Successful Methods and Pedagogical Techniques Used by ESL Teachers in the Classroom; A Pilot Study

Kicking around an idea for this semester's pilot study leading into my dissertation topic. Still looking at cultural competency, but looking more through the lens of the successful ESL teacher. Here's what I have so far. Let me know what you think.. work in progress..always is :)

The purpose of this pilot study is to identify successful strategies and pedagogical techniques used by ESL teachers in their classrooms. In greater detail, this study is designed to investigate specific methods which ESL instructors incorporate as part of their lesson planning to engage their students. The research gathering strategies used for this study will consist of interviews with teachers and students, observations, and a short narrative from each teacher describing their favorite strategy. This study will be based on the constructivist design while applying the framework of critical reflexivity, which requires teachers to examine how their past experiences have shaped their ideas on their roles and responsibilities as teachers. This framework has been shaped by several prominent educational researchers.

Research Problem
            Classrooms across the United States are becoming more diverse. While a number of cities, such as Miami, Los Angeles, El Paso, and Phoenix have enjoyed a long transition into diversity, some areas of the country are not. One such area is the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. While other northern regions in the state enjoy diverse learning communities, the percentages of Hispanic and Asian students in Hampton Roads schools are still low. For example, the most recent demographic of the Newport News school system shows only 9.9% Hispanic students, and 2.9% Asian (2010). By comparison, in the city of Alexandria, these percentages are 30.7 and 5.0, respectively (2010).
 However, the percentages of minority students in the Hampton Roads region are rising and will continue to do so. To continue preparing for this change in demographics, school systems in southeastern Virginia will need to hire more ESL teachers in the near future. Currently, there are very few ESL teachers in the area. An inquiry to one school system with four high schools, seven middle schools and 24 elementary schools elicited a response that there were 3-4 ESL teachers currently employed in the entire system – one for each level.
At this time, it is not believed that any research has been conducted on the expected growth of Hispanic and Asian students to this region. There is also little evidence of any planning for this shift in demographics at the regional level. The intention is to examine the situation in one school system. By examining a locality with only several teachers, I intend to capture the essence of what is working. These results will be compared to results in a larger study, which will be conducted in a larger school system, probably in Northern Virginia. By identifying the successful methods and techniques which are brought into the classroom by ESL teachers in more diverse regions, the objective as a researcher is to make comparisons to the methods and techniques used by teachers in the Hampton Roads and determine which methods and background techniques are working successfully. This information can be presented to school administrators who will be in the position to seek and retain successful ESL teachers in the next several years.

ispanic, Asian Hiper

Purpose Statement
            Ladson-Billings (1995) notes the importance of cultural competency in the classroom by stating that “not only must teachers encourage academic success and cultural competence, they must help students to recognize, understand, and critique current social inequities.” (p. 476)
                        Studies have shown that because of the conflict with language understanding, literacy can be gained with ESL students by making the topic in literacy relevant to the student’s life and interests (Smallwood, 1998; Singleton, 2000). Keeping the participatory approach conceived in the Frierian model of ESL curriculum in mind, other educators have developed multi-step plans to help ESL language learners develop better command of the English language (Rominski & Vazquez, 1997; Frederick & Huss-Lederman, 1998). Some of these techniques have been emulated at the school system level (NYCBE, 1997).
            Some of these programs and techniques concentrate on the reading aspect of learning English, while others make the transition to putting the newly learned material into writing form. As noted by Bello (1997), “by integrating writing with content at every level of instruction, teachers help learners find their own voices in their new language and develop the ability to communicate effectively in different contexts and with different audiences.” (ERIC DIGEST, p.5). While translating to a new language, it is imperative to note that teachers are responsible to be aware of their studentsperceptions of what helps them progress and somehow to incorporate these perceptions into their teaching (Diab, p. 40).

            While ESL teaching is unique, many of the methods and techniques used by these teachers could fall under the larger framework of cultural competency. According to Ladson-Billings (2008), “culturally relevant teaching must meet three criteria: an ability to develop students academically, willingness to nurture and support cultural competence, and the development of a sociopolitical or critical consciousness.” (p. 483)

            My previous research has focused on topics relating to cultural competency issues for teachers, and the culturally competent characteristics exhibited by high school coaches. My intention with this study is to identify positive methods used by ESL teachers to communicate with their students.

Research Question
            My main research question for this study will be:
·         What are the personal and pedagogical characteristics specifically focused toward teaching ESL students? (compared to a traditional classroom teacher)

Interview Questions
      Questions to be used for each teacher (8-10) will include the following:

  • ·         Tell me why you became an ESL teacher. (Warm-Up – should provide some personal background)
  • ·         Describe a typical day in your school (Warm-Up – might help to shed light on how school system/Title III funding affects one’s job)
  • ·         Describe the classroom methods or strategies that you use to teach ESL students?
  • ·         What role does resources play in helping you develop lesson plans to teach ESL students?
  • ·         How do you use the resources available to you to teach ESL students in your classroom?
  • ·         Do you think your school system properly provide you with the necessary resources to work in an ESL classroom? (is improvisation important?)
  • ·         Do you think there are differences between the classroom needs of ESL students and students for whom English is a first language?
  • ·         Do you think that your cultural and social background plays a role in the classroom? Why or why not?
  • ·         What is your favorite lesson to teach to ESL students? (can ask…might be more for background)
  • ·         What is the greatest challenge you face as an ESL teacher?
  • ·         What are some of the ways you work to overcome this challenge?
  • ·         What are some of the ways that you utilize the course curriculum? Is there room for creativity and thinking “outside of the box?” Give me some examples.
  • ·         How would your students describe you as a teacher?

The data gathered from the answers to these questions is intended to lead to potentially relevant follow-up questions and provide the subjects an opportunity to reflect before making further comments, either in oral or written form. Because this is a pilot study, I will probably not have follow-up questions.
The other part of my fact-finding strategy is to conduct a 30-45 minute observation of each teacher in class. The purpose is to see him/her put the methods described into practice.

Bello, T. (1997). Improving ESL Learners’ Writing Skills, ERIC Digest. Washington, DC:
 National Clearinghouse for ESL Literary Education.
Demographic data (2011), Hampton City Schools. Retrieved from http://sbo.hampton.k12.va.us.
Demographic statistics (2010-2011), Alexandria City Public Schools, Retrieved from
Diab, R. (2005). Teachers’ and students’ beliefs about responding to ESL writing: A case study.
            TESL Canada Journal, 23, 1, pp. 28-43.
Frederick, C. & Huss-Lederman, S. (1998). The Participatory Approach to Workplace and
 Vocational ESL. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Hoang-Thu, T. (2010). Teaching Culture in the EFL/ESL Classroom. Presented at The Los
            Angeles Regional California Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages,
            Fullerton, CA.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant
            pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 34, 3, pp. 159-165.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2008). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American
 Educational Research Association, 32, 3, pp. 465-491.
New York City Board of Education. (1997). STARS for ESL. Strategies, Techniques and
            Resources: Meeting Higher Standards in Grades 6-8.
Rominski, C. & Vazquez, M. (1997). Improving Reading and Writing Skills of Mainstreamed
 ESL Students. M.A. Research Project, Saint Xavier University and IRI/Skylight.
Singleton, K. (2000). Teaching Literacy Students in Your ESL Class. Presented at the Virginia
            Adult Institute for Lifelong Learning – English as a Second Language (VAILL-ESL)
Smallwood, B.A. (1998). Staff Training for Alexandria Head Start in ESL Methodology.
            Alexandria Early Childhood Commission.