Building Systems of Support for Classroom Teachers Working With English Language Learners

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Florida Atlantic University]On: 17 November 2014, At: 08:33Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Building Systems of Support forClassroom Teachers Working With EnglishLanguage LearnersAna M. Elfers a , Audrey Lucero b , Tom Stritikus a & Michael S.Knapp aa College of Education , University of Washingtonb Department of Education Studies , University of OregonPublished online: 03 Jun 2013.

    To cite this article: Ana M. Elfers , Audrey Lucero , Tom Stritikus & Michael S. Knapp (2013) BuildingSystems of Support for Classroom Teachers Working With English Language Learners, InternationalMultilingual Research Journal, 7:2, 155-174, DOI: 10.1080/19313152.2012.665824

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  • International Multilingual Research Journal, 7: 155174, 2013Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1931-3152 print / 1931-3160 onlineDOI: 10.1080/19313152.2012.665824

    Building Systems of Support for Classroom TeachersWorking With English Language Learners

    Ana M. ElfersCollege of Education

    University of Washington

    Audrey LuceroDepartment of Education Studies

    University of Oregon

    Tom Stritikus and Michael S. KnappCollege of Education

    University of Washington

    Increasing numbers of English learner (EL) students and corresponding pressures to mainstream themmean that districts around the country are facing new challenges as they adapt to meet the needs ofthese students. For general education teachers, the challenges stem from a role shift in which theyare now primarily responsible for the instructional needs of the EL students in their classrooms. Thisqualitative case study examined the assistance and support general education teachers received towork with linguistically diverse students. This article addresses the ways these efforts can form asystem of support for teachers. The analysis focuses on 4 districts that serve different populationsand proportions of EL students. Through interviews, classroom observations, and document analyses,this article examines how these districts attempted to provide coherent, sustained support to classroomteachers at all levels and, in doing so, created systems of support.

    Keywords: EL students, policy, teacher learning

    Recent immigration from Asia, Latin America, and Africa is dramatically altering the context ofpublic schooling. Today, one in seven students nationwide speaks a language other than Englishat home, and more than one in nine qualifies for special services due to low English proficiency(Goldenberg, 2008). Immigrants constitute the fastest growing group of students in U.S. schools,and many demographers predict that by 2025, approximately 20% to 25% of students enrolledin elementary and secondary schools will have limited proficiency in English (Surez-Orozco,Surez-Orozco, & Torodova, 2008). Considerable evidence documents the struggle schools and

    Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ana M. Elfers, College of Education, University ofWashington, M213 Miller Hall, Box 353600, Seattle, WA 98195. E-mail: aelfers@uw.edu

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  • 156 ELFERS ET AL.

    districts experience in providing appropriate instruction for English learner (EL) students andtheir persistent and acute underachievement (Rumberger & Gndara, 2004).

    As the number of EL students has increased, so have policy pressures like No Child LeftBehind, budget constraints, and initiatives that seek to keep EL students in mainstream classesfor the bulk of their education. General education teachers1 are, therefore, expected to assumegreater responsibility for the learning and educational progress of these students (Harper &de Jong, 2009). As such, they need to adapt their instruction to address EL students learningneeds and collaborate with others who serve them. Yet, general education teachers are typicallyunprepared or underprepared for this task. Large-scale studies have demonstrated that classroomteachers lack both the credentials and self-efficacy to work with these students (National Centerfor Education Statistics, 2002; Rumberger & Gndara, 2004). Smaller-scale studies of EL stu-dents classroom experiences show that this lack of capacity can have deleterious effects onstudent progress, performance, and life prospects (e.g., Olsen, 1997; Stritikus & Garcia, 2003;Valenzuela, 1999).

    This inadequate teaching capacity, along with other schooling conditions, creates seriousequity challenges for schools. For example, EL students commonly do not have access to appro-priate instructional materials and curriculum. Programs designed to meet their unique educationalneeds are sometimes structured in ways that inadvertently deprive them of high-quality learn-ing opportunities. Alternatively, attempts to integrate students in structured English immersionclasses2 without well-trained and well-supported teachers can rob them of the specialized helpthey need (de Jong & Harper, 2005; Rumberger & Gndara, 2004). Furthermore, schools anddistricts typically lack appropriate assessment measures to gauge EL learning needs, or to holdthese systems accountable for students academic progress (Abedi, 2001).

    Although researchers have assembled a detailed picture of the diverse EL student populationand teaching practices that can support their learning, less is known about how schools and dis-tricts can support general education teachers as they implement these practices. In this study, weexamined the assistance and support classroom teachers in four districts received to work withlinguistically diverse students. In doing so, we explore the ways these efforts can form a systemof supports for general education teachers and improve teaching for EL students. This articlepresents a conceptual model for how to support effective instructional practices among generaleducation teachers who work with EL students.

    MEETING THE NEEDS OF A DYNAMIC EL STUDENT POPULATION

    ELs come to school with a wide range of native language and English literacy experience andskills, content-area backgrounds, and family and schooling experiences (August & Hakuta, 1997;

    1In this study, we use the terms general education teacher and classroom teacher interchangeably to refer to ele-mentary and secondary teachers whose primary assignment is teaching a range of students within a regular educationclassroom. Some general education or classroom teachers work in bilingual or dual language classrooms, yet need supportin their instruction of English learners.

