“Well-developed oral proficiency in English is associated with well developed reading comprehension skills and writing skills in English. Instruction in the key components of reading is necessary—but not sufficient—for teaching language-minority students to read and write proficiently in English. Oral proficiency in English is critical as well—but student performance suggests that it is often overlooked in instruction.” From a report from the National Literacy Panel to Conduct a Comprehensive Evidenced-Based Review of Research Literature on the Development of Literacy among Language Minority Children and Youth (August, D. & Shanahan, T., 2006)
The above quotation was taken from research in the area of the teaching of culturally and linguistically diverse learners, a growing portion of our educational community in the United States. Often, these students acquire basic oral language proficiency in English which enables them to interact socially with peers and some adults. The general acronym for this skill is BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills). However, the academic use of the English language (or, CALPS Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Skills) is the more pressing concern reflected in the quotations from the National Literacy Panel 2006 report. Children not only have to learn the English language, but many times learn the goal-directed style of narrative taught in the United States classroom. This goal-directed style may differ from the style of narrative in the home based on culture and language differences.
In order to transform BICS into CALPS, students must focus on the structure of the story or of the information text (macrostructure) as well as the literate language features (microstructure) such as elaborated noun phrases, conjunctions, adverbs, linguistic verbs and mental state verbs. For a great number of our students, it is a challenging task to learn a second language while holding the macro- and micro-structure of the narrative and expository text in their heads! In 2003, Carol Westby, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, did a review of the SGM® for Word of Mouth Magazine, in it, she writes:
“The Story Grammar Marker® reduces the load on working memory by externalizing the global structure and sequence of components in stories. This allows students to concentrate on translating their ideas into words and sentences to convey the content of each element of the story. When using the SGM®, they do not have to keep in mind where they are in the story.”
English language learners in our classrooms are at a disadvantage if instruction does not take into consideration these challenges and their differences.