This article is an example of teaching procedures

3 Journey 3 Building a shared language for learning

Issue 114, page 16
November 2013
Ian Mitchell Pedagogical Purposes Group, Monash University

A major insight from a PEEL primary meeting a few years ago was that perhaps the most crucial difference in PEEL from other good teaching practice was not so much the tasks the teachers set, but the way they talked about this with their students and thus the kind of shared language they built up. This enables teachers to introduce and highlight learning behaviours, debrief on lessons and activities, discuss their pedagogical reasoning and purposes, make links to big ideas and generally build a community that has a shared focus on learning. One goal is that students will be able to identify and articulate how they learnt, how they are learning and how they could learn better. As is elaborated in 3.6 - 3.10, there are several ideas from linguistics that can significantly improve the language for learning. 

Some Ideas

3.1 Building metacognitive knowledge requires a language to think and talk about learning (PEEL principle 11)

One key aspect of metacognition is knowledge about aspects of ineffective and effective learning. Clearly this requires a language of relevant words and phrases.

3.2 You might start the year with a discussion of questions such as what they think good  learning is/good learners do, but frame this as the beginning of an ongoing conversation

Several primary teachers regularly begin the year with a conversation like this and report success. It has been done at secondary levels, but teachers report that students initial views are commonly very simple and the issue is one that needs to be revisited, sometimes by students revisiting a labelled they drew of a good learner.

3.3 Both GLBs and teaching procedures are usually components of a language for learning, but there are others: debrief, reflection, big idea ...

As mentioned in Journeys 1 and 2, Putting labels on GLBs such as linking to an earlier lesson and talking about the learning purposes of different procedures such as POEs getting students to retrieve their existing (or prior) views is a common early aspect of this journey. Teachers can immerse their students in the language of learning/thinking through the procedures/teaching routines they decide to use Lets have some wait time; praise them when they do use the language and model the use of the language.

3.4 Apparently simple terms such as getting started and moving on acquire much richer meanings over time.

Getting started, for example comes to include thinking about the purpose of the task, what the student has done so far, what they need to do and deciding whether or not they need help from the teacher or a peer. Moving on acquires agendas of independently getting unstuck.

3.5  Big ideas become part of the language for learning (PEEL principle 10)

This has two levels, one is the general notion of big ideas and their roles  and the other the particular big ideas/key skills associated with the current topic.

3.6  Use inclusive language

We rather than I, our rather than my. This is our class, our learning community.

3.7  Use language to position students as active learners, thinkers,  scientists, writers, mathematicians etc

As a scientist, you might test this, as a writer you need to constantly revise your expression to meet your purposes (Language of identity)

3.8  Use language to help students explore their ideas and contributions, rather than (politely) saying they are wrong.

Name and notice publicly that a student has asked a thoughtful question Can you explain a bit more what you mean? Or made an interesting link - what made you think of that? or offered a great  idea How could we build on that interpretation? (Language of personal agency)

3.9  Use language to frame knowledge as (often) conditional and not fixed and absolute Use tentative terminology

What s  another perspective on that?, What s  your interpretation/theory?, (Language of Knowing)

3.10  Language of feedback and praise

Praise the thinking, the contribution, the questions, the wondering, the puzzling NOT  right answers. This means, of course, often not asking closed questions

Relevance to later journeys

Reflection (Journey 4) and building a co-operative community (Journey 5) are both easier as students develop relevant aspects of a language for learning.

As the shared language is built, a shift in the perception of roles of teacher and student (Journey 6) becomes more evident.  Children sense that they need to ask three or get themselves unstuck , that the teacher delays their intervention or gives wait time -  the teacher is not the holder of all knowledge and this becomes more visible as they can talk about it. This also leads to more explicit visibility of a teacher s  purposes and long term agendas (Journey 7).

The language enables the building of the understanding that classroom tasks should always be linked to relevant big ideas and key skills (Journey 8).  The children now have the language to talk about this, to ask questions, to justify and react to big ideas; they can also identify key skills needed, in part from their links to the GLBs