Wednesday, November 11, 2015

#CommonCore in TESOL Quarterly September 2014 - V

[When doing a lot of reading, getting to an article by Dr Fillmore is like a desert traveller reaching an oasis. Whatever one thinks of her views, no one can deny that she can, unlike many of her colleagues, actually write. Which raises an interesting critical point, are we more likely to agree and follow the argument of an author who is interesting us, simply because they have good prose skills?]

Fillmore (2014) argues that complex texts are precisely what ELLs need. 

[NB, Fillmore uses the device "far too often..." regarding current pedagogic practice early in article. Palinscar & Schleppergrell deployed the same device.#CDA] 

Should be access to texts in L1. Theory has not influenced practice in US schools (p625). ELLs need contact with L1 speakers of English, and ditto materials in the subjects they are learning, not just ESOL instruction. They need to learn how academic discourse works by having access to academic texts, not "watered down" ESOL pedagogic materials. Face to face interaction is vital in all theoretical models of language learning, (p627). 

"the language required for advanced literacy and learning in school is treated as a prerequisite for working with complex and demanding curricula rather than as a by-product and outcome of working with such materials."

The author goes on to deconstruct a sentence found in a newspaper which could be used for instruction. It has passive voice and perfect tense elements, and contains a lot of information. There are echoes here - strong ones - of Palinscar & Schleppergrell's SFL approach. "[A]cademic language can be learned only from texts in which it is used, and only by interacting with those texts in nonsuperficial ways". 

ELLs need help "learning to unpack the meaning"  from complex sentences (p629). This too is in SFL territory, and unpacking meaning is almost synonymous with "scaffolding". Fillmore disapproves use of "metalanguage per se," and she references Palinscar in a footnote. But weren't they saying that metalanguage could be shared with the teacher, but not with the students? So in the "fossil" example text she gives, the teacher would know we're using something called the passive, the ELLs would not need to hear that actual bit of metalanguage taxonomy. 

[And that's right: knowing that the passive voice is called the passive voice is useless. Knowing the way it shifts the S-V-O order around IS important, however, as is the need to look out for the "by..." clause, AND the fact that we don't always get one. What's really interesting about both the Fillmore and the Palinscar articles is that I am actually & involuntarily putting together a lesson plan based on these theories in my head as I read them, and imagining how that would actually work in a real classroom.]


Fillmore, L. (2014). English Language Learners at the Crossroads of Educational Reform. TESOL Q, 48(3), 624-632.

Palincsar, A., & Schleppegrell, M. (2014). Focusing on Language and Meaning While Learning With Text. TESOL Q48(3), 616-623.