Beyond the Beginnings: Literacy Interventions for Upper Elementary English Language Learners / Edition 1

Beyond the Beginnings: Literacy Interventions for Upper Elementary English Language Learners / Edition 1

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Multilingual Matters Ltd.


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Beyond the Beginnings: Literacy Interventions for Upper Elementary English Language Learners / Edition 1

The book addresses upper elementary English language learners who have a fairly good knowledge of spoken and written English, have demonstrated knowledge of phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding and word recognition, yet are struggling with academic English literacy. Throughout the book, the authors continuously argue that planning and delivering instruction to these students must be based on the ELL’s existing competencies, prior knowledge and experiences. Classroom curriculum and instruction must provide opportunities for helping ELL learners to build and extend skills, knowledge and processes. And, the highly complex process of language learning and literacy development calls for multifaceted instructional approaches. The book is divided into eight chapters providing specific information on the diversity of ELLs and providing examples, models and strategies to move them beyond the transition in English reading and writing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781853597497
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 05/01/2004
Series: Bilingual Education & Bilingualism Series , #46
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 6.75(w) x 9.93(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Angela Carrasquillo is a professor at Fordham University Graduate School of Education where she is the coordinator of the TESOL Program. She is nationally known in the areas of second language and bilingual education and has published extensively in these fields. She is the author (with Vivian Rodríguez ) of Language Minority Students in the Mainstream Classroom (Multilingual Matters, 2002).

Stephen B. Kucer is an associate professor of language and literacy education in the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University Lincoln Center. He is the author of Dimensions of Literacy (Erlbaum) and co-author of Curricular Conversations (Stenhouse).

Ruth Abrams works for the New York City Department of Education as a teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages. She is also on the adjunct faculty of Fordham University Graduate School of Education where she teaches courses in literacy and TESOL.

Read an Excerpt


English Language Learners in United States Schools


As a result of shifting demographics, the United States has experienced increasing numbers of English language learners (ELLs) in its schools. This is due, for the most part, to the large wave of immigration and the high fertility rates-among linguistically and culturally diverse groups in the United States. These new immigrants, refugees, international students, along with native-born non-English-speaking Americans, have a need to learn English and be successful members of the 'mainstream' American society. The passage of the 1967 Bilingual Education Act of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the landmark United States Supreme Court decision in Lau v. Nichols in 1974, provided a legal basis for equitable treatment of non-English-speaking students in United States during the last three decades (Lau v. Nichols, 1974). These two events impacted educational policy for non-English language communities and put linguistic minorities in the national spotlight, with the recognition that there is a large and growing number of students in United States schools who have little knowledge of the English language and need specialized language instruction. In 1968, the Bilingual Education Act provided funding to establish bilingual programs for students who did not speak English and who were economically poor. The 1974 Lau v. Nichols decision required every school district to take appropriate action to overcome language deficiencies in providing students equal participation in the instructional program. Today, there is recognition of English language learners/students (ELLs), and the many linguistic, academic and instructional challenges they face, and the need to provide these students with appropriate programs and effective instruction.

English language learners are found in every program and every school district, and they place great demands on teachers, administrators, and educational policy makers. Although many of them are initially placed in language assistance programs, a significant number of these students are enrolled in mainstream classrooms with no or little language assistance. The challenges presented to the schools by the influx of these students impact language specialists as well as regular/mainstream classroom educators. These students are not only required to compete with native speakers of English with respect to academic or literacy related language skills, they must also acquire the basic fluency in English that native speakers developed as a first language. Within such classrooms, students are expected to read longer literary texts, as well as texts in the content areas of mathematics, science, and social studies. In addition, English language learners need to develop the ability to understand native speakers of English in many situations, as well as the ability to read and write materials in English with comprehension and enjoyment. But the most crucial challenge for these students is the expectation of local, state, and national educational agencies that they score at grade level on state and national standardized tests, especially in the area of English language arts and mathematics.

These students are also expected to achieve a passing score in state content areas tests (e.g. New York State Regents exams). Therefore, educators need to find ways of meeting the needs of this significant group of students in achieving the English language arts standards as well as the content learning standards of the different academic subjects. The immediate academic achievement and future (employment) success of these students depends significantly on how successfully they acquire spoken and written English proficiency and develop strategies to appropriately use all the dimensions of the language. These dimensions include the specialized vocabulary of the various content areas, the ability to interpret and use complex syntax and grammatical structures in oral and written modes, and the use of reading and writing in all aspects of school life.


