This chapter focuses on promising and effective practices for English learners (ELs)1 during their pre-K to grade 5 years (primary or elementary grades), middle school years (grades 6-8, typically middle or junior high school), and grades 9-12 (typically high school).2 The elementary school years are a critical time for beginning to acquire content area knowledge and skills that provide the foundation for more advanced learning in academic disciplines required in middle and high schools. It is an equally critical time to sustain the natural curiosity and eagerness to learn that young children bring to the early grades (Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, 2015). For ELs, these grades also represent a time of adapting, many for the first time, to new cultural demands of their schools. ELs will be learning the skills and content knowledge expected of all students, but in many cases, at least for some of the time, they will be doing so in a new language and also in ways that may differ from those in their homes and cultures. The following sections review promising practices for meeting these challenges in grades pre-K to 5, 6-8, and 9-12. The chapter ends with conclusions.
2 Grade spans are administrative decisions made by school districts that vary throughout the United States.
Educators expect that children’s caregivers at home have prepared them for elementary school. While some widely used norms consider children’s diverse cultural background, language, and beliefs (e.g., Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework), others may not, basing norms for language proficiency and competencies on the development of children raised in monolingual English households.
This presents a special challenge for elementary schools: How are cultural and linguistic differences in children’s preparation for school to be treated? How, as Rogoff (2003, p. 17) asks, does one look at differences without making value judgments? Does the absence of certain expected skills or behaviors indicate that children are not ready to learn what others their age are learning, or does it indicate the need for additional instructional experiences designed to fill the assumed gaps in their preparation? Are skills and strengths that are promoted in families that are not mainstream recognized and appreciated, or are differences seen as deficits to be remediated? Deficit theories used to explain school outcomes for ELs have been discredited and rejected (Cummins, 2003; Harry and Klingner, 2007; Valencia, 2010), but remain influential both in instructional practice and in the design of research and interventions.
Gándara (2016) proposes an assets-based framework for viewing ELs based on current research. Upon entering elementary school, for example, children of Mexican immigrants in a nationally representative sample (Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten) were rated as highly socially competent and mentally healthy (Crosnoe, 2006). According to Gándara (2016), ELs are resilient and adaptive to change based on family migration, and come from families with strong beliefs in the value of educational success. They are collaborative and oriented to learning in peer group settings. Gándara argues that considering these assets rather than focusing on the deficits of ELs can lead to improved learning outcomes.
This section draws on research conducted between 1998 and 2016 that focuses on seven effective and promising practices for educating ELs in grades K-5. In many of these studies, multiple methods were used to achieve the study goals. Thus, in most cases, it is not possible to know which study components were responsible for the results. The committee describes the attributes of the studies that may have contributed to students’ outcomes, but without further research, it is impossible to know
with certainty their role in supporting ELs’ learning of English language and content knowledge.3
Practice 1: Provide Explicit Instruction in Literacy Components
Research focused on developing literacy in ELs builds on literacy research conducted with English-proficient students. This research indicates that it is helpful to teach young children explicitly to hear the individual English sounds or phonemes within words (phonemic awareness); to use the letters and spelling patterns within words to decode the words’ pronunciations (phonics); to read text aloud with appropriate speed, accuracy, and expression (oral reading fluency); to know the meanings of words and affixes (vocabulary); to think about what they are reading (reading comprehension); and to write with the organization, development, substance, and style appropriate to the task and audience.
A review of effective literacy instruction4 for ELs found 12 studies published between 1997 and 2002 (see Shanahan and Beck, 2006, pp. 421-423, for a table of these studies) indicating that the general pattern found with English-proficient students appears to hold for ELs. Explicit classroom instruction focused on developing key aspects of literacy—phonemic awareness, phonics, oral reading fluency, and reading vocabulary—provides clear learning benefits for elementary school-aged ELs. More recent studies report similar findings (e.g., Llosa et al., 2016; Tong et al., 2014). However, because ELs are developing language proficiency while they are acquiring content area knowledge in a second language, research indicates that there are important considerations to keep in mind regarding instruction, as described below.
Practice 2: Develop Academic Language During Content Area Instruction
Academic language is the language used in school, in written communications, in public presentations, and in formal settings (Snow and
3 The sources for this section are experimental research studies referenced in two practice guides published by the U.S. Department of Education (Baker et al., 2014; Gersten et al., 2007). The discussion also draws on experimental studies cited in a synthesis of the research on effective instruction for ELs (Shanahan and Beck, 2006) and studies published between 2014 and 2016 that met What Works Clearinghouse standards (Crevecour et al., 2014; Llosa et al., 2016; Tong et al., 2014). In all these studies, ELs performed better than control students on study outcome measures as a result of the instructional approaches that were implemented. The discussion also references qualitative studies of classroom and school practices published during the same years.
4 The studies included those that used experimental, quasi-experimental, or single-subject research designs and resulted in significant differences in outcomes for treated groups.
Uccelli, 2009). Bailey (2007, pp. 10-11) defines being academically proficient as “knowing and being able to use general and academic vocabulary, specialized or complex grammatical structures, and multifarious language functions and discourse structures—all for the purpose of acquiring new knowledge and skills, interacting about a topic, imparting information to others.” A series of experimental studies developed academic language5 in the context of teaching content (e.g., Brown et al., 2010; Carlo et al., 2004; Llosa et al., 2016; Ryoo, 2009; Silverman and Hines, 2009; Tong et al., 2014). The majority of these studies developed language during science instruction; one did so during language arts instruction. All the studies used multifaceted instructional approaches that combined professional development for teachers with enhanced instructional routines that focused concurrently on teaching content and the associated academic language.
In one study (Tong et al., 2014), implemented with 5th-grade Hispanic ELs, the instructional approach consisted of ongoing professional development for teachers and paraprofessionals, an academic science approach that used the 5-E model of science instruction (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate), and the infusion of reading and writing activities into instruction (e.g., leveled questions using such verbs as “identify,” “describe,” “explain,” and “analyze” to help ELs understand text). A second study (Llosa et al., 2016), implemented with 5th-grade ELs from a variety of first language (L1) backgrounds, also included teacher and student components. Teacher components comprised a teacher guide and professional development workshops, while student components consisted of a stand-alone, year-long, 5th-grade curriculum aligned with state science standards and using an inquiry-based approach. Language development included providing opportunities for students to discuss science in small and whole groups and engage in language development activities posted on a project website.
Practice 3: Provide Visual and Verbal Supports to Make Core Content Comprehensible
A third practice linked to positive outcomes in the development of content area knowledge in ELs is using methods that help make core content in English comprehensible. One set of methods includes the strategic use of such instructional tools as short videos, visuals, and graphic organizers. In a study conducted with 5th graders (Llosa et al., 2016), for example, scaffolding consisted of providing ELs with science terms in their L1 and using multiple modes of representation in textual and graphic formats. In another study (Silverman and Hines, 2009), kindergarten ELs who watched
5 Academic language includes oral as well as written language.
short videos on the habitats they had learned about during storybook reading outperformed children who had heard the same books read aloud but did not see the videos. In this study, the multimedia addition did not have a positive effect on English-proficient students, highlighting the value of additional supports for ELs. A second way to make core content comprehensible is though verbal interactions that clarify content, such as defining words in context; asking right-there questions; coaching; and conducting whole-class, small-group, and partner discussions (e.g., Carlo et al., 2004; Tong et al., 2014).
Qualitative research (August and Erickson, 2006; O’Day, 2009) also suggests the need for supports. For instance, O’Day (2009) found that the use of literacy practices that included higher-level questioning/discussion about the meaning of text, writing instruction, and accountable talk6 had a strong relationship to improved reading comprehension for English-proficient students, but had little discernable benefit for ELs. The author hypothesizes that these activities may have been at too high a linguistic level for ELs to benefit from them without appropriate supports. Differences also emerged with respect to teacher-student interactions. “Telling,” defined as the teacher providing students with information rather than engaging them in the creation of information through coaching, recitation, or other forms of interaction, had a statistically significant positive effect on ELs’ reading comprehension but a negative effect on the comprehension of English-proficient students. The difference in coefficients for this variable was larger than that for any of the many other variables in the study. The author posits that literacy practices (e.g., higher-level questioning) may have been at too high a level for ELs to benefit from them without the appropriate supports, while in the case of “telling,” ELs benefited because they were provided with more support for engaging with core content in English, but this was not necessary for English-proficient students.
