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The Development of Young Learners’ Reading Skills – Part 2 | Cambridge ConversationsCambridge Conversations

Natilly McCartney continues to explore the scaffolding strategies that EAL children used with older and monolingual pupils in her collaborative reading task study. In this second post, she offers further insights and explores how teachers can develop young learners’ scaffolding and reading comprehension. 

The study
This article follows a previous article, in which I introduced the research project I carried out as part of my Master’s degree in research in second language education. In my study, I explored the scaffolding strategies that children with English as an Additional Language (EAL), and monolingual children with English as a first language, use in a collaborative reading task. I paired an EAL pupil with either an older EAL pupil, or an older monolingual pupil, and I recorded the children as they read together. Underlying my research was the belief that literacy should not only be viewed as a set of skills, but also as a social practice, meaning that the role of a reader’s lived experience plays an important role in comprehension.

The issue with comprehension
I previously discussed how the EAL pupils in my study demonstrated a heightened awareness to the form of language, compared to their monolingual peers. In this article, I want to discuss the finding that the EAL children in my sample displayed lower levels of comprehension.

If learners of English have had limited exposure to English language and culture, then their comprehension is likely to lag behind their ability to decode because comprehension requires a reader to draw on their lived experiences. To overcome this difficulty, teachers can ask questions in class to help learners better understand the main idea of a text. For example, you can ask questions about the subject of a sentence and its action, and ask about additional details such as objects, colour, movement, and the ‘five w’s’, including when and where. With young learners, you may want to begin with asking questions for each sentence in a story, and then gradually build up to asking about paragraphs, pages and eventually whole texts. If children are struggling to answer questions, then you can model answers.

Reading profiles and activities for the classroom
An interesting finding in my study was that the EAL pupils provided more positive reinforcement than the monolingual children. Offering positive reinforcement is qualitatively different to the other strategies I identified because it requires children to not only monitor their partner’s errors, but also to identify words which are read correctly. This suggests that ‘criticality’ is a factor which influences children’s performance in a collaborative reading task.

In addition to criticality, I found that other factors, including the children’s previous reading experiences, their perceptions and beliefs about reading, knowledge of reading, personalities, and language awareness, also influenced the strategies the children use. This highlights that children’s ability to scaffold is not solely based on an increased reading ability. I grouped the factors together to form what I have labelled a ‘reading profile’. I believe that the reading profile can help us determine what children will focus on in a collaborative reading task. For example, whether they will focus on form or comprehension, on errors, or correct reading.

The factors underlying the reading profile are important for teachers to consider. They can help teachers make informed decisions when pairing students together, and maximise the effectiveness of a collaborative reading activity in the English classroom. For example, based on what teachers know about their students, they can pair a reader who can decode well with a reader who has better comprehension skills, and consider how a child may support another student’s reading in English by asking questions such as, will they offer positive praise?

How can teachers develop students’ scaffolding abilities?
Teachers can shape children’s scaffolding by modelling effective scaffolding strategies to them whilst listening to them read. You may help a child with reading by repeating a word they have misread, asking them to reread a word, or pointing them back to a misread word. In fact, these are some of the most common scaffolding strategies that were used by the children in my study.

Alternatively, instead of modelling, you may prefer to teach scaffolding strategies to students more explicitly. You can explain to students how to help another student with reading by discussing different strategies with them, and explaining how to prompt a reader with a sound in a target word, or help a reader sound out a word.

A key finding in my study is that we should draw our student’s attention to the importance of comprehension whilst reading. We can do this by encouraging students to define any words they think their partner may not know. You may want to teach scaffolding strategies to students as a class, or one-to-one. Either way, a fun practice activity you can do with your students is to have them practice their new scaffolding strategies with you, or a partner, via role plays.

It is important to bear in mind that helping another child read will come naturally to many children, however, some children may feel too shy to correct their peer’s reading. To overcome this, we can encourage students to recognise and praise correctly read words, as well as identify errors. This will make collaborative reading in your classroom a positive learning experience for all students.

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