Sections II and III in the research summary below are direct excerpts from Julie Meltzer and Edmund Hamann's Meeting the Literacy Development Needs of Adolescent English Language Learners Through Content Area Learning, Part I (2004). This is a publication of the Education Alliance at Brown University funded by the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory.
General Research on Component A: Literacy and Motivation
The research is clear that one key to motivating students to develop positive literacy identities involves creating a student-centered classroom. This is a classroom where students feel a sense of belonging, feel competent, feel respected, and feel trusted to make choices--and, therefore, to strengthen their literacy skills (e.g. Alvermann & Phelps, 1998; McCombs & Barton, 1998). Such an environment allows for 1) formation of meaningful adult and peer relationships; 2) dialogue, collaboration, and the expression of personal and collective views; and, 3) acknowledgement and respect for unique abilities and talents (McCombs & Barton, 1998). Essential aspects of this environment that appear throughout the literature and have proven connections to enhancing literacy development include 1) the availability and use of a wide range of reading materials (e.g. Collins, 1996; Rycik & Irvin, 2001), 2) use of collaborative learning (Langer, 2001; Tinzmann, et. al. 1990), and 3) the importance of a responsive classroom environment where diverse life experiences and perspectives are welcomed (e.g. Oldfather, 1994; Schoenbach et al, 1999).
According to the literature, success depends on the effective use of 1) a critical literacy approach (e.g. Schoenbach et al 1999) and, 2) the teaching, practice and use of specific research-based strategies to structure literacy-related interactions. These include Reciprocal Teaching (Alfassi, 1998; Langer, 2001; Roshenshine & Meister, 1994), Question Generating (Rosenshine, et al. 1996) and Think Alouds ( Kucan & Beck, 1997). In combination, these help to create a classroom culture where the expectation is that all students and teachers will be regularly engaged in negotiating co-constructed meanings of texts.
Three best practices encapsulate the research in this critical area: 1) Making connections to students' lives (e.g. Alvermann & Phelps, 1998; Davidson & Koppenhaver, 1993; Langer, 2001); 2) Having students interact with each other and with text (e.g. Langer, 2001; Schoenbach, et al, 1999; Wilhelm, 1995); and 3) Creating responsive classrooms (e.g. Oldfather, 1994; Schoenbach et al, 1999). To facilitate an environment which supports such connections, interactions and responsiveness requires 1) that teachers know their students, 2) know how to teach reading and writing, and 3) know how to optimize the social and motivational needs of adolescents in service of content area learning (e.g. Langer, 2001; McCombs & Barton, 1998; Moore, et al., 2000; Schoenbach et al, 1999; Tierney & Pearson, 1981, 1992).
Research on Creating Safe and Responsive ClassroomsFrom the Adolescent Literacy Support Framework:
Teachers are responsive to adolescent students' needs for choice and flexibility and offer clear expectations and support for higher achievement. A variety of materials and resources are available for teaching and learning. Engagement can be the key to motivating learners previously caught in a cycle of failure in reading and writing. Teachers are also responsive to differing cultural perspectives, making these perspectives clear through their facilitation of discussion, choices of literature, structuring of assignments and assessment strategies. Teachers encourage students from all backgrounds and from diverse perspectives to participate in supportive classroom discussions. - Meltzer (2001)
Based upon their research, Moje and Hinchman (2004) emphatically make the point that
Responsiveness to literacy needs must, obviously, take place within the larger context of being responsive to the learning needs of adolescents. Roe (2001) refers to a cycle of
If students are to develop their academic literacy habits and skills, students need to engage with reading and writing (Guthrie, 2001; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000), but direct engagement with reading and writing is not necessarily the first or only step. Developmentally, adolescents respond to opportunities to make choices and be independent/have autonomy. These opportunities become important supports, therefore, of their development of healthy identities as readers, writers, and speakers (Moore, et al., 1999; Reed et al., 2004; Swan, 2004). How students respond to opportunities for autonomy depends in part upon whether they carry a task or performance orientation and may require more modeling and mediation from the teacher for those students who typically bring a performance orientation to literacy tasks (Ruddell & Unrau, 1996).
