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RUNNING HEAD: MAKING THE MOST OF LITERACY INSTUCTION FOR ENGLISH

LANGUAGE LEARNERS (ELLS)

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs


Case Report

Victoria Dickens

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

Context Description
A growing community of native-Spanish speaking students has caused Carter Elementary
School (pseudonym) to recognize the need for dual-language instruction; the school is in a
county in the edge of a small city in a mid-Atlantic state in the United States. Half of the students
who attend Carter school are native Spanish speakers from mostly Mexico and Honduras, but
also from other Latino countries. The program was piloted three years ago in the kindergarten
grades, and each year the county has approved the program to include the next grade above; the
school now has a dual-language immersion program for children in kindergarten, first, and
second grades. In the past year the school hired a new assistant principal who taught in
Venezuela and specializes in dual language instruction to help foster growth and development in
the dual language program.
To sign up, the parents elect for the dual language immersion option, but of this pool the
school selects who will be placed in these classrooms based upon the native language of the
applicant. Fifty percent of the students who are chosen are native English speakers and fifty
percent of the students are native Spanish speakers, with the exception in the second grade of a
student who speaks Polish and a student who speaks French. However, the students who speak
French and Polish are proficient in English and count as English-speaking students. These forty
students were split into two classrooms of twenty, with ten native English speakers and ten native
Spanish speakers in each classroom.
The teacher of the English speaking classroom has worked in the county for eight years
as a second grade teacher, and previously in two other surrounding counties as a special
education teacher. Last year and this year she has received several professional developments to
inform instruction in the dual language program. The Spanish speaking teacher is from Puerto

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

Rico, but has lived in the continental United States since college; she has previously taught in a
preschool dual language program and is fluent in Spanish, her native language. This year is her
first year teaching second grade as well as her first year teaching at Carter Elementary School,
and she has worked hard to develop lessons and obtain materials for her classroom.
For half of every day the students received content and language instruction in the
Spanish or English classroom, then the classrooms switch. The content is divided evenly between
the classrooms; the Spanish-speaking classroom will teach math, then the English-speaking
classroom will teach math. As one teacher teaches math, the other educator teaches science and
social studies. After every unit the teachers switch subject matter. At morning meetings the
subject taught in the other classroom is reviewed in order to bridge the vocabulary language gap,
as well as to reinforce essential understandings in each language. Both teachers collaborate
regularly to monitor student progress in all subjects, and the students would do a song, game, or
activity to re-inforce the concepts during Morning Meetings as part of a Responsive Classroom.
For example, when learning to count by fives, the students would do activities and games in
centers in the Spanish speaking classroom, but the students would count by fives in English by
dancing to a video that sings 5, 10, 15, 20 in English, or by playing a hand game where the
students count by fives in English with a partner. Because of these activities and the
communication between teachers, the other teacher already knows what the students learned and
which students needed more support.
Literacy instruction occurred daily in small groups that were organized by reading levels.
Group sizes varied based upon levels, behavior, and needs of the students. Teaching assistants led
literacy groups as well as classroom teachers in order to increase the amount of time students
spent getting immediate feedback and guidance from an adult. Two students in the dual language

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

program receive reading instruction from the reading specialist in the school during the literacy
group time (though neither of them have an IEP). Both of the students that work with the reading
specialist are native Spanish speakers; one of the students was found ineligible for special
education services, but he was able to get a 504 plan. He has ADHD and they have recently
increased his dosage of medicine in order to help increase his on task behavior. Another student
receives literacy instruction under Title I funds (she is not going through the eligibility process
for additional services to support reading). The student receiving Title I funds is a native English
speaker and showed exceptional growth in the area of reading at the beginning of the year; in
fact, she is almost on grade level according to the Rigby scores that she earned, but that growth
did not continue as the year progressed.
Each teacher in the dual language immersion program uses Class Dojo to reward positive
classroom behaviors, communicate with parents, and to look at the data to figure out which
students are getting the most or the fewest points. This acts as feedback to help reflect on the
participation and behavior in the classroom, as well as a way to pin point the students who may
need more supports to engage in lessons. The Class Dojo app is used to give points as students
are working, walking in the hall, or even on the playground. Parents can see exactly when and
why students earn, or, in rare cases, lose a point. Many times parents will message the teachers to
ask about specific points, and in that way Class Dojo has increased the ability of parents and
teachers to communicate openly about their students. Carter Elementary School also employs
multiple staff who are fluent in Spanish, as well as an office designated translator, who are
available to talk to parents and will convert all messages that go home into Spanish for the
families that are native Spanish speakers.

