Citation
What happens to second grade native Spanish-speaking students' reading, writing, and oral language development during the school year

Material Information

Title:
What happens to second grade native Spanish-speaking students' reading, writing, and oral language development during the school year
Creator:
Fune, Ryan M
Place of Publication:
Denver, Colo.
Publisher:
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
xvi, 412 leaves : ; 28 cm.

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Degree:
Doctorate ( Doctor of Philosophy)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
School of Education and Human Development, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Educational Leadership and Innovation
Committee Chair:
Nathenson-Meija, Sally
Committee Members:
Taylor, Sherry
White, Phillip
Pollman, Mary Jo

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Second grade (Education) ( lcsh )
Hispanic American students -- Education ( lcsh )
Children -- Language ( lcsh )
Language and education ( lcsh )
Children -- Language ( fast )
Hispanic American students -- Education ( fast )
Language and education ( fast )
Second grade (Education) ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Thesis:
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Colorado Denver, 2010.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 377-412).
General Note:
School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
by Ryan M. Fune.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
655755309 ( OCLC )
ocn655755309

Full Text
WHAT HAPPENS TO SECOND GRADE NATIVE SPANISH-SPEAKING
STUDENTS READING, WRITING, AND ORAL LANGUAGE
DEVELOPMENT DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR
by
Ryan M. Fune
B.A., Metropolitan State College of Denver, 1996
M.A., University of Colorado Denver, 2003
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
2010


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Ryan M. Fune
has been approved


Fune, Ryan M. (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
What Happens to Second Grade Native Spanish-Speaking Students Reading,
Writing, and Oral Language Development During the School Year?
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Sally Nathenson-Mejia
ABSTRACT
This study explores different perspectives of English language learner (ELL)
students reading, writing, and oral language development. The first perspective
looks at educating ELL students from a sociocultural theoretical framework as the
praxis of language and learning. The second perspective explores the sequential
paths that LI and L2 students follow towards literacy proficiency. The third
perspective puts the study of ELL students in national, state, and district historical
contexts to look for trends and development. The fourth perspective relies on various
theorists and their theories to support the study of ELL students reading, writing, and
oral language development Fifth, this study looks at past literacy research that has
benefited ELL students and the need for future research. The final perspective
suggests that learning environments for ELL students must be looked at to assess how
and if social interaction may mediate literacy skills acquisition.
This abstract accurately represents the content in the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.


DEDICATION
This dissertation and the tremendous effort that was put into it are dedicated to my
dear Filipino grandmother, Apo Baket Ignacia Ramos Benito Arciga. Apo, you were
the first English language learner I knew. Thank you for teaching me about hard
work and generosity. My fondest childhood memories of vegetable soup with Vienna
sausage, overflowing the bathtub, getting locked in the bedroom, playing in your rice
bin, and so many others from inside your Kaumakani home will always live in my
heart. My roots will always be planted in your garden. God Bless You, Apo!
To my father, Herbert William Fune, Sr. You left us much too soon. Thank you for
passing on to me your sense of humor. I will use it often. Please watch over us as
you stand in heaven with your son and our brother, Joseph Joey Boy Benito Fune.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
To my MOM... Rosita Benito Fune. Thank you for your love and care packages
from Hawaii through the years. Your boxes filled with goodies and news from home
nourished my body and my spirit. Although I am a ship at sea, you and the home that
I grew up in Kalaheo are my safe harbor and guiding light. Thank you for loving me
unconditionally.
To my SISTER Desiree... although you are legally blind, you help me see the world
in clear and wonderful ways because you choose to see the world that way. I never
laugh more than when I am with you.
To my BROTHERS Kevin, Bradley, Curtney, and Herbert, Jr... your love of family
and how you make each day count inspires me more than you know.
To my SISTERS-IN-LAW Shelcie, Lorena, and Adela... you are strong women who
balance so much each day and you bring so much love into our family.
To the rest of my OHANA... Justin, Jordyn, Bronson, Sierra, Christopher, Jr. Boy,
Lani, Aaron, Andrew, Benny, Leina, Jonathan, Eric, Sharilyn, Josh, Jackson, Aunty
Senai, Uncle Harvey, Vanessa, Kaipo, Cole, Brandon, Aunty Theresa and Uncle
Ronnie; we share more than a family history. We share a life built on talking story,
rubbah slippahs at the door, watching kids grow, plenty ono grinds, noisy
Christmases, family potlucks and get-togethers, occasional sorrows, and many rich
traditions to pass on to the next generation.
My dearest life partner TOM... you are truly the wind beneath my wings. Without
your love, patience, and understanding very little of what I have accomplished in my
life would have been possible. Love you, but.
To my DOCTORAL COMMITTEE... Dr. Sherry Taylor, Dr. Phillip White, and Dr.
Mary Jo Pollman. Your involvement in my doctoral work has made me a better
writer, educator, and citizen of the world. Dr. Sally Nathenson-Mejia, you have been
more than a committee chair. You are a brilliant professor, my mother away from
my mother and through our shared journey, a much-cherished friend.
To the STUDENTS in this study... you are amazing children who are the best of
everything that is good about public education. To school Principal Annie Dalton,
thank you for allowing me to conduct my research under your leadership.
To all of you, MAHALO NUILOA (Thank you very much)!!!


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Figures......................................................... xv
Tables......................................................... xvi
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION............................................... 1
Background of the Problem.................................. 5
Identifying English Language Learners..................... 11
Professional Significance of the Study................ 15
Research Needed on English Language Learner........... 16
Students
Research Needed Specific to Reading.................. 17
Research Needed Specific to Writing.................. 18
Research Needed Specific to Oral Language....... 19
Development
Context of the Study...................................... 20
Bilingual Education in US Context............ 20
Bilingual Education in Colorado Context.. 22
Bilingual Education in Denver Context........ 24
A Framework for Considering the Research............. 25
on English Language Learner Students
2. LITERATURE REVIEW......................................... 29
Second Grade English Language Learner Students............ 29
Reading, Writing, and Oral Language Development
vi


Identifying English Language Learner Students.... 29
What we know about Students................... 32
who use two Languages
Simultaneous and Sequential Paths to.......... 36
First and Second Language Acquisition
Theoretical Assumptions................................. 40
English Language Learner Students................ 40
From a Sociocultural Perspective
Lev Vygotsky s Social Development Theory..... 41
Stephen Krashens Language Acquisition........ 44
Theory
Lily Wong Fillmores Advocacy work............... 47
related to Linguistic Theory
Noam Chomskys Generative Language............... 50
Theory
Howard Gardners Multiple Intelligences....... 53
Theory
Practical Considerations for English............. 56
Language Learner Students
Case for Social, Collaborative, and Dialogic Approach... 58
to Instruction for English Language Learner Students
Implications for the Design of Formal Learning....... 62
Contexts
English Language Learner Students Reading.... 62
Skills Development
English Language Learner Students............... 64
Writing Skills Development
English Language Learner Students Oral....... 66
Language Skills Development
vii


Summarization
68
3. METHODOLGY............................................... 72
Introduction.......................................... 72
Type of Research...................................... 72
Theoretical Framework................................. 74
Research that Influenced this Study................... 78
Research with English Language Learners............... 79
Research Context....................................... 83
Site Context.......................................... 86
Access......................................... 88
Research Participants.......................... 89
Instruments Used in Data Collection................... 90
Document Review................................. 91
Macrotranscription of Brief Excerpts........... 93
Participant Observation Field Notes............ 95
Parent Questionnaires.......................... 97
Student Interviews............................. 99
Design................................................ 100
Sample Size........................................... 102
Data Analysis......................................... 103
Study Limitations..................................... 109
Summary of the Methodology............................ 110
viii


4. RESULTS................................................. 113
Introduction........................................ 113
The Classroom Environment........................... 113
Physical Environment......................... 114
Academic Assessment Expectations.................... 117
Reading Expectations......................... 118
Writing Expectations......................... 120
Oral Language Development Expectations.... 121
Overview of Language Behaviors...................... 123
Overview of Reading Behaviors................ 124
Overview of Writing Behaviors................ 126
Overview of Oral Language.................... 130
Development Behaviors
Language Behaviors: Describing Findings............. 132
Across One Year in Second Grade
Classroom Conduct Behaviors......................... 132
Students Reading Behaviors in the Classroom........ 134
Decoding..................................... 135
Comprehension................................ 141
Connecting Reading to Writing................ 152
Reading Cooperatively........................ 156
Coming to Understand the Intrinsic........... 161
Value of Reading
Students Writing Behaviors in the Classroom......... 162
IX


Variances in Writing Fluency................. 166
Common Spelling Errors....................... 179
Students Oral Language Development................. 181
Behaviors in the Classroom
Use of English and Spanish in the.......... 182
Classroom
Mostly English in the Classroom.............. 183
Cooperative Learning as a Language Tool.... 184
Context-Specific Language.................... 187
English and Spanish Word Strategies.......... 191
Academic Results of English Language Learner........ 192
Across One Year in Second Grade
Reading Achievement Results: Four Assessments..... 192
Denver Public Schools Reading Benchmark... 193
Developmental Reading Assessment-2........... 194
Six-Minute Solution.......................... 196
Running Records.............................. 198
Writing Achievement Results......................... 199
Denver Public Schools Writing............... 199
Benchmark
Genre Writing: Narrative..................... 200
Genre Writing: Procedural.................... 202
Genre Writing: Informational................. 204
Genre Writing: Summary....................... 207
x


Oral Language Development Achievement............... 209
English Language Learner Students.................. 213
Perception of Language Behaviors
Language use in the Classroom................ 214
Language use in the Home..................... 218
English Language Learner Students..................... 221
Collaborative Dynamics
Students Interactions with Resources........... 221
Students Interactions with Peers............... 222
Expressive Language-use Options................. 225
Students Interactions with the Teacher......... 228
Spanish-speaking Parents Perception............ 230
of Language Behaviors
Parents Perception of Language use in....... 230
the Classroom
Parents Perception of Language use.......... 232
in the Home
Teachers Observation of Language Behaviors......... 235
Teachers View of English Language.............. 236
Learners
Students Use of Language in the............. 236
Classroom
Similarities and Differences: A Group........ 236
Analysis
Similarities and Differences: An Individual.. 245
Analysis
xi


Teachers Views of Language Behaviors....... 251
in the Classroom Related to Reading
Teachers Views of Language Behaviors....... 253
in the Classroom Related to Writing
Teachers Views of Language Behaviors....... 258
in the Classroom Related to Oral Language
Development
Teacher s Perception of Students ........... 267
Language use in the Home
This Studys Emergent Themes......................... 269
5. DISCUSSION................................................ 273
Summary and Integration of Findings.................. 273
Explanations of Findings............................. 273
Hypothesis One: Findings............................. 273
Document Review............................... 273
DVD Transcription............................. 276
Participant Observation Notes................. 277
Parent Questionnaires......................... 279
Student Interviews............................ 280
Hypothesis Two: Findings............................. 282
Document Review............................... 282
DVD Transcription............................. 283
Participant Observation Notes................. 284
Parent Questionnaires........................ 285
Student Interviews............................ 286
xii


287
290
296
299
299
301
302
305
306
308
310
315
317
321
324
324
326
340
346
Integration of Findings with Existing
Research in the Field
Convergent Findings..................
Divergent Findings...................
Linking Research Findings to the Ethnographer,
and Teacher
Teacher as Ethnographer..............
Teachers Childhood Experiences with...
Bilingualism
Teachers Current Teaching Practices of.
English Language Learner Students
Implications for the Future Teaching Practices...
of English Language Learner Students
Research Implications................
Theoretical Implications.............
Triangulation and Trustworthiness of Research..
Limitations of the Study....................
Conclusion..................................
Future Directions...........................
APPENDIX.................................................
Assessment Scores........................................
Students Writing Samples
Coding Conventions......
Coding Examples.........
xiu


E. Questionnaires........................................... 351
F. Informed Consent Forms................................... 356
BIBLIOGRAPHY................................................... 377
xiv


156
156
171
172
184
195
197
198
211
211
212
212
248
248
LIST OF FIGURES
Patricios Innovated Book....................
Rositas Card................................
Writing Quarterly Student Averages.........
Writing......................................
Average Score Differences Grade 1 to Grade 2.
Average DRA Scores Over Time.................
Average Scores by Month......................
Running Record Average Scores................
Expressive Language Average Scores...........
Receptive Language averages per area.........
Receptive Language Average Scores by Student..
Expressive Language Average Scores by Student
Tomass Running Record Miscue Analysis.......
Jasons Running Record Miscue Analysis.......
xv


1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
139
140
180
193
200
201
204
205
208
225
226
LIST OF TABLES
Reading growth.............................
Developmental Reading Assessment-2 scores..
Common spelling errors.....................
Reading benchmarks.........................
Writing benchmarks.........................
Narrative writing............................
Procedural writing.........................
Informational writing......................
Summary writing............................
English language learners language options....
Monolingual native English-speaking students
language options
xvi


