Language-based literacy intervention for bilingual students

1.png

Academic texts become increasingly challenging in elementary school. By 4th and 5th grade, students have typically established decoding and word recognition skills, but reading comprehension can cause major breakdowns. We know language skills play a HUGE role in reading comprehension, so when the authors of this study designed a reading intervention for bilingual students that targets academic vocabulary, syntax, and morphology— it made perfect sense to us.

The Comprehension, Linguistic Awareness, and Vocabulary in English and Spanish intervention (CLAVES) had positive effects on academic vocabulary and reading comprehension for Portuguese–English and Spanish–English bilingual students in 4th and 5th grades with varying reading abilities. Each of the three instructional units—nature, rights, and immigration—were based on English language arts and social studies texts.

Over the course of 39 sessions (three 13-session cycles), students were instructed in: comprehension and vocabulary, morphology, syntax, writing (planning, drafting and revising, and publishing), interspersed with group discussions (see article for precise schedule).

Check out the appendix of the article for the texts, session goals, and activities used in the study. Here are some examples of activities from the immigration unit:

  • “Facilitate reading of Home at Last with questioning, inferencing, and summarizing.” (comprehension)

  • “Review the text and vocabulary and introduce new words: assimilate and immersion.” (vocabulary)

    • Example task: word webs

  • “Guide the morphology activity in which students identify, analyze, and construct words with -tion/-ation and -sion.” (morphology)

    • Example task: create sentences with constructed words

  • “Guide students to play a sentence combining game in which they practice generating compound sentences given two clause cards and one conjunction card. Encourage students to create sentences using their constructed words.” (syntax)

  • “Guide students to write an article for a local or student newspaper.” (writing)

Of course in the real world we want to use the texts and themes our students are encountering in their own classroom. Still, the many examples in the appendix and throughout the article would be helpful when developing the individualized instruction our students need.

While we think SLPs could totally take this and run with it in therapy, another great thing about this intervention is that it was designed by teacher educators. So this article could make an awesome conversation starter with teachers about literacy instruction for bilingual students in your school—and how you might be a resource as the vocabulary, morphology, and syntax expert!

NOTE: You can also see an example of the curriculum and activities at the CLAVES website!

Proctor, C. P., Silverman, R. D., Harring, J. R., Jones, R. L., Hartranft, A. M. (2019). Teaching bilingual learners: Effects of a language-based reading intervention on academic language and reading comprehension in grades 4 and 5. Reading Research Quarterly. doi: 10.1002/rrq.258.

Shifting and switching from Spanish to English

5.png

In the US, children who speak Spanish at home often begin learning English when they start school, and their dominant language shifts from Spanish to English over time. To get a better idea of how this happens, the authors of this study looked at the change in grammatical accuracy (percent grammatical utterances or PGU*) in Spanish and English narrative retells from kindergarten to second grade.  

As expected, children’s PGU in English went up over time, while PGU in Spanish went down. The researchers compared children in bilingual (English–Spanish) vs. English-only classrooms. For children in bilingual classrooms, the decrease in Spanish PGU was slower, but the increase in English PGU was slightly slower also.  

The researchers also looked at a subgroup of the children who had lower PGU in Spanish at the outset. They called this group “low grammaticality” because they didn’t have enough measures to confidently diagnose developmental language disorder (DLD). Children in this group showed a different pattern, with Spanish PGU holding steady for those in bilingual classrooms, suggesting that they benefited from bilingual teaching.

For a brief time (around age 8), English and Spanish PGU scores for the low grammaticality group looked similar to the rest of the children, which means that if we assessed them at this point, we might not be able to tell who does and doesn’t have DLD. The authors encourage us to assess children in their home language early on, before this shift happens.

So as if assessing English language learners wasn’t hard enough, we also need to consider the type of instruction children are getting and their skills in each language over time.  Ideally, we’d assess children in their home language right when they start school. When that’s not possible, dynamic assessment might help us to differentiate language disorders from normal language dominance shifting during the early school years. For other resources on diagnosing DLD in English language learners, see reviews here, here, and here.

 

*Remember that higher PGU means more accurate use of grammar.

Castilla-Earls, A., Francis, D., Iglesias, A., & Davidson, K. (2019). The impact of the Spanish-to-English proficiency shift on the grammaticality of English learners. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi: 10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-18-0324.

