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2.8 Supporting English Learners and Struggling Readers with Historical Texts

In Lily Wong Fillmore and Charles Fillmore’s article, “Understanding Language: What Does Text Complexity Mean for English Learners and Language Minority Students," the authors suggest that 15 minutes spent discussing the complex language in just one important sentence drawn from the reading as daily instructional sessions can have a great effect on students’ abilities to manage demanding texts. Their article models the types of language supports ELs need to better understand a text like “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Time to View

Watch Lily Wong Fillmore in the video, "Text Complexity, Common Core, and ELLs," as she summarizes the key ideas from her article about the challenges of academic language in content area texts.

Comprehending and analyzing historical texts, both primary and secondary, pose great challenges for California’s EL population.  Helping students unpack a text’s language as Fillmore and Fillmore suggest can aid ELs and struggling readers with comprehension and historical analysis, and prepare students to better meet the CA CCSS for ELA/Literacy.

Time to Read

Read “The Grammar of History Textbooks Part II: Questioning the Text” for an explanation and example of how to use questions to help guide students through the difficult language of historical sources. The suggestions for helping students read history/social studies textbooks are also applicable for reading primary sources and correspond to the language-focused practices promoted by Fillmore and Fillmore.

Time to Extend

For more information, see Chapter 7, Universal Access to the History-Social Science Curriculum, of the 2014 draft of the CA History-Social Science Framework (which the Instructional Quality Commission is being used as the starting point for revisions due to the State Board of Education in May 2015). The chapter addresses differentiation for all students including instruction for English Learners.