Struggling ELLs benefit from reading interventions in English with ESL tactics

Kindergarten teacher helping student with reading skillsStruggling first-grade readers who are English language learners (ELLs) can benefit from a reading intervention conducted in English if it incorporates English as a Second Language (ESL) strategies, according to a a study published in the Elementary School Journal. 

“Missing from the research on reading difficulties are numerous experimental studies with at-risk students who are English language learners (ELLs),” the authors write.

Texas students who received the reading intervention in this study significantly outperformed students who received existing interventions for struggling readers on multiple measures of English letter naming, phonological awareness and other language skills and reading and academic achievement.

Modified with ESL strategies

The reading intervention was developed for monolingual English-speaking first graders at risk for reading problems but modified with ESL practices. The intervention reflects the six instructional practices in reading that are effective for beginning readers who are ELLs:

• explicit teaching;
• promotion of English language learning;
• phonemic awareness and decoding;
• vocabulary development;
• interactive teaching that maximizes student engagement; and
• instruction that produces opportunities for accurate responses with feedback for struggling learners.

“One guiding premise for the design of the intervention was that less-skilled students who are learning to read in alphabetic languages have difficulties due to not having mastered the alphabetic principle,” the authors write.

The intervention was designed to teach the sounds of English and how they relate to letters and decodable text was used throughout the instruction. Instruction also stressed learning to read by sight words that were less phonetically regular in English. These words, and high-frequency words, were introduced prior to students reading them in their stories. Reading comprehension was initially taught through listening comprehension and later through reading text. Students received their core reading instruction in English.

Students were selected from two districts and four schools in Texas that were considered effective for bilingual students. A total of 48 students who met the criteria participated in the study.  At the end of the study, after attrition, there were 22 intervention students and 19 contrast students.

Thirteen teachers provided core reading instruction in English (Language Enrichment and McGraw Hill Reading) to participating students. A battery of language/literacy-related measures in English and Spanish was administered before and after the intervention (Woodcock Language Proficiency Battery, Test of Phonological Processes, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy, etc.)

Small-group instruction

Four bilingual teachers provided the intervention in English in six small groups of 3-5 students for 50 minutes a day, 5 days a week, from October through May. The mean amount of time for the 22 students ranged from 76 to 115 hours. Contrast students had a range of 24 to 259 hours of reading intervention with existing programs.

“This study indicates that EL readers with initial low literacy and language skills can profit from instruction that builds in complexity over time and that provides such features as reviews, practice, discussion with the teacher, and repeated reading and reading of text structures to improve comprehension,” the researchers say.

Without question, the most important outcome was improved reading comprehension, the researchers say, attributing this to the story retell component of the intervention. The impact of the story retell could also have implications for English-speaking students, the researchers say.  Another gain, was a gain in Spanish phonemic awareness and passage comprehension.

“As children become more proficient readers, they may be better able to transfer what they have learned about reading in English to reading in Spanish,” the researchers write.

“Effectiveness of an English Intervention for First-Grade English Language Learners at Risk for Reading Problems”, Elementary School Journal November 2006, Volume 117, Number 2, pps. 153-180.

Published in ERN December 2006 Volume 19 Number 9

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