My inquiry question is ¨What are effective strategies to accommodate English Language Learners` integration in the classroom?¨. This question has come up based on observations both in my practicum school and in other school visits, where I have been wondering how included ELLs feel in classes. Because I noticed little obvious differentiation of instruction, I became curious to what extent teachers consider ELL students when planning lessons. I am interested in investigating strategies that go beyond simply having a language support teacher present in the room during class, or separate ELL groups where class work is reiterated. My interest is in strategies that consider the class as a whole, where language abilities of ELLs and non-ELLs alike must be taught to.
The value of inclusion is the major motivation behind my interest in this subject. I think that fostering a sense of community in the classroom is one of my primary goals as a teacher, and I am concerned about the ability for all students to participate. For me, seeing that a student is unable to participate and feel included by their peers is problematic. I often struggled to feel included as a young student, so this is why it is an important issue for me.
I am connected to this topic in two important ways. Firstly, as a teacher of English as a Second Language for several years, I became acutely aware of the discomfort and insecurities that students have when functioning in a second language. I saw that a huge part of success in ESL had little to do with technical proficiency in the language, and much more to do with how students were able to perform in challenging environments. I was as much a teacher of English as I was a coach who bolstered confidence and encouraged risk-taking. I saw countless instances where students became completely discouraged because of challenging situations where they were left feeling inadequate. Secondly, on a more personal note, I myself had to learn and function in Spanish for several years and felt firsthand the same challenges that my students had. It was eye-opening for me to see how in some situations I felt completely comfortable expressing myself in a second language, while in others I felt insecure, hesitant, and self-conscious. These experiences have made me sensitive to the kinds of feelings that ELL students might be having during class, while their non-ELL classmates, and possibly their teacher, might be completely unaware.
This inquiry question is a significant one for me and other teachers I believe because of the increasing number of ELL students appearing in classrooms. While the issue may not be a crucial one now, I am sure that in the near future it will be. I also think that this is a significant question because it relates to how teachers care for and empathize with their students. I have a hunch that a well-strategized class can include ELL students in an unobtrusive way, to the extent that differentiation occurs undetectably. I also suspect that in making a classroom more inclusive for ELL students, it can become more inclusive for all students, making it beneficial for everyone.
I will be drawing on a number of articles and research papers in my inquiry, but my focus will be on academic writing and studies that have been done with extensive research. I will look at the BC Ministry of Education`s policy on ELL students to see what pressures this may or may not put on teachers. I am not interested in `softer` sources such as blogs or non-academic articles that might offer ¨10 Great Activities to Include Your ELL Students¨. I am looking for researched theories on educational strategies that, when compiled, might give me some substantial insight into this topic.
I believe that my inquiry will be slightly more general than other writers` similar questions because of the fact that I am interested in what these strategies might look like in an elementary classroom. Research that I have seen until now has divided this topic based on subjects, especially mathematics. In my case, I am interested in strategies that apply to all the subjects taught at my grade level, and so I will be looking at research that in all subject areas. I also think that my inquiry is largely concerned with the emotional side of inclusion, and less so with academic performance.
I am expecting to find a large number of different theories and strategies, and a significant amount of discord among them. Also as I mentioned previously, I am already seeing a division in the research with mathematics being a stand alone. This is logical being that mathematics is considered to be a language on its own, so it stands to reason that it is often treated as a special context for ELL inclusion. I have the suspicion that I might come across strategies that are culturally specific, and that only apply to ELLs from certain cultural groups. I hope to find some effective cross-curricular strategies that will have real meaning for me as a teacher. While I am aware that there is no one answer for this kind of question, I hope that my investigation will bring out new ideas for me, and hopefully help me create my own strategies. I am also open to the fact that my inquiry question might change as I learn more.
This inquiry will bring me a great deal of practical learning. I fully expect to learn things through my inquiry that I can put into practice teaching classes with ELL students. This inquiry is meaningful to me because it will make me a better teacher. Despite the fact that I feel empathy for the ELL students in the class, in the last lesson that I gave, I realized by the end of it that I had overlooked those students who have difficulty with English. My learning in pursuing this inquiry will probably lead to ideas of inclusion and teaching as a general concept and make me see teaching in new ways.