Practice 4: Encourage Peer-Assisted Learning Opportunities
Studies conducted with elementary school-aged ELs (e.g. Calderón et al., 1998; Calhoun et al., 2007; McMaster et al., 2008; Ryoo, 2009; Sáenz et al., 20057) that were effective in developing their literacy implemented peer-assisted learning in pairs or cooperative groups of four to six students. For example, Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) was implemented in
6 Accountable talk was defined as talk focused on ideas accurate and appropriate to the topic and flow of discussion, included a press for evidence from the text, involved students responding to and elaborating on each other’s contributions, and reflected a more facilitative rather than directive role on the part of the teacher.
7 Students in this study were in grades 3-6, so there is some overlap with the middle grades.
1st-grade classrooms in a dual language program (Calhoun et al., 2007). PALs consisted of a structured routine in which a teacher modeled the code-focused activities of the day; students practiced the code-focused activities in pairs for 15 minutes while the teacher supervised; and students then turned to story sharing, a partner reading activity that lasted for another 15 minutes. Teachers paired students so that one was a high-performing reader and the other was low-performing, and then taught the students to use PALS procedures. During each segment of the session, the high-performing student performed the role of coach first, and the low-performing student followed. On average, PALS students demonstrated significantly greater growth than control students on phoneme segmentation, nonsense word fluency, and oral reading fluency. Both ELs and English-proficient students responded positively to PALS, but the ELs responded with differential effects depending on the outcome measure.
A feature of all these studies is that they enabled students to talk about course content in pairs or small groups. An important principle related to second language learning is that students benefit from opportunities to interact (via speaking, listening, reading, and writing) in the second language (L2). Speaking is important to generate feedback, force syntactic processing, and challenge students to engage at higher proficiency levels (Johnson and Swain, 1997).
Practice 5: Capitalize on Students’ Home Language, Knowledge, and Cultural Assets
In studies of schooling, such socioeconomic variables as race/ethnic group, immigration status, parental education level, parental employment status and income, family composition, and marital status of parents are considered if not examined (e.g., National Research Council, 1984). Cultural factors, while mentioned, are seldom examined. Yet in schools that serve as diverse a student population as those in the United States do, a sociocultural perspective on teaching and learning is arguably a necessity (John-Steiner and Mahn, 2012) if the goal is to interpret the relationship between instructional practices and learning outcomes. Analyses of the effectiveness of instructional practices requires, in addition to evidence of learning outcomes, examination of how children respond to those practices.
Children’s learning behaviors and responses to instruction, especially in the early years of schooling, are culturally influenced by the socialization practices of the home and family. Ethnographic studies of socialization for learning, for example, have found that learning through observation is promoted in diverse indigenous communities around the world (Barnhardt and Kawagley, 2005; Rogoff, 2003). An experimental study by Silva and colleagues (2010), building on that ethnographic work, found that Mexican-
heritage children paid close attention to and were able to learn complex tasks just by attending to instructions directed at their siblings, and the practice of learning by keen observation and intent participation documented among indigenous peoples in Mexico is one that appears to carry over in immigrant groups, even after they leave their places of origin. In considering sociocultural influences, it is important to keep in mind that a view of home-school relationships as either match or mismatch is a nuanced one, and that there are practices that are similar in some ways and different in others. Relationships shift over time as the practices in the two domains interact (Rueda et al., 2006: Volk and Acosta, 2001).
Some school districts across the nation have been experimenting with departmentalization, or “platooning,” of instruction (see, e.g., Gewertz, 2014; Hood, 2009). This practice appears to be driven by policy changes, increased testing pressures, and spending cuts in education that have placed teachers at risk for burnout and emotional distress, leading ultimately to high teacher turnover rates in many districts. The argument for departmentalization in elementary schools is that teachers can be specialists in such subjects as math or science instead of having to meet the full gamut of student needs. In addition, departmentalization could help alleviate the shortage of teachers who are able to speak the home languages of ELs. One teacher could provide subject matter instruction in a language such as Spanish or Haitian Creole for five or six groups of students each day.
Elementary school teachers of self-contained classes are, by definition, generalists—they cover all or most academic subjects for their students for a school year. The most compelling argument for this traditional arrangement derives from the “whole child” movement, in which the child is the focus of education rather than curricular subjects, and the school itself is viewed as an ecological system in which students learn more than is taught (Eisner, 2005). Students also are influenced by their close and stable relationships with teachers and classmates, and teachers are able to know their students’ needs and issues. For ELs, some departmentalization is inevitable. Instruction in English as a second language (ESL)/English language development (ELD) is usually provided by specialists, and whether they push in to classes or students are pulled out of their regular classes for instruction, ELs are taught these subjects by a teacher different from their principal teacher. At present, little research is available on the effects of these different instructional arrangements on ELs.
With this complexity in mind, the experimental studies reviewed (e.g., Carlo et al., 2004; Liang et al., 2005; Llosa et al., 2016, Saunders and Goldenberg, 1999) suggest that instructional routines that draw on students’ home language, knowledge, and cultural assets support literacy development in English. Examples of the instructional routines in these studies include previewing and reviewing material in children’s L1, storybook read-
ing in students’ L1 (Liang et al., 2005), providing opportunities for students to engage in conversational exchanges during instruction that permit some interpretation to take place in the L1 (Saunders and Goldenberg, 1999), providing L1 definitions for the targeted vocabulary (Carlo et al., 2004; Llosa et al., 2016), providing instruction in word-learning strategies that help ELs uncover the meanings of cognates when encountered in English texts (Carlo et al., 2004), and introducing key concepts by connecting them with children’s prior knowledge or experiences in the home and community contexts (Llosa et al., 2016).
Findings from correlational and evaluation studies also provide support for these methods. Studies on cross-language transfer (Dressler and Kamil, 2006) indicate significant relationships between performance in ELs’ L1 and L2 in word reading, spelling, vocabulary, comprehension, and reading strategies. Findings from evaluation studies comparing bilingual programs with mostly English-only programs (see Chapter 7) indicate that ELs instructed bilingually either perform on par with or outperform ELs instructed only in English over time.
Practice 6: Screen for Language and Literacy Challenges and Monitor Progress
Findings from numerous studies8 cited in previous reviews of promising and effective instructional practices for ELs (Baker et al., 2014; Gersten et al., 2007) suggest that “districts establish procedures for and provide training for schools to screen ELs for reading problems; consider collecting progress monitoring data more than three times a year for ELs at risk of reading problems; and use data from screening and progress monitoring assessments to make decisions about the instructional support ELs need to learn to read” (Gersten et al., 2007, p. 5). Further, these studies suggest “using currently available measures, such as standardized tests, district benchmark tests, or English language assessments to screen and identify students in need of additional instructional support” (Baker et al., 2014, p. 60).
The studies specify the types of assessments that are useful at different grade spans for determining whether ELs are in need of additional instructional support. For kindergarten and 1st grade, measures include those that assess phonological awareness, familiarity with the alphabet and alphabetic principle, ability to read single words, and knowledge of basic phonics rules. For children at the end of 1st grade and in the next few grades, assessments include those that measure reading connected texts accurately
and fluently. For students in grades 2-5, oral reading fluency measures are valid screening measures.
