Todays post comes from someone I personally like to think of as somewhat of a "dual guru" as she is always providing her readers with wisdom in regards to dual language students and our language learners. Please welcome, Mrs. Candis Grover.
When Krista asked me to write about Best Practices for English Learners, a flood of possibilities filled my mind. However, the more I considered my own experience in the classroom as well as the past few years of coaching other teachers in classrooms across my state, I remembered my very best piece of advice:
When possible, do everything in your power to teach students to read in their native language!
That might seem counterintuitive if your goal is academic success in English-only instruction but let me provide a word picture to explain. You can see my simple graphic representation here:
Imagine that José shows up at your classroom door one day and you quickly discover that he is an emerging reader and Spanish is spoken in his home. While you hear José converse very naturally in English on the playground, he is unable to read in either Spanish or English and he struggles to describe academic concepts in the content areas.
Now, pretend with me that you the teacher have the opportunity to put José on one of two elevators that will take him higher and higher in this building named “LITERACY”. One elevator provides small group reading instruction in Spanish and the other in English. Which should you choose?
Because Spanish is spoken in José’s home and was his first language, wouldn’t it make sense to begin the journey upwards in literacy with the Spanish elevator? We know that all words in Spanish are composed of simple syllables and all but a few letters have only one sound. Once José “cracks the code” of letter-sounds and blending syllables (taught at levels 1-5), he is going to quickly zoom up the levels as he develops fluency and comprehension.
If José were made to begin his journey via the English elevator, it would be as if someone had stepped on a very old, should-be-out-of-service elevator and pressed all of the buttons. Because of the complexities of English phonics AND all of the unknown vocabulary that José has not been hearing since he was born, it will likely be slow-going for José.
Now, we know that eventually José will need to become biliterate and proceed with his journey in the English elevator. Will José have to take the stairs down to the first floor to begin learning to read all over again? In the words of Pete the Cat, “Goodness no!”
José can simply step out of the Spanish elevator at a floor where he has developed moderate fluency and comprehension and be guided over by his teacher to the English elevator. He will take with him all of his understanding about reading such as concepts of print, sentence structure, types of text, thinking strategies, and cognates.
As he journeys on in English, he will need support with vocabulary and some word patterns. Still, he will have arrived to that level so much sooner than he otherwise would have because he was afforded the time to learn to read in his native language.
If you are a bilingual or dual-language teacher and have students like José, please know that the work that you do in the native language is SO important! Do it strategically and do it well! If you are a monolingual teacher, please advocate for your ELL students to receive native language reading support whenever possible!