The Campfire Effect: A Preliminary Analysis of Preservice Teachers' Beliefs about Teaching English Language Learners after State-Mandated Endorsement Courses

Article excerpt

Abstract. This article focuses on the influence that Arizona's mandated Structured English Immersion endorsement policy has on preservice teachers' beliefs and attitudes toward English language learners. By utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methods of inquiry, our preliminary analysis showed "the campfire effect," which is to say that our undergraduate students overwhelmingly reported that the endorsement courses had a positive result on both their confidence and underlying ideological beliefs about teaching English language learners. The campfire effect, therefore, is an important step in the teacher learning process, particularly with such controversial topics as the education of culturally and linguistically diverse students.

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This study builds upon research that examines the implications educational policies have on teaching and learning for culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse students. The passage of Proposition 203 in Arizona in 2000 radically changed the instructional practices for English language learners (ELLs) by eliminating the ability to use native language instruction in classrooms and requiring schools to implement Structured English Immersion methods with minimal training or experience in such practices (Wright, 2005). At the same time, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) instituted a Structured English Immersion (SEI) training policy for all teachers, due to a court order mandating the improvement of instructional practices and services provided to ELL students (Flores v. State of Arizona). This policy required that licensed teachers receive an initial 15 hours of SEI training by August 2006 and an additional 45 hours by August 2009; it also mandated that preservice students take two semesters of SEI endorsement curriculum in their university certification program before they student teach. This reform constitutes a significant investment of time and resources by the state government, district, schools, and teachers. The goal of our work is to examine whether the state-mandated SEI endorsement courses have generative effects on changing the beliefs and practices of our preservice teachers for ELL students. For this article, we contend that changing beliefs is an essential first step in improving the instructional environment and educational achievement for this underserved population.

The goal of this state policy was to ensure that ELLs receive the best and most effective instructional practices possible within the constraints of the law in order to improve ELLs' achievement on state standardized measures in English. Despite the fact that we believe that the most effective practice for ELLs is bilingual instruction, this professional development effort is a laudable objective. This effort endeavors to systematically train all teachers in the state to improve the teaching of one of the most underserved and underrepresented student populations (Crawford, 2004).

Structured English Immersion proponents claim that SEI is an effective means of developing language and academic skills for ELLs (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2004). However, the preliminary research on the effects of Arizona's state endorsement mandate indicated that a significant number of experienced teachers believed that introductory SEI training has not influenced how they organize their instruction for their ELL students in any appreciable way (Wright & Choi, 2005). The experienced teachers in this study claimed that there was no follow-up on the SEI training in their districts and schools, resulting in the continuation of sink-or-swim methods for their ELL students. This finding reveals that the initial 15 hours of endorsement courses in which experienced teachers took part did not address their basic beliefs and assumptions in relation to ELLs and instruction enough to mobilize them to change their practice. This study is in alignment with Richardson's (1994, 1996) research, which demonstrated that professional development training may have very limited impact on teachers' beliefs and decision-making practices in classrooms, unless teachers are given the opportunity to make sense of the information at a deeper level and are given more classroom support than professional development often allows. …