The English language learner population in the United States continues to be linguistically heterogeneous with over 100 distinct language groups identified (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez, 2002; GAO, 2001). Non-native English-speaking students in United States are foreign born as well as US-born. The US-born ELL students include speakers of American Indian languages as well as those children who were born and raised in non-English households. Children who are raised by parents who are not English proficient come to school with no or little knowledge of English. For example, Puerto Rican parents living in Philadelphia, who are first-generation monolingual Spanish speakers, converse with their babies using the language they have mastered, which in this case is Spanish. During their early years, these children are surrounded by their parents' language and culture, and in many instances their first encounter with literacy is in a language other than English. The Spanish language is the language of communication during the first four or five years. Relatives (adults and children) whose main tool of communication is in a language other than English surround the children with their language. When the children go to church, the playground, the neighborhood store, all they hear is 'their language.' It is when they enter school for the first time that they are faced with an unfamiliar language (English). These children become 'double learners'; they begin to learn English as well as the grade level content curriculum. One group enrolls in language assistance programs such as Bilingual Education or English as a Second Language (ESL). Another group enrolls in all-English classrooms with a short period of English support services. For others, it is the 'swim or sink' approach of making them responsible and accountable for the learning of the language as well as for the content and skills of the curriculum. The extent of their integration in the society and their future employment depends significantly on how successfully they acquire English and use the English language for learning the demands of the school context and the demands of the English-speaking society.

On the other hand, the family of the foreign-born student may be voluntary immigrants or involuntary, uprooted refugees. These immigrants represent an important resource to the host country, a workforce whose services provide an important employment support in many communities. They may reside in the United States legally or as undocumented immigrants. Historically, immigrants have left their homelands to escape religious or political persecution, to flee from poverty and famine, or to seek land ownership or increased economic opportunity. Children of immigrant parents come from many different countries of origin, where curricular sequences, content objectives, and instructional methodologies may differ dramatically from American practices. Most of them enroll in American schools speaking only the language of their home or country of origin.

Whereas until the middle of the twentieth century the immigrants were predominantly from European countries, in the last four or five decades they have come predominately from Asian, African, Caribbean or Latin American countries. These immigrants are usually fleeing political and economical oppression.

Both groups (the US-born and the immigrant-born) are greatly diverse; they represent different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, different schooling experiences and academic achievement, different lengths of time in US schools and different levels of native language and English proficiency. Most English language learners (about 66%) are enrolled in elementary schools, about 18% are enrolled in middle schools, and about 14% in high schools (GAO, 2001; US Department of Education, 1997; 2001). Although most of these students (almost 75%) speak Spanish at home, ELLs represent diverse ethnic backgrounds as well as diverse economic, experiential, educational and linguistic backgrounds.


The 'typical' English language learner student: (1) is characterized by a substantive participation in a non-English speaking social environment, (2) has acquired the normal communicative abilities of that social environment; and (3) is exposed to an English environment, most likely for the first time, during the formal schooling process. Upon entering school, English language learners may fall anywhere on a broad continuum of English language proficiency and English literacy development. The students may be entirely monolingual in the non-English language or may have some oral development in English with limited English academic language and literacy development. Their language and literacy vary and can have a significant role and impact on the way these students adjust and succeed in an all-English curriculum. For the most part, English language learners fall into three broad literacy groups relative to grade level literacy and cognitive demands. A brief description of these literacy groups follows.

ELLs Who are Literate in Their Native Language:

• demonstrate mastery of oral L1 vocabulary, oral fluency, grammatical and syntactical construction abilities;

• can read and write in the first language;

• demonstrate developmental and conceptual literacy;

• possess basic subject/content area concepts and functions;

• possess basic mathematical concepts and functions.

ELLs Who have Limited Literacy in Their Native Language:

• communicate in L1 with basic vocabulary, oral fluency, grammatical and syntactical construction abilities;

• have limited development of literacy and conceptual processes;

• may possess limited subject/content concepts and functions;

• may possess limited mathematical concepts and functions.

ELLs With Limited or Interrupted Formal Schooling:

• come from a country/home where a language other than English is spoken;

• usually enter a school in United States, after grade 2;

• upon school enrollment, have had at least two/three years less schooling than their peers;

• have limited native language literacy and poor academic achievement;

• usually have limited knowledge of science and social studies concepts;

• usually possess limited knowledge of mathematical concepts.

ELLs in All-English Classrooms

English language learners enrolled in all-English classrooms may come from two separate groups:

• Those students who may have exited from bilingual and ESL programs because they scored at the exit level in a standardized English proficiency exam. Usually, they demonstrate 'intermediate' to 'advanced' proficiency in English, as measured by a standardized proficiency test such as the BINAL, the LAB or the TERRANOVA.

