Magazine article Practical Literacy

The Importance of Explicity Teaching Language and Literacy to English Language Learners

Magazine article Practical Literacy

The Importance of Explicity Teaching Language and Literacy to English Language Learners

Article excerpt

To ensure students learning English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D) are provided with appropriate instruction, this article advocates the need for teachers to determine their students' level of English language proficiency and literacy skills and then explicitly teach a program that is tailored to their students' learning needs. In my work as an English second language consultant and previously as a school principal in the Northern Territory (NT), I have had many discussions with teachers and principals who believe that 'good literacy teaching practices' will enable EAL/D learners to successfully access and engage in mainstream teaching and learning programs. However, research has shown that EAL/D learners achieve significantly better outcomes when classroom teaching includes a focus on language learning, as compared to classrooms that make no adjustments for the students' limited English proficiency (Saunders & Goldenberg, 2010).

Devoting time to explicitly teaching specific language forms and functions has been shown to be very effective for teaching EAL/D learners. Norris and Ortega (2000) found the outcomes for EAL/D learners were five times greater, when teachers focused on explicitly teaching the structures of English compared to the outcomes for those who did not receive such focused instruction. From conversations with classroom teachers in the NT, it is clear that they recognise the importance of explicit teaching, however many report that they find it difficult to design and implement a sequence of lessons where the learning scaffolds are gradually reduced and the learner takes on greater responsibility until they can complete the task independently.

It is important to emphasise how critical it is for effective instruction, that teachers release the responsibility for completing the task to the student. Research has revealed that highly effective teachers working in low resource communities spend a good deal of time coaching students, that is, being the guide on the side while the students try out their developing ability to apply the new strategies to complete the task (Taylor, Pearson, Clark, & Walpole, 2000). Research indicates that less effective teachers commonly skip this step, or move too quickly from the explicit teaching phase, to expecting students to independently apply strategies (Duke, Pearson, Strachan, & Billman, 2011).

An explicit teaching, gradual release of responsibility model, which includes three distinct phases of explicit teaching, shared responsibility and independent practice, is presented in Figure 1.

Explicit teaching phase

It is important that teachers firstly identify their students' level of English language proficiency, using formative assessments. Knowledge of the students' English language development is essential, so that the teacher can identify which specific elements of vocabulary, grammar and language functions should be taught. An awareness of the students' prior knowledge and language proficiency also enables the teacher to determine the level of scaffolding the learners require to access and engage with the explicit teaching and learning program.

The explicit teaching phase begins by establishing a clear learning intention. This involves the teacher discussing and explaining the language knowledge or skill the students are going to learn and then linking this new learning to what the students already know. Activating the students' prior knowledge is important, because it is widely accepted that a learner's knowledge of the world, provides a basis for understanding, learning and remembering facts and ideas (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2016). Therefore connecting students' prior knowledge and experiences to the teaching, developing background knowledge of the field, and teaching key vocabulary, are all effective ways to increase comprehension and achievement (Neuman Kaefer, & Pinkham, 2014). …

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