Nexus: A Journal for Teachers in Development
ESOL Strategy Implementation: Teacher Characteristics and Behavior
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By Francie Christopher


At a recent workshop to help secondary teachers with strategies for helping their English learners (ELs) in general education classes, I asked the teachers to raise their hand if they had ELs in their classes when they were in school. Of the 150 teachers, only two raised their hands. I then asked how many of them currently have ELs in their classes and all 150 hands went up. We are not teaching the children we were. In this particular district the EL population has grown by an astounding 300% in the last year.


Statement of the Problem

The growth in the number of ELs in public schools has forced districts to recognize language-related issues over and above statutes, regulations, and legal mandates.  Across the country, districts are required to maintain specialized instructional support programs that ensure equitable student access to comprehensible instruction.  Not only is comprehensible instruction required by law (Lau v. Nichols, 1974), but the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) requires ELs to show improvement in order for schools to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). ELs are one of 11 subgroups measured under the terms of NCLB. Out of nearly 3 million public school teachers surveyed by the National Center for Education Statistics (2000), 41% report teaching LEP students but only 12. 5 % have received eight or more hours of ESOL training. The question then becomes, how can those in EL professional development best help teachers improve their teaching and reach language minority students?


Theoretical Framework

Effective teaching begins with planning and preparation. The theoretical framework for this study was derived from the Pathwise professional development program designed by Charlotte Danielson to help school administrators and teachers increase student success. In the First Domain of the Pathwise program, “Planning and Preparation”, Danielson (2001) mentions demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy but also includes demonstrating knowledge of students, and knowledge of resources. Mainstream teachers of ELs must consider the needs of these students when planning effective lessons as well as the resources available to them.

Planning lessons is just one of the demands placed on teachers; time constraints limit how much research they can do on a particular topic before presenting the lesson. In her report on Computer-Mediated Instruction (CMI) for professional development, Glenn (2001) reports that online education for teachers offers not only convenience, but also a variety of topics which allows teachers to select what is appropriate for their needs. Other researchers report greater effectiveness of online delivery of materials for professional development as compared to traditional methods because of flexibility (Creanor & Littlejohn, 2000; Blair, 2001) and accessibility (Killion, 2000). Teachers with computers and Internet access can obtain materials without leaving their classrooms. Additionally, they can access resources away from school at a convenient time and place. In keeping with the theories of professional development and online learning for teachers, I designed a lesson plan addendum to help teachers implement strategies that have shown to help ELs. The addendum included linguistic, organizational and visual strategies in lists and provided explanations and examples of the strategies.



In planning this research project, I hypothesized that teachers who were provided with online access to a lesson plan addendum that included links to resources about strategies and accommodations for ELs would be more likely to change the number of strategies and accommodations used in their instruction than teachers provided with paper versions of the same because of the convenience of online access. I also believed it was important to understand teachers’ perceptions about their teaching to see if my findings aligned with the teachers’ perceived changes in strategy use. I elected to design a mixed (quantitative and qualitative) pre- and post-treatment study. 



The teachers in this study volunteered to participate after receiving an introduction to the project. Only those participants with no formal coursework in ESOL were eligible. I observed one class for five days in each of the fourteen teachers’ classrooms and noted what strategies (linguistic, visual and organizational) they were using. I also noted evidence of cultural diversity either in the classroom or as part of the lesson. Finally, I noted how and if they were modifying assessment for their ELs. After the first week of observations I gave each teacher one of two versions of a lesson plan addendum. The online version of the lesson plan addendum contained links to resources and the paper version had the same resources available in the Media Center. After two weeks, I observed the same classes for the same number of minutes and recorded what strategies and modifications they were using. Finally, I interviewed the teachers to determine if they felt their teaching had changed as a result of using the lesson plan addendum.



Teachers in both groups (paper and Internet linked) significantly increased the frequency of strategies and modifications as a result of having either version of the lesson plan addendum. Furthermore, the interviews revealed that teachers do have a good perception about what strategies they are using. Those teachers who showed the greatest increase in the number of strategies were able to tell me how their teaching had changed by citing specific examples of strategies they were using. Those teachers who showed the smallest increase (or no increase) in strategy use were unable to cite any examples of how their teaching had changed as a result of using the lesson plan addendum.  After conducting a statistical analysis of the recorded observations and categorizing the interview responses, I divided the teachers into 3 Levels.

