Date: Fri, 19 Nov 2004 21:45:58 -0800 From: Stacia Levy Subject: Beyond the Beginnings: Literacy Interventions for Upper Elementary ELLs
AUTHOR: Carrasquillo, A.; Kucer, S. B.; Abrams, R. TITLE: Beyond the Beginnings SUBTITLE: Literacy Interventions for Upper Elementary English Language Learners SERIES: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 46 PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters Ltd. YEAR: 2004
Stacia Levy, University of the Pacific
Written for teachers and program administrators who serve English Language Learner (ELL) students, this book addresses the issue of teaching the intermediate English learners who are at middle school level and in control of conversational English and decoding skills but lacking the academic English skills needed to succeed in content classes and read academic, expository texts -- a population traditionally underserved as usual practices, such "back to basics," are ineffective, given that these students have the basics of phonics and decoding skills but lack the more advanced reading skills to comprehend academic texts. The book breaks little new ground, and at times is repetitive or obvious, but it is nevertheless a thorough review of the issues involved in serving the population of intermediate language learners. Written from a constructionist perspective, the authors emphasize the importance of background knowledge in reading comprehension and offer specific cases of students and examples of teaching methods.
Introduction. The authors give an overview of the issues addressed in this book: social, political, and cognitive. They discuss the growing interest in serving ELL students and the awareness that as students progress into middle and upper grades, the demands for understanding content-specific text increases, placing great linguistic demand on students. ELL students often fail at meeting these demands of understanding content-specific academic text in middle and upper grades and little research has been conducted on this problem. The authors address the No Child Left Behind legislation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (2001), and its demand that all students make measurable progress. The authors also address the constructionist model of reading, in which comprehension is viewed as the result of a transaction between the reader and the text, with the reader using his or her prior knowledge to construct meaning. Instructors must be aware of ELL students' diverse background knowledge, how this affects reading comprehension, and plan instruction accordingly. The literacy gaps of ELL students in grades 4-6 in particular need to be addressed, accordingly to the authors, because this is when ELL students begin to fall behind their peers as the demands for reading expository text increases. These students often have English conversational skills and basic decoding skills but lack the higher level reading skills necessary for understanding academic text. It is serving this population through different teaching models and learning strategies that the authors address in this book.
Chapter 1: English Language Learners in United States' Schools. This chapter addresses the growing number of ELL students in U.S. schools and legislation and rulings that affects them, such as Lau v. Nichols (1974), which decided that ELL students be given equal access to the curriculum. The authors also address with the problem that, despite such rulings, ELL students are still often thrown into mainstream classrooms, where they must compete with native English speakers, read long texts across the curriculum, acquire conversational fluency in English, and most importantly, score on standardized tests at grade level. Given these demands, educators have to find ways to help ELL students develop their academic reading and writing skills in different content areas, including understanding the specialized vocabulary and grammatical patterns in different subjects. The authors discuss different programs that serve ELL students and offer profiles of typical ELL students and discuss gaps in the learning of struggling ELL students as well as the influencing factors on their achievement, and the need to tap their specific background knowledge.
Chapter 2: English Literacy Development and English Language Learners: A Theoretical Overview. In this chapter the authors present a theoretical framework that includes literacy instruction and second language acquisition, from a constructionist point of view, addressing the need for background knowledge, or schema, to comprehend. The authors address the question of how much of a second language a learners needs to understand before using it as a vehicle for academic content learning. The authors also discuss the difference between conversational and academic English. In addressing these concerns, the authors refer to classic works by such writers and researchers such as Cummins (1994, 2001), who was one of the first researchers to characterize the differences between conversational and academic language and Krashen's (1981) input hypothesis, that input or language of instruction should only be slightly above students' current level of mastery in a second language (L2) for learning to be possible. Scenarios of specific classroom situations for literacy are offered.
Chapter 3: Moving Beyond the Transition: Struggling English Literacy Learners in the Regular/Mainstream Classroom. In this chapter, after the introduction given in the first two chapters, the authors go to the heart of the problem this book concerns, those intermediate level ELL students who have "transitioned" beyond the basics of English acquisition but are still learning their second language at the same time they are experiencing additional demands of learning content through their second language. The authors discuss the differences between monolingual and ELL learners and between the literacy demands of early and later primary grades. The larger context of the problem, an increase in ELL students in our schools at the same time as a decrease in funding and support for these students is also addressed. This chapter also prepares the reader for the next chapter, where the authors begin to address specific methods for teaching intermediate ELL students in content classes.