For some students, goal setting and assessment will encourage or motivate engagement with reading and writing tasks (Guthrie, 2001; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000; Schunk & Zimmerman, 1997). When teachers use multiple forms of assessment, it allows them to better modulate instruction to match students' literacy needs (Langer, 1999; Peterson, et. al., 2000). Ongoing formative assessment provides teacher and student alike with valid information about the student's literacy habits and skills and/or their content knowledge. (See, for example, Biancarosa & Snow, 2004.) Use of more than one form of assessment makes it possible for assessment to be responsive to student needs, learning styles, and strengths, greatly improving the chances that assessment will accurately reflect learning and signal areas for additional attention (Moore, et al., 1999; Solano-Flores & Trumbull, 2003). Having students choose the assessment format they will use to show what they know and involving them with goal setting are additional vehicles for improving motivation and engagement (Guthrie, 2001). When teachers use multiple forms of assessment, it allows them to better modulate instruction to match students' literacy needs (Langer, 1999; Peterson, et. al., 2000). Involving students in rubric development is another way to respond to students' need for voice and input and to learn what they value and respect in high quality written work or presentations. This kind of formative and frequent assessment is different from that generated by large-scale, often high-stakes standardized tests. Whatever the merit of such tests, they do not provide the just-in-time, individualized, nuanced feedback that is being referred to here (Sarroub & Pearson, 1998).
Authenticity is another frequent theme in the literature related to motivation and engagement (e.g., Roe, 2001; Schoenbach, et al., 1999; Smith & Wilhelm, 2002). Adolescents want to conduct inquiry for real purposes, not just to 'pass it in to the teacher.' They want their work to matter and they are more than willing to put effort into developing literacy habits and skills if they are convinced that it is important and/or that their work will help others. This is why having adolescents read with younger students, design websites, write newspaper articles, write books for younger readers, and conduct and report upon inquiries reflecting real societal concerns (e.g., neighborhood crime, pollution, teen issues, school or city policies that affect them) are often strategies that motivate and engage students to persist with challenging or extended reading and writing tasks (Alvermann, 2001).
Another key feature for fostering motivation and engagement with literacy is safety and inclusion. One issue is the culture of the classroom and whether the collaboratively produced webs of meaning-marking what does and does not matter and who is included and how--is truly responsive to the needs of struggling readers and writers (Moore, Alvermann, & Hinchman, 2000; Ruddell & Unrau, 1996; Van den Broek & Kremer, 2000). For those who make it to high school without adequate literacy habits and skills, it is often scary to reveal this to others and, therefore, to begin the hard work of addressing the issues. Relevant questions weighed by learners deciding whether to engage include: Is it safe in this class to be a struggling reader or writer? Is it safe to make mistakes? Are all voices equally valued and listened to? Are spaces made for those who are slower to participate or fearful to speak or share? Are there texts that are responsive to learners' needs; texts that match varying interests and/or reading levels? Do students feel that the teacher
For many students with low literacy self-esteem, the motivation to read and write depends on their judgments regarding whether a teacher will give up on them or believes that they are worth the investment of time and encouragement. This emerges again and again in the literature (e.g., Dillon, 1989; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000; Krogness, 1995; Ruddell & Unrau, 1996; Smith & Wilhelm, 2002; Valenzuela, 1999). This underscores the importance of teacher and student relationships along with the importance of teacher understanding of adolescent literacy development and issues (e.g., Moore, Alvermann, & Hinchman, 2000; Moore, et al., 1999; Ruddell & Unrau, 1996).
A classroom environment that responds to adolescents' need to feel competent and that provides feedback in a specific and supportive way so competencies are built can result in greater motivation to engage with literacy tasks (Smith & Wilhelm, 2002). Technology use can be of assistance here since many students feel competent with computers and may be more willing to engage with literacy tasks using them (Alvermann, 2001; Biancarosa & Snow, 2004; Kamil, 2003).