    2By structured English immersion classes, we mean classes in which nearly all instruction is provided in English, butthe instruction and curriculum are designed to support students who are learning English. Structured English immersionclassrooms may vary in the amount of time dedicated to English language instruction and the grouping of students bylanguage proficiency.

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  • SYSTEMS OF SUPPORT FOR TEACHERS 157

    Freeman & Freeman, 2007; Surez-Orozco et al., 2008; Walqui, 2000). Research has highlightedgeneral policies and practices that can facilitate the academic learning of these students (deJong & Harper, 2005; Lucas, Villegas, & Freedson-Gonzlez, 2008; Villegas & Lucas, 2002;Wong Fillmore & Snow, 2000). The following conditions have been identified as leading to highacademic performance for EL students:

    A supportive school-wide climate, school leadership, a customized learning environment, articula-tion and coordination within and between schools, use of native language and culture in instruction, abalanced curriculum that includes both basic and higher-order skills, explicit skill instruction, oppor-tunities for student-directed instruction, use of instructional strategies that enhance understanding,opportunities for practice, systematic student assessment, staff development, and home and parentinvolvement. (August & Hakuta, 1997, p. 171)

    In terms of the specific learning needs of EL students, three enduring issues surface: theextended timeframe necessary for second-language acquisition; the challenge of masteringacademic language, and the sociocultural dimensions of the schooling experience.

    The Extended Timeframe for Second-Language Acquisition

    Research in second-language learning has documented that second-language development is along process, even under the best circumstances (Cummins, 1981; Hakuta, Butler, & Witt, 2000).In a rigorous study of high- and low-performing districts, Hakuta et al. examined the length oftime students needed to acquire school-appropriate English. In high-performing districts, theyfound that EL students needed between three and five years to develop oral proficiency and fourto seven years to develop academic proficiency. Because learning English transcends the workof one individual teacher or even one school, a system-wide coordinated approach to languagedevelopment issues is important to learning outcomes.

    The Challenge of Mastering Academic Language

    Language occupies a predominant place in learning (Lucas et al., 2008) and an important bodyof research has devoted attention to the study of academic language development (Collier, 1987;Cummins, 1981; Hakuta et al., 2000). ELs constantly interact with texts that are saturated withacademic languagediscourse that relies on language itself to convey meaning, is more imper-sonal, technical, and abstract than the conversational English they use in other social situations(Lucas et al., 2008).

    Attention to Sociocultural Needs

    In addition to the more technical aspects of language learning, EL learners have socioculturalneeds that are frequently unmet by schools (Olsen, 1997; Surez-Orozco et al., 2008; Valds,1998; Valenzuela, 1999). Studies have documented the segregation that linguistically diverse stu-dents experience in the overall school context. Often these students are placed in low academic

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  • 158 ELFERS ET AL.

    tracks with the most inexperienced teachers and they experience pressure to forgo defining ele-ments of their culture and language. Recent immigrant students often face challenges related toinstitutional racism in schools and social marginalization by teachers and peers (Surez-Orozcoet al., 2008; Valds, 1998) or non-equivalent opportunities to learn (Gee, 2003).

    THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK AND PREVIOUS RESEARCH

    It may be tempting for school leaders and policymakers to think the answer lies in creating betterspecialized programs (e.g., English as a Second Language [ESL] classes or specialized bilingualclassrooms), but the fact remains that these arrangements cannot replace the large numbers ofinstructional hours that EL students will spend in classrooms taught by non-specialists. Althoughthese policies and practices are intended to be inclusive, EL students may continue to be marginal-ized if classroom teaching is simply reduced to a generic set of good teaching practices for diverselearners (Harper & de Jong, 2009). Considerable research addresses the specific learning needs ofEL students, and some studies have examined effective instructional practices for helping thesestudents learn; however, to date, no one has put the necessary pieces into a framework for support-ing general education teachers efforts to improve their instruction of EL students. A substantialknowledge base concerns second-language acquisition; scholarship has also addressed what ELstudents need in classroom instruction, and what constitutes effective teaching for this studentpopulation (August & Hakuta, 1997; August & Shanahan, 2006). Yet, as a highly visible report(Horowitz et al., 2009) has stressed, over-emphasis on research designed to answer questionsabout the language of instruction has limited scholarly attention to the nature of instruction thatworks and does not work in classrooms serving EL and native English-speaking students. In thesame vein, less attention has been paid to helping teachers become adept at serving this studentpopulation and sustaining practice that is fully responsive to EL students learning needs.

    Research on effective teaching approaches for EL students identifies a variety of optimal learn-ing conditions. A common thread across each of these conditions is the central role that teachersplay in delivering and ensuring quality learning for EL students (August & Hakuta, 1997; Slavin,Madden, Calderon, Chamberlain, & Hennessy, 2010). Several other lines of research suggest thenature of teachers professional learning in general, as well as the role that targeted preparationand other school supports play in building teacher capacity in this domain. How to coordinatevarious aspects of the schooling enterprise to best support teachers in their learning and deliv-ery of high quality instruction is less clear (Horowitz et al., 2009). To begin, we briefly reviewwhat is currently known about how EL students learning can be guided most effectively. We alsoexamine relevant research on the conditions that support teacher learning.

    Conditions That Sup...

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