Literacy is crucial to English language learners' (ELLs') academic success: It enables them to become active learners and social beings in an English-speaking culture (Cummins 1992). The rapid growth of the ELL population over the past decade (Peregoy and Boyle 2008) has demanded teachers' and administrators' attention and challenged them pedagogically. As the number of ELLs continues to rise, researchers continue to describe the challenges of learning to read in a first language (L1) and a second language (L2). ELL refers to learners who are learning English as their second language after learning a first language other than English (Stern 1983). Given the complex process of L2 reading, exploring L2 reading processes is demanding (Fitzgerald 1995; Koda 2007). Researchers agree that these processes are closely linked to academic success (August and Shanahan 2006; Cummins 1992).
Over the past decade, a convergence of state and federal policies has emphasized and institutionalized the teaching of reading and reading skills and subskills (e.g., phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary; Pacheco 2010). Whereas some reading researchers argue that these skills and subskills are essential aspects of the reading processes (National Institute of Child and Health and Human Development [NICHD] 2000), others have strong concerns about teaching narrow skills-based reading approaches to ELLs (Olson 2007). Furthermore the main trend moves quickly to whole texts, empathizing reading fluency to enhance reading comprehension, whereas a more balanced approach may be more helpful to some students (Alexander and Fox 2004).
L2 reading appears to be a more complex process than L1 reading (Fitzgerald 1995): In their report on the National Literacy Panel, August and Shanahan (2006) demonstrated an urgent need to support ELLs ( language-minority students) in their rapid growth. They addressed ELLs' challenges in reading and writing well in English and indicated that the nation's K-12 schools, should urgently address the close link between ELLs' English proficiency and their empowerment and future success. They identified six key elements for ELLs' literacy development: (1) Key components of reading consist of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension (NICHD 2000). (2) High-quality instruction in the key components of reading boosts oral proficiency. (3) Oral proficiency and literacy in L1 facilitate literacy development in English. (4) There are important individual differences in L2 learning (i.e. general language proficiency, age, English oral proficiency, cognitive abilities, previous learning, and the similarities and differences between the first language and English). (5) Due to the challenges, better assessments for ELLs must be developed. (6) Finally, home language experiences have a positive impact on literacy achievement.
Initially, however, August and Shanahan (2006) stated that there little evidence of the impact of sociocultural variables in literacy achievement or development based on the panel's summary. In contrast, Cummins (2009) argued that sociocultural factors are significant in L2 learning in his review of August and Shanahan (2006), and Pray and Jimenez (2009) accepted Cummins' claim, which interestingly was against the Panel's recommendation. This important debate lead me to explore the involvement of social factors in L2 literacy and further discuss the uniqueness of ELLs' L2 reading.
It evolves from both the first and second languages and other factors such as linguistic differences between L1 and L2, cultural differences, and the particular context. Historically, the cognitive processes involved in L2 reading have been discussed with various foci. Studies have examined ELLs' language acquisition (Ellis 2008) and focused on textual components such as L2 vocabulary acquisition, grammatical structures, and the appreciation of L1 linguistic knowledge for L2 reading (Koda 2007; McElvain 2010). Some researchers have also focused on the interrelationship between L1 and L2, such as L1 positive transfer to L2 learning and how L2 reading skills transfer to L2 reading proficiency (Koda 2007; McElvain 2010; Yamashita 2002). Few studies, however, address L2 reading processes and dialogic meaning construction, critical areas for understanding L2 reading processes and vital for providing appropriate pedagogical recommendations. As Freire observed in 1970, ELLs are historical, cultural, social, and political beings, and L2 reading is a sociocultural practice (Perez 1998). L2 reading processes for English, however, have not yet been fully discussed and there is an urgent need to discuss ELLs' L2 reading processes in situated contexts (boundaries of dialogue in social contexts according to Bakhtin 1986). From a sociocultural perspective, reading is a vital system for communication and interaction (Perez 1998).
The definition of literacy has evolved to encompass the entire process of thinking and meaning-making (Goodman 1987), which is how readers make sense of texts. Au (1993) extended the definition of literacy from mere reading and writing to include "the ability and the willingness to use reading and writing to construct meaning from printed text, in ways which meet the requirements of a particular social context" (p. 20). She emphasized the importance of the readers' willingness or feelings about reading and writing on the process, suggesting the reader plays a central role in the construction of meaning.
