Working with English Language Learners in Reading Recovery

by Eva Konstantellou

Part One:  Serving English Language Learners in Reading Recovery

As Reading Recovery teachers are about to start another year teaching first graders who have great difficulty with literacy learning, they should be prepared to respond to questions frequently asked by colleagues and administrators at the time when children are assessed to be to selected for literacy services:

  • Should we serve English Language Learners in Reading Recovery?
  • Shouldn’t we wait until the English Language Learners become proficient in English first?

Having witnessed the success stories of English Language Learners in Reading Recovery, I’m very puzzled by these questions.  Based on the evidence from research that documents the positive impact of Reading Recovery on the literacy learning of English Language Learners teachers should ensure that English Language Learners are not excluded from service in Reading Recovery.

In fact, the framework of the 30-minute Reading Recovery lesson:

  • Provides rich opportunities for meaningful language interactions between the child and a competent adult speaker of English.
  • Allows the teacher to carefully and systematically build upon and extend the child’s control over language structure to support his reading and writing.
  • Allows for daily reading and writing connected text which exposes the child to new vocabulary, concepts, and language structures.

Last year I had the pleasure of working with Pedro, a precocious first grader, who spoke Portuguese fluently and was learning to speak, read, and write in English.  A supportive classroom and the supplementary Reading Recovery lessons helped him build his language skills at a faster pace compared to many of his classmates who did not have the opportunity of one-to-one instruction.

Pedro was eager to read and converse in English and his language interactions with me around the stories he was reading and writing fostered his oral language development, which in turn helped support his literacy learning.

  • Reading familiar stories with expression was his favorite activity and he was always curious to find out what new book I would be introducing to him.   He couldn’t wait to read about the Bear family adventures and Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s troubles with the farm animals.
  • Writing was harder for him because he had challenges with composing since his command of English language structures was just emerging.  However, his exposure to massive amounts of reading helped him take on the language of books and soon enough he started using what he knew in reading to compose stories of increasing complexity, which he wrote down with my help.

Pedro finished the year reading above grade level (Reading Recovery level 20; level K on the Fountas & Pinnell leveling system).  His writing had grown stronger too.  He could compose and write at least two long sentences using vocabulary and literary language structures similar to the ones in the books he was reading.

Pedro was one among many English Language Learners who made accelerated progress as a result of his participation in Reading Recovery.   So to the question, “should we select English Language Learners for Reading Recovery?” the response should be a resounding, “yes!”

Recommended reading:

The Journal of Reading Recovery, Inaugural Issue: Serving English Language Learners, Fall 2001, Vol. 1, No. 1

Forthcoming:

Part Two:

Suggestions for Reading Recovery teachers who work with English Language Learners

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