Language and Literacy Development in Bilingual Settings (Challenges in Language and Literacy)

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They will represent every 1 out of 5 students in our public schools, and yet how much do we know about them? Who are our English language learners? A simple definition of English language learners is students for whom English is a second language.

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However, there are specific classifications of English language learners based upon their oral language proficiency skills. That is, they may be classified as initially fluent English proficient, limited English proficient, or reclassified English proficient. These classifications help us to better serve these students whose academic achievements have been below their monolingual English-speaking peers. In , there was a point score gap between white and Hispanic fourth-grade students' reading achievement that was not significantly different from the gaps in , , or NAEP, To adequately address this longstanding gap, educators must be knowledgeable in best practices to help English language learners achieve their academic goals.

The Response-to-Intervention RTI model is a pledge to address individual student needs and improve the outcomes of students who struggle with learning to read, especially language minority students. In an RTI model, a special education referral is recommended only after the student has been provided with differentiated classroom instruction and intensive reading interventions. The RTI model requires ongoing progress monitoring tools to determine if a student is making adequate progress.

If he or she is not, then supplemental, explicit interventions are provided within a small group setting, which is referred to as the second tier of instruction.

A matter of opportunity

The student's response to the intervention is measured to determine whether adequate progress has been made or if further intervention is necessary. It may also be determined that more intensive interventions are needed Gersten et al. For language minority students, progress monitoring helps to ensure that they have received adequate and appropriate educational opportunities for learning to read. The results of progress monitoring tools can be used to guide and design instruction for English language learners.

However, it is important to keep in mind that English language learners should not be penalized for slight differences in their responses which might include their accents or a certain dialect. These are some modifications that are necessary when determining an English language learner's progress. It is clear that the language and literacy skills of English language learners are not static and require adjustments and enhancements.

In the RTI model student strengths and weaknesses are assessed to determine the most effective instruction. For English language learners, assessment that includes testing across languages is the gold standard. If a student is only assessed in the second language, it is not clearly understood if the weakness is one of limited second language development or lack of knowledge of the particular concept.

This is an important distinction for instructors to determine if the focus of instruction should be on second language development, concept development, or both. The challenge for English language learners is that they are acquiring a new language and learning new concepts at the same time. Finally, during the assessment process, it is important to use multiple sources of data to determine the appropriate instructional program for the English language learner. It is also important for school personnel to take into consideration the reliability and validity of the measurement tools they have selected to measure a student's level of performance.

States such as Texas have approved lists of assessment tools appropriate for language minority students Texas Education Agency, If during the RTI process, it is determined that English language learners require Tier 2 interventions, then it is necessary for educators to become familiar with the research on effective instruction for this population of students.

1. Adopt a growth mindset

The report suggests that what works for teaching struggling readers in English can also benefit English language learners, but with modifications. Careful planning is needed. Adjustments in curricular materials and instruction to address their educational needs are essential for their academic success. For example, it is observed that by the time English language learners are ready to transition to the English language or enroll in school, the general education classroom instruction is focused on reading to learn rather than teaching the mechanics of learning how to read.

What the Research Says About Immersion - Tara Williams Fortune

Therefore, when providing literacy instruction it is necessary to include both language and literacy opportunities. This is not always the case for monolingual English speakers. Flanagan, Ortiz and Alfonso emphasize that it is also important for educators to remember that individuals who are bilingual are not simply two monolinguals in one head. Being bilingual carries with it important experiences that are very different from those with monolingual experiences.

Languages that are alphabetic share many similarities when it comes to instruction. These similarities and differences can serve as a resource for instruction but must be understood fully to inform effective instructional practices. A discussion of the similarities and differences across the key components of literacy instruction: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension for English language learners will inform the use of RTI with this population.

Phonological Awareness. Phonological awareness is a key component of literacy instruction across many languages. Phonological awareness skills include the ability to process and manipulate the sounds of a language. If a student is able to process sounds in his or her native language, then it is possible to transfer these same skills to the second language. For example, the Spanish language consists of approximately 22 sounds as compared to English with approximately double the number of sounds, or English language learners can benefit from exposure to the new sounds of the language.

If a student is able to master phonological awareness skills in the first language then he or she is more likely to master this ability in the second language.

In an RTI model, a teacher evaluates and determines the sounds an individual student can process and manipulate. Once this is determined, instruction is designed to focus on the new and unfamiliar sounds. For Spanish-speaking English language learners, unfamiliar sounds can include certain vowels, consonants, and diphthongs. Figure 1 lists some of the English sounds not present in Spanish.

