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Teach a Teenager to Read

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 21, 2007 2 min read
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I’ve visited some classrooms in which teenagers who were English-language learners and read at a 1st grade level were reading from books for little kids because apparently the teacher couldn’t find more suitable materials. So I was happy to learn recently that Margarita Calderón had written materials for adolescent ELLs who are just starting to read.

She told me last week that she’s found a publisher for those materials, Benchmark Education Company.

Schools across the country receive a sizeable number of immigrant teenagers each year who didn’t learn how to read in their home countries. Sometimes they dropped out of school in the early grades to work, or they lived for years in refugee camps where they didn’t go to school. In November, I met some immigrant teenagers who were learning to read for the first time at a school at a shelter for undocumented unaccompanied minors in Miami, Florida. Some English-language learners who were born in the United States also still read at a low level by middle or high school, and secondary teachers typically haven’t been trained in how to teach reading.

New York City educators have come up with an acronym for English-language learners with schooling gaps: SIFE, or Students with Interrupted Formal Schooling. The New York City Department of Education counts 15,500 of the city’s 141,100 ELLs in that category, according to a student demographic report.

The department has hired Ms. Calderón to provide her new materials for a pilot program in the city’s schools and initially train 100 teachers in how to use them. She calls the student materials and teachers’ manuals RIGOR, which stands for Reading Instructional Goals for Older Readers. The lowest of three levels of RIGOR, currently in the form of photocopied packets, is for adolescents who read at a kindergarten or 1st grade level.

Ms. Calderón created the materials independently but is also a senior research scientist at the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University. She mentioned to me last week that her reading materials for elementary English-language learners were accepted on Feb. 12 by the What Works Clearinghouse of the U.S. Department of Education. Like RIGOR, the materials have a name fit for an academic journal: Bilingual Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition, or BCIRC. Last I checked, though, the clearinghouse hadn’t yet posted BCIRC on its list of recommended materials for English-language learners.

For more on teaching literacy to adolescent ELLs, see the report published by Alliance for Excellent Education last year.

One more thing: RIGOR will be published in both Spanish and English.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.