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Jim Carter
EDCI 5549-Practicum in TESOL
Lesson Topic: Reading (Pull-out)
Lesson Date:  June 22, 2011
Lesson Time:  9:00 - 10:00 a.m.

Journal Entry #12

2. How did your teaching demonstrate an understanding of language as a system?

            Today, we focused on additional stories from the mystery book provided by Ms. Perkins for reading for comprehension and understanding.  I started out with a debriefing with my students.  I asked them if they thought yesterday was helpful, boring, or fun.  And they (thank goodness) said helpful and fun.  We reviewed the vocabulary list from yesterday’s stories, and it appears that they have basically learned these words.

            Instead of the students reading aloud today, I tried two new practices using the same type of stories.  The first story, I read to them to test listening.  They didn’t have a copy of the story, they simply had to listen.  Compared to yesterday, they did better with me reading than them reading aloud.  We answered the questions and moved quickly to the next part of the assignment. 

            For the next part, I asked the students to read on their own.  I got a look of displeasure from a couple of them, so I asked them why they didn’t like it.  They said it was harder to understand, because sometimes they don’t know the words.  We discussed what they should do when they come across a word they don’t know.  Their responses ranged from asking a teacher, looking in the dictionary or just try to figure it out (context).  I told them those were all good ways.  I told them to underline any word they didn’t know and I’d help them after they were completely through reading.

            It took them at least twice as long to get through the passage.  Then, much to their chagrin, I told them to write their answers on the back.  This proved to be a very big challenge.  They went from their easiest method of teacher reading and group discussion to individual reading and written response.  I supervised and answered questions for them as they proceeded, but it was obvious that if this were a test, they collectively would not pass. 

            The questions were the same type they’d been exposed to orally for three previous attempts.  This time, however, they were much more cautious with their answers.  Fear and trepidation were obvious.  I remained available to assist, but they forged ahead, seemingly determined to try to answer the questions.  As I watched, I could see them thinking about spelling, mechanics and correctness. 

            After a little more than 10 minutes, I told them to come back to the circle, even if they weren’t done.  Instead of discussing the answers, I asked them how this assignment made them feel.  Their responses varied to “We do this all the time in school,” to “It’s a lot harder to write answers.”  I asked if the story was easy to understand.  Their response was yes, but it took longer.  Finally I asked them what words they underlined.  The similarities in their answers were astounding.  So, we added “narrowed,” “niece,” “supper,” and “puzzled” to our vocabulary list.

            I tried to use contextual clues to define “narrowed,” and I also indicated parts of speech.  They figured out that it was an antonym of the word “widened” after our chat.  I couldn’t think of an uncomplicated way to explain niece, so I used their native tongue.  I asked them if they knew “neita,” which they did.  I asked them if they knew that just like in Spanish, there’s a different word for a boy version of niece, which none could discern “nephew.”  So, we added both of those words as a pair. 

            I felt remarkably upbeat after our two days of reading together.  I feel I know the direction we can head in the next four weeks.  I also feel that they’re teachable and eager, which I find to be a pleasing combination.  I am now scouring some educational resource materials looking for more reading comprehension activities, as I don’t want to rely solely on one method.  I also want to start focusing a bit on grammar, to see where they rate with their syntax.



Mohammed Alkathiri
EDCI 5549 Practicum in TESOL

Lesson: Listening & Speaking I
Time: 1:45 – 3:00pm
Date: 06 - 16 -11

Journal Entry 8

                                                                                              3. How did you help students to develop both social and academic language?

            It is really interesting when you walk into a classroom in the United States with the mindset that you will be witnessing an English class and instead you find that all of the students are speaking the same language, and it is not English.  Even for the students, they likely did not expect to come halfway across the country and find that all of the people in the class are Saudis. 

            I almost feel bad for the instructor because she is the only one who does not speak Arabic in that classroom.  She has stated several times to the students that English is the only language to be used in the classroom.  If I were the instructor I would have the same rule.  It is common sense for the classroom to be all English because it is an intensive language program.  The problem is getting the students to follow this rule.

            When one student has a question, it is easier for them to ask their neighbor for help than it would be to figure out the question in English and ask it to the teacher.  This causes a disruption in the class because the teacher must stop what she is doing and ask the students not to talk among themselves in Arabic.  This causes the class to get behind and makes the teacher really frustrated. 

            The students also put me in a difficult situation.  The teacher asked me to participate in one of the activities.  During the activity, the students would ask me what something meant, in Arabic.  I would have to explain to them, in English, that we are only going to speak English in the classroom.  It is difficult for me because I can understand them and can easily answer their question in Arabic, but at the same time I want them to use their English.  I want to help them understand what they are learning and I also want them to understand that they need to speak English in order to really learn it. 

            I support what the instructor is doing and what her goals are.  I agree that English should be the only language spoken in the classroom.  I am sticking with her on this.  It is difficult to do at times, but when I feel the urge to explain something to them, I pause and remind myself that by making it too easy for them, I am actually hurting them more than helping them. 

            The students next semester will of course not be with as many classmates from their country.  There will be more students in the fall and they will have to learn to communicate in English with other people because there is no other option.  The sooner that they get used to it, the more successful they will be.  When they reach the academic level, there will be no one there to help them with simple grammar questions, even if they do ask in English.

            This situation reminds me of a few people I know that are international students.  They did not take full advantage of the ESL courses that they were in.  After class, they all got together and did their homework, helping each other in their own language.  They would only spend time with others of their language.  They never spent much time practicing their English.  Now that they are in academic courses, they are struggling.  They are even struggling with everyday interactions outside of school when they have to use English.  This proves to me that it is essential for the students to use their English, no matter how limited, as much as possible while they are in the ESL program so that they can achieve a high speaking level. 


Term Paper: EDCI 5549 Reflections

Adam M. Shoemaker

University of Missouri Kansas City

EDCI 5549 Dr. Michael Wei


I first began teaching ESL in June of 1998, so to date I’ve been in the field of ESOL for seventeen years. Considering that I am just now completing my masters in TESOL, this means that a considerable part of my teaching experience – nearly fifteen years - was gained before my formal exposure to the classes and concepts I’ve been studying at the School of Education over the past two years. Although I may have been much better off as an ESOL teacher by having completed my TESOL program before starting my teaching career, I think that my unintended reverse approach has, in a quite tangible way, served as an invaluable complement to my academic studies. While students in the TESOL program who do not yet have teaching experience are struggling to internalize sometimes abstract concepts of pedagogy, linguistics and research and are imagining how these concepts will contribute to and help define their future teaching, I have found more often than not that those same concepts are immediately and usefully clear and understandable when learned within the context of my years in the ESOL classroom – for nearly every topic in each class I have studied in the TESOL program, there has been an ESOL class, a lesson, an activity or a student situation which has provided a clarifying and grounding connection. In this paper, I will highlight a selection of these connections and how my experience in the MA-TESOL program has contributed to my development as an ESOL instructor.


