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Education and Training

Grades 5 to 8 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: Grades 5 to 8
Literacy Learning Through the Six Language Arts - Part 3

Viewing and Representing

While the six language arts cannot be separated in a real sense in the classroom, viewing and representing are discussed separately here because they have been formally identified as language arts in this curriculum.

Many students are avid and sophisticated consumers of visual media, and their familiarity with visual forms may facilitate literacy with other forms. Through experience, students may have an implicit understanding of visual media conventions -- the unspoken agreements between directors and audiences about the way meaning is represented (for example, how the passage of time is conveyed in a television program). Teachers can make use of this knowledge by creating links between conventions in visual media and similar conventions in written texts.

Viewing and representing are language arts in their own right. Students need to learn the techniques and conventions of visual language to become more conscious, critical, and appreciative readers of visual media, and more effective creators of visual products. Students need to be shown that what a camera captures is a construction of reality, not reality itself. Students need to learn how to decide what is real and what is simulated. They need to learn that images convey ideas, values, and beliefs, just as words do; and they need to learn to read and interpret the language of images. Many contemporary authors, in fact, use the term reading to describe the process of decoding and interpreting visual texts.

Films and video productions increase students’ experiences, much as written texts do, and they offer similar opportunities for discussion. Films also provide rich opportunities to explore the similarities and differences between visual and written language. Students may examine the effects of visual language cues: composition, colour and light, shadow and contrast, camera angles and distance, pace and rhythm, and the association of images and sounds. They learn to identify point of view by following the eye of the camera. Whether interpreting a painting or a poem, the "reader" may look at or be taught to appreciate elements such as pattern, repetition, mood, symbolism, and situations or historical context. Students may enhance their own products and presentations by using visuals with written text and/or sound.

Studying strategies used by authors and illustrators helps Middle Years students become conscious of the effect of visual elements in texts. Illustrations interact with words to enrich comprehension and can influence students’ interpretations of setting or of characters. Illustrations may show things that words do not or they may express a different point of view from what the narrative does. The medium used for illustration is a cue to meaning. Visual cues such as colour, tone, shape and texture, line, and composition all contribute to the viewer's construction of meaning.

Students may use visual representation for both informal and formal expression. Just as they talk and write to explore what they think and to generate new ideas and insights, Middle Years students may sketch or doodle. Drawing or sketching may, in fact, be the first and most natural way for some students to clarify thinking and generate ideas. They may also use tools such as frames, maps, webs, and other graphic organizers to comprehend parts and their relationships. Visual tools are especially useful because they can represent the non-linear nature of thought and show relationships among ideas.

Students may use representation to express their mental constructs of the ideas, theories, or scenes in written texts. Events, ideas, and information may be depicted in graphic organizers, storyboards, murals, comic strips, or collages. After studying visual media, students make informed use of design elements in developing charts, slides, posters, and booklets. Other creative forms of expression, such as music, drama, dance, or mathematics, can be means of representing students' understanding of a topic or a concept. The inclusion of representing as a language art extends the means by which students can communicate and demonstrate their learning in authentic ways.


Language Cueing Systems

Each of the language arts is governed by various cueing systems. Students make meaning by using their background knowledge with their use of cueing systems. In order to communicate, students need to learn how to maximize their use of linguistic and textual cues.

Semantic Cues

Semantic cues refer to the meaning in language that assists in comprehending texts, including words, speech, signs, symbols, and other meaning-bearing forms. Semantic cues involve the learners’ prior knowledge of language, text, and visual media, and their prior life experiences. Many of the conventions of visual media fall under the umbrella of semantic cues. Teachers can scaffold students' use of semantic knowledge by relating new concepts to concepts already familiar to the students. Gradually, students independently relate new information to what is known and personally meaningful.

Syntactic Cues

Syntactic cues involve word order, rules and patterns of language (grammar), and punctuation. For example, the position a word holds in a sentence will cue the listener or reader as to whether the word is a noun or a verb. Conversely, listeners and readers use their intuitive knowledge of grammar to predict what words are likely to appear next. Oral punctuation provides cues to meaning through rhythm and flow, pauses, inflection, and voice modulation.

Graphophonic Cues

Graphophonic cues involve the letter-sound or sound-symbol relationships of language. Readers identifying unknown words by relating speech sounds to letters or letter patterns are using graphophonic cues. This process is often called decoding. Decoding is not, as the word may imply, a mechanical process but an essential means of making meaning. Graphophonic cues are used to support semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic cues to help readers determine if a word is logical or makes sense. In early literacy development, some students over-rely on graphophonic cues and attempt to sound out every word. They need to be encouraged to predict what word would make sense and fit in the sentence pattern or context.

Textual Cues

Learners use cues in text such as titles, headings and sub-headings, bold print or italics, captions, and other text features to construct meaning. Learning to read graphs and charts is also part of the comprehension process. Text-structure cues give insight into the author’s organizational patterns and thought processes in different types of texts, such as narrative, expository, dramatic, and poetic. Students who learn to attend to textual cues are better able to comprehend, organize, and remember information presented in texts than those who do not.


What Do Students Need for Success in Language Arts Learning?

In order for students to be successful in language arts they need:

Uninterrupted Time for Sustained Engagement with Texts

Readers, writers, listeners, viewers, speakers, and representers all need time in order to learn their craft. They need time to explore, to read, to compose and revise, and to think and rethink. They need to become engaged in a variety of oral, print, and other media texts. Students need time to discover that the language arts are powerful tools for observing, exploring, and shaping the world, and learning about themselves.

Ownership

Students learn to read and write by reading and writing real texts daily for real purposes at school and at home. Students need to use reading, viewing, and talking to pursue personal inquiry questions and interests, and writing and representing to construct meaning for themselves and for an audience they perceive as important. Readers need to choose their own reading materials from a wide variety of texts at an appropriate reading level. At times, students may benefit from assistance in order to make wise choices.

Collaborative Learning

Students need to learn from each other in goal-directed group learning experiences in which they are expected to combine ideas and negotiate meanings. Structured learning experiences such as brainstorming, sorting, and predicting offer the opportunity for students to learn teamwork skills. Collaborative learning experiences enable students to exchange ideas and perspectives, develop a sense of purpose, and build a sense of community. The ability to work collaboratively is a lifelong skill to be used at home, in school, and in the workplace.

Instruction

Students need to be taught learning strategies in all the language arts through demonstration, explicit instruction, guided practice, and independent practice with feedback. They need instruction in the mechanics and conventions of their chosen forms of representation (e.g., writing, drama, illustration, or creating a video) while they are revising or editing.

Response and Celebration

Language arts learners need responses from their teachers and peers as they explore and construct meaning through various texts. Teachers may model ways of responding effectively. Literature Circles and Author’s Chair provide a natural forum for both personal and critical response. By serving as audience, students learn to support and promote each others’ learning. Students need to celebrate their own and each others’ learning progress and achievements within a supportive community of learners.

Models

Role models are essential to literacy learning. Adults, siblings, or peers can shape students' attitudes to literacy by sharing their love of reading and listening, by writing and sharing their writing strategies, and by demonstrating their enjoyment in representing, viewing, and discussing ideas.

Support for Risk-taking

Students require the freedom and encouragement to compose and create in risk-free environments. They may attend to conventions of spelling, grammar, and punctuation after they are satisfied with the content of their work and have decided to proceed beyond first draft. While most work should be edited, not everything students produce will be published, performed, or displayed. Much of what students create or write is shared informally.

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