What components comprise high-quality reading instruction?
Page 9: Considerations for English Language Learners
Research findings indicate that providing reading instruction across the five components is equally effective for students who are English Language Learners (ELL). Findings also recommend teaching ELL students with practices that mirror those discussed in the high-quality instruction section of this module (e.g., explicit instruction, opportunities for practice, small-group instruction). Additionally, compilations of research studies indicate that considerations and accommodations should also be made to positively increase ELL students’ English language proficiency. Finally, understanding the influence that culture has on education is critical.
Listen to Leonard Baca reflect on the importance of teachers’ incorporating their students’ culture into instruction (time: 1:17).
Leonard Baca, PhD
Director, BUENO Center for Multicultural Education
University of Colorado, Boulder
Transcript: Leonard Baca, PhD
Learning is a cultural experience. Learning is culturally mediated. If something is tied to your life, you’re able to integrate it and make sense of it and comprehend it a lot quicker and easier. We don’t learn in a vacuum. We learn within a cultural context, and having a good foundation for the learning is paramount. When you find a kid who is from a different culture in a classroom and is not relating to the imagery, to the metaphors, to the context, that child is at a serious disadvantage. The idea of making the curriculum culturally responsive is just really, really paramount. If teachers don’t understand the diversity and the cultural relevance of learning, they simply just plow forward with a narrative style, a teaching style, a content that may not be a good fit for the students. Certainly the students are going to learn something, but it’s not like if they were learning from their mother at home who understands them and their language and their background and can build on prior learning experiences. The teacher that ignores that is not building on prior learning schemas or knowledge but is kind of striking out in a kind of new direction without context and without the support of prior learning.
The following section will discuss instructional considerations for ELL students within each of the five core reading components.
Teachers should keep in mind that an ELL student’s phonemic awareness in his or her home language may affect his or her reading instruction. For example, when learning English, a student who speaks Spanish may not be able to hear or pronounce the /sh/ sound in English words. Such a student might instead substitute the /ch/ sound for the /sh/ sound (e.g., /choe/ for /shoe/). Furthermore, an ELL student may have difficulty hearing the differences in sounds simply because the speech or phonological sound bases in his or her primary language are different from some English sounds. In such cases, it is important to remember not to continually correct the student’s pronunciation but rather to help make the student aware that slight differences exist. Click on the movie below to watch an example of a teacher demonstrating phonemic awareness to his students (time: 1:06).
Transcript: Phonemic Awareness
Narrator: With so many of his kindergarteners speaking foreign languages at home, Mr. Lee must work extra hard to teach reading in English.
Mr. Lee: We need Leo to help us. Good job. You’re ready? Leo’s coming. Leo’s looking to see who’s ready. Now Leo has a problem. He wants to say a word, but he keeps forgetting a sound, a sound at the end. Now Leo wants some ice cream, but Leo cannot say the word “ice cream.” He forgets a sound. Watch.
Narrator: Experts say that kindergarten teachers should help their students achieve phonemic awareness, the realization that within a word are individual sounds or phonemes.
Mr. Lee: I want to sing about ice crea… What sound did he forget?
Mr. Lee: Very good! Let’s try the next one, another word. The stars so brighT. The stars so brigh…
Students: The stars so brighT.
Narrator: Being able to hear the sounds inside a word is just one step down the path to reading.
Reading Rockets® (http://www.readingrockets.org) is a national multimedia project that offers research-based and best-practice information on teaching kids to read and helping those who struggle. It is an educational service of public television station WETA in Washington, DC. Reading Rockets is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, and is a registered trademark of WETA.
Phonics and Word Study
A number of important considerations for teaching phonics and word study skills to ELL students should be kept in mind. ELL students must learn print awareness just as students whose primary language is English must learn it. This process could be particularly difficult for students whose primary language does not include a written variant, such as in the case of some Native American languages. Students speaking these languages may need explicit instruction about the correspondence between the spoken and written word.
ELL experts have long argued that instruction improves when teachers have knowledge about students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds. For instance, they should be aware that vowel sounds in Spanish and English have the same letter names but different sounds (e.g., the English letter “i” sounds like a long “e” in Spanish). This creates a problem for Spanish-speaking ELL students because the sound for “i” in English does not remain constant. For all ELL students, teachers need to keep in mind that English vowel sounds will likely be more problematic than most consonant sounds.
Fluency practice is especially important for ELL students. One way for students to practice fluency is to read simultaneously with tape-assisted reading (for more information, see the Using Technology link). Doing so can help students to become familiar with appropriate reading rates and reading expression. Intonation patterns may differ in ELL students’ primary languages, so instruction that uses technology can offer fluent models for students to imitate.
Teachers should be aware that when ELL students read or hear English, it is not the reading or hearing of the words that causes the lack of understanding but, rather, the inability to recognize the meaning behind the words. For instance, ELL students may have difficulty comprehending certain idiomatic expressions (e.g., “raining cats and dogs,” “out of this world,” “cute as a button”).
Although there are a number of ways to improve reading comprehension skills for ELL students, here are some key points to consider: First, teachers should help to build the connection between text and meaning by applying students’ culture and life experiences to the text. This includes choosing texts that allow the students to access their prior knowledge, linguistic abilities, and experiences. When ELL students are familiar with the content, they are more likely to comprehend text. Teachers can also emphasize that connection between text and meaning by conducting prereading activities (e.g., viewing pictures from the story, discussing previously read stories) to help students understand the concepts in the text. Stories that have repetition or rhyme also help readers decode and infuse inflection, thereby increasing reading comprehension. Second, teachers should continually ask students a variety of questions about the text, to assess whether students comprehend more than just facts in their reading. Students with good reading comprehension skills will be able to answer questions beyond simple factual recall.