Professional Development for Teachers of ELLs: A "Do-It-Yourself" Approach
By Dr. Suzanne Irujo, ELL Outlook™ Contributing Writer
This is the second in a series of articles based on a study of teachers of English Language Learners in California (Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, & Driscoll, 2005), which identified nine issues that these teachers wrestle with as they try to implement effective education for ELLs. The articles recognize the need for systemic solutions to these problems, while at the same time trying to help classroom teachers take responsibility for the effectiveness of their own instruction. The first article in the series ("Not Enough Time," ELL Outlook, May/June, 2005) examined the issue of not having enough time to teach everything that ELLs need; this article focuses on the lack of professional development opportunities for teachers of ELLs.
Almost half of all teachers in U.S. public schools have at least one English language learner (ELL) in their classrooms. Only 17 percent meet federal requirements for being a "highly qualified teacher" (Leos, 2004). It is no wonder that two of the major findings of the interview study done by Gándara and her colleagues (Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, & Driscoll, 2005) were that "[o]ver the last five years, many EL teachers had little or no professional development designed to help them teach these students and the quality of training was uneven" (p. 13).
I was one of the many teachers who began teaching ELLs without having had any preparation for doing so. After receiving a degree in secondary education and Spanish, with the expectation of teaching high school Spanish classes, I was hired as a third- and fourth-grade bilingual teacher. Halfway through my first year teaching, I enrolled in a master's program in bilingual education.
Not all teachers can do what I did, however. Many have family constraints, financial constraints, or time constraints that prevent them from pursuing advanced degrees. No teachers, however, should have so many constraints that they can't find some way of augmenting their teaching knowledge and skills in areas where there is clearly a need.
Passive Recipients or Active Pursuers?
The traditional view of professional development is that it is something that is "done to" teachers. In this view, it is the responsibility of the school district to provide good quality, appropriate training; the teacher's responsibility is to attend the sessions, pay attention, and try to implement what has been presented. This view is reflected in the way the Gándara et al. results are presented. Not enough teachers "received [emphasis added] in-service training sessions that focused on [EL] learners," and "the quality of such service is of concern as well" (Gándara et al., p. 13). Viewed in this way, this is a systemic problems that requires a systemic solution. Recently, however, teachers and teacher educators have begun to look at professional development as something that teachers can pursue on their own, sometimes in conjunction with their school systems, and sometimes outside of the system.
Teacher-designed professional development can take different forms. Teachers can work in conjunction with their school systems, a university, or an outside organization to develop professional development plans that respond to their needs (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). They can team with a researcher to investigate and improve their own teaching practices (Hawkins & Irujo, 2005). They can form teacher study groups, with or without an outside facilitator, to share ideas and experiences and engage in mutual problem-solving exercises (Claire, 1998).
This article proposes that teachers take charge of their own professional development. One of the big advantages of teacher-designed professional development is that it is inherently customized to meet teachers' needs. In the Gándara et al. study, teachers cited the following problems with professional development for ELL teachers:
If teachers plan, facilitate, and pursue their own professional development in conjunction with colleagues, what they learn will meet their needs to a far greater extent than could ever be done by spending a few hours once a month with an outside "expert" brought in by the school system.
Many teachers may never have thought about pursuing professional development on their own; others may have thought about it but have not known how to begin. The rest of this article provides some suggestions.
Where to Start?
1. Make a decision about the way you want to approach your self-designed professional development:
Individually: An ESL teacher I know borrowed an ESL teacher resource book from a colleague, studied it, chose several techniques to implement, observed the results, decided what worked and what didn't, read some more, modified her techniques, and so on. It's that simple, and that difficult. This approach requires that you be very well motivated and self-disciplined. It also requires having somebody to talk with about what you're learning and doing. Individual professional development does not mean that you should try to "go it alone" (see the first guideline below).
With a partner: As a teacher educator, I used this approach with a colleague. We both wanted to work on finding the right balance between teacher-fronted classroom procedures and group work. We found and read articles about each approach, discussed them, implemented changes based on our reading and discussion, shared teaching journals written after each class, and met on a regular basis to summarize our thoughts about what we were doing. Ideally, we would also have observed each other's classes, or at least watched videotapes of them, but time and equipment constraints prevented that. If you want to try this, your partner could be in the same school (this facilitates observation of each other's classes); in a different school in your district or another district (you could send each other videotapes of your classes); or even on the other side of the country (e-mail makes sharing of teaching journals easy). This is an approach that works very well when the two teachers are motivated and self-disciplined and get along well together, since they will be offering criticism on an ongoing basis.
