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Teacher preparation for instructing middle school ELL students: A North Carolina Piedmont perspective

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Amanda K Sox
Abstract:
The North Carolina Public Schools, like other schools in the southeast, have experienced phenomenal growth in their ELL student populations in the last 15 years. This fairly recent influx of ELL students raises questions about the extent to which the schools, and more specifically, the teachers, are prepared to meet the needs of their linguistically diverse students. Unfortunately, few studies to date have investigated how teacher education programs (TEPs) and professional development opportunities are addressing this aspect of teacher preparation. This dissertation addresses the lack of current research as it pertains to both TEPs and professional development experiences of middle school working in the North Carolina Public Schools. Using a mixed methods design that combined survey research with open-ended interviews of focal participants, the author revealed that teachers had had limited preparation experiences at both the TEP and professional development levels. However, those who had had these experiences overall did exhibit some capacity to adapt instruction and relate to their ELLs in positive ways. The preparation, however, also lacked sociolinguistic awareness and awareness about the theoretical foundations that underlie these practices. The author concluded by relating the findings to the current research and discussed recommendations and implications for TEPs and professional development in North Carolina and the southern context.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF TABLES ……………………………………………………… …………….

10

ABSTRACT ………………………… ………………………………………………...

11

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

…………………………………………………… 12

Ratio nale …………………………………… ……………………………………… .

16

Who Are North Carolina‟s ELLs?

……………………………………………… ..

19

Language Attitudes in North Carolina …………………………………………… 23

Theoretical Fram ework ……………………………………………………… ……

26

Sociocultural theories of second language development ………………………. 27

The Role of Sociocultural

Theory for Preservice and Inservice Teachers of

ELLs …………………………………………………………………………...… . 30

Linguistically Responsive Teachin g ………………………………………… …

33

Sociocultural Conceptions of Professional Development

…………………….. 36

Dissertation Framework ………………………………………………………… …37

CHAPTER 2: PREPARING TEACHERS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS:

W HAT WE KNOW ……………………………………………… ...… 39

Effective T eachers for ELLs

………………………………………………………

39

Lack of Preparation for ELLs in Teacher Education and Professional Development

… ………………………………………………………………….. 43

Effective Teacher Education Programs for ELLs

……………………………….. 49

Coursework and Content Knowledge

…... ………………………………….…. 51

Field Experiences

…...………………………………….………………………..

51

6

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Continued

Student Attitudes and Beliefs

…..…………………………………………… ...

52

Knowledgeable Teacher Educators ……..…………………………… ……...

53

Effective ELL - Focused Professional Deve lopment for Teachers ………….…..

57

Alternative Professional Development Models

..…………………………........

60

Teacher‟s Perceptions about Their Preparation

..…………………… … …...... 63

Teacher Preparation for ELLs in a Southern Context …………………....... ... 67

Teacher Prep aration for ELLs in North Carolina ……………………………. 70

Chapter Summary

..…………………………....... ........................................... . ....... 74

CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY

..………………… ………………………….......

75

Study Design

..…………………………..........…………………………........ ........

75

Context of the Study: The Piedmont Region, North Carolina

…………...... .. .

78

The School Districts in the Piedmont Region

..…………………………...... .... . 78

Sample Selection

..…………………………........ ..……………………… . . . ....... 79

Survey Methodology

..…………………………..........… ………………………. ... 8 1

Instrument Design

..…………………………....... ..…………………………..... 8 3

Selection of Districts and Participants

..…………………………...... ................ 88

Survey Data Analysis

..………………………….......………………………...... 9 2

Interview Qualitative Methodology

.. ………………………………………........

93

Selection of Focal Participants

..…………………..…………………………..

9 3

Descriptions of Focal Participants

..……………………… ..…………………

96

Focal Participant Interview Protoco l

..…………………

..…………………… 1 01

Interview Data Analysis

………………………………………… …….………. 103

7

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Continued

Chapter Summary

………………… …………………………………………….

10 5

CHAPTER 4: SURVEY FINDINGS ……………………………………………….

