Effective Instruction for English Language Learners
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Many English language learners (ELLs) experience academic difficulties and may benefit from prevention and intervention approaches consistent with Response to Intervention (RTI). Join Jana Echevarria, Ph.D., and Catherine (Cara) Richards-Tutor, Ph.D., of California State University, Long Beach, during our next RTI Talk as they answer your questions about effective instruction for English language learners.
This RTI Talk is presented by the RTI Action Network in collaboration with the National Center on Response to Intervention. A companion to the April 29th webinar, "RTI for English Language Learners," this Talk provides an opportunity for you to submit questions directly to experienced implementers and researchers regarding how RTI can help English language learners.
Whichever program the district adopts, it must be research validated and provide maximum opportunity for children to hear, see, and practice using academic language in meaningful ways. Students should be exposed to high-quality literature that is age appropriate and interesting to them. Reading activities should involve lots of opportunities to develop oral language skills by talking about the text and relating it to their own lives.
Homework reinforces the skills and concepts taught in daily lessons. Nearly all school work requires a grade-appropriate level of literacy and students who are behind in those foundational literacy skills will have difficulty completing assignments. The students who have difficulty attaining specific skills associated with literacy development (or math) receive supplemental instruction (Tier 2 or Tier 3 intervention). The results of progress monitoring identify the particular skills that are the focus of intervention. The intent is to give students an extra dose that is more intensive and in a smaller teacher-student ratio setting so that they acquire those skills and no longer need intervention. The purpose of intervention is to fill in those gaps so students can be successful – in class and with homework.
Picking one or two strategies a semester can ease teachers into the process. Another problem can be that these teachers may not see how it is possible for them to actually differentiate for students, they might not know what that means exactly. Professional development (PD) is a huge piece of RTI. All teachers need to be provided the tools they need to meet the needs of their students. PD is an important component at middle and high schools as well at elementary schools.
DIBELS does not seem to have a sensitive enough Progress Monitoring Tool to measure syntax, comprhension, and phonics knowledge all at once. MAZE is something we are looking into, but leaving these students to do only Nonsense Words does not seem to warrant the time it takes. All the PM tools I have looked at for ELL are only 3X a year. Do you have any suggestions?
However, for younger students who cannot read or are just beginning to read, we want to also be able to measure their progress on measures related to reading. This is when measures like letter naming fluency, phoneme segmentation and nonsense word fluency from DIBELS are useful. Word identification fluency is also a strong measure (Fuchs et al., 2004). MAZE fluency passages are generally used to get a sense of a student's reading comprehension skills; however, they are not as strongly related to general reading outcomes until students are in the 4th grade (Espin, 2006).
These measures are used for decision making in RTI, particularly if a student needs to continue intervention or if an intervention is not working for the student, but often for instructional purposes teachers will need to dig a bit deeper to understand the specific phonics skills a student needs, syntax issues, and specific comprehension skills such as knowing main idea or making predictions.
RTI is intended to provide high-quality instruction in the general education classroom. When students are missing key skills that are foundational to math, then they receive Tier 2 intervention in those skills because Tier 2 is for building targeted mathematics proficiencies. So, if a sixth grade student does not know her multiplication facts, she would receive intervention on fluent retrieval of those facts because that skill is a common underlying skill for many mathematics processes. An excellent resource from the What Works Clearinghouse is called: Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Response to Intervention (RtI) for Elementary and Middle Schools.
- What is the purpose of the assessment?
- Are these measures reliable and valid for these students?
- Using more of a problem solving approach rather than specific cut scores when making decisions about interventions for EL.
The second part of your question really relates to all three big ideas. First, it is important to know what the assessment is going to be used for. For example, is it just to inform the teacher if the intervention is working, is it to determine which students are at-risk, is it to determine special education placement, or all of these? These questions will help you answer which assessments are best for which purpose. Second, it is important to use reliable and valid measures particularly when using the assessments to make decisions about whether a student needs intervention support or if they are “responsive” or “not responsive” to intervention.
