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
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
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”,
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
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
cyberspace. Education Week on the Web, February 14. Retrieved May 1, 2005, from http:www.edweek.com
Creanor, L., & Littlejohn, A.
cross-institutional approach to staff development in internet communication. Journal
of Computer Assisted Learning,
Danielson, C. (2001). Pathwise: Components
practice. Princeton, NJ: ETS.
Glenn, J. L. (2001). Supporting teacher
Professional development goes online. Business Education Forum, 56(2), 8-13.
Killion, J. (2000). To reap benefits of
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 http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2002313.
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.
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. <firstname.lastname@example.org>