The following case study is a paper I submitted to the graduate faculty of Southeast Missouri State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts in TESOL degree.
This case study investigates what an individual struggling student’s reading difficulties are and how to remedy these difficulties. Steven (whose name has been changed for anonymity) is a second grade English language learner living in central Taiwan whose English reading ability is far below his classmates. Qualitative data was gathered through surveys, screenings and diagnostic reading tests. Information gathered from these tests helped pinpoint what this struggling student’s reading difficulties are. Using this information a series of teaching strategies are suggested to better meet this student’s instructional needs. One such strategy is differentiated instruction which varies rates of instruction, rates of complexity, and use of support systems to better meet the instructional needs of all learners. Explicit instruction using several research-backed strategies to teach phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension while addressing reading motivation are also essential to closing the reading performance gap for all readers.
Last fall my grades one through four English language learners in central Taiwan began writing to their ELL pen pals in southeast Missouri. The slideshow below is just a sample of the more than 40 letters that are sent at a time between our students. The project has been met with a lot of enthusiasm on both sides of the Pacific! On my side I’ve noticed my students have been highly motivated to put a lot of effort into their work and frequently ask for updates about whether or not their letters have been received and how much longer I expect for new letters to arrive.
I use this technique with my pre-k and kindergarten students. My elementary school aged bodily-kinesthetic learners also respond well to this technique. Arm blending helps students develop phonemic awareness. Arm blending involves sweeping one arm down the length of the other as words are being pronounced (Fox, 2000). For example: the teacher’s hand starts on his or her shoulders and the student mimics. For the word scrape the teacher says, “S-C-R, S-C-R, /skr/ /skr/ /skr/” and the student echos. Then, the teacher moves their hand to their elbow and says, “A-E, A-E, /ā/ /ā/ /ā/” and the student echos. Afterwards, the teacher moves their hand to their wrist and says, “P, P, /p/ /p/ /p/” and the student echos. Finally, the teacher and student move their hands to their shoulders and say the whole word while moving down to their wrists, “/skr/ ! /ā/ ! /p/ ! scrape!”
Fox, B. J. (2000). Word identification strategies: Phonics from a new perspective (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.
As an ESL instructor, rarely do we have an entire class period that does not have time devoted to direct vocabulary instruction or guided practice. This emphasis on vocabulary acquisition is necessary for my students to comprehend text. Every student comes to school with a different sized word bank and varying levels of word knowledge. Through instruction, we can grow our students’ vocabulary base of known words. There are many strategies educators can use to help students learn content area language.
The first step is choosing words to teach. Our content area textbooks contain boxes of key words that we should focus our attention on. Since most of my classroom’s textbooks are designed for students whose first language is English, there are often additional words throughout each chapter that also require direct instruction. It is essential to select words that are important for understanding a reading selection or concept and words that are generally useful to know and likely to be often encountered in reading.
I frequently teach new vocabulary words through directive context and using the Talk Through technique. We can give students a rich understanding of new vocabulary by connecting with students’ lives to make complicated concepts within reach of our learners. Providing opportunities to encounter vocabulary words frequently and in more than one context is also essential for learning vocabulary (Diamond & Gutlohn, 2017). This could be accomplished through field trips, the use of different mediums, and by using a variety of practice exercises. The use of semantic gradients can help students distinguish the between the meanings of related words and help students (Wolfe, 2016). I find that these help my students become more imaginative in their writing and help them grow out of using tired words. Guiding students to classify and categorize vocabulary words helps students understand word relationships so that a new word becomes known.
Language Skill/Content: Reading and writing – allows students to develop an understanding of parts of speech, syntax, semantics, synonyms, and antonyms.
Level: Novice to Advanced
Preparation Time: Minimal
Implementation Time: About ten minutes
Teaching Materials/Equipment: Paper
Procedures: Students and teacher sit in a circle at a table or move desks to create a circle. Can be done with small or large groups. Teacher asks students to write a sentence. Students pass their papers to the right, read the previous writer’s sentence, and rewrite the sentence changing one word. Once the papers have rotated all the way back to their original owner. The teacher or students can read their first and last sentences on their papers. Teachers can use this activity to assess their students’ understanding of parts of speech, syntax, semantics, synonyms, and antonyms.
Options: Lower-ability students may benefit from partnering with a higher-ability student, a teacher, or teacher’s aid.
Adapted From: Gipe, J. P. (2014). Multiple paths to literacy: assessment and differentiated instruction for diverse learners, K-12. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
The following is a case study of a student with reading difficulties. It is a portion of my final project for Marygrove College’s Reading 510 – Reading Diagnosis and Differentiated Instruction for Diverse Learners which I took during winter 2017. I utilized a variety of formal and informal literacy assessment tools to provide information that was useful in planning effective strategies to better meet my struggling student’s instructional needs.
Emma (name changed for confidentiality) is a ten year old student at Yan-Feng Elementary School in Caotun Township, Nantou County. After school, she receives English instruction at U-Best Educational Institute. I chose to work with Emma for this course because over the last few months I have observed her mumbling difficult words when reading aloud, she often asks me or her classmates how to spell high-frequency words when writing, and she looks unhappy when presented with large blocks of text to read.
One activity that my students really enjoy is creating their own comic book pages to summarize chapters in our class readers. For my beginner to lower-intermediate level students I supply the narration boxes and have the students create their own artwork along with speech bubbles and thought clouds. I find that my mid to upper-intermediate level English language learners have no difficulty deciding what to write in their own narration boxes. At the end of the reader, students use their chapter summaries to create their own graphic novels.
During a discussion of teaching techniques, a classmate of mine shared Senora Holeman’s blank iPhone texting template. There are several similar templates out there but hers is free. The photo above contains a few slight modifications I made to the original design so there’s only one template per page making it better fit my printing needs. These templates can be used in a variety of activities, such as:
Conversations between story characters
After reading a short story in The Real McCoy and Other Ghost Stories about a ghost that used instant messages to encourage the main character to follow her dream, I had my third grade ELLs use texting templates to create their own conversations.
Skimming and scanning are two rapid reading techniques. Anyone teaching young or weak readers will notice that they tend to read every word. Skimming and scanning are essential techniques for learners to develop as they become more proficient readers. Scanning is fast reading used to find the answers to questions while skimming is fast reading to find the general idea of a text.
A good way to illustrate to students the importance of these techniques is to ask them to find a word in the dictionary. Any student with basic dictionary skills will first flip till he or she finds the page with the correct first letter, followed by looking for the entry based on the guide words, followed by scanning the page for the correct word. Unless students have no experience using a dictionary, they will very unlikely start reading the first page to find the definition of the word preposterous.
Students can probably think of other times that they skim or scan material outside of school: movie times, restaurant menus, troubleshooting guides, ect.
Here are a few techniques from Gipe’s Multiple Paths to Literacy: Assessment and Differentiated Instruction for Diverse Learners, K-12 that I have found useful for helping students develop scanning and skimming:
Give students menus and ask them to find items that cost below a certain amount of money.
Ask students find a certain number of verbs (or another part of speech) from a passage within a certain amount of time and continually decrease the amount of time or increase the number of words they need to find with each practice.
Grab books from the library and have students skim the books then share the general idea with a group.
Give students questions they need to answer from the classified section of a newspaper. For example: How much does a 2006 Dodge Stratus cost? Or what is the cheapest riding lawnmower available?
Prepare questions related to the table of contents or the index in a content area book. For example, which page has information about Eugene Debs?