Although English learners are able to attain well-taught word-level skills such as decoding, word recognition, and spelling that are equal to those of their Native-English speaking peers, the same is not typically the case with text-level skills such as reading comprehension and writing. The reason for the disparity between word-level and text-level skills among English learners is oral English proficiency. Well-developed oral proficiency in English, which includes English vocabulary and syntactic knowledge plus listening comprehension skills, is associated with English reading and writing profi- ciency. Therefore, it is insufficient to teach English learners the components of reading alone; teachers must incorporate extensive oral language development opportunities into literacy instruction. Further, English learners benefit from having more opportunities to practice reading, check comprehension, and consolidate text knowledge through summa- rization. They also need instruction on the features of different text genres, especially those found in subject area classes—such as textbook chapters, online articles, laboratory directions, math word problems, and primary source materials. Because reading is the foundation for learning in school, it is critical that teachers use research-based practices to provide English learners with high-quality instruction that will lead to the development of strong reading skills.
Academic writing is an area that is affected significantly by limited English profi- ciency. Whereas oral skills can be developed as students engage in meaningful activities, skills in writing must be explicitly taught. The writing process (involving planning, draft- ing, editing, and revising written work) allows students to express ideas at their level of proficiency with teacher (or peer) guidance and explicit corrective feedback. However, for English learners, it is critical that a lot of meaningful discussion take place prior to asking students to write because such dialogue leads to writing and provides students with the English words they will use. Writing is also facilitated by such things as teacher modeling, posting of writing samples, providing sentence frames, and even having stu- dents occasionally copy words or text until they gain more independent proficiency (Gra- ham & Perin, 2007). This kind of constant exposure to words and sentence patterning allows ELs to become familiar with the conventions of how words and sentences are put together in the language (Garcia & Beltran, 2003).
English learners should be encouraged to write in English early, especially if they have literacy skills in their native language, and they should be provided frequent oppor- tunities to express their ideas in writing. Errors in writing are to be expected and should be viewed as part of the natural process of acquisition. Providing scaffolded writing tools, such as partially completed graphic organizers for pre-writing and sentence frames for organizing key points and supporting details, will help ELs write in the content classroom.
How Is Academic Language Manifested in Classroom Discourse?
Our teachers come to class, And they talk and they talk, Til their faces are like peaches, We don’t; We just sit like cornstalks.
(Cazden, 1976, p. 74)
/ Academic Language of the English-Language Arts