The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 3 - Page 54

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Imagine yourself as a child being placed in a school in Russia while your teacher drilled you day after day on the sounds of Russian sight words. Sounds like terrible teaching right? Well it happens to our ELL students in the U.S. every day. During my time as a traveling ESL teacher, I would often listen as the classroom teacher expressed concerns about their ELL students and how they were not learning “sounds”. The teacher, in a panic, proceeded to show me checklists of words and word parts that the student needed to be able to pronounce. Sometimes these lists would contain “nonsense” words. The teacher would put the pressure on me to make sure the student could say these particular words and sounds. Unfortunately, this isn’t what the student needed.

One idea to help teachers teaching reading to ELL students is that English language learners need to see the whole picture first before breaking the language down into isolated pieces. So, before students can name the beginning sound of the word “cat”, they would need to comprehend what a “cat” is. Working on the comprehension of vocabulary first is a much more effective way to teach ELLs reading rather than starting with phonics drills that are out of context or have a minimal connection to anything the student is learning.

This sequence is supported through research from the National Reading Panel, 2000 which states that “ELLs need comprehension to be given priority to ensure that they see reading and writing as meaningful and functional activities. These skills do not exist or develop in isolation. ELLs need top-down processes before they can actually read (NRP, 2000).”

When learning to read English as a first language, the recommended order is phonemic awareness, decoding/encoding, vocabulary, fluency and then comprehension. When learning to read English as a second language,

the order begins with comprehension, then vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and lastly decoding and fluency. So, pre-teaching vocabulary is an important part of good phonics instruction with ELLs so that students are not

struggling to figure out new terms out of context.

Teaching phonics in context is an extremely important idea for English language learners. Through content material, you can introduce and reinforce homonyms, silent letters, rhyming words, blends, beginning and ending sounds and letter recognition (Robertson, 2016).

Once the concept of matching a symbol with a sound has been learned, it can be applied to new languages, so a student only needs to learn to read once. However, students who have learned to read in their native language have an advantage over those who have not because they were able tolearn the concept of phonics with familiar sounds and words. Those who have not learned to read in their first language may struggle to put together the sound/symbol correspondence concept, new words, and new sounds all at once (Robertson, 2016).

One way ELL students can benefit from learning and practicing sounds and symbols is to use hands-on activities to help teach letter-sound relationships. One example would be using magnetic letters on cookie sheets. Another idea would be to have students write for sound, the teacher could say a sentence that includes the targeted phonics sounds and then ask students to listen carefully and write what they heard. This activity trains students to listen for those individual sounds in words and then turn around and represent them phonetically in their writing (Robertson, 2016).

Students need help making a connection between their first language and English. If the student has strong literacy skills in their first language then help them make the connection that the process of sounding out words is the same across languages (Robertson, 2016). Explicitly teach students that some letters may make the same or similar sounds in both languages. Especially for Spanish speakers, pointing out the many cognates between languages can help them as they learn to

decode.There are many problematic issues that

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The Problem with Teaching Phonics to English Language Learners

Marlow Barton