The comprehension skills of children learning English as an additional language (EAL)

Burgoyne, Kelly (2007) The comprehension skills of children learning English as an additional language (EAL). Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The attainment gap between monolingual, English-speaking children and children learning EAL is a continuing cause for concern (NALDIC, 2004). Investigations into EAL learners' literacy skills have identified comprehension as a key area of difficulty for this group (e.g. Hutchinson, Whiteley, Smith & Connors, 2003). For monolingual children, difficulties with comprehension impact on learning and attainment across the curriculum (Cain & Oakhill, 2006). Increasing our understanding of the comprehension difficulties faced by children learning PAL may, therefore, contribute to an understanding of their continuing underachievement.
This report begins with a review of the research pertinent to the development of comprehension and related skills with particular relevance to children learning EAL. This is followed by details of a series of experimental studies designed to investigate and extend current knowledge in relation to the comprehension skills of children learning EAL and their monolingual peers. Children in school Years 3 and 4 completed a range of measures which reflect the knowledge sources and component processes that are critical to comprehension, for example vocabulary knowledge and inferential processing. In addition, longitudinal analysis examined the developmental progression of comprehension-related skills between Year 3 and Year 4.
Findings demonstrate that the comprehension difficulties of children learning EAL are largely restricted to problems understanding written text. Difficulties with reading comprehension are not attributable to limited decoding skills; rather, lower levels of lexical knowledge and a focus on decoding during reading place significant constraints on comprehension and limit the efficacy of higher-order strategic processing for this group of learners. Findings further illustrate that, without support,
the comprehension difficulties of children learning PAL persist over time and are likely to make a significant contribution to the relative underachievement of this group of children.
The results are discussed in terms of their theoretical importance and practical implications for supporting the development of comprehension skills in young PAL learners.

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