Episode 48 - Structured, Integrated, Inclusive: Reading Instruction for English Learners with Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan, EdD


Episode Summary

The 2023 NCTQ report on elementary reading instruction demonstrates how little teacher preparation programs spend on building teacher skills to support English Language Learners.  

Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan, EdD, shares her expertise in integrating structured literacy with cultural and linguistic diversity to support English Language Learners. 

Listeners will learn about the

  • structure of the reading brain across languages.
  • importance of vocabulary and background knowledge in order to build schema and connections.
  • the reading-writing connection from oral to print language.

This episode addresses the importance of multi-component and inclusive instruction to target the needs of English learners and benefit all readers. 

Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”

1. Statistics on English Language Learners in the United States 

Current statistics of students in the United States public school system show 

  • There are over 5 million English Language Learners in public schools across the United States, a 35% increase over the last two decades. 
  • 80% of English Language Learners are Spanish. 

Read more about teacher preparation and instruction for English Language Learners in the National Council on Teacher Quality Teacher Prep Review: Strengthening Elementary Reading Instruction (Ellis et al., 2023) https://www.nctq.org/review/standard/Reading-Foundations  

2. The Reading Brain across Languages 
Listen to 9:51 – 13:24 to learn more about language and the reading brain. 

Language is the foundation for reading. While certain features of oral language are similar across languages, there are some distinct features based on the spoken language structures. These similarities and differences are identified across brain activation studies of alphabetic and logographic languages. 

“Reading is language-based, and that's why it's so important to have strong language skills to support those strong literacy skills.” 

3. An Integrated Approach to Structured Literacy 
Listen to 17:31 – 21:31 to learn more about bridging language structures. 

To support English learners, instruction should integrate the pillars of structured literacy with culturally and linguistically diverse and inclusive approaches.  

“What can we do in our instruction to meet the needs of these students is to realize that they do have a language. It has a structure, it has a way it operates and works, and how can we capitalize upon that as we put an additional language system and literacy system on top of what they bring to our classroom?” 

Dr. Cárdenas-Hagan discusses instruction for English learners through a lens of “structured multi-literacy,” which involves explicit teaching of written language structures, capitalizing on student strengths and background in their first language, and building schema and connections across language and culture. 

Listen to 21-37 – 25:38 for a discussion on building background knowledge and vocabulary. 

“Students who have strong phonological awareness skills in their native language are likely to have strong phonological awareness skills in their second language.” 

4. The Reading-Writing Connection 
Listen to 28:39 – 32:41 to learn more about the reading-writing connection. 

Instruction should be strategic in integrating time and coherence of skills. Reading, writing/spelling, and language skills should be taught cohesively instead of separately. Instruction should also involve a clear progression of skills that connect oral language with print/syntax. 

5. Screening Practices and English Learners 
Listen to 35:06 – 40:05 to learn more about screening practices. 

Dr. Cárdenas-Hagan has spent decades understanding and implementing more inclusive screening practices for at-risk students. She explains the importance of biliterate screening practices to support English learners. 


Learn more about Dr. Cárdenas-Hagan at Valley Speech

Connect with Dr. Cárdenas-Hagan

Read English Language Learners: Developing Literacy in Second-Language Learners – Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth (August et al., 2009) 

Read more about teacher preparation and instruction for English Language Learners in the National Council on Teacher Quality Teacher Prep Review: Strengthening Elementary Reading Instruction (Ellis et al., 2023) https://www.nctq.org/review/standard/Reading-Foundations 

Download READ Podcast using your favorite podcast platform with direct links below:

TIP: In your podcast player, search for 'READ: The Research Education and ADvocacy podcast.' The show may not appear if you only type in READ.

Sign up for early access to each month's podcast!

Stay connected to future episode launches of READ podcast.

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: The Windward School, 40 West Red Oak Lane, White Plains, NY, 10605, US, http://www.thewindwardschool.org . You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact.


READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Scorrano.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.

Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.