Answers to Big Questions About the Science of Reading for Emergent Bilinguals
The science of reading and Emergent Bilinguals—educators have grappled with the connection between this body of research and appropriate instruction for Emergent Bilingual learners for years. As the educational tide shifts toward science-backed instructional practices, understanding how Emergent Bilinguals access language and literacy is top of mind for many educators.
We have compiled pertinent questions from a recent webinar with The Reading League’s Kari Kurto and Lexia’s Dr. José Viana and provided answers to help continue to bridge the gap between the science of reading and Emergent Bilinguals.
Read on to hear responses from the presenters and learn more about how you can advocate for Emergent Bilinguals in your district, school, or classroom.
Science of Reading and Emergent Bilinguals
The biggest questions were about the connection between the science of reading and Emergent Bilinguals. Here’s what our experts said:
1. If the district leaders are not proficient in their knowledge and understanding of the science of reading, what are some of the ways in which they can identify practices that may not be helping ELs?
The best way to start is through awareness. Engage with resources like:
- The Reading League’s Curriculum Evaluation Guidelines
- This guide helps educators identify curricular practices that may be ineffective and don’t align with the science of reading.
- The Reading League and National Committee for Effective Literacy Joint Statement
- The Joint Statement is a groundbreaking document, co-authored by representatives from The Reading League (TRL) and the National Committee for Effective Literacy (NCEL), aligning experts in the field of Emergent Bilingual education and reading research for the common goal of providing effective language and literacy instruction to all students.
- Pivot Learning report
- This paper, co-written by experts in the field of Emergent Bilingual learning, discusses literacy for Emergent Bilingual students, screening and assessment, and foundational skills.
2. What are some of the key questions district leaders could ask to assess if their instructional practices are aligned with the science of reading?
Understanding what effective instruction entails is vital for all educators, from classroom teachers to district administrators. Great resources for district leaders to begin evaluation include The Reading League’s Defining Guide and The Reading League’s Curriculum Evaluation Guidelines.
3. How do we convince my state to include ELL teachers in the science of reading training?
Changing state policy is the best way to ensure teachers receive the necessary science of reading-based training to better serve Emergent Bilingual students. You can start with these steps:
- Identify thought partners ready and able to advocate for necessary changes. This will likely include educators with different specialties, like practitioners of science-based reading and Emergent Bilingual educators.
- Form a Literacy Commission to make recommendations about literacy policy. Include state officials and educators on the Commission, alongside stakeholders like trusted organizations and parents.
- Delineate what evidence-based instruction is. Ensure this language is clear and comprehensive.
- Include professional development recommendations. Without teacher understanding and knowledge, policy change will do little to actually improve student outcomes.
- Create assessment tools to measure progress. Ensure you can effectively measure the outcomes of the proposed policy changes.
- Include intervention support. The policy should include support for students with reading difficulties.
- Involve families in the policy creation. When families are informed and involved, and their needs and knowledge are accounted for, instructional changes are more likely to be successful.
- Formulate a reporting system. This reporting system should describe how to evaluate the outcomes of the literacy program and ensure it’s implemented with fidelity.
- Provide a financial commitment. The policy should include what funding is available from the state to help get the program up and running.
Research and Organizational Support
District leaders were hungry for more information about the science of reading and EL instruction they could take back to their schools and teachers. Review their questions and the research-packed answers:
1. What were the misconceptions around SoR (science of reading) that came out of NCEL’s white paper?
NCEL recently published a white paper, “Toward Comprehensive Effective Literacy Policy and Instruction for English Learner/Emergent Bilingual Students,” which explores ineffective literacy instruction and misunderstandings about the science of reading as it relates to Emergent Bilinguals.
The main misconceptions of the white paper were that the science of reading is a one-size-fits-all program or approach to teaching reading, and the science of reading is all about phonics and/or word recognition. There were also several comparisons between this current movement and Reading First, which is not an equal comparison.
2. Can we get some of the research that connects Emergent Bilingual learners to the need for SoR?
The science of reading is research that has been conducted during the past several decades, worldwide, across languages. Thus, research that has been conducted with EL/Emergent Bilingual students has been part of the corpus of research referred to as the science of reading. A few great examples to start with include:
- TRL/NCEL Joint Statement
- The Reading League Compass
- Leveraging the Science of Reading for Emergent Bilinguals
3. What would you say to a colleague who challenges the belief that multilingual and Emergent Bilingual learners’ brains process learning to read differently (e.g. challenges establishing phonemic awareness as a precursor to learning to read)? Because you learn to read Spanish differently than English, she believes the science of reading research does not support or apply.
