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How Do Effective Upper Elementary Teachers of English Language Learners Show Support?

by Holland W. Banse, Natalia A. Palacios & Anna Martin - 2019

Background/Context: Latino English language learners (ELLs) comprise a rapidly growing portion of the student population, and much empirical attention has been devoted to supporting their English language and literacy proficiency. Less is known about how to support Latino ELLsí social-emotional needs. Latino ELLs face the dual challenge of learning English and academic content simultaneously; they also may face stigma, anti-immigration sentiment, and deficit perspectives from teachers and peers. Consequently, they may be in especial need of support from their teachers.

Research Question: This study addresses the question, How do effective teachers show support within upper elementary classrooms with varying levels of English language proficiency?

Research Design: We employed a multiple and comparative case study approach to answer this question, using videotaped English language arts lessons from the Measures of Effective Teaching data set. We compared how teachers demonstrate supportiveness in three types of fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms: (1) high-ELL and high-gains; (2) no-ELL and high-gains; and (3) high-ELL and low-gains.

Conclusion/Recommendations: We observed that only high-ELL, high-gains teachers showed supportiveness in the following distinct ways: through contingent and effusive praise, by describing the relevance of content, and by advancing relationships with students. We discussed why these demonstrations of supportiveness may be important, particularly for Latino ELLs. We conclude with ideas for future research and practical implications for teachers and teacher preparation programs.

There is a consensus that how teachers interact with their students matters. Teacher-student interactions have been operationalized in a variety of waysfor instance, emotional support, care, learner-centered classrooms, teacher-student relationship qualityeach emphasizing a different aspect of the student-teacher relationship (Cornelius-White, 2007; Hughes, Luo, Kwok, & Lloyd, 2008; Noddings, 1999; Pianta, LaParo, & Hamre, 2008). For this study, these related constructs are referred to globally as teacher supportiveness. Regardless of the construct, quality interactions between teachers and students are associated with positive student outcomes, including academic achievement (Cornelius-White, 2007; Hughes, Wu, Kwok, Villarreal, & Johnson, 2012; Roorda, Koomen, Spilt, & Oort, 2011). What is less clear is how these interactions are represented in increasingly diverse classrooms, particularly in upper elementary classrooms.

For the present study, the authors adopt an inductive approach to understand the nature of supportive teacher-student interactions for a specific student group, Latino English language learners (ELLs). Latino ELLs comprise a rapidly growing portion of the student population; for example, 2009 U.S. Census data indicated that 37% of Latino fourth graders were classified as ELLs (Hemphill & Vanneman, 2011; Kena et al., 2014). Teachers often feel unprepared to support this student group (Russakoff, 2011). Various practitioner articles (Howard, 2003; Lucas, Villegas, & Freedson-Gonzalez, 2008) and case studies (DaSilva Iddings & Katz, 2007; Katz, 1999) suggest that Latino ELLs in particular require warm and supportive teacher-student interactions. Moreover, previous quantitative work by the authors demonstrates a relation between high student perceptions of teacher care, Latino ELLs intrapersonal characteristics, and stronger ELA achievement (Banse & Palacios, 2018).

What prior research has not ascertained is the ways in which teachers working with diverse populations can foster supportive teacher-student interactions in other words, research is needed to elucidate how teachers of ELLs engage in practices that support all students in their classrooms. Moreover, research on the importance of supportive classrooms for ELLs has primarily focused on early childhood (e.g., Castro, 2014; Gillanders, 2007). Other developmental periods have not received as much attention, including upper elementary.

To address this question, we compared classrooms with differing numbers of Latino ELLs and varying levels of academic success to examine specifically how teachers of ELLs interact with their students in high-gains classrooms. Previous case studies have relied on prior relationships with teachers (e.g., Khisty & Chval, 2002) or the availability of teachers of ELLs (e.g., Yoon, 2008). These case studies have identified helpful practices and attitudes for instructing ELLs, primarily based on evidence drawn from teachers who are often described as master teachers, without explicit consideration for academic gains made in those classrooms. However, ELLs regularly experience teachers with limited knowledge about how to help ELLs make academic gains (Buysse, Castro, West, & Skinner, 2005; Russakoff, 2011; Zeichner, 2003). We take a different approach: Rather than analyze the practices of master teachers, we selected classrooms based on the number of ELLs and average academic growth to elucidate how teachers in classrooms with ELLs promote positive teacher-student interactions. In doing so, we isolate supportive teacher-student interactions that are unique to high-gains classrooms. These unique interactions may inform theory and shape efforts to improve how teachers support ELLs.


This study draws from person-environment fit theory, which states that an individuals behaviors are a product of how well the individuals intrapersonal characteristics match with the characteristics of the surrounding environment (Greene, 2014; Hunt, 1975). In schools, a students behaviors and outcomes are linked to how well the student fits within the classroom (Eccles et al., 1993). Theoretically and ideally, teachers adapt the classroom environment to meet the students needs as much as possible (Noddings, 1999). One way teachers can achieve this aim is by engaging in supportive interactions with all students. The academic demands of the classroom, in the absence of teacher support, may promote student frustration and students perceptions of helplessness (Garcia-Reid, Peterson, & Reid, 2015; Sakiz, Pape, & Hoy, 2012). In particular, upper elementary students appear to need the support of their teachers in order to engage in learning and develop key skills, such as literacy (Klem & Connell, 2004; Rimm-Kaufman, Baroody, Larsen, Curby, & Abry, 2015). When teachers offer support, the classroom ceases to be purely demanding and instead becomes an environment in which students are empowered to learn.

Teacher support may be crucial for ELL students for two reasons. First, ELLs experience dual academic demands as they simultaneously learn academic content and develop their English proficiency, often in classrooms in which teachers do not speak their home language (Buysse at al., 2005). Second, ELLs may experience stigma, isolation, anxiety, and anti-immigration sentiment within their classrooms (Lucas et al., 2008; Pappamihiel, 2001; Yoon, 2008). Teacher supportiveness may buffer ELL students against the difficulty of these academic and social challenges (Gillanders, 2007; Lopez, 2012).


Teacher supportiveness is important for all students. The idea of teacher supportiveness has been conceptualized in a variety of ways. Pianta and colleagues (2008) described the importance of emotional support, in which teachers emphasize the development of positive classroom climates, show regard for their students perspectives, and exhibit sensitivity toward students. Noddings (1999), on the other hand, urged the importance of care, defined as attending to the specificity of who students are and ensuring that students feel cared for, rather than as a single, general orientation toward ones class. Finally, others consider teacher-student relationship quality, which is characterized by high levels of teacher warmth and support, with low levels of teacher-student conflict (Hughes et al., 2008). Although these constructs differ slightly, all belong under the umbrella of teacher supportiveness.