In a group: I have also participated in a study group of teacher educators who met on a regular basis to explore issues in language teacher education and how they affected our teaching (Hawkins & Irujo, 2005). Our meetings were organized around issues chosen by members on a rotating basis. Our resource materials were the descriptions of the issues written by each member, distributed before our meetings. For teachers wanting to improve their skills in teaching ELLs, suitable resources are easy to find (see below). Members can decide which topics to discuss and implement, share the results, and help each other work through problems that arise. Study groups can work very well with or without an outside facilitator, but they do need to be formalized, with specific meeting times set from the beginning, and all participants must be aware of the importance of everybody attending all meetings.
2. Decide what resources you will use in your teacher-designed professional development.
The list of resources at the end of this article is a good place to start. The Web-based resources on the list range from complete courses that you can take for graduate credit to Web sites that provide tips, lesson plans, and links to other resources. The print resources are textbooks and teacher resource books that combine theory and practice to provide a solid understanding, not only of teaching strategies but also of why they are important.
Another way to locate resources is to talk with teachers who are confident in their abilities to teach ELLs and see what they recommend. They may have a favorite Web site, a book that they consider indispensable, or a stash of articles they could lend you.
A third way is to peruse the three-volume TESOL series on Professional Development in Language Education (Byrd & Nelson, 2003; Egbert, 2003; Murphy, 2003) and find something that appeals to you. These books contain first-person accounts of many different ways in which teachers continue to develop professionally throughout their careers. Each account includes background information, a description of the activity, specific steps for implementing it, and a list of resources. The first volume, for new teachers, includes ideas for videotaping yourself, using the Web, participating in e-mail discussion lists and online conferences, and implementing peer-mentor observations, among others. The second and third volumes, for mid-career and seasoned teachers, includes ideas for using reflection journals, conducting peer interviews, starting a study group, and creating a teaching portfolio, among others.
No matter what approach you use, or what resources you choose, remember these guidelines:
Don't do it alone. Some forms of teacher-directed professional development, such as study groups or teacher-researcher partnerships, require that you work with one or more colleagues. Others, such as action research or self-study, can be done individually. But even if you choose an individual type of professional development, you need somebody with whom you can talk about what you're learning. It has been said that writing helps us know what we think. I believe that talking helps us know what questions we have. And questioning is the basis of any self-directed learning.
Ideally, the person (or people) you choose to share your professional development with will be somebody teaching in a context similar to your own. Such a person will need much less background information and explanation to understand the issues you are grappling with. Peer coaching, where two people share problems and possible solutions, observe each other's classes, and support each other's investigations, is an excellent model. Support groups, often used by doctoral students for support while writing dissertations, are excellent for providing the discipline needed to keep at it when time is short and motivation lags. You might use one of the ESL-focused discussion lists on the Web to find an Internet partner for sharing and mutual support. Even talking to a friend or spouse who knows nothing about teaching ELLs is better than trying to do it on your own.
Be systematic. Create a regular, systematic way of going about your self-directed professional development. Set aside specific times for reading, for discussion, for journal writing. You might do this by pretending you are taking a college course, with fixed assignments for each week. The most important thing here is to be realistic when you create your schedule of study time.
Once you have set up a realistic schedule, stick to it! If you were taking a college course, you wouldn't skip class to have coffee with a friend or to go to a movie. Don't skip your self-directed learning, either.
Start small. Whatever resources you choose as a base for your self-designed professional development, they will include a lot of information about different topics and teaching strategies. You may be able to read and assimilate this information in a short period of time, but you will not be able to implement it all at once. One of the most common mistakes that teachers make when they implement changes in their teaching practices is to try to do too much at one time. In doing so, they spread their attention too thinly, and are unable to focus on details in any single area. As a result, nothing works, and they give up and go back to teaching as they always have.
You might want to read about and discuss a variety of issues and the strategies that can be used to address them, but when it comes time to start making changes in your classroom, you should choose a single, very specific aspect of your teaching to work on. It's often a good idea to begin with an expansion of something that you're already doing. It's a lot easier to make gradual improvements to a strategy that you already use than to try to implement something new that you've never done before. For example, you probably already pre-teach vocabulary before asking students to read a selection. But do you do it in an ELL-friendly way, with visuals, gestures, multiple repetitions, paraphrases, and examples that are familiar to the students? If not, you could read and discuss the information you have on ELL vocabulary development and on making teaching comprehensible, choose a single technique for pre-teaching vocabulary in a meaningful and comprehensible way, and try it. When you feel comfortable with that technique, add another. The success you experience as you implement these "doable" strategies will provide motivation to continue.