106

Respondent Char acteristics …………………………………………………...…

106

What Respondents Kn o w and Do ………………………………………………. 114

Teache rs‟ Perceptions…………… …… …………………… ……………………. 119

Strategies Used in the Classrooms……… ………… …………………………… . 127

Chapter Summary

………………… …………………………………………….

131

CHAPTER 5: INTERVIEW FINDINGS …………………………………………..

133

The Effect of Prior Experiences on Participants‟ Un derstandings About

ELLs

…………… ………………………………………………………………...

134

The Impact of Personal and Foreign Language Experiences on Empathy and Understanding ELLs …………… …………………………………………… 135

Lumping ELLs Together in D iv ersity Education ………………………….

144

The Ultimate P rofessional Development Message : “It Works for

Everybody” .

………………………………………………. …………………. 15 2

Alternative Models of Professional Development on Attitudes Towards

ELLs ………………………………………………………………………………

154

Edith and Charlotte‟s Experiences with SIOP

……………………………

15 4

Mary‟s Experience with NCCAT

………………………………………... ...

1 58

Luke‟s Collaboration with the ESL Sp ecialist……………………………...

160

Focal Participants‟ Recomm endations ……………………………………… 161

8

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Continued

Participants‟ Perceptions about Their Prepara tion Experiences …………….

163

A Lack of Priority in TEPs and Professional Development ……………….

164

A Lack of Quality ……………………………………………………… …….

16 7

Focal Participants ‟ Perceptions of and Knowledge A bout Their ELL

Students

……………………………………………………… ………………….

1 69

Sociolinguistic C onsciousn ess ……………………………………………….

170

Advocacy for ELLs ……………………………………………………… …..

17 2

Chapter Summary …………………………………………… ………………….

17 4

CHAPTER 6: DISCUSSION ……………………………… ………………… ……

17 6

What Do the Study‟s Teachers K now A bout ELLs ?

……… ………………… .. 17 6

How Have the Study‟s Teachers Been P repared for ELLs ? …………………... 178

Lack of Structured Teacher Education

Experiences … …………………….

178

Lack of Quality Experiences in Professional Development ………………... 18 2

How Do the Study‟s Teachers Perceive Their P reparation and Knowledge

Regarding ELLs?

… ….. ………………………………………… ………………. 1 8 5

Promotion of the „Just Good Teaching‟ Myth ……………………………… 186

Missing Components of Teacher Preparation for ELLs ……………………… 188

Sociolinguistic Consciousness ……………………………………… ……….

188

V alue for

Linguistic

Diversi ty ……………………………………………….189

An Inclination for Advocacy …………………………………………… …….. 1 89

9

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Continued

Learning A bout ELL Students‟ Language Backgrounds, Experiences,

and Proficiencies ………………………………………… ………………….

1 9 0

Ap plying Principles of Second Language Acquisition and Identifying

Language Demands for ELLs …………………………………………… …..

19 2

Recommendations for I mproving TEPs and Professional Development …….

192

Continu ing Challenges in North Carolina ………………………………….

194

C ons iderations for Teacher Educators O utside North Carolina ………….

199

Limitations and Areas for Further Study

……………………………………… 199

Conclusion …………………………………….…………………………… ……..

2 08

APPENDIX A: SURVEY INSTRUMENT AND INTERV IEW PROTOCOL …..

2 1 1

APPENDIX B: FACTOR ANALYSIS OF SURVEY ITEMS …………………….

2 2 8

APPENDIX C: CLUSTER ANALYSIS FOR FOCAL PARTICIPANT SELECTION ………………………………………. …………………………….. ….

2 3 7

REFERENCES ……………………………………….………………………………. 2 3 8

10

LIST OF TABLES

TABLE 1: Student Demographic Data by District ……………………………………

81

T ABLE 2: Teacher Demographic Data by District ………………………………...…

82

TABLE 3: Focal Participants‟ Demographic Information …………………………..

101

TABLE 4: Comparison of State, District, & Respondent Demographics …………….. 110

TABLE 5: Comparison of Teacher Education C oursew ork and Respondents‟

P erceptions ... …………………………………… …………………………………….. 117

TABLE 6: ELL Specific Course Work: Respondents‟ Perceptions ………………….

118

TABLE 7: Comparison of Professional Developme nt and Respondents‟ Perceptions. .

12 0

11

ABSTRACT

The North

Carolina Public Schools, like other schools in the southeast, have experienced phenomenal growth in their ELL student populations in the last 15 years. This fairly recent influx of ELL students raises questions about the extent to which the schools, and m ore specifically, the teachers, are prepared to meet the needs of their linguistically diverse students. Unfortunately, few studies to date have investigated how teacher education programs (TEPs) and professional development opportunities are addressing th is aspect of teacher preparation. This dissertation addresses the lack of current research as it pertains to both TEPs and professional development experiences of middle school working in the North Carolina Public Schools. Using a mixed methods design that

combined survey research with open - ended interviews of focal participants, the author revealed that teachers had had limited preparation experiences at both the TEP and professional development levels. However, those who had had these experiences overall did exhibit some capacity to adapt instruction and relate to their ELLs

in positive ways. The preparation, however, also lacked sociolinguistic awareness and awareness about the theoretical foundations that underlie these practices. The author concluded by

relating the findings to the current research and discussed recommendations and implications for TEPs and professional development in North Carolina and the southern context.

12

CHAPTER 1

INTRODUCTION

Nationwide the population of ELLs

continues to e xceed the general population in

U.S. public schools (Kent, 2004; Whittenberg , 2011 ). While ELLs

have been prevalent

historically in immigration gateway states, such as California and Florida, ELL populations are also growing in states without such a history, suc h as North Carolina, Georgia, and Indiana (Batalova, Fix, & Murray, 2007). As Batalova, Fix, and Murray (2007) report:

While it is true that the absolute numbers of ELLs in states like North Carolina are still small compared to those in more traditional re ceiving states such as California, their growth is quite rapid. Fast growth raises important questions about whether these states have the resources and infrastructure to accommodate these students and ensure that the children have adequate academic and la nguage instruction. (p. 24)

The recent influx of immigrant and ELL populations in the North Carolina public schools raise questions about whether the schools can adequately accommodate the diverse linguistic needs of ELLs . For example, are the language p rograms in place sufficient to help ELLs

learn English quickly? Do ELLs

have adequate access to other educational programs and services? Are they allowed access to challenging curricula and provided the resources they need in order to be academically succe ssful? However, infrastructure does not just address the services provided students, but should also address those who work with ELLs . Do school faculty and staff understand the complexity of learning an additional language? Do they know how to accommodate

13

instruction so that ELLs

have access to the curriculum and opportunities to develop their academic language?

One key to addressing these questions is to ensure that the teachers who have ELLs

in their classrooms are adequately prepared to work effectivel y with them. As the ELL population continues to grow across the state, so, too, does the likelihood that teachers will encounter ELLs

in their classrooms. Teacher educators in the state must ensure that preservice and inservice teachers enrolled in their t eacher education programs (TEPs) are prepared to work with this new population of students. In addition, district and school leaders should ensure that teachers in the field are

prepared to work with ELLs

by providing quality professional development for a ll their teachers, too. Unfortunately, national studies have demonstrated time and time again that most teachers working with ELLs

have not received adequate preparation (Ballantyne, 2008; Ballantyne, Sanderman & Levy, 2008; Menken & Antunez, 2001). Many T EPs across the country do not require any courses or field observations specific to the needs of ELLs . Funds for professional development have also been drastically cut; many districts are now spending less than half of one percent of their budgets on prof essional development (Kent 2004). As a result, districts are resulting to in - house efforts that may or may not focus their attentions on ELL education. It seems that preparing teachers to work with their linguistically diverse students has taken a back sea t to other priorities, even though ELLs

continue to lag behind their monolingual English peers on state assessments and continue to drop out of school at numbers higher than any other group (Ballantyne et al .,

2008).

14

Despite the high need for effective te achers for ELLs , few studies have sought to investigate the extent to which teachers are prepared to work with ELLs

and in what contexts, especially in states where ELL populations are fairly new. This study will address the lack of this research by invest igating the extent to which North Carolina teachers have been prepared to meet the needs of their culturally and linguistically diverse students. This study will consider the preparation of teachers in their TEPs and their professional development, because

it is my belief that this responsibility should be shared by both universities that train teachers and the districts that employ them. Specifically, my study will address the following questions:

1.

