Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Academic Language Skills

Question: How define academic language skills?

Answer: It ain’t easy.

Quote: “The level and type of academic language needed for success in grade-level classrooms has not been adequately defined or researched.

“Cummins (1980) indicates that cognitive academic language is characterized as context-reduced language used for … demanding tasks…. Context-reduced language lacks accompanying cues that assist comprehension, cues as facial expression, body language, visuals, or experiential activities.

“Cognitively demanding tasks require learners to manipulate concepts, solve problems, and learn new and often challenging information. These tasks require specialized language and language structures that vary depending on the content area.

“In grade-level classrooms, cognitively demanding tasks are frequently presented to students through context-reduced language, particularly at elementary and secondary levels.

“We suggest further that complete definition of academic language proficiency should include abilities in academic language functions such as explaining, describing and classifying, along with higher order thinking skills such as analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating….”

Comment: Academic language skills are usually presented in “context-reduced” language, language without contextual aids. They often require specialized language. Students must be able to manipulate concepts, solve problems and learn new, challenging information. They must be able to explain, describe and classify. They must be able to analyze, synthesize and evaluate. Academic language skills, therefore, are difficult for native speakers of English and considerably more difficult for ESL students. RayS.

Title: “Instructional Approaches and Teaching Procedures.” AU Chamot and JM O’Malley. Pp. 82-107. In Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students. Eds. K Spangensberg-Urgschat and R Pritchard. Newark, DE: IRA. 1994.

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