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8 Language and Literacy Development of English Language Learners A growing number of adolescents and adults in the United States use a language other than English at home and require support to develop spoken and written English. In the United States, of the 280.8 million people ages 5 and older, 55 million (19.6 percent) speak a language other than English at home (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005-2009, American Community Survey). More than 18 percent of those who speak a language other than English at home are below the poverty level (versus 11.6 percent of those who speak only English at home), and 31.2 percent have less than a high school educa- tion (versus 11.7 percent of English only speakers). The percentage of those without a high school education is higher among those who speak Spanish or Spanish Creole at home (more than 41 percent). According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) (Kutner et al., 2007), which in 2003 assessed the literacy of native- and foreign-born adults living in the United States, approximately 11 million adults (5 percent of the U.S. population) were estimated to be nonliterate in English (though not necessarily in their first language) and so lacked suf- ficient English language proficiency to be assessed in English (Kutner et al., 2007). Among those with some English proficiency, the percentage of His- panics with below average English prose and document literacy increased from 1992 to 2003. English language learners are the largest group enrolled in adult educa- tion programs, with 43 percent of adult learners enrolled in English as a second language (ESL) programs in the 2001-2002 program year (Tamassia et al., 2007). In the 2006-2007 program year, more than 1 million adults were enrolled in ESL programs that were part of state-administered, fed- 206
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207 LITERACY DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS erally funded adult education programs. This figure is likely to be an un- derestimate because it does not include nonnative speakers in adult basic education and adult secondary education (general educational development [GED]) classes or in ESL classes offered by private organizations. The adults who participate in ESL classes are diverse in terms of lan- guages spoken, education levels, literacy skill in the first language, and knowledge of English (Burt, Peyton, and Adams, 2003). Some are highly educated in their home countries and have strong academic backgrounds; others are recent immigrants with low levels of education and first language literacy. The numbers of adults in ESL classes who have limited education in their home countries continues to grow (Center for Applied Linguis- tics, 2010; Condelli, Wrigley and Yoon, 2009; Purcell-Gates et al., 2002; Strucker and Davidson, 2003). Other adults are born in the United States or came to the United States as young children but have grown up with a home language other than English (Tamassia et al., 2007). Though educated in U.S. schools, these adults can be unprepared for work and higher educa- tion (Burt, Peyton and Adams, 2003; Thonus 2003; Wrigley et al., 2009), and many drop out before completing high school. Despite the need for English language and literacy instruction, adult ESL programs have had limited success. A 7-year longitudinal study of non- credit ESL classes showed that only about 8 percent of more than 38,000 learners made the transition to other academic (credit) studies (Spurling, Seymour, and Chisman, 2008). In fact, 44 percent advanced only one literacy level, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Reporting System for adult literacy programs. Persistence was also an issue. Half of the learners who did not advance attended fewer than 50 hours of instruction. Most of those who advanced received 50 or more hours of in- struction, taking on average 50 to 149 hours of attendance (usually referred to as “100 instruction hours”) to advance one level. This chapter has four parts. Part one presents a brief orienting dis- cussion of the component skills of English learners. Part two summarizes research on the various factors (cognitive, linguistic, social, affective, and cultural) that influence the development of literacy in a second language. Part three identifies practices to develop language and literacy instruction that warrant application and further study with adults developing their English language and literacy skills outside school. The available research does not allow for conclusions about effective approaches to literacy in- struction. Thus, the chapter concludes with a summary and discussion of priorities for research to develop effective approaches to instruction for this population. In this chapter, we draw on several recent systematic reviews of re- search on effective instructional practices for English language learners, augmented with targeted searches to update or expand on previous find-
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208 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION ings. The available research is quite limited. In their study of “what works” for English language learners in adult literacy education, Condelli and Wrigley (2004) identified only one study of ESL students that measured a literacy outcome and included a design without confounds. Similarly, Torgerson and colleagues (2004) examined almost 5,000 reports on adult literacy and numeracy interventions, and only 3 randomized controlled trial designs focused on English as a second language. Adams and Burt (2002) cast a much wider net in their search for research on adult language learners between 1980 and 2001 to include experimental, descriptive, and practitioner studies from journals, books, reports, and dissertations. The 44 studies reviewed had methodological weaknesses, such as too few partici- pants, unreliable measures, inadequately described practices and outcomes, and no comparison tasks or groups, which prevented drawing conclusions about the effectiveness of the approaches. Several of the studies focused on language learners in English preparatory classes before attending col- lege, who are likely to differ in several ways (education level, first language literacy proficiency, socioeconomic status) from the broader population of English language learners. These results are consistent with a recent review of adult literacy instruction research available from the U.S. Department of Education (Kruidenier, MacArthur, and Wrigley, 2010). Similarly, the committee located four studies (two of adults in adult education and two of students in developmental college education courses) from 1990 to 2010 with the criterion that the research include at least one quantitative measure of literacy skill (see Appendix C). Because studies are so few and the ones available suffer from various methodological constraints, it is not possible to draw strong conclusions about effective instructional practices. Given the limited research on the literacy development of adult English language learners in the United States, we also draw from a broader base of knowledge on second language and literacy development, which includes relatively well-educated adults and young children in K-12 education. Be- cause a main challenge of literacy development for this population is learn- ing a second language, we review research related to the development of both spoken and written language. For simplicity, we use the term English language learners in this chapter to refer to foreign-born and native-born adults who are developing their English language skills and refer to other adults as native English speak- ers. On occasion we use more specific terms provided by study authors when referring to individual research studies. The research and sources of information reviewed in this chapter often do not include, however, precise or consistent ways of defining particular subgroups of the English learner population. In future research, more standard terms and definitions will be needed to refer to segments of this population to facilitate the accumulation of reliable, valid, and more interpretable research findings.
