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Abstract

Students studying English as a second language find oral reading fluency and comprehension skills a big challenge mostly in their early stages of language development. Prosody or phrasing and facile text recognition are a big challenge among such students. Educators have embraced a guided reading instruction approach to mitigate these challenges. This paper investigates the effectiveness of guided reading as a strategy for oral reading fluency and comprehension skills of student who study English as a second language.

Introduction

The latest research has indicated that the population of immigrant students in English speaking nations is rising at a faster rate, as compared to the previous years. Educators possess very little information about how these students from different nations comprehend English. This is because some of the students do not use English as their first language, but learn to use it just because of migrating to the United States. To get a better understanding of this case, researchers have conducted several studies on these immigrant students (Wang & Aldridge, 2007).

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 Through these studies, researchers seek to find alternative means of addressing their needs, considering the fact that they have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Addressing this issue will not only address the students’ linguistic challenges, but will also ensure that these students get a good education at all grade levels. Studies have, further, indicated that teachers spent a lot of time struggling to meet the individual needs of these students. The U.S. curriculum that is instruction-based and thus unfamiliar to most of the recent immigrants encourages this situation (Gibbons, 2002).

Lyons (2003) is of the opinion that it is very important that curriculum planners get a deeper understanding of the nature and kind of relationship between reading proficiency and oral language proficiency among the students who take English as their second language (L2). This understanding will guide the educators in making critical education policies and decisions as well as identifying needs, teaching strategy, curricula development, and placing learners in mainstream classes or designating them as fluent English proficient learners. Based on monolingual English learners, studies indicate that oral proficiency exhibits a moderate relationship with respect to reading skills, such as comprehension and decoding. Nevertheless, the correlation between reading proficiency and oral language proficiency among L2 is more complicated.

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Educators have proved that a small number of L2 students can sufficiently read without demonstrating adequate oral proficiency in English. Conversely, studies have also discovered that not all students, who are orally proficient in L2, have enough reading skills in English. Despite the fact that studies that have tried to identify the relationship between L2 learners’ reading skills and oral skills give limited explanations, they have elicited mixed reactions (Tadesse et. al., 2009). Ford & Opitz (2001) explain that one of the reasons behind these mixed reactions is due to the variety of approaches used to teach students oral proficiency. Researchers have further made more enquiries on oral skills related to the current academic curricula and established a strong relationship between the two.

As indicated in the study below, researches carried out a guided reading demand that educators in the U.S. should understand the force behind guided reading as it appears in class before they can implement policies or programmes to improve this state. According to Ford and Opitz (2001), researchers and educators progressively observe guides reading as an important aspect of a balanced reading approach that assists a child in developing into an independent reader.  Implementing guided reading properly will play a huge role in ensuring that students, taking English as their second language, will not find it so challenging to acquire the knowledge (Lyons, 2003).

Definition of Terms

In my research paper, I have used the following terms

Guided Reading Instruction- This is a reading approach that requires the teacher to divide students into small groups basing on similar needs, strengths, and interest. The teacher then uses guided instructions to give students reading strategies to improve their reading fluency. L1- Refers to students taking English as a their first language

L2 -Refers to students taking English as a their second language

RR (Repeated Reading) - Refers to a routine reading practice.

ESL- This is a short form of English as a Second Language

Literature Review

Fluent conversation and reading is not only very challenging to students speaking English as a second language, but, also to the native English speakers. As a result, individual needs of students have overwhelmed educators. In a bid to satisfy individual student’s needs, educators get discouraged by their inability to dispense their duties effectively. This situation worsens when it comes to handling cases involving immigrant students, who take English as their second language. Nevertheless, a rationale that can diminish this frustration to a great extent is guided reading instructions (Ford & Opitz, 2001).

This approach demands that educators should assess their students’ capacity to read and understand. Educators use various methods to assess the students’ capacity including running records, which enable educators to group their students accordingly. Data collected in accuracy, fluency, and comprehension areas should be individual-based as opposed to generalities. This gives room for educators to discover weaknesses and needs of each leaner and device several approaches to ultimately counter the realized weaknesses. Fluency, comprehension, and accuracy will always give insights for easy and hard texts (Fountas, & Pinnell, 2006).

