Research: Past & Present
all students achieve higher standards
Instruction and Early Childhood Literacy:
Combining Two Styles of Teaching and Learning
by Joseph Gottschalk June
- What are the most effective ways for me
as a K-5 English as a Second Language (ESL)
teacher to support my elementary school's literacy
block initiative? Where do I fit in? Where
am I most effective?
- Is the placement of the ESL teacher as English
language learners' primary reading teacher
in the early childhood grades an effective/efficient
practice? If the program turns out to be a
success, should it be replicated at other schools
in the district?
The site of this action research study is a small
elementary school in a suburb of New York City.
My small groups of first and second grade English
learners received their ESL and reading instruction simultaneously this year
as part of the school's new literacy block initiative. For five days out of each
six day scheduling cycle (the sixth day was used for planning and assessment
purposes), Grade One students met in ten small literacy block groups for 60 minutes.
The three classroom teachers were responsible for two groups each and the four
support teachers (2 reading, 1 special education, and 1 ESL) had one group apiece.
Prior research in the combining of literacy and second language instruction emphasizes
The Importance of Daily Conversations
Second language students have been found to need time to read and process texts
and to talk about their meaning with others (Pinnell & Fountas, 1998; Freeman & Freeman,
2000). This enables them to continue checking that the text makes sense without
having to rely solely on their decoding abilities, which in some cases may be
Comprehension and Meaning
Often, English language learners focus too much on details when they are learning
how to read. Students who are still learning English don't have full control
of any of the three cueing systems (graphophonic, syntactic, and semantic) and
they may lack background knowledge for certain topics or types of stories. As
a result, they often slow down and work hard to understand the details. Research
has shown that it is especially important for teachers to keep English language
learners focused on meaning, not pronouncing each word correctly (Freeman and
Instructional Strategies/Rationale for Incorporating ESL Into the Literacy Block
Four strategies found to be effective for promoting second language acquisition
and teaching reading at the same time are as follows:
- Build students' background knowledge
- Draw on students' personal experiences
- Promote extended discourse through writing and discussion
- Assist students in re-reading pivotal portions of the
text (Saunders, O'Brien, et al, 1999)
The type of reading instruction that is taking
place in many ESL programs is very passive. There
is little modeling, demonstrating, cueing, or prompting
students are not given much opportunity to interact with one another or with
the teacher. This situation was observed more often in schools where there was
a large number of Hispanic and Limited English proficient (LEP) students than
in schools where the population is more diverse and there are smaller number
of LEP students (Padrón, 1994).
For this study, I used the following research tools:
- Pre-LAS-2000 English language proficiency test given in June or September
- Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) utilizing running
records of oral reading and observation guides to find each student's appropriate reading
level (Level A - Level 44)
- Word lists of high frequency sight words (Pre-primer to Grade 6)
- ESL Report Cards-These are narratives I wrote about each student for Parent/Teacher
Conferences in November and April.
- Audiotapes of a sample guided reading lesson and one-on-one reading conferences
done by me
- Audiotapes of one-on-one reading conferences done by
another reading teacher in order to get an outsider's observation and analysis of my students' reading
strategies and performance
I looked at the progress of four Grade One English language learners. Junior
was a new student to our school this fall, having just moved here from Peru.
He spoke no English in September. Ashley, from Paraguay, is repeating the first
grade this year after a difficult time last year. She never attended Kindergarten
in this country and last year was her first year of schooling. Santiago is in
his second year in the school after moving here from Colombia. Veronica is from
Ecuador and completing her second year at our school as well.
Data and Analysis:
2000-2001 Assessment History-Grade One ESL Group
Lang. Total (Level)
Levels/High Freq. Sight Words
2 '01-'02 ESL Status
|| 93 (5)
|| 59 (1)
|| Not tested
on Pre-primer list
on Grade 1 list
|| 55 (1)
|| 98 (5)
|| 100 (3)
|| Not tested
|| 10/20 on Pre-primer
|| 16/20 on Grade
|| 88 (4)
|| 96 (3)
|| Not tested
on Pre-primer list
on Primer list
|| 51 (1)
|| 88 (5)
|| 100 (3)
|| Not tested
|| 10/20 on Pre-primer
|| 14/20 on Primer
All four students started the year as Emergent readers. They progressed
through the Early reader levels and two of the four students are approaching
the Transitional level (DRA levels 12-14). Their ability to read high frequency
sight words has also improved, although in some cases not as much as I had anticipated.
