Nurturing Bilingual Minds: Unveiling Insights from the Science of Reading

In a recent webinar conducted by Kathy Maximov, Chief Academic Officer of Footsteps2Brilliance, educators and administrators gathered to explore the intersection of the science of reading and the needs of multilingual learners. The session kicked off with a poll gauging participants’ attitudes towards the science of reading for multilingual learners, revealing a mix of perspectives. This blog will delve into the key takeaways from the discussion, focusing on three essential questions: 

  1. What is the science of reading? 
  2. How does it apply to multilingual learners? 
  3. And does the bilingual brain necessitate a unique approach?

Understanding the Science of Reading:

The science of reading is not a program or methodology but a dynamic body of research from neuroscience and education. It sheds light on how the brain learns to read and guides effective instructional practices. The brain’s involvement in reading is crucial, with various regions contributing to the reading process. Through explicit, systematic, diagnostic, and responsive instruction, educators can shape the brain’s development and enhance students’ reading readiness.

The Bilingual Brain

Does the bilingual brain require a distinct approach to reading instruction? Research indicates that the bilingual brain is unique in its interdependence of two languages, influencing cognitive advantages such as increased working memory and executive function. Bilingual individuals exhibit a cognitive advantage that spans early childhood and is unrelated to socioeconomic status. Notably, skills acquired in one language, such as decoding and phonological awareness, seamlessly transfer to the other language.

An Assets-Based Approach:

Shifting from viewing students as “English learners” to “emergent bilinguals” transforms the narrative. By acknowledging the linguistic assets these students bring to the classroom, educators can better support them in achieving proficiency in both languages. The goal is not merely to fill a perceived deficit but to foster bilingualism as a valuable skill.

Seven Effective Strategies for Emergent Bilinguals:

In a recent discussion on effective literacy instruction for multilingual learners, an insightful perspective emerged from a joint statement by The National Committee for Effective Literacy. This statement emphasized concerns about an overemphasis on phonics, potentially neglecting crucial language aspects. The fear is that an exclusive focus on phonics might hinder the development of English literacy for emergent bilingual students. Drawing from experiences in Bentonville, Arkansas, where a phonics program yielded disappointing results in assessments, the need for a holistic approach became evident.

We must recognize the interconnectedness of phonics, language development, and meaning-making and emphasize holistic teaching that addresses these components simultaneously.  Here are seven key strategies that support the holistic approach:

The key takeaway is that literacy instruction for multilingual learners must intertwine three crucial areas: phonics, rich natural language exposure, and high-interest topics. Programs like Footsteps2Brilliance adopt a multisensory approach, integrating pictures, sounds, and repeat opportunities. This ensures that students simultaneously build language proficiency while mastering decoding skills.

The importance of background knowledge was highlighted through the Recht and Leslie study. The research revealed that students with knowledge of a subject outperformed others in reading comprehension, emphasizing the need to strengthen background knowledge. Bridging the gap between home language and English literacy is vital. Footsteps2Brilliance exemplifies this by offering bilingual support, enabling students to grasp content in their home language before transitioning to English.

Crucial to language development is the Monitor Hypothesis, emphasizing the need for a calibrated monitor to balance fluency and accuracy. Footsteps2Brilliance employs a model involving listening to a model reading, choral reading, paired reading, and self-recording. This multifaceted approach supports students in developing oral language skills in both English and their home language.

Writing is positioned as a pivotal aspect of literacy. Footsteps2Brilliance ensures that every book concludes with a writing activity, encouraging students to create their own bilingual books. Writing serves not only as a form of expression but also as a means for students to actively participate in the language-learning process.

Recognizing the importance of familiarity, the strategy involves connecting to students’ existing knowledge and experiences. Using cognates and culturally relevant content, Footsteps2Brilliance facilitates the transfer of skills from the home language to English, making the learning experience more engaging and relatable.

Challenging the common barriers to biliteracy, an assets-based orientation encourages teachers to recognize and support the home language, even if they do not speak it themselves. This approach, coupled with resources like Footsteps2Brilliance, contributes to successful biliteracy outcomes.

Assessment and differentiation are crucial components. Footsteps2Brilliance incorporates real-time monitoring, enabling teachers to identify areas of strength and weakness. This information guides targeted interventions, ensuring that each student receives personalized support aligned with their unique learning journey.

In conclusion, effective literacy instruction for multilingual learners is a nuanced process that demands a holistic, culturally responsive, and individualized approach. By integrating these strategies and utilizing resources like Footsteps2Brilliance, educators can navigate the complexities of biliteracy instruction, fostering a love for language and literacy among all students.

Click here to hear the complete webinar.

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