CHAPTER ONE
INTRODUCTION
As more immigrants arrive in the United States, the number of public school
students in need of additional language instruction will continue to increase (Kindler,
2002). A survey of state education agencies found that in 2000-01, more than 4
million students with limited proficiency in English were enrolled in public schools
across the nation, making up almost 10 percent of the total pre-K through 12th grade
public school enrollment (Kindler). According to that same report, the population of
students who are English-language-leamers has grown 105 percent, while the general
school population has grown only 12 percent since the 1990-91 school year and
states report more than 460 languages spoken by students with limited proficiency in
English (Kindler, p. 6). These burgeoning numbers pose unique challenges for
educators working to ensure that language-minority students achieve at high levels of
reading, writing, and oral language development proficiency.
From the sociocultural perspective, the language of the environment, with its
stable, permanent meanings, points the way that the childs generalizations will take
(Vygotsky, 1964, p. 68). Learning is socially-mediated so is dependent on face-to-
face interaction and shared processes, such as joint problem solving and discussion
(Mitchell & Myles, 2004, p.195). Language is a social construct and the purpose of
language is communication (Edwards, 2004; Matsumoto, Oshima, Robinson, & Sells,
2007; Reiss, 2005; Vasquez, Pease-Alvarez, & Shannon, 1994). Adults use language
1


to conduct the business of daily life, such as to talk on the phone and do their jobs.
Childrens basic needs, on the other hand, are different than adults. Children need to
discover and learn the world, who they are in it, and to develop their identity.
Children also need to make friends with other children, communicate while
they play together, and participate in the culture of music, sports, games, and movies.
Young children whose native language is not English can develop the English
language skills for these activities by becoming immersed in school when it is a
English language-rich environment. Students can receive constant language input
through which they might learn the language to fulfill these needs and interests in an
English speaking environment. For example, students interaction with peers and
adults provides language opportunities in a variety of learning contexts (e.g., large
group, small group, independent work) and for a variety of purposes (e.g., reading,
writing, and speaking) during the school day.
Is this language learning a process of natural acquisition or of formal
instruction? The answer to this question is one that has interested me for over a
decade as I have taught over 180 ELL students in three urban elementary schools in
Denver, Colorado. It is this interest that has led me to begin my study of ELL
students and their acquisition of reading, writing, and oral language development
skills. Studies have concluded that higher degrees of bilingualism (i.e., the more
competent in each language the child becomes) are associated with greater cognitive
flexibility and improved concept formation (Brisk, Burgos, & Hamerla, 2004;
Kovacs, 2007, p. 309). Why higher degrees of bilingualism may be associated with
2


greater flexibility and improved concept formation remains speculative, but I agree
with those who believe it is probably related to the fact that with two distinct
languages in a child's repertoire, a child has different frames of reference for concepts
and different ways of looking at things in the world provided by the different
languages. English language learner students then might have an advantage over
students who speak one language because speaking two languages offers a unique
tool for self-expression and intellectual development in the context of bilingualism
(Edwards, 2004, p. 215; Heller, 2007; Javier, 2007). This is relevant to my study
because when students use their two languages to learn in the classroom, their self-
expression, creativity, and intellectual development might influence their increased
reading, writing, and oral language development proficiency. These factors can be
assessed using formal methods (e.g., Development Reading Assessment-2 (DRA-2),
informal methods (e.g., kid watching), holistic methods (e.g., looking at student work
samples over time), and reductionist methods (e.g., one minute reading assessment).
These methods, when combined with other forms of assessment and student work can
provide information about students reading, writing, and oral language achievement.
This study was conducted in an English Language Acquisition-English (ELA-
E) second grade classroom at Denver Public Schools (DPS) A. L. Emerson
Elementary School. A.L. Emerson Elementary is located in a southwest Denver
neighborhood consisting of single-family homes, apartments, and a trailer park.
Students either walk or are driven to and from school by parents. The second grade
classroom is comprised of 13 boys and nine girls. Six students speak Spanish only in
3


the home; five speak some Spanish and some English in the home; three speak
Vietnamese only in the home, and eight speak English only in the home.
I am a male teacher of Portuguese and Filipino descent with 14 years of
teaching experience in Denver area urban schools. I hold a masters degree in
curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in literacy. As teacher and researcher, I
am interested in looking at the ways ELL students learn to read, write, and speak.
Looking at students reading, writing, and speaking behaviors in the classroom might
be achieved by observing students interaction with peers, their teacher, and the
learning environment. I believe related studies mostly look at students reading
and/or writing and/or oral language development classroom behaviors and
achievement. Related studies tend to focus primarily on one aspect of students
literacy development. Little research has therefore been done that takes a
comprehensive approach to look at English language learner students reading,
writing, and oral language development in the context of a second grade
multicultural/multilingual English language classroom.
What I looked for then were the specific actions and interactions of second
language learner students in the classroom. This study looked for behaviors that
students who speak two languages engage in to enhance their learning through
interactions with peers and the teacher and other actions they perform independently.
The study did not presuppose what these actions would be, but the study looked for
(a) how students use two languages to negotiate learning in the classroom and (b) the
specific actions and interactions among students who use two languages to
4


negotiate learning in the classroom.
Background of the Problem
Some research suggests that individual views of reading, writing, and oral
language development are closely connected to cultural views of literacy (Ashworth
& Wakefield, 2004; Brisk, Burgos, & Hamerla, 2004, p. 130; McCarthey, 2002; Yip
& Matthews, 2007). However, other researchers argue for specific effects of literacy
on the individual, suggesting that literacy can affect our sense of ourselves (Gordon,
2007; McCarthey, p. 12; Oiler & Eilers, 2002). For children, this might include their
sense of self as a student in a classroom where reading, writing, and speaking all have
implications for status and identification (Gordon, p. 76). This may be because
literacy and culture have a reciprocal relationship at the level of the individual and a
persons identification with a particular ethnic or cultural group is connected to his or
her perception of literacy (Brock & Raphael, 2005; Janicki, 2006; McCarthey, p. 19).
I have taken this into consideration when formulating the following research
question for this study: What happens to second grade native Spanish-speaking
students reading, writing, and oral language development during the school year?
This research question is followed by the following research hypotheses: (a) Students
who use two languages negotiate learning in the classroom through reading, writing,
and oral language development and (b) Students who use two languages negotiate
learning in the classroom through their interactions with peers, the teacher, and the
learning environment.
Classroom practices such as ability grouping of struggling learners can
5


negatively affect students views of themselves as readers, writers, and speakers. It
is my experience that when students use reading, writing, and speaking to show what
they know for the purpose of pleasing the teacher and getting the highest classroom
score (external rewards), they begin to see themselves as incompetent students who
no longer enjoy literacy activities. These students become mechanical learners who
trade their intrinsic joy of learning mainly for the extrinsic reward of pleasing others.
While pleasing others may be what some want in education, students may want to
instead find satisfaction in their own accomplishments. English learner students
might lessen their joy of literacy when asked to read, write, and speak exactly like
their native English-speaking counterparts on a daily basis when they may not be
ready to do so. For this reason, this study explored what happens when the classroom
environment facilitates ELL students LI and L2 use within the context of an English
classroom and students make independent decisions that can influence their reading,
writing, and oral language development achievement.
Research findings suggest that ELL students around the world lag behind
monolingual children in grammatical development in both languages for at least a
part of their schooling (Balderrama & Diaz-Rico, 2006; Thomas & Collier, 2004;
Crawford, 1999; Escamilla, Chavez, Fitts, Mahon, & Vigil, 2003; Heller, 2007;
Miramontes, Nadeau, & Commins, 1997; Shin, 2005). A New Zealand study by
Tagoilelagi-Leota, McNaughton, MacDonald, and Farry (2005) looked at the
bilingual and biliteracy development of children from Samoan and Tongan families
over the transition to mainstream English schools. This study found that gaps in
6


achievement and English language proficiency of ELL students can be reduced and
perhaps eliminated through programs focused on quality of teaching in reading to
children, guided writing, and telling and retelling stories (Tagoilelagi-Leota, et al., p.
475). In Switzerland, accommodation classrooms are organized to quickly equip
minority language students with dominant language skills that allow their integration
in the mainstream classrooms to reduce their lag behind speakers of the national
language (Akkari, 1998).
A Canadian study by Paradis, Tremblay, and Crago (2008) looked at French-
dominant childrens acquisition of English inflection. The authors suggest that
children who are learning two languages experience more variability in their input
than monolingual children. Bilingual children receive less input in each of their two
languages than monolingual peers, and this input is seldom equally balanced between
them (Paradis, et al., p. 1). Bilinguals lag behind their monolingual age-peers in their
syntactic development in the preschool and early primary school years. However,
differences diminish or disappear when bilinguals are compared to monolinguals in
their dominant language (Paradis, et al., p. 2).
The results of these studies suggest that while bilingual-monolingual
differences are evident for a while in an ELL students life, it is not characteristic of
his or her development. This study looked at the influence of ELL students
interaction with peers, school, and family as possible contributors to reducing the gap
between ELL and monolingual students. The belief expressed in some research is
that since ELL students develop competencies in two languages to the extent required
7


by his or her communicative needs, English language learner students are rarely
proficient in both languages. Many researchers and practitioners have thus advocated
for the use of one language (the school language of English) because of the belief that
bilingual children cannot be expected to show proficiencies in both languages that are
equal to those of their same-age monolingual peers at all times (Brisk & Harrington,
2000; Shin, 2005, p. 16). My study countered this belief by looking at the classroom
behaviors, actions, and interactions of ELL students that contribute to their overall
academic achievement and remarkable year-end-gains in reading, writing, and oral
language development.
Some research has found examples of how high-competency in two languages
can support academic achievement (Heller, 2007, p. 65; Shin, 2005, p. 23). In the
US, the most desirable goal is to produce students who use both languages as highly
educated tools of communication (Balderrrama & Diaz-Rico, 2006). Research done
by Padilla and Gonzalez (2001) in northern California looked at the academic
performance of Mexican-American students. The study showed that immigration
status alone does not lead to higher achievement. The educational capital available to
students is what allows them to excel academically (Padilla & Gonzalez, p. 740). A
strong foundation in ELL students native language could facilitate content based
learning in English, since these students already possess related knowledge that
transfers across languages once English is learned (Padilla & Gonzalez, p. 729). The
study also revealed that contextual factors such as ethnic density of school, Spanish
language proficiency, and English language proficiency contribute to the academic
8


performance of ELL students (Padilla & Gonzalez, p. 739).
In the larger world context, students acquiring literacy in two languages
simultaneously may learn literacy skills through either and then apply them to the
opposite language (Brisk & Harrington, 2000; Shin, 2005, pp. 16-7). For example,
Arabic students in Israel learning to write in both Arabic and Hebrew learned the
process approach to writing in their Hebrew as a second language class and then
applied these skills to writing in Arabic (Brisk & Harrington, p. 4). Research
conducted in Western Australia by Barratt-Pugh and Rohl (2001) examined a Khmer-
English bilingual program in order to determine the benefits for literacy in both
languages. The study showed that students using both Khmer and English to learn
demonstrated the ability to transfer strategies from one language to support the other
(Barratt-Pugh & Rohl, p. 8). There was also some evidence of high levels of
metalinguistic awareness in older children who appeared to develop an awareness of
the linguistic culture in both languages (Barratt-Pugh & Rohl, p. 7). The study found
that despite significant differences between the two languages, the children as a group
were progressing as well as the monolingual Australian English speakers in their
classes (Barratt-Pugh & Rohl, p. 7).
Anyone who has ever tried to acquire a new language undoubtedly has
important insights into the difficulties involved in the second-language acquisition
process. It can take a minimum of five to seven years, or longer, to acquire academic
proficiency in a new language (Fillmore & Snow, 2002; Thomas & Collier, 2004).
Many different factors influence the long, arduous, and complex process of acquiring
9


a new language (Thomas & Collier, p. 11). Acquiring a new language for young
learners is much more than an academic exercise; it is personal. The experience can
be alienating, confusing, and humiliating for students who are in classrooms where
their native language is neither celebrated nor looked at as an asset. Language is
more than merely a depersonalized tool children use to navigate their surroundings
(Brock & Raphael, 2005, p. 21). Language is intimately intertwined with who ELL
students identify (Gray, 2001). This study attempted to lend an understanding of the
personal experiences that pervade second-language acquisition and perhaps it can
give educators greater empathy for students in my any classroom as they learn
English.
New developments related to the study and educating of ELL students
continue to emerge. The current trend occurring in the field of instruction for English
language learner students is to teach students with culturally responsive pedagogy.
Here the belief is that culture is embedded in the life of the school and teachers are
cultural transmitters because the way they teach is a product of their own culture and
the way that their culture taught them to learn (Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2002). For some
ELL students, the culture of the school may be so different from the culture of their
home that learning in the context and way of the school might be difficult. The
advent of culturally responsive pedagogy then is important because it brings
awareness to schools so teachers begin to understand students cultures. This study
itself hopes to add to the field of culturally responsive teaching by helping teachers
become better informed to design instruction to meet ELL students learning needs.
10


Culturally compatible teaching occurs when schools implement a rich and flexible
repertoire that allows cultures to mix constructively (Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2002, p.
48).
Fisher, Rothenberg, and Frey (2007) assert that collaborative learning
activities must be directly linked to the purpose of the lesson before it can provide
students with opportunities to discuss and engage. Some of the students in my
classroom use two languages to learn when collaborating and working with peers. In
order to investigate the research question of what happens to second grade native
Spanish-speaking (NES) students during the school year with reading, writing, and
oral language development; I proposed to conduct a study of the ELL students in my
second grade classroom at A.L. Emerson Elementary. This study used the three focus
areas of reading, writing, and oral language development as common and effective
practices for ELL students. Taken together, these focus areas illustrate the needs of
ELL students in language and learning contexts. The relationship between language
and learning content with reading, writing and speaking is one focus of my research.
I was interested in looking at classroom collaboration and social interaction as ways
young learners may purposefully work together to consolidate their learning.
Identifying English Language Learners
This study identified who ELL students are and how they self identify. Before
we can say who English language learners are, we must become familiarized with the
arbitrary and varied understanding of the English language and what counts as
acceptable or standard in the United States. The terms used to describe the
11


standard variety of English vary, although standard English is the most general
term used to describe English in the United States. As the prestige social dialect in
the wider speech community, standard English is the dialect that most speakers accept
as neutral and authoritative, for whatever social reason (Curzan & Adams, 2006).
For this study, English language proficiency refers to English language acquisition in
the naturalistic context of the home and the formal context of schools. This study
looked at first and second language development in terms of its fundamental
properties in domains that linguists refer to as phonology, morphology, syntax,
semantics, and pragmatics (Hakuta, Butler, & Witt, 2000).
Study participants are bilingual children who speak English and Spanish.
Bilingual is a simple term that hides the complex phenomenon of people being able
to speak a second language but choosing not to or people speaking a first language
and learning to speak a second (Baker, 1995). The term bilingual then differs from
English language learner in that it is an umbrella term that considers both the
speakers ability and use while the term English language learner considers mainly
the speakers ability. I will refer to study participants as English language learner
students. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2008, p. 1), an ELL
student is a national-origin-minority student who is limited-English-proficient. This
term is often preferred over limited-English-proficient (LEP) as it highlights
accomplishments rather than deficits. The term English language learner student
will be used in this study to mean a student who speaks a first language other than
English, and has limited ability to speak English as a second language.
12


Although ELL students come from diverse backgrounds, they have several
common needs. First, they need to build their oral English skills. They also need to
acquire reading and writing skills in English, and they must attempt to maintain
progress on a learning continuum in the content areas (e.g., mathematics, science, and
social studies). Some ELL students will have other needs that will make the task of
learning much more difficult. Some come from countries where schooling is very
different. Some come to school with a wide variety of background experiences and
levels of knowledge about any given topic (Fisher, Rothenberg, & Frey, 2007, p. 23).
Some ELL students have gaps in their schooling while others may not have
had any formal schooling and may lack important native language literacy skills that
one would normally expect for students of their age (Fisher, Rothenberg, & Frey, p.
7). English language learner students are also diverse in their economic backgrounds.
Some may come from backgrounds where there are financial hardships or health
problems. These students may need support from health and social service agencies
or they may simply need an understanding about some of the special circumstances
that they face. It may be that either their parents work long hours and cannot help
with homework, or they may be required to baby sit brothers and sisters until late
each evening, making it difficult to complete all of the assigned homework.
It is important to recognize that any native English-speaking (NES) or ELL
student can present a unique profile of ability in subject areas and skills (Fisher,
Rothenberg, & Frey, 2007, p. 10). However, the student who is learning English will
have more trouble in expressing his or her level of understanding and capabilities in
13


the second language of English (Zehler, 1994). This study examined the use of
interaction to scaffold ELL students understanding and use of English in the
classroom.
All children bring unique backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives to the
classroom. English language learners diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds
can offer many resources for the classroom including: (a) information about other
countries and their cultures, customs, and resources, (b) new perspectives about the
world, about society, about beliefs, and (c) opportunities for exposure to other
languages, for sharing ways of thinking and doing things that might otherwise be
taken for granted (Zehler, 1994, p. 2). The whole classroom benefits when the
information, perspectives, and opportunities offered by the presence of students from
other language and cultural backgrounds are used as a resource for instruction.
Students build awareness of other points of view and other ways of understanding
and, consequently, come to learn more about themselves (Zehler, p. 6).
As a researcher and classroom teacher, I developed approaches and practices
for working with ELL students that allowed for the inclusion of instruction with
English speaking students. Through experience, teachers can learn to work effectively
with students who differ in levels of ability, in areas of strength, and in special skills
or aptitudes. ELL students bring to the classroom new areas of differences, but
experience in working with diversity among English speaking students will apply to
these students as well. An important first step, however, is to notice the overt or
subtle observable differences that may occur during this study.
14


