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What Does the Research Say about Adolescent ELLs and Reading?

An "issue brief" from the Alliance for Excellent Education summarizes research results about how teenage English-language learners need some of the same kinds of instruction, along with some different kinds of instruction in reading, than their native-English-speaking peers.

Both ELLs and native-English speakers who struggle with reading, for example, tend to benefit from intensive, explicit teaching in reading-comprehension strategies and in learning new vocabulary, the issue brief says. But ELLs are different from their native-English-speaking peers in that their lack of background knowledge may be a huge barrier for understanding what they read. If a student doesn't know much about U.S. history, for instance, he or she may have trouble understanding a chapter about the Civil War in a textbook. The brief suggests that teachers can help students by relating the information in reading material to students' own knowledge and experiences.

The 8-page brief takes note of the diversity of adolescent ELLs who don't read well:

[O]ne student may never have attended school or learned to read in any language, while another is highly fluent in a native language but has little knowledge of the English alphabet, grammar, or vocabulary; a third student may speak and read English at an elementary level; a fourth may simply need glasses; and a fifth may have a language-processing disorder.

The brief condenses information from a report, "Double the Work," published by the Alliance earlier this year, which I mentioned in an earlier post about teaching teenage ELLs to read.

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