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Teaching English Language Learners (Part II)

Language Learners in the English Classroom by Douglas Fisher, Carol Rothenberg & Nancy Frey (Part II)

Now for the second half of the book and Fisher’s discussion of the last two components: fluency and comprehension. If you missed my discussion of the first two components (vocabulary and grammar) go to Part I.ELL

Fluency – More Than the Need for Speed

In order to address fluency, generally recognized as automatic word recognition while reading, Fisher examines what he believes are the three major components of literacy for the English language learner: oral fluency, reading fluency, and writing fluency.

  • Oral fluency. First off, Fisher discusses the importance of not only public speaking, but also private rehearsal and practice. This is especially important for students who may be self-conscious about the mistakes that they make when speaking, and the opportunity for private practice (and listening to their own recordings) allows them to focus on pronunciation in a safe environment. Public speeches in class (with practice!) is also important in developing oral fluency, and Fisher outlines ideas for effective speeches and rehearsals in the classroom.
  • Reading fluency. There are many ideas for improving reading fluency in the classroom. Fisher discusses how repeated readings can improve word recognition and comprehension. Using repeated readings in a variety of ways can help students practice their reading and improve not only their speed, but also voice, inflection, expression, tone and pitch. Readers theater and choral readings are also helpful for English language learners. They have the opportunity to practice aloud but with partners, which can lesson their anxiety about speaking and give them the opportunity for meaningful collaboration. Check out more about readers theater at Reading A-Z. NIM (Neurological Impress Method) is another method which is very effective with ELL students, though this requires planning and time, as teacher and student sit together to read using NIM steps. Read more at ReadStrong.
  • Writing fluency. Sometimes writing fluency is overlooked, yet this is also an important component to address with students learning English. Power writing, using short timed events, sometimes with a specific focus (such as grammar or content) can help students improve their writing and “get the words on paper” – often a struggle for ELL students. Using sentence and paragraph frames (Fisher and Frey discuss this in detail in a previous book, as well as Language Learners for the English Classroom) are also helpful and productive in gaining writing fluency. The frames create a model of sorts, that can readily be used for reference by the ELL student. This is especially helpful with using academic language and text structures that lend themselves to academic writing. Do not miss Fisher & Frey’s discussion of writing frames and strategies.

Comprehension – “The Cooperation of Many Forces”

What is comprehension? Bloom’s Taxonomy comes to mind; a student needs to be able to make meaning, explain, interpret, analyze and discuss. Effective comprehension instruction involves reading comprehension strategies, and the National Reading Panel (2000) identified eight strategies (comprehension monitoring, cooperative learning, graphic organizers, story structure, question answering, question generation, summarization, and multiple strategy instruction) for comprehension. Fisher makes a particular note of the multiple strategies instruction, as teaching students multiple strategies in context (rather than as a stand alone strategy out of context) results in much higher comprehension for the student. Instruction should involve multiple reading strategies and be integrated in an authentic reading situation. Ultimately, students must learn how to apply the reading strategies (think tools) in his or her own reading without the assistance of the instructor – keeping in mind that independence is the goal of all reading comprehension strategies. Fisher recognizes and discusses how metacognitive awareness must be a part of the reading comprehension instructional plan – students must be aware of one’s own learning and how the reading strategies help them make sense of the text. Think-alouds, guided reading instruction in small groups, and reciprocal teaching can all be part of a successful reading comprehension instructional plan that focuses on metacognitive awareness. Read the ASCD Express discussion of comprehension strategies for English language learners.

Gradual Release of Responsibility Model

Planing an instructional lesson with the gradual release method involves thoughtful preparation with the end result of independent reading and writing in mind.  For more about Fisher’s Gradual Release, go here for discussion and images of the instructional model. Using the strategies discussed with the framework of vocabulary, grammar, fluency, and comprehension, you can build your own lessons using the gradual release model – all helping together to achieve the goal of fluency for our English language learners. All four sections of this book work together to give you a more comprehensive approach to teaching English language learners. If you are looking for a book to help you bring together the effective strategies of a reading comprehension program for the ELL students in your class, this is the book you should read.
Have you read Language Learners in the English Classroom? What are your favorite books and teaching resources for working with English language learners?

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