Podcast Series

Reading Science and Teaching Literacy to English Learners: Conceptual and Practical Implications

Dr. Louisa Moats
Author of LANGUAGE! Live®
Dr. Louisa Moats

Dr. Louisa Moats has been a teacher, psychologist, researcher, graduate school faculty member, and author of many influential scientific journal articles, books, and policy papers on the topics of reading, spelling, language, and teacher preparation. Dr. Moats is the author of LANGUAGE! Live®, a blended reading intervention program for grades 5–12, and the lead author of LETRS® professional development and the textbook, Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers. Dr. Moats is also co-author of Spellography, a structured language word study program. Dr. Moats’ awards include the prestigious Samuel T. and June L. Orton award from the International Dyslexia Association® for outstanding contributions to the field; the Eminent Researcher Award from Learning Disabilities Australia; and the Benita Blachman award from The Reading League.

Learn more about Dr. Louisa Moats
Dr. Claude Goldenberg
Nomellini & Olivier Professor of Education, Emeritus, Graduate School of Education at Stanford University
Claude Goldenberg, PhD
Dr. Claude Goldenberg

Dr. Claude Goldenberg is the Nomellini & Olivier Professor of Education, Emeritus, at Stanford University. He received his A.B. in history from Princeton University and M.A. and Ph.D. from UCLA’s Graduate School of Education. He taught junior high school in San Antonio, Texas, and first grade in a bilingual elementary school in Los Angeles. A native of Argentina, his areas of research centered on promoting academic achievement among language minority students, particularly those from Spanish-speaking backgrounds.

Goldenberg was on the National Research Council's Committee for the Prevention of Early Reading Difficulties in Young Children (1997) and the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth (2006), which synthesized research about promoting literacy development among multilingual learners. He is also co-author of Promoting Academic Achievement among English Learners: A Guide to the Research (2010, Corwin), and co-editor of Language and Literacy Development in Bilingual Settings (2011, Guilford).

He currently works promoting research, policy, and practices to enhance literacy and academic development among students not yet proficient in English.

Learn more about Dr. Claude Goldenberg
Release Date: Thursday, January 18, 2024

Join us for this lively and informative discussion between two literacy powerhouses. Dr. Claude Goldenberg, a bilingual literacy expert and author, and Dr. Louisa Moats, author of Speech to Print, Spellography, and creator of LANGUAGE! Live® and LETRS®, as they explore the universals for teaching children to read in any language. What does reading science tell us about how students learn to read in a language other than their own? Is there a science of reading instruction that is applicable across language contexts?

Our experts will discuss the relationship between oral and written language learning and the implications of this relationship for teaching students with varied language backgrounds. They will also explore the common debates still being resolved within the EL teaching community and how to ensure the best literacy learning for every child—regardless of their native language.

Our guests will discuss:

  • Universal principles and guidelines for teaching children to read and write in any language
  • Some fundamental ideas and practices about teaching ELs that any teacher should know
  • The role of oral language comprehension and use when learning to read and write in a second language
  • Chronic gaps between white, black, and Hispanic students in the U.S., and evidence to support doing more to help students who are not achieving.

We hope you’ll join us for this timely conversation.


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Welcome to EDVIEW360.

Claude Goldenberg:

I was on the National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children and Youth some 20 years ago, and I actually reviewed the research on sociocultural influences on language minority children's reading development, and we found really very little evidence that those culturally relevant, culturally responsive teaching, culturally responsive pedagogy, I say this kind of quaking in my boots that the evidence for that is, I mean, at best very weak.


You've just heard from Dr. Claude Goldenberg, literacy expert and professor at Stanford University. Dr. Goldenberg, along with Dr. Louisa Moats, are our guests today on EDVIEW360.

Pam Austin:

Hello, this is Pam Austin. Welcome back to the EDVIEW360 podcast series. We are so excited to kick off the new year with a top-notch discussion with two literacy masters, and we are so glad to have you with us today. I'm conducting today's podcast from our Dallas, TX, headquarters. Today, we are excited to welcome two trailblazing thought leaders. These authors and researchers are renowned in the literacy education field and both have dedicated their lives’ work to improve reading for every child, especially those with learning challenges. Before we get started, let me tell you just a bit more about our guests.

Dr. Louisa Moats has been a teacher, psychologist, researcher, graduate school faculty member, and the author of many influential scientific journal articles, books, and policy papers about reading, spelling, language, and teacher preparation. Dr. Moats is the author of LANGUAGE! Live®, a blended reading intervention program for grades 5 to 12. The lead author of LETRS®, professional development and the textbook, Speech to Print Language Essentials for Teachers. She recently wrote an advisory for the World Bank about teaching reading to students across the world. Dr. Moats is also co-author of Spellography, a structured language word-study program. Her awards include the prestigious Samuel T. and June L. Orton Award from the International Dyslexia Association® for Outstanding Contributions to the Field, the Eminent Researcher Award from Learning Disabilities Australia, and the Benita Blachman Award from The Reading League.

