Literacy is considered a key survival skill for public participation in the ever-changing modern era. As evidenced in the literature, a number of physical, emotional, and instructional conditions are required to promote young bilingual learners’ language development. According to Snow (2017), the optimal conditions that are more supportive of early literacy development are the provision of: (a) game-based and literacy-infused activities; (b) rich language resources and appropriate age-related readings; (c) a balance between form- and meaning-focused instruction; and (d) scaffolding and interaction with adults.
The indicators of early literacy skills, which vary from one education program to another, include: betterment of language skills, acquisition of larger vocabularies, and enrichment of language knowledge. According to the National Early Literacy Panel (2008), it is useful to provide young English learners (ELs) with explicit instruction in phonology, helping them figure out letter-sound correspondence. It is also important to ensure that bilingual ELs have enough resources for reading and L2 vocabulary acquisition. Thus, developing oral reading fluency and automaticity in word recognition are key to successful biliteracy outcomes.
Most researchers agree that early literacy instruction should focus on encouraging emergent bilingual learners to: (a) become better listeners, (b) speak in complete sentences, (c) read fluently as their vocabulary knowledge is extended, (d) comprehend better, and (e) think more critically. In early literacy development for bilingual education, it is now accepted that engaging bilingual learners in frequent literacy-infused activities and regular age-appropriate readings will result in successful learning. Hiebert and Fisher (2007) and Snow (2017), for example, argued that exposing learners to above grade-level texts before providing enough practice to consolidate literacy skills will not result in effective long-term learning. As such, providing appropriate grade-level texts and meaningful—rather than recitation—tasks are crucial determinants of successful literacy instruction. Finally, it is suggested that teachers allocate more time to discussion and writing tasks to improve ELs’ literacy skills in the content areas as their proficiency in their second language develops.
What is currently missing in the literature is research on how teachers can effectively handle classrooms of bilingual ELs from diverse backgrounds, increase their self-esteem while involving them in challenging reflective practices, and create an optimal learning environment where teachers can scaffold learning and take bilingual ELs to the next level in their academic English.
Roya Pashmforoosh is a Texas A&M University doctoral student in bilingual education and graduate assistant on Project English Language & Literacy Acquisition — Validation (ELLA-V).