Generally speaking, learning is a social process. When considering the specific process of learning a second or additional language, the social dimension of learning becomes more apparent. Because of our dependence on each other for new knowledge, my teaching philosophy rests on creating a community of learners. Creating an optimal space for a community of learners means considering several actions and dispositions that influence the classroom. For one, students need to see the value and importance of all languages and cultures. I believe that students succeed at higher levels and work more successfully with each other when the languages, cultures, and prior knowledge of all learners are linked to new understandings. The learning community can also be strengthened through creating equitable learning opportunities, advocating for students and families, and knowing educational policies and laws. In the following sections, I expand upon my beliefs and demonstrate classroom practices and actions that exemplify my teaching philosophy.
Culture, Teaching, and Learning
Perhaps one of the most apparent areas of classroom interaction for an ESOL professional to consider is how culture influences teaching and learning. I understand that my culture is one of many possible ways of viewing the world. It impacts both the way I give instruction as well as interpret student responses to learning. An example of how my culture could influence my teaching could be in the use of display questions or the IRE pattern of questioning as a way to probe what students have learned (Gibbons, 2015). For students coming from different cultural backgrounds, this line of questioning may seem absurd (Delpit,1988). Students outside of the U.S. cultural mainstream may have a different expectation for how teachers and students should interact in the classroom.
This kind of role expectation is just one of many possible ways culture could influence teaching and learning, hence the importance of continual reflection. One tool I will use during the reflection process is the culture general model developed by Cushner and Breslin (1996). Examples of helpful considerations outlined in their model include understanding role expectations, considering different learning styles and methods of communication, and group categorization (Cushner, McClelland, & Safford, 2015). When I reflect on communication breakdowns or missed teaching opportunities, I can refer to this model to uncover possible reasons and adjust my classroom approach accordingly.
Language Acquisition Theories and Instructional Practices
Helping my future ELs succeed means the integration of both content and language instruction. A useful understanding for successfully marrying these important learning goals is knowing how second and additional languages are acquired. As additional languages are learned, they do not divide neatly into separate categories in the brain. Rather, bilingual and multilingual learners are continually pulling from all of their linguistic resources as they learn (Baker & Wright, 2017). Students are not two or several monolinguals at once, and their receptive and productive abilities in any language may fluctuate depending on context (De Houwer, 2009). I therefore embrace translanguaging as a pedagogy and will encourage my students to use all of their known languages in the classroom. Examples of capitalizing on translanguaging in the classroom include encouraging students to brainstorm in multiple languages or multilingual peer conferencing (Billings & Walqui, n.d.). Still another example of incorporating prior linguistic knowledge is to accept answers in languages other than English. This can be especially helpful to newly arrived students who are beginning their L2 production. Translation applications, community members, school personnel, and families can assist with verifying answers during this stage of language acquisition.
Contrary to previous language learning beliefs, using and learning two or more languages simultaneously will not cause delays or affect language development (De Houwer, 2009). In fact, drawing from several different linguistic resources can help students make important connections to new learning. Many literacy skills acquired in students’ L1s can be transferred to their L2s (Wong-Fillmore, 2009). I can facilitate these connections through explicitly mentioning language similarities. Also, I can create opportunities for students to explore new understandings with each other (Razfar & Rumenapp, 2014; Zwiers, 2014). Students must have the opportunity to produce language in order to understand it. Therefore, an established learning community is important for utilizing collaborative strategies such as turn-and-talks, group and partnered projects, and parallel conversations (Gibbons, 2015; Zwiers, 2014).
Indeed, the more opportunities students have to use language in meaningful contexts, the more likely they are to internalize it. Their efforts can also be supported through comprehensible input, or exposure to new language that is supported by the context in which it is used (Krashen, 1985, as cited in Zwiers, 2014). Students will not absorb the language simply from exposure, however. Drawing from Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, I will scaffold their learning experiences with strategies such as thinking aloud, text deconstruction, and co-constructing pieces of writing (Gibbons, 2015; Vygotsky, 1978 cited in Zwiers, 2014). Students must be able to see examples before being expected to try it on their own.
Equity and Multicultural Education
The diverse learners I will teach will encounter challenges different from their mainstream peers. These students could be faced with subtractive education, or educational practices that diminish cultural and linguistic knowledge (Baker & Wright, 2017). One area of education that could inhibit first language use is the pressure to perform well on English standardized tests. Faced with such high stakes, students may forgo or reduce L1 use. These tests may include overly complex language that ELs may not have had exposure to (Alvarez, Ananda, Walqui, Sato, & Rabinowitz, 2014). Consequently, ELs can be erroneously classified as lacking content area knowledge when they have simply not had enough exposure to and practice with academic language.
Subtractive bilingualism practices and insufficient academic language instruction do not align with the Lau V. Nichols ruling to accommodate the needs of students developing English. To both uphold educational policy and give ELs the educational experiences they deserve, I will strive to integrate content and language objectives into every lesson I teach or co-teach. Students cannot afford to delay their content area learning while learning language (Alvarez et al., 2014). Furthermore, students do not need to forgo their L1s while acquiring content knowledge and language. Making multiple languages visible and heard during the learning process is empowering and identity affirming as well as a useful scaffold for content learning (Agirdag, 2009). As language is best learned through the context in which it is used, ELs must be given as much scaffolded exposure to mainstream classroom experiences as possible (Gibbons, 2015; Zwiers, 2014). Curriculum should not be simplified for EL students as this can cause them to fall even further behind their mainstream counterparts (Alvarez et al., 2014). As an ESOL professional, I will work with content-area teachers to uncover the complex language specific to their disciplines and to implement appropriate scaffolds and supports for our ELs. Together, we can model disciplinary language and establish opportunities for ELs to use it with each other.
