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Predictors of the Instructional Strategies that Elementary School Teachers Use with English Language Learners


by Lucy Rader-Brown & Aimee Howley - 2014

Background/Context: According to demographers, the number of English language learners (ELLs) in U.S schools has been increasing and is likely to continue to increase in coming years. For various reasons relating to language acquisition, cultural adjustment, and persistent discrimination, these students tend to experience academic difficulties. Improvement in their performance depends on teachers’ use of effective instructional strategies, but few surveys have investigated the extent to which teachers use such strategies or the conditions that encourage them to do so.

Focus of Study: This study addressed the following research questions: (a) To what extent do elementary content-area teachers use various research-based practices for teaching ELLs? (b) In consideration of appropriate statistical controls, to what extent are elementary content-area teachers’ professional training, attitudes, bilingualism, and their schools’ characteristics, singly and in combination, associated with their reported use of a set of research-based strategies for teaching English language learners?

Participants: Participants were a random sample of Ohio elementary school teachers (n = 419) in schools in the highest quartile of ELL enrollment.

Research Design: The current study surveyed elementary teachers in Ohio and then used multiple regression methods to identify significant predictors of teachers’ use of research-based strategies with ELLs.

Findings: Findings showed that teachers reported frequent use of research-based strategies, but their preference was for strategies recommended for all learners. They were less likely to use strategies specifically intended for ELLs. In addition, regression results showed that teachers’ attitudes and the percentage of ELLs in their schools were significant predictors of teachers’ use of research-based strategies—a positive predictor in the first instance and a negative predictor in the second. Ancillary analyses revealed that teachers’ years of experience and bilingualism, as well as the schools’ resources, were significant predictors of teachers’ attitudes toward ELLs, with more experienced teachers exhibiting more negative attitudes, and bilingual teachers and those in higher resource schools exhibiting more positive attitudes.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings point to the likelihood that continued efforts to prepare elementary school teachers to work with ELLs will entail the provision of additional resources to schools with large and increasing ELL populations. In addition, efforts to increase teachers’ use of research-based strategies with ELLs will involve professional preparation powerful enough to change attitudes. Instruction in a second language appears to be an approach that bears consideration.

BACKGROUND


English language learners (ELLs) represent a group of students who often experience difficulties in schools in the United States (Ballantyne, Sanderman, & Levy, 2008); the size of this population group has increased dramatically over the past two decades. Of all of the subgroups that comprise school-aged populations, non-native English speakers make up the fastest growing segment (Hill & Flynn, 2006). Data from 2009 to 2010 showed that 9.7% of students enrolled in public schools in grade K–12 were English language learners (ELLs) and that approximately 20% of children of school age belonged to this category (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). According to demographic projections, moreover, the number of English language learners in schools is likely to continue to increase, perhaps dramatically, in the coming years (Pearlman, 2002).


Not only are ELLs increasing in numbers, the percentage of teachers who work with ELLs is also likely to increase. Data from the School and Staffing Survey (NCES, 2000) indicated that approximately 41% of all public school teachers in 1999 had at least one ELL in their classrooms.1 According to the more recent suggestions of Samson and Collins (2012, pp. 1–2), increases in the numbers of ELL children and youth in the United States make it likely that “most, if not all teachers have or can expect to have ELL students in their classroom.”


Some writers argue that if teachers are to work effectively with English language learners—those already in schools and the increasing numbers likely to be there in the future—they will need to be able to use instructional strategies that demonstrate particular utility for these students (e.g., Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, & Driscoll, 2005; Samson & Collins, 2012). Furthermore, because an achievement gap exists between non-native English speakers and their native speaking peers, many believe that teachers need to acquire special skills for providing high-quality education to this group of students (e.g., American Educational Research Association, 2004; Ballantyne et al., 2008; Gándara et al., 2005; Mora, 2009).


Nevertheless, even though they are responsible for the progress made by ELLs, teachers may not be trained in, or even aware of, research-based instructional strategies for teaching non-native English speakers. In a study conducted by Alexander, Heaviside, and Farris (1999), for example, a significant percentage of teachers indicated that they needed more information in order to help ELLs reach high levels of academic achievement. Gándara and associates (2005) found that California teachers, even those with relatively high percentages of ELLs in their classrooms, had received quite limited professional development directly related to the instruction of these students. Citing evidence from the first author’s dissertation study of three California districts, Coleman and Goldenberg (2010) reported that teachers lacked knowledge about which instructional strategies would be best to use with ELLs. These studies and several others (e.g. Gándara et al., 2005; but cf. Rios-Aguilar, Canche, & Moll, 2012) suggested that such knowledge is not widespread. Additional studies to provide information about the extent to which teachers know about and use research-based strategies with ELLs are still warranted, particularly if they help illuminate circumstances that predict the use of such strategies. The current study contributes to the accumulating evidence by addressing two related research questions:


To what extent do elementary content-area teachers use various research-based practices for teaching ELLs?

In consideration of appropriate statistical controls (i.e., school size, district size, teachers’ gender, and teachers’ years of teaching experience), to what extent are elementary content-area teachers’ professional training (i.e., pre-service training and professional development), attitudes, bilingualism, and their schools’ characteristics (i.e., percentage of ELLs, SES, and per-pupil expenditures), singly and in combination, associated with their reported use of a set of research-based strategies for teaching English language learners?


RELATED LITERATURE


Whereas an ample body of research has examined the efficacy of certain strategies with English language learners, a somewhat more limited body of empirical research focuses on teachers’ actual implementation of these strategies. Following a brief discussion of our theoretical framework, we review this literature as well as reviewing studies that point to the likelihood that certain personal and school characteristics may predispose teachers to deploy research-based strategies with ELLs.


THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK


A great deal of theoretical literature has been written about language acquisition and second language learning, much of which has potential implications for practice. Rich as this literature is, it does not provide immediate guidance to teachers who seek instructional strategies particularly useful for working with ELLs. Moreover, this literature reflects a complex array of perspectives (e.g., cognitivist, psycholinguistic, and sociocultural), not all of which contribute to similar insights about the language challenges that ELLs confront or the priorities that instruction ought to address.


Because of the complex and sometimes contradictory nature of the relevant theoretical literature, we have chosen to ground this study in the empirical work on strategies with evident success in helping ELLs acquire English and attain proficiency in academic subjects. This literature is not atheoretical per se, but its theoretical grounding tends to be methodological rather than conceptual. In particular, our approach relies on the positivist and post-positivist assumption that the associations surfaced through experimental, quasi-experimental, and correlational research reflect provisional truths with sufficient warrant to serve as guides to practice while also serving as goads to further inquiry (e.g., Cavell, 1988; Goldenberg & Coleman, 2010). Acknowledging this perspective, we also understand that not all research evidence is sufficiently persuasive. For example, the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC; Gersten et al., 2007) identified four strategies with sufficiently strong evidence to warrant their use with elementary school ELLs. Whereas our reading of the research led to a somewhat different categorization of effective strategies than that offered by the WWC, there was a close alignment between the strategies that our study and WWC identified as research-based.


