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Literacy Evaluation for Newcomer SIFE (LENS)

Professor Gita Martohardjono
Funded by the NYC Department of Education

This project continues the work of the original SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education) study by creating multilingual literacy diagnostics. The LENS (Literacy Evaluation for Newcomer Students) is an online, dynamic assessment for New York City SIFE that will identify the academic literacy and math skills students bring with them to their schooling in NYC. The assessment is available in Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, Haitian Creole, and Spanish and is currently being used in schools. It is hoped that the results from these assessments will give educators, researchers, and policy makers a greater understanding of this growing and understudied population.

Bridges to Academic Success

Principal Investigator/Project Director: Dr. Lisa Auslander
Co-PI: Dr. Elaine Klein, Prof Emerita of Linguistics

Funded by the New York State Education Department

English language learners who arrive in US Secondary schools are diverse and heterogeneous. Bridges focuses its work on a subset of the ELLs who struggle most to meaningfully access the work of secondary schools.   Our team works to support  Students with Interrupted/Inconsistent Education (SIFE), with a focus on SIFE with Developing Literacy (SDL) or students with home language literacy  levels at 3rd grade or below. These students are at highest risk for dropout.

We offer innovative curriculum andf curricular and instructional practices to ensure access to learning  for SIFE. Our work is grounded in the belief that SIFE bring valuable resources, such as  life experiences, home language, and cultural knowledge that enrich our schools and communities.  We believe that when educators are trained to understand the characteristics of SIFE and implement instructional strategies that accelerate learning, students are able to graduate and experience improved college and career readiness.

Please visit for more information.

New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals

Professors Ricardo Otheguy, Ofelia García, and Kate Menken
Funded by the New York State Education Department
Project website

The goal of the initiative is to build upon the accumulated experience of State educators in the instruction of emergent bilingual students in order to launch an innovative effort to improve the school experience and the academic success of these students. The project will: (a) develop the intellectual and leadership capacities of principals of schools that serve large numbers of emergent bilinguals, so as to create the material and staffing conditions necessary to produce tangible improvements in the educational achievement of these students; (b) document and create a portforlio of successful educational policies, programs and practices associated with emergent bilingual students in the State; and (c) begin to explore the development of New York State Native Language Arts (NLA) Standards that are aligned with the new Common Core standards, NLA being an important component in the education of emergent bilinguals.

Meeting the Needs of Long-Term English Language Learners in High School

Professor Kate Menken
Funded by the Office of English Language Learners of the New York City Department of Education

The purpose of this research project is to explore the characteristics and educational needs of Long-Term English Language Learners (LTELLs), students who remain engaged in the process of learning English after 6 years or more in the United States. While there are significant numbers of LTELLs in the New York City public schools, comprising approximately one-third of all high school English Language Learners (ELLs), very little research has been conducted about these students. Though often orally proficient in English, Long-Term ELLs are characterized by low levels of academic literacy in both English and their home language, and typically score below grade level on assessments. Traditional English as a second language and bilingual education programs at the secondary level were designed to meet the needs of newly arrived ELLs who are literate in their home language, but such programs often fail to meet the needs of Long-Term ELLs. To gain a clearer understanding of this population and learn how high schools can best meet the needs of these students, a descriptive qualitative study will be conducted in three New York City high schools serving LTELLs.

The Interaction Of Language And Dialect Contact: Variable Statement Of Spanish Subject Pronouns In Six Spanish Dialects In New York City

Professors Ricardo Otheguy and Ana Celia Zentella

Spanish speakers in New York City (NYC) are experiencing language and dialect contact on an unusually large scale. This project investigates the consequences of such contact through a sociolinguistic study of the alternation between presence and absence of subject personal pronouns (SPPs) with finite verbs in Spanish. We ask whether Spanish dialects are undergoing leveling or hyperdifferentiation and/or whether they are converging with English. Leveling may indicate the rise of a NYC Spanish, suggestive of a new NYC Latino identity; hyperdifferentiation may suggest the emergence of transnational identities that tie immigrants and language minorities to their distant communities of origin more than to speakers of other dialects in the immigrant setting.

Supporting Language Skills in Immigrant Pre-Schoolers: An Innovative, Structure-based Program Intervention

Professors Gita Martohardjono and Ricardo Otheguy

Previous literacy research has shown a correlation between the development of cognitive-linguistic competence and abilities, and success in the acquisition of literacy skills, both in L1 and in L2. Good comprehension in certain syntactic areas, namely knowledge of tense, complex sentence structure, and pronoun reference, correlates significantly with L2 English reading attainment, as demonstrated in a previous RISLUS study (2001-2). The ability to detect lexical and syntactic ambiguity also appears as a strong predictor of early L1 reading ability (Cairns, Waltzman, & Schlisselberg, 2001).

