ERIC Identifier: ED333621
Publication Date: 1991-05-00
Author: Ruiz, Nadine T.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children
Effective Instruction for Language Minority Children
with Mild Disabilities. ERIC Digest #E499.
This digest describes the Optimal Learning Environment (OLE) Curriculum--a
Resource for Teachers of Spanish Speaking Children developed to suggest
ways of teaching language arts to such students and to suggest specific
classroom activities that are compatible with the research on effective
instruction. This bilingual special education class model looks for the
upper range of the bilingual child's academic, linguistic, and social skills
(Ruiz, 1988). The following principles govern the OLE curriculum:
TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE STUDENT'S SOCIOCULTURAL BACKGROUND AND ITS
EFFECT ON ORAL LANGUAGE, READING AND WRITING, AND SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNING.
The following four areas have been identified as important to children
from language minority groups: oral language uses, knowledge about print,
background knowledge, and sense of story (Anderson & Gipe, 1983; Barnitz,
1986; Hudelson, 1984, 1987; Steffensen & Calken, 1982).
Oral Language Uses. Some children arrive at school already familiar
with the use of language in a decontextualized manner, that is, dissociated
from shared experience and dependent on precise linguistic formulations
(Cummins, 1981; Olson & Nickerson, 1978; Wells, 1981). For example,
they may come from homes where books were introduced and discussed at an
early age; their parents may have modeled, scaffolded, and elicited their
narratives about real and fictional events. Children from families with
few outside links, however, may not have sufficient experience with specific,
precise, topic-centered language to function effectively in a typical language
arts curriculum (Au & Jordon, 1981). Educators should not categorize
these children as having language disabilities; rather, they should recognize
that a sociocultural factor has influenced the children's verbal performance
and has pinpointed the area that must be addressed by oral language instruction
in the classroom.
Knowledge About Print. Another area of sociocultural influence is the
knowledge about print that children bring to school literacy tasks. Children
begin learning to read and write before they start school and begin to
learn letter-sound correspondences. Very early on, they may learn why Dad
writes a list before he does the grocery shopping (functions of print);
where Mama looks to start to read the storybook (book conventions); and
how to read "McDonald's" or "K mart" from commercial signs (environmental
print). Research has shown that knowledge in these and similar areas related
to print is a precursor to conventional reading.
Background Knowledge. A third aspect of literacy instruction that is
directly influenced by sociocultural differences is background knowledge.
Studies with second language learners show that when they read texts congruent
with their background knowledge (for example, when Indian students read
about a wedding in India rather than a wedding in the United States), they
read it faster, recall both the gist and the details better, and summarize
or retell it better (Barnitz, 1986; Steffensen, Joag-dev, & Anderson,
1979). Another study shows that second language learners with limited English
proficiency can do as well as more proficient students on reading comprehension
tasks when they do prereading activities that activate and extend the background
knowledge pertinent to the tasks.
Sense of Story. The final sociocultural influence on reading and writing
involves the development of a sense of story or narrative schema, that
is, an internal sense of the usual components of a story: setting, main
character(s), problem, attempts to resolve the problem, character reactions
to the attempts, and resolution (Stein & Nezworski, 1978). An optimal
learning environment would have children reading (and listening to) a variety
of well-formed stories.
TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE STUDENT'S LEARNING HANDICAPS AND HOW THEY MAY
AFFECT ORAL LANGUAGE, READING, WRITING, AND SECOND LANGUAGE, LEARNING.
In an OLE classroom, the teacher would not stop with involving the children
in prereading activities to access and develop their background knowledge.
The teacher would explain the importance of knowing as much as possible
about a text before reading it; demonstrate a strategy such as the survey
text method (Aukerman, 1972), which students can use to prepare themselves
before they read a text; and provide opportunities for the students to
practice the strategy.
FOLLOW DEVELOPMENTAL PROCESSES IN LITERACY ACQUISITION.
The OLE Curriculum Guide calls for language arts instruction that acknowledges
the importance of developmental phases of literacy acquisition in a number
of ways. First, teachers should give students the time they need to develop
their knowledge about reading and writing in highly interactive literacy
events. Second, student errors in their reading and writing attempts should
not automatically be viewed as "bad habits" (Flores, Rueda, & Porter,
1986). Instead, teachers should examine the errors for evidence of what
children can do, as evidence of their progress through developmental phases.
Finally, teachers should realize that a curriculum that does not provide
the rich language and literacy environment described here is an impoverished
curriculum that will promote impoverished learners.
LOCATE CURRICULUM IN A MEANINGFUL CONTEXT WHERE THE COMMUNICATIVE
PURPOSE IS CLEAR AND AUTHENTIC.
