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How to enhance reading comprehension of non-fiction academic texts

Reading notebookEsther Geva and Gloria Ramírez will be presenting webinars on 11th and 12th May where they will be discussing how to enhance reading comprehension of non-fiction academic texts.  You can find out more and sign up here.

In today’s Information Age, we are flooded with unprecedented amounts of written information, which needs to be processed quickly and effectively. In secondary school, English as a second language (EL2) teachers have the responsibility of preparing their pupils for post-secondary levels of schooling and for the workplace in today’s information economy. Language teachers face the challenge of helping their EL2 students develop sophisticated reading skills.

A solid EL2 reading instruction program is grounded in empirical evidence that can help us answer questions of what, why, and how for successful teachers of EL2 in contexts where English is the dominant language of the society, as well as in those where it is a foreign language. For these reasons, we will consistently make links between research and teaching throughout this webinar.

We will present detailed summaries of important classroom-based research on different aspects of EL2 reading. We will also provide Classroom Snapshots and Activities. Classroom Snapshots demonstrate the different concepts and how they work with different EL2 learners and different EL2 teaching situations  for teaching EL2 reading. The activities will offer you opportunities to interact with the presenters to gain a better understanding of issues and topics that are addressed in this Webinar.

We will begin by inviting you to reflect on your current beliefs about reading comprehension in both first language (L1) and second Language (L2). Then we will provide a general discussion of the complexity of reading comprehension, and highlight the main factors that are involved in EL2 reading comprehension. This will be followed by a discussion of the different skills needed to extract meaning from text, with a special focus on how to enhance reading comprehension of non-fiction, academic texts. You may find that some of your beliefs are just that- beliefs.

The last part of this Webinar is devoted to individual differences. We examine the challenges that different EL2 readers may experience depending on their age, the characteristics of their L1, their prior experience with reading in their L1 and L2, and the type of text they are reading. For example, we will examine issues related to EL2 reading of adolescent immigrants who have solid reading skills in their L1 and adolescent immigrants who had little formal instruction. The Webinar will end with a brief discussion of the possibility that some EL2 learners are also challenged by a learning disability and require additional program adaptations.


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A Statistical Look at English Proficiency in U.S. Schools

Teacher holding a book in classElaine Hirsch takes a look at the changing level of proficiency standards in the United States school system.

English proficiency has steadily improved among U.S. students over the last 30 years, thanks to a collective emphasis on language skills in American schools. As immigration numbers increase on an annual basis, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) faces new challenges to ensure America’s children are able to communicate effectively with their peers. Luckily many experts believe impressive annual growth indicates an optimistic outlook for American English-speaking students.

Significant improvement has been recorded among children who learn English as a second language (ESL), says the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), a branch of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES). In 2010, IES reported that the number of school-age children (5 to 17 years old) who primarily spoke languages other than English in their homes rose from 4.7 million to 11.2 million between 1980 and 2009. As this number rose, so did the level of English proficiency among ESL students. IES reported that roughly 41 percent of these children struggled with English in 1980; by 2009, this figure had reduced to 24 percent.

Age has shown to be a critical factor when it comes to effectively learning English. Seven percent of 5- to 9-year-olds spoke a non-English language at home and struggled with English in school, compared to four percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17. This figure can be largely attributed to the increased amount of programs for English Language Learners (ELLs) in the nation’s schools. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) reported that ELLs attending grades 7-12 increased by more than 70 percent since 1992, and K-12 enrollments for ELLs rose by 5 percent since 1990. A resource for accredited online graduate courses explains that as the number of children and young adults enrolling in ESL classes continues to grow, so does the need for teachers. Thus it’s not a bad idea for students interested in education to consider taking classes, or enrolling, in ESL or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs.

Race and ethnicity also play a statistical role in English proficiency. Sixteen percent of both Asian and Hispanic children who did not speak English at home ultimately struggle as ELLs, compared to six percent of Pacific Islanders, three percent of Native Americans and less than one percent among Caucasians and African-Americans. These figures are problematic, since Asians and Hispanics constitute the largest influx of legal U.S. immigrants.

Fortunately, according to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) statistics, the English proficiency of even struggling demographics improves as students get older. Roughly 25 to 45 percent of immigrated Asian and Hispanic children qualified as “limited English proficient (LEP).” Of these students, many lived in “isolated households,” or residences in which no one older than 14 speaks English very well. However, percentages of students in these two categories decreased between 6th and 12th grades, and by as much as 50 percent for children from countries like Vietnam, South Korea, Mexico, Dominican Republic and El Salvador. Furthermore, The New York Times reported in 2007 that 88 percent of second-generation members of Latino immigrant families were strong English speakers, compared to 23 percent of their first-generation relatives. This would indicate the children of immigrants are effectively learning to speak English by the time they reach adulthood.

