Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

English Language Literacy: Motivating Culturally Diverse Students to Improve Reading and Writing Skills

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

English Language Literacy: Motivating Culturally Diverse Students to Improve Reading and Writing Skills

Article excerpt

My interest in second language literacy instruction heightened seven years ago when I began teaching in a fifth grade transitional bilingual classroom. Many students came to my classroom unmotivated, without interest in reading or writing, and frequently without the ability to participate in either process on grade level. Several years later as Project Coordinator for Community Centered Project Based Technology Learning (PBTIL), an initiative funded through the University of Massachusetts Lowell by the United States Department of Education, I had the opportunity to interact with more than sixteen elementary teachers, who teach Hispanic English language learners. During this three-year project I spent considerable time observing classroom settings and instruction as well as listening to participating teachers.

My experiences as classroom teacher and coordinator of the PBTIL initiative have provided me with an understanding of classroom practices in kindergarten through sixth grade that motivate English language learners to actively engage in literacy. In this article, which is written for teachers of mainstream or transitional bilingual education, I share practices that have been successful in creating classroom communities that promote literacy acquisition for Spanish speaking English language learners.

This article begins with a brief discussion of standards and research that link student motivation and engagement to reading achievement. It then provides a description of the linguistic programs of instruction for fifth grade students and PBTIL elementary grade students. Finally, it describes technology-integrated projects that have increased student motivation and engagement for Hispanic second language students, and articulates some of the challenges encountered in the implementation of technology-integrated learning.


The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires that schools develop a plan to "enable all students to meet challenging state content and student academic achievement standards" (NCBE, 2001). Although reforms implemented during the past twenty years may have improved educational opportunity for some students, the achievement gap between Hispanic students and their mainstream peers continues to grow. Although many Hispanic children enter school with the ability to speak two languages, problem solve, and think critically and creatively, they may be under-prepared for literacy instruction that occurs in most schools. When these differences are perceived as deficits, second language learners may receive instruction that stresses isolated skills designed to prepare them for reading, rather than authentic literacy opportunities. When exposed to "piecemeal" and "superficial" knowledge and curriculum students often disengage from learning processes (Paredes-Scribner, 1999, p. 2).


This disengagement is particularly disturbing considering that student engagement in reading has been shown by Guthrie & Wigfield (2001) to "substantially compensate for low family income and educational background" (p. 404). In their synthesis of current research on motivation and its effects on reading, Guthrie and Wigfield found that motivated readers are engaged readers, and this engagement is highly related to continued growth in reading ability. Students are motivated when reading texts that are connected to "stimulating activities, related to learning events, or connected to personally significant projects" (p. 411) (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2001). This may be particularly true for those Hispanic students who come from homes in which literacy is engaged in less for pleasure and leisure and more for purposeful activities (Delgado Gaitan & Trueba, 1992). Hands-on science activities have been shown to provide students with a purpose for literacy and thus improve reading engagement. Moreover, Guthrie and Wigfield (2001) cite research that suggests "reading engagement initially learned with intrinsically motivating activities in one knowledge domain transferred flexibly to a new knowledge domain" (p. …

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