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Running head: INCREASING READING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF ENGLISH

Increasing Reading Comprehension Levels of English Language Learners Jennifer Hart UNE

INCREASING READING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF ENGLISH Increasing Reading Comprehension Levels of English Language Learners With the increasing numbers of English Language Learners in todays classroom it is essential that teachers are responsive to the learning needs of this diverse group of learners by aligning their instructional practices to help develop and further the students ability to comprehend written text. To develop a students comprehension of written text research suggests that teachers can utilize a variety of instructional strategies. These instructional strategies should facilitate and promote co-operative learning, use of visual representations, drawing upon a students background knowledge and use of direct-instruction to target specific literacy skills. The use of these instructional strategies coupled with a classroom environment

that promotes belonging, respects cultural differences, where teachers are cognizant of the needs of individual students will result in increased literacy skills for English Language Learners. In the article Core Strategies to Support English Language Learners authors Barr, Eslami, & Joshi (2012) analyze existing literature to emphasize that reading and vocabulary instruction should be utilized as core strategies for supporting the needs of English Language Learners to improve literacy proficiency. Barr et al., (2012) begin by highlighting that reading is a complex process that involves the coordination of numerous literacy skills. They indicate that generally English Language Learners who speak minimal English at entry of school are able to learn to decode with relative ease and are able to develop this skill so that it is comparable to that of their English peers in a two to three year frame through explicit instruction. However, developing the skills necessary to comprehend text is one that is far more challenging and requires considerable more time. Comprehending text will also depend on ones ability to increase competence in spoken English and therefore a multitude of variables needs to be addressed when making instructional decisions for English Language Learners.

INCREASING READING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF ENGLISH In response the authors state that the reading strategies that can be offered include teaching vocabulary, cross-age instruction, cooperative learning, and reciprocal teaching (Barr et al., 2012, p. 108) as suggested ways in which to further the reading proficiency of English Language Learners. They also stress knowing the needs of individual students needs is imperative so that teachers can scaffold the literacy development of their students through explicit instruction which can successfully increase their ability to comprehend written text and moves them along the learning continuum. Through illustrative examples highlighting comprehension strategies, oral language instruction and vocabulary instruction the authors clearly establish the need for careful consideration of instructional decisions for English Language Learners to help improve their ability to comprehend written text. For less proficient learners Barr et al., (2012) also state that it is critical that teachers help learners to seek interpretation of message content to be successful with comprehension. Similar to Barr et al., (2012) Peregoy & Boyle (2000) authors of the article English Learners Reading English: What We Know, What We Need to Know also highlight the differences pertaining to the process of learning to decode and learning to comprehend written text for English Language Learners. Through the examination of the English reading processes for native and non-native English speakers they note that the process for decoding is similar for both groups. However, with comprehending text we must take into account the English Language Learners English language proficiency, background knowledge and experiences in relation to the written text and their literacy levels and experiences in their native languages as each has a significant impact on ones ability to successfully comprehend written text. Peregoy & Boyle (2000) begin the article by highlighting the importance of teachers

being aware of the diversity that exists amongst English Language Learners. It is essential to not

INCREASING READING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF ENGLISH

group English Language Learners together but to rather look at each learners individual learning needs. The strategies that are suggested by Peregoy & Boyle (2000) that are effective in advancing English Langue Learners literacy skills are: developing a strong understanding of the individual English Language Learner and their background; utilizing familiar concepts; use of sheltering strategies to ensure that students comprehend and participate fully; pairing of nonverbal cues with verbal instructions; vocabulary instruction; and use of a teachers observational skills as a way of assessing and informing instructional decisions. As a final note the authors also distinguish that as students move from being beginning to intermediate readers that instructional decisions will need to vary and therefore teachers will once again need to be responsive to the needs of the individual student and adjust their instructional strategies accordingly. In the article What We Know About Effective Instructional Practices for EnglishLanguage Learners authors Gersten & Baker (2000) conduct a qualitative multivocal research synthesis. This qualitative multivocal research synthesis was unique in that it incorporated information obtained through a series of professional work groups to better merge what we know about practice and research. Gersten & Barker (2000) felt that by merging practice and research it would be a more suitable way to determine the most effective instructional strategies for English Language Learners. Stemming from their qualitative multivocal research project Gersten & Barker (2000) note three distinct themes. The first theme they highlight relates to the merging of English-language development with content-area learning. Through information provided by the professional work groups and through alternate studies Gersten & Baker (2000) indicate that the approach of English learning through content area instruction alone is not sufficient and leads to English Language Learners