Dr. Claude Goldenberg is the Nomelini and Olivia Professor of Education emeritus at Stanford University. He taught junior high school in San Antonio, TX, and first grade in a bilingual elementary school in Los Angeles. A native of Argentina, his areas of research centered on promoting academic achievement among language minority students, particularly those from Spanish-speaking backgrounds. Dr. Goldenberg was on the National Research Council's Committee for the Prevention of Early Reading Difficulties in Young Children and the National Literacy Panel of Language Minority Children and Youth, which synthesized research about promoting literacy development among multilingual learners. He is also co-author of Promoting Academic Achievement Among English Learners: A Guide To The Research, and co-editor of Language and Literacy Development in Bilingual Settings. 

Welcome, Dr. Moats and Dr. Goldenberg. 


Yeah, great to be with you.


You know, there is so much debate about the science of reading and teaching reading to English learners. Let's start at the beginning. What does reading science tell us about how students learn to read in a language other than their own? Is there a science of reading instruction that pertains across language contexts?


Well, that's a great question to start off with, Pam. Thanks. So, I guess I'll jump in right away. So, let me just start by saying full disclosure: The term science of reading kind of makes me, well, let me use the technical terms. It kind of sometimes gives me the creeps because it's become a polarizing term. You know, it's become a lightning rod and I have found that people refer to the science of reading and they mean really different things.

People who are advocating the science of reading will talk about its comprehensiveness and there's lots going on, but how important foundational skills are. And then people who are skeptical of the science of reading, they'll say it's more than just phonics, on the faulty assumption that the science of reading is just about phonics. So, I like to think about reading research, and reading research that is basic. That is applied. That is instructional. That informs us on the process. What needs to happen in kids' brains, and then what needs to happen in classrooms, what needs to happen in communities and in families and in schools, of course, to promote literacy. So, I just wanted to get that on the table from the get-go and I'd be interested if Louisa has any comments about that specific issue. But to your question, there is a lot of research knowledge that we have about how children learn to read and under what conditions learning and reading development can be optimized and we have it, certainly for kids who know the language as they're learning to read it, which is what most of the research is about. There's a smaller but not insignificant body of research on individuals who are learning to read in a language while they are simultaneously learning to speak and understand, and that's the situation with English learners. So, Louisa will elaborate on this more profoundly than I can. Let me just start off with, we know for a fact about as factual as you can be in the social sciences that in order to become literate there's got to be constructed in your brain something called the reading circuit or the literacy circuit.

We're born knowing intuitively that oral language, speech that comes in through our ears. We know intuitively it's meaningful. Human speech is the external stimulus that newborns orient most towards and there's a good evolutionary reason for that. Human speech is in part of our evolution for I don't know, 300,000 years at least, but literacy, written language, which is different from oral language. Written language comes to us through our eyes and it's got to be processed differently and we've got to make those in Louisa's famous phrase, those speech-to-print connections. We've got to make it in our brain to create that reading circuit and we've got to have instructional conditions and environmental conditions that'll promote the creation of that reading circuit. That is true whether you know the language that you're learning to read and write in or you're learning the language that you're learning to read and write in. That is really non-negotiable. You cannot be literate, fully literate, without that literacy circuit being constructed.

Now, the issue with English learners is that they're learning the language simultaneously, right? So, they not only have to learn the orthography, the spelling system in English if that's the second language. Now, just footnote here: There are, and Louisa can speak of this also based on the paper she recently wrote, there are millions of children around the world who are learning to read in the language they're simultaneously learning to speak and understand. Here, we call them English learners. Around the world they could be French learners, they could be Polish learners, they could be whatever.

It's a question of what's your first language or what's your second language. And if your first language is the one you're learning to read and write in, you have to learn that orthography. You have to make that connection, the speech-to-print connection. The sounds of the language have got to get mapped on to their written representation and then that's got to be mapped on to the meanings that the words carry. If you know the language, you know the sounds of the language, you know the meaning the words carry.

If you're learning the language, you not only have to learn the orthography, you've got to learn the sounds of the language and you've got to learn the meaning that the words carry. So, that's a bigger challenge for the learner and, to be clear, to be blunt, it's a bigger challenge for teachers. It's more difficult, it's more challenging to teach children to read and write a language they are simultaneously learning. But the same basic brain circuitry has got to be created. There's no getting around that. But what teachers have to do is provide additional instructional support to familiarize students with the sounds of the language that they're then mapping letters onto and the meanings of the words, in order to make that circuitry between sound, meaning, and print vibrant and solid. Because if that's not solid, your literacy development is going to be hampered. Louisa, I'd be very interested in your take on what I just pontificated about.

Louisa Moats: 

Yeah. Well, absolutely. That's a very clear and understandable explanation of what has to go on. So, I'm thinking about the position I was in when the World Bank came to me to write a paper about the fundamentals of teaching reading in any language across the world, and at first I said, “Well, I'm not really qualified to do this. First of all, I'm monolingual and secondly, I have no experience in schools in Africa or anywhere else other than schools here in the U.S.,” where there may be a high population of English learners, such as the BIE schools, which are fascinating. Bureau of Indian Education schools, where even in my own backyard, the majority of the kids are English learners. They are Hispanic English learners, from various cultures actually. So, I had to ask myself: “What are the universals?” Are there any universals and what evidence can I cite about any universals? And I decided that I could explain just what you summarized, Claude, which is that, no matter what the language and what the situation, this reading brain has to be constructed and there have to be links made between the orthography or the writing system, the speech-sound system of the language, and the meanings of the words that are being read. And, as fundamental as that seems, it needed to be explained, because across the world, even that, and especially in developing countries, even that is a foreign idea.

