In this new series, created in partnership with Oakland Unified School District, we delve into three classrooms where English Language Learners (ELLs) are engaged in academic conversations. From talk moves to participation protocols, these teachers share clear structures that encourage students to talk and learn from each other.
Inspired by Jeff Zweirs and Marie Crawford’s book Academic Conversations, teachers at OUSD are working on building the oral language skills of all students.
It’s clear that academic discussions benefit all students, with particular benefits for ELLs. As Nicole Knight, OUSD’s Executive Director of the English Language Learner and Multilingual Achievement Office says in her blog, “Academic discussion helps all students to develop their reasoning, understand multiple perspectives, and deepen understanding of content.”
Watching students engage in academic conversations can seem mystifying: how did the students get to the point where they could independently hold these types of conversations? By hearing the teachers break down their structures and routines, the process becomes much more understandable.
One of the many things I love about working for Oakland, California schools is serving a community rich in diversity of culture and language. At the same time, it is no easy task ensuring that our English Language Learners (ELLs) are meeting grade-level content standards while mastering a second language.
Much of ELL instruction has been focused on 30-60 minutes of English Language Development (ELD) each day. Taken alone, this daily block of language instruction, isolated from any grade-level content, is not going to get us the results our students need and deserve. Rather, we need to see language-rich instruction throughout the day, embedded in and woven through the content areas.
Being able to talk and express your thoughts clearly is vital in life. Yet, too many students are graduating without sufficient experience with group discussions, or arguing their ideas effectively, and they are finding themselves unprepared for the communication demands of college and their careers.
How can we prepare our students for these rigors?
To lay a better foundation for this learning, we can do a few things: we can value oral language development, we can value communication of ideas over grammatical correctness, and we can value oral language as a powerful way to learn and remember content.