The importance of teacher supportiveness during early childhood and lower elementary school for a host of behavioral and academic outcomes is well documented (e.g., Buckrop, Roberts, & LoCasale-Crouch, 2016; Burchinal et al., 2008). However, the quality of teacher-student relationships can decline during the upper elementary school years, possibly because class time grows increasingly devoted to instruction and less oriented toward purposefully engendering positive teacher-student interactions (Jerome, Hamre, & Pianta, 2009; McCormick & OConnor, 2015). Despite the drop in quality, the importance of supportive teacher-student interactions outcomes persists during upper elementary school (McCormick & OConnor, 2015). For instance, teacher supportiveness continues to be positively associated with academic outcomes (Baker, 2006).

The present study focuses on fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, in part because upper elementary school is a key period of development as children prepare for the transition to middle school (Barber & Olsen, 2004). Moreover, the decline of teacher supportiveness despite its continuing importance during fourth and fifth grade leads to the question, How do teachers show supportiveness in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms? Answering this question may provide insight into how teachers persist in facilitating supportive student-teacher interactions during the upper elementary years, a question that may be particularly salient for Latino ELLs.


Teacher support is important for all students, but it may be a critical aspect of classroom instruction for ELLs. In general, ELLs face unique academic challenges as they gain English language proficiency and master academic content simultaneously. Many ELLs engage in this learning process in contexts where teachers do not speak their native language (Buysse et al., 2005). This twofold challenge can create a sense of anxiety, stigma, or a desire to withdraw from learning (Pappamihiel, 2001), which teacher supportiveness may ameliorate. Additionally, ELLs lack of English language proficiency can trigger teachers deficit perspectives, leaving ELLs and their families feeling incompetent and powerless (DaSilva Iddings & Katz, 2007). Growing anti-immigration sentiment can further exacerbate these challenges (Lucas et al., 2008).

Some studies examining teacher interactions with ELL students often describe teachers either effectively ignoring their ELLs or viewing them with deficit perspectives (DaSilva Iddings & Katz, 2007; Orosco & Klingner, 2010; Yoon, 2008). For example, Yoon (2008) described teachers who viewed their ELL students as quiet, shy, or frustrating to teach; some believed that their ELL students were the sole responsibility of the ESL resource teacher. Similarly, DaSilva Iddings and Katz (2007) discussed discrepancies in the perceptions of teachers versus parents of ELLsparents described their children as hardworking and responsible, whereas teachers saw them as immature and reserved. Others reported on teachers who believed that their ELL students were not listening or not ready to learn because of their lack of English proficiency (Orosco & Klingner, 2010). These attitudes may undermine teachers efforts to develop supportive relationships with ELLs and ultimately limit student learning.

Less is known about teachers who do engage in supportive student-teacher interactions with their students. Many researchers have advocated that culturally and linguistically diverse students require culturally responsive teachers who, as part of their pedagogy, develop intentional, supportive relationships with their diverse students (Gay, 2002). However, few studies have examined how culturally responsive teachers develop this aspect of their pedagogy specifically with regard to ELLs. For example, Yoon (2008) described a teacher who considered herself a teacher of all students, including her ELLs, and positioned her ELLs as valued members of the class community. More evidence is needed to uncover the specific pedagogical means through which teachers engage in emotionally supportive teacher-student interactions with their Latino ELL students during instruction.


Teacher supportiveness for ELLs across all grades is important; however, there is reason to consider how teachers support ELLs specifically during fourth and fifth grade. During early childhood and lower elementary school, English language learners are often referred to as dual language learners out of recognition that all students are learning how to use language during this stage of development (e.g., Castro, 2014). However, once ELLs reach upper elementary school, students are expected to speak, write, and read in English. This shift in expectations may lead to problems for ELLs. For instance, ELLs who have not become proficient in English by first grade may experience achievement disparities in fifth grade math and reading when compared with their native-English-speaking peers (Halle, Hair, Wandner, McNamara, & Chien, 2012). Given the challenges that upper elementary school represents for ELLs, this group may be in need of support from their teachers.


Finally, although the described challenges can confront all ELLs, they may be especially salient for Latino ELLs. ELLs in general can experience anti-immigration sentiment (Lucas et al., 2008), and in the current political climate, Latino ELLs may be likely to encounter biased attitudes. For instance, being a native Spanish speaker can be viewed as a deficit rather than an asset in schools, reducing Spanish-speaking students to illegitimate or inadequate users of language (Rosa, 2016). Consequently, although all students and all ELLs require teacher support, Latino ELLs are facing unique challenges that require teachers to attend to their social-emotional needs.


Despite evidence that teacher supportiveness is important for all students and may be a particularly salient factor for Latino ELLs, we have little understanding of what teacher supportiveness looks like for ELLs in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms. To develop models of teacher supportiveness that are specific to fourth- and fifth-grade Latino ELLs and may foster their achievement gains, it is necessary to compare how teachers engage in supportiveness across classrooms with varying numbers of ELLs and levels of academic gains.

We address the following question: How do teachers of Latino ELLs in high-gains, upper elementary classrooms show support to their students? To answer this question, we compared teachers in high-ELL, high-gains classrooms with two other types of teachers: (1) teachers in no-ELL, high-gains classrooms and (2) teachers of ELLs in low-gains classrooms (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Types of cases selected


We focus teacher-student interactions during English language arts (ELA) lessons for two reasons. First, the achievement gap between Latino ELLs and non-ELLs is consistently largest in ELA assessments, according to National Assessment of Educational Progress data (Chudowsky & Chudowsky, 2010; Hemphill & Vanneman, 2011). Consequently, it is important to consider how teachers provide emotional support to ELLs who are grappling not only with the challenging process of learning to read and write, but also with having to do so in a new language. Second, previous quantitative work by the authors suggests the importance of teacher care for Latino ELLs ELA achievement. Our analysis focused on how teacher supportiveness is expressed, rather than the quality of instruction, both in keeping with our research question and to manage the scope of the study.



The study is a multiple and comparative case study (Yin, 2003). We used extant videotaped lesson data from upper elementary school classrooms (N = 24 videotapes of ELA lessons across six classrooms, each lesson ranging from approximately 4060 minutes in length) in a large urban school district taken from Year 2 of the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study, a large-scale study designed to measure effective aspects of teaching across districts in the United States (Kane & Staiger, 2012). These classrooms were purposefully selected using four criteria, described next (also see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Case selection process.


