|Elementary Literacy :||Reading: Grades 4 - 6|
Reading: Grades 4 - 6
Considerations for ELLs
English language learners (ELLs) in the intermediate grades display a wide range of language and literacy levels. For some students, English reading is at or close to grade level, while others are just beginning to read English. Some students are highly literate in their primary or home language, but not in English. ELL students who have not yet learned to read in their primary or home language face the enormous challenge of acquiring the initial concepts and skills of literacy in English, a language they have not fully mastered. Others who have already developed literacy and academic skills in their home languages must apply their literacy knowledge to the task of reading English, with its distinct sound system, spelling patterns, vocabulary, and sentence structure. ELLs often have to make meaning from texts that require cultural knowledge different from their own. Finally, many ELLs find reading difficult because they have not previously experienced consistent schooling or appropriate instruction.
Teachers of ELLs in grades 4-6 often face the challenge of providing reading instruction at a basic level while at the same time acknowledging students' age and maturity. To help build and maintain students' self-esteem, teachers try to avoid books and activities that seem "babyish."
It is important to realize that many ELLs may be under considerable stress. Newcomers are trying hard to understand and function well in an unfamiliar environment, wanting (like all children) to grow more competent, yet finding themselves in a new setting where they are less capable. Some ELLs who have been in an English-speaking environment for a long time may feel frustrated that they still cannot read with fluency and comprehension. These students need skillful, dedicated teachers who take time to know them, believe in their abilities, and are well informed about ELL instructional strategies.
1. Teachers are good role models for reading.
At the intermediate grades in elementary school, beginning ELLs can benefit from listening to read-alouds. Teachers can read picture books, using the illustrations to develop vocabulary and to make story meaning clear. This works best in contexts where ELLs will not be self-conscious or fearful that more proficient students will tease them about reading "baby books." One such context might be a class project doing a "study" of children's literature.
Effective teachers can use read-alouds of chapter books as opportunities for language development. Before reading each new chapter, teachers and students review and summarize the previous chapters, making predictions about what will happen next. This provides multiple opportunities to understand, hear, and practice the language of the story.
To learn more about the countries, languages, and cultures of their students, teachers can read culturally specific books. Students may be excited to see a book about Mexican music, Cambodian temples, Nigerian legends, or a Lithuanian inventor on their teacher's desk. When teachers read such books, they demonstrate interest in and respect for students' backgrounds. In addition, this creates an opportunity for conversations in which ELLs can demonstrate that they possess valuable background knowledge. (It is also important not to assume that ELLs are experts on all topics relating to their culture.) To make the hidden cognitive processes of reading and writing more accessible to ELLs, teachers orally narrate their thoughts and indicate how they are using reading strategies.
Effective teachers say things like:
2. Teachers provide a variety of daily opportunities for students to practice reading and to share what they have learned.
ELLs benefit from opportunities to read self-selected books that interest them and academic books that are at appropriate levels. Sometimes easy books provide enjoyment, feelings of competency, and opportunities to read fluently. However, a steady diet of easy books may not challenge thinking or provide the new vocabulary or more complex language structures that ELLs need for language development. On the other hand, when books are too difficult, there is the risk that students will become discouraged and give up trying to read these books independently and silently. These same books may be good choices for guided reading or reciprocal reading where teachers provide more support for comprehension.
Books on tape can serve as tools for supporting beginning ELLs as they tackle difficult texts. Students can listen to each chapter on tape either before reading or while reading and following along in their books. Books on tape are also helpful to intermediate ELLs who are tackling difficult texts. In addition, ELLs can become familiar with content concepts and vocabulary by looking at richly illustrated informational books, such as the Eyewitness series of books on science, nature, and history topics.
As an alternative to silent reading, ELLs can benefit from one-on-one opportunities to read aloud with a teacher or tutor who can give them encouragement, feedback, and individualized help. Knowing that it may be difficult or intimidating for ELLs to publicly express their thoughts about their reading, effective teachers assign some hands-on book response projects, such as making posters, mobiles, and dioramas, which allow ELLs to demonstrate artistic and comprehension skills. Group book response projects promote communication, cooperation, and a variety of skills.
When facilitating book discussions with ELLs, some teachers use the Instructional Conversation (IC) approach (Goldenberg, 1991). Instructional Conversations focus on an engaging theme from the reading, such as the meaning of friendship. Instructional Conversations activate background knowledge, promote more complex language expression, and encourage students to identify text-based evidence to support their opinions. During Instructional Conversations, teachers ask fewer "known-answer" questions, respond thoughtfully to student contributions, and encourage students to respond to and build upon each other's remarks.