Theory of Learning and Teaching

One captivating aspect of having taught for many years before entering the MA-TESOL program has been the experience of learning terms, theories, concepts and names of people which finally bring clarity and insight to vague impressions from my teaching experience of what works and doesn’t work for student learning, of what makes students actively involved and vested in the work they are doing, or listless and bored. One dynamic which I noticed straightaway in teaching ESOL was that when a class is more about me talking and the students listening, the class is quiet, and not much learning seems to be taking place, but when I would put the onus on the students to do most of the talking, discussing and explaining, and I stepped back to a more facilitative, less teacher-centric role, the students were highly engaged, and they seemed to demonstrate deeper understanding and ability in English. It was wonderful, then, to discover that there was a theory of learning underlying this phenomenon, the social-constructivist theory of learning, developed by Lev Vygotsky, which helped clarify and define the dynamic of active, engaged learning I had identified in my earlier ESOL classes.

Lev Vygotsky, of course, is a name that will likely come up for most, if not all, ESOL instructors in relation to a theory which has become part of their teaching. Most instructors, I think, highlight the scaffolding aspect of Vygotsky’s theories, and instructors typically relate scaffolding to the ways in which an instructor is able to conduct a lesson within a student’s zone of proximal development in order to bring the student’s learning to a level higher than that which the student would be able to do on his or her own. This is certainly important, but only one aspect of the theory of social constructivism. I think what has been more impactful to the development of my own ideas of teaching is Vygotsky’s broader social constructivist conceptualization of learning, as captured, for example, in this passage:

Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological), and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relations between human individuals. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 57)

The theory woven into this core passage is, as I interpret it, that learning takes place through active, social, collaborative interaction with others, and it is through this interaction that the knowledge, skills and/or understanding, which initially exist outside of the students in our classroom, is internalized. Certainly scaffolding by the instructor is part of this learning dynamic, but only one part. The collaborative, student-centered discussions which I had observed in the more engaging and successful lessons were also social-constructivist-learning events, opportunities for students to actively share, process and internalize the topic being worked on, especially considering that English, a language, is something to be put to active use for communication, not something to simply listen to another person explain about.

            Regarding my theory of teaching, much of my approach is directly driven by the above theory of social-constructivist learning because teaching and learning, following the social constructivist theory, are intimately interwoven – that is, “teaching” is not something that I first do independently, which then results in students absorbing what I have “taught”; rather, teaching is introducing whatever catalyst will best stimulate and deepen student-centered, active construction of knowledge. Whatever I do in the classroom role of what is traditionally labeled ‘teacher’ should be targeted at creating a classroom environment in which my approach, my methods and my specific techniques and activities lead the students to be actively and collaboratively thinking, sharing, discussing and, ultimately, constructing their own knowledge of the topic that I have introduced to the classroom.

In this sense, then, another core theory – again, a theory more focused on how learning works, but one which can therefore usefully inform how teaching should work – is David Ausubel’s Subsumption Theory (e. g., Brown, 2007, pp. 91-97). The central takeaway from Ausubel’s theory for my own teaching is that ESOL student learning, no matter what is being learned, must be meaningful learning, not isolated, rote learning. What does this mean? It means that what is being learned needs to be connected in each student’s understanding to his or her own cognitive style, to his or her background knowledge and/or experience. It is through such connections that knowledge moves from an initially abstract concept to a concrete, applicable idea grounded in meaning that makes sense to the particular student in question. How does such learning take place? Again, since each student needs to have his or her own specifically acceptable and appropriate understanding of what is being learned in order for it to be successfully integrated into current knowledge and understanding, students must be given the opportunity to negotiate and develop this meaning, and this happens through the social-constructivist type collaborative interaction described in Vygotsky’s ideas.


What an ESOL Teacher Must Know

            Regarding what an ESL instructor needs to know, it occurred to me while writing this paper, during the course of this practicum class, that the practicum observations themselves are excellent opportunities to observe firsthand what types of knowledge are essential for the ESOL instructor to possess. This has happened from two directions: first, by viewing teacher-related aspects of ESOL classes which have contributed to developing an effective classroom environment, I’ve been able to identify important areas of teacher knowledge – in other words, through positive evidence of seeing what type of knowledge brought benefit to the classroom environment. Second, in viewing significant problems in the class caused by a lack of particular knowledge, I’ve also been able to identify important knowledge – in other words, negative evidence has suggested what type of teacher knowledge would have helped avoid certain problems, through seeing what didn’t work as a result of something missing from the instructor’s knowledge. Though there are certainly many, I’d like to share two areas of knowledge which I feel that an ESOL instructor must have, two areas which I’ve noticed both positively, as knowledge which an instructor put to good use, and negatively, as knowledge which another instructor was missing, and which thus detracted from the classroom dynamic.

            The first and likely most obvious area of knowledge to mention is knowledge of the subject matter itself, the English language. This, I think, is especially important for the native-English-speaking ESOL instructor. ESOL students, much as students of any foreign or second language, traditionally believe that native speakers are the best instructors, as such instructors are fluent in the language they are teaching. A potential problem, however, is that being able to do something fluently does not automatically translate to being able to teach others how to do that same something. For native English speakers, having acquired English as a first language, and thus as children, ‘knowledge’ of English is likely procedural knowledge, or implicit, difficult-to-verbalize knowledge of language. English simply comes out fluently for native speakers, often without any accompanying declarative knowledge which an ESOL teacher can share with an ESOL student to help her develop her own interlanguage, or personal understanding, of what English is and how it works. In this way, non-native-English-speaking teachers, or NNESTs, potentially have a great advantage in this area of knowledge over native-English-speaking instructors in that, through having most typically learned their English as adults, and thus having learned the language consciously and explicitly, they have a clear, sharable and explainable working knowledge of English, based on the understanding and interlanguage they themselves have analyzed and created in order to develop their own communicative competence in English. In sum, then, native-English-speaking instructors need to be especially mindful of developing a clear, understandable, explicit knowledge of English, a type of knowledge which NNEST’s have already likely worked very hard to gain.

            A second area of knowledge, the area of learning theory, strongly complements the first-mentioned area of knowledge and is therefore an essential area in which ESOL instructors should be well-versed. After all, no teaching can be considered effective, I would offer, without the complement of student learning taking place, so no amount of knowledge concerning English is of much use if the students are not effectively learning what the instructor supposedly knows. As shared in the section ‘Theory of Learning and Teaching’ above, I am a strong advocate of social constructivist learning theory, and this theory directly informs my classroom pedagogy. Understanding how students allegedly learn through active construction of their own knowledge, working from knowledge which I have shared with them, through their own collaborative, interactive building and negotiating of meaning and knowledge, suggests a pedagogical framework in which to approach the art of teaching. During my summer practicum, I’ve observed instructors with weak knowledge of English but with a good eye toward promoting a collaborative classroom, and so their students failed to learn the material well because no clear, learnable concept of English was given in the first place to stimulate successful active learning. On the other hand, I’ve observed one other instructor with immense insight into the working of English and a strong ability to verbalize the rules and dynamics of English, yet the instructor insisted on running a lecture-based, teacher-centered classroom environment, thus leaving the quietly sitting students with little if any active participation or practice time, and learning in this situation seemed to fail as well, because the students were merely passive recipients of knowledge; they were not active, engaged creators of personal, meaningful understanding of the topic presented.

