Senior 1 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: Senior 1
English Language Arts Instruction - Part 1

The Manitoba English language arts framework documents prescribe learning outcomes and standards of performance for all schools:

  • General and specific learning outcomes identify what all students are expected to know and be able to do.
  • Standards of performance define levels of achievement that students are expected to demonstrate at the end of each school year.

Teachers, however, determine the organization, pace, and focus of instruction. They keep instruction focused on learning outcomes and maintain high expectations for instruction and assessment. They differentiate instruction to help students improve and achieve outcomes and standards by providing multiple and varied, developmentally appropriate, and authentic learning tasks, activities, and opportunities.

In planning instruction and selecting appropriate methodology, teachers take into consideration students’ prior knowledge, skills and strategies, and attitudes, and the learning outcomes and standards students are expected to achieve.

Phases of Learning

When preparing instructional plans and goals, many teachers find it helpful to consider the following three learning phases:

  • activating (preparing for learning)
  • acquiring (integrating and processing learning)
  • applying (consolidating learning)*

A variety of activating, acquiring, and applying strategies are discussed in Manitoba Education and Training and Training, Success for All Learners: A Handbook on Differentiating Instruction (1996).

Activating (Preparing for Learning)

One of the strongest indicators of how well students comprehend new information is their prior knowledge of the subject. In planning instruction and assessment, teachers develop activities and select strategies for activating their students’ prior knowledge. These activities provide information about the extent of students’ prior knowledge of the topic to be studied, their knowledge of and familiarity with the forms or genres of the texts to be used, and their knowledge of and proficiency in applying skills and strategies for learning, using these forms or genres.

Prior knowledge activities

  • help students relate new information, skills, and strategies to what they already know and can do (e.g., if a text includes unfamiliar vocabulary, students may not recognize the connection between what they know and the new material being presented)
  • allow teachers to correct misconceptions that might otherwise persist and make learning difficult for students
  • allow teachers to augment and strengthen students’ knowledge base in cases where students do not possess adequate prior knowledge and experience to engage with new information and ideas
  • help students to recognize gaps in their knowledge, stimulate curiosity, and initiate the inquiry process that will direct their learning

The suggestions for instruction and assessment in the four-column section of this document contain numerous strategies for activating prior knowledge, such as Gallery Walks, brainstorming, concept maps, and PreReading Plans (PReP).

Acquiring (Integrating and Processing Learning)

In the second phase of learning, students engage with new information and integrate it with what they already know, adding to and revising their previous knowledge. Part of the teacher’s role in this phase is to present this new information, or to help students access it from other human resources or from oral, print, and media texts.

Since learning is an internal process, however, facilitating learning requires more of teachers than simply presenting information. In the acquiring phase, teachers instruct students in strategies that help them make meaning of information, integrate it with what they already know, and express their new understanding. These include strategies for active listening, reading, and viewing, for exploring ideas, and for representing emerging understanding orally, visually, and in writing. In addition, teachers monitor these processes to ensure that learning is taking place, using a variety of instruments, tools, and strategies such as observations, conferences, and examining student work.

In practice, within an actual lesson or unit, the acquiring phase of learning may include a series of steps and strategies, such as

  • setting the purpose (e.g., lesson overviews, learning logs, admit slips)
  • presenting information (e.g., guest speakers, mini-lessons, active reading of texts)
  • processing information (e.g., note making, group discussions, journals, visual representations)
  • modelling (e.g., role-playing, think-alouds, demonstrations)
  • checking for understanding (e.g., Think-Pair-Share activities, quizzes, informal conferences)
  • practising (e.g., guided practice, rehearsals)

The examples of instructional strategies are elaborated in the four-column section of this document.

Applying (Consolidating Learning)

New learning that is not reinforced is soon forgotten. The products and performances by which students demonstrate new learning are not simply required for assessment; they have an essential instructional purpose in providing students with opportunities to demonstrate and consolidate their new knowledge, skills and strategies, and attitudes. Students also need opportunities to reflect on what they have learned and to consider how new learning applies to new situations. By restructuring information, expressing new ideas in another form, or integrating what they have learned in language arts with concepts from other subject areas, students strengthen and extend learning.