Two other recommendations are that districts with performance benchmarks use the same standards for ELs and English-proficient students in the early grades, but make adjustments in instruction when EL progress is not sufficient, and that teachers be trained to use formative data to guide instruction (Gersten et al., 2007, pp. 6-7). With regard to formative data, Black and Wiliam (1998) suggest that students’ writing samples be used on an ongoing basis to determine areas for improvement. Students’ writing samples are excellent sources for formative assessment because they shed light on language challenges that are common to all children, as well as on challenges and opportunities related to primary language influence on English (Kim et al., 2011).
Practice 7: Provide Small-Group Support in Literacy and English Language Development for English Learners Who Need Additional Support
Many of the studies of ELs in grades 1-5 support the use of small-group academic support for ELs who require more time to develop prereading and reading skills, as well as in other areas of literacy and language development (e.g. Burns, 2011; Denton et al., 2004; Gunn et al., 2002; Nelson et al., 2011; Ransford-Kaldon et al., 2010; Solari and Gerber, 2008; Vaughn et al., 2006a, 2006b). Recommendations related to these studies (Gersten et al., 2007, pp. 10-11) call for ensuring the programs are implemented for at least 30 minutes in small homogeneous groups and providing training and ongoing support for teachers, interventionists, and other school personnel on how to deliver small group instruction effectively, as well how to use effective teaching techniques that can be used outside of small group instruction. An additional important recommendation related to the studies (Baker et al., 2014) is that additional supports address language and literacy skills, such as vocabulary, listening, and reading comprehension.9
Instructional Approaches That Merit Additional Attention
Research related to ELs and content area outcomes in grades K-5 has focused predominantly on instructional supports to help ELs learn English and content delivered in English. Other instructional practices that have not
9 Readers are referred to the two practice guides (Baker et al., 2014; Gersten et al., 2007), the August and Shanahan (2006) review, and the studies themselves for more information about the particular approaches used.
been extensively researched for elementary ELs in the United States merit further attention.
The first such practice relates to dual language programing. There is almost no research related to promising and effective methods for developing both ELs’ L1 knowledge and skills and the partner language knowledge and skills of English-proficient students (e.g., Spanish or Chinese) in these programs, or to methods for equalizing status among the students from different ethnic/language backgrounds in these schools. There also is virtually no research related to the features of school-wide programs that lead to better student outcomes. Such features that influence the successful acquisition of language and content include student ratios of English speakers to partner language speakers in two-way programs, the number of instructional hours allotted to each language, the proportion of school staff and leadership that is bilingual, and the use of target languages within and across content areas (Boyle et al., 2015).
The second practice is focused on creating more engaged readers and learners. This is a matter of critical importance with respect to both language and literacy development. Children who have difficulty learning to read by the end of 3rd grade have difficulty learning academic content and the forms and structures of language that figure in academic discourse. The school’s curriculum up through the 3rd grade is typically aimed at teaching students the basics of reading and writing. The emphasis in reading instruction, as reflected in the research, has privileged skill development: phonological awareness, decoding skills at the level of phonics and morphemics, and reading fluency, all of which are built on prior oral language skills.
Beginning in the 4th grade, students are expected to know how to read well enough to learn academic content by reading informational and literary texts written in more complex language than they have encountered earlier in school. This is the point at which many ELs falter. If they have managed to learn to read despite the hardships of doing so in a language they do not fully understand, and if they have become engaged readers by then, they have access to the forms and structures of language required for mastery of English. Linguists and literacy specialists have shown that there are substantial differences between spoken and written language (Biber, 2009; Gee, 2001; Halliday, 1987; Massaro, 2015; Ong, 2002; Scarcella, 2003; Schleppegrell, 2001; Snow and Uccelli, 2009), especially in the written texts that are used in school.
The importance of literacy experiences to language development was highlighted in a recent study conducted by Massaro (2015), who compared the vocabulary used in children’s picture books with the vocabulary used in spoken language, whether addressed to adults or children. This study, an update and replication of an earlier study by Donald Hayes (1988), examined whether spoken language alone can prepare children for the written
language of books. By comparing the language used in a large sample of picture books with adult-directed speech in a database of speech samples collected from adults speaking to other adults and with child-directed speech (the speech used by adults in speaking to children) drawn from a subset of the Child Language Data Exchange System Corpora, Massaro found a more extensive vocabulary in the picture books than in adult-to-adult speech and approximately three times as many rare word types in the picture books as in child-directed speech. Massaro found not only vocabulary differences but also important differences in grammar. Such differences highlight the value of reading picture books to children in the early years of life, and Massaro points out that the standard model that assumes reading and learning to read are “parasitic on speech” is incomplete. Learning to read also requires early exposure and access to written language forms, structures, and functions that can come only from books. Thus, students require support from teachers, both linguistically and strategically, to make sense of these materials. Families can augment these experiences by reading regularly to their children, especially during the early childhood and primary school years (Bernhard et al., 2006).
Little recognition or attention has been given to the role of literacy engagement in language development, especially for ELs. Cummins (2011) argues that literacy plays a pivotal role in the development of English proficiency because the only place ELs are likely to encounter the words, grammatical structures, and rhetorical features of academic language is in written texts. Thus, it is only through meaningful engagement with such language in written texts that students can learn academic language at all. The difficulty for ELs is that reading a language that is new to them is effortful. Students who learn to read in their native language first have knowledge and skills they can draw on when reading in a second language (Dressler and Kamil, 2006). The question for ELs who lack the opportunity to learn to read in their primary language and must do so in English is whether engagement in literacy can enable them to overcome the difficulty inherent in learning to read in a language they do not fully understand, and whether enthusiasm for literacy can overcome the language barriers that prevent easy understanding of texts and participation in the world of literacy.
The research on literacy engagement reveals that it can be the means of overcoming considerable odds against literacy attainment in English-monolingual students. The relationship between low socioeconomic status and reading attainment is a complex one, as Snow and colleagues (1998) have shown. While aspects of the home environment are assumed to constitute major risk factors for reading achievement for children from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, the school environments in which such children find themselves also are implicated. A study by Duke (2000) re-
vealed that there are marked differences between schools serving students from families of low socioeconomic status and high socioeconomic status in the amount of print materials and the quality of print experiences available to students in their 1st-grade classrooms. Such differences affect both opportunities for reading and writing and motivation for students to become readers and writers. Duke found that “the mean proportion of time in which high-SES [socioeconomic status] students had a choice in reading materials was three times greater than for low-SES students” (p. 466). In classroom writing activities, students of low socioeconomic status spent much of their time taking dictation and working with worksheets, whereas students of high socioeconomic status were provided opportunities “to exert their agency as writers.”
The case for literacy engagement as a critical factor in reading achievement is supported by research conducted over several decades. Little of this research has been done on ELs, but that hardly minimizes its relevance to them. A thorough review of that body of research is beyond the scope of this discussion, but meta-analyses by Lindsay (2010) and Mol and Bus (2011) are useful as starting points. Literacy engagement and time spent on literacy-related activities can make a difference for students who otherwise might not be expected to succeed in reading. Guthrie (2004, p. 5) cites a study using National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data in which “9 year old students whose family backgrounds were characterized by low income and low education, but who were highly engaged readers, substantially outscored students who came from backgrounds with higher education and higher income, but who themselves were less engaged readers.” Large-scale longitudinal data from a nationally representative U.K. sample similarly demonstrated a causal relationship between reading engagement and reading achievement that was not dependent either on the socioeconomic status of the parents or on the cognitive or academic ability of the student (Sullivan and Brown, 2013).
Research on the development of literacy engagement conducted over the past two decades by John Guthrie and colleagues (Guthrie and Wigfield, 2004; Wigfield et al., 2016) has emphasized students’ motivation for reading, the cognitive strategies involved in reading, and students’ conceptual goals for learning—all of which takes place within a classroom context. Guthrie and Wigfield (2000, p. 404) argue that “although cognitive and social dimensions of engaged reading are distinguishable from the motivational dimension, engagement cannot occur without all three.” The research group designed and implemented a Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI) program for teaching language arts and science in 3rd- and 5th-grade classes (Guthrie et al., 1996). The emphasis in CORI was on enhancing reading engagement by promoting motivation for reading, motivation for the use of cognitive strategies in reading, and motivation for conceptual
learning. Performance assessments used in this study along with assessments of students’ portfolios documented statistically significant improvements in learning outcomes as a result of enhanced student literacy engagement over the course of the study year.