The prevailing idea, apparently, and I got all this secondhand from people who have worked in developing countries especially, and that's what the World Bank does, the prevailing idea is that if you just put a bunch of flashcards in front of kids and force them to memorize and recite, that somehow the words are going to be imprinted on their brains. It was kind of a fundamental version of whole language that took hold here in the states. So, that was the universal idea that kids are learning language and all of these things we're talking about. The speech-sound system of the language. The way it is embodied in the print system that's being used, and the meanings of the words all have to do with language processing. Reading is only, incidentally, visual, and that's an old phrase from the 1970s that I learned when I was beginning to learn about this.

But yeah, I'd love to talk more about what we know. If the research on kids who are learning English as they are learning to read, it specifies in some way that the instructional process is different. I think where there's a lot of debate is well, is it different and how should it be different? And what evidence do we have about the universalities of instruction? What's going to work for everybody? Regardless. 


Well, I mean, I think the first thing we need to get clear is I don't know anything that works for everybody all the time. Nothing. We have a lot of insight into strategies and approaches, techniques that are more likely to work than others, but even when we get to our best Tier 1 classroom instruction and then layer on that Tier 2 instruction for the roughly let's just say 20 percent who need additional support, and then the high-powered, really intensive Tier 3 instruction, we're still, under the best of circumstances, at about 90 percent, 95 percent success. So, we don't have anything that works across the board to my knowledge, and I try to emphasize that, and this is part of the science of reading that people don't get. People assume that science means certainty and that for any particular individual there's no certainty. There's higher probability and lower probability, and we know that if we focus on creating the reading brain inside the brain and creating the conditions outside the brain, it'll facilitate that. You have a much higher chance of success with your students than if you don't, than if you just sort of put up flashcards or just flood them with books or put them in a rich literacy environment all of which are OK things. I have no objection to using flashcards. Strategically. I have no objection to rich literacy environment. I'm a big fan of even before schooling starts. I mean, no one opposes that. But by themselves, if you don't really focus explicitly on creating that reading circuitry with the map on that we talked about, if you focus on that, you're much more likely to be successful. So, we have kids, even when language is not an issue, who have very serious challenges for all sorts of reasons. And we try to in the research…Presumably you get closer and closer to things that will work…they're more and more likely to work for as many children as possible.

But when we get to the English learners, we're in the same situation with the additional layer of you're dealing with a second language learning and there's tremendous variability in second language learning, just as there's tremendous variability in literacy learning. So, you have sort of one compounding the other, which makes it a challenge for students and it makes it a challenge for teachers. But I think I can say with a fair degree of certainty and I should cite a couple of studies just to make sure we're scientific in our discussion. The studies that we have, as relatively few as they are, in an amazing way converge with what the neuroscience says. Neuroscientists talk about brains. We teachers talk about kids, and the neuroscientists say the brains need additional support if you're learning to read in a language you're simultaneously learning to speak and understand. You need support in the phonological regions, the sound system of language, and in the semantic regions, the meaning system of language. They've got these diagrams, the brains and the different things going on and what's got to be connected. And we have studies, the ones I cite all the time are by your friends, Sharon Vaughn and Linnea Ehri, and they've both done very solid, convincing studies that I'm telling you, Louisa, converge with the neuroscientists in a way that you would think someone's making it up, because what they've done is they've taken interventions that have been successful. This is for early readers at risk for reading difficulties. They've taken interventions that have worked for monolingual kids, and when I say work, increase the likelihood of success, I want to make sure we talk about working, we operationalize it, increasing the chance of success compared to some comparison condition. So, they take monolingual interventions for monolingual kids having difficulty getting traction in reading and they add on language supports so that there's instruction in the words that are being used to teach children to read and the sounds of the words and the sound symbol mapping on.

Like you said, people don't really realize this. You don't realize that if you know the language, you take for granted that once you decode a word that's familiar to you, usually not always, but usually recognize it immediately. Right, if I'm decoding run, and I know the word run, a typical early CVC word that we teach in beginning decoding once I've decoded it and kind of said it to myself: “Oh, run, right.” So, decoding is not the same as word recognition. But if you know the words, it's very close. For English learners, if they don't know the words that you're teaching to decode, they can't recognize them. Literally.

You know that orthographic mapping concept that Linnea Ehri has gifted to the world. That is a direct behavioral analogy to what the neuroscientists say is the support that needs to be provided to the brain. They have this concept. The technical term is binding.

The neuroscientists talk about binding the sound system to the spelling system, to the semantic system, binding. That's what orthographic mapping is.

You connect the sounds of the word to its written representation, letter by letter. Not a whole thing, but letter by letter. You map those and then you map it to the meaning and once you're exposed to that several times, you've got…that becomes a sight word.

