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«ED 427 829 JC 990 132 AUTHOR Miele, Carol A. Orthography and English as a Second Language in a Community TITLE College Pre-academic Program. PUB DATE ...»

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ED 427 829 JC 990 132

AUTHOR Miele, Carol A.

Orthography and English as a Second Language in a Community


College Pre-academic Program.

PUB DATE 1998-05-18

201p.; Ed.D. Dissertation, Columbia University.



PUB TYPE Doctoral Dissertations (041)

EDRS PRICE MF01/PC09 Plus Postage.

*Community Colleges; Educational Objectives; *English


(Second Language); Instructional Design; Instructional Development; Instructional Effectiveness; *Language Skills;

Learning Strategies; Linguistics; Second Language Instruction; *Spelling; Student Needs; Teaching Methods; Two Year Colleges *Orthography



This dissertation examines teaching and learning issues surrounding orthography in a community college setting. Spelling materials were designed in English and given to college-level English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) students, with the goal of giving learners a means to integrate the experiences of speaking and writing English.

Following an introduction to the study, section 2 of the dissertation contains a review of literature, focusing on linguistics foundations and pedagogical perspectives. Section 3, Methodology, covers learning materials and strategies developed for the study, a formative evaluation of participants (n=7), and data collection. Section 4, Instructional Content, explains lesson plans used in the research and supplemental class activities.

Section 5 contains an analysis of student responses, with group and individual portraits and discussions on vocabulary, lesson design, and phonological issues. Section 6 presents major findings and pedagogical implications. The study reveals that students who have difficulty with English spelling respond positively to rule-based instruction aimed at increasing their understanding of the orthographic system. Findings also indicate that students with weak spelling skills also have limited phonological and lexical competence. Results highlight the need to address spelling in ESL classes. Appended are procedures for initial interview and interview questionnaires, lessons and lesson plans, and supplementary materials. (Contains 77 references.) (AS) ******************************************************************************** * Reproductions supplied by EDRS are the best that can be made * * * from the original document.



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This dissertation reports the results of a study on teaching and learning issues surrounding orthography in a community college setting. The study involved both exploration of the domain of English orthography and instructional design. Spelling lessons based on orthographic principles outlined by linguists were created and used with typical students.

Analysis of student responses to the materials and the instruction based on them yielded insights into the effectiveness of the materials and learning needs of the students.

The study revealed that students who have difficulty with English spelling respond positively to rule-based instruction aimed at increasing their understanding of the orthographic system. It was further revealed that students with weak spelling skills also had limited phonological and lexical competence. The results of the study indicate the need to address spelling in English as a second language teaching, particularly with this population. Based on these results, curriculum design and further development of spelling materials are suggested.

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For adults, learning a new language is often a strenuous and frustrating experience.

They may face many inhibitions and may have ingrained habits, formed long ago in their childhood, which dominate their thinking and their speech patterns. To complicate matters even further, writing places its own demands on the learner. The relationships between spoken and written forms of the native and target languages may differ in major ways. Both the principle of writing and the symbols may be completely different, presenting complex and perplexing learning issues.

For learners of English as a second or foreign language, working with the written language and its connections to the spoken language can be especially burdensome. Native speakers of the world's languages need to struggle with English spelling, a system that is widely regarded as highly inconsistent and idiosyncratic. For some of these learners, the need to master an intricate code presents a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Others manage to do the best they can, but their progress is significantly affected.

In a community college, immigrant students may have to spend added semesters in a pre-academic English as a second language program, or they may actually be prevented from continuing their education. Intelligent adults, even those with professional backgrounds, often undergo psychological and emotional pressure stemming from 7 2 difficulties related to poor written performance. Younger college students, who may even have faced a bright academic future before leaving their homeland, are inhibited by their inability to express themselves in written English.

Many of these students are weak spellers. For some of them, their poor spelling can make their writing almost completely incomprehensible, and that fact presents a problem for them as well as for the educational institutions they attend. In one community college, for example, a bright Israeli nurse in her 30s, working on passing certifying exams in the United States, found that although the English program was satisfactory in many ways, she could not find any instruction in spelling, which was her main weakness. She had been told that her writing was hopeless due to her poor spelling. In another case, a single mother from Afghanistan kept failing the program-wide exit exams because of poor writing skills and especially weak spelling. When she finally managed to pass, she was still hampered in her ability to write proficiently, and she was still struggling with spelling.

Both of these women had average oral proficiency. In contrast, there were the quiet and shy young men and women, maybe Korean or Chinese, who were not as fluent. Their oral skills were underdeveloped, and their pronunciation problems may have interfered with their abilities to interact orally with others. Their writing skills were also affected.

Although they might successfully memorize the spellings of words one-by-one, their vocabulary level was low.

All of the students described here shared a common trait. Their English was limited, but their goals were not. They needed to live and work in the United States, and

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they were striving for an education and the ability to participate in the society. The sketches do not correspond to any particular student but are a composite profile of typical students in a college setting. Their average age is between 28 and 38 years old. They may be recent arrivals in the United States or may have been living here for a long time.