Professional Significance of the Study
The education of ELL students is a highly volatile and ideologically driven
topic. According to language authority Viv Edwards (2004), critics and advocates
have contributed to the discussion of bilingual education. Critics argue that bilingual
education creates a cycle of dependency on the first language and slows student
progress in English and accentuates divisions within American society (Edwards, p.
119). Advocates of bilingual education highlight its social, cognitive, and academic
benefits and argue that the maintenance of a first language in no way impedes the
acquisition of another language. Content taught in the native language can be
transferred to the second language (Edwards, p. 119; Tse, 2001).
This study is significant because it looked at second grade students as English
language learners who use their first language, Spanish and their second language,
English in their classroom to increase their reading, writing, and oral language
development proficiencies. This study hoped to illuminate how growing up using
two different languages may be an academic advantage for large numbers of ELL
students enrolled in American schools. The large numbers of ELL students in the
U.S. have caused institutions (e.g., the school system) and professionals (e.g.,
teachers, speech-language pathologists, psychologists) to attempt to plan for these
individuals academic, linguistic, and societal needs (Goldstein, 2004). Planning for
this therefore includes addressing the pressing need for research that will provide
information to inform both practice and policy.
15


Research Needed on English Language Learner Students
Research on the topic of ELL students has gone from a few specific studies in
the past to a growing interest from school districts across the United States for better
information on improving ELL literacy instructions. There is a need for research into
what schools should do to improve learning and academic achievement among ELL
students. Beyond the obvious need for more studies and more replications further
evaluating promising instructional innovations, there is a need for a more research
which takes into account that educational outcomes may be influenced by individual,
sociocultural, crosslinguistic, and developmental factors (Fitch & Sanders, 2005;
Banks & Banks, 1995; McKay, 2006)
There is a shortage of research on instructional approaches and interventions
for ELL students. What is needed is more research that looks at ways to develop
literacy in language-minority students. Related to this research need, my own
teaching experience has raised two key questions to consider. First, what do we know
about school-wide efforts to improve the academic achievement of language-minority
students? Second, what efforts have been made to develop students reading, writing,
and oral language development proficiency in the context of developing second-
language literacy? These two questions arose as I noticed that different teachers at
my school teach ELL students with varying levels of expertise and confidence. My
own teaching experiences have shown me that there is a need for more research-based
information for informing teachers how to effectively improve the literacy outcomes
of ELL students.
16


Research Needed Specific to Reading
Reading is an essential skill and children who do not learn to read in
elementary school enter secondary education as severe underachievers and are at risk
of dropping out (Balderrama & Diaz-Rico, 2006, p. 213). Research has shown that
English language learner students often learn to read by becoming efficient decoders,
but they may fail to attain comprehension or higher-order thinking skills (Balderrama
& Diaz-Rico, p. 226; Genesee, Paradis, & Crago, 2004). This study therefore looked
at ways the teacher can encourage English language learner students to acquire skills
that will result in academic achievement and an enjoyment of reading.
Of ELL students reading, writing, and oral language development, reading
appears to be the most studied with an emphasis put on the sphere of cognitive
attributes related to reading (Bialystok, 1991; Rolstad, Mahoney, & Glass, 2005;
Schwarzer, 2001). This is evidenced by the abundance of articles and books that
discuss ELL students decoding and fluency. Relatively little research exists that
considers the role of peer interaction in reading and comprehending new concepts.
The body of reading research needed then is work that will look beyond the readers
cognitive attributes and towards the role of communication and interaction with peers
in authentic classroom contexts. The extant research on school literacy instruction for
Latino students in the United States comprises a relatively small, albeit
heterogeneous, body of studies (Taylor & Pearson, 2002). The overall base of
empirical evidence on bilingual Latino students literacy development and learning is
modest at best, with many topics and issues within and beyond four domains of
17


curriculum, instruction, assessment, and home-school connections still needing to be
explored (Taylor & Pearson, p. 337).
Research Needed Specific to Writing
An essential knowledge of language is needed for bilingual learners to write
(Cumming, 2006; Samway, 2006). Writing in a second language requires knowing
(a) how that particular language organizes its written discourse and (b) how to choose
words that carry the intended meaning and to combine them appropriately in
sentences; (c) how to apply grammatical rules to indicate tense and quantity; and (d)
how spelling patterns carry meaning in English (Verplaetse & Migliacci, 2008). This
study looked for ways ELL students identify how learning to write in English is
different from learning to speak in English. This study also looked at ways ELL
students use their native language knowledge to develop their second language
writing.
Educational research needs to study the development of written abilities in
ELL students to look at the typical trajectory of writing development from LI to
English. I am interested in looking at ELL students writing behaviors because I find
a disconnect between the paths ELL students take towards literacy proficiency with
regard to their reading, writing, and oral language development. It has been my
experience that English language learner students often become proficient readers and
speakers before they become proficient writers. This study looked at the writing
behaviors of ELL students in the ELA-E classroom and how written language in L2
might mediate the development of oral language in L2 across social contexts in
18


schooling.
This study used these two considerations to look at the ways ELL students act
and interact in the classroom to influence their writing proficiency. Studying ELL
students writing is timely and relevant because we are realizing that whatever is
good for LI writers is not necessarily good for L2 writers (Ferris, 2003). Writing
research is needed to explore new paradigms and concerns about various issues and
techniques for assessing, developing, and responding to ELL students writing
(Ferris, p. 44).
Research Needed Specific to Oral Language Development
Related to the study of ELL students oral language development should be
more challenges to traditional stereotypes that identify Latino parents with the deficit
view and dismisses students home as being devoid of oral language and shared
knowledge (Vasquez, et al., 1994, p. 8). As in daily life, speaking is an important
channel of communication in schools (Coombe, Folse, & Hubley, 2007; Zwiers,
2008). It is therefore important to understand the relationship between oral language
proficiency, literacy, and content knowledge. Despite the difficulties associated with
assessing oral language development, there are important reasons that speaking
should receive as much attention as other academic skills (Zwiers, 2008, p. 226).
This study looked at the communicative language of young children as a prominent
component of the language curriculum. It is my belief that if we value
communication skills, we must study these skills or we send a message to English
language learner students about what schools consider being important.
19


Research on oral language development in L2 is important in its own right,
but it is also important to study how literacy in L2 is impacted by level of oral
language proficiency as both develop over time and what can be done to influence
those processes as stages of acquisition (Gass in Luria, Seymour, & Smoke, 2006, p.
53). I believe it is important for oral language development research to investigate if
there are optimal transition times for introducing second or other languages in oral
language and literacy, and, if so, what factors determine or influence this timing.
This study looked at how social and academic uses of oral language in LI and L2
might promote and enhance the development of literacy in both languages.
Context of the Study
Bilingual Education in U.S. Context
Schools can be a socializing agent in childrens lives. Schools also play a
central role in the socialization of children and embody the values of the dominant
group (Edwards, 2004, p. 94). For language minority children, school might be the
first step toward assimilation in the United States (Shin, 2005, p. 29). Often
overlooked, bilingual education has been a feature of both public and private
schooling throughout the nation's history (Castellanos (1983) as cited in Escamilla,
1989; Trundle, 1999). During the 18th and 19th centuries, such programs pertained
to European languages until World Wars I and II decreased the number of immigrants
entering the U.S. Later international events such as the Soviet launching of Sputnik
resulted in improved instruction in math, science, and foreign languages (Escamilla,
p. 1; Trundle). The Cuban revolution then brought many new Spanish-speaking
20


residents to southern Florida (Escamilla, p. 1). Public schools in Florida then
introduced bilingual programs in the late 1950s and the practice drew national notice
for its effectiveness over the next decade. (Escamilla, 1989, p. 1; Trundle, 1999).
Successful bilingual education programs in Texas, Florida, New Mexico, and
California set the stage for federal interest and support of more bilingual programs in
Spanish (Crawford, 1999; Escamilla, 1989, p. 1; Trundle). With the passage in 1968
of the Title VII Bilingual Education Act, a new provision of the Elementary and
Secondary Education Act of 1965 authorized funds for local school districts
(Escamilla, p. 2). These funds were specifically intended for programs for students
who spoke languages other than English (Escamilla, p. 2). Title VII encouraged the
development of bilingual education, which contributed to bilingual education
becoming a subject of national debate (Crawford, p. 12; Escamilla, p. 2). The
national debate resulted in the 1968 Bilingual Education Act which decreed that a
child be instructed in his or her native tongue for a transitional year while learning
English but was to transfer to an all-English classroom as fast as possible (Crawford,
p. 40).
The Lau v. Nichols (1974) decision is a landmark case that gave language-
minority students an education on equal terms (Crawford, 1999, p. 44). Although
ELL students share the educationally relevant variable of needing to acquire English
language proficiency, they differ in language, cultural background, and family history
(Celle-Peterson & Rivera, 1994). The umbrella of English language learner
includes students from migrant and immigrant groups who represent the most recent
21


arrivals in a virtually unbroken series of migrations that have brought linguistic
diversity to North America (LaCelle-Peterson & Rivera, p. 55). It is wise to develop
an understanding of the contexts of how ELL students become part of a schools
curriculum at the national, Colorado state, and local Denver level.
In the United States, the number of students from non-English speaking
backgrounds, including those who are exposed to English only at school is large and
growing (Diaz-Rico, 2008). In 2001 this number stood at roughly 3.4 million, and
English language learners and their families are increasingly living in places like the
Midwest and the South (Diaz-Rico, p. 8). In 2000, 32.8 million Latinos resided in
the United States, accounting for 12 percent of the total U.S. population (Diaz-Rico,
2008). Of these, 66.1 percent were of Mexican origin (meaning either from Mexico
or Mexican-American origin), 14.5 percent were Central and South American, 9
percent were Puerto Rican, 4 percent Cuban, and 6.4 percent of other Hispanic origin
(Diaz-Rico, p. 8).
Bilingual Education in Colorado Context
In the context of Colorado, there was a total of 57, 672 students identified as
ELL in 2000 (Escamilla, Mahon, Riley-Bemal, & Rutledge, 2003). This number
represents about 8% of all Colorado school students but is heavily concentrated in 12
metropolitan school districts and 6 mountain and rural school districts (Escamilla et
al., p. 29). Ninety-eight percent of Colorado school districts serving ELL students
identify Spanish as the primary language spoken (Escamilla et al., p. 29).
As the number of L2 students increased in Colorado, policies for bilingual
22


education typically lacked focus with regard to ELL students. In the past, ELL
students were addressed separately in a short appendix where it was indicated that
ELL students were entitled to the same accommodations as their English-speaking
peers (Rivera & Collum, 2006). Then in 1980, Colorado legislators repealed the
Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act and passed the English Proficiency Act (Adcock,
1990). Teachers, parents, and legislators suggest this change resulted in greater focus
on severely limited-English proficient students, 2-year funding limits, and more pull-
out programs rather than an integrated content approach (Adcock, p. 1).
Twenty years later bilingual education was again brought to the forefront with
the Anti-Bilingual Education Amendment 31, Colorado English Language
Assessment for proficiency (CELApro) from the Colorado Department of Education,
and high-stakes testing of ELL students (Escamilla, et. al, 2003, p. 28; Escamilla,
Shannon, & Carlos, 2003). Amendment 31 would have led to the demise of dual-
language programs, outlawed bilingual instruction in the Colorado Constitution,
mandated English-language achievement tests for all public school students, and
denied parents right to a say in their childs educational program (Escamilla, et. al, p.
360).
High stakes testing was brought to the forefront in Colorado in the 1990s as a
result of the bilingual education mandates of No Child Left Behind policies. In
Colorado, high stakes testing of ELL students show that a gap in performance exists
between Latinos taking the Colorado Standards Assessment Program (CSAP) test in
Spanish, Latinos taking the CSAP test in English, and all Colorado third graders
23


(Escamilla, Shannon, & Carlos, 2003, p. 28). At all grade levels in reading and
writing, native English-speaking students outperform Latino students (Escamilla et
al., p. 28). These gaps are not new, but because of them, schools with large numbers
of ELL students are negatively impacted on school report card ratings despite the 3-
year exemption for ELL students (Escamilla, et al., 2003, p. 23 & 32).
In Colorado, federal and state legislation mandated a new English proficiency
test, the Colorado English Language Assessment for proficiency (CELApro) to
identify and assess content standards in English proficiency for ELL students
(Colorado Department of Education, 2008). All kindergarten through twelfth grade
students who have been identified as having a language background other than
English in the state of Colorado participate in a statewide assessment in the areas of
English proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, listening and comprehension
(Colorado Department of Education, 2008, p. 1).
Bilingual Education in Denver Context
Denver Public Schools (DPS) has seen many changes through the years. In
1974, DPS implemented statewide busing involving 56 of its 81 schools and 23,000
children, pairing mostly Anglo schools with schools that had predominantly students
of color (Denver Comprehensive Plan, 2000). After court-ordered busing programs
began, DPS enrollment dropped from an all-time high of 96, 939 in 1963 to a low of
58, 279 in 1989 (Denver Comprehensive Plan, p. 161). Court-ordered busing in
Denver ended in 1995. In 1983, Keys vs. School District No. 1 was a desegregation
case that said bilingual education should be used. The court praised and approved the
24


bilingual program as a desegregation option where students who were non-English
speakers must receive instruction in academic areas in their native language (in this
case, Spanish) until they could compete effectively in English (Genzuk, 1988).
Denvers population and demographic mix is affected by the quality of K-12
education because this is often the determinant in a familys choice of where to live
(Denver Comprehensive Plan, 2000, p. 161). As of 1999, the diversity of the DPS
student population included 48.4 percent Latino, 25.3 percent Anglo, 21.4 percent
African-American, 3.5 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1.4 percent American
Indian (Denver Comprehensive Plan, p. 164). Reflecting this cultural diversity, DPS
provides English-acquisition instruction for 137 languages in addition to Spanish
(Denver Public Schools, 1999). Denver Public Schools responded to a U.S. District
Court order to provide an English language acquisition program for students who are
English language learners. The program is transitional in that its goal is to use
efficient and effective techniques to provide students with English language skills
they need to meaningfully participate in the districts mainstream English language
instructional program (Denver Public Schools, p.5). Since 1999, DPS has recognized
the value of teachers who speak the language of the students that they serve as
evidenced by the districts endeavor to hire such teachers with a preference in the
assignment process. Based on my own observations, these placements have been
most successful at employing teachers who speak Spanish and/or English.
A Framework for Considering the Research on English Language Learner Students
In understanding the lives of ELL students, it is important to look at their
25


home and school cultures so we can look at factors that may influence LI and L2
development (Balderrama & Diaz-Rico, 2006, p. 63). The research question and
other guiding questions presented in this study are linked to a sociocultural
framework to look at the reading, writing, and oral language development ELL
students because language learning and language teaching occur within social and
cultural contexts (Diaz-Rico & Weed, p. 43; Burck, 2005). Thought development
is determined by language as a linguistic tool of thought and by the sociocultural
experience of the child. The childs intellectual growth is contingent on his mastering
the social means of thought, that is, language (Vygotsky, 1962, p. 51). This study
used a sociocultural framework to show that learning is a gradual process of
enculturation into communities of practice that use language in particular ways
(Swain, 2000). Our social lives are also considered to be the major products of
culture, language, and cognition (Hamayan & Freeman, 2006). This study used a
sociocultural framework to look at the ways the cultural elements of ideas, customs,
skills, arts, and tools characterize a given group of people in a given period of time
(Vygotsky, 1962; Brown, 2000; Diaz-Rico & Weed, p. 43).
This study considered how the sociocultural factors of how people interact
with each other and how they carry out their daily business play a large role in second
language acquisition. It is important to consider how peer cultures shape LI
maintenance and L2 language and literacy development because it helps to clarify
social, psychological, and educational impacts on ELL students use of their native
language (Balderrama & Diaz-Rico, 2006. p. 63).
26