Figure 2. Spanish and English letter-sound correlations. Spanish speaking English language learners are not likely to be familiar with English syllable types. Although, some of the same syllable patterns exist in the Spanish language, Spanish speakers do not rely on these patterns because vowel sounds are consistent and do not change. Therefore, these similar syllable patterns are not directly taught during Spanish literacy instruction.

Once again, English language learners can benefit from explicit phonics instruction that includes learning the following six syllable types in the English language see also Figure 3. This is a closed syllable. Spanish speakers tend to pronounce the final e sound because this pattern exists in Spanish. English language learners respond to instruction that is designed to meet their individual language and conceptual needs. Designing that instruction is a challenge for a number of reasons e. Research on interventions for English language learners has had positive outcomes when instructors teach new skills explicitly and intensely with minor modifications to general classroom reading instruction.

In the future we will have more research to help educators better understand the most effective methods for the assessment and intervention among our English language learners. Yet, we cannot wait for an abundance of research regarding the RTI model and its effectiveness among English language learners to be readily available. Instead, we must make informed decisions based upon what we do know. We do know the advantages of a model that emphasizes universal screening, identifies students who struggle with learning to read, and provides early and intensive reading interventions.

They are also effective when both content and language skills are addressed. They also understand text with more ease when they have opportunities to preview, review, paraphrase, and summarize. Artiles, A. Culturally diverse students in special education: Legacies and prospects. Banks Eds. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. August, D. Introduction and methodology. Shanahan Eds. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Avoiding the misidentification of English language learners as learning disabled: The development of vocabulary. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice 20, 50— Bedore, L.

Assessment of bilingual children for identification of language impairment: Current findings and implications for practice.


Flanagan, D. Essentials of Cross Battery Assessment 2 nd ed.

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Fry, R. One-in-five and growing fast: A profile of Hispanic public school students. Retrieved April 30, Gersten, R. Department of Education. Retrieved January 18, Kamps, D.

Use of evidence-based, small group reading instruction for English language learners in elementary grades: Secondary-tier intervention. Learning Disability Quarterly, 30, — Kim, A. Graphic organizers and their effects on the reading comprehension of students with LD: A synthesis of research. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 37 2 , — Linan-Thompson, S. Regardless of the exact timing, it is well established that the ability to learn a second language declines with age. The declines observed do not suggest, however, that literacy in a second language cannot be achieved in adulthood at the levels required for career and academic success.

What they do imply is that learning a second language will take more time and practice at later ages, and that even at high levels of second language facility differences in spoken language might be expected between a native and nonnative English speaker. There are competing explanations for why the decline occurs, which differ in their emphasis on biological versus environmental influences. One theory emphasizes the role of neurobiological development Newport, ; Stromswold, : whereas the young brain is well suited to acquiring languages rapidly and effortlessly, this capacity decreases because of neurodevelopmental processes, such as dendritic proliferation and pruning, and synapse elimination Buonomano and Merzenich, ; Hensch, These neurodevelopmental changes are seen as similar to ones that affect other capacities e.

This theory predicts an age-related discontinuity in second language attainment associated with the closing of the critical period for acquiring the skills of a native speaker Johnson and Newport, Data from a recent large-scale study using U. A second hypothesis is that plasticity declines because of success in learning a first language Bever, ; Seidenberg and Zevin, , rather than brain development. Learning a second language requires adjusting neural networks that support the first language. Adjusting existing neural networks for second language processing is very difficult, especially since in adults those networks have been stabilized and are still successfully used in first language processing Seidenberg and Zevin, A third possibility is that critical period effects reflect changes in the conditions social, environmental under which the second language is learned Flege, Yeni-Komshian, and Liu, Older learners of a second language may have more restricted exposure to the second language or less motivation to use it, limiting what is learned.

Certain linguistic structures in a second language may be more difficult to automatize and integrate later in life, which may affect comprehension of text. For example, Jiang found that late Chinese-English bilinguals were accurate in detecting violations of English morphological structure plural -s in unspeeded, written tests, indicating they had explicit knowledge of this structure. However when faster, computer-based tests were used, these bilinguals showed less sensitivity to such errors. Age-related differences in working memory also may affect second language and literacy acquisition, rather than a biological window for learning a language Birdsong, For example, working memory affects second language acquisition, since it is involved in the implicit recognition of statistical properties and patterns of language, such as memory for instances and associations see Ellis, , for a review; McDonald, Aptitude for a Second Language.