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209 LITERACY DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS COMPONENT LITERACY SKILLS OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS The available research, though limited, suggests that, compared with adult native speakers with low literacy in adult education programs, adult English language learners with low literacy in these programs show weaker vocabulary, passage comprehension, and sight word reading skills but bet- ter phonological processing (decoding nonwords) and somewhat better phonological awareness (Nanda, Greenberg, and Morris, 2010; see Chap- ter 2 for discussion of the components of reading). Similarly, Strucker et al. (2007) find that adult native speakers and English language learners tend to have different patterns of strengths and weaknesses as beginning read- ers. Language learners show weaknesses in vocabulary and comprehension but relative strength in decoding, whereas native speakers with low literacy tend to show the opposite pattern (Alamprese, 2009; MacArthur et al., 2010a). Even for those highly literate in their first language, some explicit teaching of English decoding rules may be needed to fill gaps in knowledge (Davidson and Strucker, 2002). Findings for poor readers in middle school, who are more likely than proficient readers to need literacy instruction as adults, show a range of difficulties that are comparable for both native speakers of English and students with a different home language (Lesaux and Kieffer, 2010). Some students show global difficulties with language, decoding, and comprehen- sion of text. Others have accurate and automatic decoding but poor general and academic vocabulary that affects comprehension. Still others have ac- curate but slow decoding and so are not fluent readers. With good instruction, young adolescent language learners can per- form at similar levels to native speakers on word recognition, spelling, and phonological processing tasks (Lesaux, Rupp, and Siegel, 2007). Similarly, adult language learners can develop decoding skills that are equivalent to native speakers (Alamprese, 2009). For both native speakers and language learners, once decoding is efficient, English oral proficiency (usually as- sessed by vocabulary and listening comprehension) predicts English read- ing comprehension, in higher grades (Lesaux and Kieffer, 2010). However, young language learners often score considerably lower than native speak- ers on English reading comprehension tasks (Goldenberg, 2008; Nakamoto, Lindsey, and Manis, 2008). Although adult language learners (and native speakers) can establish basic decoding skills quickly with good instruction, they need help with developing their reading skills beyond the intermediate fourth and fifth grade levels (Sabatini et al., 2010; Strucker, Yamamoto, and Kirsch, 2007). Vocabulary and comprehension skills have been particularly difficult to change with instruction, however. Vocabulary and background knowledge are usually underdeveloped for English learners, in part because they lack the English skills needed to learn
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210 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION through the texts and social and instructional interactions in schools, which are in English. Like native speakers, English language learners must gain facility with academic English, which has some features that differ from conversational English (Snow, 2010). For language learners, conversational English can develop in a few years (Collier, 1987), but becoming proficient with an academic language takes longer because it has its own jargon, linguistic structures, and formats, which can be specific to a discipline. These features of academic language need to be explicitly highlighted and supported during instruction (Achugar and Schleppegrell, 2005; de Jong, 2004; Schleppegrell, 2007). Some researchers emphasize that mastery of academic language is the single most important determinant of academic success for adolescents who have been in U.S. schools for less than 2 years (Francis et al., 2006). INFLUENCES ON LANGUAGE AND LITERACY IN A SECOND LANGUAGE Several factors affect the development of language and literacy in a second language and are important to consider in the design of effective instructional practices for segments of the English learner population. These factors include degree and type of first language knowledge, education level, English language proficiency, age, aptitude for language, reading and learn- ing disabilities, and cultural and background knowledge. First Language Knowledge and Education Level Among adults, years of education in the primary language correlates with English literacy development (Condelli, Wrigley, and Yoon, 2009; Fitzgerald and Young, 1997; Strucker and Davidson, 2003). A detailed statistical analysis involving thousands of immigrants in Australian literacy programs shows that age and education in the home country were the two main predictors of literacy (Ross, 2000). Research with young stu- dents, including instructional intervention studies, also shows that to the degree that students have a strong literacy foundation in a first language, their first language literacy proficiency helps English literacy development (Farver, Lonigan, and Eppe, 2009; Goldenberg, 2008; for a meta-analysis, see Slavin and Cheung, 2005). For adolescents, self-reported first language and English proficiency in eighth grade predict English reading comprehen- sion outcomes in grades 8, 10, and 12 as well as postsecondary achieve- ment (occupational prestige, postsecondary education). Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), Guglielmi (2008) found that self-reported language proficiency of Hispanic learners predicted both initial levels of English reading and rates of improvement and through
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211 LITERACY DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS that, high school and post–high school achievement. (Similar results were not found, however, for Asians who spoke various first languages, such as Chinese, Filipino, or Korean.) Effects of the first language on second language processes. Precisely how language and literacy in a first language affects second language devel- opment needs to be studied more thoroughly to understand how best to fa- cilitate second language acquisition, especially for less educated adults. The extensive literature on bilingualism (knowledge of two spoken languages) is beginning to suggest ways in which a first language may help to support second language growth. Although more experimental research is needed, modern research methods that include behavioral, psychophysiological, and neuroimaging techniques have been used to study questions of bilingualism, such as how two languages are represented in the brain and whether paral- lel lexicons coexist for bilinguals or if they possess one integrated lexicon. Less is known about the development of more than two languages, and so we have restricted our focus to the bilingual case. Psycholinguistic research has mainly looked at how knowledge of two languages affects comprehension and production of each one. Does a bilingual person using one language activate the same information in the other language while listening or speaking? Such parallel activation across languages has been observed in many experiments, in the form of cross-language ambiguity effects, for example: Whereas “hotel” has the same meanings in Dutch and English, “room” has different meanings (it means “cream” in Dutch). A Dutch-English bilingual will briefly (and un- consciously) activate both meanings of the word “room,” quickly choosing the one that is appropriate to the language being used. Similarly, words that are pronounced differently in two languages (e.g., “coin” in French and English) produce interference in silent reading compared with words with very similar pronunciations (e.g., “piano”); (Kroll and Linck, 2007, 2009). Similar effects occur in comprehending sentences, as measured by word- by-word reading times, eye movements, and evoked potential measures. These effects are modulated by such factors as an individual’s familiarity with each language and the relative frequencies of the word in different languages. However, they suggest that knowledge of a second language becomes closely interlinked to knowledge of a first language, making it diffi- cult to inhibit activation of the alternative language under many conditions. Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging also support that the two languages share brain structures and circuits instead of having seg- regated ones (Abutalebi, 2008; Abutalebi, Cappa, and Perani, 2001). The degree of overlap appears to depend on such factors as the age at which the second language was learned and second language proficiency. Individuals whose knowledge of the second language is relatively weak, for example, have shown greater activation of frontal regions that reflect more cognitive
