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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.


In 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 the issue.




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Last Updated 1-1-05