Difficulties in Teaching ESOL

One difficulty in teaching ESOL lies within the realm of ESOL instructors’ conceptualizations of English, which in turn can influence the direction in which their lessons are developed and thus the ways in which students are encouraged to learn English.  What are these perspectives of English?  At a most general level, they fall into two categories: on one hand, there is the perspective that English is the topic to be studied; on the other hand, there is the concept of English as a tool to be developed for the goal of effective communication (e. g., Ellis, 2001). These two potential perspectives of English were ideas I had read about in an abstract sense, from a research perspective, in EDCI 5544; now, during my observations for this semester’s practicum, I have seen these same ideas play out in a very real sense in the classrooms which I have been observing. There have been some instructors whose approach to class seemed clearly to reflect a view toward English as the subject to be understood, while other instructors have kept their teaching of English within a context of clear communication as the goal of the class, with the subsequent student learning and practice of English encouraged within this communicative context. As Ellis (2001) clarifies, the choice of instructor perspective is important, because it consequently leads to “what role the learner is invited to play” in the classroom (Ellis, 2001, p. 13).

            This difficulty of having an appropriate perspective of English may be due, at least in part, to the nature of language: English itself is a fascinating topic, and it elicits not only the instructor but also the adult student to treat it as a puzzle to be solved, with rules to be discovered to help unlock how English works. The danger is in keeping the mind, and the teaching and learning, focused here, on learning about English, not on the further goal of learning about English in order to understand how to use English most effectively for communicating. What happens, then, is that students finish lessons, or sometimes semesters, with thorough grammatical knowledge of English, and an impressive lexicon of the metalanguage used by ESOL instructors to talk about English, but with only a limited ability to actually put English to pragmatically appropriate use in authentic contexts of reading, writing, speaking and/or listening.

A second difficulty in teaching ESOL which suggested itself almost immediately in my practicum observations can be summed up neatly in one word: motivation. Though motivation is quite a common word, I think it is still useful to let a definition re-center our idea of what motivation is. Considering that this is a paper on teaching ESOL, I think that it is apropos to turn to a popular ESOL dictionary for our idea: “Motivation is a feeling that makes you determined to do something” (Sinclair & Hands, 2012, p. 545). The difficulty in teaching ESOL, then, is in discovering the classroom formula which creates in the students this feeling, this determination to do something. What is this something, however? Attempting to answer this question may point toward a possible clue for understanding how to motivate students. As discussed in relation to the first difficulty, an instructor may, whether by design or by accident, approach class, lessons and students under the rubric of one of two perspectives; if the theme of the class is to learn English, then some, if not many, lessons and class sessions may leave students with little motivation to “learn English”, as students – when they are asked to be perfectly honest – have told me when I’ve explored this topic a little that they do not want to learn English; rather, they want to know English. They often would, instead of paying the thousands of dollars they are investing in ‘learning English’ over years of their lives, much rather give twice that amount of money to anyone who could give them an “English pill” which they could swallow with a glass of water and instantly ‘know English’. For students who look at English this way, motivation needs to come from other sources, such as the idea that English will bring them success in their academic study, or English will bring them a more satisfying career or a higher-paying job, or a dozen other, abstract, far-in-the-future motivations which students must constantly keep in the forefront of their mind to counteract the day-to-day tedium and incremental progress of their language study.

But not all ESOL classes are like this; not all classes are full of students sitting quietly, daydreaming of how their lives will be different when, someday, they know enough English to realize that goal which fuels their determination to study. Some classes are active, the students are busy and highly engaged, and the minutes in class are not being counted but rather slip by unnoticed like they do for an audience lost in the drama of a great movie. These, as illustrated in several of the classes I’ve observed this semester and written about in the subsequent journal entries, have been classes in which the students are engaged not so much in learning about English as in actually using English for other things, such as asking, discussing, exploring, reading, arguing and discovering – that is, they are highly motivated day to day to learn the English which they are studying by the very real, immediate uses that are encouraged in the classroom by the instructor. The students may or may not have instrumental motivation to learn English for their future goals of what they can achieve after they have mastered English, but for their present moments in class, the students are much too busy with the motivating challenge of the immediate communicative task at hand; they can spend their time daydreaming after class.


Evolving as a Teacher

            For someone who has read the journal entries I have written for this practicum, and several of the papers which I have written in response to class assignments in other semesters, and certainly this particular paper, it may be fairly obvious that there is a particular concept which is woven through the fabric of much of my experience both as a teacher and a student in the field of TESOL. This is no coincidence; I turn to this idea time and again, not only in my reading, but also in my writing, to keep fresh in my mind one of the areas in which I feel I have changed and evolved as an instructor, and I do not want to forget and regress to what is, I’m afraid, a natural tendency which detracts from my effectiveness as an ESOL instructor. If the reader has not guessed by now, I will share it: that English must be taught, and the students must be encouraged to learn, within the context of what is in the best interest of the students, not within the context of what feels necessarily most natural for the instructor.

            Some instructors naturally view English as the tool for communication that it ultimately is, and thus they teach in a manner which leads their students to learn and practice the knowledge and skills which best lead to effective, authentic, communication in English; such teachers do not have my problem. My problem is this: I often am drawn to things not for their characteristics of what they are capable of doing, but for the beauty of the design underlying those things. When my wife comments that I spend much more time working on by bike than actually riding my bike, it is because in working on my bike, I can better understand the theory and engineering which made such a capable machine a reality. This is my natural tendency toward English as well; I am simply fascinated by explorations of its systems and the relationships which describe and clarify how English does what it does. And with this natural focus, in my beginnings as an instructor, my tendency was to share this fascination with my students with lessons which highlighted rules, systems, and relationships in English. This is great for students who are already comfortable with English and who plan one day to study English as linguists, whether applied or for research, but it fell far short of the needs of my students, students who didn’t necessarily need to know how English worked so much as how to make English work for them. Much of my journey as an instructor, then, has been in the direction of changing my perspective driving my approach to class from one which fits my view of English as an object of study to one which better fulfills the students’ need to understand how English best works as a tool for authentic communication.


Knowledge Gained from TESOL Program


            It should go without saying that each and every course I have taken throughout the TESOL program has contributed something useful to my knowledge as an ESOL instructor, including courses which I had no idea why I was taking in relation to TESOL, such as EDRP 5513, a course on human development. It didn’t take long, however, even in such courses as EDRP 5513, to discover some important connection to my profession because, even though teachers obviously know that they will be working with students, they also need to have firmly in mind that those students are also people. But space doesn’t permit the annotation of what was gained from every class I’ve taken over these past two years; I’ll instead choose three classes and share some contributions which I felt were important.


