Improving Reading Instruction
for Second Language Learners
Sebastian Wren, Ph.D.
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Increasingly, being raised in this country speaking English
exclusively is becoming the exception, not the rule. Millions of kids
in this country are in school learning to speak English as a second language,
or are growing up in bilingual or trilingual households, only one of which
might be English. Right now, the most common language spoken in this
country is English, followed by Spanish, but other languages are also very common.
In the Dallas ISD a few years ago, there were 110 identified languages and
dialects spoken by students within that one district.
Learning a new
language while simultaneously learning to read is extremely complicated -- a knowledgeable,
talented teacher must understand and implement effective
reading instruction as well as providing for the needs of English Language
Learners and Bilingual students. ELL and Bilingual students need more
support in some areas, but they also have strengths and advantages that mono-lingual
students do not have. Effective teachers take advantage of those strengths
while providing necessary additional support.
Unfortunately, as important as this issue is in this country, not much
is available in the way of clear research-based guidelines when it comes
to reading instruction. Sadly, there is little I have found that I can
actually recommend as informative and useful resources that can help teachers
in the area of literacy instruction for ELL and Bilingual students.
my experience working in a school with a large bilingual population, I
have found that it is far, far better to develop academic skills in the
student's primary language. For our school, that means teaching
students academic content and skills in Spanish until they are
competent and confident students -- THEN we concentrate on the
transition to English. The transition is never easy for any
student, but we find that it is much more successful in the long run if
the student has developed proficiency in Spanish prior to the
transition to English.
-- To learn more about a particular book, or to purchase a
copy of that book, just click on the image of the book cover --
Literacy Instruction in Multicultural Settings
by Kathryn Hu-Pei Au
Published in 1993 by Wadsworth Publishing
This is a very short, readable book that describes some of the issues
and challenges that people from diverse backgrounds face when they are placed
in a formal, western education environment. The book is clearly intended
to raise teachers' awareness and sensitivity to the intimidating and daunting
challenges that students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds
face in school. As such, it is an excellent starting point for teachers
who are dealing with students from diverse backgrounds. To some extent,
it is simply a fact that these students need to learn to acclimate to a formal,
structured learning environment where English is the primary or only language
spoken. However, it is also true that if teachers do not deliberately
and systematically try to help these students to acclimate and adjust, then
the students are likely to withdraw and experience a great deal of frustration.
Teachers need to learn how to appropriately communicate and interact with
their students, and this book goes a long way towards offering some insights
and advice. It does not offer a thorough treatment of the issues of
linguistic and cultural diversity, but it is a nice, condensed summary of
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Last Updated 1-1-05