To ensure that students consolidate new learning, teachers plan various activities involving

  • reflection (e.g., learning logs, exit slips)
  • closure (e.g., sharing of products, debriefing on processes)
  • application (e.g., performances, publications, new inquiry cycles)

Promoting Strategic Learning

Many of the language tasks students perform are problem-solving tasks, such as finding sources of information for an inquiry project, making meaning of a difficult text, or organizing a body of information. To solve problems, students require a strategic mindset; when confronted with a problem, the student surveys a number of possible strategies, selects the one that seems likely to work best for the situation, and tries an alternative method if the first one does not produce results.

Strategic learners in the language arts need to have not only a strategic mindset, but also a repertoire of strategies for making meaning, for processing information, and for expressing ideas and information effectively. Whereas skills are largely unconscious mental processes that learners use in accomplishing learning tasks, strategies are systematic and conscious plans, actions, and thoughts that learners select or invent and adapt to each task. Strategies are often described as "knowing what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and why it is useful."

Immersing students in language-rich environments and encouraging them to produce texts are essential in language learning, but this alone is not sufficient to ensure the development of proficient literacy skills in all students. Students also need methodical instruction in the strategies that adept learners use in approaching language tasks. The four-column section of this document discusses numerous teaching, learning, and assessment strategies and identifies professional resources that elaborate additional strategies and approaches.

Scaffolding: Supporting Students in Strategic Learning

Many literacy tasks involve a complex interaction of skills. The most effective way to learn, however, is not by breaking down the tasks into manageable parts and teaching the skills separately and in isolation. In fact, this approach may be counterproductive. Purcell-Gates (1996) uses the analogy of learning to ride a bicycle, a skill that requires children to develop an intuitive sense of balance at the same time as learning to pedal and steer. Children do not learn to ride a bicycle by focusing on only one of these skills at a time. Instead, they observe others who can ride a bicycle successfully, and then make an attempt themselves. In the early stages of learning to ride, a child counts on someone to provide support—to hold the bicycle upright while the child mounts, to keep a hand on the seat to stabilize the bicycle for the first few metres, to coach and encourage. Gradually, these supports are withdrawn as the rider becomes more competent. Eventually, the process becomes automatic, and the rider is no longer aware of the skills being performed.

Providing this sort of support in teaching has come to be called scaffolding, based on the work of Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976). Teachers scaffold by

  • structuring tasks so that learners begin with something they can do
  • reducing the complexity of tasks
  • calling students’ attention to critical features of the tasks
  • modelling steps
  • providing sufficient guided practice

In a sense, each learning strategy is an external support or scaffold. At first, working with a new strategy may be challenging and the main focus of students’ attention. Eventually, students use the strategy automatically and rely on it as a learning tool. Students gradually internalize the process of the strategy. They begin to adjust and personalize the process and to apply the thinking behind the strategy automatically.

In strategic instruction, teachers observe and monitor students’ use of a strategy for a time, intervening where necessary. Students vary in the length of time they require scaffolding. In this respect, strategic instruction is also a useful tool for differentiation. Struggling learners may work with simplified versions of a strategy, and they may continue to use the supports of a strategy (e.g., a frame for paragraph organization) after other students have internalized the process.

Strategic instruction works best when teachers

  • teach a strategy in the context of a specific task of everyday literacy
  • pace the instruction of new strategies carefully, so that students have time to practise each

The following chart suggests ways of teaching a new strategy.

Teaching a New Strategy

  1. Explain the strategy, discussing its purpose(s) and the task(s) for which it is most useful.
  2. Model the strategy, "thinking aloud" so that students can observe the process. This means expressing both the overt steps of the strategy and metacognitive processes and self-correction used in any problem-solving activity. Avoid mental leaps.
  3. Teach the steps of the strategy, explaining the reason for each step so that students will base their learning on understanding rather than rote memorization.
  4. Provide an immediate opportunity for students to use the strategy in the context of their own work, using material or content that will not pose difficulties so that they can focus their attention on the use of strategy.
  5. On the next occasion, review the strategy by modelling it again, this time with students’ monitoring and prompting.
  6. In subsequent lessons, ask students to rehearse the strategy, explaining what the strategy is designed to do, the steps that must be followed, and why each step is important.
  7. Follow up with other opportunities for students to use the strategy, to explain the strategy to others, and to reflect on their use of it. Observe each student to determine what personal meaning each has made of the strategy.
  8. Discuss with students how the strategy may be used in situations beyond the English language arts classroom.


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