Why I Love Constructing Meaning

Just back from a two day EL Achieve symposium. Berkeley Unified (my district) is pursuing two initiatives: one to support our English language Learners (Systematic ELD), and one to infuse all of our teaching with academic language support (Constructing Meaning).

For as long as I’ve been a teacher, it’s been important for me that students be able to talk about what they’re learning: that, at the end of a lesson, they can explain or describe what we’ve worked on. What I love about Constructing Meaning is that it’s given me the specific tools for providing my students with the capacity to talk, write, and read with rigor about biology.

Let’s say that I’m teaching about evidence for evolution, and one of my objectives is that students can explain the difference between vestigial structures and homologous structures. For going on 20 years, I would have taught the material, then had students (arranged in pairs), turn to one another and discuss the similarities and differences. I’d probably have them write it down. All good stuff. What Constructing Meaning adds is additional tools to help me ensure that all my students reach the objective. These tools include graphic organizers and specific language frames that students can use to discuss academic content with much more precision and rigor than I’ve ever been able to generate before.

At Berkeley High School, where I’m one of three professional development coordinators, we’ve adopted Constructing Meaning as one of the ways that we’re trying to promote equitable outcomes among our very heterogeneous students. It’s not magic, and we have a long way to go, but I’m very grateful for having these tools!