The effects of guided reading on English as Second Language Student’s oral and reading comprehension achievement

Introduction

The desire to obtain a better education has led to many foreign students attending schools in the United States.  As a result, there are huge amount of English as secondary language (ESL) students in certain regions of the country, for example in New York City.  This can lead to very different and valuable educational experiences for both teachers and students. Many educators do not have enough information regarding the most successful teaching strategies currently used to teach ESL students in a language other than their native tongue.  There have been a number of research studies over the last decade which have explored the learning styles, educational experiences, and academic outcomes of ESL students, especially in relation to reading fluency and other forms of literacy (Wang & Aldridge, 2007). 

Lyons (2003) stated it is critical that teachers who plan classroom curriculum become more sensitive to the relationship between ESL students’ ability to understand what they read and their ability to speak the language clearly.  This can help educators and school administrators develop the best educational policies and teaching strategies.  It could also help them identify the unique needs of ESL students and determine the best way to integrate the students into mainstream classrooms.  Research conducted by Tadesse, Hoot, and Watson-Thomson (2009) suggested that a small number of ESL students can read adequately in English, even if they cannot speak it well.  However, other studies have discovered that not all students who speak English well have enough reading skills.  According to Ford and Optiz (2001), guided reading instruction can help children develop the skills they need to become independent readers.  In addition, it can also be very helpful in giving ESL students the knowledge, confidence, and skills necessary for English proficiency in both reading and speaking the language (Lyons, 2003).

I have been an ESL teacher since I was in high school and I completed my student teaching with ESL students.  The profession of teaching ESL students has always been a significant part of my life. As teachers and educators, we have to understand that not all children learn the same way.  We need to find different methods to help our ESL students to become proficient in reading comprehension and speaking the new language.  I’ve been seeking different teaching methods and strategies to improve oral reading and comprehension skills among my group of ESL students.  Based on my student teaching experience, I find that guided reading instruction makes a significant impact on ESL student’s oral reading accuracy and their ability to summarize what they have read.  Therefore, I would like to investigate the effects of guided reading instruction on my group of ESL student’s oral reading and comprehension achievement.

Literature Review

It can be difficult for ESL students to learn how to speak and read English fluently.  It can also raise difficulties for native English speaking students.  This often means that teachers must assess and attend to the literacy needs of different students at the same time.  Ford and Optiz (2001) suggested those teachers’ attempts to satisfy the individual needs of students can lead to frustration and ineffectiveness, especially when teachers have one or more ESL students in their classroom.  However, the researchers also suggested that this frustration can decreasewhen teachers use guided reading instruction in the classroom (Ford & Opitz, 2001).

The National Reading Panel (NRP) (2000) defines oral fluency as the ability to read text aloud quickly, accurately, and with the right expression.  From this definition, oral fluency can be divided into two components: speed and accuracy.  Fountas and Pinnell (2006) considered speed and accuracy as goals, when fluency is taught.   They also suggested that repeated reading, which increases the benefits of guided reading instruction, can improve ESL students’ comprehension and oral fluency.  Fountas and Pinnel’s (2006) research examined the effects of assisted repeated reading on ESL students’ reading comprehension and oral reading skills.  In their study, they worked with second grade ESL students.   Students involved in research were divided into two groups.  One group of students used unassisted repeated reading and the other group used assisted repeated reading.  The students in the unassisted group read a chosen text by themselves and had the option to ask for help from their teacher.  The students in the assisted reading group listened to a recorded audiotape and were then given the printed text, so that they could read along with the audiotape.  When these two groups of ESL students were brought together, there were some major differences between them.  For example, the assisted students had better comprehension and oral reading skills, as well as less supervision and they seemed more motivated.  Fountas and Pinnell concluded that assisted repeated reading is more effective than independent reading and suggested that ESL teachers focus on assisted repeated reading, which is similar to guided reading instruction. In addition, according to Chomsky (1976), students who had problems in reading and comprehension showed more improvement when they were instructed using assisted repeated reading than students who received unassisted reading.  In the study, Chomsky’s asked a group of poor readers to read along while listening to a recorded audio tape of the book they were reading.  He found that listening to the audio tapes, while reading along helped the poor readers learn to read on their own.

Other researchers have looked at the benefits of using assisted reading in the classroom.     A study conducted by Woodall (2010) tried to see whether reading a text and listening to it at the same time could help ESL students to improve their comprehension and oral fluency.  He used ESL students from four university level, language laboratory classes of basic level English, which were divided into an experimental group and a control group.  The experimental group read the selected text, Charlotte’s Web, while also listening to an audiotape reading of the story.  The control group read the same text without using the audiotape.  There were eight weekly quizzes in the end to check the results.  It was found that the experimental group did better overall, as the students could comprehend more information.  These findings are applicable to guided reading instruction because they show that students can benefit when teachers develop creative and flexible reading programs intended to meet the unique needs of ESL students.   