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212 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION effort and use of working memory. For skilled bilinguals, switching between languages involves increased attention or executive functions also associ- ated with the frontal lobe, areas that are not as activated in monolingual language processing. These additional processes can be expected to provide cognitive benefits, specifically enhanced executive function and skill in al- locating attention (see Bialystok et al., 2005). Adults bring an already well-developed system for processing a first language that affects processing specific features of the second language. For example, language learners appear to be aware of grammatical struc- tures that are similarly marked in both of their languages (e.g., auxiliary verbs used in progressive tense: “estar” in Spanish versus is in English) or unique to a second language (determiner gender marking “un/una” in Spanish). However, if a linguistic structure is marked differently in the second language, it may not be noticed (e.g., determiners of number agree- ment in “el/los” in Spanish versus “the/the” in English) (Tokowicz and MacWhinney, 2005). To summarize, recent findings from behavioral and neurobiological research imply that the role of the primary language cannot be ignored during the learning of a second language. Literacy skills across languages and possibilities for transfer. Transfer from a native language to English depends on the overlap in characteristics between the two languages. Learning to read English involves matching distinctive visual symbols to units of sound in the spoken language (see Chapter 2; Ziegler and Goswami, 2006). Language learners may be famil- iar with writing systems that differ in their degree of similarity to English; for example, a native Spanish speaker will be familiar with an alphabetic system like the one for English, whereas a native Chinese speaker will know a nonalphabetic system. Moreover, some languages do not have a written form. Languages that do have a writing system represent their oral languages in different ways, both in terms of the symbols used as well as the phonological units that are represented in print. Some languages are nonalphabetic and represent morphological and phonological rather than purely phonological information (e.g., Japanese Kanji and Chinese). Some languages have alphabetic writing systems but use a non-Latin script (e.g., Korean, Russian, Hebrew). Even alphabetic languages that use the Latin script can be very different from English (e.g., Malay, Turkish, Welsh). Languages differ in availability (which phonological units are more sa- lient in the spoken language), consistency (the number of possible mappings in word recognition and spelling—more specifically, the number of different pronunciations for orthographic units and the number of different spellings for phonological units), and granularity (the nature of orthographic units that need to be learned to access the phonology). For example, in Chinese many different characters need to be learned, whereas in languages like Spanish a small subset of letters is enough to represent phonemes accu-
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213 LITERACY DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS rately. English is in between: single letters represent phonemes, but because of the inconsistencies at the phoneme level, larger units (such as onset rimes) provide more systematic information on how to pronounce a word. For example, vowel /a/ can be pronounced differently by itself in different words (“car/lake/pat”), but in a larger rime unit (such as “/-at/”) it is pro- nounced the same way (“hat/cat/mat”). Even young beginning readers are sensitive to the characteristics of their spoken language and find it easier to perform the phonological awareness tasks that focus on the salient units in their spoken language (Durgunoğlu and Oney, 1999; Ziegler and Goswami, 2006). Depending on a language’s characteristics (consistency, availability, and granularity), learning to decode can be almost trivial or take longer. For individuals literate in their home language, the first language writ- ing system and how it represents the oral language affects the strategies used in English decoding. For example, when college students who are highly literate in a first language are learning English, Japanese and Chinese speakers rely on visual cues more than Korean or Persian speakers because the latter two groups have a phonologically based rather than morphemi- cally based writing system, although all four of the groups use non-Latin scripts (Akamatsu, 2003; Hamada and Koda, 2008; Koda, 1999). If adult English learners are not literate in their first language, then literacy development in English has to include instruction to develop sen- sitivity to the phonological units of English, the English alphabet, and the mappings at both phonemes and larger units. For individuals who are already literate in their first language and already have a metacognitive understanding of spelling-sound mappings, word recognition and spelling skills develop rapidly (Burt, Peyton, and Adams, 2003), especially when instruction highlights the specific characteristics of English. If certain skills and strategies are available to a learner in a first lan- guage, building on them may help to develop literacy in a second lan- guage (for reviews see Dressler and Kamil, 2006; Durgunoğlu, 2002, 2009; Genesee and Geva, 2006). For language learners, proficiency in phonologi- cal awareness is positively related across two languages, even when the first language is not similar to English (for a review, see Branum-Martin et al., 2006; Genesee and Geva, 2006; Swanson et al., 2008). Decoding skills in a first language overlap with decoding skills in English as the second language, even across a span of 10 years (Sparks et al., 2009a, 2009b), suggesting that decoding skill in a first language supports decoding in a second language. As children gain more experience in English, English decoding becomes a stronger predictor of English reading comprehension than Spanish decoding (Gottardo and Mueller, 2009; Manis, Lindsey, and Bailey, 2004; Nakamoto, Lindsey, and Manis, 2008). The results look dif- ferent for spelling: spelling in a first language (mostly Spanish) is either not
