Posted on 02/22/2018 at 10:58 AM by Blog Experts

The following is an excerpt from a document titled, "What Teachers Should Know About Instruction for English Language Learners" (Theresa Deussen, Ph.D., Elizabeth Autio, Bruce Miller, Ph.D., Anne Turnbaugh Lockwood, Ph.D., Victoria Stewart, November 2008) found on the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Assessment site. They compiled the research behind teaching ELs and identified 14 key principles that teachers of ELs should know. The passage below refers to what teachers need to know regarding teaching literacy skills to ELs. At the end of the excerpt you will find a link to the entire document.

Language Arts for English Language Learners…

 Principle 6: The same basic approach to learning to read and write applies to ELLs and non-ELLs, but ELLs need additional instructional supports.

In recent years, a growing body of research has established the importance of providing all students with systematic and explicit instruction in what are called “the five components” of reading (National Reading Panel, 2000). These are:

* Phonemic awareness: the knowledge of the sounds of a language

* Phonics: the knowledge of how written letters map onto the sounds of a language

* Fluency: the ability to read accurately, at a pace that facilitates comprehension

*Vocabulary: the knowledge of word meanings and word parts

* Comprehension: the ability to understand the explicit and implicit ideas communicated in text.

While systematic instruction in these five components is also helpful for ELLs, its effect is smaller than for native English speakers. ELLs need these five components and then more (August & Shanahan, 2006).

This “more” is comprised of additional instructional supports for ELLs, such as oral language development, intensive and multifaceted vocabulary work, and ongoing supports for adolescent ELLs. These supports, whether in the regular classroom or an intervention, are not always the same for ELLs as for struggling native English speakers;

there are pronounced differences between these two groups. For example, native English‐ speaking students who struggle in reading usually have a basic command of oral English, know multiple meanings of words, and understand many American cultural and historical references (See examples from Short & Fitzsimmons, 2007, p. 9), while ELLs may need assistance in these areas. This contradicts the often‐heard sentiments that “it’s just good teaching” or “all our students are low‐ language, and what works for our struggling native English speakers works for our ELLs too.”

Instructional Implication:

Teachers should provide opportunities for additional work in English oral language development.

 Oral language is the system by which we communicate through speaking and listening. Sounds are organized into structure and create meaning. In school, oral language facility is central to participation in classroom discourse;

students need to be able to verbally respond to questions, express themselves, and communicate their ideas. Children learn oral language in their native tongue through practice with speaking and listening; as they develop, their ability to express and understand becomes more sophisticated.

 While instruction in speaking comes under the umbrella of language arts, its application crosses all content areas. Even native English speakers need some instruction in oral language, particularly as students progress to more complex analyses and discussions in middle and high school. As one expert in the field noted, “It’s not just about being able to speak, it’s about being able to speak like an historian and sound like a scientist” (D. Short, personal communication, August 20, 2008).

In order to “speak like an historian and sound like a scientist,” ELLs require additional practice and instruction in oral English language development beyond what is provided in most existing reading programs, which are designed for native English speakers. Little is known about exactly how oral language practice should be structured, whether it should be a stand‐alone block or integrated into language arts class. This is a widely acknowledged research gap.

Evidence:  The evidence behind oral language development is strong. Most researchers agree that ELLs require additional oral English language development beyond what is provided in most reading programs, and that they need ample practice using it in the classroom. This is supported by two research summaries (August & Shanahan, 2006; Gersten & Baker, 2000), as well as two largescale experimental studies that found ELLs made comprehension gains as a result of additional oral language instruction (Pollard‐Durorola, Mathes, Vaughn, Cardenas‐ Hagan, & Linan‐ Thompson, 2006; Vaughn, Cirino, Linan‐ Thompson, Mathes, Carlson, Hagan, et al., 2006).

Much less is known about how oral language development should be structured. However, one recent study found support for institutionalizing a stand‐ alone English language development block in kindergarten, both in bilingual and English immersion settings, rather than incorporating it into existing literacy instruction (Saunders, Foorman & Carlson, 2006). The researchers also proposed that oral language development should focus on academic language, rather than basic communication skills. This study included a comparison group and had a large sample size; however, it is only one study and its results should be interpreted with caution.

Instructional Implication:

Teachers should ensure that adolescent ELLs receive ongoing literacy instruction and supports.

 Unlike in elementary school, in middle and high school, literacy is seldom taught as a stand‐ alone subject. Students are expected to already have developed basic literacy skills and apply them to reading in the content areas (as summarized by the commonly heard refrain that adolescent literacy is about “reading to learn, rather than learning to read”). In language arts classes, the focus in the upper grades shifts from developing basic literacy skills to reading and interpreting literature. This literature often includes archaic language (for example Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter ) or different genres such as poetry and literary analysis.

This shift is particularly problematic for those adolescent ELLs who are still learning to read (as well as listen, speak, and write) in English. Because of the amount of time it takes to develop the level of English language

proficiency necessary to perform at grade level (as described under Principle 1 of this report), many adolescent ELLs fall into this category. Adolescent ELLs therefore require continued instructional time devoted specifically to developing literacy.

