The Top 4 Tips for Supporting English Learners in a Reading Workshop

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Lindsey Moses's new book Supporting English Learners in the Reading Workshop is available now. In today's post, Lindsey provides the top four tips to support English learners in the Reading Workshop. These are practical instructional ideas, lessons, and differentiation strategies for diverse classroom settings.

The Top 4 Tips for Supporting English Learners in a Reading Workshop

By Lindsey Moses

The reading workshop provides an effective approach to supporting the language and literacy development among all students. However, there are additional instructional considerations when supporting English learners. In the following blog post adapted from the book, Lindsey shares her top four tips for supporting English learners in the reading workshop. Each tip is based on a component of successful instruction for English learners as documented by research, personal experiences, and observations.

#1. Build a Classroom Community: Supportive Spaces

Successful programs for English learners consist of meaningful interactions between teachers and pupils with the use of cooperative learning (e.g., Berman et al., 1995; Doherty et al., 2003; Montecel & Cortez, 2002). Through these meaningful interactions, we establish a classroom community where students feel safe to explore, discuss, and take risks in their first and/or second language. If we want students to “go deeper” with their reading, writing, speaking, and listening, we must ensure an environment that supports it both socially and academically.

One way to accomplish this academically is to provide students with choices for texts, topics, and responses. English learners have demonstrated higher motivation and engagement when given choice for topic, texts, and ways to respond (Guccione, 2010). In addition to choice, modeling the sharing of “preliminary,” “inaccurate,” or “out-of the box” thinking demonstrates that it is safe to share our work- and thinking-in-progress. It is through dialogue and negotiation that we learn more about the language and content. As students begin to feel safe, we are able to lower their “affective filter” (Krashen, 1987) and improve language and literacy development.

#2. Encourage Discussion: Chatter Matters

English learners excel in a language-rich environment where they have the opportunity to hear and participate in meaningful discussions. In order to acquire another language, learners need to use it. As they are actively engaged in conversations, they can make connections necessary for learning. This might begin with encouraging conversational English related to feelings or connections to literature they are reading. Whole class, small-group and individual conversations can facilitate the development of both conversational and academic English in non-threatening ways.

Dialogue about matters of interest and concern to English learners should be used to foster their curiosity and desire to learn. Conversations surrounding topics of interest and common texts create positive attitudes toward reading while simultaneously addressing and supporting listening and reading comprehension.

#3. Implement Meaningful, Consistent, Thematically Integrated Curriculum: Insightful Instruction

Teaching skills in isolation creates a confusing and disjointed vision of what it means to be literate. The purpose of teaching skills (decoding, fluency, comprehension, etc.) is not for students to be able to demonstrate that skill, but rather to provide students with tools to engage effectively with texts. Successful programs for English learners implement meaningful and academically challenging curriculum with an emphasis on higher order thinking (Berman et al., 1995; Doherty et al., 2003; Montecel & Cortez, 2002).

In order for this curriculum to be effective, it needs to be consistent over time (Ramirez, 1992) and thematically integrated (Montecel & Cortez, 2002). A reading workshop model lends itself to consistent and thematically integrated instruction through thoughtful units of study supported by whole-group anchor lessons, workshop learning experiences, small-group instruction and word work, conferring, and reflection. As students begin to understand the connectedness of their literary experiences, and develop stronger language and literacy skills, they are able to engage in critical discussions about literature analysis.

#4. Focus on Content and Language Instruction: Balancing Both

It is not a focus on content OR language; it is both! Students learn language through content and content through language. These knowledge bases can support each other and develop simultaneously for English learners. English learners possess a great deal of background knowledge and life experiences that can be used to further develop their language proficiency. As content is presented and explored, they can draw on their prior knowledge from their first language to make the content in English comprehensible. In addition to teacher-initiated content instruction, opportunities for student-lead inquiry leads to increased motivation and opportunities for integrating language, literacy, and content knowledge scaffolds in an individualized manner. As teachers, we can design lessons, learning experiences, and inquiry opportunities that enhance students’ abilities to better understand the academic content and English language. The key is being purposeful and setting objectives for both content and language learning.

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Lindsey Moses is an assistant professor of literacy education at Arizona State University. A former elementary teacher, Lindsey works with classroom teachers around the country supporting the implementation of effective literacy instruction in diverse settings. Her research focuses on elementary literacy instruction and English learners. Lindsey is the coauthor of Comprehension and English Language Learners and the author of Supporting English Learners in the Reading Workshop.

Follow Lindsey on Twitter: @drlindseymoses.

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