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214 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION related or negatively related to proficiency with English spelling (Rolla San Francisco et al., 2006). Vocabulary knowledge across the two languages of language learn- ers is relatively independent (Cobo-Lewis et al., 2002; Nakamoto et al., 2008). However, the metacognitive aspects of vocabulary knowledge, such as knowing how to construct formal definitions, are related across the two languages (Durgunoğlu, Peynircioğlu, and Mir, 2002; Ordoñez et al., 2002). In addition, proficiency with explicit analytic processing or awareness of language (e.g., of morphology or cognates) in a first language correlates with having these skills in the second language (Deacon, Wade-Woolley, and Kirby, 2007; Nagy et al., 1993). Good readers use similar comprehension strategies in both of their languages (Jiménez, 1997; Langer et al., 1990; van Gelderen et al., 2007). Writing proficiency is also correlated across the two languages of language learners: good writers use similar writing strategies in both of their lan- guages (Durgunoğlu, Mir, and Arino-Marti, 2002; Schoonen et al., 2003). These findings point to possibilities for applying knowledge and skills in a first language to the second language when the literacy tasks involve analyzing language structure (phonology, morphology) or using metacogni- tive strategies. When the tasks involve language-specific patterns (e.g., or- thographic rules for spelling, meanings of items), the data suggest limited or no transfer. The available data are correlations, however. Experiments are still needed to determine whether specific literacy skills may be leveraged for the development of more efficient instructional approaches. In addition, it is not yet known how much these relationships are due to the learner trans- ferring a specific skill from the first language to the second language and how much they are due to common underlying proficiencies that may be less sensitive to instruction. For example, although metacognitive strategies in a first language may be spontaneously accessed and used in the second language, or have the potential for transfer with instruction, other shared cognitive processes (e.g., working memory in phonological awareness) may be less amenable to change. English Language Proficiency For young language learners, proficiency with speaking English strongly predicts growth in English reading comprehension, and those with higher English proficiency reach reading comprehension levels of their native speaker peers (Kieffer, 2008). One crucial influence on reading comprehen- sion is vocabulary. Grabe and Stoller (2002) and Laufer (1997) estimated that one needs at least 3,000 words in a second language to read inde- pendently in that language. The greater the number of unknown words in a text, the more text comprehension suffers (Hsueh-chao and Nation,
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215 LITERACY DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS 2000). Zareva, Schwanenflugel, and Nikolova (2006) found that in order to comprehend a college-level academic text, a vocabulary of about 9,000 words is needed. In addition to vocabulary breadth, the depth of one’s vocabulary correlates with reading comprehension (Qian, 1999). Based on their empirical work, Perfetti and Hart (2002) proposed the lexical quality hypothesis, which states that rich, stable, and integrated word knowledge (that includes orthographic, phonological, syntactic-semantic information) facilitates word recognition, especially when decoding cues are weak (see also Stanovich, 1980). Explicitly teaching vocabulary can lead to significant improvement in word knowledge and comprehension for both monolinguals and language learners (August et al., 2009; Carlo et al., 2004; Lesaux et al., 2010; McKeown et al., 1985; Vaughn et al., 2009). Vocabulary develops not only through explicit teaching but also through routine exposure to language, especially print, which contains words and word structures used less often in speech (Nagy, Herman, and Anderson, 1985). In native speakers, literacy and degree of print exposure both predict growth in reading comprehen- sion. Individuals with high levels of literacy do more reading and so develop their vocabulary, comprehension, and general knowledge through text, whereas those with lower proficiencies get less and less benefit from print. Not only in childhood, but across the life span, vocabulary and knowledge are predicted by print exposure (Stanovich, 1986; Stanovich, West, and Harrison, 1995). This pattern has not been studied specifically with adult language learners, but it is reasonable to expect that increased opportunities to learn from print and other exposure to spoken English beyond explicit instruction would help all learners. For language learners in elementary and middle school, proficiency in oral communication develops rapidly, whereas decontextualized and formal language structures, such as those in academic settings, tend to take longer to acquire through exposure to varied texts and routine social interactions that support learning and practicing those forms of spoken and written lan- guage. The development of academic language has not been systematically investigated with adults, but a similar pattern can be expected. Most adult language learners, especially if they were born in the United States, report having good speaking skills, but according to the NAAL only a third had literacy skills beyond the basic level (Wrigley et al., 2009). An analysis of U.S. census data (Batalova and Fix, 2010) showed that adults (both nonnative and native English speakers) who self-reported poor oral English skills (ratings of not very well/not at all) also had poor docu- ment literacy, but self-reports of good oral proficiency (ratings of very well/ well) did not predict literacy performance. For example, only 13 percent of native speakers and only 9 percent of nonnative speakers (and only 13 percent of native speakers) who reported having good spoken English skills
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216 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION were proficient on document literacy tasks. Although these self-reported re- sults need to be interpreted with caution, they suggest a difference between everyday communication skills in English and the English language skills needed to comprehend more sophisticated material in different domains. (The report did not state how many of the native speakers were second- generation immigrants or Generation 1.5 who had not completed their education.) Age An important question in the teaching of adults is whether age affects the ability to acquire spoken and written language. In childhood, a first lan- guage is learned rapidly and without explicit instruction or consistent feed- back. Children exposed to two languages are able to learn both (Bialystok and Hakuta, 1995), and hearing children of deaf parents become bilingual in both speech and sign (Mayberry, 2009). Because the bilingual’s learning task is more difficult, there are some differences in patterns of language development compared with the single language learner (Genesee, 2001). Some have hypothesized that a critical period for developing language ends with puberty (Lenneberg, 1967), and others propose that the window closes earlier (e.g., Pinker, 1994). Regardless of the exact timing, it is well established that the ability to learn a second language declines with age. The declines observed do not suggest, however, that literacy in a second language cannot be achieved in adulthood at the levels required for career and academic success. What they do imply is that learning a second lan- guage will take more time and practice at later ages, and that even at high levels of second language facility differences in spoken language might be expected between a native and nonnative English speaker. There are competing explanations for why the decline occurs, which differ in their emphasis on biological versus environmental influences. One theory emphasizes the role of neurobiological development (Newport, 1990; Stromswold, 1995): whereas the young brain is well suited to acquir- ing languages rapidly and effortlessly, this capacity decreases because of neurodevelopmental processes, such as dendritic proliferation and prun- ing, and synapse elimination (Buonomano and Merzenich, 1998; Hensch, 2003). These neurodevelopmental changes are seen as similar to ones that affect other capacities (e.g., vision, Daw, 1994) and occur in other species (Doupe and Kuhl, 1999). This theory predicts an age-related discontinuity in second language attainment associated with the closing of the critical period for acquiring the skills of a native speaker (Johnson and Newport, 1989). Data from a recent large-scale study using U.S. census responses show linear age-related declines in second language attainment but not the
