Part of the ongoing Professional Development that has been taking place at our school this year has involved looking at different teaching strategies that are considered ‘effective’ according to research and then adjusting them for our English as an Additional Language setting.
One of the latest strategies which we have had to experiment with has been the graphic organiser. My teaching partner and I decided to give the humble old KWL chart a try. The KWL chart has been around for years but for those who may not have come across it before, it is a tool for organising thinking. It acknowledges that students bring prior learning to the current topic being studied and also allows them to think about what they want to learn.
The KWL chart is basically this:
K – What I already Know. (This step is completed before the learning takes place)
W – What I Want to know. (This step is completed before the learning takes place)
L – What I have Learnt. (This step is done after the learning takes place)
Our first try was when we were studying houses way back in week 3 and 4 of this term. My preferred way of doing the KWL chart with young students (I have seven-year-olds) is to give them a sticky note and have them draw/write for each section. The K section went well. You can only just see some of the yellow pieces that are for this section. We hit a few problems with ‘What do we want to learn?’
First problem: Students don’t know, what they don’t know.
Second problem: When English is not your first language, how do you even begin to write what you want to learn?
The drawings on the blue squares did have some input from me.
Maybe ‘Houses’ was too much of a thing topic rather than a concept topic. So after a bit of discussion with other teachers, we tried again with the next topic of ‘Zoo’. This time, I took the approach of me modelling how I might approach the ‘What I Want to Know’ section. I don’t think the students understood that I was trying to think out loud for their benefit. The conversation that surrounded this KWL was hilarious.
Me: I want to know the names of different animals.
Student A: I like magpies! And ducks!
Student T: Giraffes!
Student H: There’s elephants!
Me: Shh! Stop calling out. I also want to know What kind of coverings do animals have?
Student T: (still calling out) Feathers. Birds have feathers.
Me: (wondering why that wasn’t drawn on his paper?) I also want to know Where do animals live?
Student A: Trees!
Student T: The jungle!
Student H: Do we have to copy this?
Me: (inwardly sighing) And I want to know What do animals eat?
Student T: (still calling out) Lions eat meat!
While we were on a roll, I thought we should have a try at a KWL chart for Addition.
This is really beyond seven year olds. This is Student A (from above) who is incredibly bright. He did not really understand how to use a KWL chart for Addition. His ‘L’ section shows things he already knew as we did not cover doubles as part of our addition unit at this time.
I have come to the conclusion that KWL charts may not be the best use of time for me with a bunch of seven-year-olds in an EAL classroom. Maybe seven-year-olds in the mainstream classroom could cope with this graphic organiser better or maybe older students in the EAL classroom could cope with this strategy better.