Sunday, June 12, 2011

The ESL Elephant

Harper, C, A., de Jong, E, J. (2009). English Language Teacher Expertise: The Elephant in the Room. Language and Education, 23 (2), 137-151.

            Through the journey of becoming a teacher, one strategy or technique taught to future teachers resides in reflection. When reflecting, teachers examine various pedagogical methods, student interaction, assessment, and many other issues that help teachers become better at their practice. From my own experience, I have discovered reflection to stand as a powerful tool; for instance, from reflecting on my own personal education, I have realized my inadequacies in ESL education. Future teachers, or at least my fellow peers and myself, have recognized the inadequate instruction our institution, and/or similar institutions, provides its body of future educators, which the institution’s primary goal is producing highly qualified teachers.
            However, my own concerns are not unnoted in the field of education. In Candace A. Harper and Ester J. de Jong’s article “English Language Teacher Expertise: The Elephant in the Room,” the authors examine how the ESL specialization is being dismantled by Florida’s goal of producing highly qualified teachers, as stated above; however, what some readers might interpret as culling an unneeded position, other readers see an educational travesty in educating Florida’s, and other English language learners (ELLs) across the nation, ELLs.
            The Harper and de Jong (2009) argue, due to “external (legislative and policy) pressures and internal (professional and curricular) developments” (138), the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual education is a core content area that simply cannot be effectively filled by mainstream teachers (Harper & de Jong, 2009). The authors point to the policy implementations as a main reason of failure for providing proper instruction to ELLs.
            For instance, in Florida, it is required of future teachers to gain an ESOL endorsement, which proves to the state that future teachers are prepared to work with ELLs; however, the authors report these specific amounts of hours are inadequate for mainstream teachers to educate ELLs (Harper & de Jong, 2009). Instead of taking mainstream strategies and expanding on them, teachers look for the simplistic approach as solutions to complex linguistic, cultural and educational issues (Harper & de Jong, 2009). Harper and de Jong (2009) note disheartening comments from a simplistic ideology: “Teachers don’t need specialized ESL training; common sense and good intentions work fine” (143). This comment, along with the voiced concerns of Harper and de Jong, notes that ELLs success is not through “generic, remedial, and skills-based approach” (146), but through professional development of instruction that go beyond increasing comprehension input and providing a welcoming environment. Instruction geared towards ELLs must “target more informed attitudes towards teaching linguistically and culturally diverse students, deeper understanding of second language and literacy development and of the language demands of the content area texts and tasks, and more sophisticated approaches to integrating langue and content instruction” (Harper & de Jong, 2009, pg 147). 

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