Research Paper, 11 pages (2500 words)

Chapter one: introduction

United States of America, with its rich history of immigrants, is a land of diverse cultures and civilizations. Classrooms have students from many different racial and linguistic groups like White Americans, African Americans, Caucasians, Hipics, Vietnamese etc. According to the various analysis done by the National Centre for Educational Statistics, theacademicperformance of the minorities continue to be below standard. Illiteracy or poor schooling background is a common phenomenon not only in rural areas but also in urban areas in many Latin American countries. Although there has been a rise in the number of such students being enrolled in public schools, but as a group they have the lowest level ofeducationand highest dropout rate.

Let’s view the present status of the Hipic students. They make up 15% of the elementary school-age people and will possibly comprise 25% of the total school-age population by the year 2025. It is noticed that over past 20years, their enrollment have risen by 150 %( U. S. Department of Education, 2000). The U. S. Hipic population is varied in terms of their countries by birth, economic and social status, language skills, familybackground and education. They have different academic needs as well.

They make up 75% of all the students enrolled for limited English proficiency program (LEP), including English as second language program (ESL) and bilingual educational program. As for their academic achievements, the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that 17 year old Hipic students were quite below in comparison to other White students inscience, mathematicsand reading (National Centre of Educational Statistics, 1996). It also brought to light that their drop out rate was very much high as compared to other minority groups and ranked lowest in the comparison of high school completion rate.

Furthermore, Baker & Hakuta (1998) state that the number of English language learners (ELL) in the U. S. has grown dramatically in the last decade. According to a 1991 national study, over 2, 300, 000 students in grades K through 12 are English language learners. This number has grown by over 1, 000, 000 since1984. The majority of these students are Spanish-speakers (73%), followed by Vietnamese-speakers (3. 9%). Because of the overwhelming proportion of ELL students is Spanish speakers, the issue of bilingual education is largely a Latino one. No other language group makes up more than 4% of limited English proficient students. This fact makes education a complicated issue for language minority students with low socioeconomic status.

Most educators and school administrators in American classrooms overlook that English language learners with minimal formal schooling have difficulties managing information input, organizing learning material, following verbal and written instructions, and processing large chunks of new language. Thus, the findings of Ramirez (1991) indicate that Latino students who received sustained L1 instruction throughout elementary school have better academic prospects than those who have not received instruction in their first language or those who received instruction only in English. Consequently, first language illiteracy in Spanish speaking students has negative consequences in the United States as it retards economic and social development.

According to the 1993 U. S. Census Bureau, many Hipic children living in the United States are likely to be from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, particularly those whose families have recently arrived and are depending in minimum-wage jobs. Approximately 40% of Hipic children live inpoverty, compared to the 13% of non-Hipic white children (Holman, 1997). Similarly, data from the 2003 U. S. Census Bureau shows that 58. 4% of Hipic students have completed high school level compared to 85. 8% of White and 80. 6% of Black population.

Eighty percent of ELL are poor and most attend schools where the majority of students also live in poverty and are English language learners. Such schools are poorly maintained due to lack of funds and fail to provide technologically updated class roomenvironmentand well qualified teachers. Poverty and socio economic status have many implications for educational achievement on Hipic students. For example, parents’ income levels and parents’ educational achievement is highly linked to that of their children’s.

They belong to families where the parents themselves are not educated, and therefore lay less importance to schooling and education of their children. Inadequate participation by parents in their child’s education has many other reasons too. They have less time to spend with their family due to heavy load of work taken up to make both ends meet and inability to communicate in English themselves

Lack of proficiency in English is another important hurdle for Hipic students. This is assumed to be the major reason why they fail to graduate from the high school. In typical classrooms, Hipic students fail to understand the course taught due to the inability to understand the medium of instruction. Thus, their performance always remains low and at times such negative educational experience acts as a reason for their early dropouts and absenteeism . There are various programs installed for teaching English as second language (ESL) in schools yet the dropout rate is on a rise. Terrence (1997) says that state and federally funded bilingual education programs reach only a fraction of eligible students. Three quarters of limited English proficient students receive ESL instruction, while only one-third to one-half of these students receives any instruction in their native language.