The role of syntax in reading comprehension: a study of bilingual readers

Professors Gita Martohardjono and Ricardo Otheguy
Previous research on monolingual readers has extensively studied the importance of phonemic indices of language development (Bradley & Bryant,1985; Ehri & Wilce,1980,1985) as well as the importance of vocabulary (Anderson & Freebody,1983), but empirical research into the relationship between syntax and reading abilities is relatively rare (cf. Waltzman & Cairns, 2000). This study investigates the relationship between syntactic knowledge in the first (L1) and second language (L2) and reading ability in the L2 at early stages of development. Participants were Spanish speaking learners of English enrolled in two inner-city kindergartens (ages 5;7-6;5).

Language Variation In a New York Public Secondary School

Professor Michael Newman

My current research project is a variationist study of Latino English in New York. It is focused on the role of peer subculture, particularly hip-hop and geek/computer-associated groups on differences in language.

The Comparative Morpho-Syntax of Appalachian English

Professors Judy Bernstein, Marcel den Dikken, Christina Tortora and Raffaella Zanuttini

Appalachian English is a group of linguistic varieties, or dialects, spoken roughly in the central and southern part of the Appalachian Mountain range. These dialects differ from standard English in a number of respects, including several structural properties of sentences and the words inside them (the ‘morpho-syntax’). Thus, they allow sentences like “The girls likes pizza”, where a third person plural subject occurs with a verb carrying the –s suffix (which is reserved for singular subjects in standard English); and they permit examples like “At first, you wouldn’t believe the characters come knocked on my door”, in which “who”/“that” is omitted, something that is not possible in standard English. In a collaborative research project developed by Judy Bernstein, Marcel den Dikken, Christina Tortora and Raffaella Zanuttini, a team of researchers from four different academic institutions (including two CUNY colleges: The Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island), these phenomena are investigated for two of specific varieties of Appalachian English, those spoken in Dante, Virginia and Mountain City, Tennessee. The aim of this research is to reach a deeper understanding of grammatical variation, particularly in the areas of the syntax of subjects and subject-verb agreement.

Use of Less Commonly Spoken Languages by Bilingual Parents

Professor Thomas Ihde

With an increased appreciation of the advantages of bilingualism, a number of parents are consciously deciding to raise their children in more than one language in the New York City area. The practice of using the One Parent/One Language approach is of interest (Döpke, 1992; Barron-Hauwaert, 2004) notably where parents have different native languages or where one parent speaks a native language and the other the host language and/or non-native language. However, in the New York City area, the use of English by one parent and the use of a less commonly spoken language by the other parent appears to present a wide variety of challenges to the family. This research seeks to document those difficulties in addition to charting best practices among parents. Data is being collected through digitally recorded observations of parent/child and sibling/sibling interactions, parent journaling, and older children recalls. Findings to date have been shared with the scholarly community through conference papers and with bilingual parents through a sponsored website.

Language Processing in Hebrew-English Bilinguals

Professor Mira Goral

The project uses data from speakers of Hebrew and English to investigate the mental organization of the lexicon of bilinguals, focusing on the difference between the two languages with regard to the ordering of constituents in compound words (goldfish vs ‘fish-gold’). Data comes from bilinguals with different levels of exposure to the two languages. The project raises questions regarding the role that morphological structure plays in the organization of the bilingual lexicon; the changes that might occur in the bilingual lexicon with changes in the proficiency of the first and the second languages; and the relative importance of constituent position and morphological headedness in the processing of compound words. The project also investigates differences between bilinguals living in Israel or in NYC and between those with greater or lesser proficiency in the two languages.

Understanding the Student with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE): A Study of SIFE skills, needs and achievement

Professors Elaine Klein and Gita Martohardjono

Funded by the New York City Department of Education, Office of English Language Learners

This project began in 2005 with the goal of helping the NYC Department of Education improve its understanding of, and services to, SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education). SIFE are a growing population of English language learners in New York City schools. The NYC DOE defines SIFE as students who have missed at least two years of schooling in their home countries. The majority of SIFE arrive in the United States as adolescents and are expected to acquire the language and academic skills in English needed in order to graduate from NYC high schools.