The amount of time and type of instruction will vary based upon students’ English language proficiency. Adolescent ELLs are a remarkably diverse group, one that spans those who were born in the U.S. and began English literacy instruction in kindergarten, to those whose families just moved here and are not literate in their primary language, let alone English. Accordingly, their needs will differ.

Adolescent ELLs who are not literate in their primary language may require explicit instruction in the five components of reading, beginning with brief instruction in phonemic awareness and then moving on to phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. This instruction should be provided with materials that are age‐appropriate (teaching early phonics with age‐ appropriate materials rather than those created for kindergarten students, for example).

Adolescent ELLs who already have literacy in their primary language but not English will need support developing English oral language and literacy. Instruction should use these students’ primary language literacy as a starting point for instruction (see Principle 7 of this report).  Again, instruction should be provided as much as possible with materials that are age‐appropriate.

Adolescent ELLs who already have basic English literacy will also need continued literacy supports to shift into the higher levels of English proficiency that will help them digest the more complex, content‐rich texts encountered in middle and high school. Because of the amount of time this takes, teachers should be aware that even those adolescent ELLs with basic English literacy skills do not yet have the level of proficiency in English needed to perform academically.

Evidence: The specific approaches to supporting adolescent ELLs presented here are based upon the recommendations of experts in the field, not on experimental studies. Therefore, the evidence can be considered only suggestive at this point.

 Instructional Implication:

Teachers should provide explicit instruction in writing for academic purposes.

Students need to develop polished writing skills for a number of reasons. Writing makes one’s thinking and reasoning visible; this is an important skill in academic settings and many workplaces. Starting in middle school,

expository writing is part of many standardized high‐stakes tests in many states, including the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

Explicit instruction in writing benefits ELLs, just as it does native English speakers (August & Shanahan, 2006). However, instruction in writing is often not explicit; instead, many teachers expect students to automatically

transfer what they know from reading into writing. This is problematic for all students, as proficiency in reading does not guarantee proficiency in writing. It poses a particular challenge to ELLs, who have less experience

and practice with English than their native English-speaking peers.

The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) model, with its multiple supports for simultaneous academic language and content knowledge development, has been shown to have a positive affect on middle school ELLs’ academic writing (see Principle 3 of this report for more information on SIOP). Beyond this study, there is a dearth

of research that specifically examines how ELLs learn to write in English. In its absence, there are two other bodies of research to draw upon: what we know about writing for second language learners (for example, for English speakers learning to write in French or Spanish), and what we know about writing for adolescent students in general.

Based on research on how students learn to write in a second language, teachers can:

* Teach genre directly to students, including identification of the specific genres they will need for academic


*  Include planning for writing in the instruction

* Have a clear, consistent feedback policy that includes teacher feedback on preliminary drafts and allows students time to review and to ask questions to ensure understanding

* Show students the relevant features of a variety of authentic texts, such as word choice, structure, and style

* Target error correction to focus on just a few types of errors at any given time

(Education Alliance, 2005).

Additional guidance comes from a recent meta‐ analysis of research on adolescent writing. Though it was not specific to ELLs, Writing Next recommended 11 components that should be included in a strong writing


*Writing strategies:  teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing

*Summarization:  explicitly and systematically teaching students how to summarize texts

*Collaborative writing:  students working together to plan, draft, revise, and edit their compositions

*Specific product goals: assigning students specific, reachable goals

* Word processing: using computers and word processors as instructional supports

 *Sentence combining: teaching students to construct more complex, sophisticated sentences

* Prewriting: engaging students in activities designed to help them generate or organize ideas for their composition

 *Inquiry activities: engaging students in analyzing immediate, concrete data to help them develop ideas and content for a writing task

 * Process writing approach: creating a workshop environment that stresses extended writing opportunities, writing for authentic audiences, personalized instruction, and cycles of writing

 *Study of models: providing students with opportunities to read, analyze, and emulate models of good writing

 * Writing for content learning: using writing as a tool for learning content material

(Graham & Perin, 2007).

There are two caveats to this list of elements. First, as the report authors note, even all of the components in combination do not constitute a full writing curriculum, though each of them individually has good evidence that they improve student writing. Second, the research yielding this list was conducted with a general student population, not specifically a population of ELLs. However, as a foundation for understanding good writing

instruction, this list may provide a reasonable starting point with ELLs.

Evidence: The evidence for writing instruction as outlined above for ELLs is moderate. There is evidence from a quasi-experimental study that middle school ELLs whose teachers implemented SIOP performed better on an expository writing task than a comparison group (Echevarria, Short & Powers, 2006). Additional studies of SIOP are


Although it was not specifically conducted with ELLs, Writing Next only drew on rigorous research and included a meta-analysis. The Education Alliance report is less methodologically rigorous, including qualitative studies and theoretical works in addition to quantitative studies.

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