Sight words are no longer just those irregular words you have to memorize as a big blob. Sight words are words that have gone through the orthographic mapping process and they become part of your sight vocabulary. So, Linnea’s and Sharon’s studies really demonstrate this in a very convincing way that if you take what works for kids in general, which is based on orthographic mapping and based on fluency and based on reading orally fluently, but map on to that instruction that specifically looks at the words, make sure kids understand the words that you're teaching them to decode and can decode them. Because the first time they come across them they have to decode them but then map them on to the sound system, the spelling system, the semantic system. You are increasing the likelihood that those kids who were having difficulty getting traction in early reading are going to start getting traction and their interventions really demonstrate that they get moderate, about equivalent to what the early interventions get with monolingual kids. So, I think, as small as the research base is, from my perspective it's pretty robust.


I'd like to interject right now because there's so much information that both of you have been sharing, and my teacher brain has just been igniting with all of this information and just because of the background experiences I've had. I'm still a teacher at heart and what I am hearing from you is research, that body of research we're looking at. It's so important in understanding that background of what needs to happen. Right? Those language processes. And, I'm just reiterating because my teacher brain is just looking at it this way so we're looking at oral, the orthography, sound mapping, moving on to meeting all those additional layers that is also expected for your English language learners. One thing that you said previously, Claude, was that practical application, and you too, Louisa, talking about what it means in that classroom experience, the basic applied Instruction, and, as you both speak, that's what gets to the heart of it. Right, understanding what it is, but understanding what the students need, because everyone won't need everything in the same degree or manner that is expected. So, with that in mind, let us move on to the next question.

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I want to think about some fundamental ideas and practices. So, we talked in general terms of ideas and practices for teaching English language learners, and what should every teacher know? You alluded to this, but I want to really get at the practical nature of “what?” As a teacher is walking into the classroom, I've got 25 kids in my classroom. They speak 13 different languages. What do I do? Louisa, do you want to start with answering this question?


Oh, I’ll try. I mean. That's a question that comes up over and over again and the question of my mind is: OK, where have I seen evidence for what is the best approach? For example, a question is: Do kids need to have a translator available to them in the classroom if they speak a minority language of some kind, or are they going to be able to learn just if they're plunged into English language instruction? And if it does work, what kind of things should the teacher be doing to help it work? And there are many classrooms where there are many languages in a big melting pot. So, what is the teacher to do? So, this is all I have seen about it, that Teresa Roberts, for example, I remember did a study with Vietnamese immigrant children who were in one of the city schools, I think in California, and the question was: If we just go ahead with English language instruction, beginning with direct instruction of what the speech sounds are in English, which are very different from Vietnamese, and we teach them the same way that we teach the English-speaking kids, and at the same time we bolster their understanding of what the words are that they are beginning to repeat and sound out and work with in phoneme awareness will it work? And it was overwhelmingly positive. It did work and those kids learned faster and better than the comparison group of English-speaking kids who weren't getting that kind of instruction. So, I thought, well, that's interesting, that kind of defies the other belief and I'm characterizing it as a belief the kids have to have command of a language at the oral language, conversational level to be able to learn the symbol system for reading. And then just to her presentation by the people who ran The Reading First program for the Bureau of Indian Education Schools, and they got some of the best results of any Reading First grant program, where they ended up doubling the number of kids at proficient and advanced levels in those schools. And how did they do it? And a lot of these kids only spoke their tribal language when they came into school. They did not have command of English and what they did was direct instruction, reading mastery, intensively, with some supervision, and those kids did better than, after several years of instruction, did better on all kinds of measures than kids who had not had that kind of instruction.

But reading mastery is a comprehensive, systematic, explicit program. That also seems to defy the myth that it's not culturally relevant, because in these tribal cultures the kids don't make eye contact, they don't like to speak. If you ask them to respond orally, that will be defying their cultural norm and so on. And the guy who was a head of this, who was a Comanche by heritage, said “Hogwash.” If the job is to teach them English and to teach them how to read, this is what worked and he, Casey Sovo, is continuing the work in other tribal schools and other parts of the country because of the evidence that it was so powerful and the message was you don't need to wait until the kids are comfortable with English conversation.

You can teach them to link sound, print, and meaning as long as there is enough opportunity to respond, to get correct feedback, to learn what the words mean.

Yes, you have to do that more. You have to have more wait time. That's another thing that Tony Fierro talks about a lot. He's a bilingual colleague of ours. Many people have heard him speak and he always talks about the extra cognitive load the kids are under, who are trying to manage learning what the words mean while they're learning to match speech and print, and he also is in favor of explicit, direct instruction on what the sounds are. You know how they're different from English, and the more explicit we can be in comparing the languages that this symbol represents this in English, it represents that in Spanish, and so on. The more refined the instruction will be. But I want to throw this back to Claude and ask, since Claude has been in the middle of these national debates and has recently engineered a kind of rapprochement between various schools of thought about this, where have the debates moved at this point in our national discussion? You've been in the thick of it since the beginning.


So, if you'll pardon me, let me take a little digression here and I'm not avoiding anything, although you might think I am. I just want to say a word about bilingual education, because that's always in the space, shall we say, when we talk about literacy and education in general. We call them language minority kids, we call them Emergent Bilinguals, we call them English learners, that term du jour is multilingual learners. We use them interchangeably, they mean slightly different things, but we don't wanna get into a semantic rabbit hole. I just wanna be very clear that I think there are a lot of advantages of bilingual education and if I could wave a magic wand, I would make bilingual education kind of the norm and make it part of the curriculum, and not just for English learners but for kids in general. People in general. And we should join the rest of the world and be at least bilingual, if not multilingual. Most people around the world are multilingual, and the United States is rather unique in being almost maniacally monolingual English. There are various reasons, we don't need to get into that, but I think bilingual education should be part of the curriculum, just like math and science and social studies and the rest, and there are a lot of reasons for this and I don't want to get too far into this digression and we can talk about it if you'd like.

