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 II (2005). This is a publication of the Education Alliance at Brown University funded by the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory.
General Research on Component C: Across the Curriculum
Evidence clearly points to the connection between increased use of reading and writing in the content areas and better achievement for all students. The field of ESL has long supported content-based instruction, which integrates the teaching of content and language, as an effective strategy for supporting the academic achievement of English language learners (see, for example, Thomas & Collier, 1997).
The research champions the explicit support of contextual literacy learning in content-focused classrooms, especially for struggling adolescent readers, including English language learners (see for example, Mohan, 1992; Moore, et al, 2000; Reyhner & Davison, 1992; Schoenbach et al., 1999). Of course, this requires that teachers know the literacy demands of their particular content areas.
According to the research, three discipline-based literacy strategies are central: vocabulary development, understanding of text structures, and recognizing and analyzing discourse features. Teachers should combine these strategies with instructing students to take a problem-solving approach to reading comprehension. They should also have students use cognitive strategies in context. The combination of these strategies have been shown to effectively support the development of adolescent literacy in almost startling ways, including with English language learners (see, for example, Langer, 1999; Mohan, 1992; Schoenbach et al, 1999).
Good discipline-specific vocabulary instruction--as opposed to the more pervasive "assign, define, and test,"--has been shown to have a positive effective on reading comprehension. See, for example, Allen (1999); Baker et al. (1995) http://idea.uoregon.edu/%7Encite/documents/techrep/tech14.html; Graves, 2000; Smith (1997) http://www.indiana.edu/~reading/ieo/digests/d126.html; Stahl & Fairbanks (1986).
Understanding text structures is an important way to help learners increase reading comprehension of demanding content-area texts. Teachers should demystify expository and narrative text structures within the context of specific content areas. This will give secondary readers frames within which to interpret new information. Strategies for unpacking text structures include the use of signals for predicting and mapping, and the use of text queries (see, for example, Berkowitz, 1986; Garner & Reis, 1981; Pearson & Camperell, 1994; Pearson & Fielding, 1991; Schoenbach et al, 1999; Taylor, 1992).
Being able to recognize and analyze discourse features aids tremendously in content-area understanding. It also enhances content-focused writing (e.g., Langer & Flihan, 2000; Schoenbach et al., 1999). The explicit teaching of the discourse features particular to specific content areas is important for all students. However, it is especially important for English language learners and students coming from limited literacy backgrounds (e.g., Mohan, 1990; Reyhner & Davison, 1992; Spanos, 1992).
Research on Recognizing and Analyzing Discourse Features
Discourse refers to the language used to discuss important concepts within a discipline. In a sense, different content areas represent different sub-cultures within the larger academic discourse (Zamel, 1998). How we
This definition of literacy has particular implications for students trying to learn within the contexts of various subject areas. Zamel (1998) explains that students who want to be successful at learning within a content-area community
. . . must take on its ways of knowing and its 'ways with words.' The idea of a culture suggests the kind of immersion, engagement, contextualization, [and] fullness of experience, that is necessary for someone to be initiated into and to be conversant in that culture, for someone to understand the ways in which that culture works. ...Students need to act as if they weremembers of the academy, or historians or anthropologists or economists.Elbow (1991), too, stresses this notion and points out that writing well within the disciplines requires not just using thelingoof the discipline but doing the discipline (p. 138). Doing academic discourse, in other words, involves far more than an academic exercise. (p. 188, italics in original)
By Zamel's definition, students who take a variety of content-area courses must navigate many subcultures in the course of a single day in order to be successful. Some or all of these subcultures may make little sense to them. Occasionally, however, there are teachers willing and able to actively support students so that they feel welcomed and assisted to be
Throughout the literature it is apparent that
Content-area discourse includes not only vocabulary development and understanding text structures, but also how the
The meanings of central concepts (e.g., research, graphic, argument, evidence, problem solving) differ in significant ways across disciplines. Accordingly, the conventions of discourse in each discipline also vary. Conventions include the formats used to discuss and present important information in different content areas (e.g., debate, presentation of a geometric proof, historical reenactment, scientific hypotheses). To read, write, or speak competently in a given content area, one needs to know specific information related to that discourse (e.g., the criteria for documentation, specificity, punctuation, format, and approaches to analysis).
