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ESL / ELL Reading and Tutoring Project

Michael Castro

-- Started this ESL reading and tutoring project in a U.S. public high school where nearly half of the students are from immigrant backgounds; perhaps some of these ideas may be useful.

ESL Reading and Peer-Tutoring Program

by Michael P. Castro

The Idea

I would like to share an idea to increase fluency, and general academic achievement, among students learning English as a second language. By using existing resources, a school could implement this program at little or no additional cost.

Current Problem

Despite the best efforts that are made in the classroom, ESL / ELL students – especially those who arrive in the United States when they are already teenagers – too often fail to develop full, literate fluency in the short time available before they finish high school. Limitations in vocabulary, in conversational skills, and in reading and writing skills can put them at a significant disadvantage in pursuing further education and in fulfilling their potential in life.

ESL students also may arrive in the United States with gaps in their overall educational preparation, relative to the demands of their new curriculum.

In response to these challenges, I wish to offer a solution that involves creating a library of selected reading material, and using students as peer tutors to assist with English, reading, and other subjects. Community volunteers might also be used as tutors.

Step 1 of the Solution – Gathering Reading Material

Reading material includes vocabulary books, short stories, novels, and nonfiction
works. The hope is that this collection can help provide a foundation for learning
English, while it also introduces students to some enjoyable and worthwhile literature, and, ideally, helps to foster a lifelong interest in reading.

To this end, I have created a library and have read about 800 young adult novels,
collections of short stories, and other books, in search of material that students might find interesting. To help with general tutoring, texts and other books that students may be using in their classes are also kept on hand.

Step 2 – Training the Peer Tutors

We ask for student volunteers, especially those who are bilingual or fluent in other languages, and, then, we practice tutoring sessions using role playing.

Step 3 – Implementing the Tutoring

The heart of the system is for the ESL student to work with a peer tutor initially and then progress to reading English-language material independently. The model includes the tutor reading a short excerpt to the ESL student, and the ESL student reading the same material back to the tutor. The tutor and the ESL student discuss pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, and talk about the story. They also review homework assignments, and may read newspaper articles, look at maps, and converse (in English, whenever possible) about a range of topics. The tutor also encourages summer reading and helps the ESL students obtain public library cards. Ideally, the tutor may provide help and encouragement, both in learning a new language and in adjusting to life in a
new country.

Trial Runs and Results

In 2005, we launched the program with students at North Plainfield High School in New Jersey. We typically meet in the high school library after school or during students’ free periods. Our tutors are primarily individuals who are themselves from Spanish-speaking backgrounds, but who have been in the U.S. long enough that they also have a strong or native command of English.

Tutoring has helped in the following ways:

• Because books were made available to students, they started requesting books or recommendations for books.
• Students who had failed the New Jersey high school graduation test (High School Proficiency Assessment), subsequently passed after months of doing independent reading.
• A high-school freshman, who had come every day after school to work either with me, another teacher, or a peer tutor, made the honor roll at the end of the freshman year.
• After tutoring, class participation increased significantly.
• A tutored student knew the meaning of many words that classmates did not know, which the teacher reported as “amazing.”
• Students often express the desire to be able to read whole sections on their own.
• While they do not routinely ask questions in class, students do ask questions in a one-on-one setting, which ultimately carries over to the classroom.
• Students are guided to school staff to obtain help with academic and personal concerns.
• Teachers routinely thank me and the peer tutors for being a source of encouragement to the ESL students.
• The peer tutors gain the opportunity to provide a valuable service, and to explore their own interests and aptitudes.

This program lets students know that someone cares about their general well-being, at the same time that it encourages them to take greater initiative in pursuing their education, and gives them a place to go when they wish to make an extra effort.

In the process, it can strengthen language and reading skills, as well as increase students’ motivation to learn, and their confidence that they can succeed in learning English and in their other studies.

How to Implement the Program

I hope that this description provides enough information to start your own version of this program, or to incorporate some of its features into your existing programs. If you wish to learn more, I can speak with teachers and/or administrators, and provide further guidelines and suggested book titles.

Why Am I Doing This?

This program resulted from the combination of my personal history and my experience working with ESL students.

I was born in Cuba, spent most of the first several months of my life in an orphanage/ foundling home, and was adopted into an American family of partly Cuban descent; this change in my life provided educational and other opportunities I otherwise might never have had.

Despite their best intentions and their dedication to their families, immigrant parents often have little or no knowledge of English, which in turn can put their children at a disadvantage, educationally. Individualized attention from English-speaking or bilingual tutors provides these children with needed help that may not be available at home, and that is not easily provided in the regular classroom setting.

About Michael Castro

I have taught in the North Plainfield Public Schools for five years. I have worked on a sustained basis with ESL students and have personally tutored students on more than 1,200 occasions. I grew up in North Plainfield, studied Spanish and other languages, and have worked professionally as a translator.

If you have questions, I would be happy to speak with you.

Michael P. Castro
3 Sassafras Circle
Newtown, Pennsylvania 18940
(908) 754-4324
mpcastro@earthlink.net

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