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225 LITERACY DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS more formal written input in authentic communications can be overwhelm- ing. Although one option could be to simplify the input, such simplified materials do not allow learners to experience the complex structures of the second language that they need to learn. A more promising approach is to use “elaborated” input (Long, 2009) that includes linguistic supports, such as redundancy, paraphrasing, synonyms, clear signaling, and marking to increase topic salience, making the information flow chronologically, using shorter sentences, and so on. Likewise in written and especially spoken language elaborations, instruction includes frequent clarification requests and comprehension checks (Long, 2009; Yano, Long, and Ross, 1994). However, making the language more comprehensible does not mean using child-like content. Adult learners need materials that are interesting and relevant to their knowledge development needs. Development of Language and Knowledge for Learning and Reading Comprehension Francis and colleagues (2006) have compiled research-based recom- mendations for helping adolescent newcomers in schools who have limited English proficiencies and have difficulty especially with reading and writ- ing academic texts. The literacy difficulties of these students may stem from limited oral proficiency in English, limited exposure to English texts, and possible gaps in background knowledge for the topic. Taking all of these factors into consideration, it is suggested that effective instruction for adolescent newcomers includes content-based literacy instruction, with an emphasis on developing academic language. In this approach, there are dual, integrated objectives: teachers address content through language and teach language through content. In addition, explicit instruction is used to teach reading comprehension and writing for academic purposes. Effective vocabulary instruction for adolescent newcomers is explicit, systematic, extensive, and intensive (Francis et al., 2006). Explicit instruc- tion involves not only direct instruction of the meanings of specific key words but also direct instruction in effective word learning strategies, such as breaking words down into parts, using contextual clues, and using dic- tionaries as references. Systematic instruction requires teachers to thought- fully choose the key words that they teach and create multiple opportunities for meaningful exposure to the words and their meanings. Extensive vo- cabulary instruction is incorporated into every lesson, integrated across the curriculum. Finally, intensive vocabulary instruction provides depth of knowledge, such as an understanding of multiple meanings of words, their different forms, and different contexts of use and situated in larger conceptual frameworks. These instructional strategies are accompanied by high-quality ongoing classroom assessments to monitor students’ progress
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226 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION and, if needed, appropriate intervention for newcomers with word reading difficulties (Francis et al., 2006). Initiatives to improve the academic vocabulary of language learners in upper elementary and middle schools (August et al., 2009; Lesaux, Kieffer, and Kelley, 2009; Vaughn et al., 2009) have integrated the teaching of aca- demic vocabulary with learning in content areas, such as social studies and science. Instead of teaching vocabulary as an itemized list of new words, the instruction integrates the words into discussion of what Vaughn et al. (2009) calls “big ideas,” such as human rights. The target words are taught using a combination of strategies, including reading, writing, oral discus- sions, and multimedia (e.g., videos to build background knowledge). The words are used and practiced in different contexts. In addition to teaching specific words, these programs also explicitly model and teach word analy- sis and comprehension strategies. Some also use students’ first language, Spanish, as a resource. There is also peer support, dyad and group work of the learners. ALIAS (Academic Language Instruction for All Students) is a good example of such a program developed for middle school students (Lesaux et al., 2009). As the name implies, this program targets all students, both native speakers and English language learners. The curriculum provides rich and systematic instruction of high-utility academic words. There are multiple, planned exposures to each word through reading, writing, class discussions, and group activities. The students are encouraged to talk about these concepts, engage through personal connections and class discus - sions, and finally use the words in writing. The evaluation of the program indicates that for native speakers as well as language learners, there was significant growth in the targeted vocabulary, in word analysis, and, most importantly, in reading comprehension—although it should be noted that the size of the gain was relatively small compared with the amount of gain needed, and the practical meaning of the gains was not clear. As discussed in Chapter 3, contextualized literacy instruction is an approach that is consistent with principles of learning and has sufficient preliminary support to warrant further research on its effectiveness with adults. Few data exist for adult language learners. The Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training program, or I-BEST, in Washington state is a program in which basic skills instructors and college-level career-technical faculty jointly design and teach college-level occupational courses for adult basic skills students. The program aims to increase successful completion of postsecondary occupational education and training (Jenkins, Zeidenberg, and Kienzl, 2009). The instruction of basic skills is integrated with instruc- tion in college-level career-technical skills courses. The tracking of these students for 2 years showed that I-BEST students (both adult basic educa- tion and ESL students) had better basic skills (assessed by Comprehensive
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227 LITERACY DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS Adult Student Assessment Systems) and the persistence to continue their education (e.g., earning college or vocational credits, certification). These students were not randomly assigned, however, but rather self-selected into I-BEST programs, so the results need to be interpreted cautiously. The ef- fectiveness of embedded programs has not been evaluated systematically. Observations and interviews indicate that teacher specialization or bound- aries and coordination within programs can present challenges to effective implementation (Cara et al., 2006; Guenther, 2002). Access to Language and Literacy Practice Outside Classrooms Learning continues outside the classroom where adult language learners can experience continued interactions in both spoken and written English (Reder, 2008). Successful language learning requires extensive second lan- guage input and opportunities to interact with others and to use language to express their own ideas, thoughts, and views (Ellis, 2009). Exposure to rich language patterns is also helpful, because learners are quite sensi- tive and readily notice the common patterns in a language (Vouloumanos, 2008). Thus, it is important not to isolate language learners from native speakers and to maximize exposure to the second language using many different venues. Technology is a promising tool to provide practice outside the class- room through opportunities to use Internet sites, distance learning, and email. Although some new research has accumulated with adult language learners, most research on technology’s effectiveness with this population is old and ambiguous (Abraham, 2008; Torgerson, Porthouse, and Brooks, 2003). A new generation of research is needed because the feasibility, use- fulness, and effectiveness of self-access models via technologies for adult language learners have not been fully explored (Wrigley, 2009). Leveraging Knowledge in the First Language, When Available Given the possibilities of transfer discussed earlier, more needs to be known about how best to use the first language to support development of English literacy. It is also reasonable to expect that acknowledging and valuing a learner’s first language are motivating, since they acknowledge and build on the knowledge and capabilities of the learner. When the first language is used as an aid to clarify instructions and tasks, learners show more growth in second language reading comprehension and oral pro- ficiency (Condelli, Wrigley, and Yoon, 2009). Systematic use of the first language may not be feasible in many languages other than Spanish because of lack of qualified teachers and materials.