In addition to access to quality instruction, ELs need fair assessments. In keeping with the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, I will craft creative and innovative assessment for my students, taking advantage of technology and performance-based options. Multiple and varied assessments are essential for success. Varied assessments yield more insight on student knowledge, thus appropriately informing my instruction (Wright, 2016). Furthermore, uncovering students’ full knowledge repertoire can target advocacy efforts. I can identify and remove barriers to higher levels of education that invalid assessments results may have imposed (Brown & Abeywickrama, 2010). Finally, varied assessments increase fairness and create different ways to challenge students (U.S. Department of Education, 2017).
Community and Family
Families are an integral part to the learning and assessment cycle. Without building relationships with families, important student background knowledge remains hidden. The family home is also where the first language learning experiences occur, so it is imperative to link this primary discourse community with that of the school (Cushner et al., 2015; Razfar & Rumenapp, 2014). During fieldwork experiences, some of my mentors have discussed how they invited families into the classroom to read stories in their native languages. I plan to implement a similar practice which will not only strengthen bonds between the school and families, but will also improve and maintain vital L1 literacy skills (Herrera, Perez, & Escamilla, 2015).
In establishing connections with families, being open to different meeting formats is essential. Some may welcome home visits, which can be helpful in uncovering more about family goals, successes, and knowledge (Wessels, 2013). Home visits can also better orient me to local neighborhoods and discover ways I can make additional connections between families and communities (National Education Association, 2015). Other options for connecting with families include traditional face-to-face conferences or digital communication. There are a wide variety of online applications available for connecting with student families. Such choice and flexibility ensure I will find ways to connect that suit my future teaching context.
No one ever stops learning, least of all educators. As a committed life-long learner, I will continue to seek out new ways to meet the needs of students within a dynamic society. One way I will contribute to my professional growth is through continual collaboration with future colleagues. Every teacher brings a diverse body of knowledge to the profession, so collaboration can catalyze new understandings. Effective time management will help be to maximize collaboration opportunities with future colleagues (Avila, 2015).
Staying connected to a body of ESOL professionals is also important. This is why I will join an organization like TESOL International that offer seminars and workshops to educators. I have also made valuable professional partnerships during my time as a graduate student. Some of these professionals include prior mentors who can be continued sources of advice when I enter my future teaching placement. I believe maintaining lasting working relationships is essential to not only my own success, but to the success of the community as a whole.
ESOL education is my passion and I intend to devote my career to helping ELs reach their academic goals. As our world becomes more connected and diversified, the need for bilingual and multilingual global citizens will continue to grow. We need community mindsets, flexible thinking, and varied perspectives. Given this globalization trend, I feel my role as an ESOL educator is more important than ever before. I look forward to the coming years in my profession, growing and learning alongside my students, their families, and my colleagues.
- Agirdag, O. (2009). All Languages Welcomed Here. Educational Leadership, 66(7), 20-25. Retrieved from Blackboard website: https://mymasonportal.gmu.edu
- Alvarez, L., Ananda, S., Walqui, A., Sato, E., & Rabinowitz, S. (2014). Focusing Formative Assessment on the Needs of English Language Learners. Retrieved from Blackboard website: https://mymasonportal.gmu.edu
- Avila, K. (2015). The Call to Collaborate: Key Considerations as ELD and Classroom Teachers Begin to Align New Standards. ORTESOL Journal, 32, 33-43. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.mutex.gmu.edu/docview/1940929627?accountid=14541
- Baker, C., & Wright, W.E. (2017). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (6th ed.). Bristol, UK& Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Multilingual Matters.
- Billings, E. & Walqui, A. (n.d.) Dispelling the Myth of ‘English Only’: Understanding the Importance of the First Language in Second Language Learning. New York State Education Department. Retrieved from http://www.nysed.gov/bilingual-ed/topic-brief-5-dispelling-myth-english-only-understanding-importance-first-language
- Brown, H.D. & Abeywickrama, P. (2010). Language assessment: Principles and classroom practices. (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Pearson.
- Cushner, K., & Brislin, R. (1996). Intercultural Interactions: A Practical Guide (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Cushner, K.H., McClelland, A., & Safford, P. (2015). Human Diversity in Education: An Intercultural Approach. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
- De Houwer, A. (2009). An Introduction to Bilingual Development. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
- Delpit, L.D. (1988). The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children. Harvard Educational Review, 58(3), 280-298. Retrieved from Blackboard website: https://mymasonportal.gmu.edu
- Gibbons, P. (2015). Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching English Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
- Herrera, S.G., Perez, D.R., & Escamilla, K. (2015). Teaching Reading to English Language Learners: Differentiating literacies. New York, NY: Pearson.
- National Education Association (2015). How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners. National Education Association. Retrieved from https://www.colorincolorado.org/sites/default/files/ELL_AdvocacyGuide2015.pdf
- Razfar, A. & Rumenapp, J. (2014). Applying Linguistics in the Classroom: A Sociocultural Approach. New York, NY: Routledge.
- U.S. Department of Education (2017). Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). U.S. Department ofEducation. Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/essa?src=ft
- Wessels, S. (2013). Home Visits: A Way of Connecting with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families. Faculty Publications: Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education at University of Nebraska, 147. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/teachlearnfacpub/147
- Wong-Fillmore, L. (2009). English Language Development: Acquiring the Language Needed for Literacy and Learning. Research into Practice Reading. Retrieved from Blackboard website: https://mymasonmportal.gmu.edu
- Wright, W.E. (2016). Let Them Talk! Educational Leadership, 73(5), 24-29. Retrieved from Blackboard website: https://mymasonportal.gmu.edu
- Zwiers, J. (2014). Building Academic Language: Meeting Common Core Standards across Disciplines. (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.