After working with ESL Hipic students 9-12 grades at Vance High School in Charlotte, NC for two years, I became aware of the academic underachievement some students were experiencing even after being in the same grade in some cases for up to three consecutive years. Even though the teachers, administrators have put in a lot of effort, but their situation doesn’t seem to be improving. This scenario touched me very much and i developed a particular interest in finding out the causes behind their failures in the classroom and the methodologies which could be implemented to improve the situation.

My research will examine and analyze in depth the weaknesses these students bring to the classroom based on the causes of their illiteracy. In addition, I will describe the negative effects of illiteracy in relation to the alarming increase of the growth of Hipics in the U. S. It is worthwhile to cite Huntley (1992) as she says, “ The problem of illiteracy seems to be increasing and programs to remedy that situation are still inadequate.”

Spanish speaking students are not well versed in their native language. Most of the programs already being used don’tstressthe importance on reducing first language illiteracy. This in turn has a great influence in learning English as a second language. Illiteracy in the first language causes hurdles in learning a second language. Polishing the first language itself will support and ease the process of learning a second language. There are basically four types of literacy in the first language (L1), which has an impact in English learning (Huntley, 1992). These include literate learners, semi-literate learners, non-literate learners and pre-literate learners. Such kind of L1 literacy backgrounds are usually overlooked by teachers.

This research explains the different levels or types of illiteracy in detail and their relative importance in learning English as a Second language for Spanish speaking students. One can say that learning a second language is hard, but it is even harder when there is a lack of literacy skills in the first language. McGee (1978) says, “ We acknowledge that being an adult learner is difficult, that being an adult second language learner is even more difficult, and that being a pre-literate adult second language learner must be nothing short of a painful situation.” Difficulties arising in an individuals’ second language learning cannot be properly understood without simultaneous attention to the socio linguistic and socio cultural framework within which learning a second language is occurring.

Another major cause of illiteracy in Hipic students in the United States is attributed to the rate of dropout; this document includes an analysis of a study done by Crawford & Egemba (2003), about the factors that contribute to abandon school on Hipic students of grades 9-12. They based their analysis on demographic factors, academic ability, family background, school experiences and social influence factors.

The variables in this research include academic ability, family socioeconomic status, student gender, employment status, repeating a grade, citizenship status, English proficiency, truancy, urbanicity, gender, friends’ and siblings’ status, substance use, and pregnancy/fatherhood. It is also noticed that the drop out students eventually take part in criminal activities. According to Cassel (2003), “ Today in America one million of the two million prison inmates are high school dropout students and the primary reason for their dropping out of school is a general lack of personal development” (p. 1). This shows how much of a serious issue this ESL drop out learners pose. In addition, this part describes the alarming statistics of Hipic youth as the fastest growing minority segment in America.

It is since 1960s, that many researches have been done to identify the main causes behind such a high drop out rate of Hipic students. The researches were based on the logic that once the core issue is identified, it would become lot easier to devise measures to resolve it. This theory was termed as deficit theory and has guided much work in this field. The theory assumed that the cultural differences were a reason behind their academic failures. However, in 1970s the trend shifted and many more reasons were highlighted and worked upon.

Many researches have been carried out to see what will prove helpful in improving this scenario. Most of the educators believe that such educational crisis can be dealt with the help of better teachers and teaching methods. My research explores the different methodologies to teach preliterate or limited formal schooling ESL Spanish speaking students grades 9-12. Although there are several programs designed to teach English as a Second Language, they mostly promote the use of English as a media of instruction. Few programs neither consider the capacity for literacy in the students’ first language nor promote the study of the student’s native language. Therefore, it is necessary to take into account that English language learners have different literacy levels and come from a diverse socioeconomic background.

The research brings to light what could be effective for improving the situation. It will explain how teachers should be educated about the need and use of various teaching tools, seeing which helps the learning better. Curriculum should be designed in a way that provides equal opportunity for such minority students to read and write. It explains how and why the teachers should understand the cultural difference, and use it positively while imparting education. More resources and effective language teaching practices should be adopted for the students who have limited knowledge of English language. It will prove how the adoption of technologically updated teaching methods may go long way in facilitatingteacherin meeting the special learning requirements of such students. This includes the usage of visual aids, computers and multimedia, recorders, audio tapes and language masters while teaching students.