Zamel (1998) cautions, however, that discourse communities are neither tidy nor constant. Rather, they are always evolving and cannot be reduced to mere forms and formats. "It is clear that becoming acculturated into a new academic community does not simply involve practicing the discipline-specific language, norms, and conventions that many textbooks on academic reading and writing seem to imply (p. 189). Therefore providing instruction on language forms and formats will not, on its own, give students full access to the discourse community of science or history. Teachers and students must be jointly engaged in the doing of science and history within an apprenticeship context for such instruction to be meaningful. Zamel further asserts that students must be encouraged to use their interests, questions, and prior experiences as starting points to interact with and learn how to become part of the discourse community of that discipline.
Being able to recognize and analyze the discourse features of particular disciplines aids tremendously in content-area understanding and content-focused writing (Langer, 1992; Langer & Flihan, 2000; Schoenbach et al., 1999). One illustration of this in the classroom is the Strategic Literacy Initiative being implemented by WestEd. Leaders of that project work with middle and high school teachers to build literacy support into content-area teaching and learning, using a four-part Reading Apprenticeship framework, as Schoenbach et al. (2003) describe:
In Reading Apprenticeship classrooms, teachers reconceptualize subject-area learning as an apprenticeship in discipline-based practices of thinking, talking, reading, and writing. In a Reading Apprenticeship classroom, then, the curriculum includes more than just what we read. It includes how we read and why we read in the ways we do. ...The primary goal of Reading Apprenticeship is to increase academic opportunities for adolescents who do not see themselves as readers of rigorous texts. We see this increased access as a vital means of working toward equity in academic achievement in secondary school and beyond. As teachers become more aware of the ways they and their disciplinary colleagues make sense of challenging texts?asking different kinds of questions in reading science, social studies, literature, or mathematics, for example?they are able to talk more descriptively and explicitly. ...Making the invisible visible in this way lets students in on how reading works in different disciplines and enables them toResearch on Using this practice with English Language Learnersbreak the codesof academic language. (The Reading Apprenticeship Framework section, ¶ 3)
Explicit teaching of the discourse features particular to specific content areas is especially important for ELLs and students with a limited background in the academic literacy expectations of schools (Heath, 1983; Mohan, 1990; Reyhner & Davidson, 1992; Spanos, 1992). Instruction that bridges and builds upon students' past literacy experiences, serving to advance their academic literacy habits and skills in the English language arts, can support student success (Lee, 2004; Maloney, 2003).
In her discussion of how to help language minority students acquire skills to function in the discourse community of science, Anstrom (1997) notes:
Attempting to carry on a scientific discussion assists in developing the ability to ask questions, propose tentative answers, make predictions, and evaluate evidence. However, the acquisition of certain linguistic structures of argumentation is thought to be a prerequisite for the kind of advanced reasoning used in scientific communication. If language minority students do not have access to these linguistic skills, they will not be able to engage in the level of discussion essential to scientific inquiry, and will have difficulty with science reasoning. Certain linguistic structures, such as logical connectors, and specialized vocabulary, both science terminology and vocabulary that may have different meanings in a scientific context, are problematic for language minority students. Moreover, discourse patterns common to science such as compare/ contrast, cause/effect, and problem/solution require a high level of linguistic functioning. Thus, cognitive development in science is heavily dependent upon linguistic development (Fathman et al., 1992).
Anstrom (1997) goes on to say that teachers will need to help students acquire the linguistic structures and discourse patterns frequently used in science. She notes,
There is a growing science education research literature that offers ideas and examples for how the discourse of science might be taught to ELLs. For example, there are several publications about the Cheche Konnen Project, a bilingual science initiative with L1 Haitian Creole speakers (e.g., Ballenger, 1997; Rosebery, Warren, & Conant, 1992; Warren et al., 2001), and Quest for Knowledge (e.g., Quiroz, 2001). The Cheche Konnen Project explicitly attempted to bridge the gap between the students' home and community-based talk practices and the expected talk of science class (Lemke, 1990). Joking, storytelling, and other everyday types of talk were welcome as points of entry into the science content. As engagement with that content grew, teachers redirected student talk into discourse forms that were more characteristic of academic science discourse.
Anstrom (1997) makes a similar case for what needs to happen in the math classroom:
With language minority students, teachers must attend not only to their cognitive development but also to the linguistic demands of mathematical language. The importance of language in mathematics instruction is often overlooked in the mistaken belief that mathematics is somehow independent of language proficiency.
She notes that particularly with the increased emphasis placed on problem solving, command of mathematical language plays an important role in the development of mathematical ability. Mathematics vocabulary, special syntactic structures, inferring mathematical meaning, and discourse patterns typical of written text all contribute to the difficulties many language minority students have when learning mathematics in English.
