ERIC Identifier: ED435201
Publication Date: 1999-10-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and
Linguistics Washington DC.
Promoting Successful Transition to the Mainstream: Effective
Instructional Strategies for Bilingual Students. ERIC Digest.
This Digest describes a research and development program being carried out in
transitional bilingual education (TBE) programs at five elementary schools in
the Los Angeles area. The majority of the students in these schools are Latino,
and more than 80% are classified as limited English proficient (LEP) at the time
of enrollment. Since the early 1990s, researchers have been collaborating with
teachers and project advisors to develop, implement, and describe instructional
strategies that significantly improve the chances of these students to make a
successful transition to mainstream English instruction. The transition program
they have developed optimally spans Grades 3 through 5. Grade 3 is considered a
pre-transition year, Grade 4 is Transition I, and Grade 5 is Transition II. The
pre-transition component is designed to emphasize the importance of developing
literacy skills in Spanish and oral language skills in English. The goal is to
have all students performing at grade level in Spanish reading and writing and
at the speech emergence level in oral English by the end of Grade 3, at which
time they qualify for transition and begin English reading and writing while
they continue receiving Spanish language arts.
It should be noted that the passage of California's Proposition 227 in 1998
essentially eliminated many bilingual programs throughout the state, including
the ones with which the researchers have been working. Nevertheless, they are
still investigating the effects of the transition program and its many
components on the language arts achievement of English learners.
LANGUAGE ARTS MODEL
As part of the transition program, 12
specific language arts components have been identified that appear to be
effective. The 12 components fall under three categories: literature studies,
skill building, and other supporting components.
Across all phases of the program, in both Spanish and English language arts,
students study literature. Discussions, writing projects, social studies
content, and supplementary readings are all based on the literary selection
being studied. The experience-text-relationship approach was adapted as the
framework for the literature units. In this approach, the teacher helps students
study the story in relation to their own experiences and to a central theme by
means of ongoing discussions (instructional conversations), writing activities
(literature logs and culminating writing projects), and reading. The metaphor
for this approach to studying literature is weaving (Tharp & Gallimore,
1988). With assistance from the teacher, students weave together new and
existing knowledge, experiences, and concepts. The media for weaving are writing
and discussion. Discussions set up writing assignments, and writings inform
subsequent discussions throughout the course of the literature unit.
Through the recurrent process of individual and social discourse (reading,
writing, and discussing), the study of literature is believed to help students
learn to comprehend text, make connections between the text and their own lives,
and develop more fully formed concepts about the themes addressed in the units.
In terms of English acquisition, the literature units provide substantial
comprehensible language input--language that includes slightly more
sophisticated structures or vocabulary than learners can produce on their own,
but that is understandable within the context in which it is used. The
literature unit becomes a meaningful social context in which words, phrases,
language structures, and concepts are used, acquired, and learned.
Skill Building Components
Literature study needs to be complemented by additional skill-building
components. Students need direct instruction in specific reading comprehension
strategies (e.g., predicting, summarizing, questioning), and they need daily
opportunities to read texts geared to their reading level (assigned independent
reading). Comprehension strategies are presented in 2-week modules in the first
and fourth quarter of the year. The assigned independent reading center runs
throughout the year. Ideally, the center includes materials related to the
literature unit. As part of the weekly dictation program, students study a short
but carefully targeted passage from the literature selection.
English language development through literature (ELD--developed by project
consultant Dolores Beltran) is a daily, 30- to 40-minute oral English program
used in the pre-transition phase. Instruction is delivered to students in small,
homogeneous groups based on their English proficiency level. Lessons and
independent activities are drawn from a particular literature selection. The
focus of lessons and the teachers' talk are geared specifically to students'
production level. ELD through literature is an integral part of the
Other Supporting Components
Teacher read-alouds and pleasure reading are both designed to expose students
to good literature and to support their independent reading behaviors. At all
grades, teachers read to students for approximately 20 minutes at least 3 times
per week. Teacher read-alouds expose students to the language of expert writers
and the fluency of an expert reader, engages them in material they may not yet
be able to read on their own, and introduces them to new authors and genres. In
addition, time each day is devoted to pleasure reading. Students choose their
own books and stories, keep records of their reading, and for those books they
find most interesting, complete short assignments (summaries, synopses, oral
presentations, drawings, etc.). Many Transition 1 teachers use interactive
journals during the first half of the year, when students are making their first
attempts at English writing. The immediate written response from the teacher
provides both emotional support for the students and a highly contextualized and
comprehensible English text for them to read.
