Collaboration and student engagement happens easily with fluent ELLs. But sharing and engaging is not so easy for Newcomers or beginning readers who are not able to decode or recognize high-frequency words fluently. Leading sometimes silent beginners towards increasingly autonomous literacy in an ability-appropriate, scaffolded way is no small feat.
One highly engaging early literacy model is the Language Experience Approach. In a 2016 blog post, Stephen Krashen describes one simple take on the Language Experience approach:
- The student dictates a very short story or anecdote to the teacher
- The teacher writes out the story or anecdote (these days using a word processor) and makes copies of the story.
- The student and other students read the story, which could become part of the classroom library.
Projectors, white boards, or chart paper are canvases for children’s creative ideas where I help record the stories they want to tell.
The story’s dictation can be from students independently telling stories, or true beginners may need teacher prompts. Carefully-phrased questions with illustrations or realia as visual support can give children the language they need to tell the story on their own, even their first days in US schools. At first, true beginners can respond with single words or TPR commands. As students progress, the answers are dictated to the teacher with less and less “teacher-talk” or direction.
This scaffolded approach to shared, whole language reading and writing keeps a steady eye on collaborating and engaging students.
Research supports a focus first on reading for fluency first, before children (later as fluent readers) read for comprehension. Tell children not to overthink the “correctness” or logic in the story and we move away from analytical language (Academic English) and towards creative “flow” in stories.
Creativity is key to promote early reading fluency, empower students to lead the story without worrying about being wrong or right. As children make up stories, let them know that sillier is better; more student-led, the better.
The most creative text is from silly stories children make up themselves. The sillier the better. The more student-led, the better. Tell stories with no script, lesson plan, or agenda beyond just sharing highly-compelling, creative stories.
Note that stories that are already written without student input, like big books, familiar fairytales, or easy shared story books are very useful as well.