RESEARCH-BASED INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES


Some literature suggests that certain instructional strategies have the potential to influence the academic achievement of ELLs (Coltrane, 2003; Cortes, 1986; Garcia, 1991; Zehler, 1994). Among these strategies, some also confer benefits to students who speak English as their native language, but others are particularly salient for ELLs (Beckman, 2001; Zehler, 1994).


Strategies That Benefit ELLs as Well as Other Learners


Like most other students, ELLs do best when their classroom environments are predictable, organized, and welcoming to all students (e.g., Zehler, 1994). Students who feel safe and comfortable in their learning environments are better able to attend to instruction than those who feel fearful or confused (e.g., Ratner, Chiodo, & Covington, 2006). By showing care and emotional warmth, enforcing clear rules, and maintaining consistent structural arrangements, teachers help students remain focused on academic tasks (e.g., López, 2012; Reyes, Brackett, Rivers, White, & Salovey, 2012; Stronge, Ward, & Grant, 2011; Ysseldyke, Spicuzza, & Kosciolek, 2003); and such focus is a necessary precursor to students’ learning (e.g. Reyes et al., 2012).


From the perspective of numerous interpreters of the relevant research, moreover, teachers of ELLs should provide many instructional activities that maximize opportunities for students to use language (e.g., Lesaux & Geva, 2006; Schleppegrell, 2004). Such opportunities also benefit native speakers, particularly those whose home environments do not encourage extensive and complex language use. According to this research, moreover, students need opportunities to participate in communication at their own levels of English proficiency. Cooperative learning provides such opportunities, as does the use of open-ended questions. Researchers recommend these strategies for students with various abilities and needs (e.g., Badger & Thomas, 1992; Burnett, 1995; Helfrich & Bosh, 2011).


Research suggests that the cognitive complexity of learning activities is also something teachers of ELLs should consider. Dalton (1998), for example, indicated that instruction for English language learners ought to encourage complex thinking. Numerous studies have also demonstrated that activities requiring higher order thinking benefit most students (e.g., Pogrow, 1990). From Dalton’s (1998) perspective, cultivating higher order thinking in English among students who are just learning the language represented a particular challenge. Nevertheless, the practice of limiting cognitive complexity is likely to have an adverse effect on the academic achievement of ELLs. In fact, some research has shown that “dumbing-down” instruction has a deleterious effect on students with all kinds of learning abilities and special needs (e.g., Lumsden, 1997).


Scaffolding is another approach that some researchers have recommended for ELLs as well as for other struggling learners (e.g., Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2002; Ovando, Collier, & Combs, 2003). Scaffolding involves giving students support while they are learning a new concept but gradually releasing the support as students grasp the concept and become more independent. Scaffolding helps ELLs (as well as other students) make sense of academic assignments because it offers contextual supports such as simplified language, teacher modeling, and visual and graphic depictions of concepts (Buxton, Lee, & Santau, 2008; Gray & Fleishman, 2005).


Another scaffolding approach that some writers have advocated for ELLs as well as for native-speaking students who experience learning difficulties involves the use of questions that elicit responses in a completion format rather than questions requiring students to generate long oral or written responses (Gray & Fleischman, 2005; Zehler, 1994). According to several authors, this approach helps ELLs gain confidence in the use of English (Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2002; Ovando et al., 2003). Researchers have also recommended that teachers find ways to connect new learning to diverse students’ (including ELLs) cultural backgrounds and prior experiences (Cobb, 2004; Dalton, 1998; Helfrich & Bosh, 2011; Zehler, 1994). When students link new information to previous learning or experiences, they find it easier to understand and integrate the new information (Jones, Painscar, Ogle, & Carr, 1987).


In a study conducted by Moll, Velez-Ibanez, and Greenberg (1990), the researchers referred to students’ cultural backgrounds and prior experiences as “funds of knowledge.” These researchers found that students were better at acquiring and retaining new knowledge when it was linked to their already-established “funds.” Other constructivist researchers have reported similar findings with respect to the benefits of linking new concepts to related concepts that students already understand (August & Shanahan, 2006; Cobb, 2004; Coltrane, 2003). Included among the Five Standards for Effective Pedagogy developed by Tharp, Estrada, Dalton, and Yamauchi (2000; Tharp, 1997) is a standard specifically focusing on the value of instruction that makes connections to students’ previous learning and experiences. This standard (i.e., Standard III) is entitled “Making Meaning: Connecting School to Student’s Lives.” An example of an instructional event that is based on the Five Standards would be an interchange between a teacher and a small group of students in which they pursue an “instructional conversation while collaborating on a cognitively challenging activity contextualized in students’ personal, social, or cultural knowledge and experience” (Tharp et al., 2000, p. 2).


A sizable body of research (e.g., Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2000; Estrada & Imhoff, 2001) supports the use of the standards put forth by Tharp and associates (2000) because of the linkage between these standards and valued student outcomes. Some research also has demonstrated the applicability of these standards to the teaching of ELLs (Saunders & Goldenberg, 1999). In Saunders’ and Goldenberg’s study, teachers used instructional conversation and contextualization (i.e., the practice of incorporating personal, social, or cultural knowledge and experience) with ELLs in an activity related to reading comprehension and thematic understanding. Of the ELLs whose new learning was built on relevant prior experiences, 69% were successful in learning the new content.


Research-Based Instructional Strategies Specifically Designed for ELLs


In addition to generally effective instructional approaches that also can be useful with ELLs, strategies have been specifically designed for these students. According to Garcia (1991), careful organization of instruction and clear, practical communication are important characteristics of effective instruction for ELLs. Garcia’s recommendation was based on findings from studies conducted in schools whose Latino, American Indian, Asian, and Southeast Asian language minority students were achieving academic success (Cummins, 1986; Garcia, 1988). These studies primarily relied on the case study approach and included schools at the prekindergarten, elementary, and high school levels. In the schools participating in the studies, the researchers interviewed parents, students, teachers, and principals and made classroom observations in order to assess instructional processes (Garcia, 1991). In terms of communication, one particularly helpful strategy revealed in these studies was for teachers continually to interact with ELLs to clarify the nature of assignments and expectations for their completion (Cummins, 1986; Garcia, 1988; see also Paichi Pat, 2012). Findings from these studies also demonstrated the benefits of having students work collaboratively in class, keeping individual work to a minimum, and providing instructional support to individual students as well as to small groups of students.