The sociocultural framework used by this study considers the relationship
between ELL students identities and their motivation to learn language and literacy.
It is important that this study consider the role of students participation in literacy
development and how to incorporate teaching strategies to scaffold positive language,
literacy, and identify development in the social contexts of home and school. By
examining how individual developmental processes unfold within their broader
sociocultural context, this study investigated how events and interactions in the
everyday lives of individuals shape their perceptions and experiences (Garrett in
Heller, 2007, p. 240). Important to the language and literacy development of ELL
students is the sociocultural context created by classrooms and schools, families, and
neighborhoods (Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2002, pp. 52-3; Heller, pp. 240-1). For some
ELL students, this sociocultural context might also include high mobility, poverty,
familial stress, and low social status sometimes accorded to certain ethnic and
immigrant groups.
This study may be productive because it realizes that ELL students are a
heterogeneous group with a wide array of similarities and differences (Willett,
Harman, Hogan, Lozano, & Rubeck in Verplaetse and Migliacci, 2008, p. 33). It is
important to avoid the faulty premise that all ELL students are at risk simply by
virtue of their being an ELL. Instruction that includes reading, writing, and oral
language development learning is helpful for all students, but requires perhaps even
more explicit attention for ELL students. By using a sociocultural framework to look
at the reading, writing, and oral language development of ELL students, this study
27


may provide guidelines for making sense of an experience by assisting in further
understanding against a background of a conventional set of beliefs associated with
the event (Fitch & Sanders, 2005).
A sociocultural framework for this study implies that language is learned
through social interaction (Watson-Greco, 1988). In addition to learning a second
language, ELL students are learning social and cultural norms, procedures for
interpretation, and forms of reasoning (Watson-Greco, 1988). This ethnographic
study of ELL students reading, writing, and oral language development focused not
only on the acquisition of language skills, but also on the context of that learning
within a sociocultural framework for interpretation.
28


CHAPTER TWO
LITERATURE REVIEW
Second Grade English Language Learner Students
Reading, Writing, and Oral Language Development
This literature review explores the childhood literacy of English language
learner students and how the critical agents of peers, parents, and teachers contribute
to the processes of being socialized through language and also socialized to use
language (McCafferty, Jacobs, & Iddings, 2006; Domyei & Murphey, 2003;
Williamson, 1991). In what follows, these points will be addressed as a result of my
own experiences of teaching ELL students and what I consider to be germane to this
study: (a) identifying ELL students, (b) what do we know about students who use two
languages, (c) theoretical assumptions, (d) practical considerations for ELL students,
(e) case for social, collaborative, and dialogic approach to instruction for ELL
students, and (f) implications for the design of formal learning contexts
Identifying English Language Learner Students
This study used ethnographical methods to look at school culture as it relates
to students language behaviors during the school year. The central aim of
ethnography is to help us understand another way of life from the native point of view
by describing culture (Spradley & McCurdy, 2008, p. 8). Culture can be described as
the acquired knowledge that people use to interpret experience and to generate
behavior (Spradley & McCurdy, 1980, p. 2). The primary function of culture
therefore may be adaptation, which refers to the process of coping with a specific
29


physical, biological, and social environment to meet the fundamental requirements for
survival (Spradley & McCurdy, p. 17). Describing and discovering how and if ELL
students adapt to their learning environment was an important consideration of this
study. This study therefore looked at ELL students adaptive behaviors in the
classroom and the specific things ELL students take advantage of in their learning
environment to enhance their reading, writing, and oral language development. These
points are important considerations that guided my study as it looked at English
learners language behaviors during the school year.
Language is concerned in almost everything children do in their daily
existence, including interaction with other children and adults (Carpdendale & Lewis,
2006; LaPierre, 1994. For English language learners, social interaction provides
comprehensible input which can motivate children to participate in the
communication, and errors can be sometimes naturally corrected as ELL students
negotiate meaning (Peregoy & Boyle (2001) as cited in Houk, (2005), p. 76).
English language learners benefit from language modeling and reinforcement of
linguistic structure through peer interaction in the classroom (Hernandez in Garcia,
2003, p. 128). But who are English language learner students? English learner
students are children who are learning the target language formally in school or are
picking it up on the playground (Mitchell & Myles, 2004). English language
learner students may therefore be learning a highly localized language which can help
them to become insiders in school as a local speech community (Mitchell & Myles,
2004, p. 23). According to linguistics professor Ann Peters (in Slobin, 1985),
30


Before a child can produce anything language-like she must have in mind
some linguistic target, however rudimentary. In other words, she must have
perceived certain pieces of language she has heard around her since birth
which seem relevant to her to try to reproduce, (p. 1029)
In many English-speaking countries, English language learner students are
those who are being schooled partly or entire in English but speak other languages at
home (Diaz-Rico, 2004). The participants in the classroom where the study was
conducted are identified as ELL students because (a) they receive their instruction in
English and (b) speak mostly or only Spanish in the home. English language learner
students may have acquired some proficiency in two or more languages, but are not
truly native speakers of English and they may not have actually attained academic
competence in English (Diaz-Rico, 2004).
Language is therefore a means for communication with peers and family, and
is an important element of speaking, reading, and writing. Language is a close
partner to memory and translating facts and ideas from memory into their own words
can help children retain information (Levine, 2002; Peregoy & Boyle, 2005; Young &
Hadaway, 2006). Many of the worlds children are acquainted with reading, writing,
and speaking in more than one language. Formal teaching or sustained exposure to
two languages can contribute to children gaining the language capacity to handle two
or more different verbal codes (Levine, 2002; Foley & Thompson, 2003). But there
are many instances of students for whom acquiring a second language is difficult.
Many are children from immigrant families placed in English-speaking classrooms in
the United States. A child who has never fully absorbed completely the phonology,
semantics, or sentence structure in his native language may encounter more problems
31


when absorbing these things in English (Levine, 2002).
It might be fair to think that ELL students should not be speaking, reading, or
writing individually in their second language until they can do so well in their first
one. Understanding the function of literacy in ones first language is key to success
in learning subsequent languages. Therefore, the standard advice is to teach literacy
skills in the childs native language first (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2003, p. 40; Levine,
2002; Edwards, 2004). For example, a newly-arrived immigrant ELL student without
developed literacy in his or her native language can encounter more educational
challenges in US schools than a newly-arrived ELL student who has developed his or
her native language literacy skills, has succeeded academically in the past, and has
had some exposure to English (Edwards, 2004). Looking at ways ELL students
absorb and use phonology, semantics, and sentence structure for reading, writing, and
speaking in an English classroom was an important part of this study because ELL
students with less English proficiency than their native English peers can do well on
post-year assessments, sometimes surpassing the achievements of their native-English
peers. Why this happens is unknown, but it is an educational occurrence worth
investigating.
What we know about Students who use two Languages
There are obstacles to children reaching their possible bilingual destination
and not all children will reach that destination. Some of these obstacles may be
related to language exposure and development or quality of language instruction.
While there is no simple reason why some children are quicker than others in dual
32


language development or find it easier to become bilingual, there are some things we
already know about ELL students that help in this study.
First, language, culture, and identity are closely related factors that impact
the academic achievement and personal development of culturally and linguistically
diverse students (Clayton, Bamhardt, & Brisk in Brisk, 2008, p. 21). Additionally,
the socially constructed elements of social class, power, ethnicity, and gender can
make their appearance in language learners identities and their relationship with
learning (Mitchell & Myles, 2004, p. 27). The relationship between the individual
learner and the social context of learning can therefore be viewed as dynamic,
reflexive, and constantly changing (Mitchell & Myles, 2004). For students, these
social contexts can be the home and school where language learning takes place as a
result of language use and language instruction. Teaching and learning about
language in the context of its use provides rich opportunities for ELL students to
develop new language forms that serve new functions (Goodman, 2003, p. 3).
Given a stimulating language environment and a positive home and school
atmosphere, bilingual development can occur successfully, although sometimes
slowly. Creating a context within a school in which the needs of English language
learners and their families are most effectively met will also mean a more responsive
environment for other students and their families (Elouk, 2005, p. 7). We know that
learning a second language is easier for young children because of the reciprocal
relationship between a child and his environment (Phillips, 2002; Edwards, 2004). In
this context, the classroom environment provides opportunities to students who in
33


turn take advantage of what the environment offers.
Second, we know that there are definite advantages to being bilingual when
learning to read and write, providing that children are exposed to stories and literacy
in both languages. According to Canadian psychologist Ellen Bialystok (1997),
By age four, bilingual children have progressed more than monolingual
children in understanding general properties of the symbolic function of
written language. By age five, they are more advanced than monolinguals and
bilinguals who have learned only one writing system in understanding specific
representation properties, even in English, (p. 438)
Bialystoks assertion is relevant to this study because it has been my teaching
experience that at some point in the school year, some ELL students overtake their
monolingual-English peers with regard to reading and writing proficiencies and to a
lesser degree, with oral language development. These points are therefore the basis
for this study because ELL students in certain classrooms capitalize on their use of
two languages to outperform their native-English speaking peers. According to Don
Snow of the Amity Foundation (1992), Children in bilingual classes, with exposure
to the home language and to English, acquire English language skills equivalent to
those acquired by children who have been in English-only programs (p. 129).
Researchers caution against withdrawing home language support too soon and
suggest that although oral communication skills in a second language may be
acquired within 2 or 3 years, it may take 4 to 6 years to acquire the level of
proficiency needed for understanding the language in its academic uses (Collier
(1989) & Cummins (1981) cited in Snow, 1992, p. 129). We also know that giving
ELL students support in the home language can benefit their reading, writing, and
34


oral language development. The use of the home language in bilingual classrooms
enables children to maintain grade-level school work, reinforces the bond between the
home and the school, and allows them to participate more effectively in school
activities (Snow, 1992, p. 130).
Finally, we know that as long as the acquisition of neither language is
complete, there is the possibility for the two simultaneously developing linguistic
systems to interact bidirectionally (Yip & Matthews, 2007, p. 26). What this means
is bilinguals know more than one language to different degrees and use these
languages for a variety of purposes (Brisk & Harrington, 2000, p. 3). English
language learner students acquiring language and literacy skills may learn through
either of their two languages and then apply them to the opposite language (Brisk &
Harrington, p. 2) The term bidirectionally therefore refers to the two-way
interaction between two linguistic systems of an ELL where either language may
influence the other (Yip & Matthews, 2007, p. 26).
Knowledge of bidirectional as a two-way interaction is relevant to my study
for three reasons. First, coming to understand bidirectional linguistic systems
provides a glimpse of the complexities of understanding ELL students simultaneous
and successive second language acquisition. Second, looking at ELL students early
exposure to two languages might help us understand the relationship between the
developing language systems (Yip & Matthews, p. 25). Third, given that some
children can become fluent speakers of two languages in the space of a few years, one
cannot help but wonder how they accomplish this feat. This study therefore
35


explored how some ELL students use two languages to influence their reading,
writing, and oral language development during the school year.
Simultaneous and Sequential Paths to First and Second Language Acquisition
The fact that bilinguals use two languages to learn is not evidence of
confusion, but just the tapping of their linguistic resources (Brisk & Harrington,
2007). Bilinguals may choose a particular language to speak, read, or write based on
their level of proficiency, specific topic, characteristics of their audience, setting, and
motivation to practice a language (Brisk & Harrington, 2007, p. 7). Research shows
that children learning a second language can take longer to acquire skills in their
second language without a strong cognitive foundation in the first language (Oiler &
Eilers, 2002; Tse, 2001). School practices that disregards ELL students first
language, literacy, or cultural identity are not likely to create effective learning
environments (Coady, Hamann, Harrington, Pacheco, Pho, and Yedlin in Stoops
Verplaetse and Migliacci, 2008, p. 247).
English language learner students who have acquired fluent conversational
skills in their second language (L2) are still a long way from grade-level performance
in academic language proficiency (Cummins in Garcia, 2003, p. 5). But before ELL
students begin to acquire fluent conversational skills, the first three years of a child's
life are critical to brain development, and increased exposure to a child's native
language lays an important foundation for strong literacy skills when the child is
older (Genesee, Paradis, & Crago, 2004; Gass in Luria, Seymour, & Smoke, 2006, p.
55). Lenneberg (1967) argued that there is a critical period for language learning,
36


whereas, lack of language learning is directly related to the normal process of aging
(Gass in Luria, Seymore, & Smoke, p. 55).
An influential distinction made by researchers arbitrarily sets age three as the
cut-off point where a child who receives regular exposure to two languages is
considered a case of simultaneous acquisition (McLaughlin, 1978; Yip & Matthews,
2007). Conversely, a child who does not receive input in a second language until
after age three can be a case of successive acquisition (McLaughlin, 1978, Yip &
Matthews, 2007). In addition, when a child's brain is exposed to language at a very
young age, the brain develops a life-long capacity to learn language, including foreign
languages (McGill University, 2002). Infants exposed to spoken language (e.g.,
reading out loud, talking, singing, and listening to music) show more language
proficiency and better reading skills once they enter school than those who had not
heard a lot of spoken language during their infancy (Center for Early Education and
Development, 2001).
The state of ELL students native language is often viewed as being less
important than the acquisition of English because knowledge of English is vital for
social and academic success and integration into US society (Cook, 2003). This
study looked at the largely-ignored area of the influence of second language
acquisition on an ELL students first language. ELL students make decisions in the
classroom about language use that can influence their reading, writing, and oral
language development proficiencies. This study used the value of students
languages to look at the simultaneous and sequential LI and L2 paths of ELL students
37


and how the home and school environments might influence these paths.
On one path, children develop concepts as they learn to deal with the world
around them. This is characterized by the acquisition of consistent form-function
rules of linguistic knowledge or competence (Goldstein, 2004). Here, children
learn to differentiate between the vowels of their language, to comprehend and
produce core lexical referents for items and actions and to use grammatical forms to
indicate tense, aspect, number, and gender (Goldstein).
As children absorb ideas in the home and school, they also build their world
view (Ashworth & Wakefield, 2004). This first stage of linguistic form learning is
well under way in typically developing monolingual children by the time they enter
kindergarten so that before young ELL students enter a preschool group, they already
have acquired concepts on the basis of their personal experiences at home (Ashworth
& Wakefield; Goldstein, 2004). English language learner students develop new
concepts while transferring concepts they have already learned. Since language and
thought are very closely related, each stimulates the other, making it possible for
children to develop language and concepts as they interact with adults and other
children (Ashworth & Wakefield).
On another path, language acquisition is characterized by the refinement of
performance skill resulting in increased speed and efficiency in processing known
linguistic information (Ashworth & Wakefield, 2004). The concepts learned in the
home often begin with the experience and move to the word while concepts learned in
school often begin with the word and move to the experience (Ashworth &
38