The adolescent literacy literature is also insistent that adolescents need and deserve access to a wide variety of types of texts and that the quality and diversity of reading material is related to motivation to read (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004; Curtis, 2002; Guthrie, 2001; Guthrie & Knowles, 2001; Ivey & Broaddus, 2001; McCombs & Barton, 1998; McKenna, 2001; Moore, et al., 1999). While this may be seen as a resource or structural issue, as opposed to a classroom culture or motivational issue, it is both. The presence or absence of a wide variety of texts enables or undermines the potential for a literacy-rich environment within a school or classroom. The availability of texts that mirror students' social realities, interests, and reading levels makes it clear that student learning will be supported and student identities honored. Such a collection should include a wide selection of types of content-related fiction and nonfiction texts written by a variety of authors representing multiple perspectives, cultures, styles, genres, and time periods. Absent an abundant supply of texts,
Research on Using This Practice With English Language Learners
In surveying the secondary ELL literature, three aspects of responsiveness emerge related to the psycho-emotional disposition of students to engage with academic literacy development and content area learning. Although each has ramifications that go well beyond language learning and literacy development, it is these dimensions of each issue which are emphasized here:
None of these are currently commonplace in most mainstream content area classrooms. Yet with minor adjustments, teachers can help turn their classrooms from places where ELLs refuse or find it difficult to participate into responsive learning environments where ELLs' academic literacy development can be effectively supported.
Creating safe classroom spaces where students of varied perspectives and backgrounds feel welcome is essential to the successful participation of ELLs in both supported (ESL or bilingual) and mainstream content-focused classrooms. To be culturally responsive, classrooms must be centered around instruction that
Miramontes et al. (1997) stress that the academic wellbeing of ELLs is the responsibility of all the instructors at a school (not just special program teachers). (See also Dwyer .) The literature suggests that mainstream teachers have the primary responsibility for creating a safe space for interaction where ELLs feel they can participate without fear of ridicule. Several studies have depicted the negative consequences for ELLs when this does not occur (e.g., Early, 1985; Schinka-Llano, 1983; Verplaetse, 1999). Pappamihiel notes:
The process of moving from an English as a second language (ESL) class to a mainstream class with no supplementary English support can be very traumatic for many ESL students. Even though many have good English skills in terms of social proficiency (BICS), many are still struggling with the type of cognitive academic language (CALP) necessary for success in the mainstream classroom (Cummins 1978, 2000). Add this to situational pressure, associated with interactions with native speakers of English, and one can easily see where the process of moving from the ESL class to the mainstream environment would be anxiety provoking. (2001, p. 2)
It is worth considering the community-like quality of the programs many ELLs participated in prior to being mainstreamed (Minicucci, 2000). A pilot study of eight high schools (Hamann, Migliacci, & Smith, 2004), concerned with how plans to convert large high schools into smaller learning communities was or was not inclusive of ELLs, noted that in many cases the ESL and transitional bilingual education programs that ELLs had negotiated prior to exiting and being mainstreamed were like de facto smaller learning communities-i.e., programs where students were well known by adults that they worked hard for and trusted. The researchers also found that ELLs who had acquired enough English proficiency to exit such programs often maintained ties with their former ESL instructors, coming back for help with homework, to announce an academic success, or to seek counsel on school and non-school struggles. Feeling "cared for" matters (Valenzuela, 1999), which includes having an outlet to tackle the stresses, academic and otherwise, that are part of negotiating high school, culturally and linguistically unfamiliar terrain, and coming of age. As an extra stress, many immigrant students often have endured long stretches in the care of someone other than their U.S. guardian (e.g., raised by grandparents in Guatemala while parents found work in the United States) (Súarez-Orozco & Súarez-Orozco, 2001). It follows that ELLs would welcome the same sense of safety they found in supported programs within the classrooms of their 'mainstream' teachers.
