The value of field case studies for TESOL teacher education lies in their potential to create an authentic and safe forum for reflection that can help both novice or experienced teachers to observe, analyze and reflect on authentic TESOL environments and student learning.
Ms. Elcidana Camacho is a graduate student at Touro College, GSE, majoring in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). As an immigrant student herself, she recognizes the value of providing high-quality education to English Language Learners. Currently, Ms. Camacho teaches Second-grade bilingual education at a New York Public School.
Case Study SLA Touro Course EDDN 639 – Trends and Current Issues in Second Language Acquisition
Immigrants come to this country in the search of a better future not just for them but for their children. They arrive at a strange and unknown country facing challenges day after day yet the dream of seeing their children succeed fuels their continuous drive. Yet, the children also face daily challenges, they have to learn a new language that will be the road to success in their new country. The learning experiences these ELLs will encounter will depend on many factors, but one crucial factor will be on how TESOL certified educators support them in their Second Language Acquisition.
For this case study, I chose one student named David (pseudonym). David is a second-grade student who is repeating the grade. He came to the United States for Honduras three years ago with his whole family. David is placed in a bilingual second-grade class that encompasses 26 English Language Learners (ELLs). From the twenty-six ELLs, six of them are at the entering stage of language acquisition, one at the emerging stage, four at the transitioning stage, and fifteen at the expanding stage. David is at the entering stage.
The bilingual second-grade class David attends is a very welcoming and colorful classroom. It is decorated with paw prints all over the classroom, and in every wall, there are anchor charts and students’ work proven the learning students have been exposed to during this school year. The front wall displays a flexible grouping chart with students’ groups for reading, writing, and math. It also shows the current Units of studies for each subject, vocabulary and success criteria. Furthermore, there is a daily agenda with the flow of the day at which students constantly look at to know what to expect next. In the back of the classroom, it can be appreciated the writers’ gallery with writings students have been done so far, constructive feedback provided by the teacher, and pictures of the talented writers. In addition, the atmosphere of the classroom seems to be very safe and engaging. Ms. R., David’s teacher, utilizes chants to call students’ attention and transition routines.
I chose David for my case study because he is at the entering stage of language acquisition, he has already passed the silent period and started to get more comfortable with the target language. In addition, David has a strong literacy foundation in his native language, and I wanted to observe how this strong foundation influences second language acquisition and analyze how David utilizes the target language and interacts with it in different areas of learning. I am a big fan of Stephen Krashen’s theory of language acquisition. My purpose for this paper is to observe and analyze how the Five Hypothesis of Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition are presented in David’s English language acquisition: 1-The Acquisition-Learning Distinction 2. The Natural Order Hypothesis 3. The Monitor Hypothesis 4. The Input Hypothesis, and 5. The Affective Filter Hypothesis (Masciantonio, 1988, pg. 2) (Krashen, 1982, pg. 16).
The five observations for this case study were scheduled for five days. The observations were conducted in five different areas which were: 1-Read-Aloud combined with writing about reading, 2- Math, 3-Writing, 4- Social Studies, and 5- Phonics. Previously to the first observation, a conversation was held with the teacher, Ms. R., about the student to be observed, which days would be the best to come to the classroom, what areas to observe, and how the observation would be conducted while in the classroom. I was also informed by Ms. R. about David’s background, his reading level, English acquisition level, and ways she had supported him in his L2 acquisition. The following paragraph summarizes this information.
According to Ms. R, David is at reading at level J which is at second-grade level for this time of the school year. He was held back last year in second grade; therefore, this is his second year in this grade. When David started second grade, he was reading at level D, but when the September running records were conducted, he went from level D to level J. The teacher explained that David has good comprehension, but he still needs a lot of support with accuracy and fluency. Furthermore, Ms. R. teaches Math in Spanish, she mentions that David’s Math skills are above second-grade expectations, for this reason, Dave is sent daily to third grade during first period for Math Review and Problem of the Day. During Math Workshop, David’s work is more challenging than his peers’ work. He also works with peers who need extra support in math. According to Ms. R., David is very social and outgoing. He does not hesitate when sharing or defending his thinking.
During the observations, I sat at the end of the classroom because I thought was the best way to observe and not be in the middle of the students’ learning. Also, I did not want the students or David to suspect I was there to observe someone.