Because language is at the heart of the challenges that ELLs face, instructional practices that support the acquisition of a second language, while at the same time supporting more advanced learning in the first language, are key to helping these learners succeed in the classroom (e.g., Goldenberg & Coleman, 2010). Direct vocabulary instruction is essential for ELLs because their knowledge of vocabulary lags behind that of peers who are native speakers (Barr, Eslami, & Joshi, 2012; Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2008; Gersten et al., 2007; Hill & Flynn, 2006). According to one team of researchers, an enriched vocabulary program was effective in closing the gaps in vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension between native and non-native English speakers (McLaughlin et al., 2000).


The goal of the study conducted by McLaughlin and associates (2000) was to examine the influence of a vocabulary program that involved 20 to 30 minutes of vocabulary instruction each day on the reading ability of fourth and fifth grade ELLs. Of the 150 students participating, half were ELLs from Spanish speaking backgrounds and half were native English speakers. All students were assessed at the beginning and end of the year in order to determine knowledge of the target words for that year. Results of the study indicated that students who received the vocabulary intervention during the first two years of the study learned the target vocabulary better than students who did not receive the intervention. ELLs who received the intervention for four years showed gains of one or two years in vocabulary development and reading comprehension, compared to ELL peers who did not receive the intervention. Although the research demonstrated that an enriched vocabulary program did help ELLs increase their vocabularies, the researchers noted that substantial gains resulted only when the intervention lasted a relatively long amount of time.


STUDIES OF TEACHERS’ USE OF RESEARCH-BASED STRATEGIES WITH ELLS


Some recent research has focused attention on teachers’ use of special strategies for integrating language instruction into content lessons. For example, in their survey of teachers’ science instruction with diverse learners, Lee, Maerten-Rivera, Buxton, Penfield, and Secada (2009) found that teachers used special language development techniques only some of the time and rarely presented science instruction in students’ home language (see Khisty, 1995 for similar findings related to mathematics teachers). Moreover, in a later study that used both a pre- and a post-questionnaire as well as classroom observation, Lee and Maerten-Rivera (2012) found that professional development focusing on science instruction with ELLs did result in changes in teachers’ practices—with the most noticeable observed changes occurring among fifth-grade teachers. This team, moreover, has recently published (Lee & Buxton, 2013) recommendations for practice that derive from their research program (see also Klentschy, 2008).


Evidence of teachers’ change from treating science and language instruction as discrete to using an integrated instructional approach comes from the research of Stoddart, Pinal, Latzke, and Canaday (2002). In addition to recording changes in teachers’ perspectives, this team also provided examples of teachers’ thinking at five levels of progress toward optimal integration of science and language instruction. Examples of teachers’ use of effective strategies with ELLs in middle school—in this case in social studies classrooms— are also recorded in Short’s (1994) article.


Another professional development effort, again focusing on science instruction, made use of a research-based model incorporating the following:


(a) intensive, sustained, whole-school efforts focused on the development of student conceptual understanding through culturally relevant science and effective teaching methods which incorporate literacy and language strategies; (b) focus on building relationships between teachers and teachers, teachers and students, and teachers and university faculty members; (c) creation of positive school and classroom climate through procedures and routines for participating in science class and high expectations for success. (Johnson & Marx, 2009, p. 118)


In their comparison of teachers who participated in this program and a control group, Johnson and Marx found notable differences both in teachers’ use of effective approaches for teaching science and in their ability to create classroom climates that were supportive of ELLs’ learning.


POSSIBLE INFLUENCES ON THE USE OF INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES


Some research (e.g., Lee et al., 2009; Stoddart et al., 2002) suggested that teachers vary in the extent to which they use research-based strategies with ELLs. Such variability points to the value of understanding conditions that predispose teachers to use research-based strategies. This study, therefore, examines several conditions with the potential to predict teachers’ use of research-based strategies with ELLs: teachers’ attitudes, bilingualism, and professional preparation, as well as school demographics and resources. A brief review of the literature that speaks to the salience of these conditions is provided below.


Teachers’ Attitudes


Some studies suggest that attitudes toward ELLs can be associated with teachers’ use of research-based strategies with these students (Byrnes & Cortez, 1992; Griego, 2002; Karabenick & Clemens Noda, 2004). This likelihood fits with Karabenick and Clemens Noda’s claim that teachers’ attitudes influence their receptivity to professional development activities designed to prepare them to help ELLs. Notably, teachers’ negative attitudes may keep them from implementing strategies to which they are exposed during professional development sessions.


Nevertheless, some studies have shown that teachers’ attitudes toward ELLs can be changed. As Lee and Oxelson (2006) reported, for example, professional development can change attitudes in ways that lead to improved practice. According to these authors, the attitudes of teachers who received specialized training for teaching ELLs were significantly more positive than those of teachers who did not receive the same kind of training.


Teachers’ Bilingualism


Another possible influence on teachers’ use of research-based strategies with ELLs might be their own bilingualism. Although limited research addresses this possible association, a study conducted by Lee and Oxelson (2006) involving K–12 teachers in California public schools suggested that a connection might exist. The study revealed that personal experiences with languages other than English significantly affected teachers’ attitudes toward native language maintenance and bilingualism, resulting in greater sensitivity to issues of diversity, including language diversity. Similar findings were reported in a 2001 study conducted by C. S. Youngs and G. A. Youngs.


Teachers’ Professional Preparation


The training that teachers receive prior to entering the classroom may also make a difference in the strategies they use with English language learners. According to Byrnes and Cortez (1992), teachers must have proper training in order to be effective in working with ELLs. Other researchers have supported this perspective and added that, in order to allow English language learners full access to the curriculum, educators need to know how to adapt traditional instructional methods or supplement the methods that they typically use (Reeves, 2006).


Including training about the instruction of English language learners in programs for prospective teachers is a recommendation that several authors supported (Bollin, 2007; Cho & DeCastro-Ambrosetti, 2005; Haddix, 2008). In addition, some empirical studies have demonstrated the value of providing practicing teachers with professional development that specifically targets the integration of second language and content-area instruction (e.g., Short, 1994; Stoddart et al., 2002).


School Demographics


The recent and dramatic increase in the school-aged ELL population in many U.S. communities (e.g., Pandya, Batalova, & McHugh, 2011) intensifies the need for teachers to use effective instructional practices with this group (e.g., Howard, 2007; Lapkoff & Li, 2007). Nevertheless, some research reveals a mismatch between what works with diverse students such as ELLs and the practices that teachers commonly use (Garcia, Jensen, & Scribner, 2009).


One might speculate, however, that experiencing the consequences of such a mismatch would eventually prompt teachers to alter their practices (but see Trickett et al., 2012 for insights into the stressors in the work lives of urban teachers that impact their work with ELLs). Such consequences, moreover, are likely to be more evident in schools with larger ELL populations—a circumstance leading to the speculation that teachers in schools with higher ELL enrollments might be more likely than teachers in schools with lower ELL enrollments to report using research-based strategies for instructing these students.


