Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Preparing Mainstream Teachers for English-Language Learners: Is Being a Good Teacher Good Enough?

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Preparing Mainstream Teachers for English-Language Learners: Is Being a Good Teacher Good Enough?

Article excerpt


More and more teachers find themselves teaching students from increasingly diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. In a recent report (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002), 42% of the teachers surveyed indicated that they had English Language Learners (ELLs) in their classroom, but only 12.5% of these teachers had received more than eight hours of professional development specifically related to ELLs (NCES, 2002). The significant achievement gap between language minority and language majority students (Moss & Puma, 1995), along with an educational climate that encourages inclusionary practices rather than separate, specialized programs, make it imperative that teacher preparation programs examine the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that mainstream teachers need to develop in order to work effectively with both ELLs and fluent English speakers (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2004).

The purpose of this article is to present a framework that identifies areas of expertise necessary for mainstream teachers to be prepared to teach in classrooms with native and non-native English speakers. Currently, explicit attention to the linguistic and cultural needs of ELLs is lacking in most teacher preparation programs. A recent AACTE survey of 417 institutes of higher education found that fewer than one in six required any preparation for mainstream elementary or secondary teachers regarding the education of ELLs (Menken & Antunez, 2001). This finding suggests a tacit assumption that the preparation of teachers for diverse, native English-speaker classrooms can be easily extended to include ELLs. In this article we show that, while good teaching practices for native English speakers are often relevant for ELLs, they will be insufficient to meet their specific linguistic and cultural needs (e.g., Grant & Wong, 2003).

The article consists of three parts. In the first part we examine the gap between good teaching practices for fluent English speakers and effective practices for ELLs as derived from assumptions about language and literacy development. The second part explores this knowledge and skill gap in the domain of culture. Based on these discussions, we then propose a framework that describes the nature of the knowledge and skills that teachers must have in addition to what they acquire through their regular teacher preparation.

JGT and ELLs

The failure to include bilingual or English as a second language (ESL) courses as an integral part of teacher preparation stems, at least in part, from the assumption that teaching ELLs is a matter of pedagogical adaptations that can easily be incorporated into a mainstream teacher's existing repertoire of instructional strategies for a diverse classroom. Teaching ELLs is considered a matter of applying "just good teaching" (JGT) practices developed for a diverse group of native English speakers, such as activating prior knowledge, using cooperative learning, process writing, and graphic organizers or hands-on activities.

Indeed, general education discussions assume English language and U.S.-based cultural experiences for all students. For example, the national content standards (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000; National Council of Teachers of English, 1996; National Academy of Sciences, 1995; National Council for the Social Studies, 1994) describe the disciplinary knowledge base of the content area and good teaching practices but fail to explain the linguistic foundation underlying these effective content classrooms. Yet students are expected to learn new information through reading texts, participate actively in discussions, and use language to represent their learning by presenting oral reports and preparing research papers. These extraordinary language and literacy demands remain invisible. By tacitly assuming that students already possess an oral and literacy base in English for learning academic content, the national standards documents reflect the JGT, native-speaker perspective. …

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