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Teaching ELLs Across Content Areas: Issues and Strategies

reviewed by Leanne Evans - May 22, 2017

coverTitle: Teaching ELLs Across Content Areas: Issues and Strategies
Author(s): Nan Li (ed.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681234874, Pages: 366, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

Students who are designated as English Language Learners (ELLs) comprise almost 10% of the K-12 population in U.S. classrooms (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2016), and there is a growing concern that teachers are not adequately equipped to effectively serve these students. While not all teachers will share the same cultural and linguistic backgrounds as their students, it can be argued that all teachers and teacher candidates can develop practices that support language learners (Lucas & Villegas, 2013; Sampson & Collins, 2012). Teaching ELLs Across Content Areas: Issues and Strategies offers educators a resource for teaching English learners in content area classrooms.


The text, edited by Nan Li, is a compilation of second language theories, instructional strategies, and professional knowledge focused on teaching ELLs in a wide array of subject areas in the K-12 classroom. Created for the teacher and teacher educator, this book is the culmination of work by expert, reputable scholars written from an English language development perspective. The authors seek to discuss issues related to teaching linguistically diverse students, and they provide myriad pedagogical approaches. There is a clear commitment throughout the book to offer a framework emphasizing high-quality, research-oriented practices. In addition, the intent of this volume is to close knowledge gaps that subsist in the existing professional literature related to teaching ELLs in the content areas.


Teaching ELLs Across Content Areas: Issues and Strategies is arranged in three parts with a total of 12 chapters. Each chapter begins with a short vignette that aims to connect readers to a human story, as well as the issues and practices unique to that chapter topic.


In Part One, “Knowing ELLs,” Nan Li provides an overview of the demographics, trends, and characteristics of learners who are developing English. The first chapter frames the content of the book by offering three student profiles that serve as illustrative examples of the academic issues faced by ELL students. This is accompanied by one table outlining the definitions of common terms related to ELLs and another table that deconstructs seven myths often associated with learners of English. In Chapter Two of this section, Li is joined by Thomas Destino to summarize highly regarded theories and perspectives from the field of second language acquisition. The aim is to offer readers a theoretical foundation from which to begin developing a pedagogical knowledge base related to ELLs.


Part Two, titled “Teaching ELLs Across the Content Areas,” divides each chapter by six subject areas commonly taught in U.S. schools. These content areas include language arts, science, math, social studies, technology, and the arts. The chapters in this section focus on two key areas: issues for teaching ELLs and challenges ELLs experience in the specific content area. Nuances related to each content area are addressed. From there, explicit, evidence-based strategies are offered by expert scholars in their fields. The K-12 teacher audience will be drawn to the detailed content area methodology, suggestions for differentiation of instruction, and the infusion of culturally responsive practices. The titles of the chapters in Part Two are clearly organized by content area to enable teachers’ easy reference to a specific focus subject.


Part Three, “Other Issues on Teaching ELLs,” offers fundamental information for educators who are developing their professional knowledge and ideological framework for teaching ELLs. The topics emphasized in this final section include building academic vocabulary, increasing cultural awareness, using a psychological approach to foster motivation, and information related to teacher preparation (i.e., standards, accreditation, and assessment). This section offers information that is essential to include in the preparation of all teachers as teachers of ELLs.


From my perspective as a teacher educator, researcher, and former reading specialist in bilingual education, I commend the authors for contributing a practical, teacher-oriented resource immersed in expert knowledge and relevant, useful pedagogical approaches. However, I have two recommendations to consider in choosing this text for a teacher education program.


First, the book’s authors assert a culturally responsive stance suggesting it is teachers’ responsibility to know their students, adjust instruction, and create learning environments that foster success. I believe this position can be strengthened. The language used is centrally constructed in a manner that describes teaching ELLs as a challenge. My concern is that pre-service and novice teachers will acquire a perception that students with a home language other than English are difficult to work with or have a deficit to overcome (Valencia, 1997). To remedy this, I would fortify the culturally responsive position up front. I recommend that readers begin with Chapter 10, “Increasing Cultural Awareness for Teachers,” before delving into the chapters of Part Two, which address specific issues and strategies in each of the subject areas. For me, Chapter 10 is the backbone of understanding teaching and learning in classrooms of diverse learners, and should be offered as the foundation for the other chapters. Focusing on teacher dispositions up front will help readers to shape their beliefs about their capacity as a teacher of ELLs, as well as their confidence in the pedagogical approaches provided by the expertise of this book.


Second, while the viewpoint of this book is one of English language development, students who are identified as ELLs are also speakers of heritage languages embedded in rich culture, traditions and communities that are powerful factors in building academic success. I believe it is important to broaden the perspective of teaching ELLs to include the merits of bilingualism and biliteracy (Bialystok, 2011). This addition could be included in sections that define common terms (p. 12) and summarize effective approaches (p. 300-301), such as developmental bilingual and dual language programs. In doing so, a viewpoint that imagines English language learning and developing bilingualism as complementary can be fostered.


Teaching ELLs Across Content Areas: Issues and Strategies provides valuable, extensive knowledge and expert practices from an English language development perspective. In an era of preparing all teachers to be teachers of students whose home language is one other than English, this text provides foundational knowledge requisite in the development of confident, effective teachers of ELLs in content area classrooms.



Bialystok, E. (2011). Reshaping the mind: The benefits of bilingualism. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology/Revue, 65(4), 229.


Lucas, T., & Villegas, A. (2013). Preparing linguistically responsive teachers: Laying the foundation in preservice teacher education. Theory Into Practice, 52, 98-109.


National Center for Educational Statistics (2016). English language learners in public schools. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgf.asp


Sampson, J.F., & Collins, B.A. (2012). Preparing all teachers to meet the needs of English language learners: Applying research to policy and practice for teacher effectiveness. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.


Valencia, R. (1997). Introduction. In R. Valencia (Ed.), The evolution of deficit thinking: Educational thought and practice (pp. 1‐3). London: Falmer Press.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 22, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21988, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 1:32:24 PM

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About the Author
  • Leanne Evans
    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
    E-mail Author
    LEANNE M. EVANS is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Leanne has recently published in Childhood Education, Action in Teacher Education, and the Journal of Bilingual Education Research and Instruction. Her current projects include the examination of early literacy development and second language acquisition in dual language school environments.
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