First Session: I observed a Read-Aloud about sharks and writing about reading combined. Ms. R. read two chapters about sharks one about Sharks’ body parts and another chapter about baby sharks. During the read aloud, Ms. R. utilized picture vocabulary words, and plenty turn and talk, and sentence starters to discuss the main topic, supporting details, and keywords. Some of the sentence starters include: “The main topic of this section is…” One detail is…/Another details is…” “One important word I notice is…” “I think this word means…” I noticed David was engaged during the entire Read-aloud, raising his hand to share, and interrupting his peers when they were talking. I noticed; Ms. R. encouraged students to use complete sentences when sharing their thinking. I was able to observe many times David looking at the sentence starters when communicating his thinking. After the read aloud, students were sent to their desk and complete writing about reading which includes to find the main topic and supporting details of the chapter about baby sharks.
Second Session: a math lesson. Ms. R teaches math in Spanish. In the lesson, students were learning how they can subtract by counting on. Ms. R. modeled students how she used a number line to subtract 86-19 by counting on. The teacher started with 19 and added 1 to get to a benchmark number (20), then she skipped counting by tens (6 times) until she reached 80 and finally added 6 ones to get to 86. After, Ms. R. went back to count the tens and the ones she added to count from 19 to 86. Then, students were asked to solve 95-27. David was the first student to finish the task. He even solved it using two other strategies students have learned previously. Ms. R. asked students to turn and talk to their partners to explain the steps they took to solve the problem, then some students were selected to share with the class, David was one of the students. When communicating his process, David used complete sentences and the academic vocabulary of the unit. After the mini-lesson, students were sent to centers and a small group stay with the teacher. David was assigned to go to the error analysis center, in which he was to guide the small group discussion analyzing the error and possible solutions.
Third Session: Social Study lesson. The lesson consisted of how citizens can create a change in their community by being responsible and following the rules in their community. Ms. R placed four feelings one in each corner of the classroom (Happy, excited, sad, and mad), then she read some statements, and students moved to a corner that reflected their feeling about the statement the teacher read to them. After, students were given the opportunity to discuss why they experienced those feelings when they heard the statements. After the discussion, Ms. Ruiz introduced the “What Should We Do?” template. She modeled to the students how to use it. She took the statement “Students fool around during lesson” and wrote it under the section “Instead of”, then she modeled filling out the section about “We Can…” section in the template with possible solutions. Each student was given a paper with a statement to complete in their sits. I observed David discussing with classmates in his table. Then, I sat quietly for a while and then suddenly started writing and drawing the annoying situation and the possible solution.
Fourth Session: Writing. The lesson was about how writers help their readers create a picture in their minds by including descriptive words. For this lesson, Ms. R. modeled how revising her nonfiction book by adding descriptive words. For the lesson, she displayed an anchor chart with types of descriptive words students could use such as colors, shapes, texture, size, and appearance. David reread his book and added one descriptive word in a chapter of his book. He then got up and grabbed a new booklet to start a new book. Ms. R. called to do a small group including David to practice the same elaboration strategy. David was able to find another place in his writing that he would like to add descriptive words, but it made little sense. Ms. R. suggested to David to reread his chapter to see if his choice made sense. She stayed quiet for a moment, and Ms. R. asked him to tell her what he wanted to write in Spanish. She translated the descriptive words in English and David added his best choice to his writing.
Fifth Session: The last lesson observed was a Phonic lesson. Students were learning about homophones To-Two-Too. Ms. R. began the lesson by showing students a video about homophones. Then, she continued the lesson by reading a sentence that used the tree ways to use the three words, “Two friends went To the candy shop and ate Too many candies.” Then, students worked with a partner to fix a paragraph where the homophones were used incorrectly. Finally, students created three sentences using the three homophones. David took risks sharing sentences with the homophones. He celebrated when got it correct and smiled when it was wrong. However, getting his contributions wrong, did not seem to stop him from sharing again because he kept trying and even sharing without being called to share.
In this portion of the paper, I will analyze each one of Krashen’s Hypotheses of L2 acquisition based on what I observed on David. David is at the Entering stage of SLA. He has passed the silence period and just started to take risks with the target language. Krashen (1982) states that there are two separate and independent systems of developing competence in a L2, the acquired system and the acquisition system. The first system is very similar to the process children experience when acquiring their first language. They are focused not in the form of their utterances because they are using the language to communicate (pg. 17). David was eager to take part in class using the target language, even when Ms. R. restate what he said or encouraged him to repeat using complete sentences, this did not prevent David to communicate his messages. David is gradually learning the rules of the L2. Ms. R. encourages him to use complete sentences and provide sentence starters to support David. This happens when speaking and writing in English.