Be patient. This is the logical extension of starting small. If you do only one small thing in one area at a time, it's going to take a long time before you begin to feel that you have the skills you need to teach ELLs. Just as many teachers try to make too many changes at one time, many also give up the changes they make before they have had time to take effect. You can't expect to see immediate changes, so don't give up.
There are things that can help keep you from getting discouraged because you can't do it all at once. One of them is observing and recording the changes that you see in your students as you implement each small step. In the vocabulary example above, you may notice that students begin to recognize the words that you pre-teach, where before they didn't. Write it down. Later you may see signs that they understand the vocabulary when they encounter it in reading. Write it down. You may notice that they begin to use vocabulary words that you have pre-taught. Write it down. Little by little, each small change builds up until you can look back at your notes and say, "Wow! What I've done has really made a difference!"
All you really need to get started on a course of professional development that is designed for and by you personally is a resource that will serve as a jumping-off point and the motivation, time, and self-discipline to follow through on your good intentions. You don't have to wait for your school system to provide it for you or blame them when the quality is not good. Just look through the list of resources below and get started right now.
Byrd, P., & Nelson, G. (Eds.). (2003). Sustaining professionalism (Professional Development in Language Education Series, Vol. 3). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Clair, N. (1998). Teacher study groups: Persistent questions in a promising approach. TESOL Quarterly, 32(3), 465-492. Egbert, J. (Ed.). (2003). Becoming contributing professionals (Professional Development in Language Education Series, Vol. 1). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Gándara, P., Maxwell-Jolly, J., & Driscoll, A. (2005). Listening to teachers of English language learners: A survey of California teachers' challenges, experiences, and professional development needs. Sacramento, CA: The Regents of the University of California. Hawkins, M., & Irujo, S. (Eds.). (2004). Collaborative conversations among language teacher educators. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Murphy, T. (Ed.). (2003). Extending professional contributions (Professional Development in Language Education Series, Vol. 2). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. United States Department of Education, Office of the Secretary. (1998). Improving professional development practices. In Promising practices: New ways to improve teacher quality (chapter 6). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. http://www.ed.gov/pubs/PromPractice/chapter6.html
Resources for Teachers Working with ELLs
Courses and Tutorials:
English Language Learners (ELL) in the Mainstream. New Jersey Department of Education Professional Development Port. Developed by Judy O'Loughlin. http://www.njpep.org/tutorials/ell_mainstream/intro.html Downloadable tutorial; includes audio and video segments. Topics include: student background, theory of second language acquisition, teaching models and strategies, resources. English Language Learners in the Mainstream: Strategies That Work. ASCD Professional Development Online. Developed by Jenny Smith. http://pdonline.ascd.org/pd_online/new/course_description.cfm?sid=74 Online course; $89.95 includes 2.0 CEUs; graduate credit available for additional fee. Topics include: second language acquisition, classroom teaching strategies, effects of culture and family on learning. English Learners and the Language Arts. Schools Moving Up: A WestEd Initiative. Developed by Vanessa Girard. http://www.schoolsmovingup.net/cs/wested/view/e/140 An archived online presentation that provides research-based foundations in teaching English literacy to K-6 English learners. View the presentation using RealPlayer, or download the PowerPoint slides. Requires free membership in WestEd. English Learners and the Language Arts: Follow-Up Presentation (A Focus on Academic Language). Schools Moving Up: A WestEd Initiative. Developed by Vanessa Girard. An archived online presentation that provides research-based foundations in teaching academic English to K-6 English learners. View the presentation using RealPlayer or download the PowerPoint slides. Requires free membership in WestEd. Why Reading is Hard. Center for Applied Linguistics. Developed by Carolyn Temple Adger and Nancy Clair. http://www.cal.org/wrih/ Workshop presented by Catherine Snow; includes video clips; complete video available for purchase from the Center for Applied Linguistics ($25.00; viewer's guide $8.95). Topics include: reading words, reading text, the language of text. Working with Second Language Learners: Issues, Problems, and Solutions. Heinemann University. Developed by Stephen Cary. http://pd.heinemann.com/hu/products/SPSL1.aspx 120-day self-directed online course; $129.00 tuition includes 1.5 CEUs; graduate credit vailable for additional fee. Topics include: oral/literacy development, core curriculum access, primary language support, authentic language assessment, cross-cultural conflict management.