However, there are some studies related to guided reading instruction and other methods of reading instruction with ESL students that do not agree that guided reading is the best.  For example, Nayak and Sylva (2011) conducted a study of 205 students between the ages of 9 and 10.   Students from six primary schools in Hong Kong were divided into two groups. One group of students could communicate with the teacher and each other.  The second group was given e-books; games related with reading, and were not allowed to share the knowledge with each other.  Nayak and Sylva found the comprehension and reading accuracy of the first group was better, but there was not much difference between these two groups when it came to reading comprehension and reading accuracy scores. This study showed mixed results when determining whether guided reading could help those children to speak and comprehend English texts.  

Other researchers have focused on a different type of guided reading instruction to use for ESL students.  Marciarille and colleagues (2008) tried to compare the effectiveness of two text layout forms.  They divided second grade ESL students into two groups. The first group of students was given a text to read, which had a conventional text layout.  The second group of students was asked to read a text which had a special format with rhyming words.  The researchers found that the second group of students showed more improvement with reading comprehension and became more able to read groups of words (phrasal reading) with fewer errors. 

Motivation of the ESL students also plays an important role in their academic success. According to Lyons (2003), motivation is an important part of learning new skills.  It can help improve the long term achievement of ESL students who are learning to read and write in a second language.  Lyons gave the example of Mathew, a first grader and ESL student who was unmotivated in the classroom.   He explained that Mathew struggled so much with reading and writing.    He became interested about reading after participating in Reading Recovery, which is a project that is similar to guided reading instruction.   The Reading Recovery Program helps student increase their confidence, participation, and motivation.  Similarly, research conducted by Cho, Xu, and Rhodes (2010) showed that ESL students are more likely to succeed when they feel involved in the reading process.  In this study, they looked at the opinions and attitudes of instructors who had used reading intervention programs.  They also looked at the opinions and attitudes of ESL students who participated in these reading interventions.  They found that even young ESL students benefited from being provided with interesting and challenging reading materials because it motivates them to read more and this will increase their success.  Cho and colleagues (2010) also concluded that teachers’ attitudes, expectations, and the quality of time they spend with their ESL students helps to motivate these students in the classroom. 

In addition to teachers’ attitudes and students’ motivation, there are other factors to consider when using guided reading instruction in an ESL classroom.  Harper and de Jong (2004) recommended that guided reading instruction should be used as a part of ESL and literacy programs and suggested  putting students who have similar strengths in learning and thinking into the same groups.  This approach makes sure that ESL students who are slow to understand are not put together with higher level ESL students.  This helps to improve the success of all students by allowing them to learn at their own pace (Harper & de Jong, 2004). Another factor to consider when using guided reading instruction with ESL students is the reading comprehension and oral fluency ability that the student has in their native language.  Some studies have found a close relationship between native language and studying ESL.  The National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA) 2008 gave an example of a student named Cheung.  He was a new third grade ESL student with fluent oral and written skills in Chinese.  They reported that his native language skills helped him to do the same in English, but he found it challenging to pronounce complex English words properly.   As Allen (2002) points out, students with high native language proficiency have a smoother experience in learning a second language when it comes to reading comprehension and oral skills.  However, it is also important to note that students who are poor in their native language can still make positive improvements in second language acquisition if they use a modified guided reading model (Allen, 2002).

As previous research showed us, a guided reading instruction approach is believed to benefit ESL students.  Some of these approaches include using teachers’ preferred texts, individualized instruction, and a change to empower students to learn independently.  Additional benefits include the use of a structured lesson format and improved assessments of students’ comprehension and oral fluency (Birch, 2002).  An active student participation in lessons is required to assure proper learning by the students.  Students can practice and improve their skills by taking part in social conversations during group meetings.   For the best results in teaching ESL students, educators should change their approach to fit the individual skill sets of their students.  Modified approaches will allow ESL students to have the same kind of language learning opportunities as their English speaking peers (Birch, 2002).

Purpose of the Research

The purpose of my research paper is to determine the effects of guided reading on ESL students’ oral reading and their reading comprehension achievement. 

As I’ve mentioned earlier, based on my personal experience, I have chosen to investigate this topic because of my job as an ESL afterschool program teacher.  This experience provided me with firsthand knowledge of the challenges that ESL students face and the extremely negative affect that English language difficulties can have on ESL student’s academic and social experiences as they try to fit into American culture.  I believe that educating teachers about guided reading instruction is one way to help improve the academic performance of ESL students, while also assisting them in successfully integrating themselves into their new homeland. 

My research questions are:

1)      How does guided reading affect ESL students’ oral reading fluency?

2)      How does guided reading affect students’ ability to comprehend/ summarize what they have read?

Methodology

Participants

I conducted my study in a private after school program called Sunny Learning Center in Brooklyn, New York.  The center is located on 56th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway Brooklyn, New York.  The program has four classes serving 48 ESL students starting from K- 5th grade.  All students are from three different public schools; they are PS.226, P.S. 105 and P.S. 94.  The programs’ operating hour is from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.  My participants consist of 12 public school ESL 4th grade students who attend to same public school P.S. 226 in Brooklyn, New York.  P.S. 226 is located on 6302 9th Ave Brooklyn, New York where the neighborhood is well known as “Chinatown” in Brooklyn.  The majority of students at P.S. 226 are immigrants from China.  The total student enrollment in P.S. 226 is 859 from K – 5th with two special education classes.   My participants include 5 male and 7 female students from middle class families who emigrated from Guang Dong, China when they were 4 years old.  The range of my students’ experiences in U.S. public school and English proficiency is about 5 to 5 1/2 years.  None of them had been diagnosed with learning disabilities in reading and/or writing.  All of my students have already developed a communicative, although limited, oral vocabulary in English. 

