Language-sensitive teaching of so-called non-language subjects: a checklist
The self-evaluation check-list for teachers is developed by Beacco et al. (2015).
1. Transparency of language requirements in setting up attainment targets and tasks for subject-specific learning
1.1. At the beginning of each teaching unit, I usually explain the intended learning goals and comment on the specific language requirements for reaching these goals, e.g. in the form of advance organisers with a double focus on content and language.
1.2. I make sure that the students have clearly understood what the content and the language goals are, e.g. by asking questions to check understanding and by encouraging students to ask questions for clarification when they are in doubt. My students can expect that I am willing to rephrase learning goals in a language they can understand.
1.3. When setting tasks or giving assignments, I take particular care to clarify the kind of oral or written verbal action that is necessary for achieving learning goals. My students are familiar with a set of verbs defining specific cognitive as well as linguistic operations, e.g. summarise, characterise, outline. Through the reflective and repeated use of such “operators”, learners know which cognitive, linguistic and textual strategies are expected. I work with a manageable inventory of operators (not more than 12), the meanings of which have been discussed and clarified with the students.
1.4. When setting more complex tasks that leave room for individual problem solving and which take up a longer period of time to solve, I communicate these tasks in writing and propose a series of steps that might be useful for problem solving. For each step, I explicitly indicate language demands and cognitive requirements.
1.5. When planning my courses, I take particular care to expand the students’ academic language competences. In doing so I consider: (a) cognitive-linguistic functions: e.g. negotiating, naming/defining, describing / presenting, explaining, arguing, evaluating, modelling, simulating. (b) Genres relevant for my subject area: e.g. description of an experiment, writing minutes, analysing a newspaper article, giving a PowerPoint presentation, retrieving information from factual prose. (c) Communicative skills: listening (comprehension), reading (comprehension), connected speech, talking with one another (dialogue), writing/text production.
1.6. At the end of a teaching unit, I discuss with my students whether the content and language goals have been reached or not, why and what the consequences and next steps should be.
Use of language by the subject teacher
2.1. In my teaching, I use linguistic means and strategies in a very reflective way. I choose different language registers that are functional and appropriate for different teaching situations. I distinguish between an informal, everyday language register (e.g. when the organisation of the learning process is being negotiated), a more formal register of general academic language (e.g. when learning paths and negotiation of meaning are at stake), and a subject-specific register to establish cognitive concepts, e.g. by applying subject-specific terminology (“mass” instead of “weight”) or by providing collocational expressions (“exerting force on something” in physics).
2.2. I am aware that imagery, figurative expressions, metaphors, idiomatic phrases and elements of a regional dialect, also irony and/or sarcasm are not easy to understand and to process for many students. Therefore, I mainly use topic- and process-related neutral expressions in situations of formal teaching.
2.3. My students need a model for their own academic language development. I provide students with such language elements (general academic words and expressions, subject-specific terminology and set phrases) by integrating them into my own language performance as a teacher, e.g. I use thinking-aloud techniques making inner monologues public, emphasise specific patterns, structures and linguistic means through intonation and body language, repeat and paraphrase relevant language material to direct their attention and to facilitate their language intake.
2.4. I consciously support important statements, requests or questions with appropriate sentence intonation and gestures so that students can assess the general message even if they do not understand the details.
2.5. I adapt my speech tempo and the use of language means as far as feasible to the competence level of my students: simplifications like “motherese” or “teach-speak” do not really help students to develop academic literacy. Therefore, in situations of formal content teaching, I choose expressions slightly above the students’ competence level for them to adopt such language patterns. On the other hand, I know which of the students have difficulty following the oral interaction in the classroom. I use simple, short sentences when dealing with these learners and – when necessary – informal, colloquial words.
2.6. I normally use a broad range of different non-verbal techniques, signalling important aspects of content as well as transitions from one topic to another, or from one phase of teaching to the next, e.g. by vocal control and modulation, reduced tempo of speech, lowering or raising the voice, and repetition, gestures, and body language.
2.7. I try to make difficult areas of subject-specific content comprehensible by using redundancy or by intensifying my verbal investment, e.g. repetition, rephrasing, paraphrasing, extending meaning, exemplifying and/or giving more concrete examples, summarising and repeating the main points.
2.8. For the cognitive guidance of the students as well as for facilitating comprehension, I often use “announcing” and “discourse-commenting” words and expressions, e.g. expressions like “and this is particularly important now” or “we will deal with this on Monday in more detail”, back- or forwardreferences like “please recall what we said about the structure of a lab report”.