Guthrie and Davis (2003) explored two pathways for reengaging students in school reading. The first involved connecting an intrinsically motivating activity to reading, in the hope that that motivation could be generalized to reading other texts. The second involved the building of stronger motivation for reading. The challenge for the researchers was to design instructional experiences—units of study on materials that were inherently interesting to students—and to make reading a part of those learning activities. They identified six classroom practices for middle school teachers to follow to reengage students in literacy: (1) build reading around rich knowledge goals, (2) connect reading to student experiences through real-world interactions, (3) provide an abundance of interesting books and materials, (4) give students a choice in what they read, (5) provide direct instruction on important and necessary reading strategies, and (6) encourage student collaboration in learning.
A second related area that merits additional attention is approaches that enhance socioemotional well-being, especially motivation to engage in school learning. One such attribute is students’ growth mindset (Dweck, 1999, 2007). Growth mindset research suggests that students will be more engaged in learning when they understand that their abilities can be strengthened through effort (Dweck, 2007). Teacher beliefs about student capacity also influence learning (Pettit, 2011; Walker et al., 2004), but no studies to date have examined methods that might change teacher beliefs. It would be important to include factors related to and indicators of students’ engagement, measures of mindsets regarding their learning, and teacher beliefs, as these factors relate to such outcomes as language proficiency and academic achievement. While reviews have uncovered several interventions aimed at improving ELs’ engagement (e.g., Llosa et al., 2016; Tong et al., 2014), none of these studies measured student engagement during or after the interventions.
A study by Zhang and colleagues (2013) suggests that motivation and engagement are not necessarily predictive of enhanced outcomes, at least when essay writing is used as a measure of literacy achievement. This study, involving 75 Spanish-speaking 5th graders from a school in the Chicago area, investigated whether a peer-led, open-format discussion approach known as collaborative reasoning would accelerate the students’ English language development. Results showed that after participating in eight discussions over a 4-week period, the collaborative reasoning group performed significantly better than the control group on measures of listening and reading comprehension. The collaborative reasoning group produced
more coherent narratives in a storytelling task. The reflective essays they wrote were longer; contained more diverse vocabulary; and contained a significantly greater number of satisfactory reasons, counterarguments, and uses of text evidence. Collaborative reasoning discussions also enhanced students’ interest and engagement in discussions, perceived benefits from discussions, and attitudes toward learning English. On the other hand, the study did not support the hypothesized relationship between motivation and engagement, defined by the choice of stories and texts used in the study, and language development for the ELs, as measured by their writing. Although the reflective essays produced by the collaborative reasoning group were longer, included the use of more diverse vocabulary, and contained significantly more relevant reasons, counterarguments, and uses of text evidence relative to those written by the control group, the results could not be attributed to motivation and engagement—perhaps, as the researchers comment, because the small sample size, involving just four classrooms, made it impossible to rule out sources of variation in teacher skills and enthusiasm and variations in the students as well.
Interpreting the Research
Both quantitative research and qualitative studies focused on explicit content area instruction of ELs (August and Erickson, 2006) reveal, as is the case with English-proficient students, that progress among ELs is not uniform. Some students make good progress, whereas others do not, an observation that argues for the importance of attending to the individual needs of students as part of whatever instructional approach is implemented. In some cases, while students’ progress at different rates, their growth follows similar paths (Fitzgerald and Noblit, 2000; Neufeld and Fitzgerald, 2001). Other students, however, may need more intensive and qualitatively different approaches to achieve in English at levels commensurate with those of their English-proficient peers (National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, 2000).
Young adolescents (typically aged 10-14) who are ELs enter middle school at what can be a turning point in their educational trajectory. Whether they are first classified during their middle school years as long-term ELs (LTELs) (see Chapter 6) or are newcomers to American classrooms (Valdés, 2001), these youth face new challenges in middle school that influence their opportunities to learn both the English language and the rigorous academic subject matter required by today’s higher state standards
and the middle school curriculum itself relative to their previous school experience. For adolescents, literacy involves more abstract language and concepts than the more concrete ideas encountered during the primary grades (Duke and Carlisle, 2011; Snow and Uccelli, 2009). Whether ELs are successful in meeting these new requirements will have consequences for their high school experiences and their career and postsecondary education prospects.
Lesaux and colleagues (2014, p. 1161) capture the complex challenges facing both students and their teachers in middle schools as they pursue the dual goals of English language development and content area learning:
Because literacy development is a multifaceted process that demands a number of separate, but related competencies (Duke and Carlisle, 2011; McCutchen, 2006; RAND Reading Study Group, 2002), there are myriad potential sources of difficulty for the learner who struggles to understand, discuss, and produce academic texts. For middle-schoolers, these competencies are largely composed of higher level processing and linguistic skills. In part, these skills are made up of knowledge that relates to literacy itself; knowledge of process, text structure, genre, and author (or reader) expectations (Beers and Nagy, 2011; RAND Reading Study Group, 2002; Saddler and Graham, 2007). They also include the ability to draw on prior knowledge, make appropriate inferences, and resolve structural and semantic ambiguities (Alexander and Jetton, 2000; Kintsch and Rawson, 2005). For the learner to undertake this complex process of comprehending and producing academic text, deep and flexible knowledge of the often abstract and complex words and phrases used in this particular register is needed.
Middle schools typically are larger organizations for students to navigate relative to primary schools. Many ELs move from having one teacher in primary school to having several teachers, each of whom is responsible for specific academic disciplines. Thus, ELs must adapt to different teachers with different approaches to subject matter instruction while mastering academic English terms tied to specific disciplines (Suárez-Orozco et al., 2008). Alternatively, some middle school ELs may be placed in “sheltered” classes for long periods of time where they are segregated from other students, with restricted access to grade-level academic courses and English-proficient peers, a practice that can have stigmatizing effects (Rumberger et al., 2006; Valdés, 2001; Walqui et al., 2010) and inhibit the development of their language proficiency, their grade-level knowledge and skills, and their motivation to learn in school.
These shifts in school organization and classroom demands occur at a time when ELs are entering early adolescence and experiencing its normative neurobiological, social, and cognitive changes (Lerner and Steinberg,
2009). While families continue to be important, peer groups and youth and community organizations can become significant influences on young adolescents, particularly on their identities as competent learners and their motivation to invest in their education. These convergences are daunting for all middle school students (Eccles, 2008) but are likely to be compounded for ELs (see Box 8-1).
While practices implemented during the middle school grades are similar to those for the primary and elementary grades, their implementation and impacts are likely to be mediated by three interacting factors relevant to instruction and learning in schools. First, classroom practices examined here must take into account and adapt to students’ characteristics during adolescence—cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional—as well as levels of literacy skills gained in previous grades. Second, the organization of these schools (their size, how classrooms are organized by academic discipline) as experienced by the learner creates different opportunities to benefit from sound instruction relative to those in earlier grades. Specifically, middle and high schools vary in their missions and in how they view ELs and their potential to be educated (Kanno and Kangas, 2014; Valdés, 2001). Third, the requirements for learning and the stakes for students’ prospects change as they move from primary to middle to high school based on current state education requirements. Thus, practices must be recommended with the recognition that these three sets of factors influence the educational trajectories of ELs, their opportunities to develop to their full potential, and their educational performance during these school grades.
Middle school teachers also face considerable challenges in motivating and instructing students with varying English proficiency levels, differences in their educational experiences in both the United States and their countries of origin, and varying experiences in the earlier grades of primary school, and in integrating into their instruction the sociocultural influences on how learning occurs in their students (Rumberger et al., 2006; Valdés, 2001; Walqui et al., 2010). However, there is a paucity of guidance for teachers on evidence-based instructional approaches for middle school ELs (Cisco and Padrón, 2012).