INCREASING READING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF ENGLISH

not having sufficient time for specific English learning that increases literacy skills. Inadequate time for English-language development is clearly a major problem in current practice (Gersten & Baker, 2000, p. 460). It is for this reason that Gersten & Barker (2000) urge both academic researchers as well as working professionals to consider English-language development and content-area learning as distinct educational goals rather than combining them. The second major theme discussed by the authors is the relationship between what is considered best practice and the knowledge base on effective teaching. It is within this theme that authors identify instructional strategies that they feel are essential components of instruction for English Language Learners. Commonalities with Barr et al., and Peregoy & Boyle exist as they identify (a) building and using vocabulary as a curricular anchor, (b) using visuals to reinforce concepts and vocabulary, (c) implementing cooperative learning and peer-tutoring strategies, (d) using native language strategically, and (e) modulating of cognitive and language demands (Gersten & Baker, 2000, p. 462) as effective instructional strategies. The third and final theme to emerge relates to the confusion and assumptions surrounding the use of oral language within classrooms. In terms of oral language Gersten & Baker (2000) suggest that from the data they reviewed that a distinction needs to be made whether oral language use in the classroom is intended to be an instructional goal or an academic growth goal. The authors clearly indicate that there are substantial differences between the two yet all too often the assumption is that they are one in the same. To eradicate confusion teachers need to ensure that they establish what their goal is and should use instructional strategies that encourage use of oral language as an instructional goal within the classroom to benefit literacy development in English Language Learners. To be effective the authors further elaborate by stating that the instruction used to develop oral language as an instructional goal needs to set clear expectations

INCREASING READING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF ENGLISH of what is expected from the students, is monitored closely and allows for teachers to give immediate feedback to be effective. In the article Good Instruction is Good for Everyone-Or Is It? English Language Learners in a Balanced Literacy Approach ODay (2009) like Gersten & Baker also discusses oral language development in relation to English Language Learners. Through her research ODay (2009) suggests that oral language and vocabulary instruction are precursors to reading comprehension and need to be attended to further English language Learners understanding of

written text. To promote oral language development and vocabulary growth ODay (2009) states that it will require English Language Learners to have interaction with text that is meaningful and allows for communication that pertains to a variety of text including childrens literature and expository text as part of a balanced literacy approach. This interaction with text coupled with direct instruction that targets specific literacy skills are essential and is considered to be effective instruction for English Language Learners as stated by ODay. In conclusion ODay (2009) highlights the importance of teachers ability to differentiate instruction to meet the individual needs of English Language Learners. In a successful differentiated classroom teachers would utilize instructional strategies that incorporate flexible groupings, modeling and coaching techniques and lessens the degree of support over time as students gain proficiency with particular written text. This requires teachers to know the needs of each of their individual students and to be responsive to the needs of the student so that they can scaffold instruction for English Language Learners and differentiate instruction to meet their specific learning needs. To reiterate ODays (2009) message she clearly highlights within the article that it is essential for teachers to know the needs of each of their individual students and be responsive to

INCREASING READING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF ENGLISH their learning needs if they are to be successful in helping them to develop and improve their literacy skills. This message is also one that is interwoven into each of the three additional articles highlighted in this review and is one that I feel is fundamental to success and is at the

core of good teaching. When we consider the needs of English Language Learners we cannot be naive enough to believe that we can group them together collectively and be successful at meeting their individual learning needs. This point was driven home for me by the comment made by Peregoy & Boyle (2000) who state that the most salient feature of English Language Learners as a group is their remarkable diversity (p. 237). For teachers to be responsive to individual learning needs of English Language Learners they need to align their instructional practices with what we know to be best practice so that they can further a students ability to comprehend written text. Within each of the four articles highlighted there is a commonality among four of the instructional strategies that teachers can utilize to help meet the diverse needs of English Language Learners. Instructional strategies that were cited in each of the four articles were strategies that promoted co-operative learning, made use of visual representations, drew upon a students background knowledge and made use of direct-instruction in targeting the development of specific literacy skills that will improve ones ability to comprehend written text. The differences that existed were in the article Core Strategies to Support English Language Learners authors Barr, Eslami, & Joshi (2012) suggest strategies that involve cross-age instruction, summarizing and direct questioning as crucial in moving students ability to comprehend text forward. In the second article English Learners Reading English: What We Know, What We Need to Know authors Peregoy & Boyle (2000) highlight the importance of the use of sheltering strategies. In the third article What We Know About Effective Instructional Practices for English-Language Learners authors Gersten & Baker

