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Enhancing Language Development through the Responsive Classroom’s “Morning Meeting”

The ACIE Newsletter, February 2005, Vol. 8, No. 2

by Cindy LaVan (4th Grade) and Laura Pezán (1st Grade), Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School, Robbinsdale, MN



Tonya Dexter, third grade bilingual teacher, reads a story to a group of her students

Tonya Dexter, third grade bilingual teacher, reads a story to a group of her students.

A few years ago, a group of teachers from Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School attended a week-long summer institute of The Responsive Classroom sponsored by Origins of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our goal was to learn about the approach, and specifically, the implementation and use of the “Morning Meeting.” Being an elementary immersion school of approximately 625 students, housed in a former high school, and sharing space with a middle school of approximately the same size, we face the challenge of trying to create not only an elementary, but an immersion environment. Our hope was that the implementation of the “Morning Meeting” would help create a safe, structured and meaningful place for our students to begin their academic day. What we discovered was that The Responsive Classroom is much more than the use of “Morning Meeting,” and in fact includes six components (Northeast Foundation for Children, 2003, p.1):

  • “Morning Meeting” (building a community of learners in the classroom and throughout the school)

  • Rules and Logical Consequences (empowering children to develop their own internal locus of control)

  • Guided Discovery (teaching children about the responsible use and care of materials)

  • Academic Choice (incorporating choice into the daily routine of the classroom)

  • Classroom Organizationå

  • Reaching out to Parents and Guardians

Since our initial experience with Responsive Classroom (RC), we continue to extend our learning through attendance at Origins’ workshops, and increase participation in the approach throughout our school. We have learned so much more about the RC philosophy than we initially set out to discover. We have found many opportunities to increase our focus on the language we are teaching, in addition to strengthening our sense of immersion community. Integral to the implementation of this philosophy is the understanding and belief in the seven principles of the RC approach (Northeast Foundation for Children, 2003, p. 3):

  • The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.

  • How children learn is as important as what they learn.

  • The greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.

  • There is a specific set of social skills that children need in order to be successful academically and socially.

  • Knowing the children we teach individually, culturally, and developmentally is as important as knowing the content we teach.

  • Knowing the families of the children we teach is important to knowing the children.

  • How we, the adults at school, work together is as important as our individual competence.

While our journey with RC continues to evolve, for the purposes of this paper we will be focusing solely on the first component, “Morning Meeting,” and how it has become a vehicle for us to enhance language instruction in the immersion classroom.

Our initial curiosity about RC centered around the “Morning Meeting” (MM) as a vehicle for building community in the classroom and strengthening relationships. Research is now backing up what we’ve noticed as educators, that “…social skills… are inextricably intertwined with cognitive growth and intellectual progress” (Kriete, 2003, p 8). The MM provides a time and space on a daily basis for practicing those important social skills. The meeting format includes four components: a greeting, time for sharing, a group activity (game, song, etc.), and “News and Announcements” about the academic day ahead. All of this takes approximately 20 minutes. As immersion educators, we are perhaps doubly inclined to ask, Where do we find the time, how can we add one more thing? In the case of immersion education, however, the time and space created to talk, question, listen and hear others during MM provides many opportunities for the authentic use of the immersion language, and also offers children the chance to belong, to feel cared about and to have fun using their immersion language. As a result of our experience in immersion education through .the years, we have noticed that children learn best when language learning involves them in interesting, meaningful and real tasks, and when their desire to communicate accurately is intensified by issues of self-interest and a genuine motive—having their personal meaning understood. Children learn language best through purposeful interaction, and the more frequently a child enjoys opportunities to speak, read, write, and listen to the language, the more she/he is able to produce.

When students come to know each other, as they do in MM, they are more able to take the learning risks needed for literacy. They practice speaking and listening each day as they greet each other and share personal news. They learn how to ask interesting questions and give thoughtful answers, how to tell a story, to summarize and condense information, and to describe details. (Crawford, Nauman and Rottman, 2002, p. 1)

These skills are vital to all learners, and especially to immersion learners, who must be provided with multiple opportunities for refining their language production.

GREETING

There are four purposes for the first component of MM, the greeting.