Cisco and Padrón (2012) reviewed 11 studies published from 1989 to 2010 in education journals that meet standards set by the National Research Council (2002). More recent experimental studies published up to 2016 focus on academic language and content area knowledge and skills in middle school students. Studies have focused on social studies (Vaughn et al., 2009), science (August et al., 2009, 2014), and English language arts (Kim et al., 2011; Lesaux et al., 2010, 2014). All studies were successful in developing ELs’ academic language and core content knowledge associated with the interventions that were implemented. Characteristics shared by the studies were a focus on grade-level knowledge and skills; the use of rich core content to develop ELs’ language and writing skills; and the provision of additional visual supports (e.g., graphic organizers, illustrations, multimedia) and language supports (e.g., bilingual glossaries) to help ELs comprehend complex content. A noteworthy aspect of all these studies is that the interventions were implemented in classrooms that
contained both ELs and English-proficient students and provided regular opportunities for students to talk and work together. The heterogeneous classroom contexts and structured opportunities for collaboration promoted interactions in English between the ELs and English-proficient students, a principle of instructed second language acquisition. Pairing also was done based on students’ reading scores. Once students had been paired by language background, they were matched on reading ability. Students worked in pairs for reading, writing, and vocabulary discussions. These promising intervention studies need to be replicated in additional sites.
One study at this grade level (Denton et al., 2008) investigated the effectiveness of a multicomponent reading intervention for students in grades 6-8 with severe learning difficulties. Most of the students in the sample were Spanish-speaking ELs. Students in the treatment group “received daily explicit and systematic small group intervention for 40 minutes a day over 13 weeks, consisting of a modified version of a phonics-based remedial reading program augmented with ESL practices and instruction in vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension strategies” (p. 79). There were no differences in outcomes between treatment and control students. The authors hypothesize that students with the most severe reading disabilities, particularly those that are ELs with limited oral vocabularies, require more intensive interventions (p. 79).
A small number of case studies of individual ELs and their teachers in middle schools (Kim and Viesca, 2016; Protacio, 2013; Valdés, 2001) illuminate situational factors that shape both teaching and learning in these classrooms, including criteria for small groups, whether such groups are based on skills or on a mix of English proficiency and literacy, and teacher beliefs about how students learn language. Studies of the roles of out-of-school settings and youth organizations in supporting ELs’ educational success in middle schools remain rare (Zhou, 2000).
The paucity of research on effective and promising practices related to middle school ELs reveals a major gap in knowledge regarding what can be a pivotal time in the education trajectories of ELs. The use of mixed methods that combine quantitative and qualitative approaches to understanding these interventions and whether and how they are sustained in their school and district contexts would be a next step in determining whether these interventions continue to influence how ELs are taught during the regular course of a school year. Despite the limited research, however, the available evidence suggests four promising practices for middle school EL instruction, which are described below.
Promising Practice 1: Provide ELs Access to Grade-Level Core Course Content
For ELs, exposure to grade-level core course content and literacy development provides necessary and crucial access to the forms of language required for academic achievement, and indeed for attaining full proficiency in English (Fillmore, 2014). Moreover, such exposure develops in ELs the concepts and skills needed to continue to master grade-level coursework. Providing middle school ELs with materials at the same grade level as that of materials provided to their peers is important to enable them to meet the requirements for deep understanding, interpretation, and reflection on academic texts in English, as long as such instruction is coupled with evidence-based methods that support ELs in comprehending the core content. Grade-level coursework also helps ensure that students perceive such materials as worth working on, as engaging and meaningful to them (Skinner and Pitzer, 2012). Not surprisingly, engagement in reading (Guthrie, 2004), as Cummins (2011) argues, is an important factor in both language and literacy development. The texts ELs are provided within school, however, may be several years below the level appropriate for their grade (Walqui et al., 2010, pp. 52-53).
In all the studies cited above, ELs were given access to core course content. The interventions were aligned with state grade-level standards, and the support materials, such as textbooks, were grade-level texts. The science experiments conducted in two of the studies (August et al., 2009, 2014) were the same as those required of students across the grade level, including students who were gifted and talented.
Promising Practice 2: Support Comprehension and Writing Related to Core Content
When students are not entirely familiar with the academic language teachers use for instruction or the language of the texts they are using, learning grade-level core content is at best effortful. Thus, students require support from teachers, both linguistically and strategically, to make sense of classroom discourse and course materials. As noted above, characteristics shared by intervention studies were the use of visual supports (e.g., graphic organizers, illustrations, multimedia) and language supports (e.g., bilingual glossaries) to help ELs comprehend complex course content and write about the core content. In several studies, students were taught strategies to support learning. In one study (Kim et al., 2011), students were taught strategies to help them write. These strategies were focused at the word, sentence, and connected text levels. At the text level, for example, students distinguished among plot summaries, evidence or supporting details, and
commentary through color coding. In a second study (August et al., 2014), students were taught strategies that enabled them to draw on cognate knowledge to comprehend challenging text and summarize text.
Practice 3: Capitalize on Students’ Home Language, Knowledge, and Cultural Assets
Chapter 7 describes the positive English outcomes for ELs instructed bilingually, especially those who have had a sufficient amount of instruction in English. As was the case for studies conducted with children in grades K-5 reviewed earlier, middle school studies that showed positive effects capitalized on ELs’ assets even when the instruction was delivered in English. While none of the studies were implemented in bilingual settings, the interventions included bilingual glossaries and teacher explanations in students’ home languages and partner work in students’ home languages for ELs who were at beginning levels of proficiency in English (August et al., 2009, 2014).
Promising Practice 4: Use Collaborative, Peer Group Learning Communities to Support and Extend Teacher-Led Instruction
Adolescents’ growing awareness of their social status in peer groups in school and their community (Smetana et al., 2006), especially how they are perceived as ELs, needs to be considered in planning classroom practices (Cisco and Padrón, 2012; Kim and Viesca, 2016). It is important as well to foster the capacity to engage in dialogue with peers and teachers, especially in science (González-Howard and McNeill, 2016). Such capacities can be developed first during the primary grades and then built upon in middle school to facilitate continued, deeper learning. As discussed earlier, opportunities for middle school ELs to work collaboratively are practices used in studies that show promising learning outcomes for ELs (August et al., 2009, 2014; Lesaux et al., 2010, 2014; Vaughn et al., 2009).
Interpreting the Research
Teaching middle school ELs is a highly complex enterprise for which most teachers are not adequately prepared (DiCerbo et al., 2014). During the middle school years, teachers must not only be skilled in their academic content areas but also be knowledgeable about the subject-specific literacy development of their students and able to address both areas effectively (Lesaux et al., 2012). Research described above points to promising practices in the classroom instruction of middle school ELs. These studies constitute well-controlled interventions of different durations, sometimes part
of the school year, and in specific academic subject areas (e.g., science), reflecting the departmentalized nature of middle schools. In addition to the need for replication of these studies under different implementation conditions (e.g., intensity of the professional development of teachers participating in interventions as required to develop their knowledge and skills), research also needs to focus on the full range of academic subject areas. Goldman (2012) notes that literacy needed to acquire knowledge in one subject area (history) is different from that needed to acquire knowledge in another subject area (biology). Examination of the longer-term effects of these interventions on both teacher behaviors and student progress is also needed.
