Strategies and Methods of Scaffolding Text-based sources for Weak(er) ESL-Learners of English

In an exemplary Bilingual Module of History in German Sekundarstufe I

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2013

26 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Bilingual Education: Integrating Language and Content in the Classroom

2. Scaffolding Reading Comprehension in the Bilingual Classroom: Opening windows for Learning

3. Case Study: Scaffolding Text-Bases Sources for Weak(er) Learners of English in a Bilingual Module of History (Year 8)

4. Conclusion and Outlook

5. Bibliography

6. Appendix

1. Bilingual Education: Integrating Language and Content in the Classroom

What are the advantages and disadvantages – if there are any – of bilingual education and how can we define or claim bilingualism as part of our identity? Until today it is up for discussion whether individuals are bilingual only by growing up bilingual from an early age onwards or whether degrees of bilingualism can be claimed with the help of bilingual education[1] opportunities. I do not wish to dwell upon this ongoing research of the different kinds and degrees of bilingualism, some of which are considered beneficial and some of which are not considered as beneficial to the individual (Cf. Skutnabb-Kangas 1981 et. al.)  It is generally agreed that “we think of bilingual individuals as those people who are able to speak two (or more) languages, to some level of proficiency. “(Bialystock 5) Baker (2011) points out eight dimensions of bilingualism: ability (receptive or productive), the use in different domains, the balance of two languages, age (simultaneous or sequential), different stages of development, cultural competences, contexts, and elective bilingualism. In summary, bilingualism is an individual characteristic, as well as a social attribute; however, “an essential distinction is therefore made between language ability and language use.” (3ff.) However, the benefits of bilingual education still seem to be reserved only for a group of privileged learners.

In this paper, I wish to explore and apply a selected range of the possible strategies and methods of scaffolding text-based sources for weaker learners, or learners simply not as privileged by their social background. If one looks at the present educational landscape of Berlin one will come across a selection of bilingual schools: Ones where native speakers teach nearly the entire curriculum in English, and a large range of schools offering bilingual classes or modules. The majority of schools still do not offer any bilingual education opportunities.[2] Therefore, the benefits of bilingual education (German-English) seem to be only for privileged students (cf. Zydatiß 2007), though there are a few exceptions throughout Germany. (Cf. Rabe 2013) The overall amount material available for bilingual education and the teachers being educated for it are still a small portion in comparison to the overall amount of material and teachers available in both English and History (monolingual German) in primary and secondary school curriculum. The actual material being published often still lacks the degree of text-based scaffolding described in theory by Pilzecker (1997a) and Wildhage (2003). Interestingly, many ordinary textbooks of English now offer very brief bilingual modules.

The first part of this paper briefly explores some of the linguistic background of scaffolding text-based material in bilingual teaching of history in German Sekundarstufe 1 . In the second part of this paper, I will apply my findings to a short bilingual module offered in a contemporary textbook English G21 D4 [year 8] Erweiterte Ausgabe by the German textbook publishing company Cornelsen . Looking at a bilingual module in this exemplary textbook G21 one wonders how much language-related scaffolding was included by the editors due to the real didactical needs of the learners and might have been left out in the process of laying out the textbook and the limitations of space in a due to content?

Looking at different subjects, history, followed by geography, is the most widely taught bilingual subject in German schools. (Cf. Theis 2010 et al.) However, more than any other subject, history primarily relies on text-based sources for the teaching of content. The bilingual teacher of history cannot rely as much on other teaching methods and approaches (“alltagsweltliche Erfahrungen”) (Wildhage 2003, 80). In comparison with other subjects, the second language is central in its functions a medium of realization and transmitting content (“Erkenntnis- und Vermittlungsmedium”). (80) Not by chance is the key competence to be acquired called narrative competence. (Cf. Berliner Rahmenlehrplan ) Though there are also different traditions of teaching history in Germany and Anglophone countries, all complex historic thinking has to be communicated, out of which oral communication strongly outweighs written communication in bilingual classrooms of the Sekundarstufe 1 . (Cf. Schmelter 2012, 47ff.)