Note. n refers to the number of classrooms.

First, we narrowed the data set to fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms (n = 588) to understand how teacher supportiveness is demonstrated during this developmental period. Next, we selected classrooms that were primarily composed of Latino students ( ³ 60% Latino; n = 73). This criterion allows for a within-group approach to studying classrooms with ELLs (Chase-Lansdale, DAngelo, & Palacios, 2007; García Coll & Szalacha, 2004). It is important to note that cultural and ethnic heterogeneity exists within Latino students generally; however, the MET data did not provide information about students cultural, national, or ethnic backgrounds, and so we could not include those characteristics in our case selection process.

Next, we further narrowed the search to two types of classrooms: classrooms with no ELLs (n = 5) and classrooms with at least 25% ELLs (n = 48). We chose 25% ELLs as our criterion as part of a trade-off: We wanted classrooms with multiple ELLs but also recognized that classrooms with many or majority ELLs often have lower gains (e.g., Newton, Darling-Hammond, Haertel, & Thomas, 2010). And indeed, when we examined the data, we noted that classrooms with more ELLs tended to have lower gains. The criterion 25% thus allowed us to select classrooms with multiple ELLs and sufficiently high gains. Moreover, by comparing classrooms with no ELL students and 25% ELL students, we could examine possible differences in the specific ways that teachers of ELLs versus teachers with no ELLs appeared to demonstrate supportiveness.

For our fourth criterion, from within this subset of classrooms, we chose cases with varying levels of academic success. Here, it is important to note that the MET Section-Level Analytic File provides class-level average achievement scores for the same class of students from both the prior school year (20092010) and the current school year (20102011). Using the same class-level achievement variables, we compared spring 2010 class average scores with spring 2011 class average scores for the same set of students.

We selected high-gains classrooms, defined as classrooms that, on average, grew approximately a quarter of a standard deviation from Year 1 to Year 2 of the MET study. We also selected low-gains classrooms, defined as classrooms that, on average, grew approximately 0.05 standard deviations from Year 1 to Year 2. We used 0.25 standard deviations as our criterion for high-gains because this amount represented highest growth achieved by multiple classroom with at least 25% ELLs on the state standardized assessment. The same standards for high-gains and low-gains classrooms were applied to classrooms with ELLs and without ELLs. We chose .05 as our criterion for low-gains because we wanted to observe teachers who made minimal progress with their students but failed to make substantial gains. These low-gains teachers are likely trying to foster classwide growth but may not be engaging in practices that are effective in helping them do so. We decided to use state standardized tests instead of other assessments provided in the MET data set because state standardized tests are the focus of current educational policy. As a result, standardized tests can greatly shape instruction, in terms of both what content is taught and how content is taught, and thus can influence how teachers interact with their students (Au, 2007).

Two classrooms with at least 25% ELLs met the high-gains criterion and were selected as cases. To maintain an equal number of cases across classroom categories, we then chose two classrooms with a similar percentage of ELLs and low-gains, and two classrooms with no ELLs and high-gains. Consequently, we selected the following categories, using the term high relatively: high-ELL, high-gains classrooms; no-ELL, high-gains classrooms; and high-ELL, low-gains classrooms. Using these categories, we compared the types of support used by teachers in high-ELL, high-gains classrooms with the strategies used by teachers in (1) no-ELL, high-gains classrooms and (2) high-ELL, low-gains classrooms. The first comparison (high-ELL, high-gains vs. no-ELL, high-gains classrooms) allowed us to isolate differences between effective teachers generally and effective teachers with multiple ELL students. Thus, we observed whether the support strategies used by high-gains teachers were present across classrooms with differing numbers of ELLs, or whether in fact there were specific strategies that teachers used to obtain high-gains in classrooms with ELLs. The second comparison (high-ELL, high-gains vs. high-ELL, low-gains classrooms) allowed us to isolate differences in how teachers with many ELLs versus effective teachers with many ELLs interacted with their students. This comparison allowed us to examine whether the support strategies used by teachers were present across classrooms with many ELLs, or whether there were specific support strategies used by teachers of ELLs whose classrooms made high-academic gains. We also examined the data within classrooms to confirm that individual ELLs and non-ELLs alike in the high-ELL, high-gains classrooms made gains. Although we cannot report individual student scores, we can confirm that ELLs also made gains in the high-achieving, high-ELL classrooms.

We refer to the teachers in the high-ELL, high-gains classrooms as Teachers A and B. Teachers in the no-ELL, high-gains classrooms are Teachers C and D, and teachers in the high-ELL, low-gains classrooms are teachers E and F. We designated teachers with letters instead of pseudonyms because we used secondary data for our analysis and have not formed relationships with teachers that would allow us to select appropriate pseudonyms. Students are referred to with the label S; multiple students are assigned numbers, such as S1 and S2. We are limited in our description of teachers because of our confidentiality agreement with the MET data set. All teachers are female and mostly belong to the same school district; two teachers come from a separate school district.


Each teacher had four ELA lessons, which we transcribed over a period of repeated viewings. We watched each video three times. The first time, we transcribed the lesson. The second and third times, we took field notes in which we noted interactions, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, or classroom configurations that were not captured by the transcription of language (for an example transcription and corresponding field notes, see the appendix). We also double-checked the accuracy of the transcription. All teacher and student language captured by the microphone was transcribed verbatim. Nonverbal elements were included as narrative notes.

Once we finished transcribing and taking notes on the lessons, we read all four lessons per teacher, and we wrote corresponding analytic memos for each lesson (Saldaña, 2016) about our impressions and understanding of the lesson at the end of each lesson transcript. We read through each transcript three times, editing memos as we read to capture our comprehensive reactions. In the final reading, we used the memos to develop emergent descriptive codes for teacher supportiveness (Saldaña, 2016). These emergent codes were either characteristic of individual teachers efforts to be supportive or were prevalent across teachers. For example, we noted that most teachers tended to use general praise when speaking to students, and so general praise became a descriptive emergent code. Other examples of emergent, descriptive codes included uses humor; uses specific praise; describes a content-to-self connection; calls students by nicknames; offers encouragement; shows enthusiasm; and describes a skill-to-self connection.