According to NCES, American students overall improved English proficiency last year. In its 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), English reading scores among American 4th and 8th grade students increased among children of higher- and lower-income families. Additionally, nationwide schools are undergoing major changes that potentially impact ELLs in a very positive way. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration announced plans to dismantle NCLB and transfer the responsibility from federal to state level. This move will conceivably allow each state DOE to customize the curricula taught in its schools. ELLs and other students with special English language needs will play a major role in states with a large immigrant population, including California, Texas, New York and Florida—the four most populous states.

As annual U.S. immigration numbers continue to soar, numbers show more new citizens are learning English than ever before. Their children are grasping the new language early in their education, and are able to hone this skill as they reach adulthood. As our schools evolve to meet the needs of ELLs, experts believe these figures will only improve.

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How to overcome cultural differences in ESL writing

Man struggling while writingSamantha Stroh, a published author with over 15 years of teaching experience, explores some of the difficulties second language learners face when writing in the language of another culture.

When my students know it’s time to write, the loud groans and yawns are audible from the next room. I also see many fearful faces. Very few of us enjoy the labour (yes, it is work!) of writing in our first language, but it can be terrifying in your second. An ESL writer must not only deal with grammar and mechanics (something most native English speakers also don’t understand) but also the real challenge of confusing cultural differences.

Writing expresses a person’s character and background by the tone and style that is used; trying to express that same voice while adhering to often strict style guidelines of another language can be daunting. It is possible, however, to be a great second language writer.

For ESL students, writing in English is challenging in a variety of ways, depending on where each student comes from. To understand how different cultures communicate, it’s helpful to think of the personality of that culture. Imagine being in a business meeting with native English speakers. Do they warmly greet each other with hugs and kisses? Shake hands? Bow?

In comparison with other cultures, English speakers are generally reserved. Sentences are often short and simple, and it’s the writer’s responsibility to be understood by the reader. No questions should be left unanswered and long, flowing paragraphs with never-ending adjectives and countless commas are frowned upon in most kinds of writing.

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Using Graded Readers with Young Learners: Supporting Reading

Wallace and GromitHaving chosen a reader to use with your young learners and helped them engage with the characters and story through pre-reading activities, David Dodgson now shares some tips on how to support their reading by going beyond comprehension questions and language work.

Kids love reading stories and, in the foreign language classroom, they can be motivating and captivating. However, reading in their second language can also present children with a considerable struggle as they grapple with plot and character development, extended passages of text and new language. There is also the danger that reading followed by standard comprehension questions turns what should be a fun activity into ‘just another lesson’ in our young learners’ eyes. In this post, we will look at some ways to engage the students by supporting them before, during and after the reading process.

Visual stimuli as advance organisers

In my last post, I looked at activities to raise the students’ interest before reading the book so here I’ll share some ideas to use before individual chapters. I’ve always found that one of the best ways to engage children is through video – the combination of moving images and sound provides a context-rich way to display and explain difficult concepts. I’ve been lucky this year in that both of the readers we have used in class had films to go with them: for The Wizard of Oz there is the classic 1939 film starring Judy Garland; and The Wrong Trousers is of course based on the Nick Park animated film of the same name.

I think it’s a waste when the video version of the story is just shown after the book has been finished as there is so much that can be done to support the reading process throughout the story such as showing a relevant clip to set the scene before a chapter. This can be a great help when it comes to pre-teaching specific vocabulary needed to understand the unfolding events. Rather than go through a difficult explanation to teach an unknown word that appears once in the chapter, you can quickly show the class the word in action instead.

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7 tips for helping learners minimize anxiety in speaking

Man with hand over his mouthIn this post, Li-Shih Huang, Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, looks at anxiety, an important affective factor in second-language learning.

“Picture your audience naked!” “Focus on listening, not on thinking about how you are going to respond!” “Take a few deep breaths!” “Just relax!” — Many students will tell you that these methods don’t work or that they are easier to recommend than to do!

As we know, some people are predisposed to feeling anxious about things (called trait anxiety), while others experience state anxiety in relation to some particular events or situations. Many learners may experience anxiety because of their perceived inability to adequately express their thoughts, or because they are afraid of being judged negatively or not being socially accepted. Anxiety, according to various researchers, can be debilitative (or some call it “harmful”) or facilitative (some call it “helpful”). The latter kind, as the term suggests, can benefit speaking performance, as indicated by numerous research studies (see Brown, 2007).

In this post, I’d like to share some strategies for dealing with state anxiety, which might occur, for example, when performing a speaking task in class or in real-life situations. This kind of anxiety might prevent students from enjoying practicing with peers, doing oral reports in class, or engaging in conversations with other English speakers (Woodrow, 2006). If you have students who seem to need some help in overcoming the kind of anxiety that does not require professional intervention, then you might consider sharing these strategies with them.

  1. Allow for planning, preparation, and practice time. Continue reading