English Language Learners and Reading Instruction by Nicole Haff

Every semester, as part of my mission to highlight student contributions, I feature student work in my blog. Here a Reflective Journal focusing on English Language Learners and Reading Instruction written by Nicole Haff, a current student at our GSE, Touro College.

Touro College “Our programs are informed by a commitment to learning from practice. This idea is more than a theoretical postulation. Rather, our approaches to teaching and learning, program development, and continuous improvement are designed intentionally to draw on sound evidence about the needs of our partner schools, evidence from candidate performance, and feedback from alumni, to name a few.” Jacob Easley II, Ph.D. Dean, Graduate School of Education

Nicole works as a certified teacher on Long Island. She holds a Masters Degree in Special Education and is currently working towards her TESOL certification at the Graduate School of Education, Touro College, TESOL and Bilingual Department.

Reflective Journal One:

Description of Highlights: The purpose of, “English language learners and reading instruction: A review of the literature” (Snyder, Witmer, & Schmitt, 2017) was to review the recent research and literature (published between January 2003 and July 2015) on reading interventions used specifically with ELLs across elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. Researchers hoped to determine the precise characteristics of interventions, which result in large effects for the five basic reading components for ELLs- phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. Snyder, Witmer & Schmitt (2017) recognized that while extensive research exists on reading interventions used with mainstream, native English students, there seemed to be a more limited amount research exploring what specific practices have been successful for ELLs. After a comprehensive review of the peer-reviewed literature, just 10 studies were determined to meet the specific inclusion criteria. Findings also illustrated a significant deficit of substantial research that identified large effect sizes for reading interventions used with middle school and high school ELLs. Of the 10 included studies, 2 targeted ELLs in middle school and none targeted ELLs in High School. Elementary interventions that produced large effect sizes in phonemic awareness, phonics, and comprehension were Proactive Reading (Vaugh et al., 2006) and Reading Rescue (Ehri, Drewyer, Flugman, & Gross, 2007). Reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition was very high in students who used Story retelling and higher order thinking for English Language and Literacy Acquisition ( STELLA).

Similarly, interventions based on robust and in-depth vocabulary instruction, with opportunities for verbal discourse, significantly improved vocabulary in ELLs. Large effect sizes for middle school ELLs’ fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension was evident when ELL literacy objectives were aligned and integrated with content-area objectives. The remaining findings of the reviewed literature illustrate that even if an ENL educator’s objective is to focus and improve upon a single reading skill, instruction should still encompass phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, and vocabulary to be most effective (Snyder et al., 2017).

Initial Emotional Response: After reading this study, I was very surprised to learn that such an insignificant amount of research has been done on ELLs and effective reading interventions. I was even more shocked and angry when I read that there was not one piece of literature that targeted High school ELLs that met the current studies inclusion criteria. I felt angry because the presence of non-native and linguistically diverse students is by no means a recent or uncommon occurrence. As discussed in our course reading, “first wave immigrants” of the past had many of the same assimilation issues as the immigrants of today do. (Banks & McGee Banks, 2010). I also felt a sense of relief and justice that the researchers conducted this literature review. Now that this problem has been clearly identified, and not just assumed, further research can be done. The feeling of justice rises within me in hopes that the much needed additional research will lead to an increased number of highly effective, research-based interventions that are specifically designed with ELL’s unique needs, cultural backgrounds, and linguistic differences in mind. With this being said, I was glad there was some beneficial research done on this topic and found value in learning exactly which literacy interventions serve elementary-age ELLs most effectively.

Learning Process

1. Prior Assumptions: Before reading this study, I assumed that there was an adequate and acceptable amount of research related to ELLs and effective literacy practices. I understood that there was likely a great deal more of literature that existed on reading instruction for mainstream students. However, I also assumed that there was a sufficient amount of studies that identified best practices for ELL literacy acquisition to be utilized by educators and administration.

2. Source of Assumption: I believed these things because our federal government has put a great amount of importance on using research-based interventions. We have legislation that requires public schools to use programs and curriculum that are evidence-based, to ensure that all students receive what they uniquely need to achieve and receive a fair education. Two of these Acts include, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, and the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. When taking my teacher certification exams, I was repeatedly asked to respond to very specific prompts in which I had to decide upon, utilize, and defend a research-based practice to address a students’ unique needs and learning style, while meeting the given learning objectives. Throughout my college and post-graduate carrier (and in workplace professional development) I have been taught the importance of employing interventions that are backed by research, as well as the worth of staying up to date on the literature. This personal experience, in combination with the fact that immigrant and linguistically diverse students in our schools is not a new phenomenon, as discussed in our course readings, led me to assume there was plenty of research available on ENL reading interventions.

