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Behind the Practice: Approaching Language Dives with Sarah Mitchell, Stephanie Clayton, and Sloane Young

Dive into Language Dives with the instructional coach and two reflective teachers at Lead Academy in Greenville, SC. Sarah, Stephanie, and Sloane describe their approach to Language Dives and Conversation Cues as we see them in action, supporting English Language Learners and all learners to access complex topics and texts and explore how language works with rigor and joy. Topics covered are: Understanding the Purpose, The Heart of the Practice, Making it My Own, Responsive Teaching, Using Ongoing Assessment, Why This Matters. This is a companion video to Implementing Language Dives and Small Group Language Dive - Long Version.


- The Language Dives were new to all of the teachers at our school, whether our teachers were a first year teacher or a very experienced teacher.

- Something that you trust and believe. McKenna, would you agree with what Damon said?

- I agree.

- Do you see the word “you”?

- Yes!

- Where?

- Here!

- There?

- Doing Language Dives put all of us back into the beginner position.

- I view one of my biggest roles as an administrator, as a coach, is simply encouraging teachers to use Conversation Cues and to just try Language Dives out and just allow students that opportunity to pause for a moment in their day, and have a rich conversation about a single sentence from a complex text.

- What does this mean?

- For my English Language Learners, I learned that they can easily get bogged down if they don’t know the meaning of one word, and then that can throw off the rest of the sentence, and it’s completely unnecessary. Through Language Dives, I’ve learned to separate it into chunks. They’re able to step back from the words and they’re able to think about the actual structure and the role that the words play. Can you reverse the order?

- You can reverse the order because...

- Let students just play with sentences and really understand why authors use the words that they use. Why did the author include the preposition “as”?

- It connects the first chunk to the second chunk...

- It is not teachers telling kids what strong grammar looks like, it’s kids playing with a sentence and learning for themselves how language works.

- Peter went like:

- We take a sentence from the text we’re already reading, we analyze the sentence several different ways through sketches, through acting, through words, and then we let that Dive live on the wall so that the students can pull from it later. So that last step of the students being able to apply what they’re learning, now with Language Dives, I can actually see it make an impact on their writing. Students can learn, “okay this is my model and now how can I turn my writing into beautiful writing like that author?” I didn’t buy into Language Dives at first. I found that the curriculum said it would take ten minutes and it took 30 to 45 minutes. I found myself asking every single question and just getting bogged down in different avenues that a Language Dive could take. And then I learned to stay true to the heart of it, and what my students needed from that Language Dive.

- Some sentences I want to get just solely meaning out of it and some I focus more on the grammar. I just look at the sentence beforehand and I say: “what do my students need to know about this sentence? How is it going to help them understand the content that we’re learning about better?”

- What I’ve seen with teachers that are getting to be more comfortable with Language Dives is that the deconstruct, reconstruct, practice structure can start weaving in and out. Teachers might start with a reconstruct and then go backwards. They’re able to take the structure, but then play with it based on the needs of their class, to just promote a classroom that is a conversation. ...the baby to fly like Peter. --I agree, actually.

- So, if I wanted to truly bring home the point that we listen to each other and we build off each other’s learning then I, myself, needed to learn to use Conversation Cues in the same way that my students were doing it. What do you think about what Jack said? You could actually take the word “but” out and it would still make sense. And I actually had to listen to their response, It’s like, makes you like shiver, like “but” so then I could build onto it. I actually agree with Jack, and Jack I never would have had this thought had you not brought it up. “He flew straight to the window, the window was closed,” it does work, doesn’t it?

- Yes!

- I’m glad that you took the opportunity to disagree, but- there’s the word, but,- Ramat said with this added word, it just adds more emphasis. It’s taken a lot of practice, but now I’m able to listen to my students and build a Language Dive off of what they’re saying. Everybody do Ramat’s eyes when you say the word “but” she went like... “but!” Rather than where I wanna drive the Dive. And I noticed that everything changed like that group said, the feeling changed.

- I am having to more deeply listen to their thoughts and why they think what they think and what’s their reasoning behind things and it’s really developed deeper relationships amongst us.

- Language Dives help our teachers to be better listeners and to respond more to the needs of their kids. So for example, they might hear some grammatical errors, and then they know to address that later on in an ALL block, or to teach that more explicitly in writing later on in the week.

- There’s definitely places for right answers, but I think it’s okay to have ten wrong answers first.

- For one of my groups, they were really struggling with pronouns. How do you know if it’s he or she? So for that group, that became the learning target for them is identifying the pronoun and who it relates to. But for another group, I took the Language Dive in a completely different direction. They were all about what character traits James Barrie was trying to get us to see. That group went outside of the four walls and they said “I wouldn’t even put it on the chunk wall.” They put it over here in the character trait chart because it’s showing the character trait of the mermaids and Tinkerbell.

- Language dives matter particularly for ELLs because they’re given an opportunity to take a sentence and see how it fits in the scope of this much larger complex text.

- If I keep the text the same for all my students, and just choose to support them in different ways, I teach them in a way where I can bring them up to the level that they need to be on. What I’m most proud of is how they take risks, though. My English language learners are not afraid to make mistakes with language now, because they recognize that mistakes are a part of how we learn and a part of the process of sorting out language.

- It’s promoted equity in our school, just because you may be from a home language that’s other than English doesn’t mean that you can’t teach and help and support someone else who’s home language is English.

- Now because they do that in my curriculum, they’ve learned to do it with each other. So sometimes my students will ask each other, “Did you really mean to phrase it that way? Because when you put that at the beginning of the sentence, it made me think that your emphasis was on this, but I think that your emphasis was supposed to be on something else later on in the sentence.” They’ll just be talking about a basketball game. And then I sit there at recess and go oh my goodness, I know where that came from! It came from the foundation of a Language Dive, but that communication skill now lives beyond any classroom walls. It now lives in their lives.

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