Research on middle school ELs generally has not focused on social and emotional factors that influence the academic performance of ELs, including student motivation and engagement, school and classroom attendance patterns, and behavioral issues that may interfere with the high demands for learning faced by ELs. The relationship among motivation, engagement, and literacy is not easily disentangled, as Frankel and colleagues (2016) have argued. In a recent retrospective on the 1985 report of the Commission on Reading, Becoming a Nation of Readers, the authors expand on the report’s five principles related to skilled reading. Of particular interest is their expansion on the principle of motivation for reading. At the time that report was produced, it was understood that “reading requires motivation,” and motivation is a key to learning to read. Frankel and colleagues argue that reading also requires engagement, “that motivation and engagement in reading are best understood in context” (p. 12), and that the relationship between these aspects of reading changes over time as students move through school. They point out that such motivational factors as self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation for reading, and seeing the value in reading decline as students move from elementary through middle school, leading to a decline not just in reading but in school learning as students grow older. Such changes over time may pose a special challenge for ELs in middle school.
While there have been no direct studies addressing student engagement for ELs, the research on literacy engagement in middle school students appears relevant to ELs. Many ELs become classified as LTELs during middle school, and as discussed in Chapter 6, have begun to slow down in their development of English proficiency. School becomes a struggle for many such students and can have stigmatizing effects (Valdés, 2001).
A study by Guthrie and Davis (2003) aimed at motivating struggling readers in middle school is relevant here. The researchers examined the factors that contributed to the low achievement of these students and to their disengagement from reading. Struggling readers tend to be students with low reading skills—their difficulties with reading have had a dampening
effect on their motivation to read, and their sense of self-efficacy suffers, as does their sense of belonging at school. Guthrie and Davis found a distinct decline in reading engagement and motivation from elementary to middle school. From 3rd to 8th grade, students come to view reading as less enjoyable, teachers as less encouraging, and reading as being more boring. Some of these differences relate to the change in school environment from self-contained classes in elementary school to the subject-specific classes in middle school. The biggest difference is in the function and use of written texts. Middle school texts are more complex and demanding than the texts used in elementary school, and students are expected to learn content from them. These texts pose a challenge for any student, but for a student who does not read well, such texts can become further evidence that they do not belong in school. Studies just described need to be conducted on middle school ELs to test whether similar findings apply to them.
Despite the limited research on ELs’ learning experiences in middle school classrooms, those experiences can be a significant turning point in their educational trajectories. On the negative side, disengagement may be associated with chronic absence from classes, identification for special education services (see the case study in Annex 10-1 in Chapter 10), suspensions related to behavioral problems, or eventual dropping out of school (Burke, 2015). Alternatively, more effective instruction and engaging school climates can foster ELs’ strong motivation to learn and commitment to their educational success in their middle school through high school years. Case studies of middle and high schools described in this chapter demonstrate that it is possible to improve the educational prospects of ELs not only at the classroom but also at the school level. In addition to research on improving classroom instruction and learning conditions, research on how schools sustain positive outcomes found in intervention studies of ELs is needed as part of the scaling up of effective classroom practices.
The structure and larger size of some high schools can make the transition from middle school especially difficult for ELs (e.g., Egalite and Kasida, 2016; Leithwood and Jantzi, 2009; Nield, 2009). Some high school ELs may be newcomers to American schools with varying experiences of formal education in their countries of origin and may have experienced disruption in school or trauma as a result of their migration (see Chapter 3), while others may have been in American schools for years. In California, the state with the largest number of ELs (roughly 1.4 million), 59 percent of ELs in high schools are classified as LTELs who have attended primary and middle schools in the United States but not attained the English proficiency
required for high school (Olsen, 2010). In secondary schools in California during the 2015-2016 school year, more than 77 percent of students in each grade were LTELs.10 California is not alone in this regard. Reliable statistics, however, are not available for other states, partly because until recently, there was no clear definition for just when an EL becomes an LTEL, and in many states, LTELs have only recently been recognized as a phenomenon (Menken and Kleyn, 2010).
The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reporting provision requires districts receiving Title III funds “to biannually report the number and percentage of students who do not achieve full proficiency in English within five years of initial classification as an EL and first enrollment in the LEA [local education agency],” the point at which ELs can be considered LTELs.11 By that reckoning, some 57 percent of ELs in middle and high schools can be considered LTELs, as this, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition, is the proportion of adolescent ELs who are U.S.-born and remain classified as ELs since they entered school at age 5.12 The actual percentage may well turn out to be much higher when districts begin to report the numbers of ELs in middle and high schools who have been classified as such for 5 years or longer.
In a recent survey of programs and services for ELs in public school districts (Lewis and Gray, 2016), 62 percent of districts with high school grades reported that they are currently enrolling ELs at the high school level (Lewis and Gray, 2016). Sixty-eight percent of districts with high school ELs provided ESL instruction during classes. Sixty-one percent provided either instruction in which the ESL teacher worked with ELs in a content class (push-in) or had ELs move out of a class for ESL services (pull-out). Forty-seven percent of the districts provided sheltered English/content instruction (Lewis and Gray, 2016).
Newcomer programs are specially designed for immigrant high school students new to the United States, but they vary widely in their services from (1) short-term (a month or a summer) to longer-term (one to several years), (2) school site-based to separate site, (3) focus on academic skills to inclusion of supplemental services (e.g., health, counseling, mental health), (4) elementary to secondary, and (5) after-school to half- to full-day. The focus of most programs is to better serve ELs with no to low English lan-
10 See http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/longtermel/LongTerm.aspx?cds=00&agglevel=State&year=2015-16 [February 23, 2017].
11 U.S. Department of Education, Non-Regulatory Guidance: English Learners and Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), September 23, 2016, p. 38 (http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/essatitleiiiguidenglishlearners92016.pdf [February 23, 2017]).
12 Office of English Language Acquisition, Fast Facts: Profiles of English Learners, January 2015 (http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oela/fast-facts/pel.pdf [February 23, 2017]).
guage proficiency and to work with ELs with low literacy in their L1. While some programs focus only on English, however, others provide some primary language support and ESL. Sixteen percent of public school districts with high school grades and high school ELs reported having a newcomer program (Lewis and Gray, 2016).
High school ELs must meet graduation requirements as well as state standards for “career and college readiness” and enroll in nonremedial classes that prepare them for postsecondary education. In some schools, ELs are blocked from access to a large proportion of the core curriculum, electives, and advanced placement classes because they are locked into ELD and/or intervention classes, sometimes for much of the school day (Callahan, 2005). Kanno and Kangas (2014) document the mechanism in one high school that resulted in ELs being locked into academic tracks that precluded them from even applying to a 4-year college. They found that once students had been identified as ELs, they were invariably streamed into low-level sheltered or remedial-level nonsheltered classes, apparently with little reference to their English proficiency. The authors note that “the . . . usual pattern was that once placed in remedial-level classes, [ELs] adjusted their expectations and lost the high motivation they might have had originally” (p. 863).
Other studies have found that many students never progress out of these ELD and intervention classes (Callahan, 2005). The classes from which they are blocked are lost opportunities to be exposed to higher levels of English, critical thinking, and complex content concepts relative to those encountered in their ELD and intervention classes. They are effectively isolated from the rest of the English-speaking population at school, often in their own “ghetto” or corner of the school (Gándara and Orfield, 2012; Olsen, 2008; Orfield et al., 2014).
ELs in high school face a number of development challenges as well. The social and cultural contexts in which they are educated—during a time of life when, as adolescents, they must reconcile their school experiences with their evolving sense of self based on their personal history, sociocultural understandings, immigration status, and expectations of adulthood—can be daunting (Suárez-Orozco et al., 2008). The research on adolescent sociopsychological development suggests that the educational environment in which adolescents find themselves can profoundly influence their sense of identity, self-efficacy, and control over their future (Massey et al., 2008). In a study of academic well-being among Latino youth, for example, DeGarmo and Martinez (2006) found that perceived discrimination in school settings was “a significant contributor to academic problems.” While there are group and individual differences in how students cope with perceptions of academic bias, even the most resilient can become discouraged. Viewed against that backdrop, the low 4-year adjusted cohort high school graduation rate
for ELs of 63 percent (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015) is understandable. For many ELs whose families are struggling economically, the temptation to leave the unsatisfying experience of school behind and take a job to help their family survive economically or to get their own life started can be irresistible, particularly for those from cultural groups that regard the onset of adolescence as the beginning of adulthood rather than as a separate stage of life (Arnett, 2003; Esparza and Sánchez, 2008).