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228 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION Integrated Multimodal Instruction Research with monolinguals indicates that higher order comprehen- sion skills necessary for reading can also be developed through discussions of material presented in different modalities, such as visual or auditory (Kendeou et al., 2008). Using technology to present information in a vari- ety of modalities shows particular promise for language instruction, since language and content presented in a variety of modalities (visual, auditory, text-based) reinforce each other. In addition, visual and auditory presenta- tions can provide varied input that is not available in print, such as regional accents, speed of discourse, pronunciation, and pragmatic uses of language. Research with monolinguals indicates that higher order comprehension skills necessary for reading can also be developed through discussions of material presented in different modalities, such as visual or auditory (Kendeou et al., 2008). As Hanley, Herron, and Cole (1995) report, visual support in the form of descriptive pictures significantly improved compre- hension scores for English-speaking students learning French. Anecdotal evidence from the adult literacy field consistently stresses that adults in literacy programs enjoy using technology (Benbunan-Fich and Hiltz, 1999; Parke and Tracy-Mumford, 2000). Cromley (2000) sug- gests that access to technology results in greater learner engagement and retention. Technologies for acquiring English have shown positive impacts on the frequency of revision and the complexity of content in the writing of adults learning a second language (Li and Cumming, 2001). As explained earlier, speaking, listening, reading, and writing are all interrelated modes of communication (Hornberger, 1989). Even with very young language learners, providing exposure to oral and written lan- guage together is more effective in developing vocabulary and phonological awareness (Farver, Lonigan, and Eppe, 2009). Likewise, for adults, it is not a good strategy to provide only oral language instruction while waiting un- til reading and writing reach a certain level of proficiency. It is also useful to include and integrate both decoding and comprehension instruction (see Chapter 6 for further discussion of instructional approaches). Writing As for native speakers, writing is an essential part of instruction for adult language learners. It offers an opportunity to practice second lan- guage skills related to both reading and writing, and it can be another way to track second language proficiencies. Writing can also help to meet the learner’s practical needs for communication because those with limited literacy in their first language tend to take notes (and use other cognitive strategies) to overcome this limitation (Klassen and Burnaby, 1993). Cross-sectional studies suggest that uses of vocabulary, syntax, mor-
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229 LITERACY DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS phology, signaling, and rhetorical devices in writing improve with sec- ond language proficiency, as does the coherence and fluency of writing (Chenoweth and Hayes, 2001; Cumming, 2001; Sasaki, 2000; Sasaki and Hirose, 1996). First and second language writing processes are fundamen- tally similar, and knowledge of the first language is used in second language writing. But those with weak second language skills tend to devote more attention to form (e.g., finding the right word or syntactic structure in the second language by translating from the first language) and thus devote less attention to the macro processes of generating ideas, planning, revising, and editing (Sasaki, 2000). A promising avenue for research is to understand more about how to develop these macro processes in second language in- struction (Sasaki, 2000). Other promising instructional strategies provide additional scaffolds and support, such as prediscussions of the writing topic, peers evaluating and responding to each other’s work (Berg, 1999), and teacher-student dialogue journals (Peyton and Seyoum, 1989). As Cumming (in press) summarizes, educators can facilitate second language writing development by providing extensive opportunities to write and by responding to that writing, modeling relevant text types and discourse interactions, by enhancing students’ self-control over their composing and learning processes, and by organizing curricula and assessments appropriate to learners’ abilities, purposes, and interests. Finally, extensive reading and vocabulary development in the second language are also helpful for writing. Writing is a complex cognitive skill that is influenced by social and cul- tural aspects of the learner’s environment. Although the basic components of writing discussed in Chapter 4 apply to all adults, several other factors affect writing for second language learners. These include significant vari- ability in first language background, educational level, second language proficiency, length of time in the new country, acculturation and familiar- ity with second language writing contexts, and the purposes and needs for writing. This complex web of factors has yet to be considered in a com- prehensive model of second language writing development (Cumming, in press). Research is needed, especially with adult language learners in adult education settings, to track learners’ progress in the use of text features, their use of composition processes for different tasks and writing environ- ments, and how progress changes as a function of different types of instruc- tion (Cumming and Riazi, 2000). As for reading, more needs to be understood about how to develop second language writing in content domains and how to support writing outside the classroom. A rare study of second language writing in the work- place illustrates how the specific style of writing and vocabulary required in a particular workplace evolves. In this observational research, newly graduated Francophone nurses who received mentoring, were encouraged to interact informally with peers, and had opportunities to observe others who modeled forms of communication in the workplace developed both
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230 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION their expressive communication skills in the second language and the spe- cific workplace genre for completing patient charts and discharge papers (Parks, 2001; Parks and Maguire, 1999). Such studies show the potential for developing language, reading, and writing in a second language outside the classroom. Affective Aspects of Learning and Instruction Field research indicates the importance of attending to the affective aspects of instruction (Wrigley, 2009), although more systematic research on English language learners’ affective responses to literacy instruction is needed to develop motivating and supportive approaches. Field observa- tions show that beginning learners are reluctant to use English inside and outside the classroom because they may feel insecure about their linguistic skills. English learners can become demotivated, frustrated with the slow pace of literacy instruction; repetitive instruction (e.g., as teachers try to catch up students who have missed a class); a focus on topics that are not well matched to the learner’s education level, interests, or familiarity with U.S. culture (e.g., a focus on holidays when content related to science and technology and topical discussions is preferred). Those whose goal it is to transition