Literature-Based Instruction with English Language Learners

By Hillman, Judith | New England Reading Association Journal, September 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Literature-Based Instruction with English Language Learners


Hillman, Judith, New England Reading Association Journal


Books this month cover a variety of timely topics: the second-generation of guided reading, assessment, a calendar of activities, and literature-based instruction for English language learners. All bring a unique perspective to reading and language arts instruction as authors underscore crucial aspects of reading and writing through their carefully written texts. "Quick reviews" at the end of this column mention visual literacy, tall tales, researching issues for middle schoolers, and more literature-- based reading activities.

So, drum roll please, trumpet fanfare, and curtain up - here are books worth a first and second look. Check your professional shelf or library at school, and if you don't find them, consider a requisition. Or, they may be appropriate for professional book clubs or inservice programs. Remember the NERA web page has a link to a bookstore if that's what you need. Happy Reading!

Focusing on the changing linguistic context of many of our classrooms, these authors believe that the power of literature transcends language differences and is the "most effective instructional tool for English language learners in K-12" (p. vii). Instead of learning the language first, then treating literature as a subject, children and adolescents profit from a literature-based process approach to language arts instruction. Literature is both content and process.

Hadaway, Nancy L., Sylvia M. Vardell and Terrell A. Young. (2002). Literature-- based Instruction with English Language Learners K-12. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. 0 321 06401 1

Authors Nancy L. Hadaway from the University of Texas at Arlington, Sylvia M. Vardell from Texas Women's University, and Terrell A. Young, Washington State University, insist that this is the first text to present a theoretical pedagogy that combines literature and the literacy development of English language learners. Moving away from a bilingual orientation in classroom instruction, these authors construct curricula for non-native speakers based on children's and adolescent books. Justifying the conceptual framework of this text, they state that 35% of all American school children are English language learners (p. 4).

English language learners (and non-native speakers) may range from totally non-English speaking (beginners) to high intermediate or early advanced English speakers who are almost ready for grade-level classroom lessons. Given the typical range of learners participating in most classroom lessons, the early-advanced/high intermediate speakers could be accommodated with others. Sprinkled throughout the text is a feature called "Voices from the Field," written in first person by students or teachers to highlight a particular strategy or teaching idea. The voices of students range from beginners through advanced English speakers. For example, in "Voices from the Field: Using Picture Books across Grade Levels" (p. 45), a student speaks eloquently about learning phonology:

My first semester of ESL class was about learning sounds and single words. I learned the sounds and words with picture books and flash cards. …

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