The Science of Reading for Adolescent MLs

Margarita Calderón, Ph.D.

While others argue about the science of reading, those of us that have adapted, adjusted, and tested the basics of reading (phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, decoding, vocabulary, spelling, reading comprehension) for many years in ML classrooms find that the merging of the “dichotomous reading sciences” has been the best approach. Combining structures of language (phonics), meaning plus comprehension skills, and love of reading enables MLs to develop their natural abilities to read. Newcomers, Students with Interrupted Formal Education, highly gifted, Long-term ELs will accelerate their reading skills when we acknowledge that each unique student requires different types of support for the different components of vocabulary, discourse, and the many processes of literacy, including writing. 

Some Similarities and Differences Within and Between Literacy Development

Skills for Adolescent MLs

ELs/EBs/MLsReading for adolescents
There is a range of language proficiencies (WIDA or other proficiency tests) and a range of literacy levels (mainly left untested with formal valid reading assessments)One-size reading interventions/ESL/ELD classes do not work for the diversity of ML’s proficiencies and reading skills (not those tested with speed reading tests or levels of reading).
MLs are doing triple duty: learning language, literacy and content in all subjects.MLs need to read in all subject areas and teachers need to point out the specific reading features and structures of their subject.
Some come to school knowing how to decode in any language; others have limited or no formal reading instruction and lack foundational reading skills.Code-focused instruction (or phonics) is important for learning about letter sounds, patterns, and word structures, plus pronunciation.
Some can use basic language for communicating but not for academic discourse.Meaning-focused instruction consists of vocabulary, communication patterns, text structure, genre, and academic discourse strategies.
No two ELs/MLs are the same.One ML might need more foundational strategies, another more vocabulary, others comprehension skills, and others more opportunities to choose what they want to read.

Integrating vocabulary, decoding, reading comprehension and content learning is the key to accelerating the diverse MLs learning opportunities. Teachers with MLs in their classrooms can have tools and access to professional development to revisit skills to teach reading in their core content areas ( ExC-ELL combines both code-breaking and meaning breaking, along with knowledge-building and strategy instruction. It builds a teacher’s capacity instead of having to follow materials or curricula that exemplify the ‘one-size fits all’ archaic tradition.

Yes, it does take time. Some secondary educators prefer to jump right into comprehension but many of their students need the other half of the science of reading. Fortunately, district and school administrators who understand the importance are finally coming to the conclusion that this is the only way