to training or postsecondary education mention the lack of focus on academic vocabulary in high beginning or intermediate classes. As mentioned earlier, the general principles for supporting motivation and persistence in Chapter 5 are likely to apply to language learners. Given the unique contexts that surround language learners, it is important to make the learning environment safe, supportive, and comfortable (Hardman, 1999); to make instruction useful and valuable to the learner (Burt, Peyton, and Adams, 2003); to encourage support through collaborations and peers (Baynham et al., 2007; Cener for Applied Lingistics, 2010; Slavin, 1996; Taylor et al., 2007; Watanabe and Swain, 2007; see Torgerson, Porthouse, and Brooks, 2003, for a review); and to use relevant topics, activities, and texts for instruction. Although not yet systematically evaluated, cooperative learning and other forms of peer support may matter even more for adult language learners. Even when adults in certain ESL classes reported feeling frustrated at times, they reported enjoying meeting people and getting to know other speakers of Spanish (Klassen and Burnaby, 1993), so the social aspects of the instructional environment may be especially powerful in motivating persistence. Assessment Adequate assessments are lacking for English language learners. The need to develop more valid and comprehensive approaches to the assess- ment of adults’ reading and writing skills also applies to this population.
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231 LITERACY DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS Four additional issues specific to the English language learner population have emerged in research and practice: (1) assessment of learners’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds and existing language proficiencies, (2) the need to avoid the use of tests developed for native speakers of English, (3) as- sessment of incremental progress in subcomponents of spoken and written language proficiency, and (4) assessment of affective and psychological outcomes. Learner Background and Existing Proficiencies The heterogeneity of adult English language learners requires having systematic ways to assess the backgrounds and such factors as first and second language and literacy proficiencies that influence English literacy development. Currently, teachers report that it is a challenge to provide instruction that is sufficiently common to all in a classroom while differen- tiating instruction to meet the needs of all learners (Wrigley, 2009). As more is understood about the factors that affect English language and literacy de- velopment for different English language learner populations, more reliable and valid assessments can be developed to help make placement decisions and inform instructional planning. Use of Tests Developed for Native English Speakers Assessments in English that are developed for native speakers may not provide valid information about language learners for two reasons. If linguistic complexity rather than the content of a test item causes low performance, the assessment does not reliably assess that content knowl- edge (Abedi, 2006). This type of measurement error occurs on tests other than reading, such as mathematics tests, which are sometimes incorrectly assumed to be relatively independent of linguistic proficiency (Abedi, 2002, 2006; Abedi and Lord, 2001). Second, because reading comprehension, whether in a first or second language, is tied to background knowledge (Garcia, 1991; Lesser, 2007), a language learner may show poor comprehension not because of poor language or comprehension ability but because the topic is unfamiliar. In fact, for Spanish college students learning English, discipline-related back- ground knowledge and language proficiency compensated for each other. Those with low English proficiency could read texts successfully if they had prior knowledge about the topic, and those with high English proficiency comprehended texts even if they had low background knowledge about the topic (Uso-Juan, 2007). Such interrelationships between language proficiency and background knowledge have not been systematically explored with adult language learners. The possibility of existing background knowledge (in the first
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232 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION language) compensating for low linguistic proficiency is intriguing, and further research can identify if and how background knowledge in the first language can be used as an instructional tool while building English proficiency. Assessment of Incremental Progress in All of the Subcomponents of Spoken and Written Language Another challenge in assessing language learners is the complexity of language acquisition. Understanding spoken or written language requires integrating multiple sources of information, such as word meanings, syn- tactic rules, and background knowledge. Because assessments usually tap into only a subset of language skills (e.g., vocabulary) or include measures that are too broad (e.g., oral proficiency), they may not assess the full range of language skill. Moreover, different components of language develop at different rates and in an incremental fashion. For example, vocabulary knowledge is not a simple dichotomy of knowing or not knowing a word’s meaning. Rather, knowledge is a continuum that ranges from not knowing a word, to recognizing it, to knowing it roughly, to describing it very accu- rately and knowing its uses in different contexts (Schoonen and Verhallen, 2008; Vermeer, 2001). Such incremental growth in linguistic knowledge is not reflected in vocabulary tests. An analysis of the 19 most common assessments for language learners (many of which are not widely used or standardized) identified the need for assessments that measure a greater range of language skills and more detailed proficiency levels (Center for Applied Linguistics, 2010). Assessments are needed for different purposes. Although global measures at the program level may be sufficient for ac- countability purposes, more fine-grained assessments are needed at the individual level to assess language and literacy growth for planning instruc- tion and providing feedback to learners (see Center for Applied Linguistics, 2010, for a review). Given the integrated development of spoken and written language, pro- ficiencies in both written and spoken English should be assessed. Language and literacy in the first language and level of education are also important to assess to guide instruction because, as reviewed earlier, these are closely linked to second language development. Assessments that involve selected or constrained responses (e.g., mul- tiple choice or completion) show the largest effects of instruction because they match instruction closely. Free response tasks that require spoken or written answers are better measures of learners’ second language profi- ciency, however, because they relate most closely to language use outside the classroom (Ellis, 2009; Norris and Ortega, 2000). Developing tests of the second type, especially for language learners, is a challenge, but, as for all adults in literacy instruction, it is important to develop reliable and valid
