It’s first thing on a Monday morning and Miss Taweil, 4/5 T and I are getting stuck into the robust work of engaging with the ‘vocabulary’ of composting. Our mentors and coaches, CindyValdez-Adams (@tesoloz) and Paul Dufficy (@CHEAPedagogy) are in with us as they quietly observe.
Sitting on the floor with the children, participating in the lesson with them and analysing what was happening at the same time was quite mind taxing. I was thinking about where Lina was going with the lesson and trying to anticipate so I could quietly scaffold the learning for my English Language learners, with whom I was sitting. I was also working out how I could help the students make connections with what we were talking about to their own lives and previous learning, as well as being conscious of the ‘teacher talk’ vs ‘student talk’ ratio that was happening in the lesson and wondering about how to tip the balance the students’ way.
Even though 4/5T have already spent a week involved in activities to learn the target compost vocabulary, it was clear that we have much work to do together to retain, transfer and apply the targeted vocabulary for their Science Unit.
In our time after the lesson, when Lina and I were reflecting with Paul and Cindy, they helped us to see the need for even greater scaffolding and handover. Before the animated video it would have been better to give the students more specific instructions as to what they were to look and listen for, so that they could tune in to the key points. The names and pictures of the decomposers in the compost bin that they would see could have been displayed, and then the students could listen for where these creatures were to be found and their role in decomposing.
When they moved to their tables to work in pairs the students were given a chart similar to the following task: Compost Components
On reflection, we should have modelled one of the materials to show the students what we meant by ‘the purpose of these materials in the compost’. On the students’ charts the materials were listed … browns, greens, air and moisture. Some students were unsure of the meaning of ‘purpose’ and wanted to give examples of these materials.
Paul suggested that we could ‘hand over’ the task to the students by giving them what was needed for the chart on cut up slips of paper. The students could then work in pairs to complete the chart using the answers on these slips of paper and discuss where they should go. When they have checked their answers with each other and other groups they would then glue them into the right places. In doing this, they have read the words, thought about what they mean, talked about them and applied their vocabulary knowledge to the task at hand. The completed chart would look like this if correct.
The process of reflection after the lesson was interesting. Paul and Cindy guided the process with questions that made us pause and think. How did you feel the introduction went? Is there anything that you would do differently? What do you think your role was in the lesson? What type of writing will you be aiming for with your vocabulary? Who will the students be writing for?
Paul reminded us about making the thought processes of the teachers as well as the students visible so that there is greater understanding for all the students. For example, instead of saying, That was a great answer, we could describe how they used their words, e.g. It was interesting how you said ‘released the nutrients’ because that’s what the watering does, it helps them to go into the soil.
Where to next? We need to remember that our students are not mind readers. We must model what is expected, have more visual checklists and clues, include related challenging and purposeful tasks for the students to go on with independently which involve the focus vocabulary, build up the related descriptive vocabulary and keep up the momentum and engagement without sacrificing the quality of the learning experiences.
Initially Lina Taweil and I decided together that our main goal is: To teach vocabulary explicitly in a robust way so that our students develop a love and curiosity for learning new words. With the help of Cindy and Paul, I think it could probably happen.