Last school year during professional developments one of the catch phrases was "academic language." The administrators were concerned that we were not allowing enough opportunities for students to use their academic language through writing, reading and speaking. We have all heard about moving towards student facilitated learning and instruction and before that the buzzword was cooperative learning, essentially in the classroom these are all similes.
I live in El Paso, Texas where many of my students are bilingual but not mastering either English nor Spanish. We often have classes filled with ESOL and LEP students, especially in secondary classrooms. It is imperative that we have our students use the academic language more frequently not only for school but so they can communicate in English effectively.
I thought about the dilemma and came up with a few lessons which proved to be quite successful in my class. After covering major units such as genetics, animals or plants I want to see where my students understanding is before testing them. I created a power point presentation for my students to use. I call it a "Quest Power Point" because my students go through the power point at their own pace preferably with a partner, not a group. The pair of students look at the picture, read the description and then need to answer a question. The students are given a worksheet for them to record their answers on.
Quest Power Point over plants. My students talked to each other using academic language. Yes, it was often mixed with Spanish, but they remembered the scientific terms and used them. I make a point to use fascinating scenarios and mind boggling examples in nature. It keeps the students interest peaked and discussion flowing. It was nice to walk around the room seeing their faces fixed on the laptop screens and listen to them using the words, and even debating.
I chose to use a power point demonstration uploaded to the class webpage on Schoology, so the kids could see the colors of photographs and pictures. Photocopies do not offer the emotional impact and grab that a laptop screen can. I had the students write their answers on a worksheet to give their eyes moment pauses from the screen and to keep the kinetic aspect going. Following the first trial I asked my class room of ninth graders how they liked the Quest Power Point. They LOVED it! The students were excited about it. I actually got hear the voices of some of my quiet students who had just joined the American school system. Since my initial Quest Power Point, I created more and the students did not get bored. They were excited. Not only did the Quest reinforce standards taught in class, the questions were filled with peculiar and unfamiliar scenarios.
I had students ask me if the events and paradigms were real or made up after discussing it among their peers. I filled the Quests with historical events in which biological systems were affected, little known facts and ecosystems far from our Chihuahua desert. The Quest Power Points were a great way to encourage academic language while exposing my classes to life outside of the El Paso area and have my students question and ponder the natural world a little more.
I currently have my Plant Quest Power Point, Cellular Hierarchy Quest Power Point and
Symbiosis Quest Power Point online for purchase.
I also have Classification of Organisms Dichotomous Key ( this dichotomous key spans all the domains, kingdoms and viruses), and a Desert Plant Dichotomous key online. The dichotomous key work similar to the quests. The students work with a printed dichotomous key and look at the pictures of the organisms in power point form. I also include a few notes or each organism to help the students. The answer are written on an answer sheet.