In this article, you’ll find an overview of how embedding academic language learning strategies in content area instruction benefits all learners. You will learn about three critical best practices for content and language integration: creating and implementing content language objectives, providing students with opportunities for repeated exposure to academic vocabulary, and enhancing collaborative learning with language!
All Learners are Academic Language Learners
More than 80 percent of my students were identified as multilingual learners in my first year of teaching first grade. Knowing that I needed to tailor my instruction to meet the varying language needs of my class, I turned to my administrators and specialists. They kindly shared their expertise and passed along resources about Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, better known as SIOP®.
SIOP is a research-based instructional model designed to support multilingual learners in accessing academic content. This instructional model provided me with strategies to set my multilingual students up for success. As I created and implemented resources to integrate these strategies into my instruction, I was impressed with the level of participation from my multilingual students and the confidence that these strategies instilled in the rest of my students as well. That’s when the lightbulb went off: The challenging language demands of academic content are burdensome for all learners. Once you adopt an “all learners are academic language learners” mindset, those strategies and best practices you once thought were reserved for your multilingual learners will creep their way into your standard, whole group lessons… and rightfully so! Here are a few tips to help get you started.
Creating and Implementing Language Objectives
You wouldn’t create a lesson plan without any content objectives to identify what you want students to learn and master in the lesson. In the same way, language objectives are needed to bolster your multilingual learners and to benefit all your students. The first component of SIOP focuses on lesson preparation and objective setting. SIOP recommends centering your content objective around what students will learn. Next, set your language objective to emphasize how students will demonstrate their learning. Your language objective will also inform which communication modes (listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and representing) learners will exercise in achieving the objectives.
Repeat Exposures of Academic Vocabulary
Research has shown that repeated encounters with a word or concept in different and authentic contexts can help students internalize its meaning(s). Students build proficiency in recognizing, comprehending, and communicating that word or concept with each new exposure or repeated use. Providing students with opportunities to engage in multimodal practice with academic language equips them with the language skills and background knowledge they need to succeed. Speak Agent’s Content+LanguageSMlearning framework and multimodal activities do just that, encouraging all students to understand, apply, and make connections among new concepts.
Collaborative Learning Opportunities
While teaching, there was nothing more powerful for me than witnessing an “aha!” moment for a student triggered by an interaction with a peer. Direct instruction has its time and place in the classroom, but collaborative learning is where the magic happens! Collaborative learning empowers students to express and communicate their thoughts and ideas—whether it's working towards a common goal in groups, participating in a lively class discussion, or partnering up to break down a complex concept. This productive discourse between peers naturally scaffolds instruction, promotes multiple perspectives, and builds classroom community. All of these encourage language development!
Academic language permeates all content areas and subject matter. It is the language needed to engage with and demonstrate mastery of exceedingly complex concepts in math, science, and beyond. Language learning strategies such as those embedded in the SIOP model support high-quality, well-rounded instruction that positively impacts the academic success of all learners.
In this article, you have learned about best practices such as crafting language objectives, providing students with repeated exposure to academic vocabulary, and fostering collaborative learning opportunities. Pairing these practices together with Speak Agent’s research-based Content+Language framework and multimodal activities can be your recipe for student success!
This article is curated by Jaclynn Emig, Speak Agent Partner Success Manager. Jaclynn draws on her experience teaching STEM subjects in Title I schools in Pennsylvania and Virginia when personalizing implementation plans for Speak Agent teachers who, like herself, aim to break down barriers to academic language acquisition and provide equitable learning opportunities for all students.