We then conducted close reads of transcripts, using descriptive emergent codes to assess individual, specific instances of teacher supportiveness as we read. After the first round of coding, we examined patterns of codes per teacher and compiled those patterns to create case descriptions of each teacher (Yin, 2003). Case descriptions comprised excerpts from teachers transcribed lessons, excerpts of analytic memos, patterns of codes across lessons, and overall code frequency counts. Based on teachers individual case descriptions and patterns across case descriptions, we then collapsed codes into broader coding categories: relevance, relationship, and praise. Relevance describes instances in which the teacher makes an effort to demonstrate to students how the content or skills are useful for students academic development. Relationship refers to when the teacher makes an effort to connect with students, beyond or through teaching content, such as through humor or asking about students lives. Finally, praise refers to when the teacher affirms a students effort or response. Table 1 contains second-round code definitions, the emergent codes from which they evolved, examples of codes, and reasons that those codes were assigned.

Table 1. Code Definitions and Examples



Descriptive Subcodes


Why Coded


A statement about why or how content is important for the student as a reader or writer.


Text to self connection.


Content to self connection.

So Im wondering, when you guys write, do you feel like you use the same words over and over again?

The teacher is describing thesauruses in terms of students identities as writers.


A teachers efforts to connect with her students, either beyond or through content.






Asking about students lives.


Demonstrating knowledge about students lives.


Terms of endearment.

S is smiling because he has a new baby brother!

The teacher demonstrates a connection to her student by knowing about events in his life.


Affirmation of a students response or effort.


General praise.


Specific praise.

Give yourselves a round of applause.

The teacher is celebrating the classs effort.

The first author then coded all transcripts a second time using these broader codesrelevance, praise, and relationshipto double-check that case descriptions of teachers held. A research assistant with experience working with elementary school students and blind to the various types of teacher categories also double-coded 25% of the videotapes using the second-round codebook (Marshall & Rossman, 2010). We met to discuss our differences in coding. We returned to transcript data and the videotaped lessons themselves to reach agreement regarding our differences. The research assistant also wrote a case description of each teachers supportiveness based on reading lesson transcripts and watching the ELA videotaped lessons. This way, we could ensure that the overall patterns identified by the first author matched the patterns the research assistant observed in her independent examination of the data (Saldaña, 2016; Yin, 2003). Overall, descriptions were similar. Where discrepancies existed, we went back and rewatched lessons and reread transcripts. We discussed until our descriptions converged.


The first author and research assistant then triangulated our descriptions with various quantitative measures from the MET data set, specifically the Student Perceptions Survey (Ferguson, 2008) and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS; Pianta et al., 2008). The Student Perceptions Survey (SPS) is a student-report survey in which students describe various qualities of their teacher. For the present study, we compared our coding and descriptions of teacher supportiveness to students reports of how caring their teacher was. The CLASS is an observational measure used to rate teachers along three dimensions: Emotional Support, Instructional Support, and Classroom Organization. In particular, we compared our coding and case descriptions against the Emotional Support and Instructional Support dimensions because these domains focus on distinct aspects of teacher supportiveness. Emotional Support captures the teachers efforts to establish good rapport with students, whereas the Instructional Support measures in part a teachers efforts to make instruction authentic and engaging. The purpose of this quantitative triangulation was to discern whether student reports of teacher supportiveness and observational measures of supportiveness aligned with our case descriptions. In the present study, both the CLASS Emotional Support domain and the Instructional Support domain had strong interrater reliability (a = .84 and a = .90, respectively). The SPS Care construct had similarly high reliability (a = .84). Table 2 contains classroom quality data, as well as descriptors of teachers class composition and instructional style.

Table 2. Coding Patterns and Frequencies


































SPS Care
























# ELLs







# Gains







Focus of Instruction







Basal Reader

Basal Reader

Basal Reader

Class Arrangements

Whole and small groups

Whole and small groups

Whole group

Whole and small groups

Whole and small groups

Whole group

Average Lesson Length

46.25 min

50.50 min

43 min

38.5 min

42.25 min

34.25 min

Range of Lesson Lengths

3654 min

4360 min

4650 min

3643 min

3448 min

3040 min


Before we present our findings, we offer a caveat. We relied on secondary data, which permitted us to select multiple classrooms that fit our specific criteria. However, we were unable to ascertain whether the interactions between teachers and students we observed were indeed between teachers and ELL students. This limitation creates space for future work, in which classrooms with similar percentages of ELLs and similar gains could be observed in person, with focus placed directly on interactions between teachers and ELLs.


We begin by describing how high-ELL, high-gains teachers interacted with students. We then compare and contrast their demonstrations of supportiveness with the teachers in high-ELL, low-gains classrooms and no-ELL, high-gains classrooms. As we describe each teacher, we first describe her instructional style generally before analyzing her interactional style specifically. Table 2 contains code frequency counts, SPS survey scores, and CLASS scores, as well as brief descriptions of each teachers instructional style.


Both teachers in this category differed in how they demonstrated support. Simultaneously, both distinctively offered support to their respective classes. We first provide context by describing each teachers instructional style generally. We then provide evidence regarding how this teacher showed support to her students. Specifically, we describe the types of support (praise, relationship, relevance) that we witnessed in each teachers classroom.

Teacher A

Teacher As lessons typically observed a specific structure: whole-group review or introduction of new material, followed by students working independently or in small groups and then going over their work as a class. Students moved around during the lessonthey might start seated in a circle on the carpet in front of a Smartboard, then move to working in groups at tables around the classroom, and then gather back at the Smartboard to conclude. Teacher As instruction appeared to be tightly aligned with state standards for ELA instruction, and every lesson we observed was dedicated to preparing for the end-of-year test. For instance, after reviewing key concepts, such as how to make an inference, students would practice those skills using test-prep passages.

Teacher As classroom appeared to be well managed. For example, one of the most notable aspects of her classroom was how incredibly quiet it was for an upper elementary classroom. Students transitioned silently in and out of small- and whole-group formats. Classwide discussions were organized; students raised their hands to contribute and rarely called out. Although we only heard this teacher set expectations for students behavior once during all four lessons, we observed that she redirected student behavior 37 times over the course of all lessons.