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

This year there are now six second grade classrooms with at least 20 students in each
class at Carter Elementary School, bringing the total amount of second graders in the school to
around 120 students. Most grades at Carter have about 100 students, and about five classrooms.
All of the classes have native Spanish speaking students, also known as English Language
Learners or ELLs; the classrooms that are not part of the Dual Language immersion program
receive ESOL push-in support and have Spanish as a special once a week. The students in the
dual language program have more intensive supports when they hear and use Spanish to interact
with the learning environment for half of each school day, and the English speaking classroom in
the dual language program gets ESOL push-in two times a week during content time.
The dual language immersion program has caused the school to embrace diversity which
reflects an attitude that responds to the culture of students and their families. All of the students
in the dual language classroom are learning something new, and in the Spanish speaking
classroom the native Spanish speaking students can be the gatekeepers to knowledge and the
experts for the English speaking students who are learning Spanish. By creating a Spanish
speaking classroom and a receptive environment to Spanish culture, the native Spanish speaking
students no longer feel isolated by the language barrier for an entire school day. Many
proponents even taut the breaking down of social barriers in these classrooms due to the ability
for these students to communicate, share in this experience, and relate to one another, regardless
of native languages or backgrounds.
Student Description
Two students in this class became the focus of this study; both are native Spanish
speaking students who have lived in the area for at least three years (INTL49). Both students
attend Boys and Girls Club after school, and both students live in a neighborhood that will be

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

called North Beach for the sake of this paper (the name is changed to ensure privacy). The
neighborhood is mostly Latino and Hispanic families who are lower middle class socioeconomically. The Boys and Girls Club is an organization that provides child care for many
families in the North Beach community as well as some academic services, such as tutoring,
homework help, and getting the families involved in education.
Missy, whose name has been changed in this paper to ensure privacy, is a seven year old
girl; she is tall and thin for a seven year old, lives with her father, mother, and little sister, and she
is proficiently literate in Spanish for her age. Missys father is highly invested in her education,
and wants both of his children to do well in school in order to have a successful future. However,
the father and mother are both more proficient in Spanish. Though the father can use English for
some communications with the English-speaking teacher, when he cannot use English to
communicate he will talk to the Spanish-speaking teacher.
Missy (ST1) was picked for this study due to the behaviors that were seen in the
classroom, and the suspected impact these behaviors were having on her academic development.
When she was at a table with three other peers, she would engage in grabbing pencils, glue,
highlighters, or scissors in what appeared to be an attempt to gain student and teacher attention,
as well as to gain access to a fidget object. When teachers gave directions, during share times,
group work, and independent work, Missy was attempting to talk to peers or to play with a small
object; then she would not know the directions and the exit slips collected would show that she
was not accessing the curriculum. On the playground and in the lunch room Missy struggled to
socialize appropriately with peers, grabbing or tugging on shirts, touching arms, faces, and
speaking too loudly and too closely to a student while using words that caused the student to take
offense. The classroom teachers talked to her and her parents after each incident about good

