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Literacy and Academic Performance in ELLs

Relationship between Bilingual Education and Literacy

Bilingual education is the delivery of academic content in more than one language. The main purpose of multilingual schooling is to enhance understanding of the contents of academic programs amongst learners who are not proficient in the native language (Escamilla et al., 2014). It also involves teaching native speakers English language using a foreign dialectal. Literacy, as a term, refers to the ability to read and write.

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As a concept, it is a set of skills that allow individuals to read, write, interpret, and understand information (Escamilla et al., 2014). To attain these skills, learners must be in a position to be taught these skills in familiar languages. Therefore, bilingual education can be regarded as an enabling factor in literacy as it allows the delivery of literacy content in more than one language, which facilitates different aspects of knowledge. One of the aspects of literacy is that it facilitates is the ability to read. For learners who are not native English speakers, learning to read in this language is a major barrier to attaining reading skills (Escamilla et al., 2014).

It is important that they are taught reading skills in both their native language and English. Additionally, bilingual education enables the learners to interpret information such as instructions given during class lessons. Sometimes learners find it difficult to interpret and understand certain information delivered in English. Translating the information into the learner’s first language enhances their comprehension ability. Delivering the content in different languages also enhances the learner’s capacity to remember the material taught in class. Therefore, bilingual education can be regarded as a tool that facilitates the success of literacy programs as it enables content to be delivered in various languages for learners to understand better.

Challenges to Literacy Educational Achievement Gap

Despite the importance attached to attaining literacy, there are various drawbacks that hinder the smooth learning of those skills. Some of the challenges include the need to have strong skills in literacy as has been necessitated by the dynamic political and social environment, and the need to connect what is read in text and what happens in the society.

However, the biggest contemporary challenge to literacy is the educational achievement gap in these skills. It is defined as the disparity between the socioeconomic status of learners and their corresponding performance in education (DiPrete & Jennings, 2012). Various socioeconomic factors that contribute to the achievement gap in education include income, gender, race, and ethnicity (DiPrete & Jennings, 2012).

These elements result in subgroups of learners that are either advantaged or disadvantaged. The most common subclasses that are associated with educational achievement gap in the United States include white and non-white students, female and male, students from high income families and those from low income families, those whose first language is English and those who have foreign languages as their first language, and students whose parents have college education and those whose parents do not (DiPrete & Jennings, 2012).

These differences in the socioeconomic status result in inaccessibility to quality educational facilities among poor or minority students, racism against non-white students, gender discrimination, and reduced motivation to learn especially amongst students whose parents have not undergone college education. The language barrier also makes it difficult to understand what is taught. This situation can lead to increased dropouts. It can also lead to the widening of the gap between the learners attain the necessary literacy skills and those who fail to attain the least anticipated standards of knowledge.

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What is Literacy?

In a simple description, literacy can be seen as the ability read and write (Tompkins, Campbell, Green, & Smith, 2014). However, the concept of literacy encompasses more than just reading and writing. The concept of literacy involves skills such as the ability to read, write, comprehend, perform basic arithmetic and listen. Literacy also entails the ability to incorporate these skills into critical thinking so that they can be applied in various real-life situations (Tompkins et al., 2014). Creative thinking and effective communication also determine whether one is literate or not. Therefore, literacy does not only involve learning basic reading and writing skills but also encompasses the ability to use the learned skills to come up with solutions to problems faced in day-to-day life activities.

What are the Components of Literacy?

The primary components of literacy include writing, phonological awareness, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, and decoding. These features form the basic structure of literacy education.

Writing is the ability to express feelings or ideas through written text. Writing allows learners to communicate effectively by putting their messages down in writing. It is one of the most important components of literacy.

Phonological awareness is the ability of the learner to understand the fabric of sound in a language. It entails skills such as the capacity to identify the number of words in a sentence, to separate and put together words of different syllables, understanding rhyming words, and awareness of various sounds in a sentence (Tompkins et al., 2014).

Vocabulary is the ability to learn as many words as possible so that one can be able to engage in meaningful communication. Oral vocabulary refers to the capacity to comprehend enough words so that one can engage in effective oral communicate (Tompkins et al., 2014). Reading vocabulary refers to the knowledge of enough of words so that one can be able to communicate through written words. Vocabulary is acquired either through experiences and encounters or by having learners read words on their own.

Comprehension refers to the ability to understand the meanings of spoken or written words, sentences, or passages (Tompkins et al., 2014). This is achieved by training learners to monitor their comprehension of the passages they read so that they are always aware of when they understand what they read and when they read but do not understand (Tompkins et al., 2014).

