I teach an introductory ninth grade English for Speakers of Other Languages 1 (ESOL 1) class at a Texas high school. For more information about this teaching context, click here.
PRINCIPLE 1: The teacher must create an environment in which students feel proud of their background culture and language and empowered to learn and express themselves in English.
Students who feel ashamed or defensive about their home cultures tend to clash with a teacher who they may see as attacking them or their cultural heritage. Schuman’s Social Distance theory proposes a framework by which the perceived superiority or inferiority of a culture will put up obstacles to language learning and acculturation (as cited by Horwitz, 2008, p. 34). I want to foster healthy student-centered cultural exchange among peers, which may reduce social distance.
Students’ beliefs about language learning also pose a challenge to their acquisition of English. I will assess students’ language learning beliefs and maintain awareness of them, encouraging helpful ideas about language learning and discouraging unhelpful mis-conceptions (Horwitz, 2008).
Also, in accordance with Constructivist theory (Bruner, 1973 as cited by Sardegna, class notes), I intend to allow students to incorporate prior experiences and cultural knowledge into classroom tasks and conversations. Activities with home heritage projects, peer culture interviews, and home mythology PowerPoint presentations can provide opportunities for these sorts of exchanges.
Concerted effort towards including parents in the educational process and parent training in how to look at portfolios and student progress will help to engender family buy-in and increased motivation on the part of the student. I will work with teachers and administrators at the school to provide regular parent involvement nights in which parents can participate in discussions and listen to presentations, panel discussions, and question-and-answer sessions about school policies, assessment procedures, college readiness, and other appropriate topics. Moreover, I invite all parents to meet me in individual parent-teacher meetings in which we can discuss issues that specifically relate to their family’s relationship with the student and their role in the students’ education.
In addition to cultural content, I will create units and lessons around interests and abilities of students when possible. Some texts are determined by the state and local instructional curricula, scope, and sequence; however, I will frame and present those texts in ways that will maximize student interest. I will incorporate those into thematic units with high-interest topics that are relevant to students, such as how to think about debt, the effects of immigration, reasons behind violence, and passion for sports.
PRINCIPLE 2: The teacher must provide opportunities to read, listen to, watch, converse in, and write within a range of contexts that students will encounter inside and outside of school, while trying to instill a love of academic learning in all students (adapted from Strasheim, 1976 as cited in Hadley 2000, p 91).
In the high school classroom, it is easy for students and teachers to forget how practical and helpful language learning can and should be to every part of students’ lives. If a teacher focuses purely on the academic setting, he is doing a huge disservice to students who need to shop, work, do paperwork, translate for family members, communicate with on-line media, read newspapers, read technical documents, and communicate with adults and young people in and outside of school. As Strasheim suggests, a responsible teacher must help students function in all of these settings and others. On the other hand, if a teacher ignores the academic language (CALPS) and academic uses for language, he is condemning students to failure in all areas of education.
I intend to select one or several examples of practical and academic scenarios in which students can practice a variety of language skills in each of the units that I teach. I will utilize classroom computers with Internet access to allow students’ opportunities to learn and/or practice their technological literacy. Included in the diversity of academic background is a huge variation of exposure to computers. Blogging, wikis, PowerPoint presentations, Mind Maps, on-line chat, e-mail, and on-line Web Quests are all examples of opportunities to incorporate text literacy with language literacy. I will include these to varying degrees in each unit of instruction.
Frequent opportunities to engage in pair-work and group work to complete academic tasks will also give students the opportunity to use their emerging conversational skills to experiment and learn from one another. Students may spend five minutes on a brief Think, Pair, Share activity, or they may have a partner or several partners for a multi-week summative project, such as a theatrical performance or a class lesson on a topic such as the effects of immigration. Proficient English-speaking volunteers can assist with these projects at different stages as resources and audience members.
I also intend to require extracurricular involvement of all students. Some students may exempt this requirement based on extenuating family, transportation, or work circumstances, but others should utilize the plentiful opportunities to involve themselves with members of the target culture.
My personal experience while teaching was that students made enormous language gains and improved their perception of the target language culture as they forged relationships with English speakers and practiced authentic communication toward competitive goals (in the case of sports) and common interests.
PRINCIPLE 3: The teacher must promote accuracy in production and understanding through mini-lessons and error correction that target predetermined aspects of language form in the context of high-interest activities, themes, and content.