Slavin & Cheung (2005) say that educators have raised a common concern that students often have challenges in reading and connecting words fluently even after a proof that they know how to decode individual texts properly. An important objective of incorporating instruction in reading is to enhance students’ ability to advance from individual text to sentence fluency. Despite the fact that students can only achieve fluency through regular practising, there is no study that has suggested the best practice method and materials to be used during the process.  Teachers can primarily determine fluency by attaining high-speed recognition of texts; however, being fast in reading does not necessarily mean that the reader is fluent. Fluency entails skills such as observing phrases appropriately and/ or prosody. Even though prosody is very essential in loud reading, it can also be applied in silent reading.

Studies have proved that proper instruction should begin with forming a guided individual or group based on information collected from assessing. Based on the study performed by Ford and Opitz (2008) on 3000 educators, a group should be made up of at most six students who should meet three times a week. During these small group meetings, educators should categorically guide students using keenly selected texts that meet the requirements of the discipline in question. Through such guided group meetings, students have been able to enhance their fluency, comprehension, and accuracy. This approach gives small groups` support and students are able to capture every small details of each lesson as anticipated by the educator. They also offer practical evidence for oral reading, thinking, talking, and understanding complex texts (Fountas & Pinnell, 2007).

National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000) defines oral fluency as the ability to read text quickly, accurately, and with proper expression.  From this definition, oral fluency can be divided into two components, inter alia speed and accuracy. Most researches have embraced the two characteristics as an objective of fluency teaching. Therefore, they advise that repeated reading is a common aspect in routine practising in L2 classes to improve oral fluency. Studies indicate that repeated reading is, currently, more effective than independent reading (Fountas, & Pinnell, 2006). Consequently, teachers in L2 classes have laid more focus on repeated reading as an approach to get more benefits from guided reading.

In essence, teachers have divided repeated reading into two forms namely: unassisted training, which direct students to have individual silent reading sessions without any direct supervision, and assisted practise, where the teacher guides the students in reading. This strategy has proved to be very handy to students at second and third stages of linguistic development. Following guided repeated reading, significant improvement in oral fluency and comprehension has been recorded at all stages of L2 classes.  At low levels of development, assisted repeated reading has proved to work better than unassisted reading as proved by a study made by Chomsky (1976). In the study, Chomsky (1976) asked a group of poor readers at third stage of their development to read along while listening to a recorded audio-tape of the book they were reading. He realised that the audio tape assisted the students in decoding prosody appropriately. He continued this study with the same set of students until they were able to carry out individual reading without seeking any assistance.

There are studies that have given clear differences in results from the use of text or list of words. In a recent study, a group of researchers made efforts to compare the essence and effectiveness of two text layout forms. One of the forms consisted of conventional text layout while the second, a formatted text. In the same study, the same researchers tried to promote oral fluency through giving prosody visible cues. Basing on this provision, the researchers assessed the impacts of this manipulation in relation to repeated reading.  They realized that repeated reading of cued texts facilitated oral fluency and comprehension. Although they did not realize an improvement in reading speed, the students demonstrated a better phrasal reading besides making fewer errors (Fountas, & Pinnell, 2006).     

There are also other researchers who have carried out similar studies to judge the credibility of guided repeated reading (Fountas, & Pinnell, 2006). Researchers divided second grade students into two groups of students. One group carried out unassisted group repeated reading, while the other group conducted an assisted repeated reading. Those in unassisted group carried out independent reading of a chosen text and teachers assisted them upon request. Those in the assisted reading group listened to a recorded audiotape, and once they could read along with the audiotape, they were given the printed text. When these two groups were brought together, distinct differences were easily noticed. The assisted students were far much better than the unassisted students.  The assisted students showed a good mastery of prosodic indicators, needed less monitoring and appeared more motivated than the unassisted students (Fountas, & Pinnell, 2006).

A recent study examined young ESL student’s reading oral response in a simple science instruction. This research analysed the student’s responses subject to their reading proficiency and comprehension. Researchers then tried to identify whether or not struggling readers and strong readers exhibited different degrees of oral performance in response to fluency and comprehension. In order to get better results, the researchers developed an approach whereby students got instructions from their teachers.  This study realised that it needed longer time to get oral proficiency in academic work (Slavin & Cheung, 2005).