Wakefield). This study looked at the ways ELL students might move from the
relative simplicity of the word to more complex and sophisticated experiences in
the classroom. Language and thought are interdependent and mutually stimulating
and as children advance through grades at school, learning increasingly depends on
their ability to use words as symbols. For ELL students, how this learning occurs
depends on an individuals sequential LI and L2 paths.
Within the LI and L2 paths, language processing is based on the three
knowledge sources of semantics, syntax, and phonology that must be activated and
well-coordinated in time to guarantee normal language production and
comprehension (Javier, 2007, p. 34). In the bilingual process, we assume that two
languages are expected to become involved in the cognitive process from the
prelinguistic organization level (Javier, p. 30). The extent to which a bilinguals
language will operate more or less independently from one another is a function of
when and how the two languages are acquired and organized, the level of proficiency
in the two languages, and the language function under consideration (Johnson (2000)
as cited in Javier, 2007).
It is an enormous task for students to learn this and for researchers to study
this. Language processing and the linguistic codification of experience for ELL
students is complex and cannot be explained solely following a theory that stresses
only one aspect of the linguistic phenomenon (Javier, 2007). Thus, it is necessary to
apply a conceptualization to the language development of ELL students that involves
the implicit/explicit distinction in language representation and processing as crucial
39


and with many implications for LI and L2 comparisons (Paradis, 2004).
Theoretical Assumptions
English Language Learner Students from a Sociocultural Perspective
During the past decade, many educational theorists became interested in
sociocultural theory, an international intellectual movement that brings together the
disciplines of psychology semiotics, education, sociology, and anthropology (Garcia,
2006, p. 61). The aim was to find a unified way of understanding issues of language,
cognition, culture, human development, and teaching and learning (Garcia, p. 62).
The importance of sociocultural theory for education is its proposal that individual
learning and social interactions are inextricably connected (Garcia, p. 62; Wertsch,
1985). Sociocultural theory thus applies to my study because the psychology of the
individual learner is deeply shaped by social interactions. As teacher and researcher,
my students and I engaged in the process of constructing our minds through social
activity. In this view, knowledge is not a given set of fixed ideas that are passed from
teacher to student. Rather, knowledge is created in the interaction between teacher
and student as a higher-order mental process that looks at shared activities and
dialogue in certain ways (Vygotsky, 1997; Hamayan & Freeman, 2006).
The following five theories and theorists ground the study of ELL students
and their classroom reading, writing, and oral language development, peer and
teacher interactions, literacy skills acquisition, and independent actions: 1) Lev
Vygotskys social development theory (Vygotsky, 1965; 1990; 1997; Johnson, 2004;
Tolchinksy, 2001); 2) Stephen Krashens second language acquisition theory
40


(Krashen, 1994; 1991; 1981; 1971; 3) Lily Wong Fillmores work related to linguistic
theory (2000; 1998; 1991; 4) Chomsky generative grammar theory (Chomsky, 2004;
1979; 1968) and 5) Howard Gardners multiple intelligences theory (Gardner, 2006;
2000; 1993; and Puchta & Rinvolucri, 2005).
Lev Vygotskys Social Development Theory
Vygotskys theory is based on a number of interlocking concepts such as the
notions of higher mental processes, mediated activity, and psychological tools (1990,
p. 112). Vygotsky proposed that mental functions in a childs cultural development
appear twice, or on two planes. First, it appears on the social plane developed by
means of a process of internalization and then on the psychological plane (Wertsch,
1985, p. 60). Learning is therefore more than the acquisition of the ability to think,
it is the acquisition of many specialized abilities for thinking about a variety of
things (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 83). For example, in dialogue between a child and adult,
both of them may refer to the same object, but each will think of it in a fundamentally
different framework (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 133). This is because the childs
framework is purely situational, with the word tied to something concrete, whereas
the adults framework is conceptual (Vygotsky, p. 133).
Although Vygotskys social development theory embraced higher
psychological processes, he was primarily interested in the development of language
in its relation to thought, and in a more general sense, in the relationship between
human language and consciousness (Vygostky, 1990, p. 151). My study therefore
used Vygotskys social development theory to look at the language behaviors of
41


English language learner students in the social environment of school. Vygotskys
social development theory of learning informs my study because it asserts that
learning should be a reciprocal act in which students collaborate with each other and
the teacher to create meaning in ways that they can make their own (Izzo, 2006).
In the context of young learners, Vygotskys social development theory of
learning provides a perspective about literacy that involves reflecting on the
implications of the linguistic activity in the human psychological system and in a
variety of human activities (Tolchinksy, 2001, p. 135). Underlying Vygotskyan
theory is the central observation that development and learning take place in a social
context that includes a world full of other people who interact with the child from
birth onwards (Cameron, 2001, pp. 5-6). For students, knowing the social
situation is an important aspect of social skill in order to relate behaviors successfully
in the context in which they are employed (Hargie, 1997, p. 19).
In some ways, adults can mediate the world for children and make it
accessible to them (Cameron, 2001). Vygotsky refers to mediation as the use of
certain signs or symbols in mental processing across a series of developmental shifts
called the zone of proximal development (ZPD) (Vygotsky, 1980; Bordova & Leong,
1996; Tudge in Moll, 1990, p. 156; Cameron, 2001; Gredler & Shields, 2008).
Mediation is therefore the process of transforming natural impulses into higher
mental processes using a material tool in a system of symbols or in the behavior of
another human being (Vygotsky, 1990, p. 114; MacLennan in Torres & Anikainen,
2003, p. 113-4). Vygotsky suggests that the mechanism for development is discourse
42


and the use of language as a learning tool to communicate with other people in
different contexts is socially mediated (Gredler & Shields, 2008; Lacasa, Del Campo
& Reina, 2001, p. 160; Forman in Winegar & Valsiner, 1992, p. 146 n; Werth, 1985).
This information is relevant to the study because ELL students interact in the
classroom with ELL and NES peers in ways that can influence continued interaction
and academic achievement.
Vygotsky was interested in a childs potential for development rather than in
his or her actual level of development (Johnson, 2004). According to Johnson,
Vygotsky claims,
An essential feature of learning is that it creates the zone of proximal
development; that is, learning awakens a variety of internal developmental
processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with
people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers, (p. 110)
According to Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development is the place at which a
childs empirically rich but disorganized spontaneous concepts meet the
systematicity and logic of adult reasoning (1986, p. xxxv). Zone of proximal
development is therefore a measure of the level of assisted performance needed to
move through those learning shifts towards more complex concepts and skills
(Bordova & Leong, 1996). Language learning is an important tool for appropriating
other mental tools, and ZPD and mediation can allow a child to manipulate ideas and
share those ideas with others in a collaborative context (Bordova & Leong, 1996).
The grasping of a new function or meaning is therefore established in social situations
as children interact with others and use signs or symbols to evolve new functions
invested with new social energy (Dyson, 1989).
43


Vygotskys work demonstrates that meaning is established interpersonally
before it becomes intrapersonal (Lee & Smagorinsky, 2000). In a similar way,
reading, writing, and oral language development of ELL students in this study may
acquire new meaning and social energy as students respond to others through
communication and interaction. This study was interested in looking at how ELL
students might progress through their ZPD using the mediating devices of interaction
and communication.
Stephen Krashens Language Acquisition Theory
Krashen suggests we acquire a second language by understanding messages
and by obtaining comprehensible input (1991, p. 1, Retrieved November 1, 2008;
1982, pp. 97-101). For all students, obtaining comprehensible input might occur in
social interactions with peers and adults. The input for the English learner should
contain grammatical structures and vocabulary one level above the learners current
level of productive language ability (Mora in Young and Hadaway, 2006, p. 31).
English language learners can move from their current level of competence by
understanding linguistic input that is one level more demanding than their current
level (Mora in Young and Hadaway, p. 31).
Krashens (1981) language acquisition theory informs this study because like
Vygotskys social development theory, it too helps us understand how language
learning is a reciprocal act between children and adults. Krashens widely accepted
second language acquisition theory contains five central hypotheses. The first of these
hypotheses is acquisition learning. For this hypothesis, learning relates specifically
44


to language and refers to the ways in which children develop first language
competence (Krashen, 1994, p. 53).
According to Richard-Amato (1996), the acquisition aspect of this hypothesis
is subconscious, while the learning portion is a conscious effort by the learner.
Language acquisition occurs subconsciously when a person participates in natural
conversations or where the focus of communication is on meaning (Krashen, 1994;
Verplaetse in Verplaetse & Migliacci, 2008, p. 169). In the context of this study,
ELL students participated in natural classroom communication that focused on
informal conversations and formal learning. Krashen contends that the focus in the
aspect of learning is not on the content or meaning of the conversation, but rather
on the structure of the language and its application to others (Krashen, 1994, p. 53).
The second of Krashens hypotheses is natural order. In this part of second
language acquisition theory, students acquire (not learn) grammatical structures in a
predicable order with certain items being learned before others (Krashen, 1994). This
order seems to be independent of the learners age, the conditions of exposure, and
the background of first language development. According to Krashen (1994), natural
order patterns of second language acquisition do not follow those of the first language
acquisition patterns. This may suggest that it is theoretically possible for this study to
consider there to be a variety of structurally different forms of language, each
expressing a capacity for more or less rich forms of thinking. In addition, structural
variations may exist within an ELL students second language just as there are in his
or her first.
45


Third, the monitor hypothesis asserts that a learner's learned system acts as
a monitor to what they are producing. In other words, while only the acquired system
is able to produce spontaneous speech (according to this theory), the learned system is
used to check what is being spoken. Krashen (1994) proposes that there is a monitor
which functions to help learners filter his or her language. Therefore, ELL students
might use the monitor to apply rules to the already learned knowledge, such as which
verb tense or form of speech to use. Krashen (1994) explains that in order to use a
monitor well, three factors must be met: (a) time; (b) focus on form; and (c)
knowledge of the rules. The fourth hypothesis of Krashens (1981) language
acquisition theory is input. The input hypothesis poses the concept represented by
i+1; where the i represents the distance between actual language development and
i+1 represents the potential language development (Richard-Amato, 1996, p. 42).
The learner is unable to reach the i+1 stage without the assistance of others (as in
peer-tutoring).
Krashens input hypothesis is very similar to Vygotskys ZPD in terms of
learning potential. Like ZPD, i+1 hypothesis suggests that teaching should extend the
student beyond what he or she can do without assistance, but not beyond the links to
what the student already knows (Lee & Smagorinsky, 2000). The capacity to learn is
therefore not finite and bounded. Rather, this study tried to show that the potential
for learning is an ever-shifting range of possibilities that are dependent on what the
cultural novice already knows, the activity structures in which learning takes place,
and the quality of a persons interactions with others. In other words, context and
46


capacity are intricately intertwined (Lee & Smagorinsky, 2000; Gardner, 1983; Ceci
& Ruiz in Rabinowitz, 1993). This study looked at how the context and capacity for
learning are intertwined in the classroom as ELL students negotiate their reading,
writing, and oral language learning through interacting with other children, the
teacher, and the learning environment.
Finally, Krashens affective filter hypothesis supports the notion that two
students can receive the same comprehensible input, yet one makes progress while
the other does not (Krashen, 2003, p. 6). The description of an affective filter can
help us look at ELL students social interaction in different ways. The affective filter
might influence an ELL students LI or L2 use because if the acquirer is anxious or
does not consider himself or herself to be a potential member of the group that speaks
the language, he or she may understand the input, but may not be open to it (Krashen,
2003, p. 6). Krashen proposed the idea of the affective filter being something which
determines to what degree a person learns in formal or informal situations and how
receptive to comprehensible input a learner is going to be (Mitchell & Myles, 2004).
Affect is defined as the effect of personality motivation and other affective
variables on second language acquisition (Krashen, 1994, p.57). Krashen applies
this theory to language learning and looks at its influences on the rate of second
language acquisition in three areas: anxiety, motivation, and self-confidence.
Lily Wong Fillmores Advocacy work related to Linguistic Theory
Lily Wong Fillmore does a lot of work with linguistic theory (White in
VanPatten and Williams, 2007), although it is not attributed to her. Therefore, in the
47


context of this study, Lily Wong Fillmore is less of a theorist and more of an advocate
for bilingual education as evidenced by her work with underserved populations and
their respective language. Fillmore approaches much of her research of ELL students
using linguistic and second language acquisition theories within a sociocultural
framework as evidenced by her seeing second language acquisition as a complex
processing involving interacting factors both inside and outside the learner (Fillmore,
1989).
Fillmores pressing concern is how language minority students fare under
stricter education and political policies. She is concerned with how ELL students
deal with higher curricular standards and expectations in reading and writing without
instructional support in language they understand (Finegan & Rickford, 2004). This
is an aspect of bilingual education that the study explored by looking at the effects of
allowing ELL students to communicate in their first and second language during
authentic classroom activities. The study also looked at ways dual language learning
influences ELL students meeting higher curricular standards and expectations.
Fillmore further suggests that general cognitive abilities such as memory,
perception, and analysis are more important in second language acquisition than they
are in the first. Even though the language acquisition device is an important part of
first language acquisition, Fillmore (1989) believes that it plays a lesser role in second
language acquisition. While specialized language learning processes are no doubt
involved in second language learning just as they are in first language learning, it
seems that general cognitive mechanisms are involved to a much greater degree in
48


