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Researcher Endorses Phonemic Awareness Model
Report on Lynda Franco's NJTESOL/NJBE Workshop

Lynda Franco, of the University of Southern FloridaLynda Franco is a researcher at the Center for Applied Linguistics and teaches applied linguistics, cross-cultural understanding and curriculum materials and development at the University of Southern Florida. She spoke at the recent NJTESOL/NJBE Summer Institute, at Fairleigh Dickinson University, in Teaneck, New Jersey. The following is a firsthand report on Lynda Franco's workshop, "What's Different About Teaching Reading to English Language Learners?"

Lynda Franco started her workshop by stating that there is a significant language gap between native English-speaking kindergartners and their English Language Learner (ELL) classmates, particularly in pre-reading knowledge of vocabulary, and that this gap increases grade by grade. She stressed her belief, based on the research, that the key differences between ELLs and native English speakers are in the area of pre-reading phonology. "All children are born with the ability to produce the sounds throughout the world," she explained. "Parents encourage or discourage certain sounds, and at puberty this ability is plasticized due to physical changes."

Children still have the ability to learn new sounds, according to Lynda Franco, and it is crucial that they hear the sounds before trying to read them. She outlined three kinds of contrasts between an ELL's native language and English which their pre-reading instruction ought to focus on: English sounds which don't exist in the learner's first language; sounds which don't occur in the same positions in one language as in the other; and previously unencountered combinations of sounds.

In promoting a pre-reading emphasis on phonology, Lynda Franco was not, she warned, suggesting a return to the phonics methodology used in U.S. grade schools nearly 40 years ago. The problem with phonics, she explained, is that students are asked to look at symbols and attach sounds to them. Before this higher skill can be addressed, she said, ELLs need extensive instruction in phonemics, learning about the sounds of English without reference to any symbols. Phonemic awareness is at the core of Lynda Franco's model for teaching reading to ELLs.

It is a powerful model and one endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education. Just how pervasive the phonemic awareness model is was illustrated by Professor Franco's description of a recent editing project in which she helped McGraw-Hill's Science Research Associates (SRA) revise their materials to at least "do lip service," in her words, to the new model.

Lynda Franco was also responsible for the development of a phonemic awareness reading curriculum, "Language First!: A Multisensory Program for English Language Development," based on LeapFrog SchoolHouse's "LeapPad" talking books for grades P-2.

The curricula promoted by Lynda Franco are based on "research that there are factors that determine reading success," she explained. She provided a language acquisition chart to outline a process of reading instruction leading to phonemic awareness, concepts of print and letter-sound correspondences, in that order. Lynda Franco's chart showed four stages: preproduction; early production; speech emergence; and intermediate fluency.

Stage One: Preproduction (2 weeks to 2 months/0-500 receptive vocabulary)

At the preproduction stage, according to Lynda Franco, the students produce no speech, responding instead by pantomiming, gesturing or drawing, except for saying "yes," "no," and the names of other students. Teachers use Total Physical Response (TPR) commands and "manipulatives" and props, showing or writing key words only after oral presentations. At this stage, Lynda Franco suggests topic-based ESL instruction along with first-language instruction for core curriculum.

Stage Two: Early Production (2 to 4 months/up to 1,000 receptive-active vocabulary)

In the early production stage, Lynda Franco believes students should only produce words in isolation, while still showing comprehension physically. Teachers at this stage, according to her report, continue to expand receptive language using TPR, encourage attempts to respond, use concrete objects and start to use print to support oral presentations to the class. At this stage, she suggests topic and literature-based ESL plus first-language instruction for the core curriculum.

Stage Three: Speech Emergence (1 to 2 years/up to 3,000 receptive-active vocabulary)

At stage three, according to Lynda Franco's chart, teachers expand receptive language through comprehensible input, engage students in more productive use of language through re-telling, summarizing and reporting and begins to incorporate more writing activities. Students produce complete sentences, make basic grammar errors and function on a social level despite using a limited vocabulary. At stage three, Lynda Franco suggests content and literature-based ESL, along with sheltered and/or first-language instruction for the core curriculum.

Stage Four: Intermediate Fluency (3 to 5 years/beyond 3,000 receptive-active vocabulary)

At the intermediate fluency stage, teachers introduce figurative language, ask "why" questions and engage students in higher-order thinking (H.O.T.) skills. Students produce whole stories, make complex grammar errors and function somewhat on an academic level, using an expanded vocabulary. At stage four, Lynda Franco suggests sheltered instruction in the core curriculum, plus first-language literacy enrichment.

Lynda Franco finished her workshop by providing a checklist to help determine when English Language Learners are ready for reading in English. According to her report, ELLs are ready when they hear and discriminate among English sounds, know rhyming elements, know the alphabet, have learned the sound/symbol correspondence, possess an adequate listening/speaking vocabulary for the reading material, recognize common language symbols and understand simple directions/commands.

She stressed that students must be able to hear each English sound before the teacher tries to build a sound-symbol correspondence. Similarly, she said that rhyming elements can only be practiced after the teacher is certain the elements are heard accurately. An adequate listening/speaking vocabulary, according to Professor Franco, means an 80 to 90 percent correlation between aural vocabulary and the words in the selected reading text. The common language symbols ELLs need to recognize before beginning to read, according to Lynda Franco, are: singular/plural, present/past/future, word derivatives, prefixes, suffixes and base words. Teachers should confirm that students can understand concrete as well as abstract directions and commands prior to beginning instruction in reading skills, according to Lynda Franco.

Lynda Franco gave participants at the NJTESOL/NJBE Summer Institute some useful guidelines for integrating new research on phonemic awareness with an enlightened approach to ESL instruction, particularly in the area of reading skills. The ESL reading model she described seems to stand in contradistinction to popular whole language approaches which encourage earlier use of sustained silent reading in the language learning process. Several participants at her New Jersey workshop expressed concerns with a model which seems to emphasize encoding/decoding skills at the expense of other aspects in the reading process.

Reported by Robb Scott

2002 ESL MiniConference Online