University of Georgia

Talk it out, read better

students gather around map

English language learners taught using a new culturally responsive method have an easier time learning new vocabulary and higher level concepts, allowing them to better understand what they read in school and in standardized tests, according to a study by a research team led by Pedro Portes, a professor in UGA’s College of Education.

When a new conversational approach was evaluated—in which a teacher facilitated small group discussion with elementary students and directed them to solve problems through intensive discussions—English language learners developed better language skills and reading comprehension compared with students taught in traditional classrooms.

The multi-year study funded by the Institute of Educational Sciences and conducted by the Center for Latino Achievement and Success in Education, also found these students made significant gains in subjects other than English/language arts, including science and mathematics.

The new approach “is good for all children, but for some English language learners it might be the difference between drowning and succeeding,” said Paula Mellom, associate director of the Center and co-director of the project. “This type of teaching really does make it possible for children, who might otherwise feel marginalized, to open up and feel engaged in school.”