91.  Dr. Sadek, I was in your ESL class this summer in AR. I have a young lady from Mexico in my seventh grade class. She is fifteen, and she was in school in Mexico for only a year. Her family has been here for 2 years. Noehmi can't read Spanish, and she certainly can't read English. I have brought children's books from home to try to find something for her to read. She doesn't know her vowels or letter sounds. Any advice?


It is very difficult for me to imagine that after two years in the USA, she cannot read at all!!!!!


Also I wonder if her placement in the seventh grade is age-appropriate. This student, by law, must be place in the corresponding grade appropriate for her age.

At this stage of her education, she needs to be taught reading in terms of the content areas she must master. There is no time to waste since she is an older student.

My advice:
First, I think a very strong effort should be made to teach this student to read in her primary language --this is the language she understands, and speaks, and thinks in. Learning to read in Spanish --which is a lot easier than learning to read in English, especially for a Spanish-speaking student-- should teach Noehmi "how to learn to read an alphabetical language." Since English is also an alphabetical language, the process of understanding that combinations of letters stand for combinations of sounds or complete words will be made easier.

Second, this student can learn grade-level content areas by listening and speaking, through manipulatives, visuals, and hands-on activities. Thus, Noehmi MUST BE IN AGE-APPROPRIATE CLASSES, learning what everyone else is learning at the same age, even if only through listening and through visuals, while she develops other language skills like reading and writing.

Third, she could be read to in Spanish from books that include the age-appropriate curriculum of her grade level.

Also, a very strong effort needs to be made to provide for this student ALL English-Spanish "cognates," that is, words in both languages with similar pronunciation, meaning and similar spelling. This student needs to know that learning to read cognates in Spanish is just the same as learning to read cognates in English: Learning to read "tigre" helps in learning to read "tiger." Cognates from the content areas need to be emphasized.

She should NOT be taught to read individual sounds and individual letters. Whole-words, especially cognates, can help her build patterns of sounds and associated patterns of letters. But, like a "blind" student, at this point in time, she must be read to, to acquire content area concepts, knowledge and understandings.

She does NOT need to begin like a Kindergarten student in learning to read. Her interests and motivation should serve as the basis to introduce words to her, to help her learn to write about what interests her and motivates her, especially if her interests and motivation can be connected to the content area concepts and key ideas.

Maybe the Spanish-As-A-Second-Language teacher at your school or district can help her learn to read the content area materials in Spanish. Then, the ESL teacher should help her --and you-- integrate ESL language development and content area learning.

This student must be provided the types of instructional modifications that are needed to teach her to read and write in the language through which she can readily learn content areas --Spanish-- while she learns the English language of the content areas in her age-appropriate grade level.

I hope I have helped you, the ESL teacher at your school, the Spanish-As-A-Second-Language teacher and the counselors and administrators.

For more detailed information about the legal aspects of student placement, read the additional information provided in this Web Site regarding legal compliance issues.



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