Jesse holds two masters, a doctorate and has 15 years of academic experience in areas of education, linguistics, business and science across five continents.
Your English language student is struggling to articulate a correct verb tense. Perhaps you might echo (repeat what someone has said, but with minor corrections so as to demonstrate proper language use) the utterance using correct grammar such as in the following dialogue:
Student: Yesterday I walk to school.
Teacher: Oh, yesterday you walked to school?
Student: Yes teacher, I walked to school.
Echoing is just one instructional technique among many that may be used in an educational paradigm known as Co-Construction. Co-Construction is the product or result of two or more people collaborating. Co-Construction of Form (CCoF) applies to language learning contexts whereby two or more students, faculty, staff, administrators, parents and/or other participants co-create accurate and appropriate language.
CCoF also occurs when one participant completes another participant's statement. For example:
Young child: Mom, I am...
Mother: ...tired? ...hungry...? ...sad?
Young child: Yes, mom, I am so tired!
In both examples, we can see how the language learner is unable to successfully complete a statement without help from another participant. Similar dynamics commonly occur in many ways, such as peer-to-peer in a classroom, counselor-to-student, or even administrator-to-language-learning-parent.
Other subtleties exist. In the first example above, the student is learning fresh information from the teacher (i.e., the expert informs the learner). In the second example, the parent is learning fresh information from the young child (i.e., the learner informs the expert). From this, we can see that true collaboration is necessary in CCoF situations.
The Case of the Big Bear
In classrooms, especially when language abilities are mixed, peer-to-peer CCoF occurs naturally. This may be observed when students work in pairs or small groups. In the same sense that a language expert may teach a language learner a new skill, that same learner may also teach the expert a related language concept. Consider the following dialogue:
Learner: Oh my, what a bear big!
Expert: You mean, a big bear?
Learner: Ah, yes. It's a big bear. In Spanish, we use the expression oso grande.
If we analyze this carefully, we can see that the expert is exposed to something about how grammar differs between English and Spanish: the syntax of adjectives and nouns. Just as this interaction benefits the English language learner, it also reinforces a grammar point for the expert through language awareness.
CCoF Via Scaffolding
Scaffolding happens when the teacher helps the student to accomplish a learning objective without actually giving away the correct answer. One example is a blank fill activity with a word bank such as the following:
Worksheet prompt: Choose the most accurate verb: I will _____ some bread.
Word bank: heat / warm / organize / bake / do
We can see that four of the five word options are general and may be used widely outside of this context; only one term is technically accurate for the prompt. In this sense, the language learner is able to carefully compare, contrast and analyze the terms in order to grasp the concept and therefore improve verb vocabulary. Another way to look at it is that the learner is able to use context in order to infer the correct answer. This, of course, requires careful curriculum design on the part of the teacher.
Let's Be Practical
How can we systematically facilitate CCoF in the classroom? CCoF is like a jigsaw puzzle with no single person in possession of all the pieces. This is in contrast to traditional knowledge transmission paradigms of education where teachers simply give all of the puzzle pieces to the student. To truly facilitate CCoF education, think about how you can retain some of those puzzle pieces and be an active participant in the learning process rather than a passive provider of knowledge. Here are some specific strategies:
- Ask, don't tell. By asking students questions rather than telling them answers, you encourage active engagement and critical thinking skills. You as the teacher benefit from this process by learning more about how your students process information.
- Take advantage of assessment data. By being familiar with students' ability levels and their respective rates of progress, you are better equipped to develop a healthy balance of achievable yet challenging instructional tasks.
- Engage participants from all angles. By involving parents, support staff, administrators and other parties (e.g., medical professionals) in the education process, collaborative potential significantly increases.
- Use strategic grouping. Consider the benefits of expert-learner pairs as described previously in this lesson. Accordingly, develop teaching materials and activities in ways that take advantage of variable ability levels and skill sets. Look for win-win learning opportunities at every stage of the instruction process.
- Explore new techniques and diversify your teacher toolbox. No method or curriculum is perfect; trial and error (firmly grounded in professional discretion) is often the best way to see what works for both you and your students!
As an educational paradigm in the context of language learning, Co-Construction of Form (CCoF) occurs when two or more students, faculty, staff, administrators, parents and/or other participants co-create accurate and appropriate language. CCoF is a collaborative process that may be supported by numerous teaching techniques and characteristically benefits all participants.
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