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    Step 2: Teaching

Developing language awareness in subject classes

1. Definitions
In this section a series of examples on practical procedures will help you to identify students’ language needs in your subject(s). We also provide a list of different scaffolding techniques, such as, how to support your students in writing, speaking, and reading tasks, how to create teaching materials, and in what ways you can draw on students’ first language in your teaching.

Scaffolding, “Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)”, and mediation

Image associée Scaffolding: this concept has been developed by the American psychologist Jérôme Bruner (1983). It is based on Lev Vygotsky’s theories of mediation and Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)”. The ZPD is the difference between what the learner can already do without help and what s/he can achieve with guidance or mediation. Learning objectives adapted to the learner should belong to his ZPD.

What is scaffolding in a content-based lesson? 

In the teaching of subject matter, being aware of language issues means carrying out subject matter scaffolding but also  integrating elements of language support in order to avoid cognitive overload and discouragement. 

Subject-specific language requires both hard scaffolding at “macro” level (while planning the lesson) and soft scaffolding at the "micro" level (an “at the moment” scaffolding, during the class). A teacher who is aware of the linguistic dimension will be able to predict the needs of students in terms of support. 

Read more in Beacco et al. The language dimension in all subjects. A handbook for curriculum development and teacher training (p 87).

How to provide scaffolding for a student struggling with language?

Scaffolding has a broader meaning today and in language aware classes it may, for example, consist of different kinds of activities the teacher uses to support the student.

As a starting point the teacher needs to have a clear picture of the different phases of ‘language aware’ learning: what should be learned and in which order? According to the Finnish National Agency for Education (2017) language aware teaching includes three different phases:

  • Phase 1: Give a model The teacher gives a model of the ability/skill to be learned. For example, in maths, the teacher proceeds to the mathematical rule to be learned through illustrative examples while interacting with students to co-construct knowledge.  If teachers know their student’s first language, they may also translate key words or concepts to ensure students’ understanding.
  • Phase 2: Work together When all the students understand the rule, it is time to work together. Here, the responsibility for learning moves slowly towards the student but s/he continues to be scaffolded by the teacher whenever in need of help. Working together may include, for example, summarising the different phases of a calculation on the smartboard or on a tablet.
  • Phase 3: Let the student work independently In this phase, the students have learned the subject matter that was practised and they are able to start working independently. 

Wilhelm, Baker & Dube (2001)

Finnish National Agency for Education (2017)