Diverse Teaching Strategies for Immigrant Children

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Borkowski, Johnston, & Reid, 1987; Chamot & O’Malley, 1994; Duffy et al., 1986; Greenleaf, Schoenback, Cziko, & Mueller, 2001.

Strategy 3.9: Focus on Reading and Writing in All Classes. Teachers in all curriculum areas—whether an ESL class, a sheltered content class, or a content class taught in the students’ primary language—use a variety of tasks to ensure that students are actively engaged in Literacy. Teachers explicitly teach what good readers do and give students multiple opportunities to interact with both teacher-selected and self-selected texts.


Academic and cognitive demands increase with every grade level, while literacy instruction decreases (International Reading Association, 1999). The need to concentrate on increasing every student’s literacy becomes especially urgent for teachers of students who are struggling to close the achievement gap with their native English-speaking peers.

Collier (1989) has shown that some ELLs may need to gain as many as 14 months in reading comprehension for every year in school for several consecutive years to reach the 50th percentile on standardized achievement tests. Students who arrive in the United States with limited prior schooling and low literacy skills can take even longer—and require even more attention. With that challenge in mind, it is clear that the responsibility for teaching reading and writing can no longer be vested solely in the English or ESL teacher. Teachers in all content areas need to know how to accelerate their students’ literacy (Moje, Dillon, & O’Brien, 2000). Literacy coaches for school staff provide a system of long term professional development that guides teachers in using appropriate literacy instruction strategies in all areas (Sturtevant, 2003).

Several methods promise to increase the literacy of second language students. Reciprocal teaching (Fisher, Frey, & Fehrenbacher, 2004b; Palincsar & Brown, 1984) can dramatically improve reading comprehension scores. When using reciprocal teaching, teachers explicitly instruct students in four distinct strategy areas: questioning, predicting, clarifying, and summarizing. The teacher models how to create questions about what is happening, how to hypothesize about what might happen next, how to ask for clarification and know what to do when you don’t understand, and how to state the most important ideas in what was just read (Figure 3.6). Teachers and students can practice reciprocal teaching dialogues in a whole-class setting, and when students gain sufficient skill, they can then work in groups of four on selected portions of text.

When working in groups, students take turns with each of the four strategies. Reciprocal teaching makes it very clear to students what good readers do. Literature circles use similar approaches to engage and instruct students in effective reading and comprehension skills (Ruby, 2003). Poor readers often believe that good reading consists of pronouncing all the words correctly (Crandall, 1981), or of being able to say the color of the main character’s hair and eyes. When students understand the reading process thoroughly, they can begin to monitor their own comprehension and see the connection between application of the process and increased comprehension.

Teachers in all content areas can incorporate explicit instruction in reading strategies into their classrooms (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004; Kamil, 2003). A well-designed unit might include practice in the four skill areas of reciprocal teaching: On one day, students practice predicting by looking at pictures instead of text; in another session, they create questions based on reading the first paragraph of a text; they learn how to summarize by looking at a series of statements and deciding which are absolutely necessary for the summary and which can be omitted.

Teachers can also give students multiple opportunities to respond to text using various teacher-designed tasks: reading logs, in which students copy quotes from the text and then write their own response; first-response “writes,” in which students read and then quickly write about what ideas came to them as they were reading; or graphic logs, in which students write quotes from the text and respond with a drawing or symbol that corresponds to the quote. Scaffolding student writing through a “gradual release model” will prepare students for more independent writing as their skills and confidence levels are built up (Fisher & Frey, 2003). The important idea is that teachers make sure that students are actively engaged with the text and that there is evidence of that engagement.

Classroom Examples

Ms. Salinas, who teaches Spanish for native speakers, shares students with four other teachers: a science teacher, a social studies teacher, a math teacher, and a language arts teacher. All the teachers have been working throughout the semester to teach their students how to respond to written text. When they began, most of the students had no idea that they could interact with the text—that they could hold a conversation with the text and have their own important ideas about it as they were reading. They had no experience with assuming responsibility for creating personal meaning from the text. Most of them struggled simply to get through one or two pages of any reading; at the end, they had little understanding of what they had read.

The teachers in Ms. Salinas’s school have been working on reciprocal teaching strategies in their different content areas, and Ms. Salinas has just added elements of what the team calls “active reading strategies” (Figure 3.7). Ms. Salinas found that she had to teach her students the different ways to respond to text. The prompts on the right side of the active reading chart provided sufficient scaffolding for the students in the beginning.

The students are busy reading a short story and filling out a dialectical journal as they read. In the left column, they write quotes or ideas from the story that they find interesting or provocative. In the right column, they respond to the quote with a question, a speculation, a visualization, or some other response. The variety of responses shows that the students have internalized the notion that good readers are not passive, but rather active constructors of meaning as they work their way through a text. Students have written responses such as, “Why did the character do that? That doesn’t seem like what he would do!” “This story reminds me of the story we read last week. The two characters are very similar.” “In the next chapter, I predict that he will finally go visit his uncle because his uncle seems important to him.” “This part is just like my life. I have felt just like that before.”

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