Scaffolding Language_ Scaffolding Learning Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom

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  NALDIC News 29 April 2003 36 Scaffolding Language, ScaffoldingLearning Teaching Second Languagelearners in the Mainstream Classroom Pauline GibbonsHeinemann USA, 2002 The long awaited follow-up to  Learning to Learn in aSecond Language has been published.  Learning to Learn 1 has been a seminal text for many of us,providing a well written, positive blueprint for how togo about teaching children who do not speak English inour English speaking classes.What I wanted was a book like the other book and yetmore. I wanted teachers, both mainstream and EALspecialists to be able to pick it up and experience theclear common sense of Gibbon’s writing. I wanted toextend my thinking, to be challenged by the new work.I think Gibbons has managed to give us both of these. Ialso wanted the new book to be more easily availablein this country. We have yet to see whether this will bethe case.The new book is written with the same clarity andconfidence of the previous text. Pauline Gibbons hasnever lost sight of the interaction between the teacherand the child in the learning process.As Jim Cummins says in his introduction,“.. Pauline Gibbon’s book emerges as an eloquentreaffirmation of the central role that teachers play increating classroom contexts that foster their student’sacademic, linguistic and personal growth”.In these days of standardised tests and prescriptiveteaching practices, she has held her line that a pupil’srole as an active participant in her own learning isfundamental. She gives us examples that show howpupils can learn through talking through their work,whilst the teacher provides scaffolded support. Theexamples she uses are fascinating, at first reading theypresent just ordinary interaction - but for me - this isthe interesting bit. Gibbons manages to highlight thisform of teaching in such a way that we recognise it andare empowered by it, instead of feeling inadequate, wesee ourselves doing the same thing, so often in ourcareers.The book begins with a personal account. Julianastates, “I can say what I want but not for school work and strangers”. 2 This contextualises our learningimmediately, the idea that Juliana has been in schoolfor 6 years and can identify her language issues and 1 Heinemann, 1993 2 English language learner quoted in McKay et al, The Bilingual Interface Project  inGibbons, P. Scaffolding Language, ScaffoldingLearning, Heinemann, Portsmouth, USAarticulate them, and yet and yet does not have the skillsto overcome them is shocking enough to get myattention immediately.Gibbons goes on and gives us a clear theoreticalframework, drawing on the work of Michael Hallidayand other systemic functional linguists. Theirs is thetheory that language is part of everything we do, andwe operate in and through language in two contexts.The first is the context of culture in which speakersfrom the same culture share an understanding of thatculture, the assumptions and understandings and aretherefore able to operate within these. The context of situation, the notion that we use language differentlydepending on the situation in which we find ourselvesis the second context considered.Gibbons establishes our context; we understand howshe places work that follows. She focuses on thedevelopment of scaffolding as a tool for teachers to useto support children to learn skills and how to applythem through the work they do and therefore tobecome independent learners. There is a strong focusin the book on making meaning explicit.The following chapters cover a range of practicalclassroom based areas of language development, andhere is Gibbon’s area of real skill. She has a soundunderstanding of classroom practice, and has providedus with chapters we can read, understand and apply,even within the dictated curriculum and strategy ledenvironments in which many of us work. She beginsfrom a conviction that the curriculum provides themost appropriate and effective place for pupils to learnEnglish, that within the work we do in our classroomsall necessary experiences, skills and teaching occur tosupport the English language learner. The chapterscover speaking and listening, reading and writing andsuggestions as to how to develop an integratedapproach for developing these skills using the wholecurriculum.The book focuses on the use of common teachingpractices and the skills of the teachers to support theirchildren’s progress and development, how scaffoldingappropriately used provides a path to independencethat otherwise wouldn’t have been achieved.Gibbons reminds us about genre based skills, sheadvocates separating the content from the genre,teaching the content and teaching the rules of the genreexplicitly. She identifies and provides workablesolutions to the problem of pupils needing to learn the‘what’ whilst still struggling with the ‘how’. - tointegrate the actual teaching of English with thecontent areas demanded by the National curriculumWithin the strong focus on the integrated curriculum,there is an understanding of our schools and the topdown pressures that are placed on the teachers and  NALDIC News 29 April 2003 37 children who work in them. The book addresses theseissues clearly and confidently. It is an affirmation of good teaching, it concedes nothing, it calls us toremember what we know and respectfully infuses uswith the confidence to continue to work in the ways weknow are right for the children we teach.Gibbons contends that assessment is central to goodteaching, that we need to know what the child knows inorder to provide them with appropriate support. Thebook contains a number of interesting examples of sheets designed to assess children’s learning, andwhilst the task assessment (p127) may be more thanmost classteachers can manage in their classes of 30,the value of the work is beyond doubt. Also in the book is a very useful Framework for the Integration of Language and Content, (p130). It clearly lays out therelationship between the language needs and thelanguage demands of the topic and how to planeffectively for them.Support is provided by an additional reading list at theend of each chapter.This book is inspirational, it works in addition to andalongside Learning to Learn and shows that our belief that Pauline Gibbons’ new book would be worthwaiting for was well founded.Sarah Rankin-ReidWestminster LEA
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