Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Preparing Mainstream Classroom Teachers of English Learner Students: Grounding Practice-Based Designs for Teacher Learning in Theories of Adaptive Expertise Development

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Preparing Mainstream Classroom Teachers of English Learner Students: Grounding Practice-Based Designs for Teacher Learning in Theories of Adaptive Expertise Development

Article excerpt

Preparing mainstream classroom teachers to meet the needs of English Learner (EL) students while teaching rigorous content remains a persistent challenge in teacher education (Janzen, 2008). Scholars point to the complexity of teaching diverse groups of EL students within the mainstream classroom who vary not only by language and culture but also by multiple, interrelated factors such as levels of English language proficiency and literacy, native language schooling, socioeconomic status, life experiences in the students' home countries, and immigration (Enright, 2011; Suarez-Orozco, Suarez-Orozco, & Todorova, 2008). Second-language acquisition, understanding EL students from a multilingual and multicultural perspective, the roles of language, culture and context in pedagogy, building on students' school and home experiences, and methods of teaching academic language and literacy represent just a few areas of specialized knowledge and skills cited as necessary to effectively teach these diverse groups of students (Bunch, 2013; de Jong, Harper, & Coady, 2013; Lucas & Villegas, 2011; Lucas, Villegas, & Freedson-Gonzalez, 2008).

This research draws attention to ways for EL students to access rigorous, grade-level appropriate curriculum and develop academic language in English simultaneously to provide EL students with learning opportunities on par with those of their native English speaking peers. In particular, this kind of ambitious teaching of EL students requires teachers to develop an understanding of the English language demands of specific content areas and the knowledge and skills to appropriately scaffold learning for EL students so that the students can participate successfully in academic tasks and develop their academic and linguistic competencies (Bunch, 2013).

When methods for teaching EL students are addressed in teacher education, however, they are frequently presented as generalized, or "content-neutral" EL strategies (e.g., SIOP[R], Project GLAD[R]). (1) In theory, avoiding content-specificity when preparing teachers to meet the needs of EL students allows for broader applicability, especially for elementary teachers who teach across the content areas. However, teachers prepared with content-neutral strategies often find it difficult to integrate such strategies into their content teaching in rigorous and meaningful ways. Adding to the challenge of learning to integrate EL and content instruction is the high fragmentation of many teacher education programs (Feiman-Nemser, 1989). Because these programs typically separate candidates' content preparation from their EL-specific preparation, the problem of integration typically falls squarely on the shoulders of teacher candidates who are ill-equipped to do such complex work without mediation (Lucas, 2011).

Preparing Mainstream Classroom Teachers to Teach EL Students

While the body of literature on preparing EL teachers continues to grow, the research on how to prepare mainstream classroom teachers to integrate EL and content instruction is just emerging. Some of this work has focused on the use of systemic functional linguistics in literacy or social studies (Gebhard, 2010), while other work focuses on instruction that stems from specific sociocultural frameworks (Walqui, 2006). Lucas (2011) suggests, however, that while the field has become clearer about the content and curriculum of preparing teachers of EL students, the structures and procedures of how to support teacher learning in preservice teacher education programs still need research and development. Structurally, teacher education programs may, for example, add an EL-specific course or modify existing courses and field experiences that include teaching EL students. Process changes may include mentoring and coaching with practicing teachers and collaborating across institutional boundaries (e.g., university/classroom) and institutional roles (e.g., preservice teacher, mentor teacher, university teacher educator). …

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