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Scaffolding Literacy Instruction for English Language Learners

Caitlin LeClair, seventh-grade social studies teacher at King Middle School in Portland, Maine, supports her students to read complex texts—fiction and nonfiction—about South Sudan. LeClair supports her diverse group of learners by choosing compelling topics; working through a progression of increasingly complex texts and providing scaffolding and support to build their skills as close readers.


- [Female] We ready?

- [Male Voiceover] It’s ten days before summer break at King Middle School in Portland, Maine.

- I’d like everybody now to turn and talk to their table partner.

- [Male Voiceover] Language arts teacher, Karen MacDonald and Social Studies teacher, Caitlin LeClair are using their respective classrooms to co-teach a unit.

- The process that you have been going through as you’ve been reading a Long Walk to Water of gathering evidence.

- [Male Voiceover] By combining a powerful piece of literature with nonfiction articles about the civil war in Sudan, students are developing the skills and habits of close readers while learning about an important and relevant topic in the world.

- With all these features.

- [Male Voiceover] The goal for students, create a two voice poem comparing and contrasting the points of view of the protagonist in a Long Walk to Water. Combining their analysis of characters and themes in the novel with their research. We captures a social studies class beginning to analyze a complex article for the Washington Post about the impact of modernization on conflict in south Sudan.

- This text is a challenging text and there are a lot of vocabulary words in there that we might come across that we are going to have to use context clues When I’m thinking about preparing students to be able to read complex texts, I think of a few things. First, I’ thinking about the compelling topic. How are my students gonna be compelled to work with this content? The second thing that I think about is the progression in which I’m gonna give them those texts. Examples, from our research and from A Long Walk to Water. The text will get increasingly difficult as students gather more knowledge that they can bring to the text. And the third thing is the ways in which I’m gonna scaffold make it so that all students can be successful with that text. Just take a minute to read the learning targets. So underlining any words that stand out as important or help describe your jobs as a learner. Typically, my classroom would include a wide range of ability in reading and many of my students are learning English. And were there any words, keywords?

- Yeah, use context clues.

- Great, as we work with this text we’re gonna be using context clues to help us to determine what words mean.

- I grew up in Rwanda, but I was born in Congo. Then in June last year we came here in America and in September I just started school here at King Middle School. When I came, I couldn’t talk to somebody, like I could just talk to somebody who could speak French.

- One of the biggest challenges is that they’re grappling with reading to begin with and so providing them with enough scaffolding and strategies, ways to break the text down. Part of what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna text code a little bit for connections to help us dig into the text. That they can apply to other learning tasks.

- [Male Voiceover] Before jumping into the Washington Post article, the class returned to the novel.

- But this year she realized for the first time that her mother hated the camp. All of our students are really enjoying this novel.

- I like hearing about Sudan’s resources and kind of how difficult it can be living there.

- I love this book because it talks about a country in Africa and I’m from Africa and there’s and I don’t know a lot about Africa.

- This is a compelling topic where a lot of our students see themselves in the story. So they had to make due with whatever was at hand.

- When we started reading this book I heard a lot of kids from Africa, like not just me, they were like finally we’re learning something that like about the world, the whole world and Africa.

- When they’re compelled and interested in the topic Why would there be fear? Hani? They are willing to work really hard and work with challenging texts.

- Because she might lose her brother and dad and she doesn’t want that to happen.

- When they see that they are ready, have some knowledge to bring to it, they’re gonna feel like they can walk through the door. The first thing I want you to do, as you’re skimming through the article, is to focus on vocabulary. Because we know that’s what close readers do. We always start by looking at the things that close readers do. Because those strategies, that they bring to text, they can bring to any complex text. Let’s just do a quick popcorn.

- [Male Student] Get the gist of what the text is saying.

- Annotate the text, take notes.

- Focus on key vocabulary.

- Use the text to answer questions.

- Discuss to clarify or deepen understanding.

- Take a minute to just go through. What do you notice about vocab what connections?

- [Male Voiceover] The class began the process of closely reading the article, reading it in sections, annotating and using note catchers to prompt and capture thinking, talking about their ideas with table partners, and collecting evidence that would inform their writing.

- As we read through the text, we’re kinda like driving through the text right? And we get to a word and we’re stuck, One of the strategies that we focus on is key vocabulary. If they have strategies, if they have supports to identify those words or those concepts that they’re going to struggle with Try to come up with three to five things that you can do when you hit that stop sign. And also latch onto some academic or content vocabulary that they know.

- And see if you know what the root word is by using it with other words.

- Or reread the sentence again.

- Yeah.

- That’s sort of the key, that’s the entry point into understanding the content of the text. I’d love to hear some good ideas.

- You can try to connect it with what they’re talking about in the text.

- Good, and anything that I write on the board, I’d like you to add to your note catcher so we’re building a good list. Dinka and Nuor have been stealing cattle from each other for as long as anyone can remember. Cattle raiding is hoary tradition of pastoralist throughout Southeast Africa.

- So we’re reading the article and there were like a lot of vocabularies and one of them was raiding and we had to share like to talk with my partner. So can you read from like here?

- So, yeah, almost no one does, however, in no small part because Dinka and Nuor have been stealing cattle from each other for as long as anyone can remember. Cattle raiding is a hoary tradition of

- I’m very purposeful about groupings within my classroom and thinking about the best way to give all students the opportunity to talk with their peers and to learn from each other and also to teach one another.

- Stealing cattle from each other for as long as anyone can remember. Then they are cattle raiding. Is it like the stealing of cows?

- Yeah, raiding means like stealing.

- Now, I get the word when I’m reading it, it’s, it’s like all the other words that I get.

- That sentence helped you? Okay cool, so write that right there. One of the strategies to help them to dig into the text is to have them identify what the gist is. So, it’s that idea of pausing, thinking about what the text is saying and it helps them to track their thinking as they’re reading. I’m gonna ask for people to share what in that particular paragraph helped, Ayu, to really decide what the gist of the paragraph was?

- Dinka and Nuor used to fight each other with spears but now they use AK47’s.

- So, You’re right. Was there a time Ayu that, when things changed? But I’m also conscious about my pacing.

- Yeah. 1983?

- Yeah right. Thinking about the kinds of questions that I ask and the wait time that I give students because I know that supports all students in giving them the opportunity to think about what you’re asking them or the pace at which you’re moving the lesson.

- [Male Voiceover] With confidence in their abilities to understand the text students began the more detailed process of gathering evidence from the article to support their poems.

- My goal is to help all students access the text and be able to think about it, talk about it with their peers, to write about it, strategies that they can apply and they can also use those when they tackle other texts.

- This summer if I come across articles that I can’t understand, I think I would use these strategies and these strategies really helped.

- I think it’s really important for us to get the same text, we get to know the same vocabularies, we get to share like the same ideas and it helps us, like us, people who are learning English, it helps us to to be comfortable talking in class. But it took, Oh!

- Yeah.

- We’re gonna come back to this tomorrow when we have class we’re gonna share some of the evidence we’ve found and are thinking about it, and we’re gonna start to connect it to our two voice poem and the note catcher we are using with the novel. Okay?

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