School Resources


The resources that are available to a school may also influence the strategies that its teachers use with ELLs. The availability of resources such as experienced colleagues and teaching coaches, up-to-date textbooks, and specialized learning materials does, in general, have an influence on the quality of instruction (Machtinger, 2007). And, access to these resources might also affect the quality of the instruction provided to ELLs. Some studies, for example, have shown that class size—a condition related to the number of teachers districts can hire—influences academic achievement (e.g., Rice, 1999; Wenglinsky, 1997).


At the same time, a large body of evidence indicates access to resources differs from school to school (e.g., Condron & Roscigno, 2003), with such variability often associated with schools’ socioeconomic status (Wenglinsky, 1997). Notably, high-poverty schools tend to have significantly fewer highly qualified teachers and tend to lose qualified teachers through rapid turnover (Machtinger, 2007). Because the availability of certain resources, such as a stable, highly qualified teaching force, is associated with student achievement, their availability also may influence the effectiveness of instruction. In fact, instructional quality may be the intervening variable that helps explain why the availability of resources (e.g., number of teachers/pupil and stability of the teaching force) has an influence on school performance (Wenglinsky, 1997) even when socioeconomic status is held constant (cf. Hanushek & Lindseth, 2009).


METHODS


We conducted a survey of elementary school teachers in Ohio who worked in schools in the highest quartile of ELL enrollment. Using data from the survey, we developed ordinary least square regression models to address the research questions.


INSTRUMENTATION


We developed a questionnaire to measure the dependent variable and several of the independent variables of interest in the study, and we imputed relevant characteristics of schools from state and national data sources maintained by the Ohio Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics. The questions we constructed to measure the use of research-based instructional strategies for ELLs reflected theoretical and empirical findings from the extant literature describing three domains of instructional practice: organization and communication (including grouping practices, direct instructional methods, and arrangement of the classroom environment); assessment and scaffolding (including formative assessment, intervention, and support structures); and vocabulary instruction (including techniques explicitly linked to the production of fluency in English). These categories corresponded to three of the four effective practices recommended by the What Works Clearinghouse (Gersten et al., 2007). The fourth practice listed by the Clearinghouse related to reading instruction only and was, therefore, too specific for our purposes. We also excluded practices—such as the recommended practice of teaching ELLs to read in their native language (e.g., Goldenberg & Coleman, 2010; Lindholm-Leary & Borsato, 2006)—that many classroom teachers would be unable to implement without schoolwide and perhaps districtwide support.


The questionnaire also included items relating to characteristics of teachers: their course work and in-service professional training pertaining to the instruction of ELLs, bilingualism, gender, years of experience, and attitudes toward ELLs. To measure attitudes, we adopted items from an existing scale, the Language Attitudes of Teachers Scale with the permission of its authors (LATS; Byrnes & Kiger, 1994).


After we had assembled a preliminary version of the instrument, we consulted a panel of experts,2 asking them to review it to ensure that the questions were clear and that their content fit with what we were intending to measure. We then pilot-tested the instrument with a convenience sample of elementary school teachers in a central Ohio school district with an ELL enrollment of approximately 8.9%. The sample consisted of 259 classroom teachers—171 of whom completed the questionnaire. We analyzed data from the pilot test to inform development of a final version of the instrument. Included among these analyses was a factor analysis (principal components with varimax rotation) using items from the instructional strategies scale. Findings indicated the salience of four reliable subscales, listed in the order of importance: (1) assessment, (2) organization and communication, (3) scaffolding and support, and (4) direct vocabulary instruction.3


The final version of the instrument included the LAT and a revised version of the instructional strategies scale as well as questions about teachers’ characteristics and preparation for working with ELLs. Data from the actual study (i.e., not the pilot study) indicated that both the LAT and the instructional strategies scale had relatively robust alpha reliabilities—.83 and .89 respectively.


SAMPLING


The population of interest included elementary school teachers in Ohio schools with high percentages of ELLs. To identify teachers from these schools, we used a cluster sampling process involving the creation of a sampling frame based on data provided by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) through SchoolDataDirect (http://www.schooldatadirect.org/). The CCSSO list included 365 elementary schools representing the subset of such schools for which data on Limited English Proficient (LEP)4 students had been reported. Listing these Ohio elementary schools sequentially from those with the smallest percentages of LEP students to those with the largest percentages, we then identified those schools with LEP percentages in the top quartile. These schools turned out to have 8.9% or higher percentages of students categorized as LEP.5


With a total of 109 schools in the high-LEP category, this approach yielded a potential sample of 2,180 teachers (i.e., considering that, theoretically, there might be 20 teachers per school). The actual sample, however, was created by asking principals of these schools to distribute questionnaires randomly to 20 content-area teachers (i.e., if the school had that many) or to however many content-area teachers the school employed (i.e., if the school employed fewer than 20). Because not all schools agreed to participate and because some of those that participated had fewer than 20 teachers, the actual sample (i.e., teachers who returned completed questionnaires) turned out to be 419.


DATA COLLECTION


Following a phone call to ask for their assistance with the study, we mailed copies of the questionnaire to principals of schools in the sample. The mailing included a cover letter to principals that explained the study and the procedures for assuring respondents’ confidentiality. Also included was a cover letter to each teacher who was to receive a questionnaire—up to 20 content-area teachers per school. Return envelopes were number coded so that we could determine which principals had returned the questionnaires by a specified date. We mailed a second set of questionnaires to those principals whose teachers had not yet responded by the return date, and we made a follow-up phone call to those principals to remind them to return the questionnaires.


DATA ANALYSIS


We computed various descriptive statistics in order to gain an understanding of the character of teachers’ responses to questionnaire items as well as to test whether or not each variable that was used in the regression analyses met the necessary assumptions associated with that statistical procedure. We also calculated total scores for the scales measuring the two relevant constructs—reported use of research-based strategies and attitudes toward ELLs.


Next, to test the influence of relevant teacher characteristics and contextual variables, we developed multiple regression models in which reported use of research-based strategies was the dependent variable and teachers’ professional training (i.e., pre-service training and in-service professional development), attitudes toward ELLs, bilingualism, school demographics (i.e., percentage of ELLs enrolled), and school resources (i.e., free- and reduced-price lunch rate and per-pupil expenditures) were independent variables. Model construction involved both hierarchical entry of variables in blocks based on the conceptual similarity of the independent variables and stepwise entry.


LIMITATIONS


The study was limited in several respects. First, it relied on self-reports from teachers—a method of data collection that often results in overestimates of the use of effective practices (Groves et al., 2004). We recognize that observations to substantiate respondents’ claims or interviews to get a deeper understanding of how the responding teachers used these practices would have strengthened the study’s validity.


Second, the sampling frame included many, but not all, Ohio elementary schools because the information from the CCSSO was, at the time, the only list of Ohio schools that included ELL percentages. A sampling frame with information about all Ohio schools would have given us a larger population of schools from which to draw our sample.


