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Content-Based Instruction

As you read the scenario, reflect on how using technology supports content and language learning in the project.

During her vacation, Ms. Peng, a middle school social studies teacher, completed the content based language teaching through technology (CoBaLT) professional development modules (University of Minnesota, n.d.). She feels that what she learned will help her to teach content and language more effectively for her seventh graders, some of whom are English language learners. Ms. Peng wants to put this new information to use while she is designing lessons for her upcoming U.S. history course. The school curriculum specifies that the course should include studying U.S. pioneers, and Ms. Peng feels that technology can not only help her to address the students’ content and language needs but also help them to have some authentic pioneer experiences. After she develops her objectives for both content and language for her unit on pioneer life, she decides to use a networked version of Broderbund’s old but popular (and free) Oregon Trail software (5th edition) to supplement the textbook.

To help students understand the issues and content necessary to have a successful journey on the Trail, she scans the museums on the Museum of Online Museums site (www.coudal.com/moom/) and finds a site provided by the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution, 2002) where students use knowledge and logic to build a sod house, a common form of pioneer housing. To help her students reach the language objectives for the sod house lesson, Ms. Peng scans the graphic organizers available from Education Place (www.eduplace.com/graphicorganizer) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) and CoBaLT (Cammarata, 2003). She decides that the “Decision-Maker’s Flow Chart” (Cammarata, 2003) will support student language during the sod house exercise by integrating a writing component, scaffolding group discussion, and encouraging students to use lesson-compatible language. Although Ms. Peng will not use technology for all of her lessons, she feels that technology will help her learners stay engaged in pioneer life and meet the unit’s objectives.

► Overview of Content-Based Instruction

Other chapters in this book have touched on the use of content-based software and websites to support learning activities such as inquiry, production, and communication. This chapter focuses on using content-based technologies for content and language learning. Content-based language instruction (also known by many other names, e.g., content-centered instruction) attempts to meet students’ needs in both content and language, and it can occur in both language and content (at the elementary school level called mainstream) classes. There are variations on the theme, ranging from using content area texts and materials to offering adjunct language support courses along with the content courses to providing theme-based or sheltered language courses. In content-based language learning classrooms, content is purposeful, not just a vehicle to learn language; rather, the language is the vehicle for content learning (Crandall & Kaufman, 2002). In other words, content area teachers and language teachers need to learn some of each other’s expertise so that they can not only meet their students’ needs but also successfully work together in doing so.

Language teachers have many reasons to focus on content. Because each content area has its own jargon, culture, and methods and employs language structures in specific ways, language plays an essential role in content  learning. In addition, content makes tasks meaningful, authentic, and accessible to learners, thereby adding opportunities for engagement. It also helps learners to acquire academic language proficiency while learning language, rather than having to learn the language first and then learning academic concepts. Furthermore, each content area has its own standards, and the sooner learners begin working toward these standards, the more they can achieve.

During her unit on pioneer life, for example, Ms. Peng is working toward these social studies standards for middle grades while she is teaching the language needed to reach them:

  • Describe ways in which language, food, crafts, customs, architecture, and the performing and visual arts serve as expressions of culture and influence the behavior of people living in the community.
  • Discuss reasons why communities are established, how individuals and families contribute to the development of the community, and how communities change over time.
  • Explain the major geographic features of the Western region and discuss the physical settings that supported permanent settlement in this region. (Social Studies Standards, 2016; available at https://www.dodea.edu/Curriculum/socialStudies/standards.cfm)

Ms. Peng is still working within the principles for CALL while she develops her content goals. The ultimate goal of integrating content and language is to help students become academically proficient with the content of the discipline.

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Content-Based Instruction by Joy Egbert and Seyed Abdollah Shahrokni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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