How Elementary Pre-Service Teachers Acquire Pedagogical Language Knowledge for Supporting English Learners’ Academic Language Development
Increasingly large populations of English Learners (ELs) attend public schools within the US and teachers are held accountable for the academic performance of these students. Unfortunately, multiple studies have concluded that teachers graduating from teacher education programs are not equipped with the competencies to clearly identify the linguistic needs of ELs nor do they have the techniques needed to help these students learn English and content concurrently. Much of this lack of preparation is due to teacher education programs not making language pedagogy for supporting ELs a priority for their mainstream teachers.
My dissertation uses a phenomenological qualitative research approach to examine how a group of elementary mainstream pre-service teachers (PTs) acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to provide comprehensive academic language instruction for ELs, and how they plan, implement, and reflect upon their lessons. Data (observations, field notes, assignments, assessment portfolios, and interviews) were analyzed to explain how PTs learned about and applied language pedagogy to support ELs’ academic language development. Results indicate that the major learning opportunities afforded to PTs were: learning about academic language, observing classroom instruction, creating and teaching lessons emphasizing academic language support, and conducting case studies based on shadowing ELs.
Many of the lesson strategies that PTs used to support ELs’ academic language acquisition and comprehension were: gestures, graphic organizers, group work, questioning, drawing pictures, and using tangible objects, to visualize concepts. Of equal importance, something evident across all PT reflections is that students, especially ELs and others who struggled with academic language, would benefit from continued exposure and practice. In addition, vocabulary support, and explicit instruction with manipulatives and teacher-led small group practice were common next steps identified by PTs to support ELs’ academic language development. On the basis of these findings, I discuss implications for theory and practice. Overall, I argue that in order to support ELs’ literacy development, PTs must learn about academic language-its use and demands. Then, they can identify ELs’ academic language challenges and implement appropriate strategies to explicitly teach ELs how to meet academic language demands. From reflecting upon their instructional practices with these students, PTs also learn how to identify next steps for improving instruction. All of these forms of knowledge and application combine to form what is known as pedagogical language knowledge, or what PTs need to know about language in order to support ELs’ linguistically.