Finally, our selection of research-based strategies depended on careful analysis of the relevant literature, but not on an empirical process. For example, we might have used focus-group interviews with ELL teachers to generate a list of research-based practices. Or, we might have asked our expert panel to create such a list rather than having them evaluate a list we supplied. Despite the value that these additional processes might have contributed, our process was systematic. Furthermore, as noted above, results of our exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses suggest that the scale and its empirically salient subscales possessed conceptual coherence as well as exhibiting some evidence of stability across samples.


FINDINGS


Principals distributed a total of 960 questionnaires to teachers. Of the 960 distributed, 419 were returned, resulting in a teacher return rate of 44%. Of the 65 schools that had originally agreed to participate, 47 returned the instruments, resulting in a school return rate of 72%. Descriptive statistics showing the characteristics of the schools that did and did not return the questionnaires, along with the percentage of ELL enrollment, percentage of economically disadvantaged students, per-pupil expenditure (at the district level), school size, and district size are provided in Table 1.


Table 1. Descriptive Statistics for Demographics of Responding and Non-Responding Schools

Variable

Responding Schools
Mean
(n= 48)

Non-Responding Schools
Mean
(n= 61)

Responding Schools
Standard
Deviation
(n= 48)

Non-Responding Schools
Standard Deviation
(n= 61)

Percentage ELL

19.41

18.64

11.53

17.14

Percentage free- and reduced-lunch

55.48

51.16

23.47

20.84

District per-pupil expenditure

6383.06

6155.38

962.58

969.52

School size

440

323

119.81

135.46

District size

12411

6704

13220.79

6411.51


As shown in the table above, the mean for the responding and non-responding schools reveal differences that, on inspection, seem to be meaningful (e.g., the 55.48% versus 51.16% free- and reduced-lunch rate). However, when we used an online calculator (http://www.dimensionresearch.com/reesources/calculator/test.html) to test the statistical significance of these apparent differences in means, we found that only one of them was statistically significant at the 95% confidence level—the difference in the means for school size. It appears that those schools in the sample that returned questionnaires had significantly larger student enrollments than those that did not return the questionnaires.


DESCRIPTIVE FINDINGS


The next step involved computing descriptive statistics for the variables included in the regression models. Means and standard deviations for items comprising the research-based strategies scale as well as for the scale as a whole are presented in Table 2.


Table 2. Research-Based Strategies Items (1-4 Scale), Arranged From Highest to Lowest Rating

 

Item

N

Mean

SD

Follow structured classroom routines.

379

3.65

.531

Model what you expect students to do on tasks and assignments.

376

3.62

.568

After giving directions for an assignment, ask questions to make sure all students understand their assignment.

379

3.60

.602

Give students opportunities to use oral language in daily classroom instruction.

378

3.54

.564

Connect new concepts to students' background knowledge and experience.

378

3.38

.654

Use simple language when giving directions.

378

3.35

.652

Use gestures when giving directions.

376

3.32

.737

Provide opportunities for each student to communicate at his or her level of language proficiency.

376

3.29

.665

Use visual cues to assist students in understanding the meaning of new vocabulary words.

377

3.27

.734

Use simple language when explaining new concepts to students.

377

3.26

.688

Teach content-specific vocabulary.

374

3.26

.686

Use small group instruction.

378

3.25

.783

Use open-ended questioning during classroom discussions.

376

3.20

.679

Use cooperative language.

375

3.19

.699

Use gestures to assist students in understanding the meaning of new vocabulary.

376

3.16

.756

Purposefully present new vocabulary words to students in teacher-directed lessons.

378

3.12

.735

Teach individual vocabulary words in the context of meaningful sentences.

377

3.11

.765

Provide several meaningful examples of the application of new vocabulary words.

373

3.09

.714

When asking students to complete an assignment, give directions orally and in writing.

376

3.07

.927

Check daily to see that students understand classroom routines.

377

3.06

.887

Give students opportunities to practice new vocabulary in a variety of meaningful ways.

376

2.91

.748

Ask students to restate directions for academic tasks.

377

2.86

.775

Have students work in pairs when completing assignments.

376

2.83

.806

Replace complex vocabulary with simpler substitutes that still preserve the same meaning.

371

2.75

.836

Use one-on-one instruction.

378

2.71

.835

Use physical objects to assist students in understanding the meaning of new vocabulary.

378

2.68

.898

Use multiple choice items on assignments or tests.

370

2.60

.894

Use sentence starters as a way to get students to generate sentences using new vocabulary.

377

2.46

.905

Use sentences with blanks for students to fill in as a way to get students to practice using new vocabulary.

376

2.45

.884

Have students choose answers from a list.

375

2.43

.820

Ask for fill-in-the-blank answer completion rather than generation of lengthy written responses.

366

2.40

.856

Ask for fill-in-the-blank answer completion rather than generation of lengthy oral responses.

368

2.32

.836

Keep individual work to a minimum.

370

2.19

.780

TOTAL SCALE

314

99.79

11.77


These statistics showed that, on average, teachers reported using 23 of the research-based strategies somewhere between “frequently” and “very frequently.” The five practices that had the highest ratings for frequency of use were (a) follow structured classroom routines; (b) model what you expect students to do on tasks and assignments; (c) after giving directions for an assignment, ask questions to make sure all students understand their assignment; (d) give students opportunities to use oral language in daily classroom instruction, and (e) connect new concepts to students' background knowledge and experience. All of these strategies are ones that research shows to be beneficial for students in general. The five strategies that teachers reported using least frequently were (a) use sentences with blanks for students to fill in as a way to get students to practice using new vocabulary; (b) have students choose answers from a list; (c) ask for fill-in-the-blank answer completion rather than generation of lengthy written responses; (d) ask for fill-in-the-blank answer completion rather than generation of lengthy oral responses; and (e) keep individual work to a minimum. These strategies are ones with demonstrated efficacy for ELLs but not necessarily for other students. Teachers’ average score on the strategies scale was 99.79—a point considerably above the scale’s midpoint of 82.5.


We found these results germane to the research question, “To what extent do elementary content-area teachers use various research-based practices for teaching ELLs?” Descriptive statistics showed that, on average, teachers reported using these strategies “frequently.”6 Their tendency, however, was to favor the research-based strategies that provide assistance to all students over those that provide assistance to ELLs in particular.


We also computed means and standard deviations for items comprising the attitudes scale as well as for the scale as a whole. These statistics are presented in Table 3.


Table 3. Descriptive Statistics for Attitude Items Arranged from Highest to Lowest Rating (1-4 scale)

Item

N

M

SD

English should be the official language of the United States.*

372

3.20

.692

I would support the government spending additional money to provide better programs for linguistic-minority students in public schools.

