Promoting Literacy Development for English Learners Learning in English: A Case for Explicit Instruction
Diane Haager, Ph.D.
Michelle Windmueller, Ph.D.
California State University, Los Angeles
Reading First and other state and federal reading initiatives call for “scientifically based reading research” to guide reading instruction. It is difficult to argue with the notion of putting research-validated practices into place.
However, what of these practices are validated for EL students? What evidence do we have to guide beginning reading instruction for ELs?
To walk into a classroom exhibiting scientifically based reading research, one would expect to see:
Activities to develop students’ phonological awareness
Systematic explicit instruction in phonetic decoding strategies and spelling
Activities that build fluency in both word reading and reading of connected text
Explicit introduction of strategies for text comprehension
A variety of vocabulary building activities
Are these practices validated for ELs?
School personnel are challenged to find effective methods for schooling EL students, particularly if bilingual instruction is not an option, due to the lack of bilingual teachers or policy mandates limiting native language instruction. The knowledge base regarding effective reading instruction for ELs is incomplete, fragmented and fraught with philosophical and policy-oriented discourse.
A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the best venue for reducing disproportionate representation in both special education and gifted education programs is improvement in the core elements of classroom instruction in the early grades (Donovan & Cross, 2002).
This report makes a strong recommendation for research and development to “carry promising practices and validated practices through to classroom applicability (p. 382)” including research “on educational improvement, particularly in schools with large numbers of children from low-income families (p. 383).”
- What are early predictors of reading achievement for EL students?
- What are critical classroom reading practices for EL students?
- How do we implement systematic reading intervention to prevent reading failure and disproportionate representation?
Predictors for Native English Speakers
Kindergarten Predictors (Oh, Haager & Windmueller, submitted)
- Predictors of nonsense word reading at end of K
First Grade Predictors (Dingle, 2001)
- What language and reading variables predict end of 1st grade Oral Reading Fluency?
- LNF, NWF signficant direct and indirect effects; PSF significant, but less powerful than LNF and NWF
- Home Oral Language, Primary Language Ability small, significant effect
- English Language level direct and indirect effects
First to Third Grade Predictors (Windmueller, 2004)
- Complex web of relationships among language, reading, writing and demographic variables
- NWF Fall of 1st grade, ORF mid-1st grade were best predictors of end of 3rd grade
- Gender and attendance had direct effects on reading and language variables at different points in time
- LNF predicted 2nd grade reading and 3rd grade oral language
- PSF predicted 3rd grade writing directly and indirectly (through 2nd grade NWF)
Defining Teacher Quality: Observation Studies of EL Reading Instruction
Defining Effective Beginning Reading Instruction from Observation Studies
- Series of observational studies in first grade classrooms where >50% of students were ELs (Gersten, Baker, Haager, Graves, Goldenberg, Dingle)
- Instructional quality measured by English Language Learner Classroom Observation Instrument, developed by research team.
- Reading gains measured by DIBELS, additional comprehension measure
Six Clusters of Observed Teaching Practices
Correlations Between Subscales of Observation Instrument and Composite Reading Scores
1. Explicit Teaching/ Art of Teaching .62
2. Instruction Geared Toward Low Performers .65
3. Sheltered English Techniques .49
4. Interactive Teaching .57
5. Vocabulary Development .51
Explicit Teaching/ Art of Teaching
Models skills and strategies
Makes relationships overt
Emphasizes distinctive features of new concepts
- Length of literacy activities is appropriate
- Adjusts own use of English during lesson
Instruction Geared Toward Low Performers
Achieves high level of response accuracy
Ensures quality of independent practice
Engages in ongoing monitoring of student understanding and performance
Elicits responses from all students
Modifies instruction for students as needed
Provides extra instruction, practice and review
Asks questions to ensure comprehension
Phonemic Awareness and Decoding
Provides systematic instruction in phonemic awareness
Provides systematic instruction in letter-sound correspondence
Provides systematic instruction in decoding
Secures and maintains student attention during lesson
Extent to which students are “on task” during literacy activities
- Selects and incorporates students’ responses, ideas, examples and experiences into lesson
- Gives students wait time to respond to questions
Teaches difficult vocabulary prior to and during lesson
Structures opportunities to speak English
- Provides systematic instruction to vocabulary development
- Engages students in meaningful interactions about text
Sheltered English Techniques
Uses visuals or manipulatives to teach content
Provides explicit instruction in English
- Encourages students to give elaborate responses
- Uses gestures and facial expressions in teaching vocabulary and clarifying
High-Gain v. Low-Gain Classrooms
- Significant difference on all subscales, except Sheltered English Techniques, with high-gain teachers receiving higher quality ratings
- To make significant reading gains, EL students need for their teachers to be using effective instructional techniques in all six areas
Qualitative Descriptors of High-Gain Classrooms
- Teachers integrated vocabulary and language fluidly, spontaneously and explicitly throughout instruction
- Teachers stopped to explain and demonstrate vocabulary critical to the lesson or story
- Teachers also taught basic words that a typical first grader would not need explicit instruction for; e.g. “above” and “below”
Qualitative Descriptors of High-Gain Classrooms
- Teachers integrated writing instruction into reading lessons
- Teachers used writing instruction to:
- reinforce vocabulary
- Reinforce language concepts
- Practice spelling and decoding concepts
- Teachers were adept at keeping students engaged and focused
Implementing Reading Intervention for Struggling EL Readers
PLUS: Promoting Literacy in Urban SchoolsHaager & Windmueller
- “A response to intervention approach to eligibility determination [for special education] identifies students as having a LD [learning disability] if their academic performances in relevant areas [i.e., reading] do not change in response to a validated intervention implemented with integrity (Gresham, 2002, p. 480-81).”
Three Tiers of Reading Intervention
Tier 3: Special Education
Tier 2: Classroom Intervention
Tier 1: Primary Instruction
Project Goal: Sustainability
- Because schools and districts are constantly juggling budget constraints, we felt it would be more sustainable if we could design a model that could be implemented with low cost, using existing personnel to provide intervention.
- Therefore, we provided extensive professional development to school administrators, general education teachers, and special education teachers. PLUS provides a second tier of reading intervention for these schools, where intervention is provided by classroom teachers within the context of general education reading instruction. At this time, Tier Three is provided by special education personnel.
- Implementation is the critical element to success. If this is not done well, the initiative will drop by the wayside.
- Administrator support
- Extensive PD
- Competing mandates
- Value of ongoing systematic assessment
- Importance of ongoing, collaborative grade level meetings
- Focus on the “Big Ideas” of reading, providing systematic, explicit instruction in key areas.
- Integrate English language development with basic reading instruction.
- Develop tiered reading intervention models in schools serving EL students.