STUDYING LITERATURE: FOUR STRATEGIES THAT WORK
the transition programs have used a combination of instructional strategies to
help students strengthen their English language skills and master the academic
content of the literature units. Four strategies that have proved fundamental to
the success of literature study with these students are discussed below.
"Building students' background knowledge"
Building students' background knowledge before and during the literature unit
enables students to better comprehend the vocabulary, content, and themes of the
story. For example, in a unit revolving around Annie and the Old One (Miles,
1971), a story about a Native American girl and her grandmother, students can
learn more about Native American cultures prior to and during their reading of
the story. Teachers can provide information about the geography of the areas
where Native Americans live or about the Native American reverence for nature,
for example, by reading a social studies text that explains the harmony among
animals, humans, and the earth. Supplemental readings can be assigned and groups
of students can make presentations to the class on different aspects of Native
American cultures, such as food, clothing, religion, and art.
"Drawing on students' personal experiences"
By relating parts of the story to students' personal experiences, students
can connect more directly with the story's content and themes. If students are
encouraged to make connections between their personal lives and the characters
in the story, they will be more motivated to continue reading. In the case of
Annie and the Old One, students can write about their relationships with and
feelings for their grandparents or about specific items left to them by older
"Promoting extended discourse through writing and discussion"
Throughout the unit, reading, writing, and discussion activities promote
extended discourse and story comprehension. The instructional conversation
(Goldenberg, 1992/1993; Tharp & Gallimore, 1988) is one component teachers
can use with students to discuss the assigned background reading. Instructional
conversations are dialogues between teacher and students in which the teacher
listens carefully to grasp the students' communicative intent and tailors the
dialogue to meet their emerging understanding. The discussions that arise in
these instructional conversations provide students with ideas to write about in
their literature logs or journals.
In preparing a unit, teachers develop specific log prompts for each chunk of
the literary selection. Prompts might ask students to write about a personal
experience related to the story, elaborate on something that has happened in the
story, or interpret an aspect of the story or theme. Students complete a log
entry at an independent center. Small group discussions typically begin with
some or all students sharing their logs, and new prompts often emerge naturally
from these small group discussions. For example, after a class discussion about
Annie's grandmother's interpretation of death, students can write in their
literature logs about loved ones who have passed away and how they are
remembered. Sharing these experiences with the class will prompt further
discussion, giving the students more language practice and helping generate
ideas for future literature log topics.
"Assisting students in re-reading critical portions of the text"
For critical and challenging parts of the story, students may need reading
assistance from the teacher. Teachers can guide students by breaking a specific
passage down into several key events, making it easier to understand. Teachers
can help students recount what has happened in the story up to a cognitively
challenging point. Reenacting a challenging scene is also helpful. In this way,
students imagine themselves as the characters in the story. There is a critical
scene in Annie and the Old One where the grandmother explains to Annie that
death is a natural part of life. Students can play the roles of Annie and her
grandmother and take turns analyzing and explaining the meaning of each line of
A RESEARCH STUDY
The research project has been working to
identify the effects of various individual program components and clusters of
components to determine which produce the strongest and most reliable effects on
students' learning. The first study was conducted to establish the independent
and combined effects of two of the literature studies components discussed
earlier--literature logs and instructional conversations--on transition and
non-transition students' story comprehension and theme understanding.