Resource Guides and Kits:
Colorín Colorado's Educator's Section. Reading Rockets and the American Federation of Teachers. http://www.colorincolorado.org/educators Information, strategies, activities, and resources for Pre-K-3 teachers; also useful for grades 4-8. Topics include: background information, reaching out to students and families, placement and assessment, teaching reading, teaching content areas, resources. Help! Kit For Secondary Teachers of Migrant English Language Learners. Eastern Stream Center on Resources and Training. http://www.escort.org/products/secondaryhelpkit.html Grades 7-12 resource guide; available in print and PDF versions. Topics include: culture, teaching strategies, making content lessons comprehensible, assessment, fostering home-school partnerships, meeting graduation requirements, helping with post-secondary options; resources. Help! They Don't Speak English Starter Kit for Primary Teachers. Eastern Stream Center on Resources and Training, Regions IV and XIV Comprehensive Centers, and Center for Applied Linguistics. http://www.escort.org/products/helpkit.html Pre-K-6 resource guide; available in print, PDF, and high resolution versions. Topics include: culture, teaching strategies, promoting literacy and math, English in the content areas, assessment, fostering home-school partnerships, resources. In the Classroom: A Toolkit for Effective Instruction of English Learners. National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition. http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/practice/itc/index.htm Web resource organized around principles of effective practice and challenges faced by teachers of ELLs with tools (lesson plans, activities, resources) that address them. Topics include: school skills, elementary, secondary, diverse needs, interrupted formal schooling, home-school connection. Strategies and Resources for Mainstream Teachers of English Language Learners. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Written by Bracken Reed and Jennifer Railsback. http://www.nwrel.org/request/2003may/index.html Booklet; available in hard copy or in text-only, graphical, and PDF versions. Topics include: ELLs and NCLB, second language theory, principles for teaching ELLS, resources.
Other Web Resources and Links:
Everything ESL. Judie Haynes. http://www.everythingesl.net Web site containing numerous lesson plans, teaching tips, resources. Mrs. Hurley's ESL Page. http://www.mrshurleysesl.com/index.html The Teacher Resources page includes links to teaching tips and useful articles and helpful links for content-area teachers. Teaching Diverse Learners. Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory. http://www.lab.brown.edu/tdl/index.shtml Links to resources for elementary literacy, teaching and learning strategies, assessment, policy, families and communities, culturally responsive teaching, and conference proceedings on diversity and meeting the needs of ELLs.
Textbooks and Teacher Resource Books:
Academic Success for English Language Learners: Strategies for K-12 Mainstream Teachers (2nd ed.). Patricia A. Richard-Amato, Marguerite Ann Snow. Pearson Education, 2004. Theoretical background and practical applications for teaching elementary and secondary ELLs, with chapters dealing with specific content areas. Fifty Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners (2nd ed.). Adrienne Herrell and Michael Jordan. Pearson Education, Inc., 2004. Fifty strategies that are tied to the TESOL ESL standards; categories of strategies include theory, planning, learner involvement, vocabulary building, and increasing comprehension. Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners: The SIOP Model (2nd ed). Jana Echevarria, MaryEllen Vogt, and Deborah J. Short. Allyn and Bacon, 2003. Presents a field-tested model of sheltered instruction, with descriptions of strategies and real classroom vignettes from a variety of subjects and grade levels. Reading, Writing and Learning in ESL: A Resource Book for K-12 Teachers (4th ed.). Suzanne F. Peregoy and Owen F. Boyle. Allyn and Bacon, 2004. Suggestions and methods for motivating and involving ELL students as they develop oral language, reading, and writing skills. Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. Pauline Gibbons. Heinemann, 2002. Help for mainstream teachers with no specialized training as they integrate language and content teaching and move learners from social language to academic language. Sheltered Content Instruction: Teaching English-Language Learners with Diverse Abilities (2nd ed.). Jana Echevarría and Anne Graves. Allyn and Bacon, 2002. Practical methods that demonstrate how to deliver content-area instruction to ELLs by teaching in a more understandable way. Working with Second Language Learners: Answers to Teachers' Top Ten Questions. Stephen Cary. Heinemann, 2000. A short, clearly written book that delivers exactly what the subtitle says it does, with research-based rationales for its many practical suggestions.
If you have any comments about this article or questions for for the author, please send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2005 Course Crafters, Inc.® All rights reserved.