- Video-mediated teacher collaborative inquiry: Focus on English language learners
High school teachers today work in challenging, high-accountability instructional environments (Giles & Hargreaves, 2006), striving to meet the needs of upwards of 100 learners per day. Rapidly growing numbers of English-language learners (ELLs) in U.S. classrooms have added to these pressures. Rather than using collaborative structures to face these challenges, the structure of departmentalization too often results in content-area high school teachers working in isolation from one another (Grossman, Wineburg & Woolworth, 2001; McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001). This means that English as a Second Language (ESL) specialists, as well as other teachers of ELLs, have few if any formal structures for peer interaction across disciplines. Professional development for ELLs, when available, is still too frequently delivered in decontextualized, “one-off” sessions with little follow-up (Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, & Driscoll, 2005). This conflicts with the literature on best practices in professional development, which has shown, instead, how it should (1) parallel local initiatives, standards, and teachers’ own professional goals; (2) focus on the content and methods teachers use in their classrooms; (3) be sustained over time; (4) occur on-site in schools and/or in teachers’ own classrooms; (5) involve collective participation of peers and colleagues; and (6) provide numerous opportunities for active learning (Ballantyne, Sanderman & Levy, 2008; DuFour, Eaker & DuFour, 2005; Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman & Yoon, 2001; González & Darling-Hammond, 1997; Merriam & Caffarella, 1998; Wenger, 1999).
Aligned with these conditions of high quality, meaningful professional learning, a teacher educator, alongside content and ESL teachers at one urban high school, came together in a collaborative inquiry cycle to explore ways of improving their ELL instruction. The intent of this paper is to share outcomes of this teacher-led collaboration, which combined two powerful tools in professional learning–teacher-collaborative inquiry and video analysis of teaching–as a means to focus teachers across content areas on ELL pedagogy.
Review of Literature
Teacher preparation for ELL instruction
Growing consensus in the study of effective instructional practices for ELLs suggests that content teachers who are highly effective in teaching ELLs possess dispositions, skills and [End Page 49] knowledge that enable them to meet both the content-area learning needs as well as the language development needs of their ELL students. This expertise is more specialized than “just good teaching” (deJong & Harper, 2005; Faltis, Arias & Ramírez-Marín, 2010; Fradd & Lee, 1998). Teachers need to reference both content knowledge of their subject area (e.g. mathematics, science, literature) as well as their pedagogical knowledge (e.g., of classrooms and learner behavior) to develop their pedagogical content knowledge (Ball & McDiarmid, 1990; Cochran, 1993; Freeman & Johnson, 1998). Lucas and Villegas (2011) identified key knowledge, dispositions, and skills of this pedagogical content knowledge base for mainstream teacher preparation for ELLs such as an understanding of the processes of second language acquisition, the recognition of the role of language in completing academic tasks, and scaffolding instruction to provide access to content-area learning.
Despite this evidence, and their large and growing population, most ELLs do not receive instruction from teachers who have been prepared to support their needs (Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, & Rumberger, 2008; Menken & Antunez, 2001). On-the-job professional development targeted for ELLs also falls short. A study conducted by Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, and Driscoll (2005), with more than 5,000 California teachers, showed that 43% of teachers with 50% or more ELLs had received no more than one in-service workshop on the instruction of ELLs. Another important finding from this research was that when they did occur, these professional development workshops on ELLs were frequently of poor quality. Teachers surveyed cited the lack of presenter experience with ELLs and lack of follow-up as major concerns.
The departmentalization of secondary schools is another factor that may prohibit opportunities for professional learning about ELL instruction, as content teachers have limited interaction with ESL teachers. Although schools are mandated to provide ESL instruction to their ELLs, content and ESL teachers usually do not coordinate instructional planning. Research on the instructional planning and teaching that occurs between ESL and classroom teachers has shown...