Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

One Size Does Not Fit All: How Assessment Guides Instruction in Word Study with English Learners

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

One Size Does Not Fit All: How Assessment Guides Instruction in Word Study with English Learners

Article excerpt

Many classroom teachers across the country potentially feel this discon- nect with the English language learn- ers they teach. Yet as our longitudinal research has shown us, there are ways that classroom teachers can connect with and support the growth of English language learners in the classroom. Our descriptive case studies of primary-aged English language learners illuminate some of the unique, yet at times common, issues that teachers are faced with on a daily basis with their students. Through observations, literacy assessments and interviews with teachers our study shows the complexity of instructional issues that arise, and also gives insight into the kinds of instruction that can promote the growth of English language and literacy. The assessments are particularly apt for informing word study instruction in the classroom. Word study approaches are not a "one-size fits all" program (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2008, p. 8). At the heart of effective word study is the concept of differentiation and meeting children at their level. In our research we have come to learn that even with the same first language English learners' needs vary when it comes to word study. What we hope to demonstrate through the two cases studies here is that by examining the similarities and differences in language and literacy assessment results, implications forword study instruction emerge. While the two young boys are their own unique individuals, their cases reveal many examples of how assessments can guide teachers to differentiate word study instruction for English language learners.

In the current study we analyze two comparable cases (Merriam, 1988) from a larger longitudinal study involving seven English learners developing literacy in English. The larger study seeks to document and understand the early literacy journeys of immigrant students learning to speak, read and write in English at the same time. We have used both quantitative and qualitative measures with each of the students, as described below.

Classroom context

Our focus students attended a classroom designed for English learners with limited proficiency called a "Language Academy," nested in an urban, Midwestern school where 72% of students were learning English as a new language, and 79% of students qualified for free or reduced lunch. The city in which the school is located has the largest Hmong population in the state. The city has received Hmong immigrants from Laos and Thailand in waves of immigration that occurred in mid-1970, the late 1980s, and most recently in 2004. In the most recent resettlement, one-third of the 15,000 refugees from the last refugee camp in Thailand, Wat Tham Krabok, were resettled in and around this city.

The classroom is a combined first and second grade with a licensed ESL teacher for each grade level, plus additional educational assistants and literacy volunteers throughout the day. The teachers implement developmentally appropriate thematic whole group instruction, guided reading, and word study instruction daily.

Literacy assessments

Over a year and a half of our study, we used several formal and informal measures to monitor two Hmong boys' progress in English literacy. For oral language we used the Language Assessment Scales-Oral (LAS-O) (De Avila & Duncan, 1994) which measures the oral language skills needed to function in the classroom. The fall kindergarten Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS-K) (Invernizzi, Meier, & Juel, 2004) was used to assess phonemic and alphabetic awareness. The components of the PALS-K include rhyme and beginning sound awareness, letter sounds and names, and concept of word. We used the Yopp-Singer Test of Phonemic Segmentation (Yopp, 1995) to measure students' skills in orally segmenting the phonemes in a word. In addition, the Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI) (Texas Education Agency, 2003) was used to assess students' ability to orally blend words. …

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