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

choices as well as using Class Dojo as an incentive, but her behaviors continued to impact the
responses from other students and her academic attention on task in the classroom.
Missy is highly active, needs movement, and wants peer interaction, so the three teachers
who worked with her brainstormed solutions. Though no educators believed in isolating her, and
she was warned of the possibility if her behaviors continued. When no change occurred, the
choice was made to move her to a separate desk in order to isolate the academic behaviors from
the social behaviors. After four weeks, she earned the opportunities to move back with a friend,
then with two peers, and she transitioned back to the table of three students by showing on task
behaviors that were praised and given attention. During academic tasks the teacher began to
check in with Missy every five minutes as a check for understanding and work completed
(INTLN17). As she continued to gain positive attention for academics, she increased her time on
task.
In order to address the social behaviors, one teacher took her aside to give explicit
supports in how to gain peer attention appropriately with kind words and hands by her side, only
touching when another student initiates a hug. The conversation was initiated in a casual way, by
stating, I notice that you really want to make friends, but I notice that when you try to talk to
someone that you are touching them, and I see that they will sometimes react by pulling away.
Missy voluntarily responded by repeating those tips back to the teacher several times throughout
the week; since then Missy has experienced fewer conflicts during social time with peers.
The second student (ST2), Bess, whose name has been changed to maintain
confidentiality, is short for a seven year old girl. She lives with her mother in North Beach, and is
easily distracted by what other students are doing. At the beginning of the year Bess would take
five to ten minutes to begin morning work, took a longer time completing any academic task, and

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

would ask for help constantly, claiming that she could not do anything. In her previous literacy
group she would refuse to comply with requests, sometimes saying, No, to the teacher
(INTLN66). As the year has progressed, the classroom teacher has built a relationship with Bess,
who is not more likely to voluntarily engage with academic tasks or conversations; this occurred
after a stressful situation at home caused Bess to open up to the teacher, who voiced concern and
care (INTLN54-61).
While both students displayed behaviors that were labeled off-task, these looked
different depending upon the student when the behaviors were manifested in the classroom.
Descriptive Evidence
Missy was observed five times and Bess was observed four times in order to code the
behaviors and measure the time spent on task or off task; while the entire day was observed for
the first observation, the literacy time became the focus for this particular study.
Missy had literacy group in the morning and Bess had literacy group in the afternoon,
which proved a challenging time to observe when schedules were shortened or changed. The
student referred to as Missy (ST1) is an LAB level reader that participates in an ability grouped
literacy group for thirty minutes every day; this is led by a teaching assistant in the school who
implements lesson plans that have been written by the classroom teacher. Every few weeks the
teaching assistant conducts a running record to track the progress of each student; Missy has
scored mostly below the goal of 100 correct words per minute (ST1WS1). The student labeled
Bess (ST2) is an MAB reader in a group of LAB/MAB readers led by the classroom teacher
during literacy group periods every day. While she is below the 100 wcpm, she has improved
from her previous scores in her previous literacy group, and she continues to show that she is
applying what she is learning in literacy groups (ST2WS1).

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

Two or three observations were conducted before coding occurred in order to pin point
the exact areas to measure; through the first few observations, I noted how Missy responded to
the classroom teacher in contrast to the teaching assistant who conducted literacy group time.
As the observations were collected, the researcher read through the observation notes and
decided the best way to measure time on task was to code a video observation by marking
opportunities to respond as voluntary or teacher directed, if the response was correct, and if the
response required reading or the application of phonetic, vocabulary, or comprehension skills. By
collecting this data and contrasting the two student experiences, there are clear differences in the
quality, as well as the number of responses, between Missy (ST1) and Bess (ST2). Through
observations I noted that Missy was given fewer opportunities to respond, and when she did
respond, she would sometimes rephrase or repeat the words the teacher said without answering
the question asked of her (ST1OB4LN90; ST1OB2LN57-58). This further peaked my curiosity
to investigate the opportunities these two students had to respond, and the quality of these
responses. Thus I created a chart to record whether a response was voluntary or involuntary,
involved reading, was correct, or if the student was asked to apply phonics, vocabulary, or
comprehension skills in order to answer the query.
Subjectivity Statement
Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, I studied Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies with a
minor in history and teaching special education at James Madison University and then earned a
masters degree in special and elementary education at the University of Virginia; my studies of
positive behavior supports and evidence-based practices, as well as my experience in practicum
classrooms influence how this data is interpreted. Throughout my studies I have taken at least six
classes on teaching reading, most of these classes focusing on how to teach reading to struggling

