Effective Interventions for Multilingual Students

by | May 31, 2023


In today’s globally connected classrooms, the multilingual student, one who speaks, understands, or is learning two or more languages, is a rapidly growing demographic. It’s crucial for educators to understand the unique learning journey of these students, especially in the realm of reading proficiency. Despite the linguistic richness multilingual students bring, they often face a formidable struggle to achieve reading proficiency comparable to their monolingual peers. Understanding these challenges and effectively addressing them can open up new worlds of educational opportunity for these learners.

Understanding the Unique Reading Challenges of Multilingual Students

Research suggests that a lack of language exposure, understanding of cultural nuances, and limited language transfer opportunities can contribute to multilingual students’ reading struggles. A study by August and Shanahan (2006) found that while students can transfer reading skills across languages, lack of proficiency in the language of instruction can pose significant hurdles. It is, therefore, important to ensure that these students have ample opportunities to strengthen their skills in the languages they are learning.

Navigating the Assessment Landscape for Multilingual Students

Assessing the language, listening, and reading skills of multilingual students is a complex process, requiring tools designed to capture the full range of their abilities. For language and listening skills, the IDEA Proficiency Tests (IPT) offer a comprehensive measure of English language proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. As for reading skills, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) measure can provide insights into a student’s phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, accuracy, and fluency with connected text.

Identifying the Need for Special Education Services in Multilingual Students

Teachers and principals should be aware of early warning signs that a multilingual student might need special education services. Struggles with oral language comprehension, difficulty with basic phonemic awareness, and persistent trouble with recognizing common words might warrant further evaluation. Generally, the recommendation for special education services should only be made when instructional adjustments and targeted interventions fail to improve student performance.

The Power of Combined Reading Instruction Methods: Structured Literacy Meets Science of Reading

The choice of teaching approach often lies between structured literacy and the science of reading, but a combination of both might prove the most beneficial. The structured literacy approach emphasizes explicit, systematic teaching of phonics, spelling rules, and the structure of the English language, while the science of reading incorporates cognitive science research into how our brains learn to read. Research shows that this blended approach can result in higher literacy outcomes (Kilpatrick, 2018).

Boosting Reading Proficiency in Multilingual Students: Proven Strategies and Success Stories

Implementing specific strategies can enhance the reading proficiency of multilingual students. Strategies such as using bilingual books, explicit vocabulary instruction, and scaffolded reading experiences have shown promising results. For example, the University of Minnesota’s Project ESTRELLA found that students in classrooms where teachers used explicit vocabulary instruction outperformed their peers in vocabulary knowledge and comprehension.

Leveraging Differentiated Instruction and Gradual Release for Multilingual Success

Differentiated instruction and the gradual release of responsibility model are also recommended teaching approaches. Differentiated instruction, wherein learning is tailored to the individual needs of students, allows for varying degrees of language proficiency, learning styles, and cultural backgrounds. The gradual release model provides a balance of direct instruction and independent learning, helping multilingual students progress at a manageable pace.

Monitoring Progress: Essential Assessment Tools for Multilingual Learner

To ensure multilingual students are making adequate progress, educators should utilize a variety of assessments. These might include formative assessments, like observations and student work samples, and summative assessments, such as standardized tests. Progress monitoring tools, like DIBELS or the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), can offer valuable data over time.

Turning the Tide: Effective Interventions for Struggling Multilingual Readers

However, when progress is lacking, it’s crucial to intervene effectively. This might involve working with a literacy coach or specialist, providing additional targeted instruction, or implementing a Response to Intervention (RTI) model. For example, a district in Maryland implemented Fundations Reading program for struggling first-grade readers and found that 75% of students met grade-level expectations in reading after participating in the program.

In conclusion, empowering multilingual students to read proficiently is a multifaceted task, one that requires nuanced understanding, tailored strategies, and timely interventions. As educators, our responsibility extends beyond teaching a subject; we hold the key to unlock a student’s potential and aid them on their path to academic success. Embracing this role can not only transform individual lives but also create a more vibrant, linguistically rich educational environment.



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