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Thinking about the provision of in-service teacher training in relation to teaching ELLs

 This conversation has been sparked by a paper I read this morning published by TESOL International which looks at The Preparation of the ESL Educator in the Era of College- and Career-Readiness Standards. It is a summary of a meeting of leading Educators and teachers which focused on two themes: (1) how to strengthen English language teaching (ELT) professionalism and (2) how to make connections between teacher training programs and K–12 schools. My interest is on what might apply to our New Zealand context. I think their recommendations could open up some interesting discussion in our forum.

Thinking about English language teaching and Teacher development

The discussion paper in America was prompted by the implementation of their new standards. Whilst the American standards for ELLs, are very different from our own national Standards they are adopting a more similar teaching approach to ours. The new focus is on a more collaborative teaching approach based on teaching ELLs within mainstream classrooms, and teaching language across all curriculum learning areas. They see a need for a more inclusive teaching approach and to keep up with developments in second language acquisition theory. I think in New Zealand we are also striving towards doing this.

The American educators noted the following points:

  • Content teachers tended to lack the level of training needed to support English learners in accessing content and gaining the content-specific academic language required of them.
  • ESL teachers’ roles needed to be redefined so that they could be seen as experts, advocates, and consultants. The participants noted that if ESL teachers are viewed as teacher leaders in their schools, they will be better positioned to model strategies and share key understandings that content teachers need to support the achievement of English learners (e.g., role of academic language in accessing content).
  • Administrative support was essential if ESL teachers were to be able to redefine their roles in schools and function in a new capacity
  • A more inclusion-based model of instruction in which co-teaching plays a greater role is now more desirable. Collaboration among ESL and content area teachers (particularly for English learners at earlier levels of proficiency) is essential (Valdés et al., 2014). They also noted several areas of research that needs to be done on teaching ELLs in more inclusive based models of instruction.

They also noted three developments or shifts in second language acquisition theory should affect pedagogy (Valdés et al., 2014). They said that “these new understandings of second language acquisition and literacy must be incorporated into the discussions about what ESL teachers need to know in order to best support English learners within this new era of standards and constructs.” I am interested in how aware New Zealand teachers are of these changes and whether we are changing the way we teach as a result of these developments? Do we need more guidance on these from policy makers or not?

  1. A move away from viewing second language acquisition as a linear process and instead recognizes it as a nonlinear, variable process (Larsen-Freeman & Freeman, 2008) that is based on the language that learners are exposed to and interact with (Ortega, 2014).
  2. A move away from seeing monolingualism as the norm and bi/multilinguals as nonnative speakers. Instead, bi/multilingualism is increasingly considered the norm and bi/multilinguals are seen as multicompentent multilanguage users (Cook, 1992, 2002a, 2002b, 2003) and plurilinguals (Beacco, 2005). This shift means that the goal in English language learning is reframed from producing native-like English speakers to helping students develop language skills and understandings in multiple languages so that they can easily move between languages depending on the context.
  3. A third shift, which is seen in the understanding of what it means to be literate in today’s world. This new understanding defines literacy as a construct that is constantly changing and that requires flexibility and adaptability (Bellanca & Brandt, 2010). Literacy in this new sense includes multimodal and digital literacy (Avila & Pandya, 2012; Gee, 2007; Kress & Bezemer, 2015; Roswell, 2013) as well as critical literacy (Pandya & Avila, 2013) that requires students to analyze information from varied, multicultural perspectives (Yoon & Sharif, 2015).

Here are their main recommendations, I am interested in what you think is relevant in our context here in New Zealand? I will add a few comments myself after each in italic font. These are just my opinions but I would love to know what you think and which areas you think we need to particularly focus on?

  • A focus on leadership development for ESL teachers within the revised standards so that they can serve as experts, advocates, and consultants.

(Increasingly I feel it would be beneficial for ESOL teachers to be better positioned within a school so that they can confidently lead teacher professional development and have input into school policy decisions. Is it time for the extra training that we do to be recognised within teacher pay scales or in the provision of leadership units (similar to literacy leaders and RTLBs)?)

  • Provide further research on the needs of unique populations of English learners, such as students with interrupted formal education.

(We need to know our learners and ELLs are a very diverse group. New Zealand based research tends to be thin on the ground particularly in the primary school area. Even at a national level data is often not disaggregated for ELLs and their various sub-groups so it is difficult to form policies and to know how well they are learning. [Note this is mostly due to the relatively small number of students which means the results are not statistically significant.])

  • How to embed more of an emphasis on effective collaboration between ESL and content teachers in the standards, specifically in light of the complexities of the CCRS and the level of collaboration they call for.

(Our ESOL documents encourage ESOL teachers to be working closely with classroom teachers. Each school implements this advice differently. Our standards don’t require us to be working in this way but would ELLs achieve better results in relation to our National Standards if we did? Could we be doing more to collaborate with classroom teachers particularly at the planning stage so a greater emphasis is placed on providing appropriate language support in all planning documents? We could then model different ESOL strategies and approaches until teachers are confident in using them themselves.)

  • Develop resources targeted at administrators so that these crucial stakeholders are better prepared to support increased collaboration between ESL and content teachers.

(How well do school leaders and policy makers understand the needs of English language learners and second language acquisition research? How could we better inform them? What types of guidance are required? How can we keep their needs in the forefront of their thinking? )

  • Wider outreach and distribution of the revised standards so that educational leaders and administrators are more aware of the needs of linguistically and culturally diverse students.

(The above recommendation may not apply in the NZ context but how could we better demonstrate to school principals / leaders, policymakers etc the importance of teaching language in order to improve ELL/diverse students  learning outcomes in relation to the National Standards /and in all curriculum learning areas? How do we increase understanding and knowledge of the guidance provided in the English Language Learning Progressions and other ESOL resources? Do we provide adequate models and information? )  

  • Inservice training needs to provide content and ESL teachers with the skills they need to effectively teach all English learners. Content teachers must receive training in working with English learners and also in how to co-teach with ESL teachers. Administrators need training as well to create welcoming climates for English learners and understand the strengths and needs of the diverse population. They must be supported to create a space in which collaboration can fulfill their roles as experts, advocates, and consultants.

(How do we best approach this in our New Zealand context? Do we provide enough training? Is our approach to training and upskilling teachers working? What works best?  School leaders decide what training is required; do they have the data and knowledge to determine whether further training on teaching language and supporting diverse learners in needed? ESOL teachers/leaders need to become experts, advocates and consultants in our schools?  If so, what further support do you require? We do you currently get that support from?)

What a mind field of thoughts and questions. What would you recommend? In order to help you think about this I have rewritten the questions they used to guide the discussion to make them more relevant to the New Zealand context.

1)In what ways has your role changed during the past years particularly in primary schools since the National Standards and the NZ curriculum were implemented?

2)In what ways have national and school policies had an impact on how teachers instruct English learners?

3)What professional preparation has supported you?

4)What professional preparation would you have benefited from to prepare you for this?

5)What are your recommendations for changes that need to occur so that ESOL educators/classroom teachers are fully prepared to support English learners

6)What recommendations do you have for policy changes that are needed to better support ESOL educators/ classroom teachers?

Another question I would like to add is:

 7) Have they considered the three developments or shifts in second language acquisition theory enough in their recommendations? If we consider these shifts what else would you recommend in our New Zealand context? Where are our gaps?

Remember that we do have some good BES research in New Zealand on leadership and professional development to guide your discussions. See:

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