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

readers; the information from these classes, as well as the tutoring experiences that I completed
alongside these classes, influence what I believe as best practice for teaching reading.
My middle class background has influenced the high value that I place on education, and
my expectations for positive learning environments that create lifelong learners. My experiences
include teaching in K-12 classrooms (general education, collaborative, and special education
settings) through practicum experiences, experiences working with children ages 5-15 as a
summer camp counselor, as well as experience being a counselor for campers with special needs.
During these placements Ive had the distinct pleasure of working in urban, suburban,
and rural communities, as well as with students from various levels of socio-economic
background. The positive reinforcement discipline philosophies from these experiences, as well
as the exposure to culturally responsive teaching, will influence the conclusions and assumptions
that I bring to the observations and to the data analysis involved in this case report. While I try to
learn about Hispanic culture, there are still some aspects of Latino culture that I am not privy to
since I was not raised by Spanish speaking parents.
Analysis and Inferences
There may be two reasons that a disparity exists between the evidence collected during
literacy time; Missy (ST1) is in a literacy circle of 6 people while Bess (ST2) is in a literacy
group of four people. This small difference in group size may cause fewer opportunities for
Missy to engage in developing her literacy skills. However, that is not the only factor. The
teaching assistant for Missys literacy group is not trained in positive behavior supports or
teaching reading. Missy may need a smaller group size in order to have more opportunities to
respond, and she needs more questions that pin point her vocabulary retention, phonetic
knowledge, and comprehension skills. One way to achieve this would require the teacher to have

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

students only read one page at a time, then stop to ask each student a question about that page.
Ensuring that each student answers one question will also reduce the tendency for the same
students to answer most of the questions, which is the case presently (ST1OB3; ST1OB4;
ST1OB5). While students may take longer to get through a book using this method, the time
spent in the book will become more enriched and more meaningful, and may reap more longterm positive results.
The teaching assistant may also benefit from a professional development or feedback
system that would encourage her to praise the good instead of noting the negative behaviors she
must control; many of the interactions between the teaching assistant and Missy are punitive,
corrective, or directive. The teaching assistant will tell her to put her feet on the floor
(ST1OB2LN87), to not play with her hair (ST1OB3LN56), to put her pencil down as she is
already taking the pencil away to put it down (ST1OB2LN98) or asking if she needs to go in the
hall (ST1OB4LN88). Academically, the teaching assistant asks a string of questions and many
times will answer the questions herself before Missy or any other student has time to think about
the question (ST1OB2LN76-78). As can be noted in the running field notes (ST1OB2LN138),
Missy responds well when the classroom teacher checks in with her, praises her, and gives her
attention for on task behaviors, and the teaching assistant may see improvement in Missys
engagement if she implemented a behavior plan that was consistent with the classroom teacher.
Using the frequency chart (STOB5), I compared the amount of opportunities to respond
with the total time and found that Bess, on average, had 2 opportunities to respond per minute,
and half of the responses required phonetic, vocabulary, or comprehension skills. Most of these
opportunities were voluntary, correct responses, and expanded upon by the teacher. In contrast,
Missy had less than one opportunity to respond per minute, and less than 25% of the responses