INCREASING READING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF ENGLISH (2000) suggest the use of strategies that involve modulating of cognitive and language development. In the fourth article Good Instruction is Good for Everyone-Or Is It? English Language Learners in a Balanced Literacy Approach ODay (2009) stresses the importance of strategies that involve modeling and coaching. Within my own teaching practice I know that utilizing a variety of instructional strategies especially those discussed across the articles have

proven to be very beneficial in helping me to move my students understanding of comprehending written text along the learning continuum. In particular direct-instruction has always been a critical component of my literacy instruction as it allows me to address individual student need. As well I feel that the use of instructional strategies that utilize visual representations is key as it can allow English Language Learners the opportunity to enter the learning space and can help to meet the student at their independent level of understanding dependent on their English Language proficiency. Another significant difference amongst all the articles is ODays (2009) discussion pertaining to the importance of differentiated instruction within classrooms to support the needs of all students. Despite all the articles highlighting the importance of knowing the learner and their respective learning needs differentiated instruction was not mentioned. This is significant as this premise is central to differentiated instruction. So as suggested by ODay if we are to consider the goals of differentiation then our role as teachers would be to consider the classroom environment we create and respond to English Language Learners learning needs by differentiating content, process and product based on their readiness, interests and learning profile. I believe that inn a differentiated classroom teachers are not only charged with the responsibility of helping students meet their full potential in mastering literacy skills at their

INCREASING READING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF ENGLISH level but are also responsible for helping students to form their identities as learners which enables the student to take control in the learning process which is critical to success. With each of the articles highlighted within this review the authors do a great job of highlighting that teachers need to be cognisant of the needs of the growing number of English Language Learners within our classrooms. Each article is able to significantly highlight the difference between native and non-native speakers and the impact that has on the ability to comprehend written text. Within each of the articles they confirmed my believe that we need to look at the individual needs of our English Language Learners and that we need to utilize a variety of instructional strategies that are considered best practice. With the increasing number of English Language Learners in todays classrooms and the difficulty that many of them experience with comprehending written text the findings presented are justified and each presents a strong case of what we need to consider as effective instructional strategies. The one limitation that needs to be considered by the reader is that within the article What We Know

About Effective Instructional Practices for English-Language Learners authors Gersten & Baker (2000) emphasize instructional variables that they believe are critical components for instruction but those variables are supported by limited experimental evidence which weakens the validity of their argument. In conclusion, the ability to comprehend written text is essential, and is certainly one of the major determining factors of academic success. Due to the increasing number of English Language Learners in todays classrooms teachers need to address the literacy needs and specifically the comprehension abilities of these learners to ensure their likelihood of being successful in all aspects of academics and life. The key of advancing English Language Learners capacity to comprehend written text lies within our own ability to gain a comprehensive

INCREASING READING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF ENGLISH understanding of whom each of our individual English Language Learners are and what their

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specific learning needs are. When we have gained an insight of who the individual is and what their learning needs are we can then move forward by aligning our instructional practices accordingly by utilizing a multitude of instructional strategies that help to develop and further the individuals ability to comprehend written text. These strategies are ones that are rooted in best practice and would facilitate and promote co-operative learning, use of visual representations, drawing upon a students background knowledge and use of direct-instruction to target specific literacy skills. This is critical within my own practice and for all teachers as we respond to the increasing numbers of English Language Learners within our classrooms and their diverse learning needs. As we continue to stay abreast of what is considered best practice and analyze and reflect upon our individual teaching practices to help us move forward we can be confident in our ability to effectively respond to the diverse needs of English Language Learners. It is only then when we see ourselves responding and rising to the challenge of addressing the specific needs of English Language Learners that we will we see an overall increase in literacy skills that are necessary for success in all areas of life.

INCREASING READING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF ENGLISH References Barr, S., Eslami, Z. R., & Joshi, R. M. (2012). Core strategies to support English language learners. The Educational Forum, 76(1), 105-117. Retrieved from http://0dx.doi.org.lilac.une.edu/10.1080/00131725.2011.628196

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Gersten, R., & Baker, S. (2000, Summer). What we know about effective instructional practices for English-language learners. Exceptional Children, 66(4), 454-470. Retrieved from http://0-search.proquest.com.lilac.une.edu/docview/201091507?accountid=12756 ODay, J. (2009). Good instruction is good for everyone - or is it? English language learners in a balanced literacy approach. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 14(1), 97119. Retrieved from http://0search.proquest.com.lilac.une.edu/docview/207675359?accountid=12756 Peregoy, S. F., & Boyle, O. F. (2000, Autumn). English learners reading English: What we know, what we need to know. Theory Into Practice, 39(4), 237-247. Retrieved from http://0-web.ebscohost.com.lilac.une.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=a9571dfa-c4694142-bd8c-cb0a76e24139%40sessionmgr11&vid=4&hid=10