3. Teachers demonstrate reading comprehension strategies that emphasize the importance of deriving meaning from text.
In grades 4-6, ELLs still require instruction and practice in phonemic awareness, phonemic segmentation, and decoding words. However, most instructional time should include an age-appropriate focus on deriving meaning from text. Effective teachers provide explicit discussion of how to make connections to text.
ELLs' prior knowledge may not always match that required to make sense of particular texts. Effective teachers are on the alert for language and content that may require explanation. They also select books that will build upon culturally diverse students' backgrounds, languages, knowledge, and experiences.
Some ELLs have a primary language that shares cognate or sister words with English. These pairs of English and Spanish words are cognates: observe/observar, anniversary/aniversario, respiración/respiration, and monument/monumento. Some cognates, such as stomach and estómago or azure and azúl, are easily recognized in their written forms than in spoken forms.
Some ELLs routinely recognize cognates and use them as a resource for comprehending English text. Other students are not aware that their knowledge of their home language can be such an asset in reading English. Effective teachers help students capitalize on their home language knowledge to better understand English.
Knowing that cognate recognition can boost reading comprehension, effective teachers discuss cognates with English language learners (ELLs) who speak and read Spanish, Portuguese, French, and other related languages. Teachers have students keep lists of the cognates they encounter. Teachers access and provide cognate lists, such as the one found in The ESL Teacher's Book of Lists (Kress, 2002), for their own and students' reference. As teachers preview reading materials to look for words and concepts that may require preteaching, they also scan for cognates that can serve as resources for students from certain language backgrounds.
ELLs and their teachers need to be wary, however, of false cognates. These are words that resemble each other but do not share meaning,such as embarrassed and the Spanish embarazada (which means pregnant); or actual (real or genuine in English) and actuál (current or contemporary in Spanish).
To make the hidden cognitive processes of reading and writing more accessible to ELLs, effective teachers orally narrate their own comprehension strategies.
Teachers say things like:
In addition, graphic organizers are excellent devices for scaffolding ELLs' reading comprehension and developing their ability to monitor their own comprehension. Graphic organizers such as story maps and cause-and-effect charts visually represent categories of information necessary for comprehension. Attempting to fill in a story map can help ELLs articulate their understanding of the story and identify gaps in comprehension.
Teachers model how to fill in a chart about a story by saying things like:
To help understand the facts in an expository text, teachers might say things like:
4. Teachers promote reading as a tool for learning content.
ELLs vary considerably in the vocabulary and the world knowledge that they bring to their reading. Beginners and students with little prior education may find certain content readings so difficult that they are unable to formulate questions or goals for reading.
Texts also vary in clarity, writing style, and in the authors' assumptions about the readers' prior knowledge. Effective teachers select texts that are clearly written and well organized, with meaningful section headings and topic sentences that provide readers with a "road map" of what is to follow.
Effective teachers of ELLs support and scaffold students' content reading in a number of ways. These include activating and assessing students' prior knowledge of the topic through discussion; building upon students' knowledge through hands-on activities and visual media; preteaching words critical to the comprehension of main ideas; and providing a prereading "tour" of the text to examine its structure, section headings, guiding questions, pictures, and data displays.
Content reading procedures, such as SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review), DRTA (Directed Reading and Thinking Activity), and (GRP) Guided Reading Procedure can help students formulate questions about the topic. Students read more purposefully when they are looking for answers to their questions in the text. Effective teachers provide note-taking organizers such as cause-effect charts, time lines, T-lists, and Venn diagrams for students to fill in as or after they read. Three instructional approaches specifically addressing ELL content instruction are Sheltered Instruction (SI), Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE), and the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA).
It is important to look for reading and instructional materials that reflect students' backgrounds, languages, cultures, and local communities whenever possible. From these resources, students are motivated to choose reading and research topics that mirror their own interests and backgrounds.
Effective teachers assign writing and oral language tasks that require close reading of texts: for example, a letter or diary entry by a historical figure, a skit that takes place during a particular historical event, a travel brochure, or a matching game.
As teachers and students read, learn, and write together, teachers point out structural and rhetorical features of written texts such as a thesis or argument, supporting evidence, introductions, conclusions, paragraph organization, and topic sentences.
