In my last post I wrote about how my colleagues and I identified challenges our students must overcome when learning to read as well as the internal resources they possess that we seek to help them recognize and use as they surmount those challenges. Our students’ home language is not English, they live in low socio economic conditions and most parents have not completed high school. In this post I will elaborate on how these issues show up in our school environment and effect student learning.
At my school, most of our students have been with us since Kindergarten, so student mobility is not a big issue. Almost all our students begin Kindergarten at a beginning level on the California English Language Development test (CELDT). When they reach fourth grade most of them have reached an intermediate, and some an advanced level on the CELDT. Often they have deficits in phonics skills that native English speaking kids usually master in the primary grades. Our teachers are teaching the explicit phonics skills students need, but I believe some students are so busy learning to understand English that they miss key elements of instruction in the early school years. English Language Learners need to learn strategies that help them understand inferences in reading comprehension tests, and there are often English idioms that confuse students.
Our students come from homes with low socio-economic status and most parents have not finished high school. These factors suggest that our students have not had as much exposure to oral language, whether in English or Spanish as students from middle and high income homes, prior to coming to school. Parents may have to work long hours, may not know the importance of talking to young children and a nightly bedtime habit of reading books together is not yet a part of the cultural norm in many homes. Our amazing school outreach coordinators are helping our parents learn to implement these fun family reading and language rituals that will help their kids be more ready for learning at school.
So these are some of the challenges our students face when it is time to read in fourth grade. In my next post, I’ll discuss the internal resources our students and their families possess that we work to emphasize to help our students blossom as grade level proficient readers.