Steping First into the Concrete

How do SDAIE strategies illustrate the need to teach from the concrete to the abstract?

When language is an issue, working in the concrete is essential.  Whether this means using pictures or student-centered demonstrations to instruct, anything that lets ELL’s demonstrate their capacity independent of language is helpful.  Success is the best scaffolding and beginning in the concrete is the best way to scaffold success for ELL’s. 

Díaz-Rico (2008) expresses it this way, “The challenge is to use concrete means to introduce abstract ideas (teaching with hands-on materials, visuals, and demonstrations to lead into those ideas that are difficult to demonstrate or that require more oral or written skills)” (p. 240).  As she says, once the foundation of the abstract concept is laid with these concrete means, it becomes easier to move towards the abstraction of higher understanding.  The challenge is to avoid the trap of talking more into the silence.  SDAIE includes many strategies for concrete, student-centered teaching.  The trick is to use them.

Expressing the same idea, Rothenberg & Fisher (2007) says, “science lends itself handily to concrete, hands-on experiences that build background knowledge, providing a foundation for abstract thinking and for reading and writing about academic topics” (p. 209).  Once again, we see that ideas tend to be best learned from concrete to abstract.  This is particularly true for learning with language challenges.  Fortunately, art, science, and math all lend themselves to working in the concrete.  The various aspects of ELA are more challenging, but pair, triad, and group-work add scaffolding and support to the process.  Techniques like storyboarding can be very helpful in any of the linguistic domains.  Regardless of subject, every effort must be made to begin in the concrete and use that foundation to move towards abstraction.

The idea that learning moves most easily from concrete to abstract is an old one.  Echevarria, Vogt, & Short (2008) remind us that Bloom’s Taxonomy “was formulated on the principle that learning proceeds from concrete knowledge to abstract values” (p. 102).  Using concrete learning strategies for ELL’s and non-ELL’s is just good teaching.

References

Díaz-Rico, L. T. (2008). A course for teaching English learners. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP Model (3rd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Rothenberg, C., & Fisher, D. (2007). Teaching English language learners: A differentiated approach. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall.

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Landspeeder Math

In a prior post, I advocated using movies to connect students to their studies.

For me, history comes alive in fiction. When I’ve read a story or seen a movie about a past time, somehow the factual material becomes connected and relevant. I know that’s how it works for my daughter too. She has American Girl dolls and each one comes from a particular period in American history. There are also novels about those girls in that era, based on diaries of real historical girls. She can tell you about living in the Blitz in London or what ocean liner travel was like in 1912. Now she says to me, “Daddy, I want to read more history.” This from a 1st grader.

On a related subject, there is a lot of enthusiasm in a classroom that usually goes untapped. I know Star Wars is huge amongst the boys of my daughter’s class. It seems to me that hooking lessons and rewards into the Star Wars universe would be hugely enrolling and captivating for those boys. Yet I’ve never seen it done. “If Luke Skywalker is racing his landspeeder against five of his friends, how many Tatooine landspeeders are in the race altogether?”

This one is trickier but, with no encouragement at all, many of the boys in her class (like, I think, most boys everywhere) love to draw battle scenes when they have free time. Those battle scenes are usually complex and frequently nuanced. I know the implied violence bugs a lot of teachers, but it is fantasy violence, not rehearsal of real warmaking. And it is a vast supply of energy and opportunity discarded in most classrooms today.

Jeepers, Squeepers

Which techniques related to SDAIE could be used with native English speakers?  Explain your answer.

One of my favorite things about this class is there are very few, if any, instructional techniques we are being taught that are not applicable in all instructional environments.  SDAIE techniques are simply educational “best practices.”  Or as Rothenberg & Fisher (2007) said, “Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE) strategies are just good teaching strategies. Sheltered instruction is just good teaching” (p. vii).

My personal favorite strategy is one about which I was initially dubious.  However, over time I have grown to see its brilliance. That would be “SQP2RS” (or “Squeepers” for short, apparently).  SQP2RS is an acronym for:

  • Survey
  • Question
  • Predict
  • Read
  • Respond
  • Summarize (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2008, p. 98)

What I like about this is that it incorporates best practices for reading educational material, powerfully departing from the “read and forget” model so popular in the traditional classroom.  It’s particularly fascinating to me because a similar approach was featured in 1993 “underground” book on being a better student that I follow closely (Robinson, 1993).  Now, nearly 20 years later, this approach is being taught in graduate schools.

Another SDAIE technique I learned in Robinson (1993) is activating prior knowledge (Díaz-Rico, 2008, p. 115).  I think that is a technique that is still too little known and seems to me to be fundamental in anchoring learning and powerfully launching a lesson.

Another technique I discovered elsewhere is Mind Maps (Buzan & Buzan, 1993).  As near as I can tell, graphic organizers are similar, although more basic.  If graphic organizers become successful in my classroom, I would like to add mind maps as well.

I think “Directed Reading-Thinking Activity (DRTA)” (Díaz-Rico, 2008, p. 230) is very interesting as well.  When I read fiction in particular, I tend to try not to look ahead because I prefer being surprised. However, from a cognitive and metacognitive point of view, I think tracking not only what the author is saying but what is being telegraphed about impending content is a very effective way to empower the reader as a reader and model good habits for when that reader writes.

References

Buzan, T., & Buzan, B. (1993). The mind map book. New York, NY: Penguin Books, USA.
Díaz-Rico, L. T. (2008). A course for teaching English learners. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP Model (3rd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Robinson, A. (1993). What smart students know: Maximum grades. optimum learning. minimum time.. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
Rothenberg, C., & Fisher, D. (2007). Teaching English language learners: A differentiated approach. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall.