ELL pre-service teacher training: MA/TESL and SOE partnership
By Mary Martha Savage

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The growing numbers of ELLs in schools today is paramount to schools of education (SOE) as they face the challenge of training future teachers. In already-packed programs, the task of incorporating state and federal requirements of cultural competency coursework is daunting. SOEs are charged to respond with authentic and responsive ELL instruction while at the same time maintaining timely graduation rates. Embedded in this challenge is the need for ELL expertise and culturally appropriate resources to provide authentic field experiences and placements. This study addresses this reality without taking an additive approach by bringing ELL instruction and hands-on experiences into existing SOE coursework.


Which helps pre-service ESL teachers more?
  • 1. Classroom learning
  • 2. Hands-on experience

MA/TESL and SOE Partnership

In research conducted on a university campus, this challenge was explored in a collaborative study by two professors: one from the Masters of Teaching English as a Second language (MA/TESL) program and one from the SOE Teacher Education program. The study explored reflections of 55 pre-service teachers as ELL experiences and instruction were provided through the on-campus intensive English language (IEL) program within the MA/TESL program. The premise of the study was founded on accessing the MA/TESL lens and hands-on experiences through the IEL program while providing multiple opportunities for guided reflection of that exploration.

The conceptual framework was framed by research regarding the effectiveness of being situated in cross- cultural experiences with ELLs and asking participants to reflect on insights that surface. These authors asserted that before effective pedagogy can be developed for teaching ELLs, the underlying beliefs and attitudes about diversity must be examined.

The professors created a collaborative syllabus with an ELL unit of theory and practice inserted into three sections of a foundation course within the Teacher Education Department of the SOE. Instruction was conducted by the MA/TESL professor. Three hands-on activities were included in the unit with accompanying guided written reflections to elicit data for analysis regarding insights, epiphanies and emotional responses from pre-service teachers:

Three Hands-on Activities
  1. The first hands-on experience was done within the SOE classroom. A native speaker of a language unknown to any of the pre-service teachers taught the class for 30 minutes without using English but incorporated a communicative pedagogy and sheltered strategies. Participants responded to a guided reflection immediately after that experience.

  2. The second hands-on task was participating in conversation circles set within the IEL. Groups of international students were joined by university students, faculty and staff and participated in a semistructured conversation for about an hour. Pre-service teachers were asked to join these circles three times and write reflections after each one.

  3. The third experiential task was having the participants teach a short lesson to an ELL, who in this case was an international student enrolled in the IEL program. Participants responded to a guided reflection after that experience.
Pre-Service Teacher Response

An analysis of data revealed themes which included the following:
  • contact decreased anxiety of participants
  • contact promoted application of ELL strategies for communication
  • contact promoted an attitude of empathy for the ELL challenge
When I changed my behavior, it got a lot better

After an overview of instruction in basic second language theory and sheltered instruction, pre-service teachers made strong statements of how they became aware for the first time of their own role in the communicative process. This theme was constructed from conversation circle reflections.

They were clear in expression of how much responsibility they had in successful communication. They described ways they changed their behavior to increase the effectiveness of understandings. Strategies emerged such as modulating speed and complexity of speech, repetition, use of visuals, body language, looking for connections and asking better clarifying questions. They also added effective aspects, including being patient, smiling, learning the value of listening and realizing that: "When I changed my behavior, it got a lot better."

Can't imagine doing this for six hours!

Participants described changed attitudes and increased awareness of ELL needs and their own awareness of needing to grow in this area before entering classrooms. They described how they had not considered how challenging it would be to not know English. Expressions included:
  • This was so eye-opening
  • Never before in my life
  • Can't imagine doing this for six hours
  • This was confusing, threatening
  • I am so ethnocentric
Numerous comments included the epiphany of how much language impacted comprehension. These comments came after the in-class immersion experience, which seemed to elicit a visceral response. Comments included:
  • It only lasted a class period. These guys are here for years!
  • I had no idea how much speaking influences what we understand.
They were awesome!

Data regarding how their attitudes and feelings of comfort with ELLs had changed with simple exposure and guided contact were in reflections written after the first conversational circle task. Initially, participants expressed nervousness, anxiety over their ability to communicate or to understand. However, within this same reflection, they further expressed in detail how surprised they were that they could communicate. These findings were supported by scholarship (Pappamihiel, 2007; Lucas & Mark, 2011; Garcia, E., Arias, B., Murri, N., & Serna, C., 2010). Comments included:
  • It was not as hard/bad as I had expected
  • It wasn't what I feared
  • They were awesome
  • I respect them
  • That experience changed my perspective of what it feels like
Implications for Pre-Service Teacher Training and ELL Endorsement

Implications for SOEs and MA/TESL programs are clear. Collaboration provided access to scholarship of professors within language areas as well as hands-on opportunities for ELL fieldwork on a limited basis with pre-service teacher outcomes of changed attitudes, informed awareness and ELL application.

It was a collaborative venture that was accomplished with cooperation of two instructors that resulted in significant movement in addressing cultural competency concerns as well as hands-on application. It demonstrated that ELL instruction can be accessed through collaboration with positive results and relative ease of effort.

Interestingly, an increase in ELL endorsement students was seen the following semesters in MA/TESL endorsement classes, many of whom had participated in this study. This suggests that effects of this study may not have been limited to the confines of the study. Additionally, conversations between the two schools have increased promoting ELL endorsements among future pre-service teachers.

Mary Martha Savage, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Gonzaga University within the MA/TESL program. Within her department, an intensive English language program provides English language services to international students preparing to enter university level coursework. She has more than 30 years of experience across K-12, special education, adult immigrants and intensive English language programs.