You will hear a lot about LSP – Language Supportive Pedagogy. LSP is a new approach to using lanagueg in classrooms that really works to help children become better in English AND better at their school subjects. In this introduction to LSP, Dr Angeline Barrett, from Bristol Univeristy, UK, gives an introduction to this approach.

What is Language Supportive Pedagogy?

by Dr Angeline Barrett, Univeristy of Bristol

Three principles underpin the LSP approach.

Principle 1: Subject knowledge and language are inseparable

When you learn a subject, you learn the language of that subject. This includes subject specialist vocabulary and specific genres of writing, for example laboratory report

Principle 2: Learning a subject is learning to read, write and talk about that subject

We learn to talk, rather than from talk. Students need opportunities to practice reading, writing, talking and listening about a subject in English

Principle 3: All learning builds on students’ pre-existing knowledge and language skills

Secondary school students are not a blank sheet or an empty vessel. They walk into the classroom already knowing much.

So when Student arrive at secondary school, they have knowledge from primary school that they express through talking and writing in Kiswahili. They also have knowledge from their home, community and own observations, which they may express in Kiswahili or a community language. Our role as teachers is to help students to connect to this knowledge and to practice expressing what they know in English.

Subject learning in secondary school is a journey from knowing and talking informally about sometime to expressing formal knowledge in writing.

How do we achieve this?

Many different classroom strategies can be used in LSP. However, teaching must include the following elements:

  1. Focus on student learning and use of language. Many teachers think about their use of language, when to use English and when to use Kiswahili. Good teachers, however, spend more time thinking about their students’ learning – what they already know, what they need to learn and how they use language. 
  2. An affirming supportive classroom environment. To learn a language, you have to practice talking, listening, reading and writing. We all make mistakes at the beginning but students must never feel afraid or ridiculed for making mistakes. When the classroom environment is affirming and supportive, no one is allowed to mock or laugh at another student and everyone supports others in the class. Only then, is it possible to consistently correct mistakes of grammar, spelling and pronunciation. 
  3. Time for exploratory talk in students’ ‘thinking’ language. As all learning builds on previous knowledge, students need to relate new knowledge to what they already know. Most of us do this through talking informally. Students need time in class for this exploratory talk and it does not matter which language they use. They should be allowed to use whatever language they find it easier to talk in, whether this is Kiswahili, a community language, broken English or a mix of languages.
  4. Structured support for reading, writing, listening and speaking in English using subject specific vocabulary and genres. Language teachers have many strategies for supporting students to start writing and talking in English and to get better at writing and talking. These include labeling diagrams, providing questions to think about when reading a passage, sentence starters and many other strategies. When subject and language teachers work together, they can develop classroom activities that support students to develop their skills in English as part of subject-learning. Through the TALAST network we can share resources for teaching and learning specific subjects that are appropriate to the language abilities of students and strengthen their skills to continue learning in English.
  5. Attention to academic vocabulary. Conceptual understanding and knowledge of vocabulary are closely linked. There are many ways to students to learn vocabulary and a teacher will need to use different strategies at different times. These include keeping a vocabulary list where students can write words they do not know and the teacher, or other students, write the translation in Kiswahili. This is quick and easy. However, sometimes it is important to explain the meaning of a word in more depth, especially when the word represents a key concept for the lesson. There are many ways to do this including explaining in simple English that is intelligible to students, drawing a diagram, conducting a demonstration or engaging students in a hands-on activity. 
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