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  • The Reading Rockets Teleconference Series is a production of WETA,

  • in cooperation with the National Association of State Directors of Special Education,

  • the National Education Association, the International Reading Association,

  • and the National Association of Bilingual Education.

  • Funding for this teleconference is provided by The United States Department of Education,

  • Office of Special Education Programs.

  • (music)

  • Hello, I'm Delia Pompa. Welcome to this year's final show in the Reading Rockets teleconference series,

  • "Achieving Success in Reading" Today, we're going to be talking about teaching English

  • language learners to read. In classrooms across the country, teachers need to teach reading

  • to children who don't speak English, but most of our teachers have not been trained to do this.

  • Today, we have three independent researchers. Dr. Diane August is a senior research scientist

  • for the Center for Applied Linguistics. Dr. Margarita Calderón is a senior research scientist

  • at the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk at Johns Hopkins

  • University, and Dr. Fred Genesee is a professor in the Psychology Department at McGill University

  • in Montreal, Canada. And we have teachers, administrators, special education professionals,

  • and parents. Later in the program, we will take questions from the audience and open

  • the phone lines to viewers in this country and Canada. Thank you all for joining us.

  • Diane, why is teaching English language learners so hot these days?

  • Well, I think it's a hot topic for several reasons. First, there's been a dramatic increase

  • in the number of English language learners in the United States, especially in the last

  • ten years or so. So, I think lots of parts of the country that didn't have large numbers

  • of English language learners before now are experiencing these children in their classrooms.

  • So, that's one issue.

  • But the other is the No Child Left Behind Act. It is an act that has some very strong

  • accountability provisions that require all children within the next, well, 12 years to

  • reach standards in reading. And for the first time, the assessment data has to be disaggregated

  • by English language proficiency status. So, schools are very aware now of the strengths

  • and academic weaknesses of their English language learners, and schools will be held accountable

  • for making sure these children meet standards.

  • Well, given that as a base, what do we know about the characteristics of these learners

  • that might affect our work with them?

  • Well, I think one very important thing to keep in mind is it's a very diverse population.

  • But the label "English language learner" encompasses lots of different kinds of children. For example,

  • although most of the children are at the elementary school level, there are substantial numbers

  • of children both at the middle and secondary school level. Though about 70 percent of them

  • come from Spanish-speaking homes, there are also children from other first language backgrounds.

  • In addition, children come to school with very different literacy and language skills

  • in their first language, which impacts their ability in the second language. For example,

  • some children come to school literate in their first language, and these skills can really

  • transfer to literacy acquisition in their second language. Some kids come to school

  • with very well-developed oral language proficiency in their first language. This also positively

  • impacting their ability to become literate in English. Children come to school with different

  • levels of English oral language proficiency.

  • Some children who are a language minority and English learners actually have been born

  • and raised in the United States, so they have experienced a context wherein English is spoken

  • all around them. Other children come to the U.S. and start school as soon as they arrive

  • here, so they have not been in an English-speaking context before. So, there are many different

  • factors that differentiate these children, and I think it's a real mistake to think of

  • English language learners as one population of children.

  • I know you have been doing a lot of work on vocabulary development in the second language.

  • What role does that play in teaching the children to read as they acquire a second language?

  • Vocabulary is critical and, unfortunately, it's been neglected. For example, in research,

  • I'm a member of, and principal investigator for, the National Literacy Panel on Language

  • Minority Children and Youth. Since 1980, there have been three quasi-experimental studies

  • focusing on helping English language learners develop vocabulary in English. This is quite

  • amazing, because vocabulary plays such a critical role in reading comprehension. Children can

  • manage without knowing a few words in a task, but as soon as they don't know more than a

  • few words, they really have issues with comprehending that text. So, vocabulary plays a critical

  • role in reading comprehension, and it's something we need more research on -- and something

  • we need to explicitly teach.

  • Is that research helping you find out what instructional practices work best with these

  • children, and what would those be?

  • This is again a very long answer. It's a very broad question. As part of the National Literacy

  • Panel, we have reviewed all the research on practices that work for English language learners.

  • The first thing I should tell you is that there are 18 studies in all that look at the

  • development of component skills of literacy. When you compare this with the 400 studies

  • that are cited in the National Reading Panel report, you can see what a need we have for

  • more research in this area. But I can tell you these 18 studies tell us that working

  • on component skills of literacy is very important. And by the component skills of literacy, I

  • mean phonological awareness, word reading, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension -- things

  • like this. It's very important to target these skills.