Praise. Given this description, one might not expect Teacher A to be a supportive teacher. However, another noticeable component of Teacher As style was her frequent and contingent use of praise (Brophy, 1981; Kamins & Dweck, 1999). Of all teachers observed, Teacher A was the most frequent praiser, with 127 instances of praise coded across all four lessons (Table 2). In fact, for every instance of redirection, she offered at least four praise statements on average across all observed lessons. Teacher A most often used an initiate-respond-evaluate (IRE) style of whole-class discussion (Cazden, 2001) in which she praised students for their correct answers to a question. Approximately 90% of her coded instances of praise followed an IRE sequence. Additionally, Teacher A typically offered general praise: She offered only nine specific praise statements in all, in which she highlighted what the student was doing to warrant praise. Her general style of praise was intertwined with her test-oriented instructional style. When students in this class responded correctly, the teacher was quick to praise. For example, in the following excerpt, the teacher was going over a test-prep passage:

Excerpt 1.


Teacher A:

Ok. Whats the answer?





Teacher A:

She hears giggling sounds in the classroom, is that the correct answer?





Teacher A:

You guys are smart. Ok, Number 7. Read the sentence from the story. Her expression was calm and serene. The word serene most likely means. . . .?



A, calm.


Teacher A:




Yesss! (cheering, some students pump their fists in the air).


Teacher A:

I love when you guys go: yesss! I just love it!

As students responded correctly to a question, Teacher A praised them for their answer with a variety of phrases: you guys are smart (line 5) and good (line 7). Students in turn were responsive and invested in doing well in this activity: They cheer, yesss! (line 8) after they answered two questions in a row correctly. She in turn shared in their excitementI love it when you guys go: yesss! (line 9). In this excerpt, the teachers contingent praise built to a mutually happy momentfor students and teachers.

This teachers praise was also effusive, meaning that she described her students answers in superlative terms rather than briefly using praise to confirm the accuracy of a students response (29% of Teacher As total praise codes were effusive). For example, during another lesson, as they went over a test prep passage the following exchange occurred:

Excerpt 2.


Teacher A:

Do not call out guys, I know youre excited, but do not call out. The author wrote the story to. . . (lots of hands go up). Yall are reading for 30 minutes every night and its paying off, I see that. S?





Teacher A:

I think you are a smart boy. Smartest boy in the United States. Lets give

him a round of applause. S, Im so proud of you, ok? Very proud of you!

In line 1 of this excerpt, Teacher A acknowledged her students efforts in reading at home and then followed up a students correct response by praising him extravagantly. His answer was relatively simple, particularly in comparison to her praise. Her words celebrated both the classs efforts as a whole and the correctness of his response. This kind of effusive praise was typical of this teacher: Teacher A also called her class fantastic and their involvement during lessons excellent. At various points throughout all lessons, she told them to give themselves a round of applause or to clap for their peers. She assured them that they were ready for that ELA test and communicated how proud she was when she thought that they made an effort. As evident in line 3 of Excerpt 2, her praise goes beyond perfunctory affirmation of a correct response; her praise communicated to students not only that they answered correctly, but also that she was proud of their answers and, moreover, that her students should be as well. Consequently, effusive praise may provide a building block for developing relationships with students, although effusive praise alone may not be sufficient for relationship. Praise, regardless of how effusive it is, remains a judgment of a students answer. Students appeared to receive effusive praise contingent on whether Teacher A perceived merit in their responses. Relationships, as will be described, are not apparently conditional on students merit. However, effusive praise may create feel-good moments for students, in which they feel encouraged in their efforts by their teacher and may be amenable to building relationships with that teacher.

It is important to emphasize that the high degree of praise, both regular and effusive, evident in Teacher As classroom appeared tied to her reliance on test-prep. Students talk in this classroom primarily consisted of providing answers to test-prep passages, creating extended opportunity for IRE-style interactions, in which the teacher could warmly praise students correct answers. In other words, Teacher A would read the test-prep question aloud, a student would respond, and, provided the answer was correct, Teacher A would praise the students answer. This style of interaction was predominant during all lessons. Because much of her class time was spent going over students answers to test-prep passages, Teacher A had ample opportunity to give high levels of general, even effusive, praise. Creating a warm atmosphere through praise may be important in a classroom with many ELLs who need encouragement as they simultaneously learn English and content, possibly while contending with deficit perspectives and unsupportive school contexts (DaSilva Iddings & Katz, 2007; Lucas et al., 2008). Praise may therefore fulfill an important role for ELLs. Although sometimes dismissed as a behaviorist approach to learning, praise is a simple, effective, in-the-moment method for helping ELLs feel successful as they learn. At the same time, it is likely that the high gains evidenced by Teacher As students are at least partly due to the fact that she appeared to have explicitly taught to the test rather than employing high-quality ELA instructional practices. Moreover, general praise does not elucidate for students precisely what they have done well. Both of these factors must be taken into account when considering why and how Teacher As class displayed high gains.

Relationship. This teacher also tempered her strict classroom organization through attempts at being relational with students. Relational moments were moments in which the teacher made an effort to connect interpersonally with her students, either through (1) interest in her students and their experiences or well-being or (2) shared interest in academic content between teachers and students. Teacher A typically demonstrated the former. These relational moments occurred when a teacher joked around with students, attempted to be humorous, called students by terms of endearment, offered encouragement, or made a comment suggesting that she is familiar with a students life or cares about a student (e.g., asking about a students weekend). Teacher A made more efforts to be relational than any other teacher in our sample (35 efforts coded). For example, Teacher A found opportunities to infuse her lessons with humor. In one lesson, she stood on a chair and imitated a public landmark to make her students laugh. She says: Look, S cant hold it (a student is laughing hard). Im pretty crazy, huh? She called her students by terms of endearment such as baby or sweetheart. These lighthearted and comfortable moments between Teacher A and her students may have helped to lighten the stress of learning, particularly in a test-focused classroom. Teacher A also used lessons as a jumping-off point to inquire about students lives. For example, when reading a book about what courage is, she asked students if they have also had experiences in their own lives that required courage. She asked, Who knows how to ride a bike? (Some students raise their hands). But you have to have courage to go through with it, am I correct? Who can remember the first time they rode their bike without training wheels? Demonstrating interest in students life experiences is a key building block to being an overall supportive teacher.

Perhaps most notable about this teacher is that on average, her students perceived her as highly caring. In fact, they scored her over 2 standard deviations above the mean on the Caring domain of the SPS, the highest of any teacher we observed (Ferguson, 2008). Given that this is a student-report measure, we infer that her use of general and effusive praise and her efforts to be relational were well received by her students.

