Academic journal article TESL Canada Journal

Helping Preservice Content-Area Teachers Relate to English Language Learners: An Investigation of Attitudes and Beliefs

Academic journal article TESL Canada Journal

Helping Preservice Content-Area Teachers Relate to English Language Learners: An Investigation of Attitudes and Beliefs

Article excerpt


Banks (2001) writes that teachers must "develop reflective cultural, national, and global identifications themselves if they are to help students become thoughtful, caring, and reflective citizens in a multicultural society" (p. 5). In this article, Banks posits that preservice teachers must develop reflective intercultural processes in order better to meet the needs of diverse learners. However, because most teachers are representatives of the dominant majority culture (Banks), it is difficult for them to relate to the thousands of diverse students in classrooms today. In a recent survey conducted in the United States, it was reported that over 40% of all teachers had English language learners (ELLs) in their classrooms during the 1999-2000 school year, but only 12.5% had received eight or more hours of related training (Gruber, Wiley, Broughman, Strizek, & Burian-Fitzgerald, 2002). In another study, the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans (2000) reported that approximately 70% of teachers felt only moderately or not at all prepared to address the needs of students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

In Canada, Gunderson (2000) wrote that many secondary teachers need to do more to help ELLs, reporting, for example, that many teachers did not consider the teaching of reading skills to be their role. In this same article, the author concluded that ELLs in Canada would continue to fail if secondary teachers did not take a more active role in helping them. In addition, Kubota (1998) found that teachers often fail to recognize cultural, ethnic, and linguistic differences. An example of this inadequate consideration was discussed by Derwing, DeCorby, Ichikawa, and Jamieson (1999). Derwing et al. found that nearly 46% of ELLs in Alberta did not complete their K-12 educations, often due to age caps that limited the number of years students were allowed to remain in public education and a lack of appropriate integration and orientation of ELLs in the school system. When this noncompletion rate is compared with the 70% graduation rate for all students in Alberta, it becomes obvious that more could be done for ELLs.

In order to face the challenges of teaching ELLs more effectively, more and more universities in both countries are moving toward the inclusion of intercultural (also referred to as multicultural) education and classroom strategy courses designed to help preservice teachers learn more about diverse populations. However, there is controversy surrounding the effectiveness of these requirements. Phuntsog (1999) writes,

   Teacher diversity programs may, at their best, barely scratch one's
   deeply rooted cultural beliefs ... The current conceptualization of
   teacher preparation for cultural diversity seems to exist on an
   optimistic plane that assumes that a single dose of multicultural
   education is effective to prepare the teaching force to narrow the
   academic achievement and drop-out gaps between students from
   dominant and dominated cultures. (pp. 98-99)

All too often single courses in intercultural or linguistic diversity tend to encourage preservice teachers to accept a one-size-fits-all mindset. Others argue that one course is not sufficient to alter long-held beliefs and biases (Grant, 1981). According to Bartolome (1994), teachers tend to look for straightforward strategies that can quickly be applied to classroom learning without really understanding the theoretical underpinnings of each strategy.

Although many preservice teachers are required to take courses in interculturalism, often the information presented is either dismissed as irrelevant or used to victimize minority groups further and encourage deficit-model thinking (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 2001) in majority culture students. These factors are borne out by Marullo (1998), who found his students willing to discuss issues related to interculturalism but noted,

   the students did not seem to comprehend the sociological theory and
   concepts because they tended not to incorporate them into their
   discussion. … 
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