There is also a new and growing group of younger students, however, who have attended American high schools but scored poorly on English placement exams. They may be required to take non-degree credit English as a second language for up to 2 years, mainly because of poor literacy skills. In the extreme cases, these students are so severely handicapped by their inability to command the written code that they can barely write a readable placement essay. The community college opportunity is open to these students; to make it worthwhile, curriculum development must be undertaken to meet their needs.

This dissertation is primarily a response to the concern and the distress of college students and an effort to address the pedagogical dilemma facing college teachers. English orthography presents a major challenge to learners, but has been largely ignored by most major teaching approaches. Teachers who would like to provide assistance to learners asking for help may lack knowledge about the subject as well as techniques and materials for teaching it. Incorporating the spelling as a subject in the curriculum could strengthen college ESL programs, but questions arise as to where it belongs and how to effect the

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The aim of this study was to design spelling materials English for college students of English as a second language and to use the materials with students to explore pedagogical issues surrounding spelling. Student responses while working with the

materials would provide an opportunity to evaluate the underlying premise of the design:

English spelling can be presented systematically. Furthermore, it is possible to present college learners with reliable points of reference for dealing with the orthographic system.

The goals of the instructional design were to sensitize people to the complex relations between the way English is spoken and the way it is written, and to build up awareness of the phonology of the language, giving learners a way to integrate their experiences of speaking and writing English. The lessons were designed to give students an overview of regularity and a sense of system in the orthography. It was necessary to take them beyond the highest frequency words in the basic vocabulary, the words that often have the most irregular spellings.

When my students' learning issues became my teaching issues, I was driven by their needs to explore English orthography and the pedagogical questions surrounding spelling. I became aware of the lack of instructional materials for adults in a community college who are learning English as a second language for academic purposes. I could not fmd instructional resources for adult students in an academic language program. I did not know what they needed to learn, so I could not design instruction for them. I began to explore regularity in phoneme-grapheme correspondences (on my own and with a colleague) and to try to adapt whatever pedagogical materials I could find to suit my purposes.

10 5 Chapter II of the dissertation outlines the research in English orthography, which provides the conceptual foundation for spelling lessons. In addition, this chapter surveys some perspectives on teaching spelling, both in elementary education and in English as a second language.

Chapter III explains the procedures involved in designing and developing units of instruction for spelling. In order to create the lessons, it was necessary to examine the instructional domain to arrive at an overall understanding of what needed to be taught.

While descriptions by linguists and scholars provide a teclmical overview of the issues at minute levels of detail, these accounts in their non-distilled versions can appear daunting and inaccessible. Part of this dissertation involved compiling a pedagogically adequate description of English spelling.

Chapter III also discusses the implementation study done for formative evaluation of the instructional materials. This involved observational research with a group of representative students. The materials were used with these learners to assess the viability of the approach and to improve the instructional design as needed.

Chapter IV presents an overview of English orthography based on linguistic research with guidance for teachers. It is an attempt to provide a comprehensive and transparent survey of the components of a complex system for use in teaching. This chapter also outlines the spelling concepts chosen for the lessons designed for this study and describes each lesson.

In Chapter V, the group of students is presented with an analysis of their 11 6 responses to spelling instruction using the materials. Finally, Chapter VI concludes the study by discussing the major findings and providing recommendations for implementing spelling instruction in teaching English as a Second Language to adults in a community college setting.

12 7

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Linguistic sources in the area of English orthography provided abundant support for this instructional design dissertation. This body of literature showed the totality and the complexity of the domain. Pedagogical sources that have applied the findings of the linguistic studies were also available. Educational researchers and reading specialists looking for ways to improve the teaching of spelling and reading have produced a considerable number of relevant studies. All kinds of instructional materials for children and adults, from both first and second language learning, served to stimulate the design of new materials in this area. English as a second language materials received particular attention along with textbooks for teacher training, which provided insights into views of orthography and classroom practices. Finally, computer-based resources for assisting students in spelling were also explored.

Many of the sources in linguistics and in teaching dealt with problems of analyzing and describing English orthography and the issues surrounding learning to read and write. The object of concern was the much-maligned system of transcribing English sounds and words into their written form. Reviewing the literature involved investigating 13 8 the history of the English language, the real source of all the complications we live with in the orthography today. Historians, such as Baugh (1963), have contributed major works; however, recently there has been an increasing interest on the part of a larger audience in this aspect of English. The popularity of works by McCrum, Cran, and MacNeil (1986) and Bryson (1990) demonstrated the fascination with the stories behind the development of the language.

Educators have also recognized the importance of knowing about the past events when dealing with English spelling. Furness (1964) and Henderson (1990), for instance, gave teachers and students historical accounts to explain the apparent disorder in the system. Increasingly, the colorful story of English is being told and exploited in teaching.

Fargo (1992) recounted the story for adult beginning readers, and Robinson (1989) enthusiastically brought together the historical data for pedagogical purposes in her twovolume work entitled Origins.

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