first language learning (Fillmore, 1989). Social interaction, maturation processes, and
LI and L2 discourse are factors that may benefit ELL students language
development.
Related to Fillmores (1991) research, my study looked at what students
worked with as observations of the social situations in which the language itself was
produced according to grammatical and social rules that systematically and
symbolically link up sounds as representations and communicative intentions. The
study looked at various student data (e.g., work samples, test scores, assessments,
etc.) to try to discover the system of rules that ELL students are following in the
classroom.
Fillmore suggests that schools sometime endorse mainstream middle-class
Anglo-American values and children who do not come to school with the kind of
linguistic and cultural background supported in the schools are likely to experience
conflict (Shin, 2005). Children are therefore motivated to learn English while at the
same time are motivated to discontinue using their primary languages (Shin, 2005).
Similarly, once language minority children enter school, they quickly realize that the
language they speak with their family members has no appreciable value in school
and they need to learn English to be accepted by their teachers and peers (Fillmore,
1991). Fillmore further influences this study by her suggestion that although there is
a lot of discussion about the need for all children to develop the English language
skills required for academic learning and development, few people can identify
exactly what those skills consist of (Fillmore & Snow, 2002, p. 27). This study
49


looked at the things ELL students do in the classroom that may help to identify those
skills that aid academic learning and development.
Fillmores view influences my study by making the language children speak a
learning stepping stone and not a handicap. According to Fillmore, Maybe the kids
have just been waiting for someone to listen to them and to teach them. (GSE Term
Paper, Retrieved September 8, 2008). My study incorporated Fillmores work as the
intersection of Krashens second language acquisition theory and Vygotskys
sociocultural perspective because learning may be part of the socialization process in
communities of practice that use language in particular ways.
Noam Chomskys Generative Language Theory
Chomskys work focuses on how the study of language can contribute to our
understanding of human nature (Chomsky, 1979; 1968; Chomsky in Bricmont and
Franck, 2010; Wilkin, 1997). In the same way, this study looked at the ways
language might mirror human mental processes and shape the flow of character and
thought. One of the possible outcomes of this study was a better understanding of
how ELL students become proficient readers, writers, and speakers. Learning more
about this can reveal other mysteries not yet known about the ways students who use
two languages negotiate their learning in the classroom. Chomsky informs this study
through his assertion that the psychology of language is a discipline which embraces
the study of the acquired systems of grammar (Chomsky, 1998). A grammar is not a
loose collection of tendencies or preferences to be sometimes observed and
sometimes not, but a strong set of constraints (Bowerman in Slobin, p. 1283). This
50


set of constraints is sometimes applied to children when we study their language
behaviors.
Chomsky wondered about the ease with which children acquire grammar. He
was particularly intrigued by childrens creativity with language and the fact that
children have no difficulty producing grammatically correct sentences they have not
heard. Chomsky pointed out that children who are as young as three or four years old
learn basic rules of sentence formation and effortlessly produce structurally complex
sentences (Chomsky, 1997). Chomsky points out that even when children make errors
and produce patterns such as walkded or a water, they only produce language
patterns that are potentially consistent with the grammatical patterns found in the
language (Chierchia in Brickmont and Franck, 2010, p. 159; Chomsky 1998).
Chomsky claims that childrens ease at mastering grammar is surprising given
the fact that childrens exposure to language is limited. No individual speaks a well-
defined language. The notion of language itself is on a very high level of abstraction
and the language system of an individual does not consist in the interaction of ideal
systems, but in a single system with some margin of variation (Chomsky, 1979, p.
54). An awareness of language abstraction is relevant to this study because for
reasons yet unknown, ELL students come through their limited exposure to English to
become proficient readers, writers, and speakers.
Chomsky asserts human beings can influence their culture, institutions, and
procedures and they have the possibility of changing them to make them more just
(Wilkin, 1997, p. 4). One of the ways human beings can influence or be influenced
51


by their culture is through the use of language. Chomsky takes a close look at the
grammatical characteristics of language. Chomsky influences this study because he
claims it is the mechanism of language acquisition that is innate. In a given
linguistic community, children with very different experiences will arrive at
comparable grammars. That is what requires explanation (Chomsky, 1979, p. 98).
This study attempted to contribute to the understanding of students reading, writing,
and oral language development by using grammar as a framework to describe English
learners language behaviors in the classroom.
A grammar consists of general laws framed in terms of hypothetical
constructs from which they may derive statements that cover familiar and novel
phenomena (Collins, 2008, p. 31). Grammar can therefore be predictive and
explanatory over a particular language (Collins, p. 32). Chomsky (1979) asserts that
a generative grammar must render explicit the implicit knowledge of the speaker or
the intelligence of the reader (p. 103). Chomsky generative grammar theory posits
that language learning is a form of implicit hypothesis testing that is constrained by
the innate processes (Bredo in Phye, 1996, p. 25 and that particular languages
arise through the creation of particular lexica and the use of a combined apparatus of
grammar (Chierchia in Bricmont and Franck, 2010, p. 166; Chomsky, 1975).
Chomsky suggests English speakers experience grammatical transformation
when a system of propositions expressing the meaning of a sentence is produced in
the mind as the sentence is realized as a physical signal (Chomsky, 1968, p. 25).
From Chomskys work in generative grammar a crucial notion has been interpreting
52


the level of representation, where different levels of representation are postulated to
capture different generalizations about sentences (Smith, 2004). A central problem
of interpreting the world is determining how we should proceed to do so (Chomsky,
1971, p. 3). Chomsky asserts that this might be done by studying the interaction
between the human mind and the physical and social world (Chomsky, 1971,
Chomsky, 1975).
Chomskys work influenced this study by encouraging it to look at the
relationship between individual experience and the general body of common sense
and scientific knowledge. Chomsky also questions how it is possible to attain human
knowledge when human beings contacts with the world are brief, personal, and
limited (Chomsky, 1971). Likewise, this study looked at how the brief, personal, and
limited actions and interactions of ELL students influenced their reading, writing, and
oral language development proficiency during the school year. There are specific
behaviors that children do and conversations that children have that contribute to their
academic achievement but have not yet been documented. This study looked at these
behaviors and conversations to better understand how human knowledge is formed
and retained through contacts with the world.
Howard Gardners Multiple Intelligences Theory
The theory of multiple intelligences describes human cognitive competence in
terms of a set of abilities, talents, or mental skills (Gardner & Walters in Gardner,
1993, p. 15). Howard Gardner (Puchta & Rinvolucri, 2005, pp. 7-11) proposed that
intelligence falls into the following seven categories: (a) intrapersonal (self-
53


knowledge, self-regulation, and self-control; (b) interpersonal (The ability to notice
and make distinctions among other individuals); (c) logical-mathematical (scientific
thinking); (d) linguistic (intensely concerned with form); (e) musical (benefits from
beat, rhythm, tone, pitch, and volume); (f) spatial (perception of space); and (g)
bodily-kinesthetic (differentiated and skilled use of body). Related to these seven
categories, intelligence entails the ability to solve problems or fashion products that
are of consequence in a particular cultural setting or community (Gardner & Walters
in Gardner, p. 15). Intelligence must also be susceptible to encoding in a symbol
system (e.g., culturally contrived system of meaning) which captures and conveys
important forms of information (p. 16).
The ability to separate important information, to order competing and
conflicting priorities, and to select from many options wisely but without undue
deliberation demand a certain degree of intellectual readiness (Martinez, 2000).
Gardners theory harbors a number of educational implications related to Martinezs
point and this study. The first of these implications is that the natural trajectory of
development in each intelligence (e.g., musical, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-
mathematical, linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal) begins with raw
patterning ability that predominates the first years of life and is glimpsed
through different lenses at subsequent points in development (Gardner, 1993, p. 9).
In the subsequent stages, the intelligence is encountered through a symbol
system (e.g., singing, writing, reading, movement, etc.) that children use to
demonstrate their abilities in the various intelligences (Gardner, 1993, p. 300). The
54


assumption could then be made that children are participating in a transformative
activity when they learn to use symbols for speaking, reading, and writing. This
study looked at ways ELL students might participate in the transformative activities
of reading, writing, and oral language development. Transformative activities are
those that can change a persons thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Gardner, 2006, p.
7). Gardner defines end states as the kinds of performances students can exhibit
upon the completion of school (1993, p. 191). To the extent possible, students ought
to be introduced explicitly to concepts and performances early in their careers and
have the chance to revisit them numerous times during school (p. 192). Such a
process requires interaction among teachers and considerable continuity in student
learning to mediate between the understandable desire for common forms of
knowledge within a society and the need to recognize individual interests and gifts
(p. 193). In this context, transformative activity is the changes in a persons thoughts,
feelings, and behaviors over time.
For schools, a vision of transformative activity may come in the form of its
curriculum. The theory of multiple intelligences is applicable to ELL students
navigation of the school curriculum because it informs us that students have diverse
strengths (e.g., language, culture, personality, etc.) (Gardner, 2000). Considering
these strengths, English learners may not process information in the same way as their
NES peers. With emphasis on linguistic intelligence, Gardner (2000) suggests that
schools focus less on the traditional notion of intelligence and instead place equal
attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences.
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According to Tokuhama-Espinosa (2003),
By capitalizing on the different intelligences that our children have, we are
able to address which child learns best in which ways and to augment
intelligences that may otherwise get unrecognized. Most important, we may
give children who do not fit into our traditional category of smart a chance
to be brilliant, (p. 19)
Practical Considerations for English Language Learner Students
When we say that a child is acquiring language, there are at least three
assertions which research shows can be made about ELL students language
acquisition. First, children are bom with an implicit knowledge of the universal
principles that structure language and with a genetic program for its acquisition
(Boysson-Bardies, 1999). In 1959, Noam Chomsky (Boysson-Bardies, 1999) gave
scientific shape to the age-old institution of a gift present at birth (Boysson-Bardies,
1999). This gift is a newborns possession of a powerful genetic endowment that
includes an implicit knowledge of the universal principles that structure language.
Brain research since Chomskys 1959 work has taught us that the notion of
cognitive flexibility has been invoked as a way of characterizing the way children
approach and examine a problem independent of any previous one (Garton, 2004).
For example, researchers Bonino and Cattelino (1999) have examined the relationship
between flexibility in thinking and the solution of social conflicts with peers. Of
interest to the researchers were the relationships between cognitive ability and
performance on a social task. The results of Bonino and Cattelinos (1999) work
showed that children classified as having a high level of cognitive flexibility in
their thinking were more able to work cooperatively with peers in collaborative
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contexts. Therefore, in order for the gift to work, there should be collaboration so
the child can hear speech from the adults around him or her, as only a powerful innate
system could allow a child to extract a model of language from adult speech
(Boysson-Bardies, 1999; Ladd, 2005; Cardendale & Lewis, 2006; Chen, French, &
Schneider, 2006).
Similar brain research has shown that knowledge of grammatical principles,
sentence construction, and language production are important to linking language to
social and cognitive contexts (e.g., socio-cultural systems and individual
psychological and biological capacities) (Ochs, 1988). Research has shown that a
child who cannot draw social inferences such as anticipating others actions is ill
equipped for social interaction (Rose-Krasnor in Yawkey and Johnson, 1988, p. 79).
Based on this research, ELL students knowledge of the social world and the
processes by which this knowledge is acquired is the domain of social cognition.
Perhaps the most important knowledge base that such students bring to school is
knowledge of social phenomena (Rose-Krasnor in Yawkey and Johnson, p. 79; Ochs,
1988).
The second assertion that can be made about ELL students language
acquisition is what Bruner (1983) refers to as well-formedness to describe the
process of becoming increasingly able to make the utterances that conform to the
rules of grammar. Research by Allison Garton (2004) studied this further by looking
at refined measures of childrens readiness to benefit from conforming to the rules of
grammar in collaborative contexts. Gartons study found that the active exchange of
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ideas, rather than merely working together was integral to improved student
performance. Characteristics such as social awareness supports the notion that
grammar for children is often not the same for those adults around them (Fassler,
2003; OGrady, 2005).
The third assertion of ELL students language acquisition is that the three
facets of English languages syntax, semantics, and pragmatics cannot be logically
learned independently from each other (Bruner, 1983; Mora, 2005; Shehadeh in
Edwards and Willis, 2005, p. 22). While all languages have phonological, syntactic,
semantic, and pragmatic systems, the characteristics of each system vary, to a greater
extent, from language to language (Barone & Xu, 2008, p. 36). So when we say a
child is learning language, we mean that there is a collaboration of transactions that
occur that constitute the input from which children then master grammar (Bruner,
1983; Krashen, 1994).
Case for Social, Collaborative, and Dialogic Approach
to Instruction for English Language Learner Students
Socialization and first and second language acquisition takes place at the same
time so that when children learn to become competent speakers and writers of their
language, they also become competent members of their society (Ochs, 1988, p. i).
Adults understanding and use of language acquisition in the context of socialization
can therefore contribute to students speaking and writing needs (Krashen, 1981;
1994; Semrud-Clikeman, 2007; Putnam, 1998). So adults and peers are not simply
teaching English language learner students how to string a group of words together to
make a written or spoken sentence, but how to communicate competently in the
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collaborative context of a local social cultural system full of rules and community
expectation (Krashen, 1981; 1994). For example, language competence includes not
only knowledge of grammatical principles and sentence construction, but also
knowledge of the norms that link language to social and cognitive context; and the
local social cultural systems, as well as childrens individual psychological and
biological capacities to organize their understanding and production of particular
language constructions (Ochs, 1988, p. i).
English language students interaction and collaborative learning as mediators
of cognitive and literacy skills acquisition are relevant to this studys exploration of
cognition as a social activity. Cognition and the acquisition of the ability to engage
in learning are social as one thinks and learns to think in relation to others
(MacLennan in Torres & Antikainen, 2003, p. 105). It follows that social relations,
even those present early in the individuals lifespan, are important to learning and
cognition (MacLennan, 2003, p. 105; Fitch & Sanders, 2005). Schools that make
multiliteracy a goal for ELL students have a successful partnership between family
and school and supportive materials in the target languages (Tokuhama-Espinosa in
Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2003, p. 34). Schools that focus on language in this way send
the message to ELL students that understanding the function of reading in ones first
language is important to learning subsequent languages; and the standard device is to
first teach reading skills in the childs native language (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2003, p.
37-8). Whereas the benefits of learning two languages verbally have transferable
benefits, reading and writing must be developed in each language on their own
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(Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2003, p. 42).
The use of social interaction and cooperative learning can integrate childrens
learning by placing students in classes together and showing from the beginning that
each person has something special to offer. Learning together to complete
assignments can have profound effects on students. A great deal of research has been
conducted comparing the relative effects of cooperative, competitive, and
individualistic efforts on instructional outcomes (Johnson & Johnson in Putnam,
1998, p. 75). According to Jennifer Frengel (In Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2003),
Benefits of cooperative learning in contrast to competitive learning expand
across a wide range of areas. Results from children participating in
cooperative or collaborative classrooms can show they are more competent
and can have higher test scores than those in competitive situations, (p. 56)
In competitive classrooms, students are concerned about their own needs, wants, and
academic growth. In the cooperative and collaborative classroom, students work
towards group members needs, wants, and academic growth.
Contexts of literacy development include the school and home of the students.
Bilinguals may become literate in an environment where they are exposed to two or
more languages (Brisk & Harrington, 2000, p. 9). For ELL students, language
instruction takes place in the students native language, in their second language, or in
both. Bilingual learners can therefore benefit from the use of both languages,
regardless of the language being used for literacy instruction (Brisk & Harrington,
2007, p. 21). Learning is an active process in culturally relevant instruction, and
culturally relevant instruction centers on the student when it is based on cooperation
and collaboration (Brisk & Harrington, 2007).
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There is nothing novel in the proposal that social interaction gives rise to
social knowledge (Davidson in Winegar &Valsiner, 1992, p. 25). Social knowledge
is that which directly pertains to the substance of social and interaction and is directly
constituted by that interaction (Davidson in Winegar & Vaisiner, p. 25). For ELL
students, such knowledge may be about social order of the classroom and norms of
interaction such as cooperation (Davidson, p. 25). Social interaction therefore gives
rise not only to representations of social content (e.g., persons, books, writing, etc.),
but also of cognitive and linguistic interaction as children think, speak, read, and
write together (Davidson, p. 25).
Linguistic interaction especially plays a crucial role in the process of ELL
students learning whenever that learning is dependent on the incorporation of
information that cannot be obtained exclusively from the individual learners
transaction with the physical environment (Wells & Chang-Wells, 1992).
Researchers and educators are learning that by reason of their membership in
nonmainstream ethnic and cultural groups, a substantial proportion of children who
are ill-prepared to meet the language demands of the classroom have been shown to
be a myth (Wells & Chang-Well, 1992). To counter this myth, educators are using
findings from ELL student research to change the way they teach ELL students by
creating classrooms as communities of collaborative inquirers.
In collaborative classrooms, language might be used in innovative ways
because it is less a subject to be taught than it is a set of resources to be drawn upon in
carrying out the various activities necessary to conduct an inquiry and communicate
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with others. For children in collaborative and interactive learning contexts, the focus
might be on the development of ability to take others perspectives (Chen, French, &
Schneider, 2006). Collaborative learning and social interaction in this context
therefore looks at how children come to develop sufficient social understanding to
function as skilled members of their cultures (Carpendale & Lewis, 2006).
Implications for the Design of Formal Learning Contexts
English Language Learner Students Reading Skills Development
This study looked at the common phenomenon occurring in the United States
today of increasingly more children reading in two languages. English language
learner students are not engaged in altogether different processes when reading in two
languages (Kucer, 2001). However, there are a number of factors that are unique to
the ELL student population, and understanding how these factors impact the reading
process can help teachers promote literacy development for such students. What we
do when we read is to make meanings. Meanings are not in the word themselves, but
are in the minds of those who are engaged in the thinking that is being expressed
(Raban in Gaffney and Askew, 1999, p. 100). When children use their own available
resources, their varied responses during reading can be meager or substantial. Most
children develop self-extending systems that expand their learning and capacity to
learn in ways that are seemingly effortless; others do not (Askew & Gaffney in
Gaffney and Askew, 1999, p. 82). This study looked at how reading may work as a
process for ELL students and what readers do when they read (Goodman, 1996).
The reading process is considered one of the most important academic skills
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and is highly correlated with student achievement (Bishop, 2003; Krashen, 2004). In
an ideal world, ELL students would have the benefit of English language programs
that help them build the competence needed to read complex age and grade
appropriate texts. But this kind of support is rare. Often, ELL students whose English
is not proficient enough to be immersed in mainstream classes are nevertheless
mainstreamed, except for pull-out English as a second language (ESL) class. While
they may acquire English this way, ELL students face the daunting problem of having
to individually read and understand demanding subject matter texts written in a
decontextualized discourse style (Brown, 2007). Reading decontextualized texts has
been shown to be difficult even for native speakers of English due to the discourse
style. Instead of decontextualized texts, the aim should instead be to extract
something of interest from the text, and then collaborate with peers and adults in
discussion (Rivers & Temperley, 1978).
Children who learn to read in their native language first will have an easier
time learning to read in their second language them children who never learned how to
read in their first language (Anstrom, 1999). Children who can read in their native
language understand the process of reading, even if they need to learn new letters,
sounds, and words to attain reading proficiency in a second language. Children who
are learning to read for the first time in their second language have twice as much
work to do because they are learning the process of reading from the beginning at the
same time that they are learning a new language (Short & Fitzsimmons, 2007).
The question of whether ELL students can read their second language as
63