5. Teachers provide ample opportunities for students to choose from a wide variety of reading material.
ELLs in the intermediate grades display a wide range of language and literacy levels. Proficiency in oral English does not necessarily mean that children can read well. Consequently, it may be more difficult to determine students' independent and instructional reading levels. Some beginning ELLs in grades 4-6 may require materials typically used in lower grades, such as simplified easy readers or high-interest materials at a low reading level.
ELLs and their parents may be unfamiliar with the range of reading materials and genres available in the classroom, school, and public libraries. They may need explicit orientation to resources, where to find them, and how to select books at an appropriate level of difficulty.
Effective teachers and librarians make sure that their bookshelves contain books and periodicals at a range of reading levels to accommodate beginning to advanced readers, as well as a variety of topics related to ELLs' places of origin (e.g., biographies of famous people, fables, folktales, poetry, history, and informational books). When students can borrow and share these materials with their families, connections between home and school are strengthened. Teachers may want to investigate bilingual software and online resources for students in students' home languages.
6. Teachers expand students' vocabulary through systematic, explicit instruction.
Limited vocabulary knowledge is often a major hindrance to reading comprehension for ELLs. Some ELLs may be able to repeat or pronounce English words and phrases without really understanding them. They may be able to decode words and produce the appropriate sounds without extracting or constructing meaning.
ELLs learn word meanings through explicit instruction and through rich opportunities to listen, observe, participate, and interact. Beginners link word sounds to meanings through the context provided by predictable routines, concrete objects, pictures, gestures, physical movements, and experiential activities. ELLs also learn word meanings through listening to repeated readings, explicit explanations, and discussions of books on a variety of topics in fiction and nonfiction.
Most ELLs acquire the vocabulary involved in daily routines, play, and social interaction before they learn academic and rare words. Inferring the meaning of unknown words from context can be difficult for ELLs who may not fully understand that context.
ELLs need explicit instruction and practice in word analysis. Learning word roots and the meanings of common prefixes and suffixes helps ELLs to understand many unfamiliar words. Speakers of languages that share commonalties with English, such as Spanish and Portuguese, may find cognate or "sister words" (e.g., intelligent; inteligente) to be a valuable resource when reading English. ELLs who are literate in Spanish may be taught to recognize and use cognates ("sister words" sharing common origins and meanings across languages) as a comprehension strategy. Students have a great advantage when they read words such as ancient and enormous and are able to understand them because of their Spanish cognates anciano and enorme. Teachers point out to students that not every pair of look-alike words is a cognate pair. Pie in English is a pastry dessert, while the Spanish pie means foot.
Vocabulary is of critical importance to ELLs. In addition to learning word definitions, ELLs need multiple exposures to new words in a variety of formats, as well as opportunities to use the words in meaningful contexts. When English-proficient bilingual students explain English word meanings to less-proficient classmates, they can provide a valuable service while increasing their own interpretation skills.
Effective teachers promote vocabulary learning through multiple strategies. For example, they can have students choose which of two newly learned words best applies to a given situation, discuss semantic features that differentiate close synonyms (e.g., shout and scream), and rank words according to meaningful criteria to help ELLs achieve deeper understanding.
Teachers say things like:
Effective teachers provide explicit explanation of potentially confusing words such as homophones (e.g., to, too, two; due, dew, do) and homographs (e.g., wind, wind; sow, sow). They also provide explicit help in matching pronunciations with print forms of words (e.g., debris, chaos). Explicit instruction and practice in word analysis, including word roots and the meanings of common prefixes and suffixes, help ELLs understand many unfamiliar words.
Teachers promote word awareness by having frequent vocabulary discussions; encouraging students to ask questions about words; and developing word webs, lists, and semantic feature charts with students. Semantic feature analysis charts can help students differentiate among words that have similar meanings.
7. Teachers regularly assess students' reading progress and refine their instruction based on assessment results.
Assessment procedures that are embedded in instruction can provide accurate information about how ELLs are progressing in the curriculum. These assessments highlight students' instructional needs and their accomplishments. Informal classroom-based assessment of comprehension offers a fuller picture of ELL readers, whose understandings are not always captured well by tests.
