A Formative Study Investigating the Acquisition of Early Reading Skills Among High School English Language Learners Beginning to Read English




Bell, Athene Cooper

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A formative design experiment methodology was employed to investigate the acquisition of early reading skills for high school English language learners (ELLs) beginning to read English. A fundamental challenge facing high school ELLs entering schools in the United States for the first time is learning how to read. While there is considerable research evidence and literature regarding the teaching of reading to elementary aged ELLs, there is less evidence to support reading instruction for high school students learning to read English. This study sought to create a successful reading model for high school ELLs learning to read. The pedagogical goal of this study was improved acquisition of early reading skills. Participants included one classroom teacher and nine students (eight native Spanish speakers and one native Chinese speaker). The classroom teacher taught only in English and did not speak Spanish or Chinese. According to the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) all students were designated at the lowest proficiency level of English acquisition within a school district 35 miles from one of the nation’s busiest economies. Informed by theories of language development and social constructivism, the instructional intervention of this study focused on the interactions of students as they worked within three distinct group configurations. These included guided reading, cooperative learning, and computer assisted instruction groups that were integrated into one instructional reading model. Throughout the course of the intervention, students rotated to each of the three groups during daily 90-minute class sessions over a period of 14 weeks. Each group was configured based on students’ individual reading skill levels and areas of need. The intervention was iteratively adapted based on factors that inhibited its effectiveness. Quantitative data were collected prior to and after implementation of the intervention to establish a baseline of performance and to determine progress toward the pedagogical goal. The Scholastic Phonics Inventory (SPI) was administered at pre- and postintervention and was analyzed by total percentage of accuracy and fluency on five SPI subtests that included letter names accuracy, sight words accuracy, sight words fluency nonsense words accuracy, and nonsense words fluency. In all subtests, students’ mean scores were higher on posttests compared to pretest scores, even though scores on all parameters varied. A Wilcoxon signed- rank test was also conducted at postintervention to evaluate the students’ performance on each of the five SPI subtests and on the cumulative SPI fluency score. Results of the Wilcoxon were significant, indicating students’ progress toward the pedagogical goal. Qualitative data were coded for recurring themes derived from classroom observation and field notes, student and teacher interviews, classroom artifacts, and informal discussions with the teacher. Analyses revealed that progress toward the pedagogical goal was related to the following: Working in small groups allowed the students to solve their own academic problems through interaction with each other; participating in a variety of groups coordinated for skill instruction enhanced ELLs’ early reading skills and vocabulary development; creating a classroom environment that encouraged oral language interaction enhanced ELLs’ movement from passive to active learning; and the use of technology for early reading skills instruction engaged ELLs in class work. Results indicated students’ progress toward the pedagogical goal. Implications for future research suggest that further investigation of multiconfigured reading interventions as designed in this study may be warranted. This might span the range of ESOL and content area classes in which ELLs participate throughout high school. Additionally, the evidence from this study suggests that future research might benefit from formative design studies as described in this investigation.



English language learners, Formative design, Secondary education, Multi configured instructional design, Reading instruction, Cooperative learning