In accordance with Stesheim’s (1976) third hypothesis, as well as an array of scholars cited by Hadley (2000, p 99), I believe that form-focused instruction and intentional error correction have a valuable place in the classroom. I will design grammar objectives so that they correspond with student needs and with activities and content objectives and themes within lessons and units. Plentiful authentic listening and reading opportunities will build familiarity with the grammar point that we are focusing on, and the context will help to build familiarity with the meaning, purpose, and structure of the grammar point (BridgeTEFL, Youtube video, 2007).
Within communicative lessons, TPRS lessons, and journal responses, I will implement intentional, focused scaffolding, to aid students at using more accurate usage of specific grammatical structures and vocabulary. Detailed notes of my observations of students’ strengths and weaknesses will contribute integrally to the design of these form-focused lessons. These observations will include check lists and anecdotal notes, which will serve as non-graded, formative assessments, and will help in tailoring lessons to the needs of students and capitalizing on their strengths.
PRINCIPLE 4: Provide differentiated instruction that challenges all levels content while not alienating any student, utilizing resources and motivations inherent in the Texas high school setting.
I must always prepare variations within tasks so that beginners and advanced students can achieve success and experience meaningful practice. I must maintain cognizance of school, state, and national standards, objectives, and expectations. Even as the class incorporates a variety of texts, songs, and other stimuli, I will integrate proficiency standards and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) into my teaching units and lessons. I am very familiar with the ways in which the state and district test my students, and I must help them acquire the skills that they need to succeed on those assessments.
Task based group work, TPRS, song activities, and graphic response options (for students whose writing skills are less developed) can include my lowest-level students without alienating my highest-level students.
PRINCIPLE 5: The class must instill accountability and responsibility in students through interactive alternative assessment, collaborative unit organization, and the teacher’s own modeled behavior.
The students’ role will include responsibility for defining some aspects of the syllabus through silent surveys, in-class voting, and class discussion. As the teacher, I will set boundaries and expectations (with student input). I will be proactive and intentional with lesson plans and quick to give comments and grades on class-work, journals, homework, and portfolios.
Portfolios and group conferencing will give students an opportunity to track their own progress and collaborate with others to recognize the growth and improvement of their peers as well. Regular silent reading and journal writing will put responsibility on students for their practice in informal text-based language use. Regular homework (written and real-world practice) will also encourage student accountability, but students can pass without completing it. Elected/ nominated positions for different roles in the class: new student orientation, date-writer, time-keeper, journal organizer, library checker. Students will be self reporting on book check-out.
The interactive use of portfolios and group conferences will be a major organizing element of the class, as well as providing an opportunity for peer- and self-assessment (Genessee and Upshur, 1996). To ensure that the process is as interactive as possible, students will choose half of the work that goes into the portfolio based on criteria that we compile through a consensus process as a class. As the teacher, I will also select examples of written and recordings of student speech to ensure that the prioritized skills and objectives are demonstrated in the portfolios. The portfolio assessments will be both formative and summative; we will meet regularly in groups of four; during these conferences I will explicitly teach and model ways to react positively and supportively to others’ work.
Moreover, teacher-peer group conferences to analyze and discuss portfolios, independent reading, and other work will be central to the class and be another opportunity for authentic, meaningful communication with a real academic context and purpose. Involve students in a creating consensus on and implementing the policies on behavior, late work, L1 speech, rewards, and special projects in class.
My modeled example through will also be an important element to maintaining a class that takes their tasks and deadlines seriously. Display unit objectives and lesson objectives prominently, and display specific activities and expectations. Clearly mark them to differentiate general goals and objectives from individual activities and expectations.
By implementing these five principles and their corollaries, I expect that students will make significant progress in learning their target language, and their attitudes toward academic learning and the target language culture will remain positive.
Bridge TEFL training video on Youtube. (2007) BridgeLinguatec Inc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnw3l21pWIc
Hadley, A. O. (2001). Teaching Language in Context (3rd ed.) Boston: Heinle and Heinle.
Horwitz, Elaine. (2008). Becoming a Language Teacher. A practical guide to language learning and teaching.Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Genesee, F. & Upshur, J.A. (1996) Classroom-based Evaluation in Second Language Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sardegna, Veronica. (2009) Classnotes: EDC 382S, Methods of Foreign Language Education. University of Texas at Austin.