Teaching English Language Learners: A Self-Study

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study investigates the implementation, challenges, and successes of a district-wide, intensive, three-week English as a Second Language (ESL) summer program in an elementary school in the southeastern United States were where the English Language Learner (ELL) population has grown significantly over the past ten years.

Introduction

The 2000 Census (US Census Bureau) found that 53.6 percent of Alabama's foreign-born population had arrived in the state after 1990. The 2000 Census also recorded 87,772 foreign-born residents in the Alabama: this was an increase of 44,239 residents since the 1990 Census which stated that the foreign-born population was 43,533 residents. If we add the 2003 estimate of illegal immigrants in the state by the Immigration and Naturalization Services (24,000 individuals) then the total foreign-born population rises well above 110,000 residents. This dramatic change in Alabama's demographic profile is very visible in the schools around the state. In an effort to help further educate the ELLs, a university established an intensive ESL summer school program that took place over three weeks. We performed a self-study as we observed, interacted and spoke with all of the participants in the summer program (ESL students, their teacher-interns, administrators of the elementary school, and the ESL program director). The guiding questions of the self-study are:

1. What strategies and instructional settings are most effective in teaching ELLs not only English, but also provide opportunities to learn how to mediate and organize their lives outside of school?

2. How can we use the ESL summer program to build, strengthen, and inform the Professional Development School (PDS) relationship with Broadlumber Elementary School?

Professional Development Schools

An important facet of a future language teacher's education is participation in inquiry-based teaching (IBT). The benefits of IBT practices emerge during real-life teaching episodes in the schools within our communities (Frey, 2002). Vital to the concept of IBT is involvement in an academic setting outside of university classrooms that afford future teachers opportunities to reflect on their personal development, professional growth, as well as their academic preparation. IBT places the emphasis on activity within appropriate educational settings and applies Wells' (1999) practice of education to teacher preparation, and in this case, language teacher education. Glass and Wong (2003) bring to light the concept of engaged pedagogy which compliments IBT and supports successful PDS relationships by preparing teachers and teacher-educators to extend their understanding of activity beyond the traditional roles. As Glass and Wong (2003) state, engaged pedagogy:

--Permits educators to understand the local contexts of each students' student's life while providing a global framework for success in their community.

--Strengthens the teacher-pupil relationship as each is transformed through IBT.

--Provides opportunities for critical reflection and the formation of knowledge within all of those involved.

--Offers teacher-educators a framework to involve themselves in professional development as well as curriculum development in the community's schools.

Engaged pedagogy distributes the responsibility for success among the school, teacher-educators, the community, and student-teachers. It fosters a shared vision, continuous evaluation and renewal of the partnership in order to develop a symbiotic mutualism (Bailey et al, 2002), and affords the participants opportunities to reap benefits that may not have been included within the original PDS framework. Keeping these ideas in mind, I then set out to investigate the ESL-specific PDS that was in beginning stages of development.

Broadlumber Elementary School

Broadlumber Elementary School (BES, a pseudonym) is located in the Southeastern United States and is part of a school system that serves a city of about 165,000 inhabitants and a district that serves 16,466 students. …