I work in an ESL class with a wide age range (grades 1 to 5) and wide range of needs in terms of reading, writing, speaking and listening (some students have just arrived with no English and some have been here for several years.) Because of this, I typically work with a single story or nonfiction book that I read to the group. Writing, speaking and listening assignments stem from this. Their reading is mostly individualized with Essential Skills programs. They also have some silent reading time when they choose their own books to read (e.g., related to the theme from the whole class book we are studying.) In total, the students spend slightly more time reading with Essential Skills programs than they would in other capacities.
Once students become familiar with the programs, they require very little supervision, if any. I work with many ESL students at once, so the Essential Skills programs enable me to work with one group while 5 students work independently on the computers. So, not only do students benefit from individualized reading on the computer, the students who work with me get more attention because they get to work in a smaller group. The smaller group gives me a better opportunity to assess reading, writing, listening and speaking and gives students the opportunity to work with me more closely in these capacities.
It's very difficult to determine precisely how much of an effect these programs have because this is not a controlled study. There are too many variables involved. However, I can say that the students enjoy using the programs. They are motivated by their scores following each session, by reaching new units, and by reaching new grade levels. As a teacher, it is very useful to be able to go into the marks manager and see clearly which types of activities a student is doing well with and which ones need improvement.
I have an idea for next year that might provide more conclusive evidence. I've asked the principal about setting up a lunchtime reading program where students who are needy but don't qualify for special education or ESL use the Essential Skills programs a few times a week. These students could be compared to students who qualified but for some reason were not able to participate. I know this is also not a truly controlled study, but it comes close.
Our ESL students use Essential Skills approximately 3 times a week for 15-20 minutes a session. Some of them were tested using the Canadian Achievement Tests in October of last year and again this past October. These results reflect the improvement in various areas during that time. Some of the results are expressed in grade levels and others are in percentiles. The percentile ranks indicate a percentage increase relative to their peers. In that case, they're not just improving, but improving more than other students in the country. Finally, the Brigance Reading Vocabulary test was also administered as a pre-post test.