Jenna Granados and Faculty Mentor: Stefinee Pinnegar, PhD Teacher Education
One of the greatest challenges for US schools is educating English Learners not just to speak English, but to develop the more difficult academic English, which allows them to participate fully in US schools. Throughout the United States, the population of English Language Learners enrolled in K-12 public schools continues to increase. Some states have experienced a 400% growth of this population in just ten years (Payan & Nettles, 2008). Utah schools are not exempt from the rising impact of ELs. The districts in the BYU-Public School Partnership vary between a high of a 9.98% population of English Learners (ELs) in the Provo School District, to a low of 3.05% in the Jordan School District (Utah State Board of Education, 2015), though some individual schools have a much higher percentage of ELs. Professional development efforts have aimed at equipping in-service teachers with the education and skills needed to work with this population, but there is little requiring pre-service teachers to prepare for these needs. Only eight of the fourteen Utah Universities provide programs to train pre-service teachers on EL instruction, and Weber State is the sole university that requires it for an Elementary Education major. A focus of this research was to examine the impact of the Teaching English Language Learners (TELL) courses that students completing a TESOL K-12 Minor at Brigham Young University are required to take, and if the pre-service teachers in these classes regularly implement strategies learned from the courses.
The data from this study is from the capstone projects of 60 pre-service teachers placed in 3rd-5th grade classrooms with an EL student population of at least 10% (considered a highly-impacted school). This was to ensure that the preservice teachers could had a choice of which EL they wanted to work with for their case study. The capstone of the TELL program is a 120-hour student teaching experience that results in several assignments, including a case study. The case studies consisted of an Individualized Language Development Plan (ILDP), which addressed the needs, strengths, current realities, and other relevant information about the school and student, as well as a reflection of the experience. Five team members read an ILDP and reflection, then met together to discuss themes between the case studies. Once themes were determined, we divided the rest of the case studies and compiled our findings on a shared document. Once all the case studies had been coded, we met together again to analyze the findings.
In reading and discussing the case studies, we found several themes that were intriguing, but for the purpose of this report, I would like to focus on two of them. First, the pre-service teachers reported having positive and pleasant interactions with the student they worked with, even if there were some struggles over the course of the student teaching. The descriptors chosen to describe the students tended to be in praise of the student, such as “very kind and caring”, “bright”, “funny”, and “happy”, although occasionally students were noted for their “lack of confidence” or “struggling” with class work. Interestingly, the academic development of the EL’s language was hardly ever noted in the reflections. The second theme was that the pre-service teachers reported remarkable success with the ELs they worked with, and attributed the success to their own contributions. This occurred more often with student teachers as compared to interns, but was present in both. One intern excitedly reported that she suggested during a parent-teacher conference that the mother read with her daughter for 20 minutes a day in the first language, which the mother enthusiastically began to do, and the student made progress in her fluency and comprehension. The descriptions in the case studies downplayed outside factors when they positively impacted the student (and emphasized their own contribution), and accentuated outside factors when they had a negative impact.
The consensus in the reports is that this experience working with ELs is a positive one for both the pre-service teacher and the student. However, very few students wrote about implementing what was learned in their TELL classes and their success with that. The reflections were more focused on the personality of the student and how much they cared for him/her by the end of the four weeks. This implies that either all the pre-service teachers misunderstood the point of the case study, or, more likely, that they did not feel confident implementing what they had learned in their courses. There presents a challenge in taking information learned in a classroom over the course of several semesters and putting the concepts and strategies learned into practice. I myself completed my last TELL course in Winter 2017 and will not complete my TELL student teaching until Fall 2018, a year and a half later. It would be beneficial for pre-service teachers to have real experience working with ELs and implementing strategies throughout the TELL courses in order to feel more prepared when completing the student teaching. In relation to the second theme found, it presents both a positive and a problematic point. Most of the pre-service teachers felt very successful in working with their student throughout the student teaching. This will likely increase the confidence the pre-service teacher feels towards working with ELs, and will lead to them working more with this population in the future. They now know from firsthand experience that ELs strive in the classroom when they receive adequate support. However, because most pre-service teachers attributed the success of the student to their own measures, this may lead the teachers to develop a sort of savior complex, where they believe they are such a great person for saving these unfortunate students. This is dangerous because it disregards all the strengths that the students and their families offer, as well as the supports within the school and the community that lead to student success. It is important for pre-service teachers to remember that they are a part of a community and that they should rely on the support of that community to help their students, especially when they are teachers of a classroom of their own. It will become exponentially more difficult to provide individual support when there is a whole classroom of students to care for, and if a pre-service teacher believes that he/she alone is responsible for bringing the student out of their current situation, then it may be too overwhelming to even attempt.
I am curious to know if much of what we found is solely because the case study is the first exposure most pre-service teachers have working closely with an EL, and if they will become better at implementing TELL strategies as they teach more, or if more explicit training is needed to provide a better prepared teacher. It would be helpful to follow up with the pre-service teacher we read about to see how they work with ELs now, and how much of the TELL courses impacted their teaching to this population of students.
Payan, R.M., & Nettles, M.T. (2008). Current state of English-language learners in the U.S. K-12
Student Population. ETS.
Utah State Board of Education. (2015). School by Grade, Gender, and Race/Ethnicity. Data
Reports-Enrollment and Demographics .