CBMs are probably the best measures for this purpose. For EL, CBMs that have pre-set benchmarks may or may not be adequate for EL. It is probably best in this case to establish local norms for a school or district. These norms can include L1 peers as well. However, you may want to look at the norms by disaggregating the ELL students to see if there are real differences. Third, for EL it is probably best to use more of a problem solving approach when making decisions about a student. Therefore, benchmark cutoffs are not the only data used to make decisions about the student. ELL teachers, special education teachers, and other specialists are important to have in this decision-making process.
Just because a student meets the criteria for exiting ESL doesn’t mean that she has all the academic English needed to be successful in school. The way to distinguish between ESL/academic language issues and a learning disability is to use a "case study" approach. Pinpoint the areas of weakness, provide focused intervention on those specific skills and monitor progress. If the student makes steady progress, however slow, then it would indicate the student needs more time and language support and most likely does not have a learning disability.
Also, the family should be involved, especially at this point in the process. Do they see the student as having a problem? Was the child’s first language development normal? These are important considerations when contemplating special education services for English learners. Finally, remember that students spend the majority of the day in the general education classroom. We need to make sure that as a former English learner she is provided high quality instruction that consistently supports her language needs. We discuss these issues extensively in our book, RTI and English Learners: Making It Work. [For more information, see: Echevarria, J. & Vogt, M. (in press) RTI and English Learners: Making It Work. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.]
That concludes our RTI Talk for today. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful questions and thanks to our experts, Dr. Jane Echevarria and Dr. Cara Richards-Tutor, for their time today.
Related Reading from RTINetwork.org:
- Response to Intervention in Reading for English Language Learners by Sharon Vaughn, Ph.D., and Alba Ortiz, Ph.D.
- Response to Intervention and the Disproportionate Representation of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students in Special Education by John L. Hosp, Ph.D.
- Classroom Reading Instruction That Supports Struggling Readers by Carolyn A. Denton, Ph.D.
- Colorín colorado
- Echevarria, J. & Vogt, M. (in press) RTI and English Learners: Making It Work. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Echevarria, J. & Graves, A. (2010). Sheltered Content Instruction: Teaching English Learners with Diverse Abilities, Fourth Edition. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Echevarria, J., & Hasbrouck, J. (2009). Response to intervention and English learners (CREATE Brief). Washington, DC: Center for Research on the Educational Achievement and Teaching of English Language Learners.
- The International Reading Association
- National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems
- National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition
- National Center on Response to Intervention
- Richards, C., Leafstedt, J.M., Gerber, M.M. (2006) Qualitative and quantitative examination of four low performing kindergarten English Learners: Characteristics of responsive and non-responsive students. Remedial and Special Education, 27, 21-234.
- Vanderwood, M. & Nam, J. (2007). Response to intervention for English language learners: Current development and future directions. In S. Jimerson, M. Burns, & A. Van Der Heyden (Eds.). Handbook of response to intervention. New York: Springer.
- Sánchez, M.T., Parker, C., Akbayin, B., and McTigue, A. (2010). Processes and challenges in identifying learning disabilities among students who are English language learners in three New York State districts (Issues & Answers Report, REL 2010–No. 085). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands.
- Artiles, A. & Ortiz, A. (2007) (Eds.). English language learners with special education needs. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
- Klinger, J., Sorrels, A., & Barrera, M. (2007). Considerations when implementing response to intervention with culturally and linguistically diverse students. In D. Haager, J. Klinger, & S. Vaughn (Eds.). Evidence-based reading practices for response to intervention. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
- Richards, C. & Leafstedt, J. (2010). Early reading intervention: Strategies and methods for struggling readers. Boston: Allyn & Bacon
- State Test Score Trends Through 2007-08, Part 6: Has Progress Been Made in Raising Achievement for English Language Learners?