In looking at the DRA Observation Guides and running records for the June assessment,
I made some important observations that will inform my reading instruction with
these students next year.
According to the Pre-LAS 2000 English language proficiency test given in
June 2001, all four students are now considered Fluent English speakers. However,
they are all still reading below the suggested DRA level for first graders
to exit the ESL program (DRA Level 16), so they will continue with me next
year for more ESL/reading instruction.
In addition to the above language proficiency and reading assessments, a
reading lesson and follow-up reading conferences were analyzed to see how effective
and efficient our program of combining reading and ESL instruction was this
- Using the ESL teacher as a reading teacher achieves the economy of making
the best use of district and community resources and at the same time meets
the linguistic, academic, and affective needs of English language learners.
- Time during our common planning meetings should be set aside so that classroom
and support teachers could pair off and discuss specific students. This was
discussed, but never carried out this year.
- Support teachers could give classroom teachers additional assistance by
suggesting techniques they could use with Special Needs students and English
language learners in their classes during other parts of the instructional
- High need English language learners could use more speaking/listening
practice for interpersonal communication and vocabulary in addition to the
reading/writing instruction they are currently receiving during the sixty
minute literacy block period.
- Low need ESL students should have the opportunity to leave the ESL reading
group and receive their mandated services at another time in the day.
- Newcomer, non-English speaking students joining established
literacy block groups late in the school year need to be provided with
a school aide, parent
volunteer, student teacher, or upper grade peer tutor either in the children's
home classrooms or with the ESL teacher during the literacy block period
for more efficient instruction.
What I Learned (Professional Development)
One of the biggest advantages of the Literacy Block program for me this
year as a new teacher in the school has been the opportunity to work with
experienced reading teachers. The fact that my reading teacher colleague, Mrs.
M. and I were able to "mix and match" our students as well as have the flexibility
to put our groups together to work on common projects and themes has been a positive
aspect of the program. Each of us has learned about the other's special area
of expertise and the children have benefited as a result.
I also learned that I have to select guided reading books more carefully to
reflect the needs of my students. By only looking at the DRA level and not
the text of
each book I selected for use from the school's extensive literature collection,
I found myself using books that didn't feature the everyday, natural language
my English language learners required. Instead of featuring basic vocabulary,
some these books were rather esoteric with humor and wordplay sometimes aimed
over the heads of my students, even though the reading level was technically
Based on this study it can generally be said that in my role as the Grade One
ESL teacher I was able to support my school's literacy block initiative. I
fit in with the other teachers and was effective in helping to raise my students' achievement
in reading. I learned a lot about teaching young children how to read and realized
how much more I need to learn. The placement of the ESL teacher as English
language learners' primary reading teacher in the first grade was an effective
The Literacy Block program itself turned out to be a success worth repeating
(albeit with several slight alterations) next year at our school. Although there
are differing populations of English language learners at the other schools in
our district, I look forward to sharing what we have accomplished this year with
the other elementary ESL teachers in the district and to extolling the virtues
of combining ESL and literacy instruction.
Freeman, D. and Y. Freeman. (2000). Teaching Reading in Multilingual Classrooms.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Garcia, G. (2000). Lessons from research: What is the length of time it
takes limited English proficient students to acquire English and succeed in an
all-English classroom? Issue Brief, 5. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse
for Bilingual Education.
Padrón, Y. (1994). Comparing reading instruction in Hispanic/limited-English-proficient
schools and other inner-city schools. Bilingual Research Journal, 18:
Pinell, G., & I. Fountas. (1998). Word Matters: Teaching phonics and
spelling in the reading/writing classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Rennie, J. (1993). ESL and bilingual program models. ERIC Digest.
Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.
Saunders, W., G. O'Brien, D. Lennon, & J. McLean. (1999). Successful
transition into mainstream English: Effective strategies for studying literature. Center
For Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence. Educational Practice
Report No. 2.