Reading is the act of processing text in order to derive meaning. To learn to read, children must develop both fluent word reading and language comprehension (Gough & Tunmer,1986). Language comprehension is built upon vocabulary and morphology, knowledge, syntax, and higher-level language skills.
Many studies since the 1980's have shown that background knowledge is a critical component of comprehension (Spencer & Wagner, 2018). The knowledge a reader brings to their learning contributes to language comprehension. "Big ideas and complex questions cannot be separated from the language used to represent them…A reader's comprehension of a story depends greatly upon the knowledge and language she brings to the experience" (Lesaux & Russ Harris, 2015). Knowledge gives substance and context for word learning and comprehension. Content rich instruction in the early grades, especially with informational text, is particularly important to build knowledge that will help students comprehend increasingly complex language and texts as they grow as readers (Catts & Kamhi, 2017).
"Fundamentally, what we're asking folks to do is make decisions about instruction based on the best available evidence that we have for what should increase the likelihood that your students will learn the skills that they need to succeed in school."
Nicole Patton Terry
Professor & Associate Director
Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University
English learners should have equal opportunity to meaningfully participate in all literacy instruction. The WIDA Can Do Descriptors highlight what language learners can do at various stages of language development.
Taking Bilingualism into Account
"Many English language learners struggle with curriculum content because they lack background knowledge of the topic or have gaps in the information they have learned. Teachers must either activate what prior knowledge exists and apply it to lessons or explicitly build background knowledge for these students" (Short & Echevarria, 2005).
Supports for English Learners
Catts, H. W., & Kamhi, A. G. (2017). Prologue: Reading comprehension is not a single ability. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 48(2), 73–76.
Echevaria, J., and Short, D. (2005). Teacher Skills to Support English Language Learners. Best of Educational Leadership 2004–2005, 62, 8–13.
Ferlazzo, L. and Hull Sypnieski, K. (2018). The ELL Teacher's Toolbox: Hundreds of Practical Ideas to Support Your Students, San Francisco, CA Jossey-Bass.
Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.
Lesaux, N. & Russ Harris, J. (2015). Cultivating Knowledge, Building Language. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Levine, L. N., Lukens, L. & Smallwood, B. A. (2013). The GO TO strategies: Scaffolding options for teachers of English language learners, K–12. For Project EXCELL, a partnership between the University of Missouri- Kansas City and North Kansas City Schools, funded by the US Department of Education, PR Number T195N070316.
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Last Updated: November 17, 2020
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Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.