Several theories have concluded that some language proficiency aspects are closely related to an individual’s reading and other academic works. This has accordingly developed better language proficiency distinctions. A person can easily argue that one of the widely recognised educational, linguistic classical distinctions would be between cognitive, academic language proficiency (CALP), and basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS). Primarily, BICS represents formal language aspects such as structural, phonological, and lexical knowledge, which is material for interpersonal communication. On the other hand, CALP is considered as an element of functional and semantic meaning of language. Slavin & Cheung (2005) explain that such skills, related to academics, are a joint basic proficiency that can be integrated in both L1 and L2 education.

Cummins (2003) gives a clear distinction between CALPS and BICS. In this distinction, he suggests a framework that entails the different language proficiency types needed to conduct several language activities and tasks. He used two dimensions to characterize these activities and tasks, entailing the extent of cognitive involvement and contextual support. Based on this framework, casual communication occurs in a cognitive undemanding and context-embedded state, whereas, instruction setting and education calls upon an individual to have a good degree of proficiency in a cognitive and context-reduced state. When this is compared to the present studies, it is to notice that this framework gives no differences between literacy and oral skills. Therefore, the model is of the opinion that there are several skills within the language skills as well as oral skills. This implies that some oral skills need more academic related language skills than some other oral skills. Although, the relevance and importance of academic language should be recognised, the constituent of academic language is still not clear (Slavin & Cheung, 2005).

Several educators have expressed the importance of motivation in relation to learning new skills according to Lyons (2003). He states that motivation is perhaps the most important factor for long-term achievement in learning to read and write (Lyons, 2003). Lyons justified his argument through giving a practical experience of Mathew, a first grader who had no motivation. He explains that Mathew struggled so much with reading, as well as writing, but, he attained better grades and developed passion for reading after going through Reading Recovery, a project similar to guided reading.

Birch (2002) explains that some researchers agree with a theoretical assumption that academic language entails a range of different discourse or genre types associated with different disciplines in academics such as technology, science and mathematics. Other scholars are of the opinion that academic language is made up of multiple literature, which are related to community practices. Additionally, they feel that it entails literacies not necessarily directly related to disciplines and subjects, but, with a wider range in institutional genre and discourse.

The researchers, therefore, recommended that guided reading should be used as a component of language and literacy program. This is because the approach provides different small-group with reading guidelines to heterogeneous or students who have similar strengths in learning and thinking capability (Harper & de Jong, 2004). This approach ensures that students who are slow in understanding are not grouped together with very first learners. Consequently, it avoids a case whereby a student may fail to grasp a given point just because his or her reasoning was slower than the other group members.  Besides this, educators can make good use of this approach and give explicit lessons on comprehension and other strategies that students require. This method facilitates L2 students to acquire better reading and speaking proficiency (Birch, 2002).

According to Cummins (2003), recent studies in relation to L2 course have revealed that acquiring fluent reading comprehension entails a complex process in language development. This process needs a simultaneous exchange of word cognition and syntactic and semantic cues, so as to construct a meaningful sentence subject to the context and personal knowledge. For L2 learners to be efficient in speaking and reading, they should have good development as far as vocabulary is concerned. In addition to this, type of vocabulary and comprehension introduced to L2 learners fully depends on a person’s literacy acquisition in his or her native language (Birch, 2002). Learners with well-developed written and oral skills in their first language find acquisition of L2 reading very easy and less challenging.

It is generally accepted that all the students directly benefit from a guided reading instruction approach. Some of these benefits include the use of educator’s preferred books, individualised instructions, and a chance to create and sustain self-instructions.  Additional benefits include exposure to a context embedded language, a structured lesson format, and a procedural and systematic assessment of students (Birch, 2002).  Active student participation in lessons is fundamental to proper leaning, and it should involve each member of a group, since students should not only get knowledge from the educator but also from their peers. In addition to this, speaking, listening, and writing skills are practically implemented in a social setting by participating in conversations during group meetings. However, to make instruction guided learning more effective, educators should modify their approach depending on the mental capability of students. Modified approaches will enable students to gain better language learning chances that the native speakers acquire implicitly. In this case, the modification enriches literacy and language learning opportunities to encompass vocabulary instruction as well as the second language variables and language structures. Modification, therefore, gives room for literacy and language instructions, focussing on small groups (Birch, 2002).

