Decoding and Comprehension

Jim Cummins
Jim Cummins

Responding to an article by Jim Cummins, Stephanie Wilton Kumagai bases her insights on experience teaching in Japan and Costa Rica as well as her SIT learning.  Her final presentation for the academic year MAT, “She Said What?!,” is a demonstration of the teaching skills required to turn miscommunication in intercultural classrooms into productive learning.

In his article “The Challenge of Learning Academic English,” Jim Cummins examines how English and academic subject teachers can support English language learners and other students who struggle with reading.  As the academic level becomes more challenging in the middle years of elementary school, these students often fall behind their classmates and find it difficult to catch up.

Cummins suggests there are two primary ways in which students fall behind: decoding and reading comprehension.  He writes, “If the problems lie in decoding, then provide support focused on helping students acquire the sound-symbol relationships that characterize English written text.  If the problems lie in the area of reading comprehension, focus on building up vocabulary knowledge and encouraging students to read extensively and talk about the books they have read” (page 3).  He advocates that educators build activities that work on both of these areas in their classes.

He suggests that the key to supporting students who are successful in academic English lies in creating “engaged readers.”  How does he suggest we do this?  SCAFFOLD!  Creating supports to help students break apart the reading on the sound and the meaning levels while activating and students’ previous knowledge is the way to help struggling readers become engaged with the literature.  Finally, Cummins makes a case for acknowledging and validating students’ cultural identities in order to engage students as valued participants in classroom activities.

This article highlighted the importance of teaching the whole student for me.  In order for students to be successful and engaged in reading, they not only need to be supported on the linguistic level, but need to be recognized as contributors to the class who come with a rich background of previous experience.  It is something for me to be aware of on a more conscious level as I design lessons and work with students of all different strengths, learning styles, and ability levels.  I think it is important to think of what each student has to offer and to work with that to build up areas that need more strengthening.

Cummins, Jim.  “The Challenge of Learning Academic English.”  Pearson Education, 2009.

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