Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Teaching Literacy in Authentic Contexts

Recently, the third grade team was reviewing language standards (from the MN K-12 Academic Standards in English Language Arts, 2010) as they collaboratively planned how they would teach their students about nouns. The third grade language benchmark states that a third grader must "Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking" including: 
  • Explain the function of nouns ... in general and their functions in particular sentences.
  • Form and use regular and irregular plural nouns.
  • Use abstract nouns (e.g., childhood)
Before students are able to tackle these complex grammatical ideas, teachers knew they needed to first teach some prerequisite skills to their students. The teachers decided to focus their upcoming grammar instruction on being able to identify and create common and proper nouns.

In our Primary Years Program (PYP), "learners' needs are best served when they have opportunities to engage in learning within meaningful contexts," (p. 68 of Making the PYP Happen). The authors go on to explain that it is the school's responsibility to provide authentic contexts for language teaching and learning in all areas of the curriculum. Not only is this a requirement of the PYP, but teaching literacy concepts, processes, strategies, and skills in meaningful, authentic, relevant, engaging, and challenging contexts is considered best practice. After all, it is in authentic contexts that we adults actually use those literacy processes that we learned in primary school, so why shouldn't our students learn them in this way?

In their current unit of inquiry, Who We Are, students are constructing an understanding of the central idea that community forms when people realize they have things in common. During the unit, students study those who have left their community to come to a new one.

One way students learn about this is by reading the book The Long Way to a New Land by Joan Sandin. Since students were already reading the book, the teacher had the students use the text to learn more about common and proper nouns. Students were instructed to read through the book, identifying common and proper nouns by sorting them onto a t-chart that the students created from a blank sheet of paper. Common nouns on one side and proper nouns on the other.

When the students were given the chance to develop this literacy skill in a meaningful context they were motivated and engaged. And because the task was relevant, significant, and tied to the other learning that they were doing, students learned! When the teacher tested the students ability to identify and create common and proper nouns, all of her students (100%) demonstrated proficiency.

After reading about how one teacher successfully taught literacy, specifically grammar, in authentic context, how could you or have you explicitly taught literacy concepts, processes, strategies, or skills in authentic contexts?

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Mr. Higbea! Books teachers use in class and the library EVERY DAY could easily compliment literacy instruction with little additional work.