Goodman (1987) defined L1 reading traditionally as "meaning construction." Mortimer and Scott (2003) described the meaning-making process (interchangeable with meaning construction in this paper) as "dialogic in nature as the students try to make sense of what is being said by laying down a set of their 'own answering words' to the words of the teacher" (p. 122). Based on Dewey's (1933) philosophy, Krauss (2005) observed, "human beings have a natural inclination to understand and make meaning out of their lives and experiences" (p. 762), and reading (meaning making) occurs in "dialogic" ways (Bakhtin 1986). Reading is the purposeful construction of meaning within or about the situated context called dialogue (Bakhtin 1986), also known as communication or a semiotic exchange (Gee 2008). Johnson (2004) stressed that L2 learning can be explored socioculturally when the dialogic perspective of L2 reading is emphasized.
Furthermore, the U.S. "National Reading Panel Report: Teaching Children to Read" suggested effective reading instruction for children. Particularly, this document recommended the importance not only of practicing reading aloud, but also of teaching strategies to improve reading comprehension (International Reading Association 2002). The report's summary highlighted the effective instructional strategies of vocabulary and text comprehension (International Reading Association 2006).
This study investigated the L2 reading processes of four elementary ELLs, focusing on the interactions between the learners and various texts in situated contexts. Using qualitative and verbal protocols, I sought to elicit and examine ELLs' meaning-making processes. This study pursued two goals: the examination of (a) ELLs' meaning-making processes as they engage in reading activities focusing on learner's internal cognitive reading process and (b) how they construct meaning within the particular contexts (including such social factors as cultural background, personal experience, L1 and L2 literacy skills, and oral language proficiency).
To answer these questions, I reviewed the available contemporary literature on L2 reading, including the cognitive and social aspects of L2 reading. Next, I expanded the discussion to include the dialogic reading process.
L2 Reading Research
ELLs have various L2 proficiencies, cultural orientations, and cognitions, all closely related to age differences (Koda 2007; Stern 1983). Koda (2007) documented three major components of reading: (a) decoding (extracting linguistic information directly from print); (b) text-information building (integrating the extracted information into written form); and (c) reader-model construction (synthesizing the incorporated text information with prior knowledge p. 4). L2 reading obviously involves two languages. According to McElvain (2010), linguistic knowledge and prior knowledge help ELLs to construct meaning while engaging in reading events. ELLs' language proficiency (Koda 2007) and their L1 skills are directly linked to their L2 reading abilities (McElvain 2010). Cummins' (1992) exploration of the cross-linguistic relationship in reading skills demonstrated that L2 reading success depends primarily on L1 literacy competence. Related studies discussed the relationships between L1 literacy skills and L2 reading (McElvain 2010), L2 language proficiency and L2 reading (Koda 2007; Yamashita 2002), and L1 literacy skill and L2 proficiency's influence on L2 reading (Nassaji 2007). Likewise, prior learning experiences can be considered a reservoir of knowledge, skills, and abilities to be employed when learning a language and literacy skills (Koda 2007; McElvain 2010).
L2 reading is the product of word decoding, vocabulary knowledge, grammatical skills, and oral text comprehension (McElvain 2010). L2 proficiency with vocabulary and grammatical skills, however, appears closely linked to reading fluency and comprehension (McElvain 2010). Koda (2007) discussed the role of linguistic knowledge in text-information building, emphasizing syntactic awareness and text-structure knowledge. Word-recognition and decoding-skill studies showed that these skills cannot cover the full process of reading (Avalos 2003).
Researchers have documented contemporary L2 reading theory and reading strategies, but have not yet focused on the dialogic responsive reading process. Johnson (2004) emphasized that dialogic responsive reading is comparable to the sociocultural perspective in L2 learning. ELLs are at the centre of meaning construction, struggling to make meaning out of strange and foreign words, and their dialogic meaning construction must be closely observed and addressed.
Dialogic Responsive Reading
Dialogue is described as a, "give-and-take exchange of language between two individuals" (Uebel 2007, p. 331). Bakhtin (1986) saw the individual utterances in a dialogue as the junction between a speaker's specific speech intent and the listener's responsiveness; these two elements are constant and stable and create original meaningful linkages within the given boundaries. These two entities, speaker and active listener, create the true essence of meaning through purposeful exchanges. Bakhtin (1986) described dialogue as "The life of the text ... always develops on the boundary between two consciousnesses, two subjects" (p. 107), the author and the reader. Reading is an utterance within the given boundary, a kind of literacy work (Bakhtin 1986). The boundary can be a "rejoinder, letters, diaries, inner speech, and so forth" (p. 115). Bakhtin referred to reading as "an utterance" that creates brand new innovative meanings, claiming that the possibilities in the written word are utterly boundless.
The ELL who reads is as important as the author and is always central to meaning making, either obtaining knowledge, connecting to culture, engaging in lived-through experience (Rosenblatt 1978) reaching that deeper level of connection that generates readers' reading pleasure, dialoguing, or creating entirely new meanings from the reading (Bakhtin 1986; Freire 1970).