This is a common misconception—the science of reading does provide insight about Emergent Bilingual learners’ literacy adoption. Dr. Claude Goldenberg’s article, “The ‘Bilingual Brain’ and Reading Research: Questions about Teaching English Learners to Read in English,” provides deeper insight.
Instructional Strategies for Language Acquisition
Beyond knowledge and understanding is implementation—the most vital component of Emergent Bilingual instruction. Read on for answers to questions specifically about applying this research in the classroom:
1. It seems as if not all research-backed instructional methods apply to Emergent Bilingual learners. For example, does a sound wall work for Spanish speakers?
There are Spanish sound walls available. It may be helpful for Spanish speakers to see the articulatory features of English phonemes, particularly for those that are not present in Spanish. So long as this resource is being used in an asset-based manner to show the differences between languages (contrastive analysis) and not in a manner wherein the student feels their pronunciation is wrong or lesser, it may support their decoding and encoding.
2. Could you share three strategies for Emergent Bilinguals that are research-based?
Many instructional strategies work well to support students adopting an additional language. A few of the most relevant include:
a. Providing explicit, systematic instruction in foundational decoding skills.
b. Offering English Language Development (ELD), instruction specifically designed for Emergent Bilingual learners.
c. Set high expectations and build knowledge in both their home language and the language of instruction for positive transfer.
Classroom Tools and Resources
Educators are looking for resources and tools to help ensure Emergent Bilingual and multilingual students get the instructional support they need to be successful English speakers and readers. Here are a few of the most pertinent questions from administrators about instructional resources:
1. How does Lexia English’s focus on oral language and grammar help to advance Emergent Bilingual students’ language and literacy skills?
Lexia® English Language Development® is designed to support Emergent Bilingual students in acquiring higher language proficiency levels of English. Founded on the leading-edge expertise of Lexia®, the program blends language learning with subject knowledge to improve academic achievement. From Newcomers to Long-Term English Learners, Lexia English meets all students where they are and targets oral language and grammar skills at a level appropriate for each student’s proficiency.
Research shows that oral language, namely the skills and knowledge that go into listening and speaking, is the foundation of later reading ability. Having a solid foundation in oral language helps learners become successful readers and strong communicators, as oral language skills provide the foundation for word reading and comprehension.
Why? Students must be able to understand and use academic spoken language to be expected to understand written language. In other words, it’s difficult to learn to read and comprehend words if you do not know what they mean. Therefore, oral language, spoken and listening comprehension, influence word recognition and are critical to reading comprehension. Oral language skills are at the heart of listening and reading comprehension, serving as a predictor for both, and, as a result, Lexia English’s focus on speaking, listening, and grammar lays a strong foundation for learners’ later reading ability.
Finally, the efficacy studies conducted to examine Lexia English’s effectiveness show there’s a clear connection between using the program and achieving gains in both the oral and written domains, benefiting students in speaking, listening, reading, and writing; in other words, Lexia English users perform better across all language domains.
2. How can we help teachers understand data in a program like Lexia English to help Emergent Bilinguals—what should teachers look for in the data?
Lexia’s intuitive educator platform, myLexia®, offers real-time progress monitoring of student
performance and language proficiency, providing educators with actionable data to support student achievement for all. Educators are provided with simple, actionable data and reports that help inform instruction. Based on individual student performance, lessons for teacher-facilitated, peer-to-peer speaking and listening practice are recommended, according to each learner’s performance in the program.
The report types provided through Lexia English include:
- Placement reports
- Program usage
- Student skills and performance scores
- Class instructional planning
- Proficiency status and band (WIDA, CA ELD, TX ELPS, ELPA 21, and NY ESL)
- School and district overview
These reports offer data at the class, student, and grade levels, as well as small-group recommendations based on students’ online performance and areas of improvement.
The reports are designed to help answer questions about students’ program use, instructional next steps, and progress, such as:
- At what level of content are my students working?
- How much time are my students spending on the program each week?
- What instructional resources would students benefit from?
- How should I prioritize my instructional time with students?
- Which students should I pair or group together for conversational practice?
When looking at the data, educators are empowered to easily and quickly review students’ performance across activities (Speaking, Listening, Grammar) and to determine if there are consistent trends that highlight a student’s strengths and areas for enhanced support, so that they can focus on what matters most.
Deepen your Emergent Bilingual instructional knowledge through these events:
- Emergent Bilingual Week: October 23-27
- The Reading League Summit: April 27, 2023, San Diego, California
Discover more about how the science of reading supports Emergent Bilingual students in this deep dive, “Leveraging the Science of Reading for Emergent Bilinguals: Equity in Literacy Instruction.”
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