• Those students who never participated in a language-assisted program and who receive all instruction in English. The English literacy skills of these students vary depending on the level of proficiency in their native language, their length of English exposure, the quality of the instruction, and the English language support received.

These students are identified by the labels 'non-English speakers' 'limited English proficient' or 'English language learners.' However, the most recent label used in the literature is that of 'English language learners' (ELLs). The information gathered by identifying ELLs helps local educational agencies to request additional state or federal funding to provide appropriate instruction to these students. This information is also useful in determining the relationship between sources of funding and the nature of services provided. The United States federal government recommends that schools, at the beginning of each school year, begin the identification process by initially surveying and making a list of all students who meet one of the following conditions:

• the student was born outside the United States, or has a native language that is not English;

• the student comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant;

• the student is an American Indian, or Alaskan Native and comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a significant impact on his/her level of English language proficiency; or

• the student has sufficient difficulty speaking, reading, writing or understanding the English language to deny him or her the opportunity to learn successfully in English-only classrooms, to be assigned to specific services, or to exit from the 'limited English' status, or services.

Although the data gathered are not always the most complete or accurate (i.e. some states or school districts do not always send the requested information or, if it is sent, it may be incomplete or inaccurate), these data provide information to researchers, policy makers and school personnel in making generalizations on the number of English language learners in the United States and the types of instructional services needed and provided.

Are All ELLs Identified?

Unfortunately, not all ELLs are identified. The identified English language learner population shifts from language assistance programs to all-English programs. Through scoring at certain expected cut-off scores in a standardized English proficiency test, English language learners exit from language assistance programs (usually ESL or bilingual education) and are then placed in 'regular' or 'mainstream' English-only programs. Once students are in this new placement, they do not qualify/count as designated 'English language learners.' Anew group of immigrants or non-English-speaking United States children and youth arrive in the school district and are added to the number of English language learners who did not test out in the English language proficiency test.

Once those students are placed in mainstream classrooms, teachers plan and deliver instruction as if everyone in the classroom has reached the level of English-language proficiency that is needed to master the instructional content. Unfortunately, this instructional approach does not take into consideration that English language learners are cognitively taxed on two levels. On one level, they must learn the grade level subject content, and on the other level, they have the linguistic challenge involved in processing content and skills in a language (English) in which they are not yet fully proficient.

The types of instructional services provided by school districts to English language learners vary greatly and are dependent on several factors. These factors may be related to the size of the linguistically diverse population in the particular school or district, what resources are available locally, and whether the community/ school district decides to provide native language content or English as a second language support to these students. In the United States, with the emphasis on learning/academic standards, and especially on meeting the English language arts curriculum standards, there is an emphasis in teaching English and through English to English language learners as fast as possible. And many English language learners do not receive any specialized language services, and are assigned to regular classrooms where they are mainstreamed with English-speaking students, in spite of their limitations in understanding instruction presented in English. Many of these students do not have the literacy skills of the different literacy demands of the curriculum. This means that regular classroom teachers who may or may not have the support of a language specialist, teach students who are English language learners. Consequently, the majority of English language learners receive most, if not all, of their instruction from classroom teachers, many of whom have had no specialized training in this area (Clegg, 1996; Fitzgerald, 1995). In many cases, teachers are not aware of English language learners' linguistic levels, cultural diversity, and their learning strengths and needs.


Providing instruction to English language learners needs careful planning, implementation of effective programs, a challenging curriculum, effective teaching and the provision of organized instructional and programmatic steps. However, authorities such as Cummins (2001), Krashen (1999) Thomas and Collier (1996; 1997) have cautioned that the choice of instructional programs for English language learners needs to be considered carefully, or these students will not succeed in the mainstream classroom. ELLs as well as educators are constantly challenged to meet the same academic standards as literate native English speakers.


Excerpted from "Beyond the Beginnings"
by .
Copyright © 2004 Angela Carrasquillo, Stephen B. Kucer and Ruth Abrams.
Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments, viii,
Introduction, ix,
Organization of the Book, xii,
1 English Language Learners in United States Schools, 1,
2 English Literacy Development and English Language Learners: A Theoretical Overview, 18,
3 Moving Beyond the Transition: Struggling English Literacy Learners in the Regular/Mainstream Classroom, 31,
4 Instructional Writing Strategies for Struggling English Language Learners, 43,
5 Instructional Practices to Promote Reading Development in English Language Learners, 59,
6 English Literacy Across the Curriculum, 84,
7 A Framework for Assessing English Literacy Among Struggling English Language Learners, 107,
8 Developing Collaborative Literacy Relationships with Parents, 131,
Resources for Teachers of ELL Students, 148,
References, 150,
Index, 156,

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