by Jasmin Bey Cowin, EdD
Assistant Professor and Practicum Coordinator
TESOL and Bilingual Department
Graduate School of Education
Vice President, Chair-Elect 2021, NYS TESOL organization
New York, USA
The EDDN-639 Trends and Current Issues in Second Language Acquisition field study project involves collecting and analyzing data related to the process of second language acquisition for English language learners. This course identifies and analyzes current trends and issues in second language acquisition (SLA) and their impact on English language learners. A central focus will be research on specific topics in second language acquisition and bilingualism (e.g., brain research, error correction, the role of L1, etc.). Students will become familiar with current instructional strategies and methods for professional staff and community resource collaboration in building second language acquisition and respect for cultural diversity in today’s society. Students will engage in a case study research project in a particular area of interest.
Touro Teacher Candidate Alicia Balgobin has been teaching ELA and ENL to 7th-grade students for six years. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree at Queens College for Early Childhood Education and is enrolled in the TESOL Graduate Program at Touro College.
Field study by Alicia Balgobin
I conducted an observational case study on ENL students. The type of class is a 7th grade ELA class for beginner ENL students. There are 26 students in the class, which is a smaller class size compared to the normal 30-33 students in other classes. More than 1/2 of the students were Punjabi, the other ¼ were Spanish speakers (from Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, or Mexico), and the remainder either spoke Bengali or Arabic. I chose this topic for research because I was inspired by the “Diversity Kit Vignette: Supporting Students’ Ethnic Identity in School” (Sheets, 1999). This was an experiment conducted by Dr. Rosa Hernandez Sheets, where failing students were put into a class and given an opportunity to share their cultures and backgrounds with their other peers in their class. The result was that these ENL students achieved academic success in this class, however, they didn’t do so well in classrooms that didn’t allow or promote culturally diverse conversations. I wanted to see if the results of Sheets’ study were also applicable to the ENL classroom I observed and to examine how I can apply SLA theories into my own classroom to greatly benefit my ENL students.
The observational case study was executed within my own school that I currently teach at in Queens, N.Y. A fellow colleague granted me permission to observe her and her students for 7 periods, which lasts 43 minutes each. The class contained 26 beginner 7th grade ENL students and the subject was ELA. I sat in the back of the classroom for each observation so that I didn’t distract the teacher or the students from the teaching and learning process. She was asked brief questions about her classroom population such as: the demographics of her students, their class strengths based on the standards, what their behavior is like, their cultural backgrounds, etc. She shared her professional experience with teaching ENL students, ways she implements the Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Standards to create her learning and language targets, how she ties in their cultural backgrounds into the classroom lessons and environment, and what she believes are her challenges and successes with teaching the beginner ENL population. She shared samples of her students’ work after each class observation. This gave me the opportunity to assess student comprehension, engagement, and their success rate of learning of the new topic she taught that day. Findings and Discussion There were many activities and interactions occurring within the ENL classroom that was commendable and enhanced what I’ve learned in EDU 639. The ENL students were highly engaged in the activities, when the teacher asked questions, and when they were interacting with each other. The ENL students’ conversations, activities, and the use of their L1 and L2 reflected many of the practices that also were discussed in our class. The teacher’s planning, execution, and interactions with her students reflect best practices discussed in class and in our reading, Second Language Acquisition by Lourdes Ortega. I found that the ENL students greatly relied on the teacher’s corrective feedback (Ortega, 2009). Initially, the students weren’t very confident to share out their responses aloud with the rest of their peers. Instead of making statements, their responses sounded more like a question, due to their uncertainty. They were only confident to repeat their answers the second time around when the teacher offered them, “explicit and/or corrective feedback” (Ortega, 2009) on their use of the L2. The teacher corrected the students’ pronunciation of certain words in the L2 and could be observed asking for “clarification requests” when students’ responses weren’t clear. I believe the teacher’s input will greatly aid students in becoming more confident in practicing and using the L2 as the weeks and months progress. Next, I noticed that the students were engaged in lessons that followed the SIOP model. The lesson flowed and was well prepared by the teacher, who gave explicit instruction and modeling. This allowed for minimal student misbehavior or disruption. The teacher incorporated questions that tapped into the students’ prior background knowledge, which made students more engaged in learning. For example, she asked students to describe their favorite food to a partner. She called on students to share out their responses with the whole class and then informed them that they will be reading about a boy who ate too much of his favorite food and got sick. This helped students to empathize with the character, piqued their interest in wanting to read the story, allowed students the opportunity to practice the L2 with one another, and gave ENL students the opportunity to discuss their own culture–through food! Also, bringing the ENL students’ culture into the classroom with the use of teacher-created questions, fostered a welcoming and engaging environment for ENL students to feel accepted and connected with one another and the world around them. “The SIOP method draws on and builds upon traditional sheltered instructional strategies, which encourage teachers to speak more slowly, enunciate clearly, use visuals, scaffold instruction, target vocabulary words and development, connect concepts to students’ experiences, promote peer interactions, and adapt materials and supplementary materials for ELLs” (Moughamian, 2009). Observing the SIOP model in action in an ENL classroom shows just how effective this model of teaching is.