At the middle school level, the Student Diversity Study (Minicucci, 2000) also found that ELLs did better socially and academically when structural changes-like teacher looping,
Mainstream teachers can create a culture of, and expectation for, safe classroom participation of ELLs through the use of such strategies as: flexible grouping, intolerance of ridicule, extended wait time after posing a question, and a focus on inquiry-based authentic projects where students' various backgrounds are seen as strengths. Instructional supports, such as partnering, think alouds, practicing before being asked to read aloud or present, and use of Word Walls and graphic organizers also can assist (e.g., Pappamihiel, 2001; Waxman & Tellez, 2002). Failure to create such spaces can result in high nonparticipation by many ELLs, with participation rates further varying by gender (see, for example, Chang, 1997; Pappamihiel, 2001; Wolfe & Faltis, 1999; Wortham, 2001). Verplaetse (1998) notes that mainstream teachers often fail to enable ELLs' full participation in the classroom and that they usually do so unwittingly; suggesting that conscious attending to the issue of ELLs' full participation would be part of solving the problem. Without eliciting maximum participation, teachers have no way of assessing what ELLs know and where they need instructional support.
Assessment, like instruction, should be responsive, rigorous, and safe. Teachers need to keep four ideas in mind as they consider assessment in regards to ELLs' motivation and engagement. First, they should note that assessments affect how students regard a classroom, a subject, and themselves as learners. Unmediated, poor test outcomes can contribute to low self-esteem, diminished engagement, and/or a sense that the teacher or strategy of measurement is unfair.
Second, teachers should account for Connell's (1993) point that curricular justice also requires assessment justice. That means that culturally-bound assessment instruments (that use word problems assuming certain familiarities, for example) will underestimate the proficiencies of those whose experiences poorly correspond with the embedded presumptions of the assessment instrument (Lachat, 1999; 2004). Solano-Flores and Trumbull (2003) offer a vivid illustration of this. They found that a math test question from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was consistently misunderstood by low-income students (obscuring that their math calculations, ostensibly the point of interest, were actually often accurate).
Third, content-area teachers need to remember that all tests are tests for language (even if that is not the target area for measurement) and that interpreting test results from ELLs requires winnowing apart language comprehension issues from content area comprehension issues (Abedi, 2004). For example, Greene (1998) found that bilingual programs resulted in significant student achievement gains in math, when the math achievement was measured in Spanish, but that math gains when measured in English were insignificant. Solano-Flores and Trumbull complicate but reiterate this point with their finding that ELLs vary by subject in terms of which language they test better in, reflecting perhaps differences in the language they were using for acquisition. Therefore it is not safe to presume that a Spanish-speaking ELL, who tests better in math if the exam is in Spanish, will necessarily do better on a social studies exam that is in Spanish instead of English. This inter-lingual dilemma relates to literacy motivation and engagement because students who feel that an assessment did not adequately reflect their content area knowledge are vulnerable to frustration and disengagement.
Finally, teachers need to recognize that adolescent ELLs often bring to U.S. classrooms their memories and understandings of schooling and assessment learned elsewhere (Olsen & Jaramillo, 2000; Valdés, 2001). Thus, students from Hong Kong, for example, where state-funded education beyond the ninth grade ends for students who do not score in the top quartile on a standard assessment, might be particularly anxious about assessments. Similarly, students from systems where poor test outcomes are seen as an affront to the instructor might misinterpret the indifferent response of an instructor to their poor performance on a quiz or test.
Responsiveness to language and identity
Walquí (2000b) has argued that students' backgrounds should be the point of departure for how teachers respond to ELLs, while Valenzuela (1999) has noted that Latino ELLs and other Latino students rarely encounter curricula and classroom practices that do just this. Teachers can unwittingly sabotage their efforts to create positive learning environments through their unexamined responses to ELLs' spoken and written errors in English. Many middle and high school teachers are missing part of the knowledge base they need to effectively facilitate the language and literacy growth across the content areas (Fillmore & Snow, 2000). Without this knowledge base, teachers tend to (a) become hyper-critical of ELLs' written and spoken language errors, (b) forbid native language usage in the classroom as a scaffold for academic understanding and English language development, or, equally problematic, (c) ignore language errors and provide no way for ELLs to improve their academic English. All three types of responses can be made by well-meaning teachers who think they are being
Harklau (2002) reminds us that most adolescent second language learners already have some developed literacy skills in a first language that they use as tools for academic tasks. Thus, use of the native language to scaffold literacy development in English is often a productive strategy for ELLs (Fernandez & Nielsen, 1986; Garcia, 1999; Jimenez, 1994; Jimenez & Gersten, 1999; Kamil, 2003; Royer & Carlo, 1991; Sturtevant, 1998; Tse, 2001). For instance, if students are allowed to discuss or draft a response to a question in their native language before crafting a response in English, that may better allow them to reflect upon what they know about the content. Studies show that written responses in English are more complete and reflective of content understanding when based upon students' native language (written or verbal) responses to texts they have read in English, in comparison with the quality of responses students produce when required to respond
It is not just literacy habits developed in a first language that ELLs can draw on to perform well across the curriculum. As Cummins (2001) has highlighted, many low-incidence English language words, like the technical vocabulary students encounter across the content areas, come from Greek and Latin roots. Once native Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Haitian Creole speakers recognize that science and math words in their first language have cognates in English, rapid acquisition of important vocabulary can more easily follow. (See Nagy et al.  and Nagy, McClure, and Mir  for more regarding Spanish-English bilinguals' use of cognates.)