Periodic one-on-one reading conferences serve several purposes. First, they provide valuable experiences in which individual ELL students can interact with the teacher. Second, they are an opportunity for teachers to look for evidence that students understand what they read. It is important not to confuse a student's nonstandard grammar or accented speech with lack of comprehension. During conferences, teachers try to determine which comprehension strategies students are using and which strategies they need to learn to use. Effective teachers not only assess students' reading comprehension but also support comprehension through explanation, skillful questioning, and demonstration of reading strategies. Regular reading conferences enable teachers to pinpoint instructional needs for individuals as well as needs common to several students, and then to plan lessons to address these needs.
Reading aloud individually or in small groups can be a valuable experience for English language learners (ELLs). As ELLs read aloud, teachers make notes on students' miscues (misreadings) and on the strategies students use to "repair" (or reread and try to correct or clarify meaning). When necessary, teachers prompt students to use comprehension strategies such as rereading a sentence from the beginning, summarizing what has happened so far, predicting what the sentence might say, identifying and thinking about word parts, and looking for cognates (sister words across languages).
After ELLs finish reading, teachers ask them to retell or recall orally what they have read. For beginners, teachers may scaffold retelling with story picture cards, sentence strips, and incomplete sentences that students can finish. In cases where the teacher understands the student's home language, retelling in that language can serve as an excellent way to assess comprehension, as distinct from speaking ability. Teachers also ask ELLs comprehension questions at several levels of difficulty (e.g., literal, interpretive, generalizing, and personalizing).
Effective teachers make notes on what students do and do not understand, on what kinds of scaffolding and prompts students need in order to read and retell the story, and on students' vocabulary comprehension and word use. In reviewing their notes, teachers can determine which reading skills need strengthening and which prompts and scaffolds support comprehension. This information guides planning for future lessons that incorporate appropriate teaching strategies.
ELLs keep reading logs, recording information and reactions to the books that they have read. Teachers help students to keep reading logs by teaching, modeling, and practicing the use of graphic organizers in class.
ELLs may be unaccustomed to assessing their own comprehension. It is helpful when teachers and classmates model this process.
To model, teachers and classmates say things like:
[return] Goldenberg, C. (1991). Instructional conversations and their classroom application (Educational Practice Report No. 2). Washington, D.C.: National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning.
[return] Kress, J. E. (2002). The ESL teacher's book of lists. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
There is general agreement that becoming a proficient reader in a second language is a difficult task. Snow, Burns, and Griffin (1998) and August and Hakuta (1997) underscore the enormous cognitive challenge faced by young ELLs who must acquire oral and literacy skills in English simultaneously. ELLs who are already literate in a home language are able to transfer some of their skills for use in English reading (Garcia, 2000), but that does not imply that learning to read well in English will be an easy task. Reading involves the use of both "higher level cognitive knowledge, ... abilities... and learning strategies," as well as "low level linguistic knowledge and processing strategies" (Birch, 2002, p. x). Throughout the elementary grades, ELLs are likely to encounter difficulties with both "high" and "low" levels of the reading process, especially as they tackle increasingly complex readings (Droop & Verhoeven, 1998).
Knowledge of the relationships between sounds and letters is essential for learning to read English (Ehri, 1998). Verhoeven's (1999) work cautions teachers that it is unrealistic to expect ELLs to decode words independently until they are familiar with the sound system of English. To help ELLs become adept at using sound-letter relationships, Birch (2002) recommends practice in a variety of tasks: identifying a particular phoneme in words, discriminating between that phoneme and similar ones, linking the sound to the printed letter, visually discriminating the letter from other visually similar letters, recognizing and printing the letter in both upper and lowercase forms, finding the letter at the beginnings and endings of words alone and in connected text, and drawing things that begin with the letter and labeling them (p. 72). Other teaching suggestions include: playing games with rhyming words and alliterative words to develop students' awareness of how sounds combine to form words (Antunez, 2002; Kaufman & Franco, 2004), and, in the case of Spanish-speaking ELLs, building upon the similarities and differences between the sound systems of the two languages (Helman, 2004).
Many researchers point out the difficulty of comprehending text when one has a limited vocabulary (Verhallen & Schoonen, 1993; Garcia, 1991; McLaughlin, 1993; Jimenez, Garcia, & Pearson, 1995, 1996). ELLs of any age often know too few words or only a single meaning for a word. McLaughlin et al. (2004) have had promising results in increasing ELLs' vocabulary knowledge through an intervention that pre-selected challenging and high-utility words from a reading selection. The intervention involved direct teaching of word meanings; teaching and raising awareness of words with multiple meanings; systemic teaching of word analysis skills including roots and affixes; engaging students in word games, riddles, and other activities designed to promote deeper understanding and use of the words in new and meaningful contexts; and finding the words outside of school. The intervention also focused on increasing Latino students' awareness of Spanish/English cognate words and ability to use cognate recognition as a legitimate and productive comprehension strategy.
