ERIC Identifier: ED447723
Publication Date: 2000-11-00
Author: Clair, Nancy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Teaching Educators about Language: Principles, Structures, and
Challenges. ERIC Digest.
The promise of education reform is that all children will receive a quality
education. But there are enormous challenges to reform, including resource
inequities, an aging teaching force, and public doubts about school
effectiveness. Moreover, school reform policies place enormous strain on
teachers and students: Teachers need to implement new curricula and ensure that
they are providing appropriate instruction. Students--including English language
learners--must learn challenging content and pass statewide assessments in order
to graduate in many states.
These new demands coincide with the well-documented changing face of the U.S.
student population. More teachers are responsible for the education of children
from diverse backgrounds--children who speak little or no English upon arrival
at school, children who may have had interrupted schooling in their home
country, and children whose families may have had little exposure to the norms
of U.S. schools. In general, the U.S. teaching force is not well prepared to
help culturally diverse children succeed academically and socially, because
pre-service teacher preparation programs have not offered sufficient
opportunities for learning to teach culturally diverse students. As a result,
many teachers have been learning on the job (Clair, 1995).
Fillmore and Snow (2000) assert that teachers need an understanding of
educational linguistics--how language impacts teaching and learning--to do their
work well. They argue that knowledge about language will enhance teachers'
practice in general, and in particular, it will aid them in teaching literacy
(Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998) and in working with English language learners
(August & Hakuta, 1998). This Digest focuses on principles and structures
for professional development of practicing teachers that can help them gain the
knowledge they need about language and on some challenges to overcome for
providing good professional development opportunities.
LANGUAGE: A CENTRAL COMPONENT OF TEACHERS' WORK
and Snow (2000) distinguish five teacher functions in which language is central.
Teachers are communicators: They need to be able to communicate effectively and
have strategies for understanding what students are saying. Teachers are
educators: They are responsible for subject area instruction. They must also
select educational materials and provide learning opportunities that promote
second language acquisition for students who are learning English and that
promote language development for native English speakers. They need to be able
to distinguish language behavior that is developmentally predictable from that
which is not and provide appropriate instructional intervention. Teachers are
evaluators and their decisions have important consequences for students. There
are far too many instances of students being placed in inappropriate educational
programs because judgments of ability are influenced by misunderstandings of
language behavior. Teachers are educated people: Information about language is
essential to being a literate member of society. Teachers are agents of
socialization. They play a central role in socializing children to the norms,
beliefs, and communication patterns of school--and for immigrant children and
native-born children from non-majority backgrounds, to the patterns of
mainstream U.S. culture. Basic knowledge about language and culture and how
these systems can vary is fundamental to helping diverse students succeed in
Fillmore and Snow (2000) suggest that teachers should have knowledge of a
number of topics regarding oral and written language, including the basic units
of language, regular and irregular forms in English, vocabulary development,
dialect regularity, academic English, language acquisition, the complexity of
English spelling, patterns of rhetorical structure, quality and correctness in
writing, and text comprehensibility. They suggest courses or course components
that would allow teachers to learn essential information about language:
language and linguistics, language and cultural diversity, sociolinguistics for
educators in a linguistically diverse society, language development, second
language teaching and learning, the language of academic discourse, and text
analysis in educational settings.
What kinds of professional
development experiences can help practicing teachers learn more about language
and apply that knowledge to improving classroom practice? Clearly, short-term
professional development experiences are inadequate: Teaching and learning are
complex, and teachers need time to learn and experiment with new concepts in the
classroom, just as their students do. Principles of effective teaching and
learning for students extend to effective professional development for teachers
(Rueda, 1998). To be successful, professional development must be long term, and
it must incorporate opportunities for learning that center on teachers and
students. Hawley and Valli (1999) suggest eight principles of effective
professional development: It should be driven by an analysis of teachers' goals
and student performance; it should involve teachers in the identification of
what they need to learn; it should be school based; it should be organized
around collaborative problem solving; it should be continuous and adequately
supported; it should be information rich; it should include opportunities for
the development of theoretical understanding; and it should be part of a
comprehensive change process. Because in-service teacher education on language
in teaching and learning must address teachers' attitudes toward language and
toward students who speak languages other than English and dialects other than
Standard English, it calls for extensive commitments of time. Teachers need time
to reflect on the meaning of education in a pluralistic society, on the
relationships between teachers and learners, and on social attitudes about
language and culture that affect students (Clair, 1998; Gonzalez & Darling-Hammond, 1997).
There are a number of professional development structures that can
incorporate these principles, including teacher networks and collaboratives
(Renyi, 1996), university-school partnerships (Darling-Hammond, 1994), action
research groups (Check, 1997), and teacher study groups (Clair, 1998). What
these structures have in common are opportunities for teachers to learn together
in coherent and sustained ways.
CHALLENGES FOR IMPROVING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
opportunities for teachers to learn about language must link three essential
elements: principles of effective professional development, appropriate content,
and skilled professional developers. Integrating these elements presents
significant challenges. First, understandings of effective professional
development have changed much faster than practice. Many professional
development experiences continue to be short term and disconnected from the
reality of teachers' work. Second, under pressure to raise test scores,
administrators and other educators may have trouble understanding how knowledge
about language will help students succeed in school. Finally, identifying
qualified professional developers with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes
necessary to provide effective professional development on educational
linguistics is daunting. These professionals need to have extensive knowledge
about language and school reform and experience providing long-term professional
development in schools. One way to overcome this challenge is teaming school
personnel who provide professional development with university faculty or others
with expertise in applied linguistics. Working together in schools, these teams
can explore how language affects learning in particular contexts and build
knowledge about language and education.
The demands of school reform and the changing
face of the U.S. student population require that all teachers learn more about
the role of language in teaching and learning. This knowledge can enhance their
practice overall, improving their ability to teach literacy, and it can increase
their effectiveness with students who speak languages other than English and
dialects other than Standard English. Long-term professional development that
views teacher and student learning as paramount must play a central role. The
challenges are real but worth confronting, because high-quality education
demands a well-educated teaching force.
August, D., & Hakuta, K. (Eds.) (1998).
"Educating language minority children." Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Check, J. (1997). Teacher research as powerful professional development.
"Harvard Education Letter, 13," 6-8.
Clair, N. (1995). Mainstream teachers and ESL students. "TESOL Quarterly 29,"
Clair, N. (1998). Teacher study groups: Persistent questions in a promising
approach. "TESOL Quarterly 32," 465-492.
Darling-Hammond, L. (1994). Developing professional development schools:
Early lessons, challenge, and promise. In L. Darling-Hammond (Ed.),
"Professional development schools: Schools for developing a profession" (pp.
1-27). New York: Teachers College Press.
Fillmore, L.W., & Snow, C. (2000). "What teachers need to know about
language." [On-line]. Available: http://www.cal.org/ericcll/teachers.pdf%20
Gonzalez, J.M., & Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). "New concepts for new
challenges: Professional development for immigrant youth." McHenry, IL, and
Washington, DC: Delta Systems and Center for Applied Linguistics.
Hawley, W.D., & Valli, L. (1999). The essentials of effective
professional development. In L. Darling-Hammond & G. Sykes (Eds.), "Teaching
as the learning profession: Handbook of policy and practice" (pp. 127-150). San
Renyi, J. (1996). "Teachers take charge of their learning: Transforming
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the Improvement of Education.
Rueda, R. (1998). "Standards for professional development: A sociocultural
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Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence.
Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). "Preventing
reading difficulties in young children." Washington, DC: National Academy Press.