At the heart of great teaching is differentiation; this teaching tactic of differentiation inside of the teaching content area applies to language acquisition, stages of language, and academic language development; this work will help students across multiple content areas (P2).
In researching this teaching topic area, I reflected on two effective techniques for teaching academic language through a differentiated approach.
FIRST: Three Tiers of Words for Differentiated Instruction
- Tier One includes vocabulary that the student already knows; teaching these words will help the student activate their prior knowledge.
- Tier Two words are important over many years in many disciplines both your own and others; examples include parallel, theme, and base; teaching these words will help students make connections to ideas outside of the content and reinforce the meaning in the content.
- Tier Three words are technical with narrow definition; these words should be taught for the lesson and looked up for further clarity; a student will engage the text at an analytical level.
SECOND: Three Levels of Reading for increased meaning and differentiated instruction
- Level One, read for general understanding (identify words in all three tiers)
- Level Two, making personal connections to other content areas
- Level Three, extending the text to connect and converse with other texts
Breaking the academic words into these three tiers allows both the teacher and the students to strategically approach the task of learning. By emphasizing the vocabulary early in the process of learning it can be reinforced at every step of the lesson.
In pre-reading students can identify words across tiers and note their meanings.
In connecting to personal experiences, a second stage of effective reading, students can connect their experiences of each word (especially Tier Two Words) in other classes to the text that they are examining and use the Tier One Words, words they already know, to build their knowledge and connection to the new text.
Finally as a student reads for deeper meaning, they are ready to ask bigger questions about the words and their interconnected meanings. By engaging in a process of inter-textuality, they will solidify the understanding and be able to comment on the text in relationship to other texts they have read.
Academic words in all three areas continually emerge in both Theatre Arts and English Language arts because both content areas examine texts from multiple sources with multiple narratives. I often tell my students that my class is not simply a drama class. Rather, my class is every class in the disguise of a drama class. Students must be prepared to speak about any topic that they know about. Because of this, they build their understanding of both of the first two tiers. Some common examples of these words are: inner-monologue, character development, and memorization.
The third tier words are then used most commonly through the language demand and are particular to the performance assignment. One simple example would be, blocking (the specific movement of actors on the stage).
Because of my research into the three tiers of academic language and three common phases of reading, my instruction has changed. I am more apt to point out academic words that make a connection between subjects and encourage students to read a text three times for increased clarity and deeper meaning. With each reading of the text I can guide the student by suggesting that they look for general understanding on their first time through a text, connections between the text and other subjects on their second read, and the conversation between one text and another in their third reading.
By using this three tier and three read through strategy, students are more likely to fully understand and personalize the text. Because a central practice of Theatre Arts is personalization and finding increased meaning, these strategies are invaluable to the students (and to myself). Further, different students will be reading at different levels. Knowing which level a reader is working on will allow myself to differentiate my instruction for that student.
One consequence of using this technique is lost time. It will take students three-times longer to complete any reading assignment. Because of this, reading assignments must be both shortened and be given in class time for guided completion. However, the benefits will outweigh the cost. Students will generate more connections inside of my content area and in content areas outside of my classroom.