What do NC middle school teachers know about teaching st udents for

whom English is an additional language?

a.

How does the knowledge of teachers working in districts with high concentrations of ELLs

vary from those who work in districts with

fewer numbers of ELLs ?

b.

How does the knowledge of teachers com pare across other

characteristics of districts (i.e. urban v. rural, large v. small)?

c.

How does the knowledge of teachers compare across subject matter (science, math, social studies, arts, etc.)?

2.

To what extent have NC middle school teachers been pre pared to work

specifically with ELLs?

a.

How have they received their preparation (through coursework at a

local university or district - sponsored workshop, for example)?

15

b.

How much preparation did they receive specific to ELLs

(Credit

hours, days, etc.)?

c.

How

effective do teachers feel their preparation has been?

3.

How do NC middle school teachers perceive their own level of

preparation and knowledge for working with ELL students?

a.

To what extent do teachers‟ perceptions vary across content areas, years

of teaching experience, and formal preparation?

b.

Do teachers believe their preparation for working with ELL students is

sufficient? How does their perception relate to aspects of Question1 and Question2 (For example do teachers who feel they have sufficien t preparation also exhibit the beliefs and knowledge that researchers find in teachers who are able to work effectively with ELLs/immigrant students)?

These questions will address the issue of teacher preparation from multiple perspectives. In order to kno w what teachers need regarding preparation specific to ELLs , one must first identify what they do and do not know. However, it is also important to understand in what ways teachers‟ knowledge about their ELLs

may vary. Once this is understood, one must als o understand how teachers learned what they know. Finally, and most importantly, one must understand to what extent teachers feel adequately prepared to work with their ELLs . All of these questions will help pinpoint how North Carolina TEPs and districts a re or are not preparing teachers for working with ELLs

and will help determine how these institutions can improve the preparation of teachers.

16

Rationale

I have chosen to focus my study on middle school teachers in the North Carolina piedmont, because ELL s

in North Carolina continue to lag behind their peers on standardized assessments across the state, and the gap between ELLs

and non - ELLs

broadens as students move from elementary school to middle and then to high school (Wainer, 200 4 ; Whittenberg, 201 1 ).

Whittenberg (201 1 ) also noted that Latina/o student s , many of whom are classified as ELLs , have the highest drop - out rates in the state of any other racial or ethnic group enrolled in the public schools. Research has increasingly urged that efforts to inc rease graduation rates should target middle school youth, as the transition from middle school to high school is often the determining factor for students who decide to drop out of school (Lys, 2009; Woolly, Kol, & Bowen, 2009). Studies focusing on Latino middle school youth have found that teacher - student relationships are critical for school success in middle school, and that in order to develop these relationships, teachers must be prepared to understand and relate to culturally and linguistically divers e youth (Lys, 2009; Woolley

et al. , 2009). Wenglinsky (200 0 ), in a review of N ational C enter for E ducational S tatistics (NCES)

data, concluded that eighth graders who had teachers with training for working with diverse learners and, in particular ELL stude nts, outperformed those who did not on the NAEP. Teacher preparation does make a difference in the lives of our ELLs , and the issue can no longer be ignored.

The question of teacher preparation for ELLs

is not just a state issue, but a national one as well . Despite the continued increase in the numbers of ELLs

in the

17

schools nationwide, most mainstream teachers, meaning teachers without additional certification or specialization in ESL, ESOL, or bilingual education, have not had adequate training to meet th e demands of teaching culturally and linguistically diverse youth (Ballantyne et al ., 2008; NCES, 200 2 ; Rubinstein - Ávila, 2006; Zehler et al .,

2003). In their roundtable report sponsored by the National Clearinghouse for L anguage Acquisition, Ballantyne, S anderman, and Levy

(2008) found that only 29.5% of teachers with ELLs

in their classrooms had any training specific to working with ELLs , even though 57% of them believed they did not have enough preparation for working with their ELLs . While analysis of c urriculum and course offerings in TEPs is important, it does not provide a complete picture regarding teachers‟ preparation for working with ELLs . Walton, Baca and Escamilla (2002), for example, found that while the most comprehensive preparation regarding