Krashen’s Natural hypothesis believes that the acquisition of language happens in a predictable order (Masciantonio, 1988, pg. 2). In the acquisition of English, learners tend “to acquire certain grammatical morphemes, or functions words earlier than others such as -ing, and -s to mark the plural…while the third person singular marker /s/ were typically acquired much later” (Krashen 1982, pg. 18). While David was writing his ‘All About Dogs’ book, I noticed in his introduction page he tried to grab his readers’ attention by including a question, introducing the topic, and inviting the readers to continue reading the book. David stated the question using the auxiliary verb Do, he used the suffix -ing correctly; however, he struggled in the middle of the book using descriptive words correctly and in the right order. Krashen believes every person acquires a second language in a predictable order throughout four stages (Escamilla K. & Grassi E., 2000, pg.6), I believe Dave is at the third stage. He is using simple sentences, but according to Ms. R., he has been trying using more complex sentences. I witnessed how David engaged in longer conversations with peers and utilized different verb forms, even though they were not always right. His writing still shows many grammatical errors.
The Input Hypothesis proposes that ELLs will move forward in the target language if the input (language) is comprehensible. It is the most important source for L2 acquisition. Ortega (2009) explains that L2 learners acquire comprehensible input through listening to oral messages that speakers communicate to them,ands through reading written texts that surround them; for instance, street signs, personal letters, books, etc. Furthermore, the author mentions that L2 learners make sense of the messages if the content is personally relevant to them (Pg. 59). There are many ways teachers can support their ELLs to make the content comprehensible for them. The only class I observed in David’s native language was Math, the rest were all in English. Something I noticed is the importance of using strategies to support ELLs, but most importantly, to make the content comprehensible for them. Ms. R. used visuals such as videos, picture vocabulary cards, anchor charts, native language, sentence starters, group work, to support not just David, but all her ELLs. I witnessed how all these strategies supported David in understanding the content being taught and provided opportunities for him to output the newly gainedd knowledge. I need to highlight, that there was a moment David seemed not to understand the meaning of a keyword (pups) Ms. R. introduced (in this moment she did not have a picture) in the read-aloud. He raised his hands and asked, “is that like a baby shark? A word to call a baby shark, just like we use cubs to name baby wolves.” David negotiated the meaning of something he was confused with. Ortega (2009) explains that “noticing can be driven from within the learner, as when she struggles to put a sentence together and express her thoughts and, in the process, discovers something new” (pg. 64). The author adds that noticing can also be encouraged by external means such as through a lesson by a teacher, a question or reaction from an interlocutor.
Krashen’s Affective Hypothesis emphasizes that “all people possess a ‘filter’ which moves into one of two positions, low or high” (Escamilla & Grassi, 2000, pg.10). A Low filter will allow the SLA, this occurs when the ELLs are part of a safe learning environment free of stress, pressure, or judgment. On the other hand, the high filter will prevent language acquisition from happening because of a stressful learning environment (pg. 10). Krashen (1982) mentions that three affective variables can affect language acquisition: Motivation, self-confidence, and anxiety. As I observed David, I could infer that Ms. R. has created a safe learning environment in which David feels safe, motivated and self-confident. He knows that he can take risks with the target language and will not be judged, but challenged and supported to improve in his language acquisition, but also academically.
As a Touro TESOL graduate student, I learned many theories and strategies about teaching and supporting ELLs. I try to apply many of them, but many times I just don’t have the time to reflect on them and how they are supporting my ELLs on the spot. While teaching, I’m looking for understanding, trying to make the content comprehensible and expecting an output that demonstrates the acquisition of the new knowledge. However, while observing David, I put together all these language acquisition hypotheses and how they related to David’s language acquisition. Most of them were present in David’s SLA stage, and in fact, they explained why David master some areas and some haven’t yet. I even spoke with his teacher about Krashen’s hypotheses and we spent a long time analyzing the Natural and Input Hypotheses and connecting with David. Together, we decided some ways to better support David in his language acquisition. As teachers, we get so much on our plate, but we cannot forget why we became educators of ELLs, we need to always make them our priority and provide them the best support in the acquisition and learning of the new language.
Escamilla K. & Grassi E. (2000) Brief Description of Second Language Acquisition.
Professional Development Resource Series, “Second Language Acquisition”, BUENO
Center, University of Colorado, Boulder.
Krashen, S. (1982) Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Retrieved from http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/books/principles_and_practice.pd
Masciantonio, Rudolph (1988) Stephen Krashen and the Classical Languages. The Classical Journal, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Oct. – Nov., 1988), pp. 53-56. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3297556.pdf?ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_expensive%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3Aa997a3e2d462da88c64dcb2b084393b9
Ortega, L. (2009). Understanding Language Acquisition. New York, NY: Hodder Education.