3 minutes reading time (625 words)

Building English Learners' Metalinguistic Awareness: To know about knowing

aide raquel

Aidé Vásquez-Yepez, Elementary Associate
Raquel Núñez, Director of Elementary Services

 

During language arts time, a usually quiet first-grade English learner offered his teacher a writing suggestion: “We can use ‘and’ to put those two sentences together. It would sound better.”

His teacher realized that he was applying what he’d been practicing in ELD that week. She praised him for making the connection. She took advantage of the opportunity to have the class practice combining sentences with “and.” Then she asked partners to tell each other which sentences they would combine and why. In one minute, this student helped his teacher to reinforce how the whole class could apply their Systematic ELD learning to a lesson in language arts. 

How do we help ensure that all students can do what this one did? How do we equip them with skills to apply their language learning in other contexts – throughout the instructional day and in everyday interactions in and out of school?

One way for ELD teachers to achieve this worthy goal is to teach metalinguistic awareness. Metalinguistic awareness is the ability to reflect on the use of language, express a single idea in various ways by playing around with word choice and manipulating sentence structure, and make conscious decisions about how to express ourselves to achieve a desired tone and purpose. 

Metalinguistic awareness is crucial for language learning, evidenced by its inclusion in most instructional standards:

Common Core State Standards

  • Speaking and Listening Anchor Standard 6 – adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks 
  • Writing Anchor Standard 4 – produce writing that is appropriate to task, purpose, and audience 

CA ELD Standards 

  • Knowledge of Language – awareness about ways in which language may be different based on task, purpose, and audience 

WIDA 

  • Socio-cultural Contexts for Language – involves the student’s awareness of appropriate register, genre, topic, task/situation, and participants’ identities and social roles 

Newly adopted Oregon ELP Standards 

  • The development of students’ awareness of the socio-cultural aspects of communication in listening, speaking, reading, and writing

Metalinguistic awareness is an integral part of E.L. Achieve teaching strategies. Guidance for developing this skill is found in both the Systematic ELD and Constructing Meaning Refining Our Practice tools and rubrics. In addition, opportunities for students to reflect and discuss their language choices are woven into every SysELD and CM lesson. This is rarely the purpose of a lesson; instead, it is a way of thinking, infused into the learning in both planned and spontaneous ways. 

For example, through a Think-Aloud, the teacher verbalizes the language choices that are being made, based on the purpose, the target audience, and the task. Students are guided to reflect on the importance of communication and the big ideas behind their ability to do academic work through questions such as: 

  • How does our writing voice sound different from our speaking voice?
  • Why do we have to be able to communicate for a range of purposes and to different audiences?
  • Why is it important to be able to say things in more than one way?
  • How does having a toolbox of problem-solving skills help us in our academic lives and in our personal lives?

Metalinguistic awareness increases students’ knowledge of their choices. When students understand their language options, they have more power to consciously open doors of opportunity and shape their world. When we teach students to use this tool, we are supporting them on multiple levels: they learn not only to write with metaphors and similes – and to grasp the difference between the two – but also to understand the meanings of all their language options and use them to navigate a complex world with confidence.

This blog was previously published with the title, "To Know about Knowing: Building metalinguistic awareness."

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