ELLs

for preservice and inservice teachers came from university - based programs, these programs also prepare the least number of teachers; on the other hand, inservice programs prepare the largest number of teachers, but are often the least comprehensive. Therefore, one must not only investigate the preparation provided teachers in TEPs, but also the professional development offered to teachers. NCES statistics also corroborate teachers‟ need for more preparation. In a survey distributed to teachers only 27 % felt that they were sufficiently prepared to meet the needs of their ELLs

in their classrooms (NCES, 200 2 ). Other studies have also concluded that most teachers do not feel adequately prepared to meet the needs of their ELLs

(Reeves, 2006). Yet it is ess ential that mainstream teachers have this preparation,

18

because ELLs

spend most of the instructional day in mainstream, English only classrooms (Harper & de Jong, 2004).

In order to gain a better understanding of how teacher preparation impacts teachers‟ pr actice, researchers should consult with teachers about their experiences, observe their practice and discuss with them their attitudes and beliefs regarding ELLs . This is the only way to truly understand the effectiveness of teacher preparation. After all,

if teachers do not believe they need specific training, no amount of professional development or university courses will make a difference in their practice. Unfortunately, few studies have focused on teachers‟ perceptions and knowledge about ELL students , and even fewer have focused on teachers in southern settings. However, those few studies have found that teachers are resistant to professional development specific to the needs of ELLs , because they believe that they do not need the training (Reeves, 20 04; Wainer, 200 4 ). This study will add to the literature, because it will explore teachers‟ perspectives about their own level of preparedness and their attitudes pertaining to their educational needs for working with ELL students. To study this issue, I w ill use mixed - methods, utilizing a cross - sectional survey research design and an interview design of focal participants.

A mixed methods study incorporating survey research and interviews of focal participants was selected for this study for several reaso ns. The first is that the survey data will provide an understanding of the general context related to teacher preparation in the state of North Carolina by identifying the types of preparation teachers have received and their perceptions about the effectiv eness of these types of preparation. The second is

19

that the survey data has helped me to identify key issues including teachers‟ perceptions about their need for more education specific to the needs of ELLs . Finally, the findings from the survey data has p rovided justification for further study and for a critical analysis of professional development and teacher education programs in the state of North Carolina. The decision to interview focal participants who completed the survey was two - fold: to provide fu rther analysis of the research questions and to provide further context of the survey results. The methods and study design will be addressed in more detail in Chapter 3.

Who are North Carolina‟s ELLs ?

North Carolina is becoming increasingly linguisticall y diverse. Since the early 1990s, North Carolina‟s immigrant population has grown phenomenally. While the majority of immigrants coming into the state are Spanish speakers from Latin America, North Carolina also has one of the largest Hmong populations in the nation (Pfiefer & Lee, n.d.), as well as speakers of other Asian, Indigenous, European and African language groups, many of whom are enrolled in its public schools. In fact, there are over 200 languages besides English represented in the North Carolina

public schools (NC DPI, “Sum of NOM Count”, 2010 ). North Carolina currently has about 9.6% of its population who are speakers of languages other than English in the home, and about 4.6% of its total population reported that they spoke English “less than v ery well” (US Census Bureau, 2005 - 2009). These numbers have increased since the 2000 census report, in which eight percent were speakers of languages other than English and 4% were limited speakers of English. The federal government considers those who sel f - report as Limited English

20

Proficient (LEP). However, these numbers may not accurately reflect the numbers of English learners in the state or in North Carolina‟s public schools. For one thing, these are self - classifications of households, not of individu als. Secondly, the individual‟s interpretation of „less than very well‟ could range from one‟s ability to handle day - to - day tasks in English to one‟s being able to serve as an interpreter for speakers of other languages. Finally, this survey item only asks

about speaking

ability not one‟s literacy skills in English. Therefore, there is often a disconnect between the numbers reported by the U.S. Census and the numbers reported by the North Carolina public schools.