374

3.14

.583

Regular classroom teachers should be required to receive pre-service or in-service training to be prepared to meet the needs of linguistic minorities.

376

3.11

.686

Parents of English proficient students should be encouraged to speak with their children in whatever language they find most comfortable.

379

2.94

.610

It is important that people in the United States learn a language in addition to English.

377

2.87

.799

Parents of non or limited English proficient students should be counseled to speak English with their children whenever possible.*

374

2.80

.814

Having a non or limited English proficient student in the classroom helps the other students learn better.

369

2.69

.735

To be considered American, one should speak English.*

370

2.47

.884

At school, the learning of the English language by non or limited English proficient children should take precedence over learning subject matter.*

372

2.40

.736

Local and state governments should require that all government businesses (including voting) be conducted only in English.*

372

2.24

.721

The rapid learning of English should be a priority for non-English proficient or limited English proficient students, even if it means they lose the ability to speak their native language.*

367

2.17

.703

People in the United States do not need to learn to speak a second language.

375

2.12

.747

Non and limited English proficient students often use unjustified claims of discrimination as an excuse for not doing well in school.*

364

2.10

.635

The United States should not have one official language.

373

1.98

.722

It is unreasonable to expect a regular classroom teacher to teach a child who does not speak English.*

373

1.94

.779

With the many financial needs of schools, the government might need to cut back on its support for programs serving limited English proficient students.*

373

1.92

.688

Having a non or limited English proficient student in the classroom is detrimental to the learning of other students.*

376

1.67

.672

Most non and limited English proficient children are not motivated to learn English.*

377

1.59

.586

TOTAL

331

50.27

6.53

Note. * These items were reverse coded in the construction of the attitudes scale.


The other independent variables of interest in the model included the following: percentage of ELLs in the school, school socio-economic status (i.e., percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches), district per-pupil expenditures, bilingualism of the teacher, teachers’ undergraduate preparation for teaching ELLs, and teachers’ in-service professional development for teaching ELLs. In addition, the model included the following control variables: teachers’ years of experience (which served as a proxy for age), teachers’ gender, district size, and school size. Descriptive statistics for these independent and control variables are presented in two tables below. Descriptive statistics (means, standard deviations, and number of respondents) for years of teaching, professional development activities, undergraduate preparation for teaching ELLs, school size, district size, school SES (percentage of free and reduced-price lunch), per-pupil expenditure, and percentage of ELL enrollment are presented in Table 4. Frequency counts and percentages for bilingualism and gender are presented in Table 5.


Table 4. Descriptive Statistics for Undergraduate Training, Professional Development Activities, Age, Years Teaching

Variable

N

M

SD

Undergraduate training (number of courses with ELL content)

271

.52

1.5

Professional development activities with ELL content (number of activities)

351

4.4

8.97

Teaching experience (number of years)

367

15.3

9.6

School size (number of students)

381

440

119.8

District size (number of students)

381

12,410.7

13,220.8

SES (percentage of students on free or reduced-price lunches)

381

55.48

23.47

Per-pupil expenditure (in dollars)

381

6,383

962.58

Percentage of ELLs in the school

381

19.46

11.49


Table 5. Frequencies for Bilingualism and Gender

Item

Response Choices

Frequency Count

Percentage Frequency

Percentage Missing Data

Speak a second language

Yes

60

15.7%

4.2%

No

305

80.1%

 

Carry on a conversation in another language

Yes

50

13.1%

5.8%

No

309

81.1%

 

Gender


Male

22

5.8%

3.4%

Female

346

90.8%

 


FINDINGS FROM MULTIPLE REGRESSION ANALYSES


To answer the second research questions, we developed multiple regression models in which the dependent variable was the reported use of research-based strategies. We entered independent variables in three blocks:


Control variables: building size, district size, teachers’ years of teaching, and teacher’s gender

Contextual variables of interest: school free and reduced-price lunch rate, school percentage of ELLs, and district per-pupil expenditure

Teacher variables of interest: number of professional development activities related to teaching ELLs, number of undergraduate courses related to teaching ELLs, and teacher status as monolingual or bilingual/multilingual


The regression model revealed that the control variables accounted for very little of the variance in teachers’ reported use of research-based strategies for teaching ELLs. The R-squared value for the model with just the control variables was .02 and was not significant. Additional contextual variables also contributed little, increasing the R-squared value to .07 but still not producing a significant model. The introduction of teacher variables added to the explanatory power of the model, increasing the R-squared value to .18 and producing a statistically significant model. The two variables that exerted significant influence were teacher attitude toward ELLs and school ELL percentage. Teachers with more positive attitudes were more likely to use research-based strategies. Curiously, teachers in schools with higher percentages of ELLs were less likely to use such strategies. The three-stage direct-entry model is presented in Table 6.


Table 6. Summary of Direct Entry Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Use of Research-Based Strategies

Variables

∆R2

Beta

Step 1

Building size

.02

.05

District size

 

.04

Gender

 

.06

Years teaching

 

-.11

Step 2

   

Building size

.05

.00

District size

 

.07

Gender

 

.047

Years teaching

 

-.12

ELL percentage

 

-.18*

SES

 

.02

Per-pupil expenditure

 

.10

Step 3

   

Building size

.11**

-.05

District size

 

.04

Gender

 

.02

Years teaching

 

-.06

ELL percentage

 

-.17

SES

 

.02

Per-pupil expenditure

 

.06

Attitudes

 

.31***

Undergraduate ELL course

 

.12

ELL professional development

 

.12

Bilingualism

 

-.05



Total R2

.19**

 

Notes. n = 186. *p<.05, ** p<.01, ***p<.001


In addition to the full model, we also constructed a reduced regression model using stepwise regression with pairwise exclusion of missing values. The results were comparable to those obtained using direct entry: teacher attitude and percentage of ELLs contributed to a statistically significant model with an R-squared value of .16.


Because the models incorporated both teacher-level and school-level independent variables, we recognized the potential for error resulting from intraclass correlation (ICC). To check for the possible influence of school-level effects, we performed an intraclass correlation analysis in order to determine whether or not the teachers’ responses to the questionnaire were nested on the basis of the schools in which they worked. The ICC for the model in which reported use of research-based strategies was the dependent variable was 1.89/140.58 or .013. This result indicated that 1.3% of the variance in teachers’ reported use of these strategies was explained by building membership; in other words, teachers’ practices (i.e., the set of research-based strategies reportedly used with ELLs) were not heavily influenced by the schools in which they worked.


Noting the contribution of attitudes in explaining variance in reported use of research-based strategies, we decided to seek further clarification of the operant relationships by constructing a regression model to identify the variables with the greatest impact on teachers’ attitudes toward ELLs. We used a three-block entry model comparable to the one used when teachers’ reported use of research-based strategies was the dependent variable. That is, we entered control variables first, contextual variables second, and teacher-level variables of interest third.


