“I’m a physicist and I’m here to say, I study forces in an impactful way! Sometimes I study space explosions, but mostly objects at rest or in motion!”
“OK, who can come up here and do this rap better than me? OK, Billy, let’s hear it.”
I feel proud that I have gotten this incredibly difficult student to perform a song that describes different contact and field forces. I smile to myself because I know I am basically tricking him into learning about forces. When he is finished with his rap, the class goes wild and I hear another student shout through his giggles, “This is the best idea you have ever had, Ms. P!”
Walking by room 315 at Lincoln High School, you can hear my physics students singing with me and laughing at me as I try to rap about forces, the three laws of motion, and other physics concepts. These learning strategies are accompanied by several other Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD) strategies, such as cognitive content dictionaries and pictorial input charts, which guide students in learning dense physics content that’s heavy with academic language. With GLAD’s emphasis on reading, listening, writing, and speaking, students get exposure to content area vocabulary and concepts through language patterns like songs or chants, color-coded chunks of information, and representations of information through visuals.
In my classroom I have seen that GLAD is a great resource for all students, not just ELL students, because all students are academic language learners. By using a range of strategies, I am able to scaffold my instruction to help students acquire and apply necessary academic language, making learning accessible for every student.
I work in a high-needs high school, and with that comes a particular set of struggles. Students come into high school with below grade level literacy skills, have out-of-school commitments that keep them from being in the classroom, and many previously felt alienated in complex subject matter. All of this can make learning feel impossible to them. But this is where intentional planning and interactive lessons come in.
The lessons I create allow all students in my classroom to find multiple ways of interacting with each other and the content. Everyone is a participant, not just the highest-performing students. GLAD resources remain on the walls around my room, adding another layer of accessibility for when they are absent or working through assignments. Consequently, students feel safe, valued, and confident in their ability to contribute in our learning community and the following conversation becomes commonplace:
“Ms. P, I don’t get how to do this part of the conclusion! This is stupid; I’m not doing this.”
“It’s going to be ok, dear. Billy and Darreious, go over to that wall and use the notes we took on forces to compare the effects of gravity and air resistance on an object and summarize those ideas for your conclusion. That’s all it is really asking you to do.”
In this environment, struggling students are brought into the discussion and participate, which also eliminates most behavioral problems. These qualities make our classroom a place where learning happens and the metacognitive work comes naturally throughout the activities.
For example, during a recent lesson on Newton’s three laws of motion, we were completing a pictorial input chart. You could hear the following in my room: “Repeat after me. Inertia. Now say it with me. Inertia! Say it to the ceiling, say it to the floor, and say it to your elbow!” Students slyly smile and roll their eyes out of embarrassment yet continue to follow instructions, with every moment increasing their comfort and familiarity with the term.
Every student is engaged in writing their notes, sharing with their elbow partner, and participating in high-level reasoning.
Research shows that when students can speak academic language, they are more likely to be able to read about it and write about it. It’s taken time to get my students comfortable with looking silly in class during these activities, but now they are common practice and, consequently, content-heavy learning can be accessed by all of my students.
If we can work together as a teaching community to develop as educators and incorporate the best practices from every classroom, then all students can be reached, taught, and engaged. Learning will spread from class to class and course to course like a wildfire and ignite the minds of all our students, making our schools more intellectually accessible and our community stronger.