In the Education world, they usually say “What goes around comes around,” which means, something that was taught in the classroom years ago, will disappear and suddenly reappear as a new idea or theory for teachers to use. This use to be the case, but with such a changing population and a huge increase of ELL students this can no longer be the case. As Educators we are entering a new world and a new way of teaching to accommodate the changes taking place in the schools around the US. We are now seeing classrooms filled with students who come to us unable to read or speak English, but yet we must teach each and every one of them. It has been reported that 42% of US classrooms will have at least one ELL student in the room (Moss & Pumas, 1995). In order to teach the ELL students, teachers must move away from the notion, that “One size fits all,” because in classrooms all over the US, that is no longer the case. Classroom teachers must now plan, teach, and revise the curriculum to accommodate the ELL student. In order to do so, teachers must incorporate a balanced literacy program that will help all students learn and write effectively.
Revisioning the Blueprint: Building for the Academic Success of English Learners
A balanced literacy program incorporates a reading and writing program that will help all students. To begin using a balanced literacy program a teacher must first consider the population he/she will be teaching. In their article: Revisioning the Blueprint: Building for the Academic Success of English Learners, Garcia and Beltran state that teachers must realize that with the growth of so many ELL students in the classrooms today, educators must understand a need for a “New Literacy,” as Gutierrez (2001) calls it. Teachers can no longer think one lesson plan or one curriculum fits all students. When teaching an ELL student, teachers should consider five pillars for effectively teaching which will establish a blueprint for learning.
The pillars were established after much research after and adopted by the Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE) as the guidelines needed for ELL students. The first pillar, and most important one, states that students should be taught in their own language to help develop the skills in that language, which they understand, before introducing the skills in a language they are not familiar with. Teachers must incorporate Cummins (1981) theory that teaching ELL students in L1 (primary language) instead of L2 (second language) should be the foundation for all instruction for these students. The authors go on to say that the remaining pillars are the Five Standards for Effective Pedagogy and should be consider whenever a teacher is setting up a foundation for a successful balanced literacy program.
A balanced literacy program must have structure whereas the programs are designed for students at their level where they can be successful. This should include standards possibly designed just for the ELL student, along with standard based assessment designed for them as well.
Another component of a balanced literacy program states that the standards and curriculum should be delivered by knowledgeable professionals. Teachers need to be experts, have a linguistic background, understand the culture of the students, and have a positive attitude (Walqui, 2001) when working with the ELL population.
Once the structure is in place, and there is a knowledgeable professional teaching, the next step in a balanced literacy program is to have what Cunningham (1995) and many others refer to as ‘The Fifth Reading Block.” Within any reading block, there should be the: guided reading, independent reading, and writing, but with an ELL population, there should also be a time to work on just English language development. It is during this time, the teacher should pull small groups of students and work on specific skills the teacher feels the students need. These lessons need to be scaffold, with an observable goal and they need to have lots of interaction between teacher and fellow students. Lesson should be brief and include repetition, hands-on activities, poems, and songsâ€¦ anything that will get the child to develop and understand the English language.
The article concludes by stating in order to meet the needs of the ELL student, everyone must work together in and out of the classroom if the student is to be successful in English acquisition.
Balanced Literacy: Teaching the Skills AND Thrills of Reading
Dorothy Strickland, author of Balanced Literacy: Teaching the Skills AND Thrills of Reading
States that as educators we need to change how we teach to accommodate the types of students we have in our classrooms today. She goes on to say, we need to maintain good practices of the past while teaching how today’s students learn, especially if they are ELL student. Teachers need to establish a balanced literacy program while accommodating the ELL student but maintaining best practices. A balanced literacy program can be established by simply following a few suggestions.
To begin, teachers must teach the basics and use differentiated learning in order for a child to feel successful. Teachers can begin by having a daily schedule posted so students can see which groups they are in and what they should be doing at any given time, especially during their reading block. Within that block, students should see which activities (the need to be differentiated, so student can work on their own) they should be working, when they should be working with partners, or the teacher.
Even after a schedule has been posted and students know the routine, now they need to be taught the content. As a teacher of ELL students, teachers must choose activities that will develop literacy skills, yet cover the standard. The author states that whenever you teach content and literacy together, you are building skills that will become a foundation for success in all academic areas.
In conclusion, Strickland states that if teachers follow these Five Rules of Thumb for maintaining balance, teach skills, have guided instruction, build on a student’s knowledge, use appropriate materials and technology, and use standardized scores as a basis for setting up instruction. If a teacher can follow these 5 easy steps to teach an ELL student in a balanced literacy classroom, success is sure to follow.
Components of a balanced Literacy Program
As stated in all the previous articles, teachers must now teach to the type of students entering our classrooms and make changes and accommodations to help each and every student. Simply by incorporating a balanced literacy program in the classroom, we can meet the needs of ELL students regardless of their background knowledge when entering our classrooms. When it comes to teaching ELL students teacher’s must take time to plan lessons, learn students proficiency levels, and differentiate instruction, all of which can be incorporated into a balanced literacy program that will ensure equity for all students.
The article begins by explain telling us what a balanced literacy program includes. With any good program, a teacher’s need: good planning, flexible groupings of students, and differentiated centers that should consist of vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing.
When it comes to planning, teachers should plan around themes. They also need to take into consideration the goals and objectives that need to be taught that week and incorporate them into their plans. The purpose of planning around themes will allow teachers to cover more material in greater depth. Plans also need to include your groupings and what goals and standards you plan to teach each group. Teachers of ELL students should plan on having guided reading, shared reading, independent reading, read aloud, as well as writing groups. Even though it may take time to plan each group, it is essential especially when working with the ELL population. These students not only require these groups, they need them to help with certain skills or to reinforce concepts.
Once you have your plans in place, the next step of a balanced literacy program is to create your groups based on the levels of your students. Groups are formed when a teacher determines the characteristics of a reader’s level and place them in the correct group depending on level. A teacher should classify their students as emergent, early /developing, fluent, or even advanced. An emergent reader would be one that does not always use reading strategies correctly, have limited vocabulary, retells stories in a simple manner, or even has little phonemic awareness skills. Whereas an early/developing reader tries to read words they are familiar with, can read with some expression, have some knowledge of strategies needed to comprehend material, and are capable of retelling a story with some knowledge base of some narrative elements. The final classification of a reader is the fluent one. This reader uses clues, reads fluently with expression, knows how to use lots of different strategies, and has an extensive vocabulary. When a teacher knows the level of his/her students, it is easier to work with the ELL Specialist to help monitor the student’s success. It also helps the teacher because she can create and use different charts ( Colorin Colorado) to help support the needs of her ELL students.
Planning and grouping of students is an essential part of a balanced literacy program, but just as important and should be included in the plans are the types of centers to be used during academic time. Centers need to be set up to reinforce the goals and objectives set for the week. Centers need to have different activities that students can do without disrupting the guided reading groups. All of the activities should have a balance of both reading and writing assignments. Centers should be easily assessable so students can move freely from one to another. With ELL students, centers should always have a certain set of activities such as: word building, listening to the stories on tape, a skill they are working on for that week, and more importantly, centers for an ELL student need to be differentiated so that they can perform and interact at their own rate. Creating centers for a balanced literacy program takes lots of planning on behalf of the teacher, but with today’s population, teachers need to change their attitudes that one teaching style can reach all students.
A balanced literacy program is the “New Literacy” of the future for teachers teaching in the United States. There are and will continue to be many challenges for the ELL student as well as the teachers teaching those students. By implementing a balanced literacy program into our classrooms, teachers can begin to teach and help ELL students learn regardless of how much formal education they have when they enter our schools.
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