Teaching English Learners - Part 3: Literacy Development

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Beth Melton

Beginning this year, core content educators in Colorado are required to complete ELL-specific professional learning in order to renew their license. You can read more information about these requirements here.

The Colorado Department of Education has identified 4 areas in which teachers need to be proficient in order to support English Learners. In this post, I discuss the third standard: Educators should understand literacy development for CLD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) students.

Students who are learning English are in a different situation from our native English speakers when it comes to reading - they are learning to read at the same time that they are learning the language. This is a challenging undertaking, so it is critical that we provide a significant amount of support to help students acquire the skills they need in both language and literacy.

In order to understand how we might do this, it is helpful to understand how reading works. The Simple View of Reading is the best way to do this. The Simple View of Reading, which has been widely supported by research over many years, tells us that reading is the product of decoding and language comprehension.

Simple View of Reading

This means that everyone, regardless of whether they are learning to read in their first or second language, must have both the skills required to sound out words and an understanding of what the words mean. These two constructs are independent of one another - that is, it is not possible to fully compensate for one with the other. When students are learning English, they usually need a significant amount of support in both decoding and language skills. It is critical that we do not neglect either.

This article from Reading Rockets details how the Five Essential Components of Reading look for English Learners. It is a great start on understanding what an ELL student may need in order to become a successful reader. While early elementary teachers are usually responsible for teaching these early literacy skills, an English Learner who is just starting to learn to read will need instruction to support these skills no matter their age.

This article describes some specific strategies you can use to support English Learners in beginning to read. 

And what about as students are further along in the development of their reading skills? It is critical to continue to provide support, especially with comprehension and vocabulary development. The strategies contained in this article will be helpful for students learning English at any age or stage of development.

Click on the links that follow to view each post in this series-- part 1: supporting culturally and linguistically diverse populations, part 2: language acquisition, part 3: literacy development and part 4: access to content