With this model, each step yielded a significant equation, and explanatory power increased with the addition of the set of variables at each successive step. R-squared values increased from .08 for the equation with just control variables, increased to .12 for the equation with control variables and contextual variables, and increased to .19 for the equation with all variables. In the model that included control variables only, teachers’ years of experience showed a significant negative influence. This association persisted at each stage, showing that more experienced teachers tended to hold less favorable attitudes toward ELLs than less experienced teachers. Entry of the second block of variables revealed the added influence of per-pupil expenditure: teachers in higher expenditure districts tended to have more favorable attitudes. This association remained significant in the final model, in which teachers’ bilingualism also demonstrated a significant influence. Teachers who spoke more than one language tended to have more favorable attitudes toward ELLs. Table 7 presents the three stages of this model.7


Table 7. Summary of Direct Entry Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Attitudes Toward ELLs

Variables

∆R2

Beta

Step 1

 

.08

 

Building size

 

.08

District size

 

.07

Gender

 

.11

Years teaching

 

-.21**

Step 2

 

.04**

 

Building size

 

.08

District size

 

.07

Gender

 

.11

Years teaching

 

-.21**

ELL percentage

 

-.02

SES

 

.02

Per-pupil expenditure

 

.20**

Step 3

 

.08***

 

Building size

 

.10

District size

 

.01

Gender

 

.09

Years teaching

 

-.198**

ELL percentage

 

-.03

SES

 

.01

Per-pupil expenditure

 

.18*

Undergraduate ELL course

 

-.09

ELL professional development

 

.04

Bilingualism

 

.291**

 

Total R2

.19***

 

Note. n = 221. *p<.05, ** p<.01, ***p<.001


DISCUSSION


Some findings from this study provided new insights regarding the influence of teacher and contextual variables on teachers’ use of research-based strategies with ELLs as well as on their attitudes toward ELLs. Others appeared to correspond to what has been reported in previous studies.


NEW INSIGHTS


As noted above, our study showed that schools’ percentage of ELLs was negatively associated with teachers’ use of research-based strategies and that district per-pupil expenditure was positively associated with teachers’ attitudes toward ELLs. In the extant research we reviewed, however, few studies considered contextual influences on teachers’ attitudes toward and practices with ELLs. For example, a recent study conducted by Rios-Aguilar et al. (2012) examined associations between teacher characteristics and their attitudes toward and beliefs about teaching ELLs, but its analyses did not extend to associations between school demographics and teachers’ attitudes and beliefs. Nevertheless, some qualitative studies (e.g., Trickett et al., 2012) as well as some synoptic analyses (e.g., Batt, 2008) have suggested that school context might have an impact on teachers’ perspectives on and practices with ELLs.


This work points to the possibility that a negative association between schools’ percentage of ELLs and teachers’ use of research-based strategies might relate to the construct, threat rigidity. Research focusing on this construct points to schools’ tendency to revert to more traditional, standardized, and centrally controlled practices when they feel threatened (e.g., by accountability testing or, in this case, by increasing numbers or rapid increases in the numbers of ELLs; Daly, 2009; Olsen & Sexton, 2009; Trickett et al., 2012). If the dynamics of threat rigidity indeed result from demographic shifts (either rapid or gradual) as well as other challenges, then one might expect to see research-based strategies, especially those requiring teachers’ creative adaptations of instructional formats, materials, and routines, used less often in the schools that, arguably, need them the most—schools serving high percentages of non-native speakers of English, students living in poverty, and students from other marginalized groups (e.g., Olsen & Sexton, 2009). Further research is needed to test the influence of increasing numbers of ELLs as well as rapid demographic shifts on the threat rigidity demonstrated by schools and experienced by teachers.


As this discussion suggests, the negative association between schools’ percentage of ELLs and teachers’ reported use of research-based strategies is not readily explained on the basis of findings from the current study and other related research. A more easily interpreted finding from the study, by contrast, is the positive association between per-pupil expenditure and teachers’ attitudes toward ELLs. Teachers from districts with higher per-pupil expenditures were more likely to report positive attitudes toward ELLs than teachers from districts with lower per-pupil expenditures. Although other studies of attitudes toward ELLs have not identified the influence of funding level, some earlier studies have revealed similar associations—namely associations between school funding level and teachers’ attitudes toward students from other disadvantaged groups (e.g., Ernst & Rogers, 2009; Fradd, 1992).


CONFIRMATORY FINDINGS


Our study provided two findings that seemed to confirm reports from previous studies—one regarding the relationship between teachers’ attitudes and the strategies they use to teach ELLs and the other regarding the relationship between teachers’ bilingualism and their attitudes toward ELLs. Whereas the finding about attitudes might be interpreted in several different ways, the finding about bilingualism seems more straightforward.


Along with findings from our study, those from several previous studies indicated that teachers’ attitudes toward English language learners are associated with the ways they interact and work with this group of students (August & Hakuta, 1997; Cummins, 2000; Diaz-Rico, 2000; Gonzalez & Darling-Hammond 2000; Karabenick & Clemens Noda, 2004). In the current study, moreover, bivariate correlations suggested that teachers’ attitudes may be more highly associated with some recommended strategies than with others. Table 8 shows the significant associations.


Table 8. Significant Associations Between Strategies and Teachers’ Attitudes (From Strongest to Weakest)

Item

R

Connect new concepts to students’ background knowledge.

.296**

Give students opportunities to practice new vocabulary in a variety of meaningful ways.

.262**

Give students the opportunity to use oral language in daily classroom activities.

.261**

Use cooperative groups.

.257**

Use small group instruction.

.203**

Teach individual vocabulary words in the context of meaningful sentences.

.195**

Use visual cues to assist students in understanding the meaning of new words.

.181**

Use gestures when giving directions.

.168**

Use physical objects to assist students in understanding the meaning of new vocabulary.

.167**

Provide opportunities for each student to communicate at his or her level of language proficiency.

.166**

Use gestures to assist students in understanding the meaning of new vocabulary.

.155*

Model what you expect students to do on tasks and assignments.

.138*

Have students work in pairs when completing assignments.

.136*

Provide several meaningful examples of the application of new vocabulary words.

.135*

Replace complex vocabulary with simpler substitutes that still preserve the same meaning.

.123*

Teach content-specific vocabulary.

.119*

Keep individual work to a minimum.

.110*

Note. *p< .05, **p< .01


As the regression coefficients in Table 8 show, the strategies most closely associated with teachers’ positive attitudes toward English language learners involved vocabulary instruction; classroom organizational arrangements (i.e., cooperative groups, small groups, and working in pairs); and the use of gestures, visual cues, or physical objects. Strategies that were not associated with positive attitudes included several related to the use of classroom assignments and tests (see Table 9).


