Facilitating Second Language Acquisition in Elementary and Secondary Physical Education Classes: The Increasingly Diverse Student Population Makes Every Teacher a Teacher of English

Article excerpt

It is a well-known fact that cultural and linguistic diversity are increasing in schools across the United States. University teacher education programs now often require courses in multicultural education in an effort to sensitize future teachers to the needs of a wide variety of students. While this type of course addresses the issue of cultural diversity, it does not ensure that teachers are equipped to deal with the linguistic diversity that many will encounter. Increasingly, there is a need for teachers to become familiar with ways to make course content accessible to students whose native language is not English and to actively facilitate language acquisition for those students. In other words, all teachers are likely to find themselves in the position of being language instructors, in addition to content area teachers. Helping English language learners (ELLs) in all classes to further their second language skills has become such a priority for many school districts that some now require all new teachers to be certified to teach English as a second language (ESL), no matter what their content area.

While the physical education community has produced quality information and materials regarding multicultural approaches to physical education (e.g., Butt & Pahnos, 1995; Chepyator-Thomson 1994, 1995; Torbert & Schneider, 1992; Torrey & Ashy, 1997), articles that provide physical educators with the background necessary for creating and incorporating activities for second language development in the physical education class remain scant. Part of this lack of materials may be due to resistance on the part of some physical educators to view language and literacy as important aspects of their field (Deegan, 1994). Yet even the physical world of sport and physical activity can offer rich opportunities for linguistic interaction involving both social and academic aspects of English. In educational settings, individuals are often judged by their command of the spoken language, and they must be literate in the language that society uses as its primary means of communication (Block & Campbell, 2001).

Teachers with even a single ELL in their class must alter their instruction to ensure that the student has access to the course content and must make efforts to help the student learn English. With the natural and abundant opportunities to supplement verbal explanations with physical demonstrations, a variety of movement activities, and other visuals, physical education teachers are already well equipped to make course content comprehensible (for further information, see Glakas, 1993). This article thus focuses on the second responsibility: facilitating second language acquisition. The article begins with an overview of the factors that are now believed to aid in language development. This is followed by examples of practical ideas that incorporate language learning into physical education classes.

The Process of Second Language Learning

Popular conceptions of second language learning suggest that languages are best learned through a process of immersion. While some learners gain a substantial degree of competence through informal exposure to and communication in the language, research in the past 30 years has found that simply exposing learners to a second language with little or no structured teaching will often leave them struggling to understand (Crandall, 1998; Echevarria & Graves, 2003; Ellis, 1997). Even for those who do gain a degree of proficiency, abstract or decontextualized communication (which is often used in school settings) remains challenging, requiring up to 10 years for acquisition (Cummins, 1981, 2000). A better understanding of how language is learned and of the linguistic needs of ELLs can help teachers adjust their instruction to aid the acquisition of language. The following brief overview of the major factors involved in second language acquisition--input, output, and feedback--may contribute to this understanding; for more in-depth information, see Long (1996), Pica (1994), and Swain (1995). …