3. Assumption/ Opinion Check: My assumption was invalidated because according to Snyder, Witmer & Schmitt (2017) there is an overall lack of research regarding ELL reading interventions. After an exhaustive review of any articles that contained even one of the terms: phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, alphabetical principal, reading comprehension, reading fluency, vocabulary, in addition to one term like: English language learner, English as a second language, language minority, bilingual, culturally diverse, linguistically diverse, dual language, or limited English proficiency, only 144 documents were produced. And of this 144, only 10 meet the other, simpler inclusion criteria. Just two included middle-school participants and none had high school participants (Snyder et al., 2017). This statistic further disproves my original assumption, as I was sure all grades would be covered in the extensive research I thought existed. Finally, if one was to break down the sample even further based on factors such as native language, time spent in the new country, current level of English proficiency, or acculturation status, researchers predict the amount of literature to identify effective literacy interventions for these groups would be extremely minimal (Snyder et al., 2017).

4. Realization/Aha Moment- I now realize that just because morally and idealistically, there should be more extensive research available related to this topic, as researchers and other educators would agree, it doesn’t mean we live in a perfect world where that is already true. Initially, I truly did believe that the majority of researchers had already been equally invested in interventions for the linguistically diverse, minority students for much longer, and at a higher rate than it appears. I now see that I may have had “rose-colored glasses on.” An “Aha” moment for me was when I read the not even one study from the sample provided reading interventions for high school students. Once I read that, I really understood how much further our educational system has to go. Literacy is an educational necessity and valuable life skill, and many students do come to English speaking schools for the first time in their teens. Having effective interventions in place for these individuals to become literate will greatly impact the rest of their lives. When I truly took in that there weren’t any such evidence-based practices in place for 9th-12th grade ELLs, it became apparent to me that despite how for we have come in multicultural and bilingual education, we are still undeserving and overlooking a large group of students.

5. Implications for future teaching practice: After reading this, I will do my best to make sure that I never unintentionally under serve or overlook a student in my class. Though I do not teach high school ELLs, I am sure this example illustrated in the current study is just one of the dozens of ways ELL students are unintentionally overlooked. One way I can try to prevent this (in any classroom), using both written and verbal discourse, is to check in with students’ needs and feelings. If this is an ENL class the use of conversation will lend itself to vocabulary and language skills while writing back and forth in a journal can aide in reading and writing skills. Though those are positives in themselves, my main goal would be for me to ask students: is there anything I am doing, or our school is doing to unintentionally upset, hurt, or mistreat you? Am I overlooking something that could make a big difference for you?. Secondly, after reflecting on my thoughts and this literature, I want to be more aware of when I am unconsciously glossing over controversial issues in my mind because I do not want to look at hard truths. If I let myself believe that certain global, national, or educational affairs are in a better state than they truly are, with my “rose-colored glasses” it could lead to me being a less effective, less culturally responsive, and less reflective teacher.


Banks, James.; Cherry A. McGree Banks. (2010). Multicultural Education Issues and Perspectives Seventh Edition. (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, USA)

Snyder, E., Witmer, S. E., & Schmitt, H. (2017). English language learners and reading instruction: A review of the literature. Preventing School Failure, 61(2), 136-145. Retrieved March 10, 2019.

Author: drcowinj

Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs only to the people who prepare for it today,” determined Malcolm X at the O.A.A.U.’s [Organization of Afro-American Unity] founding forum at the Audubon Ballroom. (June 28, 1964). (X, n.d.) Dr. Jasmin Bey Cowin a Fulbright Scholar, SIT Graduate, completed the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP™) at Columbia University, Teachers College. Dr. Cowin served as the President of the Rotary Club of New York and Assistant Governor for New York State; long-term Chair of the Rotary United Nations International Breakfast meetings; and works as an Assistant Professor at Touro College, Graduate School of Education. Dr. Cowin has over twenty-five years of experience as an educator, tech innovator, entrepreneur, and institutional leader with a focus on equity and access to digital literacy and education in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Her extensive background in education, administration, not-for-profit leadership, entrepreneurial spirit, and technology innovation provide her with unique skills and vertical networks locally and globally. Dr. Cowin participates fully in the larger world of TESOL academic discipline as elected Vice President and Chair-Elect for the New York State, NYS TESOL organization, for the 2021 conference. Ongoing research, expressed in scholarly contributions to the advancement of knowledge is demonstrated through publications, presentations, and participation in academic conferences, blogging, and other scholarly activities, including public performances and exhibitions at conferences and workshops. Of particular interest to her are The Blockchain of Things and its implications for Higher Education; Current Global Trends in TESOL; Developing Materials and Resources in Teaching English; E-learning; Micro and Macro-Methodologies in TESOL; E-Resources Discovery and Analysis; and Language Acquisition and the Oculus Rift in VR.

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