Book series explores academic language for diverse learners

By Brenda Alling, WSU Vancouver marketing and communications

book-coverVANCOUVER, Wash. – A recently completed book series, co-edited by a Washington State University Vancouver professor, shows how teachers are integrating common core state standards for diverse learners with different learning needs.

The case studies, written by practicing teachers and academics, offer detailed guidance in using students’ past family and cultural experiences to help them connect with academic words and concepts.

Ernst-Slavit-80Gisela Ernst-Slavit, professor of education and associate dean for diversity and international programs at WSU Vancouver, is co-editor of the seven-volume series, “Academic Language in Diverse Classrooms,” published by Corwin in 2013-14.

Each of the first six volumes is devoted to a specific content area (English language arts or mathematics) and grade level (K-2, 3-5 and 6-8). The seventh, “Definitions and Contexts,” discusses the overall philosophy.

“Academic language” is used in the classroom and other formal contexts, such as books, and helps with development of an adult vocabulary. It differs from the language people use at home, with friends or at work. For children new to the English language, learning the words and the content at the same time is a huge challenge.

“English language learners have to learn English, but in addition they have to learn the language of science, of math, of social studies, of English language arts,” Ernst-Slavit said. Academic language “is like a third language for them.”

How can teachers help these students succeed?

“We can’t just tell them what’s important,” Ernst-Slavit said. “We have to bring it alive.”

She and lead editor Margo Gottlieb have often collaborated. Several years ago, they worked on drafting national standards for English language learners. Gottlieb is lead developer for the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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