Page 16 - FIS World December 2020
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The Power of Wordless Media
Fewer words lead to more ideas
 Wordless storybooks (pictured above and at right) allow students to piece together meaning without the barrier of written words
When Grade 4 students at FISW watched the video ‘Father and Daughter’ (Dudok de Wit, 2000) in connection with a unit on migration, they were both amazed and enchanted by the story. But for English language learner Jenny, it meant even more: it was the first time since her arrival earlier in the school year that she understood what the story was about and could participate in the lesson. The reason? The video was wordless.
Jenny was eager and able to join the group discus- sion that followed, because she had the pictures of the story fresh in her head and her classmates mim- icked cycling up a mountain against the wind in order to visualize what they wanted to say. Along the way, her vocabulary increased. When the class wrote a text with an image from the story, Jenny was encouraged to write in her home language and she wrote and wrote and wrote. At the end of the lesson she had a big smile on her face.
In 2019, with guidance from teachers Renske Oort and Andrea Uhl, Grade 4 students started to explore what possibilities wordless media such as books and videos could offer to further improve learning in their multilingual classrooms, both in literacy lessons and those connected to the Units of Inquiry.
A selection of wordless books and videos was care- fully chosen to be authentic, meaningful and ap- pealing to the students. Ms. Oort and Ms. Uhl pre- pared the instruction and scaffolding that the whole group or specific students would need: vocabulary, thinking and writing prompts, online dictionaries and other materials. Students were given time for exploring, looking slowly and closely, and ‘reread- ing’, and they had ample opportunities for interac- tion and exchange of observations, ideas, thoughts and interpretations. Interaction with peers is key for language development, and as author of Language and Learning James Britton suggests: “reading and writing float on a sea of talk.”
Throughout the whole process, students were en- couraged to use their native languages to discuss and write about the various wordless media. In com- parison with normal texts, it turned out that using wordless media not only engaged the students more, it also stimulated interaction and improved the lan- guage skills of the English language learners, while challenging all students to think deeply. The students noted that the fiction and non-fiction wordless media were inspiring, fun and interesting. “It helps me un- derstand more,” a student said. And several students noted: “It makes us think more.” As Jenny described
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