Some studies have revealed that English-language learners (ELL) are not usually ready for English reading guidelines until they reach the intermediate level of acquiring English language (Birch, 2002). On the other hand, some educators are of the opinion that it is better for students to learn reading and second language simultaneously than separately.  It is further determined that learners, taking English as a second language, can best learn it when they get translation from their native language. This effort can help students aged 4 to 7 to acquire 50th normal curve, but if support in their native language is not given, it can only happen when they are 7 to 10 years old (Allen, 2002). Slavin and Cheung (2005) conducted an experiment that compared English-only and bilingual reading, and came to a conclusion that a majority of their studies favoured bilingual reading of instructions for English-only. In addition to this, they also concluded that a paired bilingual approach of reading in L1 and L2 simultaneously is better than performing them separately (Allen, 2002).

It is generally assumed that if a learner is proficient in reading in the native (L1) language, then the reading act is an internalized process. With good support by educators through instruction guided learning, a learner who is in the early stages of acquiring L2 language can manage it facing minimal challenges. Based on the experience that educators had with L2 students, they (educators) have discovered that learners with high L1 proficiency have a smoother experience in acquiring L2 reading and oral skills. However, it is important to note that students who are poor in their L1 have greatly gained from a modified guided reading model (Allen, 2002).

Some studies have demonstrated a close relationship between native languages and studying English as a common language. According to a study carried out by National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (2008), upcoming English readers such as Cheung; a new third grade L2 student who had fluent oral and written skills in Chinese, are able to gain English oral fluency and comprehension quickly. Cheung who is a new student in the U.S. managed to relate his native language with English and thus found decoding English words remarkably easy. However, Cheung was not able to connect complex English words pronounces properly (Allen, 2002).  

It is generally assumed that if a learner is proficient in reading the native (L1) language, then the reading act is an internalised process. With good support by educators though instruction guided learning, a learner who is in the early stages of acquiring L2 language can go through with minimal challenges. Basing on the experience educators have had with L2 students, they (educators) have discovered that learners with high L1 proficiency have a smoother experience in acquiring L2 reading and oral skills. However, note that students who are poor in their L1 have greatly gained from modified guided reading model (Allen, 2002).

Purpose of the Research

The purpose of this research paper is to determine the effectiveness of using guided reading as an approach to gain comprehension skills and oral reading fluency among English as Second Language (L2) students. This is attained through getting information from existing literature that cover this topic as well as practically capturing what happens in L2 classes. Most of the materials from which I collected the data are printed journals, online materials and books.  I would, therefore, like to extend my data collection scope by accessing recorded videos that cover what happens in L2 lessons. Although, there is a lot of research that has been conducted in this field, very little research has included student’s opinion. To avoid coming up with a report from a single perspective, I will interview a number of students who are at different stages of studying English language.

I will primarily focus on students studying English as a second language. This includes students at different stages of getting English oral skills. To get a better understanding on factors that affect comprehensive skills and oral reading fluency among these students, I will endeavour in revealing a relationship between the students’ native language (L1) and English language. I will try to establish possible impacts that fluency in native language has on learning L2. Besides this, the study is also interested in identifying whether or not the student’s strength in reading capability dictates the learner’s oral performance.

Guided reading gives both the teacher and students a practical and systematic approach. It also gives an open-ended way of assessing students’ performance Based on their individual weakness while building on their strengths.  Modified guided reading (MGR) adds more credibility to this framework by extending the two 20 minute sessions to three per text, thus giving students more time to share their weaknesses through routine reading practices, related to phonemic and morphological awareness. In addition, it also encourages phonic and explicit guidelines of syntax and semantic use. Writing, speaking, and listening are grounded and integrated into the selected text, thus, offering relevant and meaningful guidelines that build and validate the already acquired language skills.

The theory that guides the development guided learning is an interactive reading approach. Interactive reading divides learning process into two elements, inter alia, background knowledge or reader’s experience and reader`s cognitive (bottom up) component. Both elements are closely related and work together, which helps the students to have better conduct with the text and get a better understanding. Birch (2002) explains that a student’s knowledge base, entailing cognitive processing approaches, has to coordinate efficiently and accurately to ensure that the words are readily available in long-term memory.