Overall, research examining instructional practices with ELs in secondary school is less reliable than that for ELs in elementary school. However, the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) Practice Guide offers recommendations for instructional practices associated with positive language and literacy outcomes for adolescents in general (Kamil et al., 2008) that arguably also are applicable to ELs, as well as practices for ELs in elementary and middle schools (Baker et al., 2014; Gersten et al., 2007) that continue to be relevant in high school instruction. In addition, a review of a study of the Pathways Project (U.S. Department of Education et al., 2012) is available. From these sources, the committee derived nine promising practices that can inform the education of ELs in high school (Baker et al., 2014; Gersten et al., 2007; Kamil et al., 2008; U.S. Department of Education et al., 2012):
- development of academic English (Gersten et al., 2007) and its varied grammatical structures and vocabulary (Baker et al., 2014) as part of subject matter learning;
- integration of oral and written language instruction into content area teaching (Baker et al., 2014);
- provision of regular structured opportunities to develop written language skills (Gersten et al., 2007);
- development of reading and writing abilities of ELs through text-based, analytical instruction using a cognitive strategies approach (U.S. Department of Education et al., 2012);
- provision of direct and explicit comprehension strategy instruction (Kamil et al., 2008; U.S. Department of Education et al., 2012);
- provision of opportunities for extended discussion of text meaning and interpretation (Kamil et al., 2008; U.S. Department of Education et al., 2012);
- fostering of student motivation for and engagement in literacy learning (Kamil et al., 2008);
- provision of regular peer-assisted learning opportunities; and
- provision of small-group instructional support for students struggling with literacy and English language development (Gersten et al., 2007).
The promise of these practices is apparent in a recent study of six high schools in the northeastern region of the United States (Castellón et al., 2015). The report of the Schools to Learn From study, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, provides detailed descriptions of instructional practices, lessons, materials, and student work, along with results of interviews with administrators and teachers who offered their views on the educational needs of their students that guided their work. Each school was unique, but they all shared a common vision concerning the central role of schools in preparing ELs for college and careers. Schools selected for the study included those with higher-than-average EL high school graduation and postsecondary entry rates13 (see Box 8-2).
Promising Practice 1: Develop Academic English as Part of Subject-Matter Learning
For ELs at the secondary level in particular, acquiring the forms and structures of academic English is vital to reading, writing, and engagement in the curricular content (Bailey, 2007; Scarcella, 2003; Schleppegrell, 2001). The language used in texts and other instructional materials across the curriculum is sufficiently different from the spoken language of social discourse to constitute a barrier to understanding and learning for students who have not yet developed academic English as used in content areas (Anstrom et al., 2010; Cummins, 1979; Fillmore and Snow, 2000; Schleppegrell, 2004). Overcoming this barrier requires that teachers intentionally develop ELs’ language skills in the context of the curricular subjects they teach (Derewianka and Jones, 2013).
Comparisons of the use of academic language in science or social studies with the use of language in literary narratives reveal how language can vary among disciplines. No one arrives at school already proficient in specialized language, which is learned through meaningful literacy activities. The way one learns such language, whether as a native speaker of English or an EL, is by reading and engaging with materials written in that language, discussing their meaning with others, and attempting to express one’s thoughts using the forms and structures one has encountered in those materials. Students who lack the requisite language or literacy skills require structured, coordinated instructional support—scaffolding (Walqui and van Lier, 2010), discussion (Zwiers et al., 2014; Zwiers, 2017, and attention
13 The high schools in this study were Boston International High School and Newcomers Academy (Boston, Massachusetts), High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies (Manhattan, New York), It Takes a Village Academy (Brooklyn, New York), Manhattan Bridges High School (Manhattan, New York), Marble Hill School for International Studies (Bronx, New York), and New World High School (Bronx, New York).
Studies of high schools provide many examples of academic language and vocabulary instruction, but rarely in isolation from content. The language development framework at Boston’s International High School and Newcomer Academy (BINcA), one of the schools studied by Castellón and colleagues (2015), serves as an example of an instructional endeavor in which ELs received contextualized support for learning academic language (see Box 8-2). The school provides ESL/ELD classes, but language and literacy goals are aspects of all content courses. Teachers also work together to ensure that such goals are core practices (see Box 8-3).
Promising Practice 2: Integrate Oral and Written Language Instruction into Content Area Teaching
The integration of both oral and written language into content instruction was widely practiced in all of the high schools included in the Schools to Learn From Study, as illustrated by the BINcA example in Box 8-3. Indeed, this practice was evident in all of the instructional vignettes included in the Castellón et al. (2015) report, whether the lesson was on science, global history, or literature (see also Box 8-4).
Promising Practices 3, 4, and 5: Provide Regular Structured Opportunities to Develop Written Language Skills; Develop Reading and Writing Abilities of ELs Through Text-Based, Analytical Instruction Using a Cognitive Strategies Approach; and Provide Direct and Explicit Comprehension Strategy Instruction
The Pathways Project provides excellent examples of instructional efforts to develop reading and writing abilities and skills through text-based instruction. Descriptions of such lessons are reported in papers by researchers who have studied the project’s effects on student learning in the Santa Ana School District in California (Kim et al., 2011; Matuchniak et al., 2014). The Pathways Project has tackled the problems many ELs experience in reading and writing in a language in which they are not yet fully proficient.
The approach taken by the Pathways Project to improve literacy skills for ELs was characterized as a “cognitive strategies approach,” in which teachers received sustained professional development and coaching in working with ELs in mainstream (integrated) classrooms. Teachers learned techniques for teaching students the thinking tools and cognitive strategies that experienced readers and writers use to understand and interpret the texts they read or to compose and express their thoughts and ideas in writing.
Teachers helped students learn strategies for reading with greater understanding and engaging in higher-level thinking as they did so through direct instruction and modeling by their teachers (Kim et al., 2011; Matuchniak et al., 2014, p. 980). Students learned to apply these strategies during reading and writing activities and to practice their use in collaborative groups and independently over time. The project forcefully demonstrated that after 2 years of such instructional support, the ELs in this study had internalized these strategies and could apply them in the reading and writing they had to do in school (Matuchniak et al., 2014). The project has now entered
an expansion phase that involves training middle and high school teachers from four Southern California school districts.14
Promising Practice 6: Provide Opportunities for Extended Discussion of Text Meaning and Interpretation
Opportunities for extended discussion of text are important for all students but are crucial to the development of text understanding for ELs. The report on the Schools to Learn From study documents various instructional methods, such as Socratic Seminar15 and the Danielson Framework,16 for engaging students in such discussion. At the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, for example, 11th-grade students in a U.S. history class performed a close reading and analysis of Korematsu v. U.S. (1944), the landmark Supreme Court case on the constitutionality of Executive Order
14 See http://education.uci.edu/research/olson_grant_911.php [February 22, 2017].
15 See https://www.paideia.org/about-paideia/socratic-seminar [February 22, 2017].
9066, which ordered the placement of Japanese Americans in internment camps irrespective of their citizenship (Castellón et al., 2015, pp. 46-50). ELs and non-ELs worked together, guided by probing questions about the complex and difficult language of the court ruling. Students took turns as “discussion director” or “discussion facilitator” and prepared questions that guided group discussion of the arguments contained in this historical text.
