PROFICIENT READING AND SPELLING IN ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE: CONSIDERING EVIDENCE-BASED STRATEGIES FROM THE NATIONAL READING PANEL

A. van Staden

University of the Free State (SOUTH AFRICA)
The acquisition of reading and spelling has been a major area of difficulty for English second-language (ESL) learners. Within the Southern African educational context there is a paucity of evidence-based research findings on the literacy challenges that learners face and the application of effective intervention strategies to address them. Drawing on strategies proposed by the National Reading Panel (NRP), this empirical paper investigates whether the reading and spelling skills of Grade 4 ESL learners (in Lesotho, Southern Africa) can improve significantly following evidence-based direct instruction and reading scaffolding techniques to enhance their literacy skills. Results demonstrated that ESL learners in the experimental group (N = 35) significantly outperformed those in the control group (N = 35) with regard to sight words, reading fluency, word recognition, syntactic awareness, vocabulary knowledge, reading comprehension and spelling proficiency. Pearson correlation analyses revealed significant relationships between L2 sight words/reading fluency, word recognition, vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness, spelling and L2 reading comprehension. This demonstrates that the same cognitive-linguistic processes and related factors underlying reading and spelling acquisition in monolingual learners are involved in L2 reading and spelling acquisition. With regard to their practical significance, these results yielded medium effect sizes. As we move forward in creating responsive literacy environments to support ESL learners’ literacy development, it is essential to assess the effectiveness of the strategies used to improve their reading and spelling skills. Against this background, it is proposed that the present results will play an important part in understanding the theoretical and practical implications of teaching reading and spelling to ESL learners.