The academic achievement gap between linguistic minority groups and other students is a persistent problem for the American public school system (Thernstrom and Thernstrom, 2003). The pattern of underachievement and a high school dropout rate for Hispanic/Latino students among immigrant groups is particularly pronounced (Wong Fillmore & Meyer, 1992) Of the school-aged English Language Learner (ELL) population, 73% come from Spanish language backgrounds (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002), and their test results in reading are of particular concern as literacy skills are the building blocks for academic achievement. The gap between the test scores of Hispanic/Latino students and white students is a well documented phenomenon, existing throughout grades K-12 in both reading and mathematics (National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2003). According to the NCES (2000), 44% of foreign-born Hispanics fail to complete high school. A much lower percentage of those born here, 15%, fail to complete high school. Hispanics lag behind their fellow white and Asian-American students in reading and math (NCES, 1992, 2007). Using average scale scores from The National Assessment of Educational Progress, known colloquially as "the nation's report card," reports that the gap in reading and math is 25-27 points. Reviewing similar results from 1992, the comparable substantial gap is 26 points, indicating that the gap has not closed with time. According to the report, this is true in both the fourth and eighth grades. The difficulty in the acquisition of academic English, the English needed for testing, appears to be a principal cause for the deficit (August & Hakuta, 2005; August & Shanahan, 2006; Bielenberg & Wong Fillmore, 2004; Cummins, 1979, 1986; Wong Fillmore & Meyer, 1992)
While there exists a strong history of literary research, there also exists a need for additional research in reading comprehension, specifically in the areas of effective strategies for students. This research paper explores the use of thinking maps to enhance comprehension of ESL's.
. In 2003, the National Center for Education Statistics listed 79% of English Language Learners as coming from Spanish-speaking homes. Of the school-aged English Language Learner (ELL) population, 73% come from Spanish language backgrounds (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002), and their test results in reading are of particular concern as literacy skills are the building blocks for academic achievement..
The applicability to this study of Cummins' (1979, 2004) well-known and widely accepted distinction between BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills) what one associates with conversational communication, and CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency), those skills such as reading and writing, which take much longer to develop, lie in understanding that the rather comfortable, everyday fluency that Latino/a students display in conversational English often masks their rudimentary skills in reading and writing.
The key for a learner is to master "communicative competence" in a language (Hymes, 1974). This involves not only language knowledge, properly constructed sentences, but also the ability to use the language, what linguists refer to as semantics and pragmatics Literacy for ELLs is complex (Gonzales, 1986). Elements that constitute the framework of this complexity include socio-cultural, linguistic, and classroom instruction. One needs only to consider the difficulty in simultaneously learning to read, write and speak a foreign language, particularly one where the sounds of the language do not correspond to the words on the page, while absorbing a new culture, to appreciate that this is a daunting task. The research literature shows too that reading success is limited by second language vocabulary development (Garcia & Jensen, 2007; Gottardo, 2002; Proctor et al., 2005). Vocabulary building depends, in turn, on reading.
The Problem of Language and Learning to Read
ESL's in the classroom is a sensitive topic. Resistance to bilingual education is strong. The role of our educational system is to provide an English-language education, particularly to those who do not know it, and as fast as possible (Bennett, 1999). Bilingual education has become politicized and confused with attitudes aimed at promoting cultural diversity, and has failed to deliver its promise of better test scores. These positions are not uncontested among the proponents of bilingual education (Freeman & Freeman, 2007; Riches & Genesee, 2006; Thomas and Collier, 2002). Others argue that the failure of minority language students is not simply an academic or school matter, but carries deep social and societal implications.