Several researchers have documented that ELLs benefit from cognate recognition training (García & Nagy, 1993; Durgunoglu et al., 1993). Kress (2002) contains a useful reference list of Spanish-English cognates. Similarly, Au (1993), Nagy (1988), Dixon and Nessel (1983), and others recommend that teachers integrate vocabulary instruction with content instruction and with story reading. Hickman et al. (2004) describe a successful approach to teaching vocabulary to primary-grade ELLs during storybook reading. The approach involves careful selection of several storybooks or informational texts that focus on a theme of interest to the students in the class and are at a reading level above students' grade level. Teachers carefully select from the texts those vocabulary words that students could encounter and use in other contexts. Over the course of five days, the class previews the story and the vocabulary words, and the story is read aloud, discussed, re-read, and summarized. Discussions focus on using the vocabulary words and encouraging children to relate these words to their own life experiences.
Carrell and Eisterhold (1988) and Carrell (1983, 1984)have demonstrated the positive impact that prior knowledge of a topic or situational context has on ELLs' reading comprehension. However, stories and other texts often contain cultural contexts and assumptions that are unfamiliar to young ELLs and make comprehension difficult or impossible. Researchers advise teachers to support comprehension before students read by eliciting and building upon ELLs' prior knowledge and experiences relevant to story theme, setting, and content. Many researchers also support the value of teaching content reading strategies such as previewing a chapter before reading it and formulating questions, self-monitoring, and using imagery during reading (Carasquillo et al., 2004; Chamot & O'Malley, 1994; Echevarria et al., 2000; Schifini, 1994). Researchers agree that teachers should model and support comprehension before, during, and after reading by teaching text structures; using graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams, cause and effect charts, and story maps; and creating study guides that students can complete (Carasquillo et al., 2004).
One recommended approach to increase comprehension and engagement is the use of culturally relevant texts and multicultural literature (Au, 1998, 1993; Barrera, 1992; Harris, 1994). Larrick's 1965 landmark article, "The All-White World of Children's Books" (reprinted in Muse, 1997) pointed out that minority children had few opportunities to read about characters like themselves or see themselves in these books. In Larrick's review, these children's books often depicted those minority characters in offensive or demeaning ways. More recently, Singer and Smith (2003) pointed out that:
Daphne Muse's book, Multicultural Resources for Young Readers (1997), contains an extensive annotated bibliography of such literature likely to engage ELLs readers and to build upon their experiences and prior knowledge.
Students' knowledge and experience are the starting points for The Language Experience Approach to reading, used with beginning English readers of all ages (Moustafa, 1987; Tharp & Gallimore, 1989; Tinajero & Calderon, 1988). Through questioning, teachers prompt students to speak about their individual or in-class experiences. The teacher writes down students' oral narratives, and the resulting text becomes the basis of reading instruction. Often teachers plan a group activity (e.g., taking a walk) to provide a common experiential base for reading.
Hoggard's 1996 review of the "critical attributes of classroom culture" for ESL literacy learners includes "the teacher as guide," "meaningful literacy experiences, a sense of ownership," "a community of learners," and "interactive classroom discourse" (pp. 5-9). Other researchers have also highlighted the importance of student participation in conversations that relate book themes to students' personal experiences and to other books. The instructional conversations (IC) approach is one way of structuring such book-centered interactions. Teachers promote general participation in small-group discussion by not calling on children but waiting for them to volunteer to speak, by responding to student contributions, and by encouraging students to connect their comments to those of previous speakers and build upon what they said (Rueda et al., 1992; Saunders & Goldenberg, 1999). IC also promotes skimming, scanning, and careful reading by requiring students to find text passages that support their opinions and interpretations (Goldenberg, 1991, 1992/1993; Goldenberg & Gallimore, 1990). Literature circles are another discussion format that promotes comprehension and academic language in a social context. Ruby (2003) discusses their effectiveness when properly scaffolded for English language learners. Gordon (2003) offers another good example of how teachers can effectively use literature response journals with English language learners.
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