Friday, April 25, 2014

The Value of Authentic Experiences

Heather Jung shares how she builds on ELL’s prior knowledge through authentic experiences

Image by via Creative Commons

A several months ago, I was working with a 2nd grade ELL student who had come to this country in July.  We were reading books about Hide and Seek, but she was really struggling.  I stopped her, we went outside, and I showed her how to play Hide and Seek.  After about five minutes, we went back in and the student proceeded to read the book without difficulty, it became her favorite book for the next few weeks, and she even wrote a story about playing Hide and Seek with her sisters. 

This student was struggling because she had no frame of reference for what Hide and Seek was, and no oral language built around the concept to support her reading of the text.  By going outside and having an authentic experience, I was able to provide her with the support she needed to be successful in just a few minutes. Dale's Cone of Learning tells us that after two weeks students remember: 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 50% of what they see and hear, and 90% of what they do.  The implication for us, as teachers, is to remember how important it is to engage our students in active learning.   It is especially important for our English Language Learners to build oral language through as many authentic experiences as possible.  These experiences need to occur both inside and outside of the traditional classroom.  

Spring provides many wonderful opportunities to build prior knowledge and oral language through authentic experiences.  The student that I mentioned above was able to read The Ugly Duckling very successfully last week because of a school-wide authentic learning experience provided by our School Librarian, STEM teacher, and Outdoor Education Coordinator. They incubated, hatched, and raised chicks in our school library last month.  Our principal even made a time-lapse video of the chicks hatching and put it on YouTube for students to watch. This project got students excited for spring, built oral language around lifecycles, and made students really eager to go to the school library to checkout books!  This month they have four gigantic tadpoles; inspiring even more authentic learning in the library.

It is also, a great time to do recycling and upcycling projects.  There are always millions of things that can be done with old toilet paper tubes (making marble slides and mazes with them in science is my personal favorite).  Milk cartons and clear plastic food containers from the school cafeteria can be used to plant peas and herbs that students can take home and use in their kitchens.  These make great projects for Earth Day or for Mother's Day, next month.

And... of course, there are school field trips, these are a tried and true way of getting students out into the world to build prior knowledge and oral language. 

Whatever content you are teaching, just remember to make students' learning powerful by giving your students authentic experiences! 

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