No FRILLS literacy training for Latinx families

6.png

Calling all bilingual SLPs! Working with families from diverse backgrounds requires SLPs with equally-as-diverse approaches to family training. Mesa and Restrepo investigated the best methods to support literacy for low-income, Latinx families and their preschool-aged children. Traditional literacy intervention doesn’t necessarily vibe with the beliefs and practices of these families. This study attempted to bridge that gap by implementing an intervention in Spanish that would empower families to actively engage in language and literacy experiences at home. They termed it the Family Reading Intervention for Language and Literacy in Spanish (FRILLS).

Some of the key aspects of this program include:

  • Use of family’s native language (Spanish)

  • Explicit discussion with families about their current beliefs and practices

  • Weekly modeling, coaching, and practicing new strategies

  • Explicit teaching of appropriate comments, high level questions, and recasts

  • Using ideas and words the parents wanted to use

  • Videotaped “homework” to increase carryover 

After seven weeks of intervention, Latinx mothers showed increased use of commenting and high level questions. During post-intervention book reading sessions, children spoke more, took more conversational turns, and used more different words. Informally, the authors reported that the Latinx mothers were enthusiastic and successful throughout the intervention, which they attributed to the use of their native language and practices that were intuitive and matched with their cultural beliefs about reading. An approach worth trying with your Latinx families!

 

Mesa, C., & Restrepo, M.A. (2019). Effects of a family literacy program for latino parents: Evidence from a single-subject design. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. doi:10.1044/2018_LSHSS-18-0035.

Spanish and English in the classroom: Does it matter?

In this study of nearly 2000 dual-language learners (almost all Latinx) ages 18 months to age 5, in Educare/Headstart programs across the U.S., the researchers asked—does classroom language matter?

The language of children in three classroom types were compared:

  • English w/ No Spanish

  • English w/ Some Spanish

  • English & Spanish

The researchers found that all three classrooms supported English growth, but the English + Spanish classroom best supported Spanish growth.

The authors state, “… DLL children learn English at equal (and advanced) rates regardless of L2 classroom exposure, when in high-quality classrooms”, and thus “… Spanish use in the classroom at varying levels does not impede English acquisition.” And, basically, to support Spanish growth, we may need more balanced bilingual instruction.

Surprising to most Informed SLPs? Probably not. But this is a great article to share with others if you’re trying to explain the impact of dual language instruction.

 

Raikes, H. H., White, L., Green, S., Burchinal, M., Kainz, K., Horm, D., ... Esteraich, J. (2019). Use of the home language in preschool classrooms and first- and second-language development among dual-language learners. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2018.06.012

A one–two punch for assessing young Spanish–English learners

Do you serve pre-K or kindergarten-aged kids? Are some/lots/all of them from Hispanic backgrounds and learning Spanish AND English? Mandatory reading right here, friends!

So—a major issue for young, dual-language learners? Appropriate language assessments. We talk about it a lot (plus here, here, here, and here, to name a few). In this new study, the authors compared a handful of assessments to see which could most accurately classify 4- and 5-year-olds (all Mexican–American and dual-language learners) as having typical vs. disordered language.

2.png

The single measure with the best diagnostic accuracy was two subtests of the Bilingual English-Spanish Assessment (BESA)—Morphosyntax and Semantics (the third subtest is phonology, which they didn’t use here). But to get even more accurate? Like, sensitivity of 100% and specificity of about 93%? Add in a story retell task (they used Frog, Where Are You?). Sample both Spanish and English, and take the better MLUw of the two. This BESA + MLU assessment battery outperformed other options in the mix (English and Spanish CELF-P2, plus a composite of the two, a parent interview, and a dynamic vocab assessment).

Not familiar with the BESA? It’s a newer test, designed—as the name implies—specifically for children who are bilingual, with different versions (not translated) of subtests in each language. If you give a subtest in both languages, you use the one with the highest score. And before you ask—yes, the test authors believe that monolingual SLPs can administer the BESA, given preparation and a trained assistant.

Now, the researchers here don’t include specific cut scores to work with on these assessments, but you can look at Table 2 in the paper and see the score ranges for the typical vs. disordered language groups. They also note that an MLUw of 4 or less can be a red flag for this group.

The major issue with this study, affecting our ability to generalize what it tells us, is that the sample size was really small—just 30 kids total. So, take these new results on board, but don’t override all that other smart stuff you know about assessing dual-language learners (see our links above for some refreshers if needed). And keep an eye out for more diagnostic studies down the road—you know we’ll point them out when they come!

 

Lazewnik, R., Creaghead, N. A., Smith, A. B., Prendeville, J.-A., Raisor-Becker, L., & Silbert, N. (2018). Identifiers of Language Impairment for Spanish-English Dual Language Learners. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. Advance online publication.  https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_LSHSS-17-0046