Those teachers that demonstrated the smallest increase of EL strategies were not able to provide examples of how their teaching had changed as a result of using the lesson plan addendum I elected to call “Ignorance/Avoidance” (Level 1). These teachers demonstrated a lack of awareness of which students were ELs, strictly prohibited any use of L1 in the classroom, and there was no evidence of any other culture in the classroom décor or in the classroom materials or activities. Two of the study participants at this level were recent immigrants to the United States and had come from a multilingual country to teach science and computers respectively. The students in their home country were prohibited from speaking their mother tongue at school and were punished for speaking any language other than English. One of these teachers thought that it might be appropriate for newcomers to use the Spanish-version of the science text for a month but after that they needed to use only English. They believed that the ELs in this school knew English but chose to speak Spanish.

At Level 2 which I labeled “Recognition”, the participants were able to come up with two or three examples of how their teaching changed as a result of using the lesson plan addendum. However, teachers at this level had concerns about ‘fairness’ and about how much time they would need to modify lessons. They knew they needed to do something to help their ELs but they were not sure where to begin. Several interviews revealed that they thought the only way to communicate with an EL was to have a paraprofessional available at all times to translate. As one teacher said in her interview, “I need a Spanish-speaking para so I can make sure the students understand.”

The teachers at Level 3 which I labeled “Action” were able to recall more than three strategies or accommodations they were now using as a result of implementing the lesson plan addendum. Teachers in this group frequently wrote content and language objectives on the board before class. Modifications and accommodations were evident throughout their lessons and assessments. They implemented a variety of strategies (verbal, linguistic and organizational) that have been proven effective in teaching ELs. There was evidence of other cultures on bulletin boards such as bilingual posters and maps of home countries. These teachers selected texts written by Hispanic authors and included Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo in their curriculum.

After recognizing these levels of awareness about ELs, I realized that professional development should differ for teachers in the same way teachers should differentiate instruction for students (Tomlinson, 2001).


Suggestions for Action

Further research is needed to determine how best to reach teachers at different levels of understanding. A pre-workshop assessment about ELL statutes, regulations, and strategy use would help professional development providers plan appropriate instruction. Teachers at the “Ignorance/Avoidance” level would need basic information including an understanding of second language acquisition, the legal ramifications of not providing services and activities designed to increase empathy for and understanding of immigrants. Teachers at Level 2, who now recognize the need to modify their lessons, could receive professional development on how to adapt their instruction for students at different levels of language proficiency. They could collaborate with teachers who successfully accommodate ELs and have in-class modeling of those strategies. They should be made more aware of resources available within the school, the community and beyond to help ELs with content material. Teachers at the “Action” level could take on leadership roles by modeling lessons and working collaboratively with other departments to plan effective lessons that include strategies for ELs. They could be encouraged to attend regional and national conferences that pertain to EL issues and enroll in university courses leading to ESOL/ELL Endorsement or Certification.

We are not teaching the children we were. Teachers who try to teach the same way they were taught are frustrated and unfulfilled. Professional educators and school districts need to support teachers by helping them understand the students in their classrooms. They need to provide them with professional development about ELs that is appropriate, meaningful, and useful and at the level they are able to understand.



Blair, J.  (2001).  Teacher training programs turn to cyberspace. Education Week on the Web, February 14. Retrieved May 1, 2005, from

Creanor, L., & Littlejohn, A.  (2000).  A cross-institutional approach to staff development in internet communication.  Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 16, 271-279.

Danielson, C.  (2001).  Pathwise: Components of professional practice.  Princeton, NJ: ETS.

Glenn, J. L.  (2001).  Supporting teacher learning: Professional development goes online. Business Education Forum, 56(2), 8-13.

Killion, J.  (2000).  To reap benefits of online staff development, ask the right questions. Journal of Staff Development, 21(3).  Retrieved April 20, 2005, from http://www/msdc/prg/library/publications/jsd/killion213.cfm.

Lau v. Nichols 414 US 563 (1974).

National Center for Education Statistics.  (2000).  Schools and staffing survey, 1999-2000: Overview of the data for public, private, public charter, and bureau of Indian affairs elementary and secondary schools.  Retrieved February 22, 2006 from

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, PL 107-110, 115 Stat 1425. (2002).

Tomlinson, C.  (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms.  Arlington, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Biographical Statement

Francie Christopher is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction and Coordinator for ELL Programs at Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, MO.  She received her doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction--TESOL from the University of Kansas in 2006.  She has taught French, Spanish and ESOL/EFL in public and private schools and colleges in the United States and France and was a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Mexico.  <>

Volume 10, Issue 1, November 2007

                                            NEXUS   ISSN 1521-1894
                                            Copyright 2007