Teacher B

Teacher B used less praise (only 15 instances of praise shown across four lessons) than Teacher A, possibly because Teacher B did not engage in IRE sequences as often as Teacher A did. At times, Teacher B could seem frustrated with her students, raising her voice when she asked them to sit down or telling them that they were embarrassing themselves on camera. She was less test focused than Teacher Aonly one out of her four lessons involved explicit test prepwhich may be one reason that she used less praise. In the remaining lessons, students were reading nonfiction books of their own choosing, writing and revising their writing, or analyzing how advertisements use facts and opinions to persuade their readers. This style of instruction is more aligned with high-quality ELA instructional practices (Grossman, Loeb, Cohen, & Wyckoff, 2013). Her typical lesson format followed that of Teacher A; they began as a whole group, then separated into groups or worked independently, and came back together at the end of the lesson to share their work. During independent or group work, the teacher often called individual students or groups of students to conference with her.

Relevance. One aspect of her teaching stood out, particularly when compared with the other teachers. Perhaps because she was less test focused during her instruction, this teacher made a greater effort to help her students understand the relevance of what they were learning within their own lives. Teacher B had the highest number of relevance code counts (18) compared with all other teachers in the sample; as will be noted, most of the teachers we observed made no effort to convince students of the relevance of their learning. To be clear, her efforts to demonstrate relevance went beyond acknowledging that students may have previously learned about or experienced something similar to the content that they were learning. That kind of acknowledgment would draw on students prior experiences or background knowledge but might not explicitly help students perceive the usefulness of instructional content in their lives. During ELA lessons, this teacher appealed to her students as readers and writers. She tried to make clear to them that what they were learning in the classroom would make them stronger readers and writers, rather than assuming that they would passively absorb information. Teacher B thus built value into what students were learning. For example, in one lesson, students were tasked with creating thesauruses, so that when they revised their writing, they could use more nuanced, descriptive, or interesting language. The teacher made clear to them that these thesauruses served a purpose and would be useful as they revised:

Excerpt 3.


Teacher B:

So what Im going to do is hang these up in a place where you can see them. The whole point of doing this is that these are for you, so that when youre writing and you want to write happy instead you can say: Im not going to use the word happy, Im going to use excited or cheerful. Right? So every time youre writing or revising, youre thinking of better words you can look at it and say Hey, Im going to use this instead.

In Excerpt 3, Teacher B contextualized the purpose of the lessonstudents creating thesaurusesas for you. Other teachers in our sample regularly stated lesson objectives, perhaps adding that this material would be important in the end-of-year test. However, only Teacher B purposefully described lessons as meant to support her students writing development. She added later in the introduction of the same lesson, Because now that were getting older and were becoming stronger writers, we can use better words that are going to be more exciting, right? Teacher B conveyed to her students that they needed thesauruses because they had identities as improving writers. Moreover, the lesson required students to work in teacher-organized small groups, developing thesauruses based on whatever books they were currently reading. Consequently, the lesson also had utility, in that it led to the creation of a developmentally appropriate tool that students could practically use in the future as they write and revise. Within Excerpt 3, Teacher B was both explicitly reinforcing her students identities as writers and giving them tools they could use to maintain and enhance those identities.

 Sometimes, however, Teacher B described the relevance of learning by emphasizing their shared identities as readers and writersboth hers and her students. For example, Teacher B described how both she and her students were developing as readers as she taught them how to take notes on questions that arise as they read nonfiction books:

Excerpt 4


Teacher B:

I know that when I read nonfiction Im always wondering. Because a lot of time when I read nonfiction, Im reading about something I never knew about, and it gives me lots of facts, it gives me information about the topic and I usually have lots of questions about what Im reading. Do you guys have questions when youre reading your books?





Teacher B:

Yeah, I should hope so. Sometimes you dont know what the words mean, sometimes the author tells you what the words mean. Sometimes they dont. So a lot of time when we read nonfiction, we should ask questions about whats going on. To make sure were really involved in the book and we really understand the book. Today were going to talk about how we ask questions as we read and see if we can find the answers as were reading. Sometimes you can, sometimes you cant. So Im going to show you how I would do that in a nonfiction text. How I stop every once in a while, I ask a question, and then I look to see if the question is answered. Dont worry. Youll get a chance to do it in your own book, ok?

In Excerpt 4, the teacher described how reading can elicit questions and how important it is to answer those questions in order to comprehend text. She both discussed the importance of asking questions generally (line 3) and described how she personally asks questions about books while reading (line 1). While emphasizing the importance of this skill, Teacher B both assured students that asking questions is an integral part of the reading process and that she and her students share identities as continuously improving readers. Teacher B further underscored students identities as readers by having students read books of their own choosing and come up with their own perplexing questions instead of assigning books with comprehension questions. And like the lesson discussed in Excerpt 3, this lesson had utility: Students learned how to take notes in order to track and answer their questions, a strategy that they can continue using to improve their comprehension. Unlike Excerpt 3, however, this time the relevance described was more personal: Both she and her students were engaged together in an ongoing process of improving as readers.

Intersecting relationship and relevance. Teacher B not only articulated the relevance of content for students lives but also sometimes simultaneously expressed personal enthusiasm and interest in what her students were learning. Her efforts to convey relevance blended with her efforts to share enthusiasm with students over what they were learning. For example, in the lesson on note-taking described earlier, Teacher B was asking her students to describe the questions that had come up for them as they were reading. The following exchange occurred as students shared their questions:

Excerpt 5.


Teacher B:

Whats your question?



Why do bees have two stomachs?


Teacher B:

I didnt even know that! Did you guys know that bumblebees have two stomachs? Can you tell us why, Mr. Scientist?



Heeey! (smiling). Because one is to hold the honey and there is one that holds the honey and one that gets the food.


Teacher B:

Ok so one is to hold the food they eat and the other is to hold the honey they make?



No. One is to bring the food in to make the honey.


Teacher B:

Great, wow. We learn a lot from reading, you guys.

Teacher B was the only teacher to express this kind of interest in the content that students were reading. Her tone and words in line 3 indicated enthusiasm (I didnt even know that!) and she concluded that we learn a lot from reading in line 7. She was not only listening to assess whether students have accurately completed this lesson; she also asked her student what he learned and then expressed interest in his answer. She gently teased her student, calling him Mr. Scientist in line 3, to which he responded with a smile. The other high-ELL, high-gains teacher, Teacher A, established relationships with her students by employing humor, asking about their lives in relation to the content they were reading about, and using terms of endearment. In Excerpt 5, Teacher B engaged in similar interactionsjoking with a student, asking multiple questions about what he personally learned from reading, praising him for his observationswith the difference that her interactions are based on how interesting she perceived content to be. Her perceived interest in content aligned with her tendency to describe the relevance of content: Both types of interactions are based on the inherent value of what students are learning and doing. This kind of language may heighten students perceptions of how interesting or motivating an activity is and consequently establish the relevance of the activity in their eyes; it also may lead to a shared, relational moment between teachers and students, in which the teacher and students find interest in the same content. In other words, these two types of supportivenessrelevance and relationshipare not mutually exclusive. Rather, these two constructs may lead to and reinforce one anotherand, as seen in line 7 of Excerpt 5, even create space for praise.