When working with texts in any bilingual classroom of history, the teacher will ask himself[3] what are necessary learning strategies and learning competences on the side of the learner and what can teachers actively do to guide and foster language acquisition, both in preparing and planning for material and lessons as well later during the interaction with students in classroom discourse. While strong learners usually tend to have a strong motivation, a large repertoire of self-learning strategies as well as supportive social background, weak learners most often lack similar long-term motivation as well as a social background that values, supports and perhaps even provides opportunities of learning outside of the classroom. (Cf. Haß 2006, 175) Yet, bilingual modules and teaching materials nowadays do exist for all levels, and I strongly believe that bilingual teaching of history should not be limited to stronger students at a privileged, perhaps even elitist Gymnasium. This belief is grounded in the ideal principles of equality, acquisition of cultural capital for all, multicultural learning, and last but not least English being an essential skill (lingua franca) for everyone. For weak learners of English as second language, comprehension is far more important than follow-up tasks including authentic interactions; and if comprehension results in interaction, than this interaction is very limited in the language being used. (Cf. Haß 2012, 215) This leads to the question of how much scaffolding – or in another word: guidance or temporary learning structures – needs to be provided by teachers in the bilingual classroom for all learners, but especially weaker ones? However, scaffolding “is not simply another word for help ” (Gibbons 10), as I will point out in the second part of this paper.

Being somewhat bilingual (German-English) myself, I would like to recount some key experiences I made early onwards in my life because I think they help to shed light on a how scaffolding helped me to acquire above average language competence and awareness. Back in 1993 I was very lucky to go abroad with my family early onwards in my life and to attend sixth grade in an American classroom.[4] Ever since I claim to have well-above average comprehension abilities, both on a textual as well as intercultural (U.S. – German) level in English. This extensive exposure to native-level English was also the foundation and later motivation to study English and American studies and to become a teacher of English in Germany. In addition, I made a dream come true in 2008-09 and studied (English) and taught (German) at one of the best American universities fourteen years later after my first year abroad: at the University of Washington , Seattle. With relevance for this paper, these personal experiences lead to the important question of how I actually managed to succeed and participate in an English-speaking classroom after only one year of learning English (5th grade)? Now being a teacher myself, are my personal experiences and long-term benefits applicable to any learner of English in a bilingual classroom in a German school? I was not only lucky to be in an American classroom in the first place, but even more to have a personal tutor, Mrs. Barnea, who helped me to understand and follow for one or two lessons every single day what was going on in the classroom. In that sense she did what is often being referred to in linguistic research as scaffolding : she helped me to understand difficult, native-level lexical and semantic structures I would not have been yet capable of comprehending otherwise; and she used a range of strategies to do so. After only a few months I was able to read and fully comprehend the same unabridged young adult literature and read the same science texts as the American students my age. Of course, these intense and personal experiences can never be simulated in the same way in a classroom in Germany. However, ever since I have been fully aware and more than convinced that bilingual education has great benefits in the long-term learning process of mastering a second language. One of the central questions that interests me is a young teacher is how I can manage to scaffold texts in a way that will help my students to achieve a higher level of literacy (text competence) in my future bilingual history lessons.

2. Scaffolding Reading Comprehension in the Bilingual Classroom: Opening windows for Learning

Though oral communication accounts for about 95 percent of all communication (cf. Haß 2012, 62), topics and situations in Western culture are always tied to texts. (Cf. Haß 2012, 215) While an “individual’s proficiency in a language may vary across the four language skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing” (Gibbons 2002, 3) reading abilities and the comprehension of authentic texts are crucial for any bilingual learner of history. History as a school subject in general contains only very limited amounts of material and elements that are not based on language, which could be used as relief for those students who do not possess enough language competences to comprehend and communicate historic contents. (Cf. Schmelter 2012, 39) Issues of language and comprehension difficulties not only occur in bilingual classrooms, but also more and more in monolingual classrooms in which the learners have diverse migration and bilingual backgrounds. Therefore, methods of scaffolding texts are more and more an issue for all teachers of history, whether in the bilingual or monolingual classroom. At this point I do not want to dwell much into the details and possibilities of creating pre,- while-, and post-reading activities and the methods involved and I will not go into detail of all possible reading strategies, such as skimming, scanning, close-reading, reading for gist, or modes of processing (top-down and bottom-up). (Cf. Oxford 2011, 243) However, I want to point out that “the greatest influence on sentence comprehension is meaning.” (Scovel 68) Various methods of scaffolding help to make meaning explicit to the learner. Research in reading suggests that “particular language structures don’t have to be in the active repertoire of learners (i.e., able to be used)” (Gibbons 2002, 97) to be understood in reading. Gibbons further points out how important and difficult it is for the teacher to find the right text in terms of degree of difficulty and motivation of the learner and this varies greatly to the actual needs and abilities of the learners. (Cf. 97ff.)