EDCI 5547 Second Language Acquisition

Naturally this course, with its broad view of second language acquisition and so many of the concepts, theories and personages involved, offered a wealth of important knowledge, if only to lay a solid foundation for concepts which would be revisited in more depth in subsequent courses and semesters. There were two concepts, though, which still stand out as centrally guiding concepts for how I approached my subsequent studies and teaching. The first concept now seems so obvious after the fact of hearing about it, but at the time, it was something to really think over and work through, and this was the idea that the way in which adults learn a second language is not necessarily the same manner through which a child acquires her first language – indeed, there are potentially huge, sometimes cognitively opposed, considerations, and so ESOL instructors who have students who are failing to learn effectively in their classrooms may be creating a learning dynamic which simply is not appropriate for those students.

The second concept I gained from EDCI 5547 was almost something learned almost in passing; it was just one ‘small idea’ shared in a few paragraphs in one chapter, David Ausubel’s concept of subsumption (Brown, 2007, pp. 91-94). At the time, it was kind of a “hmm, interesting” idea, something to learn and think a bit about, but as subsequent courses and semesters came by, this one concept kept reappearing – by reappearing, however, I don’t mean that in another class, a different textbook would refer to ‘Ausubel’s theory of Subsumption; quite to the contrary, I never once saw the word subsumption again, and only rarely Ausubel’s name (and typically connected to other ideas of his). But the concept defining ‘subsumption’ – that, for learning to be truly effective, it must be meaningful, not rote learning, was a repeating theme in many guises, such as in EDCI 5548 and the text’s description of SIOP® Feature 7 (Echevarria, Vogt & Short, 2008, pp. 54-57).


EDCI 5543 English Grammar for ESOL Teachers

As a self-professed grammar nerd, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention anything about this course on English grammar. Again, among innumerable quite specific points of knowledge visited in this course, two come to mind worth sharing.

The first concept is that teaching of grammar is not complete unless this grammar of English has been explored within a meaningful context. Study of grammar (syntax, morphology, phonetics) without an understanding of how this grammar is related to contexts of authentic use (pragmatic considerations) is likely grammar which remains an object only to know something about, and not a grammar which helps English serve the communicative functions which students ultimately will need.

The second useful concept was the perspective of English grammar as not “one” grammar of English. In other words, in spite of what some linguists may say in theory, there is not necessarily only one useful descriptive grammar of English; there are often useful variations, or sometimes completely alternate explanations, which may better fit a student’s cognitive style than another. One example, for fun, is how instructors often approach verb tenses, teaching their students the ‘twelve tenses’ of English verbs. It was refreshing, and concept-broadening, I thought, to see that the same ‘system’ of verbs could be just as clearly explained with just two tenses and their combinations with various aspects. We come to the same result, but just with a different way of looking at the problem.


EDCI 5549 Practicum in TESOL

EDCI 5549, of course, is quite different from our previous classes in that we students are not meeting together with an instructor to study and learn new concepts; rather, our class is more like a laboratory component, an opportunity for us to observe and/or put into practical application the concepts and knowledge we have gained in those previous courses. This in itself is why I’ve found the practicum to be highly valuable. Hopefully it has been clear in this paper and in the journal entries written throughout this practicum that this course leads the practicum student to re-visit, re-interpret and synthesize into clearer, more practical form the body of often abstract information we have gleaned from our two years in the TESOL program. What we have studied, we can now actually see – or do, if we are teaching – during this semester, and we can begin to clarify not only what works or doesn’t work, but also reasons, explanations and theories for why or why not. This practicum is very likely the introduction to the career-long work of evolving ever more effective ways of turning theory to practice, paying careful attention not just to what we teach, but also to how we teach and why.



Brown, H.D. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching. (5th edition). White Plains, NY: Pearson Longman.

Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP model. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Ellis, R. (2001). Introduction: Investigating FormFocused instruction. Language learning, 51(s1), 1-46.

Sinclair, J., & Hands, P. (Eds.). (2012). Cobuild learner’s illustrated dictionary of American English (2nd ed.). Glasgow: Harper Collins.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.



Term paper: Reflections from TESOL Practicum
Maggie Nurrenbern

EDCI 5549 Practicum in TESOL



            For my TESOL practicum experience, I spent over 70 hours working with the ELL program at North Kansas City High School.  The experience proved to be quite rewarding as it allowed me to put into practice all that I have learned through the TESOL program at UMKC.  However, the practicum was not without its challenges as it forced me to evaluate the theories and methods to best educate ELL students.  In this paper, I will discuss the theories that most inform my teaching and what all ESL teachers must know.  I will also cover challenges that I’ve encountered during the practicum and how my teaching style continues to evolve.  Finally, I will address what I have gained from the TESOL program at UMKC, and how the program has molded me to be an effective ELL instructor.


Theories of Learning and Teaching


            Throughout my formation to be a foreign language teacher, as well as an ELL teacher, I have studied a plethora of theories and methods to facilitate language learning.  While I commonly find myself synthesizing multiple theories into my teaching, it is apparent that my teaching is primarily based on the following theories.  First, I integrate a great deal of Stephen Krashen’s theory of the Natural Approach.  According to Brown (2000), basic interpersonal communications skills are at the heart of the Natural Approach.  The role of the teacher is to provide comprehensible input, which Brown (2000) defines as “spoken language that is understandable to the learner” (p. 108).  In working with four different levels of ELLs during summer school, I constantly monitored and adjusted my language to match the comprehension levels of the ELLs, thus ensuring that I was providing them with comprehensible input. 


             The affective filter is central to Krashen’s theory of the Natural Approach.  According to Krashen, “the best acquisition will occur in environments where anxiety is low and defensiveness absent” (Brown, 2000, p. 279).  During the practicum, I strove to build a warm, comfortable learning environment in order to lower the affective filter of all my students.  With a low affective filter in place, students are much more likely to acquire the language.

In implementing the Natural Approach, I employ various class activities that are inherit to this theory, such as skits, games, interviews, and group work.  Such activities allow the students to practice authentic uses of English in a controlled environment.  They also serve to get students talking and communicating through reading and writing as much as possible.  It is my hope that the learning that occurs in the classroom carries over to their other classes and their interaction outsides of school. 

             In addition to the Natural Approach, Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development is always a central tenant to my teaching.  According to Brown (2000), “Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development is the distance between a child’s actual cognitive capacity and the level of potential development” (p. 38).  Through formal and informal assessments I strive to constantly understand my students’ ZPD.  Learning will not take place if instruction is too far beyond their ZPD or too far below.  Once I have a clear understanding of a student’s ZPD, I am able to properly scaffold instruction to ensure that they are able to learn.

