The Manitoba English language arts curriculum frameworks documents identify the prescribed learning outcomes and standards for use in all schools. The general and specific learning outcomes identify what students are expected to learn. The standards of student performance define levels of achievement that students are expected to demonstrate at the end of Grade 3, Grade 6, and Senior 1. (Standards for Senior 4 also are being developed.) Teachers, however, determine the organization, pace, and focus of instruction. They keep instruction focussed on learning outcomes and maintain high standards for instruction and assessment. They differentiate instruction by providing multiple and varied, developmentally appropriate, and authentic learning tasks, activities, and opportunities, to help all students progress and achieve the learning outcomes.
As students move through the language arts learning phases, both action and reflection are important. Reflecting on strategies employed and their effectiveness helps students to understand not only what they think, but also how they think.
Modelling and encouraging metacognitive strategies helps students to understand, monitor, and direct their learning processes. Metacognitive questions such as, "What do you notice about your thinking?" and "How did you remember that information?" help students develop internal conversations and reflection about the learning process. When students have opportunities to reflect on their learning, especially with peers, they begin to develop self-assessment skills and want to take more responsibility for shaping and directing their own learning experiences. At times, students need quiet reflection. Whether alone or with others, students use reflection as a tool to consolidate what, how, and why they have learned, and to set goals for future learning.
Immersing students in a language-rich environment and encouraging them to create texts themselves are essential components in language learning, but these alone are not sufficient to ensure that all students develop a high level of literacy skills. Students also need instruction in the strategies that skillful learners use in approaching language tasks.
Strategies are systematic and conscious plans, actions, and thoughts that learners select and adapt to each task and text. Strategies are often described as knowing what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and why it is useful. Students need to develop a repertoire of strategies to help them set purposes, make meaning, process, remember, and retrieve information, express ideas, feelings, and information effectively, and reflect on their learning processes.
Strategies should be introduced as they are needed. When strategies are explained in terms of their value to the learner, and are demonstrated and practised over time, they can produce long-lasting, significant improvements in the students ability to construct meaning and achieve the language arts learning outcomes (see the chapter, Strategies That Make a Difference, for numerous instructional and assessment strategies). In addition, teachers are encouraged to explore the strategies in Success for All Learners: A Handbook on Differentiating Instruction (Manitoba Education and Training, 1996).
All students benefit from strategic instruction, but individual students need varying degrees of support in learning and using strategies. When scaffolding instruction, teachers use modelling and explicit instruction to provide learners with enough support and guidance that they can understand concepts or perform tasks that would otherwise be slightly beyond their unassisted efforts. Teachers can provide scaffolding in a variety of ways (Wood, Bruner, and Ross, 1976):
Following instruction, teachers observe and monitor students use of a strategy for a time, providing support where necessary.
The length of time and the degree of scaffolding that is required varies from student to student, and strategic instruction is a means of differentiation. Students need sufficient practice time to become familiar with a strategy before learning how to adapt it to new situations.
A Model of Explicit Instruction (Pearson and Gallagher, 1983) (the model can be seen on p. 20 of Grades 5 to 8 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation, (1996)) illustrates the gradual release of responsibility to the student that is integral to instruction. In the initial stages, teachers have responsibility for explicit instruction and/or modelling. As the teaching and learning continues, teachers provide guided practice. As the students become more familiar with the process, skill, or strategy, teachers gradually reduce their level of support while continuing to provide feedback, adjusting the level of support according to the degree of difficulty of the task, the material, and the level of the students proficiency. This period of guided practice and the level of support will vary among students. The desired outcome is that eventually students are able to practise or apply the process, skill, or strategy independently and direct their own learning.