This study began with a focus on characterizing the backgrounds and academic literacy of SIFE, as there is very little research on the population. Another goal of the study was to develop an appropriate diagnostic of the academic skills of SIFE. The project includes an 18 month longitudinal study in which the academic literacy of SIFE was measured in the L1 and L2 and then compared with other English Language Learners (ELLs) and Native English-speaking high school students. Having completed its fourth year, the research has resulted in a diagnostic tool being used in 200 NYC middle and high schools for the SIFE population. The Academic Language and Literacy Diagnostic (ALLD) assesses students in English and Spanish, the native language of most SIFE in NYC schools. The project hopes to develop other versions of the ALLD, including trans-adaptations into Haitian Creole, French, Chinese and potentially other native languages of the SIFE population.

Please find the 2006 report of the project SIFE Report 2006.

Customized Web-based Scoring and Evaluation Report System

Professor Gita Martohardjono

This project came out of the SIFE research; the web-based scoring and evaluation report system is a customized online scoring system for the diagnostic developed during the SIFE project. This system was developed to meet the needs of teachers and researchers by giving them a detailed report of a student’s performance on the diagnostic tool.

Multilingual Literacy Diagnostic (MLD)

Professor Gita Martohardjono
Funded by the New York State Education Department

The MLD is a suite of multilingual, online diagnostics that informs teachers of the home-language literacy skills their students bring with them to their schooling in New York State. The results of the MLD are available immediately, and will offer educators detailed descriptions of a student’s skills and abilities in reading and vocabulary. This diagnostic will be available in Arabic, Bangla, Simplified Chinese, English, Haitian Creole, Maay-Maay, S’gaw Karen, Spanish, and Urdu.

Periodic Assessments: Chinese

Professor Gita Martohardjono & Dr. Rocio Raña
Funded by the NYC Department of Education

Our upcoming project is to design native language assessment tasks in Chinese for Dual Language Programs in New York City public schools. The goal is to supply teachers with resources they can use to assess content knowledge and literacy development in Chinese. The tasks will span Pre-K to 12th grade. The initial part of this project will be research to determine teacher needs and student knowledge, and the second two years will be writing and implementation of the materials.

Hebrew-English Programs in New York City Public Schools

Professors Kate Menken and Sharon Avni
Funded by the Spencer Foundation

Dual language bilingual education (DLBE) programs, in which students are taught language and academic content in English and a partner language, have dramatically grown in popularity in U.S. public schools. Moving beyond the teaching of Spanish and Chinese, DLBE programs are now being offered in less commonly taught languages and attracting both African Americans and middle-class monolingual English speakers. The remarkable expansion of programs and their outreach to populations that have not traditionally taken part in bilingual education raise compelling questions regarding how they educate diverse populations within the framework of language learning. This study focuses on three Hebrew DLBE programs in New York City, the first of which opened in 2010; two are elementary charter schools and one is a traditional public middle school. Using complementary qualitative methods, this comparative study investigates how Hebrew DLBE programs teach about and negotiate linguistic, ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. Its goal is to provide empirical evidence to inform ongoing conversations about the expansion of bilingual education to serve the many societal aims it is being drawn upon to address, which not only contribute to society’s economic health, but also to the character of civic, cultural, and social life as well.

Participating in Literacies and Computer Science (PiLaCS)

Professors Kate Menken, Laura Ascenzi-Moreno, and Christopher Hoadley
Funded by National Science Foundation in partnership with New York University

As part of their efforts to support the research and development needed to bring computer science content to all K-12 learners, the National Science Foundation awarded $300,000 to researchers at the CUNY Graduate Center's Research Institute for the Study of Language in Urban Society (RISLUS) and New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development to establish a partnership with bilingual teachers at three New York City public middle schools in Washington Heights.

The 2-year project seeks to address a problem of practice facing educators tasked with rolling out New York City's Computer Science for All (CS4All) policy: how to equitably serve emergent bilinguals -- students who speak languages other than English and are learning English. Translanguaging is a pedagogical approach that encourages teachers to leverage children’s diverse language practices in classroom instruction. It is thought that the skills emergent bilingual students use to learn multiple languages may also be useful in helping them learn to program computers. This project will explore whether that is the case, and more broadly examine computer science instruction for emergent bilinguals. Accordingly, PiLaCS will develop and test pedagogies that draw on the strengths of students as they learn computer science and become empowered makers and users of technology.

The grant began August 15, 2017. The Principal Investigators are:

Christopher Hoadley, Associate Professor of Learning Sciences/Educational Technology, NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

Kate Menken, Professor of Linguistics, at Queens College and RISLUS Research Fellow, CUNY Graduate Center

Laura Ascenzi-Moreno, Assistant Professor of Childhood, Bilingual, & Special Education, Brooklyn College and RISLUS Associate

Sara Vogel is a doctoral student in the PhD Program in Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center and will be the lead Research Assistant on the project.