skillfully as they read their first often arises. Researchers have found that often they
do not, and second language reading is generally, slower, even in fluent ELL students
(Segalowitz in Vaid, 1986, p. 3). A common explanation for this is that English
language learner readers lack some of the basic linguistic knowledge necessary for
skilled reading (Alderson & Urquhart, 1984); such as not having a full and accurate
command of the vocabulary and syntax of the language, or the cultural assumptions
underlying the text. Unfortunately, there is no formula to follow or no single
effective technique to use when it comes to teaching native speakers to read English.
Needless to say, if there is no formula for teaching reading to children whose first
language is English, then there is certainly no formula for teaching reading in English
as a second language because second language contexts can be varied and complex
(Pinter, 2006, p. 65).
English Language Learner Students Writing Skills Development
English language learner students come to school with knowledge and
experiences that are different from their monolingual English-literate counterparts
(Brown, 1993). These differences may not negatively impact ELL students learning
when schools create a learning environment that celebrates diversity and provides
opportunities for full participation (Banks, 2002; Richard-Amato, 1996; Miramontes,
Nadeau, & Commins, 1997; Borwne, 1993). Writing in a first language must be
acknowledged and allowed to develop alongside writing in English, so that students
can participate in the collaboration of knowledge building by bringing what they
know about being a language user to the learning of a new language (Klein, 1985;
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Browne, 1993; August, 2003; Peregoy & Boyle, 2005).
In this study, I looked at LI and L2 writing to try to distinguish between two
very different conceptions of improvement in writing. One conception has to do with
the quality of writing and how proficiency related to quality might be measured or
characterized. The second conception has to do with the development of students
second language proficiency. These two conceptions may or may not be related. If
not, then it might be possible for ELL students to improve individual pieces of
writing with feedback and revision without increasing their L2 proficiency at all
(Casanave, 2004). This study then looked at certain kinds of LI and L2 writing
instruction decisions without characterizing what constitutes good writing.
Canagarajah (2002) provides a review of the main findings that have emerged
from available research on the development of ELL students writing proficiency.
First, proficient LI and L2 writers are more likely to have read extensively for
school and/or pleasure than their less proficient counterparts (p. 145). Second, the
development of L2 writing proficiency does not transfer directly from LI literacy
because it might depend on an array of interdependent factors such as L2 linguistic
proficiency, LI and L2 writing proficiency, and exposure to particular genres of
writing (p. 145). These findings provide an impetus for me to use relatively radical
pedagogical activities (e.g., allowing students to communicate in their native
language in an English classroom).
One of the most important skills ELL students must master is to write so that
one sentence reasonably and logically follows from preceding ones and can itself
65


serve as a vehicle to the sentences that follow (Klein, 1985). English language
learner students must also maneuver their way through complex social and cognitive
interactions in English when writing (Young & Hadaway, 2006). These cognitive
interactions occur as collaboration between English language learner students, written
text, peers, and most importantly, teachers. Collaborative learning is important here
because with the distinctive burden of learning to read, write, and speak English at the
same time, ELL students have needs which set them apart from English-speaking
students. This is a distinction that is sometimes difficult to assess, particularly when
students are highly verbal and seem more proficient in the target language than they
really are.
English language learner students interaction with the teacher is very
important because it is necessary to identify ELL students who may speak fluently
and appear to have a native-like command of oral language, but still be unable to
write at grade level (Young & Hadaway, 2006). The reason for this is that in order to
learn how to write, children must grasp the mixed characters of the writing system
(e.g., letters, numbers, spaces, etc.) in addition to the phonographic and ideographic
dimensions of meaning. In other words, symbolic systems are not only
communicative tools but also intervening factors which transform the dynamics of
mental computation (Tolchinksy, 2001, p. 2).
English Language Learner Students Oral Language Skills Development
In this study, I looked at how for ELL students oral language development
most likely proceeds in two languages. Even though enrolled in school, ELL students
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continued to be exposed to their first or native language at home (Gottlieb, 2006).
This study also looked at why ELL students should be encouraged to use their first
language, especially at the onset of second language acquisition, and the extent that
the first language may be used as an instructional tool.
Oral language serves various purposes. Some children acquire language to
interact within their own culture or to interact with new cultures, while others acquire
language to achieve academic outcomes. So one of the difficulties involved in
investigating the relationships between oral language, reading, and writing is that
none of the three represents a single skill (August, 2003). Rather, each comprises a
complex set of skills including to some degree such components as vocabulary,
syntax, phonology, and morphology. In addition, general cognitive and academic
maturity underlies oral language, reading, and writing proficiency (Cummins, 1991;
Peregoy & Boyle, 2005). The study of the relationships between oral language,
reading, and writing is complicated because each skill is dynamic and varies at
different developmental states (Chall, 1996). This is complicated further because in
contexts like US schools, ELL students language needs are great and often unmet.
According to Krashen (1981), ELL students should be provided input for joint
acquisition of literacy skills. In this context, input is used to describe language that is
spoken directly to a child rather than just heard language. The input required to
facilitate oral language acquisition in the classroom is part of a systemic course where
the learner and his or her surroundings (e.g., people and text) need to be engaged to
sustain literacy development (Morgan & Rinvolucri, 1983; Krashen, 1994).
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Systemic implies that knowledge acquisition can increase into larger and more
inclusive contexts and is not limited to just the learner. According to language
authority Judith Johnston (in Slobin, 1985),
When children first learn a word, they frequently use it in situations where an
adult would not, or fail to use it where an adult would. Some of these over- or
under-extensions appear to be idiosyncratic and momentary; others are more
systematic in that they characterize the speech of many children, persist, and
evolve in age predictable ways. (p. 967)
Theories of first and second language skills acquisition must therefore take into
account the nature of the language object as it resists and shapes the childs
organizing efforts, and the nature of the childs prior linguistic knowledge as it leads
to further acquisition and systemization of rules (Johnston in Slobin, 1985, p. 962).
Many descriptions of language learning, particularly the earliest years of
learning, focus primarily on the linguistic components or the structural features that
constitute the childs utterances and use of language (Foley & Thompson, 2003). An
increase in the number of words uttered and the development from one word to
multiple words is marked as important in the stages of development. Language
development mediated by people learning together is therefore a feature of interaction
that is of central concern to researchers interested in English language learner
students communicative competence (Hymes, 1974; Foley & Thompson, 2003;
Jourdan & Tuite, 2006) because interaction in this context suggests that learning is
mediated by contact with others through collaboration.
Summarization
Research into educational collaboration and dialogic interaction has shown
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that when English language learner students participate in dialogue with others, they
jointly perform tasks and solve linguistic problems that lie beyond their individual
abilities (Shehadeh in Edwards & Willis, 2005, p. 24; Swain, 2000). Research also
provides supporting evidence to suggest that language and literacy learning may be
tasks that take place during dialogic interactions (Shehadeh in Edwards & Willis,
2005, p. 19). Learners in collaborative dialogues, when aimed at solving a certain
linguistic point, achieve more easily what is harder to do when done individually and
the solutions students reach during such dialogues are retained in their interlanguage
system (Ellis, 2000). Hence, it can be agreed that social interaction and collaboration
mediate language learning because learners first succeed in performing a new
function with the assistance of another person and then internalize that function so
they can perform it unassisted. Research shows that there is a strong tendency for
learners to stick with the knowledge they construct collaboratively versus
knowledge that is constructed individually (LaPierre, 1994; Swain, 2000).
A body of evidence has been presented to demonstrate that one of the main
functions of an adult or child peer is to collaboratively help build up a varied and
meaningful vocabulary and to help children use words with skill and artistry
(OKeefe, McCarthy, & Carter, 2007). When we are dealing with ELL students we
may realize that their words are intimately woven into their personal growth and they
may not be ready to separate out of their study with words from other aspects of their
learning (OKeefe, McCarthy, & Carter, 2007). Meaning, ELL students language is
a pattern of habits deeply rooted in their personality, and what English language
69