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

required phonics, vocabulary, or comprehension. Almost all of these opportunities to respond


were teacher directed and not voluntary; even when Missy raised her hand, the teacher would
call on another student. Better questions, wait time to allow for thought, and more academically
rigorous tasks, paired with specific scaffolding questions, may improve Missys performance.
The second student, Bess, has shown improvement as she has spent time in her current
literacy group. The teacher has talked about her previous literacy group experience, where Bess
refused to read, wouldnt answer questions, and refused to comply with requests (INTLN66).
Now that she has transferred to a literacy group with her classroom teacher, she only has the
occasional blurt, which is something that will happen at some point when working with second
graders. From what the teacher has said, Besss time on task has increased, she is more motivated
to take part in the lesson, and she is given opportunities to respond, tell relevant stories, and to
have continual feedback from the teacher as she reads.
Inquiry Questions
Throughout this experience, many research questions arose. How does the Hispanic
culture contribute to the engagement, the contributions made in classrooms, and the success of
female students with a Hispanic background? Are there trends in behavior that impede literacy
learning? Are literacy groups giving native Spanish speaking students the supports necessary to
learn English fluently? How could literacy groups improve supports for students who are
learning English from a Spanish-speaking background? As data was collected, I aimed to find
answers to these questions.
Evidence-based recommendations
The literature and research says that students who are learning to speak English need
specific supports in bridging the language gap (Leacox & Jackson, 2014); this program already

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

seeks to strengthen the literacy of all students by teaching students in Spanish and English, one
of the most conducive methods to increase language learning (Pregot, 2013). However, some
improvements can be made during literacy group instruction to continue to increase the learning
of students who are English Language Learners, specifically in Missys literacy group.
Based on the research and the evidence in this paper, the students are receiving adequate
supports during literacy circle time, but Missy would benefit from a smaller group size, more
structured vocabulary and comprehension activities that require more critical thinking skills, and
more opportunities to respond to vocabulary and comprehension questions. The research from
Mendez et al. (2015) proves that students reap greater benefits when receiving instruction in
Spanish and English, as shown by higher posttest scores, so some words should be defined using
a Spanish equivalent. Additionally, multiple readings of a text and partner reading has been
proven as an evidence-based practice, especially for students who are learning a new language
(Armbruster, Lehr, Osborn, Adler, & Noonis, 2006). These practices benefit English speakers by
developing fluency and Spanish speakers by giving students opportunities to hear and read the
text several times.
Conclusions and Implementations
This field project aims to produce critical thought about the challenges that students who
are English language learners face in the modern classroom, even if that classroom is a model
that can be most conducive to language development. In order to eliminate the isolation that
students can feel when another language is used all day, students could benefit from a dual
language program, or a period where those students can receive instruction in a native language
in order to further promote development in both languages. Carter Elementary School has
successfully implemented a Bright Stars program (similar to a Head Start program), as well as a

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

dual language immersion program in order to meet the needs of the specific population in the
school. Many obstacles can impede this method in other areas. Not all school administrators or
districts may see the need to create similar programs for students who could benefit from
bilingual instruction, and not all schools or districts may have a thriving community of English
Language Learners to create an immersion program composed of 50% Spanish speaking
students. Some districts do not have a large population of English language learners, further
exacerbating the problem for these students.
However, when possible, the best practice is to go beyond ESOL supports and to create a
language rich environment that can allow students to bridge the vocabulary between the two
languages and to experience an environment of inclusion. The most critical time in school for
English Language Learners are literacy and language experiences, and these units need to create
opportunities for students to engage and respond in the target language (which could be Spanish
or English depending upon the need of the student).
The dual language program at Carter Elementary is continuing to develop native
language literacy while teaching students who are learning English how to bridge that gap
between English and Spanish. However, the literacy group time could better serve students who
are learning English as a second language if the students spent more time engaged in positive
reading activities with highly qualified reading teachers.

Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

References
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Case Report

Making the Most of Literacy Instruction for ELLs

Victoria Dickens

Mendez, L. I., Crais, E. R., Castro, D. C., & Kainz, K. (2015). A culturally and linguistically
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