Friday, April 25, 2008

Teaching Reading to Beginning Level English Language Learners

As a graduate student in the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program at Brigham Young University (BYU), I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Neil J. Anderson, an expert in the field of second language reading and language learner strategies in the TESOL field. He recently published a reading book in the Practical English Language Teaching series of which David Nunan is the series editor. In his book, Dr. Anderson addresses an approach to teaching reading to beginning level readers that relates to the teaching of phonics, or bottom-up strategies, in context of an interactive reading approach. He even mentions the software that my company develops as a resource that can be used to contribute to accomplishing this objective.

Here are a few excerpts from his book, cited with permission:

Monday, April 14, 2008

What is RTI (Response to Intervention)?

In my last post about attending Fred Gensee's presentation at the TESOL conference in New York, I mentioned that he suggested using Response to Intervention (RTI) to address the needs of struggling English Language Learners (ELLs). I realize that "RTI" is a term that is surfacing more and more in K-12 contexts, especially where ELLs are being served. I also realize that many of us don't really know what it is, so let's define it.
So what is Response to Intervention (RTI)?
"Response to Intervention is designed as an early intervention to prevent long-term academic failure. Instruction and interventions are matched to meet students’ needs. It is generally depicted as a three-tiered model. Progress monitoring is frequent enough to fine-tune the instruction to students’ needs. Based on student response, interventions can match the specific skill deficit. (Reading Horizons)"

I should note that the traditional RTI model is designed more for lower grades, specifically grades K-2, as the goal is early intervention; however, it is also used with adaptations in other grades--even at the high school grade level. To see how RTI works, check out this short documentary video on my company's website:
Happy Tiers - A Three Tier Model. I highly recommend taking a look if you're interested in becoming better informed about what RTI is and seeing an example of how it works.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Teaching English Language Learners with Reading Difficulties

Last week I attended the annual TESOL convention in New York City. One presentation I found particularly informative was delivered by Fred Genesee of McGill University in Canada. His presentation was entitled, "Learning to Read a Second Language: What Does the Research Say and What Do We Do About It?" Although there are many things from his presentation I could comment on, I will only share a portion of his presentation that addresses how we can accommodate the needs of English Language Learners (ELLs) with reading difficulties.
First, to provide some context, here are a few interesting facts about ELLs with reading difficulties:
  • Just because students have minority language status does not mean that they are at greater risk of reading impairment. In other words, ELLs are not at a greater risk of experiencing reading impairment than monolingual English students.
  • The same proportion of ELLs and native English-speaking students have reading impairment (7-10%).
  • ELLs are at greater risk for reading difficulties, but these difficulties are, according to Genesee, "responsive to early intervention and instructional accommodations." (Notice how the different terms "impairment" and "difficulties" are used.)
In identifying second language reading difficulties, Genesee says that "ELLs with word reading difficulties have the same profile as native English-speaking students with difficulties--poor phonological awareness, letter-sound knowledge, vocabulary, etc." He also says regarding comprehension difficulties that "poor foundation skills [e.g. letter sounds, phonological awareness, vocabulary, decoding skills, print awareness, etc.] and poor academic oral language skills are probably a source of difficulty." Genesee asserts that early intervention is critical. He suggests using Response to Intervention (RTI) to "distinguish reading impairment from incomplete mastery of English." (View a documentary about RTI)
So what do we do? He suggests the following instructional accommodations to support ELLs with reading difficulties (which I feel could easily be implemented into an RTI model, or any teaching model that requires accommodations for ELLs):
  • strategic use of students' first language
  • use of familiar objects and experiences
  • predictable and consistent routines
  • clear instructions and expectations
  • redundancy and repetition
  • extended practice
  • extended wait time
  • comprehension checks
  • pair work and cooperative learning
I like Genesee's concluding statement of his presentation: "ELLs are extremely resourceful learners with a unique bilingual reservoir of skills and experiences." As we provide appropriate accommodations and early intervention, we can draw upon our ELLs' "bilingual reservoir of skills and experiences" to help them conquer their reading difficulties.