“English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking”

Students enrolled in the spring 2011 section of READ 6323 worked together in small groups to read and discuss a professional book related to struggling readers. As part of their project, they wrote a post for our blog.

By Paula García, Irma Ramirez, and Diana Solis                      

As educators we venture into the world of molding young minds into independent, lifelong learners.  We set our goals and do our best in order to be intentional in our pedagogical style.  This can sometimes be overwhelming as we must target the needs of every one of our students.  As we formulate activities and strategies, we must be conscious of how we can target our English language learners among the diversity within our classroom.  In Pauline Gibbons’s book, English Language Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking: Learning in the Challenge Zone, the main focus is to make teachers aware of instructional strategies that will foster language and literacy development in English language learners. She addresses the need for high quality instructional activities that vigorously engage English language learners with the support of the teacher. Gibbons wrote this book with all students in mind, not only those acquiring English as a second language.

English Language Learners or ELL’s, have specific needs that must be addressed, not as a learning disability but as a language need.  As we teach ELL’s, we must encourage oral language development within the content, as well as listening, speaking, and writing skills.  Classroom discussions are key elements in providing oral language development. It is extremely important to allow students time to think. An additional two to three seconds can lead to more extended answers. Teachers must facilitate the use of language in different contexts by modeling and providing feedback.  ELL students must be allotted time to work in small group settings so that they are able to interact with their peers as they formulate meaning and express themselves in complete sentences. Support of students’ native language is essential in that it provides a nurturing environment where the student’s cultural uniqueness is embraced by others.

Teachers must be aware of the needs and learning styles of all students.  We need to keep in mind that what might work for one child, might not work for another. As we teach, we must be cognizant of ELL student’s prior knowledge. Background knowledge is nonexistent in some cases and this makes it difficult for students to make connections to what they are reading. Teachers must scaffold students learning by enabling them to construct meaning through personal experiences.  As we plan a unit of work, we must consider all aspects of the content with our EL learners. As educators we must build prior knowledge, build on their current language skills, set clear and explicit goals, provide sequenced tasks, and offer a variety of support within peers, groups, and independently.

In order for students to be successful, teachers must implement numerous reading activities that allow students to interact so that they may fully comprehend and make meaning of what they are reading.  These activities, which can also be used in writing, must be designed and implemented with an appropriate text. Activities should present high-challenge in combination with high-support from the teacher. ELL students must be shown a variety of strategies and activities to use as they become successful readers and writers and take on different roles. As educators we must have high expectations of all our students so that they may see themselves as capable learners and contributors.  This will allow them to perform at higher levels which will elevate their self-standards and their possibilities. 

For all of this to occur, like Gibbons explains, the teacher needs to take action. The teacher intentionally needs to implement the reading and writing strategies provided in the book. As teachers, we need to exhaust all strategies before we label a child as a struggling reader. English language learners should not be underestimated. They have the same abilities as a monolingual child. The only difference is that an EL learner has the privilege of knowing two languages. This book explains thoroughly how teachers can help English language learners develop oral language and become successful readers and writer by implementing strategies that will benefit the student.

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