It is important to discuss the difference between spoken and written language and how this affects our language choices with all students. This is particularly important for Aboriginal students who speak an Aboriginal English dialect. There are substantial differences between dialects such as Aboriginal English or working class English and standard Australian English. The differences can be similar for students who speak English as a second language. These students often only have basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS) rather than cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) as described by Prof Jim Cummins.
Writing tasks need to be in contexts that require standard Australian English and students need to be aware of the purpose, audience and context of the text they will be writing. For example, writing to a letter to a friend will encourage spoken language whereas writing for publication in a local newspaper or a video clip will require standard Australian English. The writing task should be meaningful and teachers need to explain how it is relevant to students’ lives.
Teaching about adjectives
Teachers need to familiarise themselves with the metalanguage of ‘language conventions’ in English grammar. It is essential that teachers know this grammar and can explain it to students. Adjectives are part of the noun group which will always include a noun or pronoun. The noun group can include adjectives and determiners such as articles (a/an, the, some), demonstratives (pointing words – ‘this, that, these, those) and possessives (my, your, his etc.).
Although there are countless activities, worksheets, grammar books that teachers can use to teach aspect of grammar and language conventions, the important thing to remember is context. Students will retain information when it is presented to them in meaningful ways and when it is most relevant or useful. Stand–alone ‘grammar’ worksheets are likely to be ineffective if they are not linked to the real content of the classroom.
Deconstruct and reconstruct language
Deconstructing language while reading assists students to comprehend the meaning of a text and its context as well as being an effective way for students to learn about grammar and the way standard Australian English is structured. Reconstructing language while writing is a way to give students the opportunity to use the knowledge gained and practice their skills in using standard Australian English.
See how the ‘Deconstruct and Reconstruct’ way of learning in 8ways of learning for Aboriginal students relates to quality teaching.
Activities to support the strategy
Consider how to include the following 8 Ways of Learning for Aboriginal students in teaching strategies.
- Story Sharing: Approaching learning through narrative.
- Learning Maps: Explicitly mapping/visualising processes.
- Non-verbal: Applying intra-personal and kinaesthetic skills to thinking and learning.
- Symbols and Images: Using images and metaphors to understand concepts and content.
- Land Links: Place-based learning, linking content to local land and place.
- Non–linear: Producing innovations and understanding by thinking laterally or combining systems.
- Deconstruct/Reconstruct: Modelling and scaffolding, working from wholes to parts (watch then do).
- Community Links: Centring local viewpoints, applying learning for community benefit.
The following link demonstrates how the ‘Deconstruct and Reconstruct’ way of learning in 8ways of learning for Aboriginal students relates to quality teaching.
Activity 2: deconstructing reading texts
Before reading a formal or academic piece of text, talk to students about it. Discuss any pictures and summarise the story or facts and explain formal or complex terms using everyday language. Once students understand what the text is about, read it through. Then read it while thinking aloud about the meaning after each paragraph. Study each paragraph sentence by sentence, looking at how the clauses and phrases are put together. Rearrange them to see how that changes the meaning and why the author wrote it the way he or she did.
Have students identify all of the nouns (naming words) and then the determiners and adjectives that describe each noun to make up the elements of the noun group. Encourage students to recognise the function of words in context rather than just saying a word is a verb because it ends in ‘ing’ or ‘ed’. Draw students’ attention to participles used as adjectives, for example, a meat-eating culture, a balanced diet, saturated fat.
Activity 3 (to follow activity 2): reconstructing written texts
Once students understand the overall meaning, vocabulary, grammatical structure and can spell the relevant words, they are ready to reconstruct the text. Students use the same grammatical structure as the text studied to support them to write a similar text but with different content words (nouns and verbs) and therefore different descriptive words (adjectives and adverbs). Encourage students to use a dictionary and thesaurus to find the meaning and spelling of new words they require.
Activity 4: deconstructing and reconstructing noun groups
Students identify the naming words (nouns) in texts. They then identify all of the words in the noun group that are elaborating or specifying the meaning of the noun. Students classify the types of determiners and adjectives used.
Write the words on sentence strips and then cut the noun group up into separate words. Students try reassembling them in different ways and decide which sounds best – discuss why the author wrote the way he or she did.
Prior to and during an authentic and meaningful writing task related to a topic students are studying, develop word charts on the walls (vocabulary related to the topic) so that students can refer to them. Be sure to include a variety of adjectives. Students can then refer to the word walls to build noun groups in the writing task.
Activity 5: replace 'dead' adjectives with 'deadly' words
Using an unknown student’s writing identify boring everyday vocabulary. Expand students’ word selection choices by having a cemetery of “dead” words (i.e. those overused or banal words), for example, nice (The nice girl ...) and brainstorm some ‘deadly’ words to plant on the graves to replace the boring words. Point out how better adjectives can be created from verbs, for example, pleasant and pleasing from the verb ‘to please’ instead of ‘nice’, enjoyable from the verb ‘to enjoy’ instead of ‘fun’.