Chapter 4: Instructional Writing Strategies for Struggling English Language Learners. This chapter begins by addressing the particular writing concerns for intermediate ELL students: they have the "basics" of writing: that is, some control over sentence structure and the conventions of the alphabet code, grammar, and punctuation, as well as narrative text structure, which they learn through story-telling in lower grades; nevertheless, they lack understanding of different discipline-based text structures such as comparison and contrast and problem-solution. Again from a constructionist perspective, the authors illustrate different teaching strategies to help these students, such as learning "scaffolds," or supports of various levels that can be "constructed" given the students' level of mastery. For example, teachers can assign different levels of writing activities, from shared writing to independent writing, depending on the students' mastery and "deconstruct" the scaffold as students' skills develop.
Chapter 5: Instructional Practices to Promote Reading Development in English Language Learners. The authors begin by addressing the concern that in the upper elementary grades students move from "learning to read" to "reading to learn," and the texts they read also become longer and more complicated, no longer simple narratives but often complex, expository texts ELL students, often lacking crucial background knowledge, have particular problems in comprehending these texts. The authors again address specific scaffolds that teachers can use to help ELL students read their content area texts, such as guided and shared reading. The authors also address specific reading strategies to help students master, such as developing their vocabulary and fluency.
Chapter 6: English Literacy Across the Curriculum. In this chapter, the authors address the various "literacies," such as computer and cultural literacy, as well as reading and writing skills, needed to learn in various subject areas. Intermediate ELL students are typically behind their monolingual peers in the different "literacies" needed in content classes. The ELL students' instructors need to adapt content area materials and instruction for their ELL students and incorporate content language instruction. The cognitive processes, language, and learning challenges of various content areas are analyzed and instructional modifications and learning strategies are discussed.
Chapter 7: A Framework for Assessing English Literacy Among Struggling English Language Learners. This chapter focuses on the crucial need to effectively assess ELL learners' language and literacy development for appropriate placement and instruction as well as accountability. Multiple measures, or using more than one means of assessment, as well as alternative assessment (assessment other than standardized tests) to get a clear picture of students' strengths and weaknesses, are addressed. Specific assessment tools and methods, such as checklists and inventories, are illustrated for both oral and writing skills across content areas. The use of standardized tests is also discussed.
Chapter 8: Developing Collaborative Literacy Relationships with Parents. This chapter emphasizes the importance of parents in their children's education and literacy development and the need for schools to take the initiative in involving parents, particularly the parents of ELL students, who may not know when and how to become involved. Barriers to and strategies to increase parental involvement are discussed. Specific topics for workshops and methods for parents to assist in homework are illustrated. Finally, different family literacy programs are discussed.
This book addresses an important topic, especially for those educators in upper elementary and high school content classes who may be stumped as to why their ELL students, who seem to have a good command of oral English, nevertheless fail in academic classes. The book does a good job pulling together applicable research on this important topic and putting it all in context of current issues and trends, such as No Child Left Behind. It has many useful charts and graphs to illustrate key points, as well as specific case studies and scenarios of students and teaching situations. Chapter 6 is particularly valuable in characterizing the language and structure of various content texts and giving specific instructional methods and learning strategies. There is also an extensive list of resources, such websites and journals, for the teacher of ELL students.
However, at times, I did find the book obvious and repetitive. For example, no teacher or even casual observer of U.S. society needs to be told repeatedly that we have a growing number of immigrants. In addition, the author treads well-worn ground in repeatedly addressing the issue of the difference between conversational language and academic language but offers few examples of these differences. Chapter 8 seems to be particularly replete with obvious observations and advice, such as an example note home inviting parents to a conference with the teacher. Readers, most of whom have been educated as teachers, would presumably not need explicit instruction in this. Some advice is also puzzling, such as this to parents who feel too weak in English skills to help their children with their homework: "Perhaps the initial communication is an 'invitation' to parents to check homework daily for 'neatness,' 'legibility,' and 'completeness.' Later on, parents can be asked to check homework for content literacy and for development of additional reading and writing skills" (p. 141). It seems a broad assumption that "later on" the parent formerly weak in these skills will have somehow developed them.
I also find it puzzling as to why the authors would address teaching writing strategies in the chapter before, not after, teaching reading strategies. Even with these shortcomings, however, this is a valuable book for anyone serving intermediate ELL students in upper elementary or high school. Because the authors revisit classic works on the topic, the book is especially important for those teachers who are new to the entire issue of serving ELL students.
Cummins, J. (1994). The acquisition of English as a second language. In K. Spangenberg-Urbschat and R.Pritchard (eds). Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students (pp. 36-62). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Cummins, J. (2001) Language, Power, and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
ESEA (2001). Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office.
Krashen, S. (1981). Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.
Lau v. Nichols (1974). 414 US.563
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Stacia Levy is an English and education professor in California. She recently completed her dissertation, which examined the vocabulary patterns found in college student and professional writing. Her areas of research interest include academic writing instruction, adolescent literacy, and vocabulary acquisition.