Greeting sets a positive tone for the classroom and the day. Being greeted provides a sense of recognition and belonging which meets a universal human need. Greeting helps children learn and use each other’s names. Greeting gives children a chance to practice the art of offering hospitality. (Kriete, 2002, pp. 34-36, 38)

In the immersion classroom, greetings also provide some of the following language and culture learning possibilities:

  • Country- or region-specific greetings in the immersion language

  • Multicultural greetings from around the world

  • Use of informal language to greet friends and intimates

  • Use of formal language to greet authority figures

  • Customs and unique behaviors when greeting

SHARING

The second component of MM is sharing.

Sharing helps develop the skills of caring communication and involvement with one another. Sharing extends the knowing and being known that is essential for the development of community and for individuals’ sense of significance. Sharing encourages habits of inquiry and thought, important for cognitive growth. Sharing provides practice in speaking to a group in a strong and individual voice. Sharing strengthens vocabulary development and reading success. (Kriete, 2002, pp.50,52-55)

In the immersion classroom, sharing provides rich opportunity for focusing on different aspects of language. While children are sharing and asking questions of one another, the teacher is continuously assessing their use of language. This assessment then becomes the basis for future language instruction, in the form of mini-lessons, or by having students focus their attention on a particular grammatical structure during subsequent meetings. For example, if students are consistently using incorrect verb endings for questions and replies, this becomes a mini-lesson, and in subsequent meetings students are asked to focus on their usage. The same can be done with the usage (or lack thereof) of common phrases and expressions in the immersion language. These aims are in line with the strategies set forth by Miriam Stein, Ph.D., in the May, 1999 ACIE Newsletter which included: 1) Perform a needs analysis, 2) Familiarize yourself with the linguistic structures in the target language, 3) Encourage use of non-academic vocabulary in your classroom, 4) Encourage more oral production in your classroom, and 5) Encourage accurate oral production.

During an individual share, immersion students thus have the opportunity to develop a variety of language skills, such as: • Learning how to ask interesting questions • Using question words and word order shifts for asking questions • Using words and structures for responding to questions • Using words for every-day conversational topics (family, hobbies, sports, places, etc.) • Correctly using every-day expressions and exclamatory phrases that are specific to the immersion language

While this sharing is taking place, it is not uncommon to hear students correcting each other, or supplying each other with unknown words. Another helpful strategy we like to use is to post common questions and answer phrases in the meeting area, (e.g., “Have a good time,” “Who gave it to you?,” “Where did you get it?,” etc.) to further focus student attention on correct usage of L2.

In addition to individual sharing, structured whole-group shares can also be used by the teacher to focus on and practice specific aspects of language. In a structured share, the teacher poses a prompt or question and the entire class is given the opportunity to respond. The grammatical focus will depend on the age and language needs of the students. Some examples might include:

  • Use of common expressions and phrases at the primary level (“I like…,” “My favorite ___ is…,” “I went…,” etc.).

  • Questions that require adjective/noun agreement.

  • Questions that require subject/verb agreement.

  • Questions that require the use of difficult verb constructions (the verb ‘to like/me gusta’ in Spanish; reflexive verbs, etc.). The use of the subjunctive and conditional tenses (If I had a million dollars, I would…, If I could be any animal, I would be…, etc.).

ACTIVITY

After sharing time, the third, and probably most anticipated aspect of MM is the group activity. Group activity contributes to the sense of community culture by building a class repertoire of common material—songs, games, chants and poems. Group activity also fosters active and engaged participation. Group activity heightens a class’s sense of group identity. Group activity encourages cooperation and inclusion. (Kriete, 2002, pp. 75-78)

There are numerous opportunities for infusing language, cultural, and curricular connections into this component of MM. The following is a partial list that can serve as a springboard to the endless possibilities that exist in immersion classrooms:

  • Songs, poems, riddles, chants

  • Dances

  • Games from L2 countries

  • Vocabulary games

  • Math vocabulary and counting games

  • Inclusion of native-speaking teaching assistants in cultural activities



NEWS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS

The final component of MM is “News and Announcements.” This aspect is a written communication from the teacher that outlines the academic day ahead, and may summarize prior learning, or acknowledge students for something they have accomplished. The writing, often in the form of a letter, is also interactive in that it involves students in answering some question or prompt related to the academic day ahead; it serves as a preview to learning. This interactive piece can also serve as a natural assessment of language development, in that the question or prompt can focus on grammar skills, math vocabulary, vocabulary from themes of study, and so on.