It is also important that primary or native language is used for the purpose of instructions. Such method, if adopted, would help in concept development and better understanding. It is only through their primary language that the students will effectively learn how to read and write well. This method will also ensure that students don’t fall behind academically while they learn English. For this the teachers themselves have to be fluent and bilingual. Not only this, they also need to be certified to teach ESL students. Only the possession of certificates like BCC (Bilingual Certificate of Competence) or B.-C. L. A. D. (Bilingual-Cross-Cultural, Language and Academic Development Certificate) makes them eligible to teach such students. Teachers with other certificates like L. D. S. can team up with fully certified bilingual teachers to help such students.

Overall, this study underscores the importance of L1 instruction as a crucial tool for illiterate Spanish-speaking students in U. S. schools and the need to master literacy skills in their native language before they acquire a second language in order to achieve academically in the mainstream classroom.  According to Cummins (1981), the capacity for literacy in the first language affects in a dramatic fashion the ability to acquire a second language because metacognitive skills are transferred across languages.

For the purpose of this research, I present the two main methodologies Bilingual Education and English-Only instruction and their effects in learning a second language being a preliterate in the native language. In bilingual classrooms, interaction is split between the primary language and English language, whereas, in English-only classes English is the only medium of instructions. Various studies have proved that students in such bilingual classrooms are at various academic and linguistic benefits as opposed to the other method. Especially if such method is used for students in pre-school and lower grade levels.

This paper discusses in depth the advantages and disadvantages of both methods of instruction. Eventually, my study shows that good bilingual programs should be designed for illiterate ESL learners so as to provide literacy in native language first, so that the input they provide in the target language is comprehensible for them. Being a very controversial topic, its importance deserves more research to determine the effectiveness of each methodology, considering all the variables and the students’ needs. It also shows that Transitional programs (where primary instruction decreases the more English students learn) or Developmental programs (where primary language instruction continues throughout the entire study program) can be used according to the requirement of the students.

This research also shows that parental involvement in a child’s education is of utmost importance. This can be done by meeting parents regularly to discuss the academic progress and performance of their child. Not only this, they should also be convinced to encourage their children for higher studies. This will help in reducing the premature dropouts and may also guarantee higher attainment of education. It was proved through various researched how the lack of involvement was a reason behind early drop outs of such students. Thus, if parents become more aware about their role as their child’s partner in learning, they would themselves become the first teachers of their children.

It also shows how government can play their role in improving the situation. It can help in establishing special schools for Hipics, where the fee structure is affordable. Monetary and technological funds can be provided to such schools. Teaching program there should be designed with special care to address the needs and issues of students. At such schools, propercareerguidance should be provided andscholarshipprograms should be introduced. Moreover, government should allocate more funds for the continued research in this area so that better methodologies can be formulated.

But it should be remembered that the success of all of these programs depends upon their proper implementation. Not only this, they need to be monitored and upgraded as and when required. Then only can they help in increasing academic achievements of Hipic ESL students.

Improvement in their situation will allow them to make meaningful contribution towards the society. It will prove helpful in social interaction and boost up their confidence. Not only this, better education would open many earning opportunities for them with which they can improve their economic status. English is an official language through out the nation, and having a good command over it means better position to work in. Moreover, know how of another language brings along with it many intrinsic advantages.

Various changes come within one’spersonality. It gives a better insight to life, brings about tolerance for different life styles, and gives a better ability to express well. It provides ability to comprehend other cultures. Second-language skills help in providing maximum enjoyment while traveling as well. However, there have been researchers and educationalists have pointed out few drawbacks of bilingualism. But they in no way outstrip its benefits.

Being literate doesn’t only mean to possess the ability to read, write, listen and speak. But it means doing all this to a certain adequate level. Certain educationalists go as far as including the abilities to face and solve daily problems and make some contribution towards the society as important requisites of being a literate person.  Standard for what actually is literacy vary from society to society. Literacy rate determines the standard of living and progression of any state. Thus, it is important for all states to address the educational needs and issues of its minorities so that they add up to the success of the nation.


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Huntley, H. S. (1992). The new illiteracy: A study of the pedagogic principles of teaching English as a second language to nonliterate adults. Unpublished manuscript. (EDRS No. ED356685).

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Miriam, B., Joy, P. (Feb, 2003) Reading and Adult English Language Learners: The role of first Language, National Centre for ESL Literacy Education.

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