            Nearly all of my lessons during summer school involved either pair work or collaborative group work.  For certain activities I would pair lower performing students with higher performing students.  With the support from their classmate, the lower performing students were able to grasp the concepts being taught.  In addition, the ZPD is “where learners construct the new language through socially mediated interaction” (Brown, 2000, p. 287).   I employed collaborative group work in order for students to work together to build an understanding of the content and language objectives, which aided them in expanding their learning.


What an ESL Teacher Must Know


            Understanding theories and principles related to language learning, cognitive development, child and adolescent development are essential for every ESL instructor.  However, how well a teacher is able to turn theories and principles into practice in the classroom will determine their success as an instructor.  In order for an ESL teacher to be effective in the classroom they must first know how to effectively manage a class of students from diverse backgrounds and have a clear understanding of multicultural education.

           Many instructors fail to be successful in the classroom because they lack the skills to enforce good classroom management.  ELL students come from a host of ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds, and tensions can arise in the classroom amongst students when the teacher ignores possible problems.  Also, at NKSHS it is not uncommon for ELL students to enroll in high school with having very little formal education.  In addition to teaching English and content classes, an ESL teacher has to be able to show students how to follow rules in the class, work together with people different from themselves and be respectful of one another.  Teachers must address classroom management problems in an efficient and effective manner so that students’ learning will not be impeded. 

           In my years of teaching, I have had the experience of working with students from many different countries and cultures.  When I began summer school, I found out that nearly twenty percent of the students in the ELL program are Burmese or Karen.  I decided I needed to research as much as possible about these students to be able to understand their backgrounds.  What I learned aided me a great deal in connecting with these students.  I learned that many of them had spent nearly their entire lives in refugee camp, and therefore had large gaps in their education.  This helped me to understand why many of the Burmese and Karen students are so reserved and hesitant to participate in class.  I was able to provide them small opportunities to be successful, which helped to build their confidence and willingness to speak and participate in class. 

          Another example in which my multicultural understanding helped me came during a science experiment involving two Somali students.  I had paired the two students, Yusuf and Hamdi, together to complete a science experiment.  I soon realized that Yusuf was excluding Hamdi from all parts of the experiment and was not allowing her to complete her portion of the assignment.  I decided to address the problem directly.  I told Yusuf that in the United States girls and boys work together in classes, and that he had to allow Hamdi to complete her portion of the experiment.  Hamdi was rather pleased to see me talk with Yusuf and quickly proved she was just as capable as he was in completing the experiment.  Understanding cultural differences, and teaching students how to be successful in American schools is key for every ESL teacher. 


Difficulties in Teaching ESL


           While the challenges faced by ESL teachers are numerous, I am going to focus on two primary problems I encountered during my TESOL practicum.  First of all, balancing English instruction with graduation requirements has proven to be a large challenge in working with older ELL students.  These students are forced into high-level content classes without having the necessary content knowledge or English skills to be successful in the courses.  The second problem stems from the first, and concerns lack of instructional support for ELL students in challenging content classes.

          The state of Missouri allows students to attend public school until they reach the age of 21.  At North Kansas City High School, it is not uncommon for students to enroll at the age of 18, 19 or 20 when the students first arrive to the United States.  In order to obtain the basic diploma at the high school, students must receive 24 credits.  If students have been enrolled in a high school in their native country, and they are able to provide a transcript, many of the credits will transfer.  However, for students who have received little formal education, they are forced to cram in as many classes as possible before they turn 21 years old.

          ELL teachers are presented with quite a predicament in determining whether to enroll their older ELLs in the necessary classes required for graduation or in ELL classes that will prepare them to function in an English-speaking society.  This summer, I worked with a 20-year old student named Maria to provide her with a basis of social studies.  After a year in the United States, she is still testing at the beginning level.  However, next year she is enrolled in advanced classes such as American Citizenship and World History.  Based on her English level, there is little hope she will be able to pass either class.

          The ELL program at NKCHS currently has just over 100 students enrolled.  There are four ELL teachers and two ELL paraprofessionals to teach the students.  The ELL teachers work closely to build the students’ class schedules to best meet their needs.  Fortunately, several content teachers have been trained in TESOL and ELL students are assigned to them whenever possible.  However, due to scheduling conflicts beginning ELL students are forced into mainstream class in which the teachers provide little support or modifications for the ELLs.

         The paraprofessionals rotate to work with the ELLs in their content classes as much as possible.  However, when a beginning ELL is enrolled in junior-level American Citizenship with little support, it is easy to understand how they would fail.  Due to budget limitations the school is not able to employ other support personal.  The ELL teachers try their best, but unfortunately many of the ELLs who join the high school late end up not graduating. 

        In reflecting on solutions to the low graduation rate of these students, I’ve thought of one possibility.  In order to support ELLs with their difficult content courses, the ELL teachers and paraprofessionals could create a tutoring program after school.  Tutoring groups could be formed based on the course and the ELL level and teachers could take turns tutoring these students after school.  Although there are many factors that the ELL teachers cannot control, tutoring would help to ensure that students are as successful as possible in their classes.


Evolving as a Teacher


            Working summer school at NKCHS provided me with the opportunity to observe and collaborate with four ELL teachers, all with diverse personalities, teaching styles and methods.  Undoubtedly, three of the four teachers could easily be classified as master teachers.  I watched in amazement how the carried out instruction and observed the light bulbs going on in their students minds as they learned the objectives of the lesson.  Although I have never been an ESL teacher, I have spent the last six years teaching EFL and Spanish, and working as a paraprofessional to an ELL program.  With this experience I was fairly confident as I began my first ELL lesson, but I quickly became humbled at how challenging teaching ELLs can really be.

            One of the first lessons I delivered during summer school was on the present perfect.  I fumbled through my lesson and the students were not learning what I wanted them to.  I realized I needed to try something different.  Brown (2000) explains this is a natural process for teachers.  He writes, “You cannot be a master teacher the first time you teach a class” (Brown, 2000, p. 293).  Teachers learn by trial and error, and eventually learn through intuition what best works for their students.   The second time I taught the present perfect to a different class, the lesson went much smoother.

            The practicum experience allowed me to experiment with different learning theories and teaching methods. In teaching ELL, I am now clearly aware of the fact that no one theory will work for all students.  In each lesson that I implemented I employed certain tenants from multiple language acquisition theories.  According to Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams (2011), “All methods have something to offer, and virtually any method can succeed with a gifted teacher who is a native or near-native speaker, motivated students, and appropriate teaching materials” (pp. 463-464).  During summer school, I found this to be quite true, and I will continue to explore different methods as I go forward.

            Finally, I learned to rely heavily on my own language learning experiences.  In learning Spanish, I always seemed to learn the most from teachers who were patient and empathetic to my struggles.  If I had a student who wasn’t catching on to a learning objective, I strove to find another strategy to teach them, and yet another until they finally learned.  I think I am most effective as a teacher when I am patient and empathetic. 