Two theoretical propositions are in contention presently in the academic debate over how students come to know what they know. One school, the Cognitive Rationalist, posits that cognitive skills are innate and that individuals construct knowledge based on the interaction with the world that they encounter. The other, the Socio-cultural, believes that interaction with others, society's socio cultural processes create these cognitive skills (National Research Council, Improving Schooling for Language Minority Children, 1997; (Tomasello, 1999). Researchers aim to influence educators to improve classroom instruction often with an emphasis on employing the "right " teaching methods, grounded in appropriate theory. Educators favoring the former of these two schools, the Cognitive Rationalist, tend to support bilingual education for LEP students, while socio culturalists favor classroom environments where English is the only language of instruction (Greeno, Collins and Resnick, 1996).
A graphic organizer is a visual representation that successfully aids students and teachers to recall, retrieve, and transfer information; make connections; and increase reading comprehension (Hyerle, 2000). Graphic organizers were developed as a result of Ausubel's research (1960) into the potential benefits of using an advance organizer as s pre-reading tool to connect prior knowledge and enhance the acquisition of new knowledge. Research has validated the use of graphic organizers in increasing student achievement and reading comprehension (Hyerle, 2000; Merkely & Jeffries, 2000). Studies have further supported that the effective use of graphic organizers required explicit teacher instruction, modeling and regular use before student could successfully and independently generate them and facilitate their own comprehension (Griffin, 1995; Hyerle, 2000; Merkely & Jefferies, 2000). Therefore, it is important that teachers fully comprehend the instructional needs of their students and received the tools necessary for successful implementation of graphic organizers.
McCoy & Ketterlin-Geller's (2004) research study utilized a concept-based instructional model that was specifically designed to accommodate students with a variety of learning needs and aide in the understanding and retention of text material. Graphic organizers were used to illuminate concepts by constructing visuals and linking prior knowledge to new learning, thereby deepening and extending student understanding.
Graphic organizers have proven to be effective learning tools which allow students to visualize relationships among concepts, enhancing meaning and, therefore promoting a greater depth of understanding. However, graphic organizers are often used in isolation and are not always transferable across content areas. Through the incorporation of graphic organizers and specific thought processes, David Hyerle designed Thinking Maps®, a common visual language composed of eight flexible tools used to promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of the thinking process. The purpose of the program is to enable students to construct and visually express knowledge through a personal language which links concepts, ideas, and thoughts. This is accomplished through student centered and interactive learning (Hyerle, 1996).
Thinking Maps (Alper & Hyerle, 2006) were designed by David Hyerle, for the Innovative Learning Group, of which he is currently the director of Curriculum and Professional Development. These graphic maps act as a cognitive bridge to literacy by connecting reading through text structures and writing through prompt structures. They are visual patterns used for constructing knowledge and connecting visual imagery with specific abstract thought processes. The eight graphic organizers are used as strategies for specific areas of instruction and based on eight fundamental cognitive processes: 1) circle map-defining context and perspective; 2) bubble map-description and characterization; 3) double bubble map-comparison and contrast; 4) tree map-theme, main idea and details; 5) brace map-setting and physical parts; 6) flow map-chronology and sequence-plot; 7) multi-flow map-problem-solution and conflict; and 8) bridge map-comparison by analogy.
Hyerle (2004) has identified five major attributes of Thinking Maps: consistency; flexibility; developmental; integrative; and reflective. Each map has a consistent form or representation that visually reflects the cognitive skill being defined. Using the cognitive skill and the basic graphic, the maps can grow and be flexible in form to be configured in multiple ways. The learner and the content of the learning determine how the maps develop in complexity. The maps integrate the thinking process and across content areas. Thinking Maps are reflective of a student's thinking process and enable teacher to reflect upon and assess the content learning and thinking process of student.
Graphic Organizers and Reading Achievement
In a synthesis of research, Kim. (2004) pointed out that as students progress through school, learning from expository text increased creating greater challenges for the reader. A strategy recommended to assist these challenges was the graphic organizer (Blachowicz & Ogle, 2001). However, according to the researchers; "the accumulated body of research demonstrated inconclusive findings for supporting such a recommendation" (p. 106).
Kim. (2004) reviewed the findings of twenty-one intervention studies which examined the effects of graphic organizers on the reading…