These poignant words come from a Navajo child who describes a classroom as she sees it. Teachers like to talk. Just observe any classroom and you’ll find that the teacher does the vast majority of the talking. That might be expected because the teacher, after all, is the most expert English-language arts person in the classroom. However, for students to develop proficiency in language, interpret what they read, express themselves orally and in writing, participate during whole-group and small-group instruction, and explain and defend their viewpoints and answers, they need opportunities to learn and use academic language. To promote more student engagement in classroom discourse, the Interaction component is included in SIOP® Model. The features of the Interaction component include:
Frequent opportunities for interaction with and discussion between teachers and students and among students, which encourage elaborated responses about lesson concepts
Grouping configurations that support language and content objectives of the lesson
Sufficient wait time for student responses consistently provided
Ample opportunities for students to clarify key concepts in L1 (native language) as needed
These features promote balanced turn-taking both between teachers and students and among students, providing multiple opportunities for students to use academic English. Notice how each feature of Interaction encourages student talk. This is in considerable contrast to the discourse patterns typically found in both elementary and secondary classrooms. Most in- structional patterns involve the teacher asking a question, a student responding, the teacher evaluating the response (IRE: Initiation/Response/Evaluation), or providing feedback (IRF: Initiation/Response/Feedback), followed by another teacher-asked question (Cazden, 1986; 2001; Mehan, 1979; Watson &Young, 1986). A typical interaction between a teacher and her students following the reading of a short story is illustrated in the following example:
T: Who is the main character in the short story we just read? S1: The boy. T: Yes, you’re right. But what’s the boy’s name? Who can tell us? S2: Billy.
T: That’s right. Billy is the main character. Very good. Now, what is the setting of the story? Remember that the setting is where and when the story takes place.
A farm in summer. Great! Now, what do you think is the problem in this story?
And so it goes, often for a good portion of the lesson. Notice that the teacher asked questions that had one correct answer with no reasoning or higher level thinking required, the teacher controlled the interchange, and the teacher evaluated student responses. Also note that the only person in the interchange to actually orally produce academic language (main character, setting, problem) was the teacher. The students didn’t need to use more than one or two words in response to the teacher’s questions in order to participate appro- priately. Only three students were involved, while the others sat quietly.
What Is Academic Language?