News and Announcements eases the transition into the classroom day and makes children feel excited about what they’ll be learning. News and Announcements develops and reinforces language, math, and other skills in a meaningful and interactive way. News and Announcements builds community through shared written information. (Kriete, 2002, pp. 91, 92, 94)

Language growth possibilities in the immersion setting are endless. In the primary immersion environment, “News and Announcements” follow a regular, predictable format to build reading skills. It is also a great means of building and using familiar language patterns to teach letter recognition, phonics skills, spelling, vocabulary, basic phrases, etc. Primary teachers also focus on including new sentence patterns to continue building independent reading of unfamiliar language.

Below is a list of possible primary immersion skills that can be explored through the use of “News and Announcements”: Capital letters (names, beginning of sentences)

  • Handwriting, word spacing, formation of letters

  • Alphabet (letters and syllables)

  • How to write a letter

  • What is a sentence/question/exclamation (punctuation)

  • Applying phonetic skills

  • Spelling, accent marks, etc.

  • Calendar skills (days of the week, months, yesterday-today-tomorrow)

  • Daily schedule vocabulary

  • Academic (theme) vocabulary

  • Math vocabulary/activities

  • Math word problems

  • Social studies—map skills

  • Current topics of study

  • Choral reading

  • Correcting errors—editing



At the upper elementary grade levels, “News and Announcements” also tend to follow a daily, predictable format such as a letter, memo or journal entry. The writing is used to introduce new concepts, themes or units, review prior learning, review or recognize behavior expectations and classroom rules or to acknowledge effort and achievement of the class. Students also participate actively in reading the chart. A multitude of language features can be exploited through the use of morning “News and Announcement”:

  • Mechanics (capitalization, punctuation, types of sentences, accent marks)

  • Previewing vocabulary for new concepts/themes of study (riddles about word meanings, fill in the blanks to uncover words, words I already know, etc.)

  • Reviewing vocabulary from themes of study

  • Math vocabulary—preview, review

  • “Work the chart”—specific grammatical focus where students may identify parts of speech, change verb tenses, add missing words (articles, verb endings, adjective endings, etc.), create a list of synonyms for overly used words, etc.

  • Editing, proofreading (finding and correcting errors, adding articles that are in agreement w/nouns, adding verb endings to match the subject, etc.)

  • Expressive reading

  • Adding details to writing

  • Social connections (weekends, free time, family connection, etc.)

  • Letter formats (friendly, formal; parts of a letter)

  • Different types of salutations (friendly, formal)

  • Calendar skills (each letter includes the date)

  • Use of paragraphs

  • Cursive handwriting

  •  



As “Morning Meetings” become a familiar, established part of each school day, and students master the behavior expectations for a successful, fun, efficient MM, they are gradually able to take over responsibility for planning the meetings themselves. This might begin with students taking turns choosing the greeting and/or activity for that morning, and grow into a student or group of students actually planning and carrying out the meeting themselves. This is an especially rich opportunity in the upper grades to provide a real-life purpose for using the L2, as well as focusing on the accurate usage of the immersion language in the written “News and Announcements.”

CONCLUSION

While there will always be a struggle for time in the immersion classroom, we have come to value the important learning that takes place during the first minutes of every school day, both socially and academically. The language and friendship that is established during greetings, the conversations that take place during sharing, the fun and cultural learning that take place during the activity portion of MM, and the rich language opportunities provided through the use of the written word, all provide the basis for increased language use and proficiency development in the immersion classroom. As research and experience have shown, students need to use the language in order to master it. “…There are real limits to the level of second language proficiency that can be achieved in school settings that do not include a substantial opportunity for peer interaction in the target language” (Genesee, 1987, p. 77).

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing immersion teachers is the art of creating a learning environment where students are motivated to stay in the immersion language. Our responsibility is to create conditions for learning through social interaction by providing students with engaging, meaningful and fun reasons to use their developing language skills. “Students must have opportunities to communicate powerfully in the target language if they are going to integrate their language and cognitive development with their growing personal identities" (Cummins, 2000, p.13). While our initial aim was to use MM to foster community in the classroom, which it certainly has, we have discovered along the way that it is a wonderful vehicle for motivating student use of the L2, while providing opportunities to acquire, practice and fine-tune their developing language skills. We have found that MM is worth the investment of time, both for community building and increased language proficiency in our immersion classrooms.

 

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Last Modified: May 2, 2016 at 12:43