In the experiment, students read "Louella's Song" (Greenfield, 1993), a short
story about a 10-year-old girl who pretends to have laryngitis to avoid singing
a solo in a class performance. Louella changes her mind when she realizes how
much the audience--patients at a children's hospital--will appreciate her
singing. The students in the study could identify with Louella, a girl their age
who was nervous about performing in public. The theme of the story, giving of
oneself, presented many ideas for literature log activities and instructional
The first phase of the study involved pretesting and whole-class preparatory
activities. Students wrote essays on what they knew or thought about giving. A
few days later, teachers introduced "Louella's Song" to the students, reading
the first page aloud. The students then read the rest of the story on their own.
They were tested on the details of the story and were asked to answer five
questions that called for text-based interpretations of story events. They were
also asked to explain the concept of giving ("What does it mean to be a giving
person?") and to provide an example of giving ("Describe a time when someone was
very giving toward you.").
The students were divided into two groups, one with 64 limited English
proficient (LEP) students and one with 52 fluent- English-proficient (FEP)
students. Within each group, students were further divided into four subgroups:
(a) those who only read and studied the story (control group), (b) those who
used only literature logs, (c) those who used only instructional conversations,
and (d) those who used literature logs and instructional conversations.
Teachers asked the students who were assigned to groups with literature logs
to write about personal experiences like Louella's, either a time when they were
supposed to do something in front of a group of people or a time when others
were giving toward them. Students also read aloud from their literature logs to
their classmates. In the instructional conversation lessons, teachers clarified
the events of the story through discussion and helped students understand the
concept of giving. All students, however, read and studied the story
independently and completed worksheets summarizing it.
At the end of the unit, students were tested again on their factual and
interpretive comprehension of the story using the same measures that were used
in the pretest. The researchers found that when teachers used both literature
logs and instructional conversations with the LEP fourth and fifth graders, the
students understood the story better than when teachers used only one of the
techniques. For the FEP students, however, the combined effects of literature
logs and instructional conversations were not significantly greater than the
effect of a single approach. In addition, the effects of instructional
conversations alone were somewhat more significant than the effects of
literature logs alone for both LEP and FEP students.
These results suggest that for English language learners, teachers should use
both instructional conversations and literature logs, because the combined
effect is stronger than the effect of using either component individually. For
fluent English proficient students, specifically for theme understanding, both
are not needed. Teachers could use one or the other, although instructional
conversation would be the more efficient choice given its apparent comprehension
Teachers see transition instruction as requiring
a wide range of components, from skill building to the study of literature.
However, they often lack information on the most effective strategies for
working with transition students or clear evidence that points to the effects of
various components on student learning. The project discussed here offers
teachers insight into instructional activities that have a measurable and
meaningful impact on student achievement. Compared to the typical transition
program in the same district, this transition program has produced significantly
higher levels of Spanish literacy achievement at Grades 3 and 4 and English
literacy achievement at Grade 5, as measured by standardized performance-based
assessments. Evaluation studies of the benefit of such literacy instruction
suggest that the program has provided students with a demonstrably successful
Goldenberg, C. (1992/1993). Instructional
conversations: Promoting comprehension through discussion. "The Reading Teacher,
Greenfield, E. (1993). Louella's song. In J. Pikulski (Sr. Author),
Dinosauring [fourth grade reader] (pp. 430-436). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Miles, M. (1971). "Annie and the old one." Boston: Little, Brown.
Tharp, R., & Gallimore, R. (1988). "Rousing minds to life: Teaching,
learning and schooling in social context." Cambridge: Cambridge University
This Digest is drawn from two reports published by the Center for Research on
Education, Diversity & Excellence: "The Effects of Instructional
Conversations and Literature Logs on the Story Comprehension and Thematic
Understanding of English Proficient and Limited English Proficient Students"
(Saunders & Goldenberg, 1999); and "Successful Transition into Mainstream
English: Effective Strategies for Studying Literature" (Saunders, O'Brien,
Lennon, & McLean, 1999).