Scaffolding the Academic Success of Adolescent English Language Learners


The subtitle of this wonderful new publication from WestEd’s Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) is a pedagogy of promise. The authors, Aida Walqui and Leo van Lier, present a convincing challenge to current curricula that begin with low expectations for English learners.

The authors explain and exemplify how rich, rigorous and engaging curricula are essential to language and cognitive development. I wish I could give a copy to every teacher, coach, administrator and principle I know. For now, I will have to be satisfied reading and re-reading it myself.

This book is written primarily for teachers, especially those of us who teach English learners in content classrooms. “All teachers who have English language learners in their classroom are language teachers, regardless of their main job to teach language arts, social studies, math or science… These skills do not come automatically with the job of being a subject matter teacher or even an ESL teacher.”

Besides its clear and vivid presentation of classroom examples, Walqui and van Lier explain, in a readable and relevant way, what sociocultural learning theory, sociolinguistics and cognitive psychology have to offer teachers. Most importantly, Walqui and van Lier address ways in which popular notions of “scaffolding” have become watered down and distorted. They provide an “expanded model of scaffolding” that highlights learner agency and the possibilities of learners learning from each other as well as from “more experienced experts.”

They also provide detailed and helpful discussions and frameworks for teachers thinking about how to scaffold tasks for English Language Learners. theoretical sections are interspersed with engaging transcripts of teacher-student interactions that give life to what often seem like esoteric theories in teacher preparation courses.

Later chapters include illustrations of the theoretical framework they introduce in the form of lesson and unit plans, examples of structures (such as anticipation guides and double entry journals) and illustrations of classroom interactions.

Readers will find many connections to their own practice and much to reflect on as they read.

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