Maria's story is not unlike many ESL students' stories. When I met her, she had been in the public school system for 4 years already and could not read English.
I started working with Maria when she was in the 3rd grade. She did not speak English very well even though she had been born in the United States. She had attended Head Start and kindergarten in this same school district. She was being pulled from the classroom 2 hours a day into an ESL classroom where the teacher spoke Spanish.
I volunteered for a project called "Everybody Reads." This program matched volunteers to students in the public school setting who were having difficulty reading. I would go to the school once a week and have lunch with Maria. While she ate lunch, I read to her so that she could hear the English language and hopefully absorb it.
I could see right away that if she was to become a successful reader, the approach would have to be different than what was already being done with her in the classroom. I decided to start teaching her the same way I taught my LD students and struggling learners. I used the Orton-Gillingham method. Maria couldn't say the alphabet. She couldn't recognize the written letters or their sounds.
I started reading alphabet books with her to teach her the sounds of the letters. I taught her to write the corresponding letters. This helped develop her alphabetic principal.
After about 3 months, she was able to blend letters together to make words like dog, cat, and pig. I continued teaching her with a systematic, multisensory method. She progressed through decodable books into I Can Read Books and finally into chapter books.
As we read the alphabet books, the I Can Read Books, and the chapter books, I helped her build her
background knowledge by asking her questions. This also helped increase her comprehension.
At the end of 5th grade, she was reading at a 3rd grade level. She comprehended at grade level. REMEMBER, she didn't speak English at home. In fact, she was trying to teach her parents English using the worksheets that I gave her.
I met with Maria for three years, but only thirty minutes a week. For this short of time, Maria did very well. She was determined to succeed. The program stopped when she went to middle school, 6th grade. I don't know what happened to her in middle school. But if she continued to progress like she did in elementary school, then I'm sure she had minimal reading problems in the coming years.
Do you have a similar story to tell? If you do,
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