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233 LITERACY DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS measures to assess performance on relevant real-world tasks (Purcell-Gates et al., 2002). Assessment of Affective and Psychological Outcomes A range of affective and psychological influences on learning and de- sired outcomes are important to evaluate in addition to language and literacy skill. These include self-efficacy in the use of spoken and written English, effortless and confident navigation of new contexts in the culture, and the ability to interact comfortably with native speakers, all of which remain difficult to quantify. SUMMARY AND DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH The number of adults who need to develop their English literacy skills in the United States is substantial and growing, and the population is ex- tremely diverse. These adults differ in languages spoken, education levels, literacy skill in the first language, knowledge of English, familiarity with U.S. culture, and other characteristics. The adults differ in the component skills they need to develop and bring to the challenging task of learning to use and comprehend a second language. Some English learners need to understand how the English writing system represents the spoken lan- guage and how to decode and read words in English. They often need to develop vocabulary and knowledge of linguistic features, such as syntax and morphology. Background knowledge related to the culture, the texts to be comprehended, and purpose of a literacy task all may need attention to help adults use their skills to make inferences and create a rich mental representation of the meaning of text. Communicative expression may need to be developed in both spoken and written modalities. Various cognitive, linguistic, social, affective, and cultural factors influ- ence the development of literacy in a second language. These include educa- tion and proficiency in the first language, age, type and degree of existing English proficiency, aptitude for language, possible learning disabilities, cultural and background knowledge, and interest. All of these factors must be considered in the development of instruction for adults learning English as a second language. Research on effective practices for developing English language and literacy in adults is severely limited, especially those with low levels of edu- cation and literacy in the first language. Thus, this chapter reviews three additional sources of information to identify promising practices to study further with adult English language learners: (1) studies of second language teaching in high school and college settings, (2) studies of children who have limited literacy in their first language and who are developing both oral and written language skills in English and thus may provide insights
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234 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION BOX 8-2 Practices to Apply and Study with English Language Learners Engaging and differentiated instruction for adults who vary in • English language and literacy skills, • first language proficiency, • educational background, and • familiarity with U.S. culture. Instruction that integrates explicit instruction with opportunities for the implicit learning of language and literacy, with a focus on • both linguistic form and meaning with feedback, • evelopment of vocabulary and content knowledge for learning and reading d comprehension, • extensive practice outside the classroom, • leveraging knowledge of the first language, • multimodal instruction, • attention to writing, • attention to the affective aspects of learning and instruction, and • ound assessment of literacy skill and affective and psychological out- s comes of instruction. into effective practices for adults with limited education or literacy facil- ity in a first language, and (3) practitioner descriptions of practices used in adult education ESL classes and that warrant more systematic research attention. Box 8-2 shows practices to apply and study in future research. A particular challenge is the need to differentiate instruction for adults in a classroom who vary in first language proficiency, educational background, and familiarity with U.S. culture. Box 8-3 summarizes directions for research. The overarching priorities for this research agenda are to (a) develop and evaluate effective instruc- tional methods for diverse populations of English language learners; (b) develop adequate assessment methods; (c) identify or develop the tech- nologies that can facilitate the learning of language and literacy skills for adult English language learners who differ in their knowledge of English language and literacy, first language literacy, and educational and linguistic backgrounds; and (d) specify the training and supports instructors need to implement the instructional approaches effectively. Standard terms and definitions for describing the subgroups of this diverse population of adults will need to be used in this research to produce more reliable, valid, and interpretable information about the approaches that generalize across sub- groups and the specific approaches that meet a particular group’s literacy development needs.
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235 LITERACY DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS BOX 8-3 Directions for Research on English as a Second Language Instruction • xperiments to identify effective instructional practices for different groups of E language learners (with varying first languages, knowledge of English, first language literacy skills, educational backgrounds, and reasons for attending instruction) to help instructors differentiate instruction. • tudies to specify the length, type, and intensity of instruction that is the most S effective for different language learner groups. • ystematic and longitudinal analyses of language teaching practices (inte- S grating language structures with language use and meaningful content) and documentation of outcomes for adult language learners. • omprehensive description and analysis of the components of effective pro- C grams at multiple levels (instructional content, teaching practices, student interactions, and so on) using quantitative and qualitative methods that link components to outcomes. • ackground variables that have an impact on outcomes and that are important B to assess at program entry and for differentiated instruction. • haracteristics of learners and aspects of language exposure (both inside C and outside the classroom) that predict learning and a range of other desired outcomes that include persistence, continuation with further education, finding employment, and lifelong learning. • he relation between first language skills and the development of spoken and T written English skills and identification of opportunities for transferring skills and strategies. • ays to provide effective multimodal language instruction (speaking, reading, W writing, visual presentations) and technology. • ays to integrate classroom instruction with informal learning opportunities W provided by interactions in communities and through the use of technology. • he most effective ways to integrate language and literacy development with T content instruction. • evelopment and evaluation of “integrated instruction” models that combine D language and literacy education with academic and career education. • ssessments that (a) provide enough information about language and literacy A skills and progress to be useful for planning instruction and providing feed- back to learners, (b) are valid measures of practically important language and literacy competencies, and (c) measure affective, cultural, and psychological factors that affect learning. • eacher knowledge and professional development to effectively administer T and use assessments and flexibly adapt the curriculum to meet learners’ needs.