Part of the discrepancy is due to a more st ringent classification system for the ESL program in the state. North Carolina state board of education policy has been greatly influenced by the guidelines set forth by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for serving language minority students, meaning thos e who speak languages other than English outside the classroom. According the 2009 data, North Carolina public schools enrolled 153,963 National Origin Minority (NOM)

students, their term for language minority students, about 11% of the total student enrol lment for the 2009 - 10 school year (NC DPI, 2010b .; NC DPI “Facts and Figures ”, 2009 - 10, n.d. b ). These students include those who are proficient in both English and their first language or in multiple languages as well as those who are in the process of le arning English.

To determine one‟s eligibility for English as a Second Language (ESL) services in North Carolina, one must first determine the NOM‟s proficiency in English in each of the four language domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Cur rently, North Carolina is a member of the World - Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA)

21

Consortium, a consortium made up of 19 states, which, in conjunction with the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) have developed their own standardized Englis h proficiency screening and assessment as well as curriculum guidelines and ability descriptors. The screening procedure is administered upon enrollment and annually to any student who has qualified to receive ESL services until they have been exited from the program. Additional information about the WIDA Consortium is available at their website, http://www.wida.us/ . North Carolina‟s Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) annually conducts a head count across the state of

NOM students who qualify for ESL services or other second language assistance programs. In 2009, the latest data published by the NCDPI, the state had 111,191 students who qualified for ESL services, about 72% of the NOM population for that same year (NCD PI, 2010a ; NCDPI, 2010b ). Students are included in the head count if they are actively being served by the ESL program in their district, or if they qualify but their parents have waived services. Students whose parents refused the initial English proficie ncy screening upon enrollment are not included. This head count is essential for determining the amount of supplemental funding and resources each district, and ultimately each school, is allotted for students who are in the process of learning English. Wh ile North Carolina follows these procedures, ultimately each state may set its own standards for assessing, identifying and serving English learners, making it difficult to compare progress of ELLs

across states and on a national level (García & Kleifgen, 2010).

Just as programmatic decisions can vary across states, so, too, can the labels we use to describe students who are in the process of learning English. The NC DPI and

22

other state agencies use the term Limited English Proficient (LEP) to refer to stud ents who are in the process of learning English and have been identified as eligible for ESL services. LEP is also the preferred term for reporting to federal agencies as well. This term, however, has been highly criticized for taking a deficit approach t o language learners by focusing on what students lack in English, and ignoring their linguistic resources in their first language (García & Kleifgen, 2010; Nieto & Bode, 2008; Salomone, 2010). For the purposes of this dissertation, I have referred to stude nts who use another language outside of school, but are in the process of also acquiring English as English language learners

( ELLs ). This term is becoming more widely used across the state and is commonly used nationwide as well. I chose to use this term because of the negative connotations associated with LEP and my desire to support a more positive perspective of students who are learning English. Teachers in North Carolina have become more familiar with ELLs

as well, and the term is even utilized on the

state‟s ESL Department website. Even so, I defined the term ELL throughout my survey to ensure that teachers understood which students I wanted them to focus on. More recently the term ELL has been changed to EL, or English Learner, and this term is becom ing more prevalent in the literature. However, the terms ELL and EL are not without contention. These terms are criticized for their emphasis on developing English rather than developing students‟ abilities in both their home and second languages. For this

Full document contains 249 pages
Abstract: The North Carolina Public Schools, like other schools in the southeast, have experienced phenomenal growth in their ELL student populations in the last 15 years. This fairly recent influx of ELL students raises questions about the extent to which the schools, and more specifically, the teachers, are prepared to meet the needs of their linguistically diverse students. Unfortunately, few studies to date have investigated how teacher education programs (TEPs) and professional development opportunities are addressing this aspect of teacher preparation. This dissertation addresses the lack of current research as it pertains to both TEPs and professional development experiences of middle school working in the North Carolina Public Schools. Using a mixed methods design that combined survey research with open-ended interviews of focal participants, the author revealed that teachers had had limited preparation experiences at both the TEP and professional development levels. However, those who had had these experiences overall did exhibit some capacity to adapt instruction and relate to their ELLs in positive ways. The preparation, however, also lacked sociolinguistic awareness and awareness about the theoretical foundations that underlie these practices. The author concluded by relating the findings to the current research and discussed recommendations and implications for TEPs and professional development in North Carolina and the southern context.