to be addressed for language novices is the ‘building the field stage’. The preparation done before writing the text is crucial because it sets learners up for success. The ‘building the field’ stage of writing is intended to activate any prior knowledge students have about a topic (content knowledge), language (potentially relevant vocabulary and grammar knowledge) and literacy (e.g. knowledge about the text-type or genre) and for learners to undertake activities which help them acquire some of this knowledge. For example, making crepes together with the class as a preparatory activity prior to writing a procedural text or recount would be an example of a building the field activity.
In the learning sequence described below the first five activities (A – F) help students build up some of the requisite knowledge including the target language prior to producing a written text. Through these activities, students are introduced to and begin to use potentially new and relevant vocabulary, use visual materials to create a possible schema for their text and then jointly construct a simple but coherent version of the text, supported by sequenced images. This learning sequence is intended to empower students so that they make only judicious and limited use of dictionaries and digital translation tools.
Learning sequence organisation
The learning sequence described below are teacher notes which describe a series of possible learning activities intended to support students to create a target language (or multilingual) text. They are listed in the left-hand column and reflect a gradual building up of text through engagement with smaller parts of language (words), to sentences and ultimately paragraphs. Further, students transition from the oral mode to the written mode, and from working collaboratively to potentially working independently.
The middle column describes some of the potential first language/English literacy links teachers and students can make to assist learning. The third column describes possible ways of modifying tasks to provide additional support or extension options to address the diversity of student needs typically represented in Languages classrooms.
Department of Education West Australia (2013). First Steps Writing Resource Book. Downloadable from https://archive.org/details/FirstStepsLiteracyBooks/WritingResourceBook/
Derewianka, B. and Jones, P. (2016). Teaching Language in Context. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.
Gibbons, P. (2015). Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
Hammond, J. (2006). High challenge, high support: Integrating language and content instruction for diverse learners in an English literature classroom. Journal for English for Academic Purposes 5, 269-283.
Hertzberg, M. (2012). Teaching English Language Learners in Mainstream Classes. Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teachers Association of Australia (PETAA).
McLeod, S. (2018). The Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding. Downloaded from https://www.simplypsychology.org/simplypsychology.org-ZPD.pdf
Smith, S. and Conti, G. (2016). The Language Teacher Toolkit. Scotts Valley, California: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.