2.9. When communicating important content to the students in writing, I make coherent statements and take particular care to use appropriate expressions and to avoid slips of the pen and spelling mistakes. My writing serves as a model for the students to adopt for their own use, e.g. I try to avoid using lists of keywords in writing on the blackboard, transparencies, computer projections or work sheets; I also pay attention to the basic rules of punctuation and let students “check” my texts.
2.10.According to the students’ needs and the subject-specific demands of teaching targets, I play different roles, e.g. as a person providing information or giving linguistic help or structuring cognitive processes.
Classroom interaction and opportunities for the students to speak
3.1. I control my own share of speech in the classroom so that there is more time for contributions on the part of the students. I am aware that teachers normally take up a high proportion of classroom talking time (on average between 60% and 80%), and that they underestimate their own share and overestimate the students’ share. Therefore, I carefully reflect on what to say when and how.
3.2. For the sake of language learners, oral interaction in my classroom is slowed down. I leave enough time for the learners to construct meaningful and complex utterances. Normally I wait for 3 to 5 seconds after I have asked a question or have stimulated a response before a student is given a turn. My students need time to think about how they can express their thoughts and ideas in a coherent way. This prevents me from firing quick successions of questions at my students. In addition to allowing adequate time for students’ verbal (re-)actions, I often provide them with structural frames, sentence stems and patterns for complex utterances that they can use for various purposes in classroom interaction.
3.3. I arrange my questions and impulses for the students in an open way so that they cannot respond with single words or gestures only. During classroom talk, I avoid scripted questions and patterns of a triadic dialogue (IRF cycles = initiation, response, feedback). Such patterns force students into a reactive role and complicate, if not block, further development of their academic language competences because they are not supposed to speak in an extended and connected way, and they do not learn how to open a subject-specific discourse nor how to influence its course.
3.4. I give corrective feedback only when language performance has a function for reaching particular subject-specific goals.
3.5. I deal respectfully with students’ contributions when they are inappropriate in content or language terms and try to motivate them for self- or peer-correction, e.g. by repeating elements of a student’s utterance with a question intonation, by using a questioning body gesture, by asking for clarification or for a revised formulation, or by involving other students for help.
3.6. In my teaching, students are motivated and supported to play different communicative roles, e.g. as a reporter, moderator, language guard during group/project work.
3.7 In structuring my lessons, I often leave room for writing. This allows students to think about what they want to express and how they can use language in a coherent and meaningful way. Writing allows students to read their own texts more than once with a critical attitude. They have the opportunity to experiment with language, identify inappropriate words and grammar, improve their arguments – not only by themselves, but also as a collaborative activity. Writing also has a positive effect on their oral language and leads to a deeper cognitive processing of complex topics and problems.
3.8 In order to achieve subject-specific attainment targets, I frequently use open-task formats: these accelerate the development towards cognitive-academic language proficiency. Closed formats, on the other hand, tend to fossilise the achieved language levels and support mainly the learning of factual knowledge.
3.9 My teaching units always include some tasks that challenge higher-order thinking skills and require extended discourse in writing: learning results and task solutions are discussed individually or in class including language aspects. I also make use of writing-to-learn techniques such as “Textlupe” (textual magnifying glass), “Writing beyond the margin…”, the “Four Square Writing Method”, etc.
3.10 I increase the linguistic “turnover” within my content classroom by planning tasks and forms of work that require a high degree of verbal effort and which, at the same time, students find motivating, e.g. use of prepared and structured debates, role plays, simulations, presentations in connection with peer evaluation, drama, web quests, and interviews with real or fictional experts for the issues in question.
3.11 Exercises and group work are organised in such a way that students can engage in verbal exchange and learn from one another, e.g. through pair work, joint construction of meaning/solutions, peer editing, peer tutoring, think-pair-share techniques, and peer teaching.
3.12 My subject classroom is organised in such a way that linguistic and communicative needs are supported, e.g. on the black- or whiteboard there is always a defined space reserved for goal-related language tips and reminders; special seating arrangements make communication easier for work groups or for plenary work; authentic texts are enlarged and put on the wall as “decoration” or “ornaments” together with successful examples of students’ writing; rules for classroom interaction are also put up visibly.
3.13 At least once per semester, I organise a project with my students in which they can experience and prove their communicative competences through contact with life outside school, e.g. investigations or interviews in relevant areas of work and society; co-operative actions/joint ventures with other educational institutions like universities or with local commerce; participation in competitions – possibly also transnational projects – with partner schools in other countries.