Table 9. Non-Significant Associations Between Strategies and Teachers’ Attitudes (From Weakest to Strongest)

Item

R

Use sentences with blanks for students to fill in as a way to get students to practice using new vocabulary.

-.005

Use multiple choice items on assignments or tests.

.019

Use open-ended questioning during classroom discussions.

.023

Ask for fill-in-the-blank answer completion rather than generation of lengthy oral responses.

.023

Ask for fill-in-the-blank answer completion rather than generation of lengthy written responses.

.044

After giving directions for an assignment, ask questions to make sure all students understand their assignment.

.057

Use simple language when giving directions.

.060

Follow structured classroom routines.

.060

Ask students to restate directions for academic tasks.

.064

Have students choose answers from a list.

.082

When asking students to complete an assignment, give directions both orally and in writing.

.083

Use one-on-one instruction.

.095

Use simple language when explaining new concepts to students.

.098

Check daily to see that students understand classroom routines.

.099

Use sentence starters as a way to get students to generate sentences using new vocabulary.

.105

Purposefully present new vocabulary words to students in teacher-directed lessons.

.108


Perhaps this pattern of significant and non-significant associations had something to do with the extensiveness of the changes that the different strategies would require. For example, teachers who were positively disposed toward ELLs might have been able to find time to modify their methods of presenting information, but perhaps could not find time for the more burdensome tasks required in order to modify assignments and tests in appropriate ways. This speculation gains some support from the findings of a study of one social studies teacher’s efforts to differentiate instruction for ELLs (Wang, Many, & Krumenaker, 2008). The case study reported by Wang and associates revealed the teacher’s use of a set of more and less effective practices—combined because of their practicality within the classroom environment, not because of their pedagogical coherence or demonstrated efficacy.


The association between teachers’ bilingualism and their attitude toward ELLs also seems to substantiate findings from previous research (e.g., Lee & Oxelson, 2006; Rios-Aguilar et al., 2012). Lee and Oxelson’s (2006) study, for example, showed that individuals who had the ability to speak another language were more aware of and receptive to the needs of ELLs than those who did not. C. S. Youngs and G. A. Youngs’ (2001) research suggested, moreover, that teachers’ experience of learning another language need not be extensive in order to contribute to more positive attitudes. Notably, teachers with one or more years of instruction in a second language and those who had traveled in another country had more positive attitudes toward ELLs than teachers who lacked those experiences. The empirical association between bilingualism and teachers’ attitudes toward ELLs also fits with claims made by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (n.d.), namely that the experience of being a language learner oneself helps individuals develop positive attitudes toward speakers of languages other than their own.


Theoretical work on “integrativeness” (Gardner, 1983) may help explain why the experience of learning a second (or third) language might lead to greater appreciation of other language learners. According to this theory, individuals who learn a second language do so because they genuinely want to identify psychologically with another culture. By learning the second language, the individuals are able to become integrated with two communities, their community of origin and another language community with which they identify. Having a genuine interest in another culture and in learning the language spoken by members of that culture is most likely a result of the individual’s preexisting positive attitude toward that other culture. Following the logic of this theory, we might hypothesize that teachers who have involved themselves in the integrative experience of learning another language might be more sympathetic than other teachers to students who are having a similar experience.


LESS PROMISING PREDICTORS


Despite the commonly held belief that explicit preparation—both pre-service and in-service—is needed for working with students with special needs, including ELLs (e.g., Ballantyne et al., 2008), we did not find a significant association between the extensiveness of teachers’ preparation for such work and either their attitudes toward ELLs or their reported practices. One possible reason for our failure to observe significant associations is the crude way we measured the training that teachers had received, namely questionnaire items eliciting self-reports about the extensiveness of training, but no items relating to its quality. Another possibility is that even though the amount of training did vary across teachers, only a small number had received what might be thought of as extensive training. This circumstance points to a possible threshold effect whereby added increments of training might become salient only after a certain threshold is reached (cf. Rios-Aguilar et al., 2012).


Our findings point to a definite need for further research to explore the efficacy of more and less extensive training programs for expanding teachers’ receptivity to ELLs and increasing their use of research-based strategies with this population. In the absence of evidence concerning the efficacy of such training, however, we can commend second-language instruction as a starting point for increasing teachers’ understanding of and respect for the challenges of learning another language. Although we have not seen this recommendation in reports about how to improve teacher preparation (e.g., Blue Ribbon Panel, 2010), the requirement that teacher candidates study a second language may indeed be a wise response to the demographic changes taking place in the United States.


Notes


1. We made this determination using the Education Data Analysis Tool (EDAT) provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. The data came from questions 41 and 42 of the School and Staffing Survey of 1999-2000. Item 41 asked teachers to indicate how many Limited English Proficient (LEP) students they had in their classrooms. Item 42 asked only those teachers with at least one LEP student about the amount of training they had received for working with LEP students. The weighted percentage of teachers who answered the question was 41.19%; the weighted percentage of teachers who did not answer the question was 58.81%. In other words, 41.19% reported having at least one LEP student and then went on to answer the question about training, while 58.81% skipped the question because they did not have at least one LEP student in their classrooms.

2. The panel of experts included three educators, two with doctorates in TESOL and one with a post-master’s endorsement in TESOL. Two of the experts were working as administrators—one as a district-level ESL facilitator and one as a principal. The principal also taught ESL-related courses at a local university. The third expert was a teacher educator with experience teaching ESL-related courses to pre-service and in-service teachers.

3. Confirmatory factor analysis using data from the study itself also provided evidence of the salience of the same four factors, although their order of importance shifted, with vocabulary instruction explaining the largest proportion of the variance, followed by assessment, scaffolding, and support, and organization and communication, respectively.

4. Limited English Proficient (LEP) is used in some contexts in place of the term, English language learner (ELL).

5. The enrollment of ELLs in elementary schools in the top quartile varied from 8.9% to 75% in their percentages of ELLs.

6. Self-reported data, of course, may have resulted in inflated estimates of the actual use of these strategies.

7. The ICC for this model did reveal that building membership was associated with attitude. Although beyond the scope of this study, multilevel analysis should be used in future studies testing the influence of the characteristics of teachers and schools on teachers’ attitudes toward ELLs.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 5, 2014, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17437, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 4:30:21 PM

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  • Lucy Rader-Brown
    Westerville City Schools
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    LUCY RADER-BROWN is Pupil Services Coordinator for Westerville City Schools in Westerville, Ohio. Lucy has also served as an Elementary Principal, an Elementary Assistant Principal, and an Assistant Coordinator of ESL in Westerville City Schools. She received her doctorate from Ohio University in November, 2010.
  • Aimee Howley
    Ohio University
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    AIMEE HOWLEY is Senior Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the Patton College of Education at Ohio University. Her recent research examines educational policy, rural education, and talent development. She and two co-authors are currently working on an edited book on issues of social class and race in rural schools.
 
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