Fluency refers to the ability to speak or read at fast and with clarity without experiencing any difficulties. While fluency is reading and speaking with clarity, decoding refers to the ability of the learner to recognize unfamiliar words and pronounce them correctly and understand their meanings when reading (Tompkins et al., 2014).

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What Programs fall under Literacy?

Some of the common programs include family literacy, media literacy, emergent literacy, and digital literacy. Family literacy is an integrated approach to knowledge that encompasses the efforts aimed at improving the leaning programs for both parents and students. It may involve aspects such as adult schooling, parental education, and interactive learning between the students and parents (Reardon, Valentino, & Shores, 2012).

Media literacy involves having the capacity to obtain, scrutinize, interpret, and produce messages using various mediums of communication (Reardon et al., 2012). Media literacy also encompasses the ability to use various communication medium to find solutions to real-life problems.

Emergent literature describes the knowledge children have that enables them to read and write even before they are formally taught how to do so (Reardon et al., 2012). It is a sign that the ability to seek information and record it in writing inherent in the society even before formative learning years.

Digital literacy is the ability to incorporate technical and cognitive abilities in the use of technological devices with the aim of creating, disseminating, evaluating, and conveying information (Reardon et al., 2012). In digital literacy programs, learners are taught how to use digital devices to access and make use of information.

Characteristics of a Diverse ELL Population and the Relationship to Literacy

A diverse population of English language learners refers to a group of learners who have different needs and abilities because of their varying backgrounds (Walqui, 2012). The features characterize a diverse population of learners including religious differences like whether a learner is a Christian or Muslim; differences in places of birth or origin; differences in developmental aspects such as cognitive ability; exposure to language; amount of time spent in the United States; educational level of parents; status of immigration; race or ethnicity; and formal school experience (Walqui, 2012).

Due to these characteristics, there is no single method of delivering literacy skills that fit all the students. As a result, instructors are required to be aware of those disparities and employ teaching methods that are responsive and sensitive to different learners.

Challenges to Education; Addressing the Achievement Gap

As discussed earlier, one of the major problems ailing the education sector in the United States is the educational achievement gap. This issue must be addressed to ensure the provision of equitable education. One of the ways to close the gap is to address cultural concerns (Sadovnik, O’Day, Bohrnstedt, & Borman, 2013). To realize this solution, there is a need to employ more culturally diverse staff so that the necessities of students from different cultures are addressed. Cultural issues can also be addressed by training staff to be sensitive to the cultures of the learners and to use the cultural diversity as an asset.

Another way to close the gap is to offer adequate support to students. The first step towards this way out is the identification of students with special needs and putting in place sound measures to offer the right environment to develop their skills. Support can be offered by mentors, role models, or through peers (Sadovnik et al., 2013). It is also important to keep in touch with the community and social services for learners who might require special backing. It can also be availed in the form of after-school and summer programs (Sadovnik et al., 2013). Besides, it is important to reach out to the families of learners who might be having special needs to work with the parents with a view of facilitating their learning processes.

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Using improved, quality, and learner-centered instruction methods of is another way of closing the achievement gap. Such methods include the use of evidence-based learning tactics, spending more time delivering content to struggling students, and frequently monitoring their progress to identify weaknesses and ways to address them.

Last but not least, provision of adequate resources can reduce the achievement gap significantly. Policymakers should formulate ways that will make sure learners from different socioeconomic backgrounds receive efficient and equitable levels of education. Financial resources, especially from the government, should be distributed impartially among schools with diverse populations of learners. Necessary pedagogical facilities should also be provided to make the impartation of knowledge to learners easy and enjoyable.


DiPrete, T. A., & Jennings, J. L. (2012). Social and behavioral skills and the gender gap in early educational achievement. Social Science Research, 41(1), 1-15.

Escamilla, K., Hopewell, S., Butvilofsky, S., Sparrow, W., Soltero-González, L., Ruiz-Figueroa, O.,…Escamilla, M. (2014). Biliteracy from the start: Literacy squared in action. Philadelphia, PA: Caslon Publishing.

Reardon, S. F., Valentino, R. A., & Shores, K. A. (2012). Patterns of literacy among US students. The Future of Children, 22(2), 17-37.

Sadovnik, A. R., O’Day, J. A., Bohrnstedt, G. W., & Borman, K. M. (Eds.). (2013). No Child Left Behind and the reduction of the achievement gap: Sociological perspectives on federal educational policy. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Tompkins, G., Campbell, R., Green, D., & Smith, C. (2014). Literacy for the 21st century. Pearson Australia. London, UK: Pearson.

Walqui, A. (2012). Instruction for diverse groups of English language learners. Web.

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