Teacher Bs efforts to be supportive were perceived by her students. On average, her students scored her as the second highest caring teacher among those we observed, with an average caring score over 1 standard deviation above the mean. We interpret her high score to indicate that her efforts to articulate relevance and build relationship were appreciated by her students.

Summary of High-ELL, High-Gains Teachers

Teacher A and Teacher B differed in how they demonstrated supportiveness to their high-ELL classrooms. Teacher A was more effusively praise-oriented, whereas Teacher B regularly conveyed the relevance of content to her students. Both sometimes used relational language when interacting with their students. Despite this difference, both more noticeably demonstrated supportiveness to their students than teachers in no-ELL, high-gains classrooms or teachers in high-ELL low-gains classrooms, as will be described in the following sections.


In comparison, the two teachers in the high-gains, no-ELL category were less distinctive regarding how they show support to their students. Notably, neither teacher made an effort to explicate the relevance of the content the students were learning (0 attempts across all four lessons for both teachers; Table 2). Similarly, both teachers made few efforts to be relational with their students (Teacher C had one effort; Teacher D had four efforts).

Teacher C

Like Teacher A, Teacher C primarily focused on preparing students for the end-of-year test: All four of her lessons exclusively involved asking students to read and respond to test-prep passages. Teacher C always used a whole-group format while teaching. Students remained seated at their tables throughout all lessons, as Teacher C read test-prep passages aloud to her students and then called on students to answer questions related to those passages. All conversations during these lessons were focused on the test-prep passages being read, and strategies for answering questions related to those passages. Teacher C maintained an even, firm, rather businesslike tone during lessons.

Praise. For Teacher C, the primary supportive aspect of her teaching was her use of praise. Like Teacher A, 90% of her praises followed an IRE sequence, a feature of her teaching tied to her reliance on test-prep. However, her praise was qualitatively different from that of Teacher A, in that it was less effusive (10% of her praise codes contained effusive language). More often, her praises were a confirmation of students answers rather than opportunities to commend their effort or describe how proud she was of them, as Teacher A did. For example, the following kinds of interactions characterized this teacher:

Excerpt 6.


Teacher C:

What is the article mostly about? How Henry Hudson discovered Manhattan?



Maybe we could keep that because its the title and the main idea.


Teacher C:

All right. And thick forests covered Manhattan.



That was a fact like only one paragraph, so I would consider C.


Teacher C:

Ok who thinks shes right? Good, pretty basic. Very nice.

Teacher C expressed affirmation when the student answered correctly. However, the praise was brief and to the point. It lacked the enthusiasm displayed by Teacher A. Moreover, in line 5, she described students answer as pretty basic, which minimized the students contributions. Above all, Teacher Cs praise is contingent on a correct response, but the praise is perfunctory and utilitarian in nature: It is used to ensure that students know their responses were correct, but not to overtly communicate pride or appreciate the students efforts.

To be clear, Teacher C was not an unsupportive teacher. Her use of praise indicated that she did engage in supportive teacher-student interactions. However, her supportiveness was limited to general praise: She did not advance relationships with her students or describe the relevance of what they were learning beyond emphasizing the importance of the end-of-year test. Her Student Perceptions Survey caring score reflected her relative supportiveness: On average, her students rated her approximately 0.4 standard deviations above the mean.

Teacher D

Teacher D often began lessons as a whole group, with students seated on the carpet and clustered around a whiteboard as she introduced the lessons and walked them through examples. Students would then often work in groups on a related activity, with a share-out period at the end of the lesson. Teacher D always began by introducing the objective for that day, such as discerning facts versus opinions or how to make an inference, and then would have students apply those topics in related whole-group or small-group activities usually focused on reading and responding to a passage the teacher had selected from a basal reader. We noted that she tended to monologue, or speak for long periods, pausing to have her class chorally respond with one-word answers. She had a kind and even tone; she rarely, if at all, raised her voice and maintained a smiling affect throughout her lessons.

Praise. Teacher D was less praise oriented than Teachers A and C, although she did use praise more frequently than Teacher B (24 instances of praise coded for Teacher D). She was also less relational (four coded instances) than the high-ELL, high-gains teachers, and like the other no-ELL, high-gains teacher, Teacher D did not engage in explanations of the relevance of what she was teaching to her students across all four lessons. Overall, Teacher Ds praise was reminiscent of Teacher Cs praise; for example, she affirmed students answers by providing some praise at the end of the interchange (excellent, good job, boys and girls). She did not contingently and frequently praise students correct responses. Her style of affirmation was subtle, particularly in comparison with Teacher As effusive use of praise.

Missed opportunities for relevance and relationship. To a lesser degree, another noticeable aspect of Teacher Ds instruction was her missed opportunities to help students appreciate the relevance of their learning or even connect prior experiences to instructional content. For example, during a lesson on main ideas and supporting details, the students were reading a passage about centipedes and identifying supporting details. A student raised his hand and began to explain that he had seen a centipede in his backyard. The teacher interrupted him, quickly saying, OK, well, Id be careful with that. But lets get back to the lesson. She then moved into explaining directions for the next activity. Her redirection is not unkind; she acknowledged that the student might want to be careful. However, the teacher has missed an opportunity to either (1) engage in a relational moment with her student by connecting what the student had experienced to what the class is reading, as Teacher A did, or (2) demonstrate how reading can help us better learn about our surrounding environment, as Teacher B did.

Teacher Ds students perceived her as supportive. Her students, on average, rated her 0.8 standard deviations above the mean. She was not perceived to be as supportive as Teachers A and B, who had ratings over 2 and 1 standard deviations above the mean, respectively. However, her ratings were twice as high as the other no-ELL, high-gains teacher, Teacher C, who was rated approximately 0.4 standard deviations above the mean. Although Teacher D was not perceived to be as supportive as the two high-ELL, high-gains teachers, it is possible that she may have engaged in unobserved supportive interactions with students outside of her instruction or the videotapes we viewed.