Within the L2-reading focus, responsive reading has been referred to under various names, for example, (Rosenblatt's 1978, 1986) efferent and aesthetic reading; Perez's (1998) literacy as a cultural practice, which means literacy makes sense within the given context; Bakhtin's (1986) reading as a dialogue; and Paulo Freire's (1970) critical literacy. These responsive readings demonstrate different foci of meaning making, but all represent a dialogue between the reader and the text in the situated context.
Rosenblatt's (1978) reader-response theory sees the reader as either gaining a lived-through experience (interchangeably aesthetic) or obtaining information from the text (interchangeably efferent), which is how the ELL creates a dialogic relationship with the text. This relation could be efferent (informative) or aesthetic--transactions occurring with the text through the reader's lived experience, based on the reader's engagement with the text, which will reflect the reader's level of direct attention. Our individual experience is the sum of these transactions, and the continuous processing of these transactions is the ever-increasing enlargement of experience.
Dialogue, an invitation to think and produce meaning, is frequently referred to as dialogic thinking (Bakhtin 1986; Wells 2007). Dialogic thinking goes well beyond two people talking, essentially including any form of two-way semantic interchange between speakers, building a mosaic of new meaning among various texts (Hartman 1995), as well as between readers and texts (Rosenblatt 1978). When literacy is viewed as culturally and politically embedded cross-cultural communication (Freire 1970), the ELLs' cultural and political contexts become inseparable from utterances, content, style, and arrangement (Bakhtin 1986). ELLs' cultural and political contexts may differ from those of the text. L2 reading is also "a set of cultural practices and a product of cultural activity" (Perez 1998, p. 252). ELLs identify with words based on their understanding of the texts (Koda 2007), relying on their historical, cultural, and social backgrounds to understand the words.
Creative and critical thinking (Freire 2000) helps language learners develop awareness of others and value and appreciate differences. Such thinking also fosters constructive analytical skills, sensitivity to others, cultural and critical awareness of the self and others, and an evolving worldview (Freire 1970).
L2 reading praxis, reflective and active meaning creation through reading texts (Freire 2000), engages learners in learning language and in reading, analysing events and situations from various perspectives to understand how these perspectives position readers in the world. In this instance, reading is a core force of literacy and active learning; reading becomes a basic medium for evoking one's power in life (Freire 1970, 2000). Freire (2000) pointed to the re-creator concept of reading through the dialogic relationship between the author and reader: The ELL who reads becomes a rewriter, composing a new story while making meaning within the author's authority. L2 reading entails a critical perception of the world and the transformation of the world through practical action and reflection (Freire 2000). While reading, ELLs act as both reader and writer to create comprehension (Bakhtin 1986; Freire 2000).
These theories all clearly demonstrate the degree of dialogue and interrelationship among the reader, the text, and the context. Reading is a dialogic responsive process of meaning construction, with the reader responding to the text by creating a unique transactional moment in a particular time and space, the situated context (Rosenblatt 1978). All reading processes are closely linked to the boundary of dialogue and to the vital essence of dialogue. ELLs construct meaning by creating dialoguing with their past experiences and social interactions with others (Windschitl 2000). Learning to read and write are constituted as acts of knowing, reflected as values, or situated as discourse within a given cultural and social context (Gee 1996; Perez 1998). When considered as a dialogue focusing on the reflective process and meaning production, reading becomes a powerful, essential method of transformation whenever the reader encounters a new concept or constructs meaning from the word. Dialogic reading occurs in situated contexts in suitable domains.
Domains as Peripheries of Situated Meaning
Dialogue or reading requires a "boundary" with the text to make sense of it in a situated context (Bakhtin 1986; Gee 2008). Language and reading have particular meanings in any particular context (Rosenblatt 1978), a concept very similar to Gee's (2008) ideas on domains. Gee defined authentic learning in a domain as learning that "leads to growing mastery of the semiotic domain's design grammar and growing membership in its associated affinity group" (p. 139). For Gee (2008), design grammar is a set of principles or patterns that legitimate materials in the domain. The domain situates authentic learning (Lave and Wenger 1991), which is situated meaning (Perez 1998), as learners make sense of semiotic domains within the given contexts. Thus, within a domain, multimodalities (i.e., words, symbols) have meanings and combine together (Gee 2008). Gee also emphasized that learning is a trajectory for developing mastery status in the semiotic domains. By learning semiotic domains, learners can associate certain rules and content with affinity groups--groups of people associated within a semiotic domain. These individuals share a community of practices, a set of common goals, and subscribe to common values and norms (Lave and Wenger 1991).