Knowledge Gained from TESOL Program


            As I near completion of my TESOL practicum, I am left with only one course, Intercultural Communication, to receive my TESOL endorsement.  As I worked to plan and implement my lessons during summer school, I reflected on components from all of the courses I have take in the TESOL program.  However, I found myself relying on what I had learned in three courses, Methods of Teaching Foreign Language, English as a Second Language in Content Areas, and Applied Linguistics for ESOL Teachers, to benefit me most during the practicum experiences.


Methods of Teaching Foreign Language

            This course showed me how to turn all of the language acquisition theories into specific techniques to use in the classroom.  I appreciate the mode in which instruction was delivered in this course.   Each student in this course demonstrated several lessons for their classmates.  Students in the course were both students of the TESOL program, as well as students earning their foreign language education degrees.  Nearly all the students knew a language other than English, and lessons were delivered in various languages.  This allowed all of us to be language learners once again. 

The course allowed me to reflect on the methods and strategies that are most beneficial to me as a language learner.   One lesson was taught using Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS).  The student taught us the story of “Hansel and Gretel” in German.  I had no previous experience with German, but after learning the story, I was able to write a story skeleton completely in German using the vocabulary we had learned.  My success helped me realize that TPRS can be a wonderful method for teaching a second language.


English as a Second Language in Content Areas

            Through my practicum experience, I’ve realized that part of my job as an ELL teacher will be equipping content teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to effectively teach the ELL students in their classes.  In the realm of teaching, my comfort zone is certainly with teaching languages.  This course allowed me to understand how English teaching can be integrated into science, math and social studies curriculum.

            In this course, TESOL students learned how to build their lessons based on the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol Model.  The SIOP Model is essential for all ELL and content teachers to understand.  This model allows for all students, ELLs and native English-speakers, to benefit from effective instruction.  Echevarria, Vogt and Short (2004) explain that

 the eight components of the SIOP Model include the following: Building Background, Comprehensible Input, Strategies, Interaction, Practice & Application, Lesson Delivery, and Review and Assessment (pp. 16-17).  I used this model throughout the practicum, and it enabled me to make sure all of the learning objectives were effectively covered. 

            Although ELL teachers may be hesitant to integrate their students into mainstream classes, this must be done as quickly as possible, and ELLs will be successful with appropriate support.  I will work to help content teachers follow the SIOP Model.  In doing so, they will be able to make appropriate modifications for ELLs, while helping native-English speaking students gain a clear understanding of the content.



Applied Linguistics for ESOL Teachers

            This course equipped me with the knowledge I need to be able to teach semantics, syntax and pronunciation.  I had never learned the phonetic alphabet before this course, and was thankful to have this understanding during summer school.  The Newcomer teacher, Ms. Day, teaches her students pronunciation through the phonetic alphabet.     When I was asked to lead a lesson on the pronunciation, I was thankful to be able to draw on my understanding of how vowels are produced.

            During Linguistics, I learned a lot of practical tips for teaching pronunciation.  I learned of common pronunciation errors from speakers of different native languages and how to remediate those errors.  I remember reading in the text about the importance of students seeing the movement of their mouth, lips and tongues in a mirror to understand how the sounds are produced.  I thought it seemed strange as I read it, but when I had students struggling with pronunciation problems, I realized that a mirror was actually a great teaching tool.

            I am certain as I progress in my career as an ELL teacher, I will continue to rely on what I have learned in the TESOL program.  The program helped me to learn to conduct effective research, which is an essential skill for every instructor.  As a teacher, I will remain a life long learner as I strive to always stay abreast of the latest research on what works best for different learners.  From this practicum experience, I recognized that teaching ELL is full of challenges and difficulties, but is unbelievably rewarding as our students learn to succeed in the United States.   





Brown, H.D. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching. (4th ed.). White Plains, NY: Pearson Education. 

Echevarria, J., Vogt, M. E., & Short, D. (2004). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP model. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., & Hyams, N. (2011). An introduction to language (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.


Term Paper

My Experiences in the ESL Field

Nabat Erdogan

University of Missouri - Kansas City

Dr. Michael Wei

EDCI 5549 - Practicum in TESOL

July 22, 2014

My Experiences in the ESL Field

1. To what theory of learning and teaching do you subscribe and why?

Due to the growing population of culturally and linguistically diverse students in U.S. schools, cultural and linguistic awareness and English as a Second Language (ESL) education gain more importance day by day. It has become a necessity to recognize student diversity and design instruction to meet these diverse needs. Smith (2009) states that “teachers need to acquire knowledge and skills that maximize the opportunities diversity offers and minimize its challenges” (p. 46). In this regard, this course broadened my vision as an educator (former EFL teacher and current ESL coordinator), and helped me once more acknowledge the importance of culturally responsive pedagogy and English as a Second Language learning and teaching in every step of education, whether it is K-12, college, or graduate education. 

Holmes, Rutledge, and Gauthier (2009) claim that it is the responsive teacher who has the most impact on English language learners’ academic development. Culturally responsive teachers always try to search and find ways to connect their instruction with their ELLs’ cultural backgrounds. I believe that culturally responsive teachers are those who make a difference in education and lives of their students.

Through our discussions in this course, I also understood that all teachers should recognize their responsibility towards ensuring the quality of ELL education. “It's time for us to recognize that every teacher is a language teacher”, says Leslie Nabors Oláh (2014), a research assistant professor at Penn GSE and a researcher at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, when highlighting the importance of ELL education. Understanding the responsibilities as teachers of English language learners regardless of taught grade level, subject, or student populations, will enable all educational team to understand and meet the educational needs of culturally and linguistically diverse minority students at school, and realize that education of English language learners should not be delegated to the ESL/bilingual teachers only.

Among second language learning and teaching theories, I mostly value Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition which is based on the Natural Approach theory. I believe that his five hypotheses – the Acquisition vs. Learning Hypothesis, the Comprehensible Input Hypothesis, the Monitor Hypothesis, the Natural Order Hypothesis, and the Affective Filter Hypothesis have the most impact on classroom practices, especially in K-12 setting.

In their book called “The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom”, Krashen and Terrell (1983) clearly express the distinction between acquiring and learning a language. Adults tend to “learn” a language by focusing on the rules through textbooks and formal instruction, while young children “acquire” language though the interaction with peers in second language in social contexts. Krashen and Terrell (1983) also address the issue of child-adult differences in second language acquisition and performance, and state that “all performers, young and old, are acquirers, and the acquisition-oriented classroom will serve everyone” (p.61).

