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Project Director: Stuart Scott, 17 Barford Street, Islington, LONDON N1 OQB Telephone: +44 (0) 207 226 8885 Fax:+44 (0) 207 704 1350 e-mail: email@example.com website: www.collaborativelearning.org
Supporting a cooperative network of teaching professionals to develop and disseminate accessibleteaching materials and strategies in all subject areas and for all ages.
An introduction to Collaborative Learning: extending thinking and creating contexts for developing academic language in multilingual classrooms. In an increasing number of our classrooms children are at different stages of social and academic language development in their first language, and in many classrooms they are also encountering their learning in an additional language. Since the aim of all teachers is for their pupils to achieve at the highest level, their classroom practice must address language development at the same time as it addresses curriculum. When examining language development it is useful to explore the concepts of BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALPS (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Skills). These are concepts developed and expanded upon by Jim Cummins, and colleagues in a variety of books and papers about the experiences of learning in an additional language. To be able to “BIC” in a language is to be able to appear more fluent and confident than you really are. It means that you can use the language to travel, to ask for things in shops and restaurants and appear quite
streetwise. Good “BICS” are a kind of shell that protect you in a strange environment from appearing too conspicuously different or vulnerable. Children in Britain who do not speak English at home may learn to “BIC” in English quite rapidly and develop social language that becomes quite fluent and well pronounced. They need their “BICs” to survive in the playground, and to survive in class and in the street. Cummins estimates that it takes about two to three years to become a really fluent “BICker”. However, this fluency is deceptive because in order to achieve academically (rather than just survive socially) in school, you have to be able to use the language related to cognitively demanding thinking tasks. You have to be able for instance to justify your opinions, compare or contrast different ideas, formulate hypotheses or predict outcomes. A list is attached to this paper. Teachers of very young children will be quick to tell you that all these thinking skills can begin to develop very early, although the English National Curriculum level descriptions imply that complex thinking appears at secondary school. To develop the language to express this deep thinking, to learn to “CALP”, can take seven to ten years or even longer, and the language of thinking can only be successfully developed when closely related to real thinking demands thrown up by particular topics in particular curriculum areas. Learning an additional language, like learning your first language is not a quick fix. Children cannot be removed from the classroom for seven years to learn the language of thinking, and even if they were, this would take them away from the very environment where those thinking demands should be developed.Research now strongly supports the notion that many children do not develop their language much
beyond the BIC stage, and simply use their BICs get through lessons either cooperatively or disruptively, depending on their emotional make up or gender. This is because they are not able to develop their CALPs in systematic way. We now need to consider the Cummins framework, a key visual which helps us to see what might happen. I regard the framework rather like a map on which you can place any activity that takes place in the classrooom.
Cognitively demanding work. Stretchy activities that make you think hard and deep.
Abstract. Not relating to anything learners know about nor can easily relate to.
Undemanding work that can be undertaken without much thought.
Much of the work demanded in the classroom is in Section B. It makes considerable thinking demands on children, but these demands are often presented in an abstract way which children, especially those learning an additional language, find difficult to access. If children are unable to do this work, teachers are often tempted to give them activities in Section D. This kind of work (eg: colouring in or copying) keeps them busy, but does not develop their thinking. Consequently those children who do manage to develop their CALPs do so outside the classroom. They rely on the support of parents, peers or siblings as well as demonstrating a fearsome determination to learn. The majority underachieve. If children are to develop their CALPs in the classroom they need to experience activities in Section A of the framework: activities that expand their thinking, but also contain elements of contextuality. What are these elements of context? Here are some general examples:
1. Making connections with children’s experiences and activating what children already know ie: making children feel valued. 2. Providing the space and opportunity to actively use existing knowledge. 3. The opportunity to talk around a topic and put it in your own terms. 4. The opportunity and encouragement to use first language. 5. Providing a framework for organising thinking - using key visuals. 6. Using objects and pictures. 7. Moving from specific (example/case studies) to the general (generalisations, rules, principles) 8. Humanising the impersonal/abstract.
Developing and trying out classroom approaches that improve context takes time, but teachers have found that they are easier to develop and often more motivating and creative if they are developed by teachers working together.
If teachers have time to work together in twos or threes, especially when one is aware of the language issues and another is an expert on a particular curriculum topic, and if their school supports this cooperation, and is willing to arrange for the the teachers’ enthusiasm to be shared in dissemination sessions, then the planning and implementation of new approaches does not seem so arduous. There is also a vital need for networking and sharing between teachers across schools and local authorities. Once teachers have to develop activities of their own, they can quickly see how they can adapt other teachers’ work for their own classrooms. The Collaborative Learning Project was set up to facilitate this networking. It was established in London in 1983, and supported by the Inner London Education Authority until 1988. It is now a non-profit making educational trust: a support for a network of teachers across the world working with children at all ages and in every subject area. It’s main objective is to promote inclusive education for all. It particularly concerns itself with the inclusion of minority ethnic, and other disadvantaged children and those with special needs. It addresses issues of curriculum access, the development of interactive pedagogies. It wants to encourage activities which promote thinking skills and do not oversimplify work in the name of curriculum access. It has always remained focussed on classroom practice supported by sound theory. We have always aimed to develop, disseminate and celebrate effective group work cooperatively; by making available classroom activities which can be adapted to your own classroom needs, and which we hope will inspire you to use the underlying strategies for other topics or different age groups.
We are primarily disseminators of process rather than resources. The project runs workshops (including those online) to develop new materials, and we publish a catalogue/ newsletter “Paperclip” designed to inspire teachers to begin to try out these activities. We support a series of local networks. We believe that you need to develop your own activities cooperatively in order to confidently use those developed by others. Also believe that planning with others is more creative, and consequently we hope you will network activities locally. Please send any activities you have developed back to the project for inclusion in the catalogue.
A list of different kinds of thinking demands
Noting a process
Understanding and applying cause and effect
Understanding and applying rules and strategies
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