But the fact of the matter is that most kids in the United States, most English learners, the very most are learning to read and write in a language they're learning to speak and understand, even if they're in a bilingual program. Typically it's a very short-term bilingual program, called Transitional, so they may develop first some literacy skills in their home language, typically Spanish, but it could be others. There’s Korean. There's Japanese. But Spanish by far is the largest number. And even if they're in an early transition bilingual education program, eventually in second, third, fourth grade they're gonna be transitioning over to English, which they are still learning. Most of these kids when they transition to English instruction they're still English learners because they haven't hit the threshold to be classified fully English proficient. So, even the minority that are in a transitional program will eventually end up in a program where they're still learning English to become proficient, equivalent to their third-, fourth-grade peers. So, they're still in a situation where they're learning to read and write in a language they're simultaneously learning. So, a lot of the work that I've been doing has been focusing on this group of kids.

Not because I disparage in any way bilingual education. I just wanna make that clear. We'd be having a different conversation. We talked about that, and Pam and Louisa, we can dip into that later if you want, but I just wanna make that very clear. We'd be better off if we had bilingual education for everyone, but we'd be in a different place. 

But we're talking about the reality. I'm a big fan of reality, don't leave home without it, and even though all of my bilingual colleagues deeply wish we were in a bilingual society, we are not, and so we need to talk about how to help kids improve in the context that they're in. As far as the practical application and cultural relevance and the hogwash that your Comanche colleague said, I won't go that far because, well, I don't wanna get in trouble with my bilingual English learner colleagues. Whom I esteem, I mean, I think it's important for us to really recognize that different people bring different things to the table.

I was on the National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children and Youth some 20 years ago, and I actually reviewed the research on sociocultural influences on language minority children's reading development and we found really very little evidence that those culturally relevant, culturally responsive teaching, culturally responsive pedagogy, I say this kind of quaking in my boots because I know you talk about lightning rods, I mean that is one of the biggest lightning rods around. That the evidence for that is, I mean, at best, very weak. 

What we have evidence for, and this isn't really super strong. But there's more of this. If you think about culturally responsive as connecting with children's lived experiences, right? Culturally responsive is such a vague term. It's kind of like the science of reading. People construct different things and so they use these terms and they'll say it's very important to have culturally responsive teaching. Well, OK, what do you mean exactly? You mean have a quinceanera? Have mariachis? I mean, what exactly are you talking about? Well, what I think they mean, what they should mean, is connecting with children's lived experiences and, as you well know, Louisa, certainly you do.

I mean there's a vast cognitive psychology and instructional psychology literature that one of the things you wanna do is connect with what kids know. You wanna connect with their background knowledge if they don't have it provide it, because background knowledge is a very important precursor to additional learning, even if you think of it like Vygotsky in terms that zone of proximal development. The instructional space is what kids can do independently because they already know how to do it, and what they can't do unless you provide assistance, which I like to think of as teaching. I think of teaching as assistance, helping kids go through that zone of proximal development. And part of going through that zone of proximal development is either tapping into what they already know or providing what they need to know in order to get to that next stage of learning. And the evidence is really quite clear, just from the general psychological and instructionalpsychology perspective, that you need to build on what you know and if you don't know something, you need to provide that. But when we talk about culturally responsive, it's very vague and when you look at the literature, it's I'll tell you, when I looked at the literature and some of this literature interestingly enough, Louisa, comes from Africa and I found some studies where they looked at kids' relative comprehension of text.

If the text tapped into familiar legends and stories and narrative forms that were familiar to them from their culture. Ojibwe that would be here in the United States. In Africa the kids speak Swahili or Kinyarwanda. I did some work in Rwanda some years ago. So, if they come from that culture, there are certain legends and themes and story grammar and genres that they're familiar with and when they read stories that were familiar to them, in contrast to those that had, say, a more Western orientation, they were more likely to understand those stories. But you know what was the biggest input, the biggest parameter in determining comprehension? Their familiarity with the language of the story they were reading. So, if they understood the language, they had a higher language proficiency in English or French or whatever the first or second language was in the country. If they were more proficient in that language, they were much more likely to understand the content and the effect size. The effect of knowing the language proficiency was much greater than any positive effect from knowing the familiarity.

