What About the Second Language Learners?
by Wendy Seger
Key message #1: We build capacity in all.
While making our way through one of the pods of classrooms at Brunton Elementary, Melissa Cote and I found ourselves in the newly rearranged classroom of Lynne Britton. Before, Lynne, a teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), had arranged desks in a more traditional manner with groups of desks placed in the center of the workspace. Now, there were comfortable, inviting areas for children to meet and work in small groups. The shelves of her classroom library encircled the carpeted meeting area for crafting lessons. A small lamp warmed a table suited for independent work. We wanted to linger and carefully read through the colorful charts that surrounded us.
Part of the work of a school new to Cornerstone is learning about the instructional practices that support student literacy. Current research in literacy and language, as well as the teaching context of each district, continue to mold the clinical work done together in the classrooms. We meet before and after lessons to talk about instructional practices and their impact upon students. Video and power point presentations are used during extended day at grade level meetings to show how the classroom environment can support the learner. We continue to reach out to teachers, meeting the many diverse needs of the students. So wouldn’t it be natural for teachers with bilingual students to ask, “…and what about our second language learners?”
During a school’s first year in Cornerstone, everyone becomes familiar with a foundational
document called Literacy Learning: What is Essential? The interactive model of reading that is presented balances the work of decoding text with that of constructing meaning. This is vital to lesson development. Proficient reader research guides teachers to explicitly show the “what, why, and how” when teaching the comprehension strategies. More attention is being devoted to the specific needs of second language learners (L2s) and academic language development research,
and reading competence. Dr. Judith Langer, a current researcher in the area of comprehension and language, literacy, and learning, found in her study of bilingual fifth graders that, “the use of good meaning-making strategies rather than degree of fluency in English, differentiated the better from the poorer readers…” (Langer, 1990).
Lynne participated in the Cornerstone extended day professional development and worked closely with Melissa, Brunton’s English Language Arts Instructional Leadership Specialist. Lynne noticed the changes occurring in the model classrooms. She noticed the emphasis on meaning making and motivation to read, along with the importance of accessing text at a word and sentence level. Lynne identified and implemented these practices to better support the specific needs of her L2s.
After capturing photos of the print-rich environment, Melissa asked Lynne about the changes in her teaching practice. During a subsequent site visit, we interviewed her about the modifications she has made in her classroom environment and the daily instruction of her students.
Here are Lynne’s responses to our questions:
What instructional practices do you believe are vital for second language learners (L2s) so that they may grow and learn in their capacity to speak, read, & write?
Here are my four key words: PRACTICE, TALKING OPPORTUNITIES, TIME and VOCABULARY. Delving into a comprehensive literacy framework (which is what is encouraged by Cornerstone) that links all aspects of literacy is exactly what the second language learner needs to transfer literacy from L1 to L2. Everything needs to be linked together in an on-purpose, intentional way, designed around thematic units of instruction so that students have connectivity and ownership to their developing English language & literacy.
Have you noticed a difference in your instruction since you have been teaching in a Cornerstone school this year?
Yes, I have absolutely noticed a difference in my instruction! For example, while I have always
used the Interactive Read Aloud/Think Aloud as part of my curriculum, I am more strongly encouraged and comfortable this year to go deeper into instruction of reading comprehension strategies rather than just "surfing the curriculum".
What new practices are you implementing?
One important practice has been the Daily Interactive Read Aloud (through which I have had success with Phases I, II and III). The exposure to books of any genre especially for the English Language Learner (ELL) gives them the chance to listen to the things that are critical to their English language development. Here are some of the aspects that are embedded in a read aloud/think aloud:
- Concepts of print (for the younger students)
Which practices have made a difference for your students? Why do you think this is so?
The "turn and talk" has made a huge difference! My students are always assigned different, heterogeneous partners and are asked to explore a topic and then share their partner's ideas (similar to a think-pair-share). This is an awesome, purposeful opportunity to practice their growing oral language in terms of both speaking and listening. The small group setting of an ESOL pullout class is low risk, which means safety to experiment with language.
What evidence would you share that shows how these practices have affected the achievement of your students?
These are the observable outcomes in my students this year:
- Clear, significant progression in their oral English development as outlined in the ELPBO (English Language Proficiency Benchmarks & Outcomes) in the categories of reading, writing, speaking and listening
- Higher level thinking ~ accessing many previously learned texts, vocabulary, etc.
- Interaction with peers and teachers
- DRA levels have gone up, up, up.
What message could you give to other ESOL teachers?
Your students can have success with these practices! Our students may be from different families or cultures, but many have the same needs. As a Phase I, II, or III ELL, they need to be explicitly taught comprehension strategies, along with phonics, word work and vocabulary in order to become literate in English. You can modify all of these ideas and lessons to fit the needs of your students while still supporting their English Language Development. Have fun with it and get excited about the success they can experience!
How do you select books?
I research themes, go to the library and I read everything before I add it to my list. If three or more of the students in my class can relate to (or access the content of) a book, I add it. I build background for the students who may be unfamiliar with the topic. I try to select multicultural books rather than presenting books from only one culture (Hispanic only for example) to be a better representation of our students who are from Puerto Rico, Kenya, El Salvador, Vietnam, China, Ghana & the Dominican Republic.
What books would you recommend?
These are the books I would recommend for teaching schema, connections, character development, creating mental images, author studies and open response writing practice.
My Top 10 Book List for my ESL Class (in no particular order):
Amelia's Road by Linda Jacobs Altman
Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora
My Very Own Room by Amada Irma Perez
The Firekeeper's Son by Julie Downing
La Mariposa by Francisco Jimenez
Only a Pigeon by Jane Kurtz
The Day Gogo Went to Vote by Elinor Batezat Sisulu and Sharon Wilson
Painted Words / Spoken Memories by Aliki
Something Special for Me by Vera B. Williams
A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Besides the interactive read aloud/think aloud, could you identify three other instructional practices that have made the greatest impact upon the achievement of your students this year?
These practices make my “top three finger list”:
- ANCHOR CHARTS give students a concrete place to refer back to which is essential!
- TURN & TALK ~ the perfect, intentional place for students to practice their developing language (I think turn and talk was invented for our ELLs.) Contrary to other reports, my first graders were great at it from Day 1! With explicit modeling, they "got it".
- WILF ~ Clear objectives so that there is no confusion with our goal for the day/lesson/unit.
Lynne Britton is one of several teachers supporting the literacy development of L2s in Springfield. As the scope of Cornerstone broadens in the schools, we desire to continue the conversation started here with Lynne. The research is growing in the field of language, literacy, and learning. We must respond to the specific needs of these students as they draw us in to focus upon their learning. S. Kucer (1995) explains in her work with third grade L2s, “…The students told us in very direct ways that they wanted to know why the strategies were to be learned, and used…when students found the text interesting, engaging, or felt a degree of ownership, they were more willing to experiment with alternative strategies as they struggled with text meaning.” (pp 28-29).
You may click on the links below to learn more about Lynne’s classroom and other books she would recommend.
Kucer, S. (1995). Guiding bilingual students “through” the literacy process. Language Arts, 72, 20-29.
Langer, J., Bartoleme, L., Vasquez, O., Lucas, T. (1990). Meaning construction in school literacy tasks: A study of bilingual students. American Educational Research Journal, 27, 427-471.
Peréz, B. (2004). Sociocultural contexts of language and literacy. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Lynne’s Book List for L2s