Curry (2004) also discusses the different discourses that ELL students must negotiate to successfully develop competence at essayist literacy, the primary type of writing required in college-level humanities and social science classes. This type of writing is highly linear and requires the author
Although focusing on elementary school students, a study by Catherine Snow (1990) of both native and non-native English speaking students illustrates the importance of these opportunities to practice. Snow found a strong correlation between schooling in English and the ability to give formal definitions (both formal and informal definition prove knowledge of a word, but the former better matches the academic genre preferred and rewarded in school). Snow concludes that the ability to practice definitions enables students to produce formal definitions. Considering Snow's study, however, Schleppegrell (2004) found that it also demonstrated the salience of student's recognition of social context.
Allen, J. (1999). Words, Words, Words. York, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Baker, S., Simmons, D., & Kameenui E.J. (1995). Vocabulary Acquisition: Curricular and Instructional Implications for Diverse Learners (Tech. Rep. No. 14). National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators. Available:http://idea.uoregon.edu/~ncite/documents/techrep/tech14.html
Berkowitz, S. (1986). Effects of Instruction in Text Organization on Sixth-Grade Students' Memory for Expository Reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 161-178.
Garner, R., & Reis, R. (1981). Monitoring and Resolving Comprehension Obstacles: An Investigation of Spontaneous Text Lookbacks Among Upper Grade Good and Poor Comprehenders. Reading Research Quarterly, 16, 569-582.
Graves, M. F. (2000). A Vocabulary Program to Complement and Bloster a Middle-Grade Comprehension Program. In B. M. Taylor, M. F. Graves & P. Van Den Broek (Eds.), Reading for Meaning (pp. 116-135). Newark, DE: International Reading Association & Teachers College Press.
Langer, J. (1999). Beating the Odds: Teaching Middle and High School Students to Read and Write Well. Available: http://cela.albany.edu/guidetext.pdf.
Langer, J., & Flihan, S. (2000). Writing and Reading Relationships: Constructive Tasks. In R. Indrisano & J. R. Squire (Eds.), Writing: Research/Theory/Practice. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Available:http://cela.albany.edu/publication/article/writeread.htm.
Mohan, B. (1990). LEP Students and the Integration of Language and Content: Knowledge Structures and Tasks First Research Symposium on Limited English Proficient Student Issues, OBEMLA. National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Available:http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/pubs/symposia/first/lep.htm.
Moore, D. W., Bean, T. W., Birdyshaw, D., & Rycik, J. A. (1999). Adolescent Literacy: A Position Statement for the Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International Reading Association. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Pearson, D., & Camperell, K. (1994). Comprehension of Text Structures. In R. B. Ruddell, M. R. Ruddell & H. Singer (Eds.), Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading (pp. 448-465). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Pearson, P. D., & Fielding, L. (1991). Comprehension Instruction. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, Volume 2 (pp. 815-860). New York: Longman.
Reyhner, J., & Davison, D. (1992). Improving Mathematics and Science Instruction for LEP Middle and High School Students Through Language Activities. Presented at the Third National Research Symposium on Limited English Proficient Student Issues: Focus on Middle and High School Issues. Available: http://www.ncbe.gwu.edu/pubs/symposia/third/reyhner.htm.
Schoenbach, R., Greenleaf, C., Cziko, C., & Hurwitz, L. (1999). Reading for Understanding: A Guide to Improving Reading in Middle and High School Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Smith, C. (1997, June). Vocabulary Instruction and Reading Comprehension. ERIC Digest #96, EDO-CS-97-07. Available: http://www.indiana.edu/~reading/ieo/digests/d126.html
Spanos, G. (1992). ESL Math and Science for High School Students: Two Case Studies. Presented at the Third National Symposium on Limited English Proficient Student Issues: Focus on Middle and High School Issues. Available:http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/pubs/symposia/third/spanos.htm.
Stahl, S. A., & Fairbanks, M. M. (1986). The Effects of Vocabulary Instruction: A Model-Based Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 56(1), 72-110.
Taylor, B. M. (1992). Text Structure, Comprehension and Recall. In S. J. Samuels & A. E. Farstrup (Eds.), What Research Has To Say About Reading Instruction (pp. 220-235). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Anstrom, K. (1997). Academic achievement for secondary language minority students: Standards, measures, and promising practices. Washington DC: The National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Retrieved August 14, 2004, from http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/pubs/reports/acadach.htm#Overview
Ballenger, C. (1997). Social identities, moral narratives, scientific argumentation: Science talk in a bilingual classroom. Language and Education, 11(1), 1-14.