So, it's not that familiarity doesn't matter, but relative to knowing the language that you're reading in, it's a relatively minor factor and I'd make the same analogy with some research that my former colleague at Stanford did, Susanna Loeb, and I don't know if you're familiar with this, Louisa, but it was a very interesting study, where she looked at a huge sample in Miami of Spanish-speaking kids, and she looked at the influences. What predicted the article was something called Is a Good Teacher a Good Teacher for All? Comparing Value-Added of Teachers with Their English Learners and Non-English Learners. I'm butchering the title, but something like that and what she did, what she found, that when teachers were more effective with kids in general, and by effective I'm talking about you talk about value added. I know it's very controversial among educators value added, VAM scores. Where you calculate how much growth in achievement test scores kids acquire as a function of the teacher they have and some school districts starting to use that for pay raises? I mean it's become very controversial. But Susanna is a very careful scholar and she calculated the achievement gains by students that can be attributed to individual teachers in a very large sample over several years.
So, I think there were very stable predictors and she found that teachers who are more effective with kids in general, non-English learners were also more effective with English learners. I mean the amount of overlap was substantial. Now, if teachers had more experience with English learners, if they had some kind of English learner certificate, either a bilingual authorization or an English learner certificate, there was a little boost in their value added scores with EL specifically. It wasn't consistent. It was more for secondary than for elementary and it was more for language arts and it was for math, but it was very inconsistent, but very consistently across language arts and math teachers who were effective in general and effective not some judgment, but based on value added to students achievement scores.

Teachers who were effective with kids in general were also more effective with English learners. And the policy implications of this. Because, Susanna, as you might know as a policy person, the policy implications are if you have a choice between a teacher who is documented to be effective with kids in general or a teacher who has an EL certificate who has had experience with English learners, and it's one or the other, then go for the teacher with documented effectiveness with kids in general. Now, if you have the luxury of having teachers who are effective in general and they've had some experience with ELs, or they have an endorsement bilingual or an ESL endorsement then that's great. Go for that. Because that gives you more value added. But by far and away, teachers who are effective with kids in general are much more likely effective with English learner kids. So, those are the guiding kind of studies that I think about when I think about what it would take? We need effective instruction.

The thing that English learners lack most that I see in classrooms is effective instruction. One of the reasons they're lacking effective instruction is there’s too little emphasis in the PD on effective instructional practices. These are things that people find kind of boring, like modeling, direct teaching, explicit instruction, feedback, guided practice. These things that are bread and butter but people are, “Oh yeah,” they already know that we need to focus on all this other stuff. This last thing I want to say, Pam, because I know I'm just yammering on too long, but it's kind of like trying to put ornaments on a tree that is just crumbling. It's like putting bobbles on something that has a missing foundation that's just crumbling. It's just completely upside down the way we approach PD for English learners, Emergent Bilinguals, multilingual learners. Sorry, I'm going to stop now.


No, no. And thinking about being on both sides of the PD, being the one getting, receiving, and also delivering. What I have to say about this answer was very impressive from both of you, both Dr. Goldenberg and Dr. Moats. Here, let's go back to how we began this question. We began with getting some insight on fundamental ideas, right? Practices about teaching ELs, and you all have provided so much information and I like to do a little bit of a recap because this is such a great conversation. So, thinking about the great examples of success stories, that was wonderful to hear. That we can be successful in teaching our EL students.

Also, taking a look at those practical applications again, thinking about wait time for processing that direct, explicit instruction when focusing on sounds, maybe sounds that are different in a language all these things we have to consider in contrastive analysis, but also, how do we help our students gain meaning? One thing that I thought was very impactful was the fact that you know what it is necessary to connect with kids, right? The cultural relevance there. It is necessary to connect with kids, but it's more necessary. This is my takeaway is to provide that practical, explicit instruction that works. What's working in the classroom? What's happening between the teacher and the student? Thank you so much for sharing that. I think people are going to have to go back and rewind and take a second listen, because the information you both have shared has been so packed full of valuable, practical information that will be supportive for teachers. So, Louisa, is there anything else you would like to add to that?


Well, yeah, I'm just thrilled to hear what Claude has said about the almost distraction of the debates about cultural responsiveness and culturally responsive instruction. It is this catchphrase that's in every document, even the consensus documents that you just engineered. It had to be there, right? To please the gods. But I've had exactly the same questions, and to hear you affirm why I feel so kind of befuddled about culturally responsive instruction, I've never really understood or gotten a good answer from anyone who espouses it about what exactly it means in terms of instructional science and what we know about the process of teaching that works the best. And I'm thrilled to hear about this study that shows that the competence in teaching and the processes of teaching are your best bet and that means that we can be very effective in situations where we have kids from multiple backgrounds. And to me, cultural responsiveness has meant that we're respectful of kids' cultural backgrounds, we're accepting of them, and where possible and when appropriate, we also teach and encourage those kids to know their own home language and home culture if the situation permits it.

And I'm thinking again of the visit I did to the tribal school many years ago during Reading First, where the kids had reading mastery for one period and then the next period they went across the hall to the language and culture room, where their home language was being taught by elders in the tribe and one of their pottery arts was being taught, and that was part of the school day. It wasn't a contradiction. It was embedded in the curriculum that they would learn how to read and speak and write English, but they would also learn their tribal history, their culture, their language, and that to me was cultural responsiveness. But it didn't mean that somehow there was something fundamentally different about the process of teaching kids how to read.


That's such a great story. I was in North Dakota a few weeks ago and I saw something very similar where, literally, I went to a reading class. I think this was a school that actually was using, you remember Success for All, Louisa? It’s still around. And this is a school that started Success for All like 20 years ago and then drifted from it for some reason. And then some people say what were you doing Success for All? Why did we stop doing it? It was working, wasn't it? And then they engineered bringing it back and it seemed to be getting traction.