Mainstream teachers of ELLs need professional development in the area of second language acquisition and literacy development, particularly with reference to how they can most productively respond to ELLs as they gain proficiency with academic English. Such professional development might include studying how different first languages transfer to English with regard to the alphabetic principle, syntax, and language structures; learning about catalogues of language errors and what they indicate about first language and literacy development; and focusing on how to explicitly teach the text structures and discourse features of various content areas (Fillmore & Snow, 2000). This is not an
There is an unfortunate history in U.S. education of attempting to eradicate a student's native language (if it is not English) (e.g., Dozier, 1970; Spicer, 1976; Suina, 2004). However, a student's native language is an important aspect of that student's identity (Epstein, 1970; Ochoa & Cadeiro-Kaplan, 2004; Tse, 2001); a communication lifeline to family, peers, and community; and a profound resource to draw upon as s/he learns English. Learning and mastering academic English is a primary goal of American schooling and using English to demonstrate mastery is a standard expectation across the curriculum. Even so, it is counterproductive to create learning environments where ELLs feel they have to sacrifice many assets they bring to the table that can help them learn and develop positive identities as readers and writers.
Acknowledging plural social realities
In truly responsive classrooms, teachers explicitly acknowledge and honor students' life experiences and cultural and linguistic backgrounds because they are building blocks onto which students add and they are sources for the strategies students deploy to learn (Montes, 2002). Successful learning environments for ELLs are created when teachers respect their students' home languages and cultures, and acknowledge students' tasks, responsibilities, and identities beyond school such as contributor to the family income or caretaker of younger siblings. (Hamann, 2001; Orellana, 2001; Sarroub, 2001). Teachers can help ELLs make the necessary transitions and build academic language in ways that
Studying and reading texts that reflect one's ethnic and/or racial identity are known critical supports for healthy adolescent identity development (Tatum, 1997). This is true not only in English class, but across the content areas; in the stories presented in history/social studies and in the thinking and accomplishments underlying math, science, business, technology, and art. Students from various ethnic and/or racial backgrounds must see themselves as part of, not excluded from, the academic world to engage. Studies show (e.g., Darder, 1993) that when students can see themselves in the academic content they are engaging with, they can better imagine their own success/possible futures and tend to do better academically. For example, Reyhmer and Davidson (1992) found that, to improve the education of ELLs, teachers should relate their instruction to the out-of-school life of their students. Concentrating particularly on math and science instruction, they noted that ethno-mathematics and ethno-science could help teachers relate these subjects to students' lives. They also noted that teachers of math and science needed to provide writing and other language development activities for their ELLs. Such responsiveness does not mean that a Mexican immigrant student needs an example of a Mexican immigrant scientist to understand science. What it does mean, however, is that the Mexican immigrant student will do better if, in his/her attempt to understand science, he/she is supported by teachers who endeavor to relate the science curriculum to what the student knows, has experienced, and seeks.
The ELL literature confirms the importance of the promising practices related to creating safe and responsive classrooms found in the general adolescent literacy literature. However, added attention and teacher knowledge related to how to implement these practices in ways described in this paper will be critical to truly enact this goal of safety and responsiveness for ELLs.
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