Blanton, L. (1998). Discourse, artifacts and the Ozarks: Understanding academic literacy. In R. Spack & V. Zamel (Eds.), Negotiating academic literacies: Teaching and learning across languages and cultures (pp. 219-237). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Brown, R. H. (1992). Writing the social text: Poetics and politics in social science discourse. NY: Aldine De Gruyter.
Curry, M. J. (2004). UCLA Community College Review: Academic literacy for English language learners. Community College Review, 32(2), 51-68.
Delpit, L. (1995). Other people's children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: The New Press.
Gee, J. P. (1998). What is literacy? In R. Spack & V. Zamel (Eds.), Negotiating academic literacies: Teaching and learning across languages and cultures (pp. 51-60). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Gee, J. P. (2000). Discourse and sociocultural studies in reading. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 3, pp. 195-207). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Gee, J. P. (2001). Reading as a situated language: A sociocognitive perspective. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44(8), 714-725.
Heath, S. B. (1983). Ways with words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Langer, J. A. (1992). Critical thinking and English language arts instruction. National Research Center on Literature Teaching and Learning (Report Series 6.5). Retrieved on May 1, 2005, from http://cela.albany.edu/reports/critical/index.html
Langer, J. A., & Flihan, S. (2000). Writing and reading relationships: Exploring relations among knowledge, process, and motivational variables. Journal of Educational Research, 67(3), 271-299.
Lee, C. (2004, Winter/Spring). Literacy in the academic disciplines. Voices in Urban Education, 3, 14-25.
Lemke, J. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning, and values. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Maloney, W.H. (2003). Connecting the texts of their lives to academic literacy: Creating success for at-risk first-year college students. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46(8), 664-672.
Mohan, B. (1990). LEP students and the integration of language and content: Knowledge structures and tasks. Paper presented at the First Research Symposium on Limited English Proficient Student Issues, OBEMLA. Retrieved November 14, 2001, from http://ncbe.gwu.edu/ncbepubs/symposia/first/lep.htm
Quiroz, P. (2001). Beyond educational policy: Bilingual teachers and the social construction of teaching "science" for understanding. In M. Sutton & B. Levinson (Eds.), Policy as practice (pp. 167-192). Westport, CT: Ablex.
Reyhner, J., & Davidson, D. (1992). Improving mathematics and science instruction for LEP middle and high school students through language activities. Paper presented at the Third National Research Symposium on Limited English Proficient Student Issues: Focus on Middle School and High School Issues. Retrieved July 15, 2004, from http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/pubs/symposia/third/reyhner.htm
Rosebery, A., Warren, B., & Conant, F. (1992). Appropriating scientific discourse: Findings from language minority classrooms. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2(1), 61-94.
Schleppegrell, M. J. (2004). The language of schooling: A functional linguistics perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Schoenbach, R., Braunger, J., Greenleaf, C., & Litman, C. (2003, October). Apprenticing adolescents to reading in subject-area classrooms. Phi Delta Kappan. Retrieved on August 29, 2005 from http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/k0310sch.htm
Schoenbach, R., Greenleaf, C., Cziko, C., & Hurwitz, L. (1999). Reading for understanding: A guide to improving reading in middle and high school classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Snow, C.E. (1990). Rationales for native language instruction in the education of language minority children: Evidence from research. In A. Padilla, H. Fairchild, & C. Valadez (Eds.), Bilingual education: Issues and strategies (pp. 60-74). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. See page 41
Spanos, G. (1992). ESL math and science for high school students: Two case studies. Paper presented at the Third National Symposium on Limited English Proficient Student Issues: Focus on Middle and High School Issues. Retrieved November 14, 2001, from http://www.ncbe.gwu.edu/ncbepubs/symposia/third/spanos.htm
Stevens, L. P., & Bean, T. W. (2003). Adolescent literacy. In L. M. Morrow, L. B. Gambrell, & M. Pressley (Eds.). Best practices in literacy instruction (2nd ed., pp. 187-200). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Warren, B., Ballenger, C., Ogonowski, M., Rosebery, A., & Hudicourt-Barnes, J. (2001). Rethinking diversity in learning science: The logic of everyday sense-making. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(1), 1-24.
Wineburg, S. (1991). Historical problem solving: A study of cognitive processes used in the evaluation of documentary and pictorial evidence. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 73-87.
Wineburg, S. (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts: Charting the future of teaching the past. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.