According to psycholinguists, when it comes to the comprehension of texts “our memory is rather poor for structure but is comparatively very accurate for content.” (Scovel 66) These finding argue in favor of the CLIL-approach. In order for content to be understood linguists have claimed that students “need to recognize at least 95 per cent of the words they might encounter” in a text and “greater comprehension generally occurs when a reader recognizes 98-99 percent of the words in a given text.” (Grabe 2011, 137) Thus, it is no surprise that great emphasis is put on acquiring context-related vocabulary and lexis in bilingual history lessons. Students need to build a large recognition vocabulary in order to comprehend the content of texts in bilingual history lessons and be able to work on content-related tasks. In addition, not only lexis but also prior knowledge is important for comprehension: “Psycholinguistic research into the comprehension of texts has demonstrated, among other things, that the presence or absence of background information can dramatically affect the way we remember a piece of discourse.” (Scovel 1998, 67) Linguist Stephen Krashen claims in his influential work The Natural Approach (1983): „the crucial and central component of any language teaching method is input that is understood” (56). Applied to bilingual teaching of history this means that students cannot learn from sources with which they have major comprehension difficulties. However, “rather than simplifying the task (and ultimately risking a reductionist curriculum)” (Gibbons 2002, 10), the teacher should “reflect on the nature of the scaffolding that is being provided for learners to carry out that task” (10). Most scholars nowadays argue against simplifying a given task, especially when it comes to weak learners. Thus, it is crucial for the CLIL-approach in the bilingual classroom that “as far as possible, learners need to be engaged with authentic and cognitively challenging learning tasks.” (10). Content and language teaching are indistinguishable. Thus for successful teaching in the bilingual classroom it depends on the support, in that sense how scaffolding is put in use in response “to the particular demands made on children learning [content] through the medium of a second language.” (11) From a linguistic perspective, scaffolding “refers to the attempts made by one speaker [typically the teacher] to assist another speaker to perform a skill or a linguistic feature that they cannot manage by themselves.” (Ellis 112) To put it in a nutshell, scaffolding is a metaphor for “making text accessible.” (Mehisto 87) It can be seen as a “sheltered learning technique [. . .] needed to do complex work.” (Mehisto 139)


[1] On a European level the term CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is widely used whereas in Germany the term ‘bilingual’ won recognition. (Cf. Wildhage 2003, 13)

[2] For instance, the school at which I substituted for one and a half years (2011-12), the Evangelische Schule Frohnau , which is considered by some to be one of the best schools in Berlin does not yet offer any bilingual classes or modules.

[3] Due to readability I only use the masculine form in this paper.

[4] At Jane Lathdrop Stanford Middle School , Palo Alto, California, USA.

Excerpt out of 26 pages


Strategies and Methods of Scaffolding Text-based sources for Weak(er) ESL-Learners of English
In an exemplary Bilingual Module of History in German Sekundarstufe I
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Bilingualer Sachfachunterricht als content and language integrated learning (CLIL)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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strategies, methods, scaffolding, text-based, weak, esl-learners, english, bilingual, module, history, german, sekundarstufe
Quote paper
Master of Arts Bjoern Schubert (Author), 2013, Strategies and Methods of Scaffolding Text-based sources for Weak(er) ESL-Learners of English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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