English Learners and Dependent Readers: An Unexpected Advantage (Part 2)

We are always concerned for our struggling learners. Of course we are. So when a teacher first encounters the crazy-complex texts in an Inquiry By Design unit, that teacher may be a little skeptical, or hesitant, or even terrified.

Well, take a deep breath because there are several research-based reasons why those might be the very students to excel with challenging texts and an inquiry based pedagogy. (If you missed reasons 1-3, go here.)

  1. I went through school a long time ago, so not only were things different then, but to be fair, I may not remember all the details correctly. However, I don’t remember being invited into conversation, well…ever. I remember being shushed and asked to work quietly. I remember comments from teachers like “Why is there talking? There shouldn’t be any talking! Get back to your worksheets.” And yet copious amounts of research support the fact that conversation makes us smarter. As quoted in a summary from Science Daily, Oscar Ybarra and research colleagues from the University of Michigan “found that people who engaged in social interaction displayed higher levels of cognitive performance than the control group. Social interaction aided intellectual performance.” In fact I would challenge you to find any article or research study aimed at ELL and SPED instruction that does NOT list discussion, small groups, conversation, and cooperative learning as key scaffolds for success. Conversation is woven into every round of work in the Inquiry By Design units for this reason.
  1. Inquiry By Design sessions call for a lot of charting, frequent quick writes, graphic representations, and structured note taking. All of this is meant to be displayed and/or kept easily accessible,because all learners, but especially ELLs and dependent readers, benefit from a print-rich environment (see SIOP strategies). These tools help all students build toward an authentic piece of writing, but they are essential building blocks for language learners.
  1. The New Teacher Center at the University of California at Santa Cruz developed a research-based resource for teachers identifying Six Key Strategies for Teachers of English Language Learners. Explicit instruction is one of these, meaning this: As proficient readers we instinctually know when to re-read a section, how to track understanding as we make our way through a text, when an unknown word is impeding comprehension or when we can pull context clues. We know what to look for in identifying an author’s big ideas and how to recognize irony, hyperbole, and images. Non-proficient readers, and especially ELLs, don’t do those things. We therefore have to make them explicit. The instructional strategies of re-reading, annotating, charting understanding and difficulties, search and study, and discussions are all designed to make these things explicit in authentic ways.
  1. Another of the six key strategies identified by the New Teacher Center is metacognition. Metacognition is a critical skill for learning a second language, but it’s also what enables us to transfer skills and knowledge. It’s not enough to make the instruction explicit; students (people) then need the opportunity to reflect on how each step or strategy supported their learning in order for them to employ those skills and that knowledge the next time. Closing meetings and informal discussions about what we did, how we did it, what was hard, what helped, and how this will shape our thinking and behavior next time we’re faced with a similar task is the kind of metacognitive reflection that best supports ELLs, dependent readers, and pretty much everyone else.

Tell us how your own ELLs and dependent readers have responded to Inquiry By Design texts and tasks and look for our next post where a teacher will share her own experience with IBD and ELLs.