Summer Reading Programs for English Language Learners, Low SES, and Underserved Students
By: Alejandro Brice, PhD, CCC-SLP, Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, and Roanne Brice PhD., CCC-SLP
Current research (Olson, 2008; Alexander, Entwisle, & Olson, 2007)shows that many of these disadvantaged students are able to make the same or greater gains during the school year as other students, but then fall behind again in the summer. Every summer all K-12 students lose some of their academic abilities, i.e., up to 3 months of academic achievement (Alexander, Entwisle, & Olson, 2007; Luftig, 2003; Olson, 2008). This brain drain is more significant for students from low-SES and underserved home environments (Eamon, 2002; Stage & Jacobsen, 2001) and particularly for students who are English language learners (ELL) (Coleman, Campbell, McPartland, Mood, Weinfeld, & York, 1966; Jones, Burton, Davenport, 1982; Mays, 2008; Miranda, Webb, Brigman, & Peluso, 2007). Unfortunately, the achievement gap among ELL students, low SES and underserved students and middle income students widens each year (Alexander, Entwisle, & Olson, 2007). ELL and low SES and underserved students are capable of closing the academic achievement gap during the school year with concerted school efforts (e.g., involving speech-language pathologists, general education classroom teachers, ESOL/ESL teachers, and school principals), but regress and fall behind during the summer break.
So what are SLPs to do? Start an intensive summer reading program for all students. Brice and Brice (2009) suggest that ELL students be taught phoneme and grapheme (letter) identification skills, particularly, distinctions based on voiced/voiceless phonemes. Research also suggests that second language learners who are less proficient encode words into memory based on sound (acoustic) or orthographic associations, and more proficient learners rely more on semantic or meaning-related associations (Ellis & Beaton, 1993; Henning, 1973; Kecskes & Cuenca, 2005). Bach and Underwood (1970), Pender (1969), and Ghatala (1970) found that native speaking children in second grade were better able to recall acoustically-associated words while children in sixth grade recalled more semantically-related words. This and similar research suggests that there is a developmental dimension to learning the vocabulary of a language: learners first attend more to the sounds of the oral language or shapes of the written words, but as they become more proficient, they attend more to the meaning. Similarities and differences between the first and second language also affect word learning as revealed by Kecskes and Cuenca (2005). Words in the second language that are more difficult to pronounce are more difficult to learn (Faust & Anderson, 1967; Rodgers, 1969).
Understanding how learners at different stages of exposure to English best encode words can aid in planning efficient instructional strategies. Siebert (1927) found that for beginning French students, saying words aloud led to faster learning with better retention than silent repetition. Henning (1973) suggests that selective listening activities, affix drills, rhymes, songs, and aural discrimination tasks are most effective with beginning learners because they point out differences in sounds of words and spellings. Advanced learners would benefit more from synonym and antonym games, oral and written compositions prepared from a list of paired associates, and other activities that focus on word meanings. In summary, phoneme identification, grapheme identification, and vocabulary skills can enhance reading skills for ELL and low SES and underserved students. It is our hope and expectation that you will make a concerted effort in facilitating students learning to read this summer.
Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Olson, L. S. (2007). Summer learning and its implications: Insights from the beginning school study. New Directions for Youth Development, 114, 11-32.
Bach, M. J., & Underwood, B. J. (1970). Developmental changes in memory attributes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 61, 292-296.
Brice, R. & Brice, A. (2009). Investigation of phonemic awareness and phonic skills in Spanish-English and English speaking kindergarten students. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 30(4), 208-225, doi: 10.1177/1525740108327448.
Coleman, J. S., Campbell, C. J., McPartland, J., Mood, A., Weinfeld, F. D., & York, R. L. (1966). Equality of Educational Opportunity. Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office. Eamon, M. K. (2002). Effects of poverty on mathematics and reading achievement of young adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 22, 49-74.
Ellis, N. C., & Beaton, A. (1993). Psycholinguistic determinants of foreign language vocabulary learning. Language Learning, 43, 559-617. Faust, G. W., & Anderson, R. C. (1967). Effects of incidental material in a programmed Russian vocabulary lesson. Journal of Educational Psychology, 58, 3-10. Ghatala, E. S. (1970). Encoding verbal units in memory: Changes in memory attributes as a function of age, instructions, and retention interval. Madison, Wisconsin Research and Development Center for Cognitive Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED046038) Henning, G. H. (1973). Remembering foreign language vocabulary: Acoustic and semantic parameters. Language Learning, 23, 185-196.
Jones, L. V., Burton, N. W., & Davenport, E. C. (1982). Mathematics Achievement Levels of Black and White Youth. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, L. L. Thurstone Psychometric Laboratory.
Kecskes, I., & Cuenca, I., M. (2005). Lexical choice as a reflection of conceptual fluency. International Journal of Bilingualism, 9, 49-67.
Luftig, R. L. (2003). When a little bit means a lot: The effects of a short-term reading program on economically disadvantaged elementary schoolers. Reading Research and Instruction, 42, 4, 1-13. Mays, L. (2008). The cultural divide of discourse: Understanding how English-language learners’ primary discourse influences acquisition of literacy. The Reading Teacher, 61, 415-418. Miranda, A., Webb, L., Brigman, G., & Peluso, P. (2007). Student success skills: A promising program to close the achievement gap for African American and Latino students. Professional School Counseling. 10, 5, 490-497. Olson, Lynn. (2008). When “Unequal” is fair treatment. Education Week, 27, 24, 24-27.
Pender, N. J. (1969). A developmental study of conceptual, semantic differential, and acoustical dimensions as encoding categories in short-term memory. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED050385). Rodgers, T. S. (1969). On measuring vocabulary difficulty: An analysis of item variables in learning Russian-English pairs. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 7, 327-343. Seibert, L. C. (1927). An experiment in learning French vocabulary. Journal of Educational Psychology, 18, 294-309.
Stage, S. A. & Jacobsen, M. D. (2001). Predicting student success on a state-mandated performance- based assessment using oral reading fluency. School Psychology Review, 30, 3, 407-419.
This Month’s Featured Authors:
Alejandro Brice, Ph.D., CCC-SLP and Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP University of South Florida St. Petersburg
Dr. Alejandro E. Brice is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg in Secondary/ESOL Education. His research has focused on issues of transference or interference between two languages in the areas of phonetics, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics related to speech-language pathology. In addition, his clinical expertise relates to the appropriate assessment and treatment of Spanish-English speaking students and clients. Please visit his website at http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=LkQG42oAAAAJ&hl=en or reach him by email at [email protected]
Dr. Ellen Kester is a Founder and President of Bilinquistics, Inc. http://www.bilinguistics.com. She earned her Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from The University of Texas at Austin. She earned her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology and her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish at The University of Texas at Austin. She has provided bilingual Spanish/English speech-language services in schools, hospitals, and early intervention settings. Her research focus is on the acquisition of semantic language skills in bilingual children, with emphasis on assessment practices for the bilingual population. She has performed workshops and training seminars, and has presented at conferences both nationally and internationally. Dr. Kester teaches courses in language development, assessment and intervention of language disorders, early childhood intervention, and measurement at The University of Texas at Austin. She can be reached at
Dr. Roanne G. Brice is the Assistant to the Chair for the Department of Child, Family and Community Sciences at the University of Central Florida. Her research interests have focused on language and beginning literacy skills in bilingual children and students with disorders/disabilities. In addition to teaching at the university level, Dr. Brice has been an itinerant and self-contained classroom speech-language pathologist as well as a general education classroom teacher. She may be reached at: [email protected]
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