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Academic Language

Academic language is a lot more complicated than it sounds. It consists of content-specific words as well as non-content specific words (not to mention a host of other grammatical and cultural nuances that most of us never consciously learned, but effectively acquired). How do students acquire academic language? How did you? Under what circumstances do you continue to develop academic language? How did you learn the meaning of the words like aghast or to signal? Consider this: "Words like aghast, signal, cluster, furiously, lash, churn and froth, might all be considered academic type words, and all are found in the following excerpt from James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl, 1961). 'They all watched aghast. And now at a signal from the leader, all the other sharks came swimming in toward the peach and they clustered around it and began to attack it furiously. There must have been twenty or thirty of them at least, all pushing and fighting and lashing their tails and churning the water into a froth.'" (The Language Rich Classroom, Himmele & Himmele, ASCD, 2009, p.26). High-interest fiction provides effortless access to non-content specific academic vocabulary.

So, how do we help our students access this great vocabulary if they haven't developed a high-enough proficiency to read them on their own? Well, many English language learners who are conversational can understand more than they can linguistically produce or read. So, think about using audiobooks as a great way of developing academic vocabulary in an enjoyable way. Think about skipping the traditional homework assignments for an age-appropriate audiobook experience. Combine it with a Quick-Draw (Chapter 7), where students illustrate the most important parts of the story, and you've got yourself a quick assessment of comprehension. By the way, your local library may have a great selection already, or have access to a downloadable audiobook subscription that may be absolutely free to you.

So, exposure through leisure reading (or, even audiobook listening) is a biggie in developing academic language. And intentionally planning for academic language development is also a biggie. Use CHATS, our five-part framework aimed at creating access to content and language development together. Here are what the five components stand for:

C= Content Reading Strategies (which includes Teacher-Mediated and Student Mediated Comprehension of text)

H= Higher-Order Thinking

A= Assessment that informs instruction

T= Total Participation Techniques

S= Scaffolding

I think that you'll find that CHATS will help all of your students, not just your English language learners. "No one got left... By using the framework, or looking at lesson planning through this lens, we're allowing access for all students" (Keely Potter, K-6 Literacy Coach, Manheim, Central). "If you use the framework, you can't go wrong in planning a stellar lesson" (Judy Berg, Literacy Coach, McCaskey High School).

So, post some comments/questions. We’d love to share some neat stories and experiences of schools that have implemented the framework.

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