Educators specialized and experienced in guided reading are of the opinion that guided learning lessons have different procedures. However, all of them emphasize on similar teachings that have same outcomes. Birch (2002) backed up this argument by synthesizing a procedure that gave a guided-reading approach that insisted on bottom-up learning process to satisfy the L2 students’ needs. Besides this, he came up with a modified guided learning framework that assisted in planning lessons, hence, offering a model that readers could use.

MGR can be perceived to be different, but, it is a typical guided learning, for instance, it can give a better guided learning analysis of a text.  Once the teachers have selected a text to be used at a lesson, MGR recommends that they should critically analyze it as a part of their preparation for the lesson. The text should meet all the intended lesson goals for the day and to ensure that students understand all the aspects that the instructor will teach. The instructors should introduce the topic properly. This is important to make students identify the problem areas within the selected topic as well as to enable them to introduce the teaching objectives. Modified guided reading advises that the educator should first read the text and bring out specific areas of confusion. The teacher should also identify two receptive and nine productive vocabularies. Receptive vocabularies are words of low frequency, while productive vocabularies are new and confusing words to L2 students, even though they are used commonly by native speakers.

Research Questions

This research paper intends to answer the following questions:

  1. Is guided reading instruction the best alternative for students taking English as a second language?
  2. What is the effectiveness of guided reading as a strategy for oral reading fluency and comprehension skills among English as Second Language students?
  3. What are some of the modifications that can be made on guided reading to make it even better to students who find it challenging?
  4.  Are guided learning groups effective in making students gain oral proficiency and comprehension skills?
  5. What can educators do to facilitate the effectiveness of guided reading as an approach to L2?

Methodology

Participants

Key participants in my study will be a group of students (4th graders) taking English as a second language from different institutions. I surveyed approximately 25 (12 females and 13 males) students from different institutions.   I will conduct face to face interviews with these students. I will randomly select the students from different schools, but among those who have attended L2 classes for more than four years. Besides this, I will make online calls to a few online students who are taking L2 classes. I will also interview three researchers who have made studies on this topic and organize a series of personal interaction with them in social networks. Finally, I will retrieve videos from several library websites, besides reading materials of different researchers. In this study, I will use both qualitative and quantitative approaches.

Instruments and Procedure

Oral assessments, done by some previous studies, either failed to capture adequate oral skills of learners, taking English as a second language, or they captured specific and discrete language skills in a decontextualized manner (Avalos, 2003). Therefore, I came up with oral, academic criteria to capture students’ oral skills. In coming up with my oral assessment, I incorporated the following elements:

The assessment had to take a context reduced and cognitive demanding approach rather than conversations:

  • The study was authentic, i.e. the assessment should show a practical, oral interaction that usually occurs between learners and their educators while in class.
  • The language should be included in the assessment. This should not only include specific vocabularies used but other general words used during casual or interpersonal conversation as well as grammar typically used in classrooms.
  • The design of assessment should be done in such a way that it should capture a learning atmosphere rather than measuring general, oral proficiency. Therefore, it is very important that the teacher is free to give prompts to students that will assist students in answering questions.
  • Students should be advised to ask the educator for clarification in case they have found it challenging to understand a certain concept.

Based on the above guidelines, I used interviews and questionnaires to gather primary data on the ESL fourth grade student’s comprehension skills and oral fluency. I interacted with the students I sampled in an after school program and used interviews, questionnaires and tests to collect the data I needed. I used several approaches to test how the guided reading instruction had helped the students. I asked several students to read a selected text in front of other students.  During this reading session, I identified errors and made individual corrections. After this session, I gave my evaluation on the students’ fluency, accuracy, and comprehension in English.  I even ranked students on a scale ranging from one to ten, with the latter being the highest possible score. Those who read word-by-word failed to show some facial expression or had awkward pauses scored low marks.  Lastly, I tested the students by asking them comprehension questions. I ranked the scores on a 0 to 7 scale.

After acquiring this primary data, I visited several libraries and online sources to collect relevant materials that could beef up my study. I accessed several videos on different skills used when conducting guided learning. I also read several written sources. While reading, I was able to identify some other methods that have been used to teach English as a second language. The interactions with other educators through social networks gave me sufficient information on how to write this proposal.

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