learner students do with language in school and home needs to be built into their total
language pattern as a way to create an intersection and interaction between school
and home learning.
Claims to knowledge in the area of ELL students usually attract debate and
critique. Much of this arises because of the need to cross traditional research
boundaries in order to try to understand language learning at it pertains to early
childhood literacy development and English language learner education (Pitt, 2005).
Researchers often focus more on the way the minds of English language learner
students work and less on the learning context and social relations of language and
about how language actually operates in social practice (Pitt, 2005).
An important point to consider is how children use language. As we can
consider this, language needs to be defined as it relates to this studys look at ELL
students reading, writing, and oral language development during the school year.
According to language authority Ken Goodman (1996),
Language is a human personal-social invention. Individuals, in social groups,
invent and develop language because they are capable of symbolic thought.
That is, they can let symbols represent experiences and ideas, which they can
then reflect on. (p. 12)
Language can therefore be considered a system of symbols that names things, actions,
and experiences and represents the way these interact in our experiences with each
other and the world (Goodman, 1996, p. 12; Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2003, p. 83). In
human beings, language serves as the role of mental representations and
communication of the virtual situation (Vygotsky, 1990). Children can use the
system of symbols to read, write, and speak at home and in the classroom. For all
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students, language can be simultaneously a learning tool and an achievement goal.
English learners can use their LI or L2 in the classroom to read, write, speak,
problem solve, and interact with peers and at the same time increase their LI or L2
proficiency.
For English learner students, research in second-language acquisition can
support the need for careful attention to aspects of teaching and learning reading and
writing skills that take into account ELL students developmental levels in oral
language skills, vocabulary, and grammar (Krashen (1991) cited in Mora in Young
and Hadaway, 2006, p. 32). It is very difficult for research projects to cover all
aspects of language acquisition. Consequently, second language research studies are
accused of overlooking the learners social situation or cognitive processes.
There are many issues to consider about language learning processes. For
example, we need to think about for what purpose and how do we increase the
reading, writing, and oral language achievement of all children. We also need to
consider the consequences if we do not educate all children fairly and equally. It is
by studying second language policies that we better understand the complexity of the
language process and the variables involved in looking at English learners reading,
writing, and oral language development during the school year.
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CHAPTER THREE
METHODOLOGY
Introduction
This study used the research question, what happens to second grade native
Spanish-speaking students reading, writing, and oral language development during
the school year? The study looked at the specific actions and interactions of English
language learner (ELL) students in a second grade classroom. There are behaviors
that students who speak two languages engage in which enhances their reading,
writing, and oral language development through interactions with peers, the teacher,
and the physical classroom environment. This chapter will explain the design of this
qualitative ethnographic study that looked at the interactions and behaviors that ELL
students might use to negotiate their learning.
Type of Research
Classroom research that looks at ELL students second language acquisition
and bilingual education has drawn a variety of research methodologies (Fitch &
Sanders, 2005; Watson-Gegeo, 1988; Wei & Moyer, 2008). Ethnographic methods
are used often in both general educational and second language research because it
investigates issues difficult to address through experimental research. This study was
conducted using a qualitative ethnographic study because ethnography is a method
used to describe everyday human behavior by relying heavily on participant
observation in natural settings (Fitch & Sanders, p. 327). By using ethnography to
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study what happens to Spanish-speaking students reading, writing, and oral language
development, I learned about beliefs and behaviors of ELL and native-English
speaking (NES) students by becoming a participant and observer in the group.
I participated in the behavior jointly with those being studied. In ethnographic
research, participants still engage in normal behavior whether or not the researcher is
present (Fitch & Sanders, p. 328). This was true for my study because students
behaved as they normally do as students in their normal classroom setting with me as
their teacher. My participation included my role as the teacher of the ELL students I
studied to look at what happens with native Spanish-speaking students reading,
writing, and oral language development learning during the school year. Use of
ethnography also made sense for this study because as a teacher and researcher, self-
reflexivity is central to the research processes. Qualitative researchers believe that
self-reflexivity is central to the research process and the researcher needs to take
responsibility for constructing an account which rooted in our historically and
socially situated subjectivity (Heller in Wei & Moyer, p. 251; Burck, 2005).
The findings of my study are not just my opinion and freely formed on the
basis of my own experiences. It has to be an account based on systematic enquiry,
conducted according to selection principles which I have to describe and justify
(Heller in Wei & Moyer, p. 251). This belief may stem from a social constructionist
view that knowledge is situated, so the researcher has to take responsibility for his or
her own positioning (Maillat & Serra, 2009).
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Theoretical Framework
This study used a sociocultural framework to consider language socialization
as it relates to second-language use and development in the context of students
school and family cultures (Vygotsky, 1962; Garrett in Heller, 2007; Diaz-Rico &
Weed, 2002). The true direction of the development of thinking is not from the
individual to the socialized, but from the social to the individual (Vygotsky, p. 20).
Language socialization is the process where a child acquires communicative
competence to interact with others in the social life of a given community (Garrett in
Heller, 2007, p. 233). In many cases, language socialization occurs primarily through
interactions with peers (Garrett in Heller, 2007, p. 233). Development of language,
literacy, and student interaction is influenced by existing oral proficiencies, authentic
learning, and underlying cognitive processes in these contexts (Garrett in Heller,
2007).
For ELL students, there are additional intervening influences related to first-
language proficiency and second-language literacy. Sociocultural theory provides a
framework that helps to describe how students school and family cultures influence
first and second language acquisition and use. Sociocultural theory was
operationalized in this study to identify behaviors students engage in that influence
their reading, writing, and oral language development achievement. These behaviors
occurred in independent, paired, small group, and large group dynamics.
Our understanding of population diversity as it relates to educational
endeavors continues to expand in its utilization of diverse theories of language,
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learning, thinking, teaching, socialization, and culture (Banks & Banks, 1995, p.
372). Three theorists who influenced my study are Lev Vygotsky (1965), Stephen
Krashen (1981) and Noam Chomsky (1975), and Howard Gardner (1993).
Lev Vygotskys sociocultural theory influenced this study by providing a
theoretical structure for looking at the ways children acquire concepts not simply by
rote, but through strenuous mental activity mediated by instruction (1965). The
development of concept formation is effected by varying external and internal
conditions and instruction is one of the principal sources of the schoolchilds
concepts and is also a powerful source in directing their evolution (1965, p. 85). For
this study, instruction is an external condition that students receive from peers and the
teacher. This study demonstrated how students interaction with peers, adults, and
the physical classroom environment can mediate reading, writing, and oral language
development. Observations of students language behaviors during the school year
showed that students develop and form concepts through daily practice, exposure to
peer and adult language models, and other collaborative school activities.
Stephen Krashens (1981) language acquisition theory influenced this study
by bringing a theoretical structure for looking at students as they act and interact in
ways that language influences their reading, writing, and oral language achievement.
The classroom is a social context where ELL students can use language and cultural
signs (e.g., words, pictures, etc.) to mediate their acquisition of skills and concepts
across the curriculum (Gredler & Shields, 2008). Language acquisition theory
informed my study by helping me to understand how language learning should be
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interaction between children and adults (Krashen, 1996).
Krashens five central hypotheses relate learning to language and consider that
children develop first language competence before they develop second language
competence (Krashen, 1985). Language acquisition occurs automatically when a
person participates in natural conversations or where the focus of communication is
on meaning (Krashen, 1985, p. 4; Verplaetse & Migliacci, 2008, p. 168). In the
context of this study, ELL students participated in natural classroom communication
that focused on informal conversations and formal learning at different times during
the normal school day.
Noam Chomskys (1975) generative language theory provided another
theoretical perspective that helped my study look at ways ELL students may use
languages to influence their academic achievement. Chomskys theory suggests that
a central problem of interpreting the world might be in studying the properties of
natural languages, their structure, organization, and use to gain some understanding of
human intelligence (p. 4). This might be done by studying the interaction between
the human mind and the physical and social world (Chomsky, 1971, p. 1). Chomsky
suggests that one investigates domains of human knowledge to study their relation to
the brief and personal experience on which they were erected (Chomsky, 1971, p.
21). This statement to me means it makes sense to study the relation of language as a
human domain to the actions and interactions of ELL students. This study explored
behaviors that ELL students did and conversations they had that may have
contributed to their academic achievement. This study looked at how human
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knowledge may be formed as the result of ELL students using two languages to learn.
Howard Gardners multiple intelligences theory influenced this study through
its assertion that humans socialize through symbols (1993). Gardners theory
explores how humans might be intellectually engaged in different cultural roles using
symbols, symbolic products, and symbolic systems (p. 300). According to
Gardner,
It is through symbols and symbol systems that our present framework can be
effectively linked with concerns of culture, including the rearing of
children and their ultimate placement in niches of responsibility and
competence, (p. 300)
Gardners assertion is relevant to this study because this study looked at the
responsibilities and academic achievement of ELL students during the school year.
Students responsibilities included doing homework, completing classroom
assignments, following school and classroom expectations, and being accountable for
all these things. Assessment of students competence as a part of achievement
included academic growth on a variety of reading, writing, and oral language
development measures. Students engaged in language behaviors using sounds,
letters, words, and numbers in ways that may contribute to their literacy development.
Students also used and interacted with the symbolic products of books, pencils, and
paper that are used for normal classroom learning. This study looked at the ways
ELL students may use symbols and symbolic products in the classroom and how the
use of symbols might influence language learning and development. Symbols can
function alone as meaningful entities, but very commonly they enter as elements in a
more highly elaborated system (p. 301). This study therefore considers the
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classroom a highly elaborated system where ELL students read, write, speak,
interact, and socialize with peers and adults.
Research that Influenced this Study
Of the multitude of ethnographical studies that exist, this study drew from
research done by Shirley Brice Heath (1983), bell hooks (2004), and Marie Clay
(1993) to study groups of people in the context of family, community, and school.
Heaths ethnographic study in the south during desegregation examined the ways
people from different communities in the textile region raised their children. The way
the children are raised according to Heath, affects the language development and the
way these children learn to read and write in the school setting. Heath herself entered
her study as an ethnographer and teacher at a time when the pressures from
desegregation and the demands for improved literacy skills converged to promote
educational and sociocultural change. In the same way, I wanted this study to
examine how native Spanish-speakers relate to what happens in the classroom during
the school year.
hooks influenced this study through her assertion that a democratic education
assumes that learning is never confined solely to an institutionalized classroom
(2004, p. 41). hooks also assert that when teachers support democratic education we
automatically support widespread literacy (p. 41). This study used democratic
education as its philosophical and ethical base. Consider that this study encouraged
students who speak a second language to use their native language in an English
classroom. English language learner students especially may benefit from being able
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to freely speak in their native language to interact socially and academically
with peers.
A contribution of Marie Clays research is its assertion that collaborative
learning can have a powerful role in a students life. Sharing and communicating
with others enables the individual student to explore and create depth of meaning not
always available to the isolated thinker (Gaffney & Askew, 1999, p. 105). Clay also
contends, Language is acknowledged to express identity, enable cooperation, and
confer freedom on those who have access to and control over a wide repertoire of
language strategies (In Gaffney and Askew, p. 101). My study examined the
implementation of this idea by giving ELL students the freedom to use their native
language for reading, writing, and oral language development in the ELA-E
classsroom. Clays findings argues for an increase in our awareness, an increase in
the degree to which we might see and respond to diversity in literacy (In Gaffney
and Askew, p. 14). This is important to my study because like Clay, I believe the
grand assumptions we make and the working principles we draw on should influence
and are informed by educational practices (In Gaffney and Askew, p. 14).
Research with English Language Learners
Empirical research by Escamilla, Mahon, Riley-Bemal, and Rutledge (2003);
Reyes and Azuara (2008); Shenk in Nino-Murcia & Rothman, (2008); Tokuhama-
Espinosa, (2008); and Vasquez, Pease-Alvarez and Shannon (1994) also influenced
this study. Escamilla, et al. examined how standards-based education reforms in
Colorado impact Latino students who speak English and/or Spanish. Escamilla, et al.
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suggests that bilingual students success depends on their skills in both Spanish and
English (p. 46). Escamilla et al.s empirical research influenced my study by looking
at how ELL students language influences academic achievement as measured by
formalized testing. My study used normally occurring assessment tools to measure
ELL students reading, writing, and oral language development several times during
the school year. Although primarily a reading assessment, my study used the English
Developmental Reading Assessment-2 (DRA-2) to look at Spanish-speaking students
reading, writing, and oral language development achievement. Reading during the
DRA-2 occurs as students decode and demonstrate levels of comprehension and
fluency. Writing occurs when students complete a post-reading response and oral
language development occurs when students retell elements of the story.
Elaine Shenks research looks at dual language immersion and familial
ideologies of students who speak English and Spanish (In Nino-Murcia & Rothman,
2008). In this study, Shenk collected data through ethnographic methods in response
to the following questions: (a) What language choices did native speakers of Spanish
make in response to the official language frames established by a dual language
curriculum? (b) Which students chose to use Spanish more consistently then their
peers? and (c) what common themes were present in the language ideologies held and
transmitted by the families of these students regarding the choice towards Spanish
language usage? (p. 228). Shenks research found that it is easier for parents,
teachers, and students to hold minority language as being valuable when familial
language ideologies are integrated with values from outside and inside the school (p.
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253). Shenk concludes that teachers of ELL students can contribute by using their
presence to encourage interaction in the minority language. This influenced my study
because I think the choice to use a minority language in the context of a clearly
dominant language or conversely to shift towards the uses of that dominant language
are choices that ELL students make in classroom contexts everyday. These choices in
turn may influence ELL students reading, writing, and oral language development
achievement.
Reyes and Azuaras (2008) empirical research looks at the emergent biliteracy
in young Mexican immigrant children. Reyes and Azuara explored the relationship
between emergent biliteracy and growing up in a biliterate environment (p. 374). The
study draws on sociocultural language perspectives to explore and explain childrens
knowledge and development of emergent biliteracy (p. 374). The study influenced
my work because it suggests that childrens pathway to biliteracy is dynamic and
mediated by their immediate sociocultural contexts (p. 393). My study looked at how
ELL students reading, writing, and oral language development may not be
influenced by exposure alone, but may be mediated through social interaction in the
home and classroom.
Tokuhama-Espinosa pulls from other researchers to look at the influence of
language typologies on how and when to introduce reading and writing to
multilingual children (2008, p. 67). Tokuhama-Espinosa suggests that it can take
between five to seven years for a non-native speaker to reach native language fluency.
Reaching native language fluency in this time span depends on the type of academic
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program in place, the individuals abilities, native language proficiency, personality,
and learning styles (p. 68).
This information informed my study by making me aware that learning to read
and write are complimentary but distinct skills. To be a good reader in two
languages, a child must give time and practice to each of them (Tokuhama-Espinosa,
2008, p. 71). This is different from oral skills where L2 oral vocabulary usually
parallels LI oral vocabulary (Tokuhama-Espinosa, p. 71). One possible reason why
ELL students learn simple social exchanges before academic language is because
social exchanges are supported by gestures and facial expressions and academic
language is experienced without a specific context (Tokuhama-Espinosa, p. 64).
According to research conducted by Jim Cummins, although verbal skills are
relatively quick to form, literacy skills require far longer for cultivating (Tokuhama-
Espinosa, p. 64). The same spin-off benefits do not exist for reading and writing
because to become a good reader in a foreign language, one has to devote time to that
language separately (Tokuhama-Espinosa, p. 71). This information is germane to
my study because I am interested in looking at ways ELL students may transfer LI
reading, writing, and oral language development to L2 proficiencies.
According to Tokuhama-Espinosa (2008), there are five basic steps to
assuring biliteracy skills in children. These steps are: (a) Understand the use of the
written word, (b) Learn the phonemic alphabet, (c) Acknowledge exceptions in sound
to letter relation, (d) Acknowledge exceptions between languages, and (e) Practice
familiarity, repetition, and frequency (p. 71). I considered the implications of these
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five basic steps in my study of ELL students language use and acquisition in the
classroom.
Vasquez, Pease-Alvarez, and Shannons (1994) empirical research shows that
although children and adults from immigrant communities draw upon a large range of
linguistic and cultural resources to meet the challenges of a complex society, schools
should play a much greater role in facilitating their active participation (p. 141). The
research draws from other ethnographic research that suggests that adult family
members are not always the most significant participant in childrens language
development. For children in minority communities, language experiences may be
dominated by peer interactions (Vasquez et al., p. 47).
This study influenced my own by providing data that supports the hypotheses
that (a) Students who use two languages negotiate learning in the classroom through
reading, writing, and oral language development and (b) Students who use two
languages negotiate learning in the classroom through their interactions with peers,
the teacher, and the learning environment. My study looked at the privilege of
children having and using two languages that few people recognize as being valuable.
Rather than suggesting that learning and using two languages is a detriment to ELL
students academic achievement, my study looked at ways having and using two
languages benefits students.
Research Context
This ethnographic study was conducted over eight months. The study began
on September 2, 2008 after all students had been enrolled and a definite class list was
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verified by the principal. The study continued until the last day of school on May 28,
2008. This study began because in the past few years I have noticed a trend of
Spanish-speaking students beginning the school year with less English proficiency
than their native English-speaking peers. Some unknown transformation happens
where Spanish-speaking students begin to outperform their native-English
counterparts in the second grade classroom. I have always wondered why this
happens and at what approximate point in the school year does this transformation
occur. This study allowed me the opportunity to look at this classroom occurrence
with a critical lens. The results of this study may help educators to plan for the large
numbers of Spanish-speaking Latino students enrolled in schools.
This study took place in a second grade classroom at A.L. Emerson
Elementary School in southwest Denver. Although there were many benefits and
little risk to the study, the school was given a fictitious name to protect students and
their families. A.L. Emerson Elementary enrolls approximately 410 students in
grades early childhood education through fifth. The school was identified as
distinguished one year prior to the study by Superintendent Michael Bennett
because of increased CSAP scores and a shift from being a low achieving school to
being near average. Eighty-two percent of the student population at A.L. Emerson
Elementary receives free or reduced lunch and 85% are identified as Latino. Fifty
percent of the student population is ELL students. Of this amount, 44% speak
Spanish as a first language (The Piton Foundation, 2008).
The second grade classroom where the study took place is comprised of 13
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