Every day, all students should read or listen to a shared text and participate in teacher-facilitated, text-based discussion. The teacher may provide explicit instruction on some aspect of the text (e.g., structure) or model a comprehension strategy before and/or while reading. The teacher uses text-dependent or text-specific questions and discussion to monitor and promote student understanding of the text. These text-dependent questions move from literal to deeper, more inferential comprehension.
Some children will have challenges comprehending complex text, whether reading it independently or even when listening to a text read aloud. These children deserve and need to work with complex text regularly, alongside their peers. Teachers can provide targeted scaffolds and accommodations to create access to the text and the discussion.
"It's critically important that children receive the best possible language and reading instruction right now. Every day that they don't receive appropriate instruction is a day that they aren't able to access text. It's a day that they're falling behind their peers. It's a day that we're robbing them of more knowledge that they could have about their world."
Tiffany P. Hogan
Director of the Speech and Language (SAiL) Literacy Lab
MGH Institute of Health Professions
Active discussions empower language development while also promoting understanding of the text (Ossa-Parra et al., 2016). "Discussions among students or between the students and the teacher go beyond simply asking and answering surface-level questions to a more thoughtful exploration of the text. Through this type of exploration, students learn how to argue for or against points raised in the discussion, resolve ambiguities in the text, and draw conclusions or inferences about the text" (Shanahan et al., 2010 , page 29).
English learners must have equal opportunity to meaningfully participate in all literacy instruction. The WIDA Can Do Descriptors and 2020 ELD Standards Framework highlight what language learners can do at various stages of language development and help educators plan for instruction that fosters high expectations and equity of access for ELs. For additional information, see this set of Five Instructional Practices and Instructional Strategies for Centering MLLs in Early Literacy Instruction (Instruction Partners).
English learners benefit from opportunities to talk about the text in their home language before engaging in English-only discussions or activities (Genesee & Lindholm-Leary, 2012; Goldenberg, 2008), as a pair-share or small group discussion.
Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Carlo, M. S., August, D., McLaughlin, B., Snow, C. E., Dressler, C., Lippman, D., … White, C. E. (2004). Closing the gap: Addressing the vocabulary needs for English language learners in bilingual and mainstream classrooms. Reading Research Quarterly, 39(2), 188–215. doi:10.1598/RRQ.39.2.3
Duke, N. K., Pearson, P. D., Strachan, S. L., & Billman, A., K. (2011). Essential Elements of Fostering and Teaching Reading Comprehension. In A. E. Farstrup & S. J. Samuels and (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (4th ed., pp. 51–93). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Genesee, F., & Lindholm-Leary, K. (2012). The education of English language learners. In K. Harris, S. Graham, & T. Urdan (Eds), APA Handbook of Educational Psychology. Washington DC: APA Books.
Goldenberg, C. (2008). Teaching English language learners: What the research does — and does not — say. American Educator, 32, 8–23, 42–44.
Lesaux, N., Galloway, E., & Marietta, S. (2016). Teaching advanced literacy skills: A guide for leaders in linguistically diverse schools. New York: Guilford Press.
Ossa-Parra, M., Wagner, C., & Proctor, C.P., Leighton, C., Robertson, D., Paratore, J., & Ford-Connors, E. (2016). Dialogic Reasoning: Supporting Emergent Bilingual Students' Language and Literacy Development.
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Last Updated: February 16, 2023
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