Krashen’s Second Language Acquisition (SLA) Theory is based on the premise that “language is best taught when it is being used to transmit messages, not when it is explicitly taught for conscious learning” (Krashen & Terrell, 1983, p.55). In order to foster students’ comprehension, Krashen and Terrell suggest teaching more vocabulary. They state that “with more vocabulary, there will be more comprehension and with more comprehension, there will be more acquisition” (Krashen & Terrell, 1983, p.55). Even though Krashen and Terrell (1983) claim that grammar-based approaches to language teaching deliberately limit vocabulary in order to concentrate on syntax, I personally believe that it depends on which second language domain (listening, speaking, reading, or writing) is being taught and on the teacher’s methods of introducing grammar. For example, during my observations, I noticed that the instructor was professionally introducing vocabulary words along with the grammar units. Since I observed only Grammar and Writing classes, I mostly witnessed explicit instruction in the classroom. The observed English language learners were college students, and therefore, they needed to be explicitly taught grammar and writing for academic purposes.

According to Krashen’s SLA theory, second language learners (especially children) “feel” the correctness of the second language rather than memorizing the rules and applying them. Based on this, we can infer that acquisition results in oral fluency, while learning may not always enable a learner to communicate orally. I personally had and witnessed this learning experience in foreign language classes in my country. Even after two, three years of classroom experiences, there were students who were not able to speak or comprehend the foreign language spoken by a native speaker. This fact highlights the importance of Krashen’s Acquisition Hypothesis in fostering second/foreign language learners’ oral communication skills. However, educators should not forget that Krashen’s language acquisition theory does not focus on literacy skills such as grammar and punctuation skills with a focus on writing. In order to be literate in a second/foreign language, a learner still needs to get purposeful instruction and systematic guidance on writing in a second/foreign language classes. Teaching writing and grammar takes on even more importance when it comes to college English language learners; they obviously need this kind of instruction to improve their academic writing.

I believe that Krashen’s Comprehensible Input Hypothesis clearly defines the role of the ESL teacher. It is of utmost importance that the presented information in the second language is one step beyond the second/foreign language learners’ current stage of linguistic competence. Comprehensible Input is defined as the target language that second/foreign language learners are not able to produce but can still understand. In this regard, when applying Comprehensible Input, the use of facial expressions, gestures, visuals, and real objects is most effective, regardless of second/foreign language learners’ age and level. During my practicum experience at Applied Language Institute (ALI), I observed that the instructor used internet sources very effectively to introduce new vocabulary words and concepts to the students. He often consulted “Google Images” to explain the vocabulary words/expressions such as the potbellied stove, a toboggan, horse chestnuts, etc. I think that the instructor was successfully implementing Comprehensible Input in his classroom.

I also find Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis to be very important to consider in second/foreign language teaching and learning. The Affective Filter Hypothesis deals with students’ anxiety level. Students who can’t communicate in a second/foreign language would usually experience anxiety. This anxiety level is known as the affective filter. Second/foreign language learners’ affective filter can easily block language acquisition and learning. Students’ anxiety level can be lowered if the teacher immediately puts students at ease by providing a welcoming and helpful environment where the students can get help without fear of being ridiculed. Paciotti (2010) states that “just as parents encourage infants to walk by praising the effort made, rather than waiting for the child to successfully walk across the room, teachers must encourage and praise students for their incremental efforts” (p.14). In this regard, positive reinforcement is of great importance in lowering students’ affective filter and transmitting positive emotions which result in the establishment of the positive learning environment. It is indisputable that positive learning environment gradually fosters students’ self-confidence and intrinsic motivation which eventually results in students’ success.

During my observations at ALI, I noticed that the instructor took every opportunity to praise and encourage the students. He used the expressions and sentences such as “Good Job!”, “Well done!”, “You are almost perfect!”, “You guys are smarter than me!”, etc. I believe that his positive encouragement considerably lowered the students’ affective filter, and motivated them to participate more in class.

Based on all the above mentioned, I can say that Krashen’s SLA theory is very useful to know and implement in the second/foreign language classroom. However, this is not the only effective or true theory of second language acquisition. I believe that every second language acquisition theory (Skinner’s Behaviorism, Chomsky’s Innateness Theory (also known as Universal Grammar), Piaget’s Cognitive Theory, etc.) includes some elements or aspects that have important practical value and implications which need to be considered while designing instruction for second/foreign language learners. Effective second language instruction would combine useful elements from every second language acquisition theory to meet the diverse needs of language learners.



2. What does an ESL teacher need to know and why?

First of all, ESL teachers need to know who their English language learners are. Knowing students’ home culture, their linguistic background, their likes and dislikes, etc. and showing a sincere interest in the students’ home life can contribute to the establishment of strong relationships between educators and their students and students’ families.

Villegas (1991) suggests that “in order to maximize learning opportunities, teachers must gain knowledge of the cultures represented in their classrooms, then translate this knowledge into instructional practice” (p.13). All educators should see culturally responsive classrooms and instruction as the key elements for all students’ success.

Establishing relationships with ESL students’ families and knowing them (their culture, education, the effort parents put in their students’ education, etc.) closely is also an important issue to consider for the success of ELLs. Drake (1995) suggests that “cooperation between schools and students’ families is essential to the education process” (p.313). Drake (1995) also points to some guidelines for establishing effective home-school collaboration, such as parents’ and educators’ sharing common goals, seeing each other as equals, and supporting the students’ education wholeheartedly. Pang (2010) even extends this collaboration to inviting the family members of ELLs to the class and talking about their cultural heritage. I think that Pang’s suggestion would help to create a friendly, caring and belonging environment for ELLs.

Knowing English learners’ linguistic background is also very important for designing effective instruction for ELLs. For example, obtaining information about the structure of an ELL’s native language would enable the teacher to recognize phonetic, phonological, morphological and syntactic differences between the student’s native language and the target language, and to address the difficulties that some specific features of the native language might cause for the student while learning English.

It is also necessary to find out if a student has literacy skills in L1. Research shows that L1 word decoding and spelling skills in primary school are strong predictors of L2 word decoding and spelling skills in high school, and that there are strong relationships between L2 word decoding and L2 reading comprehension (Sparks, Patton, Ganschow, & Humbach, 2012). When the fluency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing in L1 is evident, the development of the second language or L2 tends to be much faster and smoother. Problems in vocabulary development and syntax, immature writing, and difficulty keeping up and participating in class may be the symptoms of an earlier lack of competence in L1.

ESL teachers should also know the learner characteristics that are specific to the individual student. These include learning styles and strategies, attitude, motivation, and personality. Learner characteristics are important since they influence the way a student responds to an instructional style and setting, such as the teacher's instructional delivery and the formal/informal nature of the classroom or activities.

Being aware of the research in the field of second language acquisition is also necessary for ESL teachers. This will enable ESL teachers to use research-based instructional strategies with their ELLs. I believe that every language teacher must know Collier’s Prism Model that is based on her extensive research on the performance of second language learners. Collier’s Prism represents second-language learners’ language acquisition process in the school and classroom environment (see Figure 1). Collier and Thomas (2006) claim that “the Prism model defines factors that allow for predictions to be made regarding English learners’ degree of second language acquisition in academic context” (p.333).


