Language & Literacy

Reflect ESOL and a Discourse Approach to Language Development.

This method draws on and is inspired by approaches to adult literacy such as the Whole Language Approach and Language Experience, combined with the Reflect approach to literacy development. Such approaches are based on the idea that you do not need to learn the micro skills of reading in order to be able to read a whole text. Having access to whole texts that are meaningful to students is seen as essential for building micro or technical reading skills.We can transfer these ideas directly to language development in the ESOL classroom. Using this model, language activities use whole stretches of spoken text as a starting point. This spoken text is not a model but a piece of spoken discourse created by the students themselves using their own ideas and existing language knowledge. In Reflect ESOL this is mostly achieved using visualisation techniques, role play or drama. The students work collaboratively in small groups putting forward their own language and ideas.

Case study - How London has changed

In this particular example, a group of students working at the beginning of Entry level 3 (intermediate level), used drawings to describe changes in London since their arrival. Students worked collaboratively to build a picture, sharing and comparing ideas and experiences also experimenting with vocabulary and grammar. Once the visual was prepared the students used the language and ideas to create an individual piece of whole spoken text, in this case a description of how London has changed for them. Each student created an authentic, personally meaningful text based on their own experience but supported by their collective ideas. The visual above acted as a prompt and aide memoir for students practising their descriptions.  

This initial spoken text will contain inaccuracies but the focus is on successful communication of ideas and the development of important discourse skills such as holding the listener's attention, signalling the end of the description and managing any interruptions or other difficulties that arise. Any focus on grammar at this stage would interfere with the development of these very important discourse skills. Once the text is complete, students have the opportunity of listening to each other and comparing. When they feel confident they can work on limited and carefully selected areas of grammar and vocabulary. This work could either be accuracy based or increasing and expanding the range of grammar and vocabulary in the text.

For example in the case study above, students were initially using mainly comparative forms: roads are better now, there are more facilities for women. We worked on using the present perfect to increase the range of students' language. For example: roads have improved, pollution has increased. Using this approach, fairly complex grammatical structures can be grasped with relative ease as the relationship between meaning and form is minimal. Vocabulary can also be expanded at this stage with the teacher suggesting different terms. As with all revision type work, it is important that the language work is kept to a minimum and the basic structure of the student's piece of discourse remains the same.

This work can be followed up and consolidated in various ways. For example interviewing someone about their experiences and 'noticing' if they have used any similar language at discourse, sentence and word level with particular focus on new skills. Alternatively the group can explore the grammar in another context.

To finish off, each student can be given a photograph of the initial visual together with any language and literacy work developed from this to keep in their file. This provides an easy reference for work done and builds up throughout the course to create a retrospective, customised 'resource book' which is, not only an effective record of work but also a validation of students' experiences, thoughts and ideas.