The Future of K-12 Teaching is Content-Based Instruction

This week we published Kate Mastruserio Reynolds’ book Approaches to Inclusive English Classrooms which attempts to bridge the gap between theory and practice to prepare teachers for the needs of English language learners (ELL). In this post, she gives us some background to the book.

“Greetings all, I am the ESL Department chair at NAME High School in CITY, TX, which is located in the largest refugee neighborhood in the city. Our current enrollment is 61% ELL, but we expect to be more than 70% ELL next year, so we are looking to expand our team. We have a diverse mix of students from all over South Asia, Africa, and Latin America, many with limited or interrupted schooling. We are looking specifically for TESOL or CELTA certified teachers with experience teaching teens or adults, and ideally with experience teaching English for Academic Purposes or for Specific Purposes, as most of our ESL classes are content support classes (English for Science, English for Math, etc.).”

This job announcement posted today on a jobs list might sound like gibberish for many pre-service educators or teachers just entering the job market. The knowledge of English as a second language (ESL) that inform this advert start with the acronyms, ESL, ELL, TESOL, CELTA and advance to ‘English for Academic Purposes and for Specific Purposes’ and ‘ESL classes are content support classes (English for Science, English for Math, etc.)’ Although this position is for an ESL specialist, increasingly content area educators (i.e. teachers of Math, Sciences, Social Studies/History, Literature and Language Arts) are called upon to work with learners whose first language is not English.

Approaches to Inclusive English ClassroomsBy 2050, US national statistics indicate that English language learners (ELLs) will be the majority of learners in the US K-12 public schools. Not only are many educators not adequately prepared for this change in the demographics of our school system, neither is our teacher preparation system. Pre-service teachers, those in the process of gaining teacher licensures at universities, rarely are provided any information or training on the ELLs they will encounter in their professional work. Many in-service teachers are confronted by this lack of preparation and need to gain more professional preparation in the field of ESL in order to sufficiently meet the unique linguistic needs of the second language learners.

It is not an easy fix. There is a lot to ‘sufficiently meet the unique linguistic needs’ of second language learners. Teachers cannot simply make one change to their instruction, like using cooperative learning, in order to scaffold instruction for ELLs. First, teachers need to be aware of how they communicate with students. They need to become culturally knowledgeable about the learners’ cultures and strive to make their own speech comprehensible to the language learners. Second, they need to be able to teach the skills of language—speaking, listening, reading and writing—as well as grammar and vocabulary. I’m not talking about the traditional grammar translation method here either. Teachers need to be savvy in their use of time to situate grammar into the content material they are teaching. For example, they need to teach how to write using regular past tense (–ed form) when describing the accomplishments of ancient China in Social Studies class.

Several models and methodologies to approaching the instruction of ELLs have emerged in the field of ESL/EFL, called content-based instruction (CBI). All these models (CALLA, SIOP, RtI, etc.) focus on various ways to engage ELLs and teach them content and language simultaneously. No one method is a cure all. All of them have their advantages and drawbacks. Some of them were developed for specific contexts and populations, such as the ExC-ELL model that emphasizes academic literacy for a non-native speaking population who have strong oral proficiency skills in English. Knowing which methods to employ and when with which population is one way that I would like to empower K-12 educators.

My book, Approaches to Inclusive English Classrooms: A Teacher’s Handbook for Content-Based Instruction, addresses these issues and more in a practical way that provides insight for pre-service and in-service teachers on teaching ELLs effectively.

If you would like more information about Kate’s book please see our website.

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