Preparing Teachers to Promote Culturally Relevant Teaching: Helping English Language Learners in the Classroom

By Islam, Chhanda; Park, Mi-Hwa | Multicultural Education, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Preparing Teachers to Promote Culturally Relevant Teaching: Helping English Language Learners in the Classroom


Islam, Chhanda, Park, Mi-Hwa, Multicultural Education


Introduction

Graduate students who know strategies for second language acquisition are more prepared to advocate for appropriate instructional accommodations to facilitate engagement of English language learners (ELLs; Daniel, 2008). Obstacles to comprehension for ELLs are decreased when teachers use purposeful tasks that use language productively and meaningfully and identify cultural links to texts.

In its Seco nd Language Literacy Instruction Position Statement, the International Reading Association (IRA; 2003) recommends that teachers should commit to professional development in preschool12th grade literacy as well as become knowledgeable of "the range of political, cultural, and economic issues" (p. 3) that affect all learners. In addition, to ensure success for ELLs, teacher preparation programs must mandate that reading specialist candidates be taught to work effectively with learners from different cultural and language backgrounds and know how to help ELLs overcome the linguistic and cultural barriers that they face in school.

Teachers face many challenges when trying to meet the needs of a diverse student population because the typicaleducation teachers receive when seeking an undergraduate degree barely touches on the theories of second language acquisitions (Daniel, 2008). Furthermore, many graduate students who are certified teachers have voiced concern that they are not well prepared to make appropriate instructional accommodations for ELLs (McIntyre, Kyle, Chen, Munoz, & Beldon, 2010).

Thus, it is important for teacher preparation programs to offer opportunities for future teachers to identify how to best plan and deliver instruction to ELLs and prepare them to differentiate instruction in ways that allow ELLs to achieve the literacy needed to succeed in school. Teacher candidates, particularly those enrolled in graduate programs, can benefit from experiences working with ELLs because doing so will allow them to become strategic teachers who design lessons that address both content and linguistic objectives.

In recent years, we have seen a huge increase in English language minority students in schools, thus making our schools more ethnically and linguistically diverse than ever before (August & Shanahan, 2006). Concerns linked to this diversity include the mismatch that often happens between students and teachers in terms of cultural understanding and a lack of research on providing high-quality instruction for English language minority students (August & Erikson, 2006). This increase in English language minority students in the United States requires us to pay attention to the content, skills, and context for learning that teachers need so that they in turn can be responsive to what ELLs need (August, 2006).

Echevarria, Vogt, and Short (2004) identified three major challenges to improving literacy of ELLs: (a) inadequate educator capacity, (b) inadequate use of research-based instructional practices, and (c) lack of a strong and coherent ELL literacy research agenda. These identified challenges make it easier to understand why ELLs struggle so much with academic content, and it is apparent that these obstacles have a negative impact on the development of ELLs' literacy, including the important components of higher-level thinking skills.

Numerous studies have indicated that effective differentiated instruction for ELLs involves culturally responsive teaching, high-quality multicultural literature, small group instruction, individual progress monitoring, and one-on-one support (Irvine, 2003; Lesaux & Geva, 2006; McIntyre, 2010).

Despite the growing body of researchbased strategies for use in classrooms, there is little research on how teachers implement literacy instruction for ELL students. In fact, many teachers struggle to implement instructional approaches that have been proven to address the needs of ELL students. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore how a graduate reading methods course provides teacher candidates opportunities for reflection and prepares them to differentiate instruction in ways that allow ELL students to achieve the literacy comprehension that is necessary to succeed in school. …

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