                                 Language Acquisition for School

                                                                      Figure 1

There are three components of the student’s development in second language represented on the three sides of the prism: language development, cognitive development, and academic development. In the middle is the core of the acquisition, the sociocultural processes “occurring in everyday life within the student’s past, present, and future, in all contexts – home, school, community, and the broader society” (Collier & Thomas, 2006, p.335).

From the figure representing the Prism Model, we can see that the arrows are interconnected which explains the interdependency among the four components. In the heart of the process are the social and cultural factors that influence all aspects of the other three components.

Research also highlights the importance of teachers’ perspectives and knowledge about child development in contributing positively to classroom practices (Daniels & Shumow, 2003). So, ESL teachers should also have an idea about their students’ physical, psychological, cognitive, linguistic, academic, and social development. Knowing all the above mentioned will enable the teachers to create and optimize teaching–learning situations in their instruction.

3. Describe some of the difficulties you have encountered teaching ESL.

I have two different kinds of experiences relating to the field. First of all, I have 9 years of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching experience in my native country, Azerbaijan. In those 9 years, the only difficulty I encountered was that we didn’t have enough resources and training opportunities in our school. However, EFL was considered one of the core subjects. Therefore, the school administrators and staff recognized its importance, and supported EFL teachers. Even though there was no standardized test on EFL that the students took at least until the college entrance exam, students, parents, teachers, and administrators were conscious of the importance of learning English. However, I had a totally opposite experience when I started working as an ESL coordinator in a US school. In my opinion, English as a Second Language (ESL) was vital for the English Language Learners (ELLs) and their schools, since the ELLs were tested for their English Language Proficiency (ELP) level, and their performance on these ELP tests mostly predestined the fate of the schools (based on Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives or AMAOs). However, notwithstanding all of these accountability issues, ESL as a subject was not being paid the importance it deserved. I could see that the first priority was always given to Math and Reading, forgetting about the fact that without knowing English those students would continue to fail all standardized tests.

I have also witnessed how the ESL teachers in my department struggle to instill the importance of ELL education in other staff members, and how the other staff members ignore their efforts, diminishing the importance of the ESL teachers’ task.

As an ESL coordinator, I continue to advocate for my ELLs and ESL teachers, and believe that school administrators should support ESL teachers and ELL education in today’s US schools, taking into consideration the rapidly growing ELL population. Only this support and care can improve the overall education in US schools. 

4. How have you changed and developed as a teacher, and why have you changed?

I believe that every teacher changes and improves over time. Just like in any other profession, teaching also constantly develops and takes shape based on personal experiences and obtained knowledge.

I think that from time to time every teacher is influenced by a teaching theory or method, and tries to practice the learned methods or theories in his/her teaching. Only over time, does a teacher understand that none of these methods or theories is either perfect or useless. A teacher becomes effective and professional when he/she starts to blend the useful elements of every theory or method, and to effectively implement those in classroom practices.

I have also improved throughout my years in education (since 1999). In my first years of teaching, I mostly focused on the subject-matter and content. However, I gradually understood that there were many more important factors that affected students’ success than just content knowledge. I tried to learn more about my students, their interests, their families, etc. I could improve my relationships with the students even more when I started working in a US school. I knew that cultural and linguistic diversity was an integral part of school culture in US schools. I acknowledged the need to learn more about the cultures of the students in my classroom.

The new environment, culture, diverse student populations and my responsibilities towards them have been shaping my practices as an educator. I believe that these and many more other factors will continue to build my knowledge and practices in US schools.

5. What have you learned from our TESOL program that helped you the most with your ESL teaching?

The TESOL program (I consider all the TESOL courses that I have taken so far) at UMKC broadened my vision on the issues concerning ELL education. Now, I can approach the issues relating to EFL, ESL, and bilingual education more consciously.  I am aware of the importance of knowing second language acquisition theories, methods, and research for effective ESL teaching.

Even if I do not teach, I use my knowledge and experiences in the field to guide the ESL teachers in my department. I constantly emphasize the significance of English language learners’ literacy in both their home language (L1) and the target language (L2), English. Our ESL teachers acknowledge the importance of choosing correct instructional materials for our ELLs. The ESL staff understands that effective materials for English language learners should foster literacy in both languages, and include real items, manipulatives and hands-on activities that are used rigorously. When choosing the materials, we ensure that these materials build on English language learners’ prior knowledge and reinforce the previously covered concepts. The appropriateness of the materials should also be taken into consideration. The instructional materials and resources are appropriate when they are interesting, challenging, exciting, and culturally, grammatically and linguistically relevant.

As the ESL department head, I constantly highlight the importance of increasing rigor of instruction in order to prepare our ELLs for the challenges they might face in future. Blackburn, as cited in Blackburn & Williamson (2013), indicates that “instructional rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels” (p.8).

In order to foster rigorous learning, I encourage the ESL staff to collaborate with other educators in our school to set clear goals, to align instruction to standards and to prepare each student to meet high expectations. Along with high expectations from all students, rigorous learning requires support for struggling students. The ESL department considers using differentiated instruction to address the diverse needs of our ELL students. In order to effectively differentiate, our ESL teachers determine the ELLs’ learning needs, strengths, weaknesses, prior knowledge, interests, learning styles, cultural and linguistic background, etc. I believe that the knowledge I obtained through the TESOL program at UMKC contributes to the success that our ESL teachers demonstrate by effectively tailoring the instruction to serve the diverse needs of our ELLs.

My practicum experiences at Applied Language Institute also contributed to my personal and professional development as an educator and leader. It was my first time observing adult English language learners with a native English-speaking instructor at a university in the USA. I learned a lot from the student-teacher interactions in the classroom. My observations also added to my content knowledge since the instructor was often providing very valuable information about English as a discipline and linguistics. I believe that the practicum at ALI was a very valuable and unique experience that contributed to my development in the field of ESL education.



Blackburn, B. R., & Williamson, R. (2013). 4 STEPS to increasing rigor in the classroom. Leadership, 42(4), 8-9. Retrieved from

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Collier, V.P., & Thomas, W.P. (2006). Predicting second language academic success in English using the Prism Model. In J. Cummins & C. Davison (Eds.), Kluwer International Handbook of English language teaching, pp.333-348. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

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Pang, Y. (2010). Working effectively with ELLs: What public school teachers should know. New England Reading Association Journal, 45(2), 69-75,103. Retrieved from

Smith, E. B. (2009). Approaches to multicultural education in preservice teacher education: Philosophical frameworks and models for teaching. Multicultural Education, 16(3), 45-50. Retrieved from 

Sparks, R. L., Patton, J., Ganschow, L., & Humbach, N. (2012). Relationships among L1 print exposure and early L1 literacy skills, L2 aptitude, and L2 proficiency. Reading and Writing, 25(7), 1599-1634. doi:

Villegas, A.M. (1991). Culturally responsive pedagogy for the 1990s and beyond. Princeton, N.J: Educational Testing Service.


Copyright © Dr. Michael Wei