  • We also found that you can really build on first-language reading research, but you really

  • have to make modifications in that research to make sure that the techniques work with

  • English language learners. With many of the studies that we have located, the practices

  • build on effective practices for English language learners, but there are modifications in these

  • practices to make sure they are effective with English language learners. And I could

  • give you a couple of examples.

  • If you could give us one, and then we will move on. But give us one example right now.

  • Well, one example. If we are talking about vocabulary in the way of comprehension, you

  • can't just sit an English language learner down with a chapter in a book, or three or

  • four pages, and expect them to read through these and understand. You need to pre-teach

  • some of the vocabulary. You need to scaffold the reading of the text with the children,

  • asking frequent questions to make sure that they understand what the text is about. Those

  • are some examples.

  • Diane, it seems like we know a lot about what it takes. What do we need to do to implement

  • these pieces of research that we've found and all the components of reading?

  • Yes. This is also a very complicated question, given the amount of research we have in this

  • area. I think it's very important to use research-based practices, so, again, we need a lot more good

  • research in this area. Given that, I think professional development is extremely important.

  • Teachers need to understand the theory that drives whatever intervention they're implementing.

  • I think having materials in the classroom is very, very important; because, quite frankly,

  • I don't think professional development alone does it. I think teachers need something to

  • work with. I think it's very important for teachers to pay attention to how whatever

  • programs and practices they're using in the classroom work for these children.

  • Assessment is critical. You can't assume that because something is "research based" it's

  • going to work for the children in your particular classroom. So, teachers need to attend to,

  • "Is this working?" And if it's not working, they need to really think about why it's not

  • working and what they can do to make improvements in whatever strategies they are using.

  • So, professional development and careful monitoring of student practice.--

  • Fred, Diane has given us a lot of ideas about what teachers need to be doing -- ideas -- and

  • different approaches and the whole panoply of solutions teachers need to look at. Are

  • there advantages or risks to different approaches that teachers should know about?

  • I would have to say yes. It's hard to answer without a specific approach in mind; but,

  • in effect, good teachers need a repertoire of instructional strategies to use when working

  • with English language learners. This is true for native English speakers. It's particularly

  • true for teachers working with English language learners, because, as Diane said, the children

  • come to school with very different cultural backgrounds and first-language skills, and

  • very different levels of literacy in the first or second language; and teachers need to be

  • able to tailor their instruction to respond to those individual needs.

  • There's another feature of working with these children which classroom teachers working

  • with English-speaking children don't have to deal with. They can come in at any grade

  • level -- grade five, six, secondary school -- and some of them present a particular

  • challenge, calling for specific kinds of instructional strategies.

  • Is there reliable research that tells us about how children learn to read in a second language?

  • And, what may be some of that research that teachers would need to know about how children

  • learn to read in a second language?

  • The National Literacy Panel, which Diane referred to, is really the first serious attempt to

  • look at the research in a very comprehensive way. And one of the driving questions is the

  • question as to whether reading in a second language is the same as reading in the first

  • language and, if there are differences, how do we respond to those differences? So it

  • would probably be premature for me to say on behalf of the panel what the findings are.

  • But it's my sense it would be interesting to see what Diane says as a researcher, that

  • there's a lot of converging evidence that learning to read in a second language is very

  • similar to the first language insofar as the underlying cognitive and skills are involved.

  • The same component skills important in the first language like: phonological awareness,

  • ability to name letters, vocabulary knowledge, how you use context to figure out the meaning

  • of words-- these are all foundation skills that children need, whether reading in a first

  • or second language.

  • But you always have to filter what might be regarded as a kind of almost universal processes

  • of language acquisition, reading acquisition, through the filters the kids bring, which

  • are the cultural and linguistic differences.

  • Margarita, what role does the native language play in the students' learning to read in

  • the second language?

  • Again, going back to the preliminary findings of the Panel, it plays a major role. Learning

  • to read in the primary language definitely helps students learn to read in the second

  • language. But, again, it depends on how well a program is structured and the development

  • of a program, as well as a very solid research-based transition into English reading that is critical.

  • I think that is one of the biggest hurdles we need to deal with in schools -- how do

  • we develop reading in the primary language so that it is very effective, very comprehensive?

  • And it's very much what they have mentioned already. It's all the different components.

  • Even reading in Spanish, for example, has to have a lot of phonemic and phonological

  • awareness, word knowledge -- everything Diane mentioned about vocabulary learning. If it

  • does not take place in the primary language, it will be very difficult for the children

  • to transfer a lot of concepts and word knowledge into English reading.

  • Do we know what aspects of learning to read in a first language carry over to the second

  • language? Diane, you look like you have an answer.