Promising Practice 7: Foster Student Motivation for and Engagement in Literacy Learning
At a high-performing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) school in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan—the Manhattan Bridges High School—Hispanic students can chose an engineering or information technology focus while also developing their bilingual academic language skills. At the time of the Schools to Learn From study, 53 percent of the students at this school were ELs, many of them having experienced an interruption in their education. These latter students were able to build on what they already knew as they made the transition to a school in a predominantly English-speaking community. The school describes its dual language focus as one that embraces a concept mentioned earlier—“translanguaging”—a mode of communication in which bilingual speakers move fluidly between languages. At Manhattan Bridges, students’ home language—Spanish—is viewed as an asset to their lives to be developed, rather than as an obstacle to academic progress. Students study English and Spanish literature and engage in probing discussions of poetry and literary works in both languages. In an Advanced Placement Spanish class, students observed for the Schools to Learn From study discussed the Spanish literary movement known as the “Generation of ‘98.” They read three types of poetry—El Romance, El Soneto, and La Silva—and were prepared to discuss their critical analyses with the class. In small groups, the students took turns presenting their analyses in Spanish. Classmates listened, asked questions, and evaluated the presentations based on a rubric the teacher had provided (Castellón et al., 2015, pp. 98-138). Students were motivated to read and to learn not only about the subjects that would lead to careers in STEM, but also about literature and the arts to gain insight into the human condition and their own lives.
Promising Practice 8: Provide Regular Peer-Assisted Learning Opportunities
While thoroughly prepared professional teachers provide the essential support required by ELs for linguistic and academic development, peers can
play important roles as well. At one of the high schools in the Schools to Learn From study—Marble Hill School for International Studies—project-based learning is practiced, whereby teams of students work together on inquiry-based projects across the curriculum. Project work for newcomers or beginning ELs takes place primarily in their ESL or sheltered content classes, where teachers provide the support needed by the students to conduct research and to ensure that they receive the language and literacy instruction they require. ELs are not placed in groups with English-dominant students until they have learned enough English in ESL and sheltered classes to feel confident about working with their English-dominant peers as equals. At that point, ELs benefit from working closely with these peers, not as tutees and tutors, but as co-participants in the work of the project. Scaffolding of learning is not viewed as the exclusive responsibility of teachers, but one that students are encouraged to assume for one another as well. In a 9th-grade algebra class observed for the Schools to Learn From study, ELs worked in groups on quadratic equations that had been set up at four stations. The problem at the first station was the most difficult, so the teacher provided the support needed by students until they understood the concept well enough to move on. The problem at the next station called for the students to recall what they had already learned and to apply it to solve another problem, and so on. Finally, when students arrived at the fourth station, they found word problems, which they had to solve without teacher support. Here, they were encouraged to work together and to provide mutual support in dealing with the problems at hand (Castellón et al., 2015, pp. 139-180).
Promising Practice 9: Provide Small-Group Instructional Support for Students Struggling with Literacy and English Language Development
Among high school students classified as ELs are those whose struggles with language and literacy require instructional support beyond what teachers can ordinarily provide in the regular classroom. These students include newcomers with little prior formal education or disrupted educational experiences and LTELs who have been instructed inappropriately in previous grades. The educational needs of these two types of ELs are quite different, however.
For newcomers, the greatest need for instructional support, especially in high schools where support for students’ L1 is not available, is intensive ESL. At Newcomer Academy at the Boston International High School, newcomers receive high-intensity courses in English for 2 years or a sheltered English immersion program, which is designed to give them access to academic content along with the development of English skills. Newcomers who have had interrupted formal education or limited prior schooling
receive skill-building courses in their native language to prepare them for the intensive language training program.
On the other hand, LTELs who are struggling in school because of literacy problems tend to be quite proficient in spoken English but much less so in the academic English in which texts are written. Some of these students may even have fairly good decoding skills in reading but be unable to make much sense of the materials they read. As a result, their academic progress is hampered, and they may believe that they lack the ability to perform well in school. These students have varied needs, but what they do not need is more ESL or remedial reading courses, where they are provided more of what they have often been receiving for years (Olsen, 2014). Instead, what LTELs need is rigorous, intensive, and relevant support in small groups, supported by teachers who can offer the kind of attention they need to discover how language works in texts. They need to learn to use strategies such as those used in the Pathway Project.
Conclusion 8-1: The following instructional practices are effective in developing elementary school-aged English learners’ knowledge of academic subject matter: providing explicit instruction focused on developing key aspects of literacy; developing academic language during content area instruction; providing support to make core content comprehensible; encouraging peer-assisted learning opportunities; capitalizing on students’ home language, knowledge, and cultural assets; screening for language and literacy challenges and monitoring progress; and providing small-group academic support for students to learn grade-level core content.
Conclusion 8-2: Research on classroom practices does not account for the potential influence of developmental factors such as age or grade of the students and associated cognitive and social changes that may influence their learning. Thus, conclusions about effective practices are based on syntheses of research involving students in particular grades or grade spans, from kindergarten through middle school (K-8) or K-12, on the assumption that evidence-based practices apply to students in all grades and that the changing cognitive, social, and emotional development of students during those grades does not condition or interact with outcomes.
Conclusion 8-3: Research on English learners’ (ELs’) language and academic subject learning in middle school is consistent with findings from studies conducted with children in the previous grades and
supports the identification of promising practices during the primary grades (pre-K to 5). However, the developmental needs of young adolescent ELs—specifically their cognitive and social development—and their adaptation to a different organizational structure and expectations for student independence in middle school are important factors to consider in designing and implementing instructional strategies in middle school. The processes of identity formation and social awareness, which increase during adolescence, point to the importance of teacher beliefs about ELs and their attitudes toward learning English when working with middle school ELs.
Conclusion 8-4: Literacy engagement is critical during the middle school grades. During these grades, students are required to read and learn from advanced and complex grade-level texts. For English learners (ELs), this problem is acute because instructional support for long-term ELs tends to emphasize skills instead of dealing with the barriers to their motivation to learn, engagement in the classroom, and literacy engagement.
Conclusion 8-5: Instruction that fails to address appropriately the linguistic, cultural, socioemotional, and academic needs of English learners (ELs) when they first enter elementary school leads to their lack of progress and to the growing number of long-term ELs in secondary schools, which in turn can lead to disengagement in these students. Practices for long-term ELs that focus on identifying their assets and addressing their diverse linguistic and academic needs, as well as their socioemotional reengagement and full integration into grade-level classrooms, can lead to improved academic outcomes.
Conclusion 8-6: Research on instruction in academic language has focused on the acquisition of specific skills in isolation, rather than on the integration of these skills into higher level processing and linguistic competence. Some promising practices at the middle school level for developing academic language and domain knowledge include use of the student’s first language to support learning across content areas; use of collaborative and peer groups to support and extend instruction; and use of grade-level texts with appropriate supports to provide access to complex language and content.
Conclusion 8-7: The stakes for high school English learners (ELs) are particularly critical with respect to their postsecondary education and career opportunities. For newcomer students and long-term ELs, there is little research on effective approaches. ELs (including long-term
ELs) are frequently placed in intervention/remedial-level classes that have neither been designed for ELs nor shown to be effective, which precludes them from access to classes that would prepare them for college or careers.
Conclusion 8-8: There is less research on effective instructional practices for high school English learners (ELs) than for the other grade spans. However, some promising practices include a focus on academic language development that embraces all facets of academic language and includes both oral and written language across content areas; structured reading and writing instruction using a cognitive strategies approach and explicit instruction in reading comprehension strategies; opportunities for extended discussion of text and its meaning between teachers and students and in peer groups that may foster motivation and engagement in literacy learning; provision of peer-assisted learning opportunities; and rigorous, focused, and relevant support for long-term ELs.
Conclusion 8-9: Research on the literacy engagement of English learners (ELs) and its relationship to educational outcomes is limited despite its potential importance. Current research indicates that literacy engagement may be an important factor for ELs in their learning to read, in their academic language learning from school texts, and in their literacy and academic achievement. Literacy engagement may be even more important for ELs than for students whose first language is English because (1) learning to read in a language one is still learning is difficult, and literacy engagement can support ELs’ efforts to learn despite those difficulties; and (2) literacy is necessary to learning academic language. If ELs do not read well and are not motivated to read, they will find it difficult to learn the academic language required for reclassification.
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