Another observation I made was that the students were accustomed to the lessons being teacher-centered, as opposed to being student-centered in other general education classes I’ve seen. It seems that the ENL students thrive on a structured lesson that’s planned out, minute by minute. The teacher stated that her students were less willing to participate, were less engaged, and were often off-task/distracted when less structure was in place. The teacher said that as the year progresses, she will move more towards “student-centered” learning as the students also become more comfortable utilizing the L2 on their own.
Another observation I made was that the students were responding to both verbal and written reflections based on that day’s lesson. Students were asked to jot down their thoughts on a post-it (explaining what they understood or didn’t understand about the day’s lesson) and verbally share out with a partner. The teacher used the students’ reflections towards the end of a lesson, as an exit slip or as a summative assessment. Having students reflect on their learning experience requires critical thinking and higher-order-thinking, which is great to implement in an ENL classroom. ENL students liked the visuals the teacher displayed during the do-nows, mini-lessons, to represent unfamiliar vocabulary words, and/or during close readings. The ENL students can be observed giggling and/or breaking into small conversations about the picture which the teacher allowed time for. The teacher used the pictures as an opportunity to engage her students and then began to teach or explain a concept to them. The students engaged in discussions multiple times throughout each of the lessons I observed. The discussions were about the do now, the mini-lesson, the group task, or just a question she might have posed for that day. Think-pair-shares were used quite often as well. This is reflective of the Hallmarks of Advanced Literacies, specifically, Hallmark #2: Rich Discussion. “To develop their language skills, all students, but especially ELLs, need a lot of practice with language!” (Lesaux & Galloway, 2017). The teacher provided these students with multiple opportunities to practice the L2. ENL students were actively engaged in a Jigsaw activity during my fourth visit to their classroom. They had to close read a short argumentative article on zoos and decide whether zoos were good or bad for the animals, based on the evidence they identified from the article. The students were actively practicing the L2 by discussing the author’s opinions on this subject, as well as discussing their own opinions on zoos, with their peers. The students referred to the text and sounded out unfamiliar words slowly. If they still needed help, they asked a peer or asked their teacher how to pronounce the unfamiliar word. The teacher provided students with graphic organizers to jot down their thoughts and evidence identified and asked them prompting questions throughout the activity to keep them focused, on track, and to help clarify any misconceptions that might have arisen.
The teacher fostered a nurturing environment for students to explore the new language without feeling judged. The students were speaking aloud to attempt to answer questions, although they have limited L2 practice, which shows how comfortable they are in their environment. The Jigsaw activity had many components that was also evident in the Jigsaw video provided to us by our professor.
In addition to all the wonderful observable strategies the teacher had in place for her ENL students, # 7 and 8 of the Blue Print for English Language Learner/ Multilingual Learner Success was very evident. #7 states, “regarding home languages as instructional assets and using them in bridging prior knowledge to new knowledge while ensuring that content is meaningful and comprehensible.” This is evident in students’ conversations regarding their own cultural activities, food, beliefs, games, music, etc. The teacher encouraged her students to share about their cultures and provided them with multiple opportunities to do so. Also, the teacher “employs authentic assessments that require sophisticated uses of language embedded in authentic and rich content.” She assigns them unit exams based on prior New York State test reading passages and standards-based questions. She also gave them exit slips, a type of summative assessment, where students had to use the L2 to respond to verbally or written.
Conclusion/Reflections, and Suggestions for Practice and Future Research
Conclusion/Reflections, and Suggestions for Practice and Future Research It was a wonderful opportunity to see an ENL classroom full of students that were highly engaged and immersed in the L2, when participating in group activities and discussions. The teacher effortlessly taught her ENL students using many of the SLA theories, trends, and strategies we’ve discussed throughout this course. I learned that encouraging students to use the L2 as much as possible during classroom discussions greatly benefits the ENL students. I learned that students liked hands-on activities but also crave structure, as provided by the teacher. I will keep these points in mind in the future when I am lesson planning and interacting with my ENL students. I would like to know how this group of ENL students continue to learn and progress as the school year continues. It would be nice to see how much growth they’ve gained, pertaining to their L2 acquisition, as a result of their teacher’s implementation and execution of all the SLA theories and methods that I observed being used in the classroom.
Blue Print for English Language Learner/ Multilingual Learner Success. THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK. Office of Bilingual Education and World Languages. Retrieved from: http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/nys-blueprint-for-ell-success.pdfJigsaw Video. Retrieved from,https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=559&v=mtm5_w6JthALesaux,
- K., & Galloway, E. P. (n.d.). Hallmark 2 of Advanced Literacies Instruction: Classroom Discussion. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/programs/bilingual-ed/nys_briefs_brieft-4-of-8_-summer_2017_hallmark_2-final-edited-may-2018.p._.pdf (Links to an external site.)
Moughamian, A. C., Rivera, M. O., & Francis, D. J. (2009). Instructional models and strategies for teaching English language learners. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.Ortega, L. (2009). Chapter 4: Introduction. In Second Language Acquisition(pp. 1–11).
New York, NY: Hodder Education.Sheets, R.H. & Hollins, E.R. (1999). Racial and Ethnic Identity in School Practices: Aspects of Human Development. Mahwah,
NJ: ErlbaumThe Diversity Kit. Retrieved from: https://touro.instructure.com/courses/29510/files/1324084?module_item_id=634573