Monday, November 2, 2015

Considerations for literacy coaches in classrooms with ELLs

Since this year I am looking at improving my knowledge of both literacy coaching and working with English Language Learners (ELLs), I was delighted to find the Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse's white paper, Considerations for Literacy Coaches in Classrooms with English Language Learners, by Kathy Escamilla. This article specifies some instructional recommendations for teaching ELLs literacy skills. She approaches this in a myth verses reality format. Before she enters that part of the article, she points out that native language literacy instruction promotes English literacy instruction. So my Ukrainian student benefits from going to Ukrainian school that reinforces the language, culture and literacy of the native language.

Myth 1- Good teaching is good teaching.
Reality- Because second language acquisition is different from first language acquisition we cannot assume that the acquisition of literacy is the same and "distinct first languages may interact differently with English" (p. 1).
So- Learn about the first language. For my Ukrainian student I learned that Ukrainian does not have articles (a, an, the) like English. This means that including articles is a challenge for him. I now understand when he omits these words in written English.
Use interactive rather than process approaches to instruction. For students this means asking questions about the story, words and/or pictures; playing word games with the text; encouraging student questions
Center instruction on meaning.
Teach concrete high frequency words before abstract ones. For example, look at the selection about the Dolch pre-primer list examples


Myth- Oral language before literacy.
Reality- Do both concurrently.
So- Include specific language development.
Transformative exercises such as statement into question, present to past tense, simple to compound sentences  are important.
Language Experience Approach Lessons- planned oral language activities to use English. Then edit oral language to standard English (provide a good model).

Myth- Native language is a barrier.
Reality- Native language is a scaffold.
So- provide opportunities to process language from English to Native to English again.
If possible group native language speakers to be able to discuss in native language then convert to English- it is a scaffold for English.
Understand that comprehension is often greater than expressive ability.
Validate Native language and enhance learning with Native language scaffold.

Myth- ELLs have homogeneous needs.
Reality- Beginning, intermediate and advanced ELLs need daily, explicit, structured literacy instruction but the nature of it may differs based on language proficiency.
So- Beginning ELLs need time to process, meaningful input (pair with concrete experiences, visuals and vocabulary enhancement) and appropriate wait time.  They need information about basic language structures like English adjectives usually are before the noun but in Spanish they are usually at the end of the sentence. Instruction that complements, expands and is integrated is important. Instruction needs to have a nonintegrated component.
Advanced ELLs need instruction to compliment and expand literacy instruction--> integrated into general education instruction, and includes things like idioms and advanced discourse. Advanced speakers do not generally need increased process time since they are thinking in English rather than the native language.
Without instruction beyond the intermediate stage, students may have language stagnation.

Myth- It's all about background knowledge.
Reality- Cultural Schema is different from standard thoughts about background knowledge and needs to be specifically addressed. They use the example of being put in a corner. Students may need to know what being in a corner is- chair sitting in a corner facing the wall- and what it infers in America- punishment. Students may know about Christmas, but Orthodox Christianity practices are different than American Christian ones (date is January7th, involves fasting and involves burning palms verses December 25, feasting and Christmas trees). Inferences might be especially difficult because they combine what is said with what you know.
So- Learn the language and the culture.
Understand that cultural information plays into the qualitative difficulty of a reading. This is where the Lexile/DRA/F&P level interact with the stuff of the text. Students need a mix of culturally easy books and culturally difficult ones. The authors advise that "Analyzing texts for cultural schema can enable teachers to explicitly and directly include cross-cultural teaching into their literacy programs" (p. 5) If we are talking with students from China about Fourth of July practices, bringing up the Chinese New Year and firecrackers, or reading about them first, may make the fourth of July passage accessible.

This white page offers valuable suggestions on how to provide instruction to ELLs. It offers little from the coaching advice, other than to be knowledgeable in ELL instruction. One key take away is that to work well with an ELL, specific research into the native language and culture essential. This is the launch pad of literacy instruction especially for ELLs.

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