Working with English Language Learners in Reading Recovery- Part Two

Suggestions for Reading Recovery teachers who work with English Language Learners

by Eva Konstantellou, Reading Recovery Trainer

One of the basic tenets of Reading Recovery is that children take different paths to literacy learning.  Teachers must meet the child where he/she is and find ways to take the child into new learning.  This principle applies very well to the teaching and learning of English Language Learners as they are developing their linguistic competence in English.

The following suggestions have been found to work well for all children but are particularly relevant for working with English Language Learners.  Successful Reading Recovery teachers routinely:

  • Engage children in conversation and let them do much of the talking.  Most valuable are conversations over “shared experiences”—something the child noticed in the hall, something the teacher observed in the child’s classroom, or ideas about shared books.
  • Recognize the importance of children listening (not just talking, reading, and writing), as listening is how children get their input of new language; the language they hear from the teacher is their source of new language.
  • Understand the value of reading to children from books that have language structures a bit more complex than their own.
  • Carefully review the books they select for children and consider what parts might require more explanation during the book introduction, for instance unknown concepts or new vocabulary that children need to grasp in order to access the meaning of the whole story, or language structures that may be outside the child’s control.
  • Recognize the importance of repeated practice of structures (in particular of idiomatic phrases) so they plan to have the child hear and use the structures in the book.
  • Try to pay attention to culturally relevant books during books selection, as it is important to build on the familiar to give access to the new.
  • Welcome approximations and don’t focus too much on accuracy as they realize that errors come from the child using what he knows to try to problem solve; usage of correct forms will occur over time.
  • Emphasize the value of articulation to children as they think about sounds and try to distinguish between them.
  • Understand the importance for ELLs having more “wait time” as it may actually take them more time to think as they’re contending with another language system.
  • Appreciate that developing language takes time so they negotiate for more oral language in the classroom.

In supporting the learning of English Language Learners, it is critical for teachers to avoid positioning these learners as deficient—after all, knowing another language is a “resource” not a problem.  By honoring the English Language Learners’ attempts to extend their learning into new territory, teachers build a sense of agency in these learners and help them construct a positive identity that allows them to take control of their own learning.

Recommended readings:

Patricia R. Kelly, “Working with English Language Learners:  The case of Danya,”The Journal of Reading Recovery, Fall 2001, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 1-11.

Judith C. Neal, “Teaching for Comprehension and Language Development of English Learners:  Insights from Reading Recovery,” in Achieving Literacy Success with English Language Learners:  Insights, Assessment, Instruction. Edited by Cynthia Rodriguez-Eagle (pp. 85-108).  2009.  Worthington, OH:  Reading Recovery Council of North America.

Cynthia Rodriguez-Eagle & Annette Torres-Elias, “Refining the Craft of Teaching English Language Learners,” The Journal of Reading Recovery, Fall 2009, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 58-59.

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