Yes, Actually, We Can; Inquiry in Immersion

I don’t know why the false idea that immersion students can’t engage in inquiry persists and, to be frank, I get frustrated when I hear it. Honestly, guys, it’s filtering through to our students. The impression that second language students are not able to fully express their ideas and to explore deep questions is not true. In my experience it is not true that students need to revert back to their first language to engage in inquiry and many of our immersion students speak a language other than English or French at home, so right off the bat we need to get over the idea that it is even possible for the classroom to revert “back” to students’ first language for inquiry. 

  

So how do we as classroom teachers build the capacity of immersion learners to engage in true inquiry?

  

1. Build vocabulary

We do it when teaching literacy skills and we need to teach the language of inquiry as intentionally as we teach reading and writing. I have found that PWIM (or MIMI in French) is a powerful way to build subject-specific vocabulary. Make the language visible and refer to in often. Require that students use specific vocabulary and don’t accept a generic word where a specific word is needed. Demonstrate for students that language learners and inquirers are intentional seekers of information, including the right word for the situation.

2.Trust that there is translanguaging and interlanguaging

As much as we need to push students to learn new vocabulary we need to be aware that there will be some manner of translanguaging and interlanguaging as students build understanding of the language and of the inquiry topic. There is a fine balance between stopping a student’s rich expression of an inquiry topic to teach to correct grammatical structures. As immersion teachers we are keenly aware of this balance and keep it in mind; when are students translanguaging and when they are just not putting in the effort to use French?

3. Blend language arts with content areas

As immersion teachers, this is second nature. Building language skills goes hand-in-hand with building the skills for inquiry.

4. Engage students in Genius hour

When students have agency in their learning they have a purpose for undertaking the inquiry. Decide ahead of time what the non-negotiables are then allow students choice in their learning.

5. Stay in the second language!

Find resources in the target language and stay in the target language at all times; change your apps to French, change computer settings to French.

6. Be inspired by Vygotsky’s “more knowledgeable other”

Don’t be afraid to use buddies for fear that the buddies learn nothing as the big buddy. They can be modelling, improving language, opening and closing questions. Big buddies should come out of their learning with as much metacognitive growth as the little buddies. What do we know? How do we know that we know?

7. Provide more think time

Slow down. I have been trying to ask all students to reflect before anyone has a chance to share. I find this gives time for everyone to find an answer and for those with a quick answer the time to reflect on it and improve it. I ask students to give me a sign when they are ready to share; sometimes this means put up your hand, sometimes it’s just a nod, sometimes I tell the students I am a very good lip reader (I’d say I’m pretty average, actually 😉 and have them “say” without making a sound.

8. Share! 

The authentic purpose for language is communication! Students MUST share their learning in order to give inquiry and language purpose! Blog, tweet, host a learning fair! Don’t let the best part of the learning stay in the classroom!

I would love to hear how others are supporting additional-language learners. I think ELL teachers and immersion teachers have a lot to teach each other in this area. I’m still looking for good resources, so if you have anything to share please let me know!

10 Hooks for Reluctant Readers

 My own darling son is a take it or leave it kind of a reader; he loves to listen to stories, and likes to read, but all thing being equal he’d rather ride a bike, climb a wall, or draw. He didn’t see the joy in reading for fun until recently when he picked up Amulet, which was recommended to me by a colleague, and read for three hours straight! That got me thinking about my classroom reading hooks.

  

Book Pitch

Read a favourite chapter of a novel during your read aloud. That’s all. Sell the book a little. Better yet, have a student create a book pitch for a book they like and give them a minute of class time to present it.

The Highlight Wall

Leave out the books you share in class on a highlight shelf. There is something comforting about returning to a book students already know and love. Keep the highlight shelf down o a half a dozen books and limit the number of days a book gets to be there.

Reread

Especially with younger students,  a return to a book that’s already been shared allows the reader or listener to discover something new. This time let’s work on making a connection. Next time let’s concentrate on the author’s use of voice or conventions.

Graphic Novels

Many novels that are thick, intimidating novels also exist as graphic novels. This allows the reader to quickly absorb the story. If it’s good enough they’ll come back to read the long-form fiction version.

Thick Books with Limited Print

Bad Kitty is a good example as are Dav Pilkey’s Ricki Ricotta books, of a book that looks like a novel but reads like a picture book. It’s thick enough for those students who want to move on to the challenge of a chapter book but are not yet ready for that much text.

Change the Form of Writing

I have found that students who are good readers of fiction are not necessarily experienced consumers of non-fiction and vice versa. Exposing students to new forms of text takes away barriers.

Wordless Books

Wordless books fit into the graphic novel category in that stories are told visually. Reading a visual story is no less a form of literacy than is reading printed words. These multi-literateracies are increasingly important and students are exposed to different kinds of text than students of twenty years ago were. Often words and pictures are so interrelated that it’s important to develop an ease with reading the flow of a page.

Listen to Reading and Developing Multi-Literateracies

Listening to an audio book while following along with the print version is a way to develop that ability to “hear” the words we read. How many times as an adult reader have you heard someone say a word and are pretty sure they are actually pronouncing it wrong because you have only ever seen it in print? Seeing and hearing lows for multi-modal input. And listening alone while responding to literature is an important skill, too.

Read Instruction Manuals! 

Can’t hook a kid on books? Try a different form! Lego instruction manuals, Minecraft hacks, cook books, craft books: all a good way to blend text with images with student engagement and desire to learn about something of interest to them.

Model Reading Behaviour

One of the best things we can do as classroom teachers is model for students what gets us excited. Reading is fun! If we want students to believe it then we have to let them see us do it! Occasionally, spend your silent reading period curled up with a good book alongside students. Talk books with kids in the library as they browse. Listen to what they like about their books and tell them why you pulled the books you did!

Happy reading everyone! I would love to hear about how you hook your readers, too!