Instruments

I will gather data through the use of Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment (2011,2008) (See appendix A), reading response question worksheets and as well as formal classroom assessments to identify student’s level of oral reading fluency and comprehension level (See appendix B and C).  Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment (2011, 2008) is an assessment system for teachers to evaluate the student's reading and comprehension ability to determine each child's independent and instruction level based on its A-Z text level.  Once student’s reading and comprehension level is identified, teachers can select texts that are the right level for each student to maximize their learning potential (Fountas and Pinnell, 2006).    In addition, to assess students’ oral reading proficiency, I’ve used a reading log called “Log of interactions” (See appendix D), created by my after school program director.   This log records students’ strengths and/or weaknesses during their oral reading performance and tract their reading abilities, based on the nature of lesson, what the focus is, and the concept taught. For example, reading very slow and showing no natural expression would be considered a student’s weaknesses.  In addition, I will observe, identify errors, and make evaluations on student’s oral accuracy during individual conferences.  Using the log of interactions helps me monitor and assess student’s oral reading progress. I will write down student’s strengths and/or weaknesses.  Again, those who read word by word and fail to show facial expression or have awkward pauses will be marked as weaknesses. 

Procedure

At the beginning of my study, I will assess students’ oral reading levels and comprehension ability through Fountas and Pinnell Benchmerk Assessment in two separate individual conferences.   There will be two parts in each of individual conferences, at first, I will ask each student to read aloud a short passage that contains 100 words from a level book (based on their reading level at school).  In this section, I will record student’s miscues or errors as he or she reads.  I will stop when the student has made five miscues and go back to his or previous reading level.  When they are finished, they will complete part II, which is a comprehension sections included three questions.  In this section, I will have a conversation with each student in regards to how well they understand the book they’ve read.  I will score 0-3 for how well their understanding demonstrated.   For example, if they scored 3, it means they showed an excellent understanding of the text which includes almost all important information and main ideas.  During the second week of my study, I will begin implementing 45 to 90 minutes a day of guided reading instruction within my daily lesson plan.  During these period, students will read self-selected books independently, with a reading buddy or with me at their appropriate levels (8 students are level M and 4 students are level P).  I will conference four times a week with each of my student, checking to make sure they were choosing appropriate level books, reading with them or to them, and checking for and assisting with comprehension.  When they finished a book, I will again, assess their oral reading and comprehension ability through Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment.   In addition, they will also have to complete two reading response worksheets which I will grade it from a 0 to 100.  If they scored 2 or above on Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment and 75% in both reading response worksheets, they will record the book on their individual reading chart and once their reading chart is full, they will allow reading a higher level text and celebrating with a pizza party.  Other assessments like weekly individual conferences and reading response worksheets will measure each student growth in reading level.  By comparing the student’s reading levels in the books they’ve chosen over the time of my study, their improvement shown on Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment and amount of books they’ve read, I will record their growth in reading abilities in a final log of interactions.  I will also keep anecdotal records to track each student changes in behavior, attitude and oral proficiency toward reading. 

Results

Guided reading has hardly influenced the level of students’ reading and understanding of the text. First of all it is necessary to make point on the fact that after I have assessed students’ oral reading levels and comprehension ability through Fountas and Pinnell Benchmerk Assessment I have found that they have insufficient level of reading. The results have disappointed me, however I decided to do the best and receive the high results and help students with their English difficulties that they have faced during the process of education and communication. Most of the students had low level of motivation in active participation in the learning process. Additionally, after the first assessment I have understood that most of them had majority of weaknesses in their reading practices.  As I have the experience of teaching the ESL students I have developed the specific program in order to make sure that all of them are engaged in the process.

During the period of study conduction and after its end, I have found that guided reading has positively affected ESL students’ oral reading fluency. They started to gain more pleasure from reading, they became more motivated and they started to share their feelings and achievements with their group mates. Guided reading has helped the students to correct their pronunciation of English words of different complexity; they started to use voice changes in order to indicate what is going in the book; now they use pauses correctly. These helped them to understand the book context easier and reading became more interesting for them.

Talking about the students’ ability to comprehend/summarize the information they have read it is necessary to mention that with the increase of the text understanding and better involvement into the book context, the ability of students to comprehend/summarize have increased. The generalization of information with the new words and phrase usage by the own words have become easier for the students. On the assumption of the results that I have gained from the study conduction, I can say that guided reading is rather effective instrument to use in the process of teaching of the ESL students. The results show that guided reading usage can increase students’ abilities of oral reading and comprehending/summarizing in relatively small period of time.

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