Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Participant Structures as Professional Learning Tasks and the Development of Pedagogical Language Knowledge among Preservice Teachers

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Participant Structures as Professional Learning Tasks and the Development of Pedagogical Language Knowledge among Preservice Teachers

Article excerpt

English-Language Learners (ELLs, English-Learners, ELs) are a particularly challenging sector of the student population in United States schools. They constitute an increasingly larger presence in most school districts, growing 51 percent in ten years to 5.1 million in 2006 (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs, 2007). Despite becoming more common, schools have yet to figure out ways to meet the needs of these students, who continue to lag behind in most academic achievement measures (Editorial Projects in Education, 2009). Although "English-Language-Learner" is an important demographic category, the designation is problematic as a reference point for teaching practice among teachers and teacher educators.

In this article I argue for a shift in the definition of teaching practice for teachers and teacher educators away from "English learners" toward "language use for academic purposes" as a perspective from which to examine our practice. This self-study is an instance of a teacher educator interested in experiential, hands-on pedagogy to foster critical language awareness (Alim, 2005) among preservice teachers. As I discuss, this is an important element of Pedagogical Language Knowledge development, a variation in Shulman's (1987) Pedagogical Content Knowledge construct. The research questions guiding my self-study are: What role does language as contextual variable play in preservice teachers' understanding of participant structures (Leunig, 2008; Philips, 2009) as Professional Learning Tasks (PLTs) (Ball & Cohen, 1999)? And how does this understanding relate to preservice teachers' emerging pedagogical content knowledge for language development?

I begin by proposing a re-conceptualization of teaching and teacher preparation in terms of learning outcomes, not student types. I argue that "English-Language-Learners" is (a) both too broad and not inclusive enough, (b) likely to elicit views of students as deficient, (c) not conducive to "one-size-fits-all" approaches (Reyes, 1992), and (d) lacking a widely-accepted theory or model to explain the relationship between teaching and learning. Thus, rather than preparing teachers for a particular type of student, we ought to prepare teachers capable of effecting specific learning outcomes, namely, furthering students' proficiency in using language for academic purposes. For this, I rely on a conceptual framework that takes into account the complexities of language development for academic purposes and that questions the nature of experiential approaches in preservice pedagogy. I then analyze my students' developing awareness of academic language after completing two PLTs, one in English, the other in Spanish. After discussing findings, I close with conclusions and recommendations regarding academic language use as another form of pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1987).

English-Language-Learners as a Defining Category

An examination of the socio-economic and immigration statuses, national origins, schooling backgrounds, academic expectations, and English proficiency levels of students classified as "English-Language Learners" reveals greater diversity than the homogeneity suggested by the label (Batalova, Fix, & Murray, 2005). A thorough analysis of statistics associated with ELL students in California leads Edwards, Leichty, and Wilson (2008) to question the designation. In their words, "[o]ne key to understanding and addressing the challenge of effectively educating these students is to see beyond the English learner (EL) label to the diversity of students included in this subgroup" (p. 1). In California, where 50 percent of public school students live in households where a language other than English is spoken, and where the proportion of ELL students is the highest in the U.S. (25%), we find over 55 different languages in schools and most (53%) ELLs in Kindergarten. …

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