And then I went to a class where one of the elders from the community was teaching the kids some, I think it was Ojibwe, actually it was the language. And, the interesting thing is he was using it. He was using a very recitation type style, right? Where he would say a word in English and have a kid stand up and say it in Ojibwe, so we could talk about his pedagogy there. But it was a very recitation-oriented thing. Just in passing.

But the more important thing I want to emphasize that you said that it's so important and there's no contradiction there. I think there is no reason to think that direct, explicit teaching, when appropriate…Now, there's sometimes a direct, explicit teaching. You know, as we know from cognitive psychology, there's well structured domains of learning. Right when it's, it can be hierarchical, getting it right is pretty clear cut and the sound-symbol system is pretty much like that. But there's some domains of learning where, well, you want to teach the meaning but you want to have more discussion in Socratic dialogues or however you conceive of these things. I used to work on something called instructional conversations, where you try to work on and discuss themes with kids that kind of defy hierarchical or linear instruction. So, direct instruction isn't for everything, but we should use it for what it's for, and learning the sound-symbol system is a prime example of where direct, explicit, systematic, unambiguous, demystifying instruction is totally called for, and that is in no way contradicting the importance of affirming kids' cultures, enhancing them, drawing on them.

You know, one of the popular phrases in the literature now is Funds of Knowledge, as if Funds of Knowledge and culturally responsive teaching is contradictory to direct instruction, things that we know increase the likelihood of success, and there's no reason for there to be this contradiction. Just one last thing. I mean, I think what's happened, part of the history here and we can really get in a rabbit hole in history, is these kids, whether they're languages of minority or African-American or Latino or Khmer. There's a long history of cultural appropriation, homogenization, the big melting pot, and a lot of this emphasis on culturally responsive teaching, which is now called culturally affirming or culturally sustaining. We have this evolution of terms that I just think create greater ambiguity, is a response to historical, not just neglect, but historical, and not just assimilation but destruction. I mean, the history of the United States around natives, around African-Americans, Latinos in the Southwest is not something to be proud of, and I think part of what we're seeing in education is a reaction to that. Part of like we've been doing groups of kids such a disservice and their families, their whole populations, whole communities. We've been doing them such a disservice. We need to kind of right the ship here, and I think a lot of the impetus for culturally sustaining, culturally responsive, whatever you call it, is in part a reaction to that, and I think it's important to keep that in mind and try to consider the word rapprochement. OK, I'll accept that, because I think there are things we can agree on, that we must agree on, because otherwise this kind of, these nefarious reading wars, whatever you call them they just don't do anyone any good, unless you have a particular intellectual tradition you want to protect, not to mention publication rights you want to protect. There are all sorts of reasons people get dug in and don't want to see that there's a whole here that's bigger and more important than any particular niche we occupy.


And sometimes it's because it's a heart decision. I'm feeling this in my heart versus this is the practical application in use and it's going to give the most benefit. We have had some great discussion here today and we do have one more question before our time ends together, and it's a pretty long one. It's a big one, so I just want to get a summary of your ideas here. Lastly, one thing I want to ask, do we see a resolution soon to the debate? We talked a little bit about that debate between the science of reading advocates and our English language learner advocates?

You've given me some insight already, or given the audience some insight already, on what that should be. Maybe you can expound on that just a little bit or recap that for us. We know that you have spoken before about the two Agreement documents that have been published. Both of you have referenced those. I want you to tell us a little bit about what's in them, just a quick little overview so that we can understand and maybe some of our listeners might want to dive in to learn a bit more about that. And how did they come about? Maybe a little bit of background and they are in fact, a major step forward. 


Do you want me to go first, Louisa?


You were on those panels. I was not.


I was. This is true. OK, I want to really try to be brief here. So, the two documents and there are a couple of articles that came out in an online publication in California called EdSource. I'm seeing a thumbs up so good. So, I would really encourage people to take a look at the articles in EdSource because they give kind of a brief context and overview and then documents themselves.

So, the first one of these is one that I was very directly involved in. The title is something like Narrowing Down to Find Common Ground, and this is a more California-centric document, where we had a group about 15 academic scholars, advocates, parents, different groups of people represent different perspectives, and we tried to sort of get ahead of some of the policy issues that are going to be coming up in California over the next few years, and we identified three areas that we found some common ground on. One has to do with multilingual learners, Emergent Bilinguals, and we affirmed the importance, the value of bilingual education, and not just for English learners but for kids in general, just the value of bilingualism and bilingual education being one of the paths towards that. It's an opportunity to enrich the linguistic fabric of the state, certainly, and of the country. The second issue we found common ground on was the importance of foundational literacy skills, those skills that I started talking about at the top of the hour that map the sounds of the language, the written representations, and then connect that to meaning, that you need to have systematic, explicit instruction in those skills because they form the foundation of literacy. Now there are other foundational things, like oral language. I mean, we know we learned to read from speech to print. So, you've got to have that speech, you have to have that oral language and if you don't have that oral language, as I said before, you've got to help kids acquire it. You have to provide it. That's very important. But those foundational literacy skills that connect to the language, the spoken language to written language, that is the key connection that's got to be made and then to meaning.