  • We are doing a lot of research funded through the National Institutes for Child Health and

  • Development and Institute for Educational Sciences, Office of English Language Acquisition,

  • we have done a longitudinal study from the end of second grade through the end of fifth

  • grade, looking at children who were instructed first in their native language, which happened

  • to be Spanish, and then into English-only instruction to see what components transferred

  • from the first to the second language. And we found that, regardless of whether they

  • were instructed in English or Spanish, phonological awareness skills transferred from the first

  • to second language. But for skills like word reading and experience to transfer, children

  • need to be instructed in Spanish first. So, language of instruction plays a major role

  • in transfer. Even though all these children were from Spanish-speaking homes, children

  • had to be instructed first in Spanish for the skills to transfer.

  • But I also wanted to say something in response to one of your previous questions about issues

  • related to implementing effective programs and practices for English language learners.

  • And I think we can't forget how important resources are in making sure we have sound

  • programs for these programs. And I say that because children entering kindergarten who

  • are very limited English-proficient and from poor families, for example, really need a

  • lot of support to master English literacy. They need extra time in school. They need

  • to be with a teacher who really is well trained, so that they know how to scaffold instruction.

  • They need to be in a small enough group so that the teacher can respond to the needs

  • of these children. And this we will not have unless we have sufficient resources. It's

  • not just a matter of research.

  • You know, this segment has had lots of interest. Not to put you all on the spot or anything,

  • but teachers were waiting for this particular segment, and one question we had was how often

  • should a teacher correct a second-language mistake that students make, and how does that

  • fit into instruction and reading?

  • Well, this is a question that comes up frequently in all forms of second-language education,

  • whether it's a bilingual or emerging program, or certainly when you're teaching literacy.

  • We are coming from a period where a lot of people felt we shouldn't provide correction;

  • but now thinking is changing a little to the point where people believe at certain times

  • correction is appropriate, because there are technical aspects of the language. Spelling

  • is a good example, also vocabulary -- how you organize text for a science report or

  • a narrative.

  • This is all knowledge that is in many cases acquired more easily if you are told explicitly

  • how to do it and if you are corrected when you don't do it correctly. So, I think if

  • correction has a goal in mind and is also done in the broader context of literacy, it

  • can be very effective.

  • But, obviously, one has to use it judiciously; because if you over-correct, you will turn

  • students off.

  • Another topic is children with learning disabilities who are learning a second language. Are there

  • special considerations for these English language learners, who also have a disability?

  • I can say I think you have to be really careful before you label a child "learning disabled."

  • The child needs to be provided with really sound, effective instruction and be monitored

  • carefully, because a lot of children labeled learning disabled have not been instructed

  • properly. So, it's very important to discriminate between the children who have not received

  • proper instruction and those who really have a learning disability.

  • Yes. And if I could add, the terms "learning disabled" and "learning disability" are, I

  • think, really overused. You don't just see it in the schools, but in the research literature.

  • Often, researchers distinguish between "normal," or typical children and then those with learning

  • disabilities. This is probably a very heterogeneous group, and I can think of at least three groups

  • within the larger group that you should distinguish among: children who are having trouble learning

  • because of trouble with language impairment, or with a reading disability, or those having

  • difficulty learning because they actually have a cognitive or intellectual problem.

  • And before you can actually work with these children effectively, you have to actually

  • make a correct sort of assessment.

  • Acknowledging the difficulty in diagnosing these children, what special considerations

  • would you have to consider, would you have to take into account, once you start actually

  • knowing what issues the children face are? And, what would you do in the classroom?

  • Well, if it's a child with -- I'll start the ball rolling and see if there's something

  • specific. If you have a child who seems to have a language impairment -- has trouble

  • learning language -- first of all, it would show with difficulty both in the first and

  • second language.

  • First of all, it's important to realize these children are capable of learning a second

  • language within the limits they have. In other words, being language-impaired does not mean

  • you can't learn a second language to a high level of proficiency, but there will be limits.

  • So, you want to give these kinds of children particular attention, individualize their

  • instruction to give them more enrichment and more opportunities to practice the language

  • more, and so on. Otherwise, within that, children with language impairment should be getting

  • the same kind of programming as other children and shouldn't be given less -- because they

  • really need more. And by giving them less, we are making their impairment a reality.

  • And another issue, when people see a child as an English language learner, they tend

  • not to diagnose them as learning-disabled. So, proper diagnosis is important, but so

  • are services for this population of students.

  • Dr. Calderón And I think it's particularly important for older English language learners,

  • children coming into the upper elementary or middle school, or even high school. They're

  • labeled learning disabled too early without looking into their background and seeing what

  • is lacking in either vocabulary or some of the basic reading skills. So, it's important

  • to have a very thorough process for diagnosing those three areas that Fred mentioned.