One important way to encourage "meaning making" among children is to
engage them in reading and writing whole texts instead of text fragments
removed from context (Altwerger, Edelsky, & Flores, 1987). The OLE
Curriculum Guide recommends that, in reading lessons, students be encouraged
to interact with whole books, poems, and other forms of written language
as a way to facilitate meaning making. For writing, teachers should use
the Writing Workshop approach described by Atwell (1987). Here, students
have control over intentions, topic, and audience as they write and publish
their own books. Classmates should meet frequently for peer conferences
on their pieces, simultaneously stimulating their need to be clear and
interesting writers and providing alternative oral language opportunities.
CONNECT CURRICULUM WITH THE STUDENTS' PERSONAL EXPERIENCES.
Many students show greater progress or increased investment when reading
and writing tasks give them the opportunity to interject their personal
experiences (Au & Jordan, 1981; Flores et al., 1986; Willig & Swedo,
1987). The OLE Curriculum Guide gives specific suggestions on how to connect
students' personal topics to the language arts curriculum by using the
Writing Workshop and the ETR method, for example.
INCORPORATE CHILDREN'S LITERATURE INTO READING, WRITING, AND ESL
Using actual examples of literature can extend students' knowledge about
print (including the more sophisticated aspects of this knowledge, such
as text structure or style), increase areas of their background knowledge,
and facilitate the construction of meaning through whole texts. Literature,
even more than expository writing, is decontextualized; that is, its clues
to meaning are more implicit than explicit. Second language learners working
through literary works must negotiate the meaning, not only between themselves
and the text, but also with others. These negotiating moves (e.g., checks
for understanding, requests for clarification) have been linked to better
INVOLVE PARENTS AS ACTIVE PARTNERS IN THE INSTRUCTION OF THEIR CHILDREN.
The OLE Curriculum Guide details various ways to promote equitable parent-school
partnerships. One is Project TOT (Training of Trainers), in which parents
from language minority groups who are knowledgeable about the inner workings
of schools join with families who do not use the available special education
services. The families participate in small-group seminars to acquire information
and skills related to obtaining those services, as well as forming ongoing
Altwerger, B., Edelsky, C., & Fores, M. (1987). Whole language:
What's new? The Reading Teacher, 41, 144-154. EJ 360638.
Anderson, B. V., & Gipe, J. P. (1983). Creativity as a mediating
variable in inferential reading comprehension. Reading Psychology, 4, 313-325.
Atwell, N. (1987). In the middle: Writing, reading and learning with
adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Au, K., & Jordan, C. (1981). Teaching reading to Hawaiian children:
Finding a culturally appropriate solution. In H. T. Trueba, G. P. Guthrie,
& K. H. Au (Eds.), Culture and the bilingual classroom: Studies in
classroom ethnography (pp. 139-152). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Aukerman, R. C. (1972). Reading in the secondary classroom. New York:
Barnitz, J. G. (1986). Toward understanding the effects of cross-cultural
schemata and discourse structure on second language reading comprehension.
Journal of Reading Behavior, 18, 95-113. EJ 393481.
Cummins, J. (1981). The role of primary language development in promoting
educational success for language minority students. In Schooling and language
minority students: A theoretical framework (pp. 3-49). Los Angeles: California
State University, Evaluation, Dissemination and Assessment Center.
Flores, B., Rueda, R., & Porter, B. (1986). Examining assumptions
and instructional practices related to the acquisition of literacy with
bilingual special education students. In A. Willig & H. Greenberg (Eds.),
Bilingualism and learning disabilities (pp. 149-165). New York: American
Hudelson, S. (1984). Kan yo ret an rayt in Ingles: Children become literate
in English as a second language. TESOL Quarterly, 18, 221-238. EJ 302884.
Hudelson, S. (1987). The role of native language literacy in the education
of language minority children. Language Arts, 64, 827-841. EJ 363334.
Olson, D. R., & Nickerson, N. (1978). Language development through
the school years: Learning to confine interpretation to the information
in the text. In K. E. Nelson (Ed.), Children's language (Vol. 1, pp. 117-169).
New York: Gardner.
Ruiz, N. T. (1988). Language for learning in a bilingual special education
classroom. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Stanford University.
Steffensen, M. S., & Calken, L. (1982). The effect of cultural knowledge
on memory and language. (Tech. Rep. No. 248). Champaign: University of
Illinois, Center for the Study of Reading. ED 217405.
Steffensen, M. S., Joag-dev, C., & Anderson, R. C. (1979). A cross-cultural
perspective on reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 15, 10-29.
Stein, N., & Nezworski, T. (1978). The effects of organization and
instructional set on story memory. Discourse Processes, 1, 177-193.
Wells, G. (1981). Learning through interaction. Cambridge, England:
Cambridge University Press.
Willig, A., & Swedo, J. (1987, April). Improving teaching strategies
for exceptional Hispanic limited English proficient students: An exploratory
study of task engagement and teaching strategies. Paper presented at the
annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington,
This digest is based on "An Optimal Learning Environment for Rosemary,"
by Nadeen T. Ruiz, which appeared in Exceptional Children, Vol. 56, No.
2 (October 1989).