So, there was some agreement. We had some arguing and some haggling and some disputations about whether systematic and explicit were the words we wanted to use. We decided, yes, we do want to use systematic and explicit, but caution, you want to define what that means, because systematic and explicit can mean different things. There are some documents in California, EL-supported documents, that use systematic, explicit, foundational skills. So, it was not a total revolution, but it was just making us aware that, yeah, that exists in the literature. It's not something that we need to shy away from or distance ourselves from, because we have some consensus on that and we nailed it down there.

The third area that we found agreement on was the importance of early screening for potential reading difficulties. That, if you don't know, there are signposts, and Louisa can certainly talk about this. There are signposts that alert you, that provide potential red flags that a child might have difficulty acquiring the speech-to-print connection before reading instruction even takes place. If they're having trouble with phonological discriminations. If they have issue with short-term memory. There are signposts of difficulties, not dyslexia. One of the issues here is that people want to talk about screening for dyslexia. You can't really screen for dyslexia in kindergarten. Now, I know this from my good friend, Jack Fletcher, who's made it very clear that you’ve got to teach first and then see how that goes. In early kindergarten, no one's been taught enough. You can say, well, this kid has the potiential for dyslexia. So, we want to talk about screening for early reading difficulties, potential difficulties, including dyslexia, among other things, and we came to some agreement. There's some benefit to that, as long as you use appropriate instruments that are linguistically and culturally appropriate, there's that word again, and that have been validated, shown to be reliable with the populations in question. So, there's some caveats there. But the importance of early screening for potential reading difficulties. We came to some agreement, with some caveats and safeguards. So, that was one thing. The other one was I was less directly involved and that was The Reading League and that was really largely engineered by Kari Kurto, who Louisa knows, I'm sure, and Pam, you probably do too of The Reading League and Martha Hernandez of Californians Together and the National Committee on Effective Literacy. We had a big summit in Las Vegas. It's gonna be in, thankfully, in San Diego next year and not Las Vegas. Again, not to dis Las Vegas, but in San Diego…we have a better venue.

And it really was a result of a year of conversations, first Zoom conversations that, ironically enough, was kicked off by this very unfortunate white paper that the National Committee on Effective Literacy put out in an even more unfortunate webinar. They really put science of reading and English learners at loggerheads as if they were in competition with each other. That the science of reading was doing damage to English learners. It didn't respect all sorts of things like the bilingual brain and various other things and when that came out, people were very upset, very worried. They wanted some return fire and a group of us got this decided. There's some things we can agree on here, because the action steps at the end were like we gotta be mindful of English learners and their learning needs. We need to think beyond phonics and decoding. OK, you don't have to tell me that twice. So, there are things we could agree on, and so we decided to build on those and write a response that identified the agreements, as we have things to agree on, even though in this document there are things that are a little bit or a lot misleading. 

So, we gotta stop the misleading, agree on what we can agree on and build from that. And from that we had a series of webinars and Zoom discussions among Californians Together, The Reading League again, this is engineered by Kari and Martha all of which led up to this summit last year, I think in March it was. From that again, Kari and Martha and their colleagues, I was part of that, writing the consensus document, but kind of marginal to it. 

And, again systematic and explicit instruction was there. Meaning they'd take into account the needs of second language learners, the importance and the value of bilingualism and bi-literacy, and that's how they came about, and I think it's a step forward. I wanna hear what Louisa says about it, but I'll tell you, I think a lot depends on what happens next, because you can have these documents that are very encouraging. 

I mean, I think better to have them than not to have them. But then it depends on what people do if they really take it seriously or if they say, “OK, we agree.” And then you go back to the respective corners and plow the respective fields and forget. Look, there are things here that we need to build on, rather than say, “OK, we agree, now let's get back to our agenda.” There's always a danger of that happening. I don't know if it's gonna happen, but a lot depends on what happens from here on out whether we build on these documents.


Thank you, Dr. Goldenberg and Dr. Moats. I really would like to hear your take on that. I always believe in pausing to take a break, finding that common ground and taking it from there. Do you have any comments that you would like to add?


You know, your question was are we getting somewhere nationally? Are we building national consensus? Are we changing our practices on the scale that we need to change them to make really meaningful progress with kids and leave fewer kids behind? And I think we are. I think I'm quite hopeful and positive about the progress that's being made. I think those consensus documents were a big step in the right direction and, yes, it's going to take a while for people to really act on some of the things that are specified there, that are so well articulated in those documents. But I think, yeah. All very positive.


Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this time together with you. Thank you, Dr. Moats and Dr. Goldenberg. I want our listeners to know that we will post the links to those two agreement documents on our website. You'll be finding this within the podcast. This has been an amazing discussion and we appreciate you joining us today. Please tell our listeners where they can learn more about your work, Dr. Goldenberg, Dr. Moats. Dr. Goldenberg, you first.


Well, you can go to my website at Stanford, but don't worry about that. I mean I want people to read those documents. I mean I think that's really where we want to go and you know, I've done some blogs and some webinars over the past couple of years on these issues, English learners, but also finding common ground. And yeah, just Google me. Sorry, that's all I can really tell you. 


Thank you. Dr. Moats?


Well, if anyone's interested in the World Bank paper, I have it posted on my website, which is louisamoats.com. Easy to find, and a bunch of papers are posted there.


Awesome. Thank you both very much. This is Pam Austin, bringing the best thought leaders in education directly to you.


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