Summary of No-ELL, High-Gains teachers. Overall, both teachers in this category can be described as warm, but not distinctively so. These teachers almost entirely relied on praise to convey supportiveness; however, the praise they offered was mostly confirmatory and not as effusive as compared with Teacher A. Moreover, evidence of interactions that strengthen their relationships with students or that purposefully emphasized the relevance of content for students learning was not observed.


Like the no-ELL, high-gains teachers, the two high-ELL, low-gains teachers tended to use praise as a primary form of supportiveness and rarely, if ever, conveyed the relevance of what students were learning. Teacher E rarely engaged in relational moments with her students, whereas Teacher F occasionally engaged in insensitive interactions with her students.

Teacher E

Teacher E had a similar instructional style to Teacher D; she began by introducing a lesson objective and typically used a basal reader, which she would read aloud to students or ask students to read in groups. Students were always seated at tables, and throughout the lesson, the teacher would alternate between instructing students as a whole group and asking students to work with their table groups. Teacher E maintained a calm and even tone throughout lessons. She often used praise (41 instances coded) but did not engage students by emphasizing the relevance of their work (0 codes), nor did she advance relationships (2 codes; Table 2).

Praise. Like the no-ELL, high-gains teachers, little was distinctive about how Teacher E praised her students. For example, in the following excerpt, she and her students are reviewing what an inference is:

Excerpt 7.


Teacher E:

What is an inference? S?



Um, an inference is what you know.


Teacher E:

Well, thats part of it, what I know.



And then youre going to take the book and then youre going to put it together.


Teacher E:

And then Im going to put it together and whats it called?



Then you have some of what happened in the book.


Teacher E:

Look at the light bulb, that kind of helps you remember, whats thatinference?



Um, you have an idea of what it is.


Teacher E:

Perfect. You take what you know and what you read and you put it together, the light bulb comes on.

This excerpt is characteristic of this teacher: she is pleasant and offers affirmation at the end of the interchange in line 9. However, like Teacher C and D, there is nothing distinctive or unusual about the exchange; for instance, she does not commend students effort, nor could her praise be described as effusive. Like other observed teachers (e.g., Teacher C), her reliance on basal readers may have at least partly limited her demonstrations of supportiveness to praise. Her students report her caring as about half a standard deviation above the mean, indicating that she was a caring teacher but not unusually so.

Teacher F

Teacher F displayed a mix of supportiveness and lack of sensitivity. Teacher F usually taught whole-group lessons. She used a combination of basal reader lessons and more experiential, hands-on lessons, such as showing students a neighbors garbage and asking them to make inferences based on what was contained in the garbage. Students in her class worked in a variety of arrangements, ranging from whole-group to partner formats. Sometimes students were seated at desks; other times, they gathered on the carpet in front of a whiteboard. Teacher F maintained a calm and even tone.

Praise and lack of relevance. Teacher F most often used affirmative praise to convey support (16 instances of praise coded) and rarely described the relevance of what students were learning (only once across all four lessons). Her praise style was highly reminiscent of Teachers C, D, and E, in that it was typically used to confirm the accuracy of a students response. For example, she would provide affirmatory praise after students responded, using phrases such as nice thinking, nice inference, or good job after a student responded. She also made some efforts to be relational with her students (4 attempts coded); however, those efforts were sometimes tempered with insensitivity.

Missed relationship. Teacher F occasionally made statements that may seem insensitive to her students, particularly her ELL students. For example, in one lesson in which students are reading about green cards, the teacher stated that green cards are necessary to keep out crazy criminals. She then mentioned that there were immigrant students in the class and suggested that those students ask their parents about their own green card application processes. In another lesson, in which students are reading about a little girl whose father is leaving to seek work elsewhere, she tells her students to raise their hands if your father has left. All these statements occurred while working with basal reader passages and were possibly intended as efforts to make instruction relevant. However, Teacher Fs language described sensitive subjects rather thoughtlessly. Teacher Fs students appear to have noted her lack of sensitivity: Students rated this teacher as half a standard deviation below the mean compared with other teachers.

Summary of High-ELL, Low-Gains Teachers

Overall, classrooms in the high-ELL, low-gains category are mostly neutral with regard to teacher supportiveness. These two teachers both used praise, although Teacher E praised more frequently than Teacher F did. Neither teacher often engaged in relational language with her class, although Teacher F was observed engaging in insensitive talk. In contrast, teachers in the high-ELL, high-gains classrooms offered more effusive praise, more efforts to build relationships, and more attempts to explicate relevance. The insensitive remarks witnessed in Teacher Fs high-ELL, low-gains classroom were absent from high-ELL, high-gains classrooms. Future work could consider if high-ELL, low-gains classrooms commonly experience teacher insensitivity.


As we have noted, student ratings of teacher caring ranged across our sample, from approximately −0.5 standard deviations below the mean to over 2 standard deviations above the mean (Table 2 lists all scores by teacher). The two high-ELL, high-gains teachers were rated as most caring by the students in their classrooms. We also compared our case descriptions against teachers CLASS scores. We first compared case descriptions against Emotional Support scores, which partly measures both teachers use of praise and teachers efforts to build relationships with students. The average Emotional Support score for fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms within the larger MET study was 4.57 (SD = 0.37). For our selected cases, scores ranged from 4.39 to 5.25, indicating that our observed classrooms ranged from slightly below average to high on Emotional Support.

Given the importance of relevance for one of our teachers, we also checked Instructional Support scores for each teacher, because this CLASS domain partly captures how teachers express connections between content and the outside world. Within the larger MET fourth- and fifth-grade sample, the average Instructional Support score was 3.68 (SD = .40). For our selected cases, Instructional Support scores ranged from 3.04 to 4.33.

Student reports of teacher caring and observational measures of teacher emotional supportiveness did not align. Most noticeably, the teacher with the highest student-reported care score had the lowest Emotional Support and Instructional Support scores (Teacher A, a high-ELL, high-gains teacher). Similarly, the teacher with the second highest student-reported care score had the second lowest Emotional Support score (Teacher B, also a high-ELL, high-gains teacher). The teacher with the highest Emotional and Instructional Support scores was rated as relatively average in caring by her students (Teacher E, a high-ELL, low-gains teacher).

The student-reported SPS scores supported our coding and interpretations: High-ELL, high-gains teachers were viewed as the most sensitive and supportive by their students, when compared with teachers in the other categories (Table 2). The observational measures, however, are not as aligned with our case descriptions and comparisons. We discuss these findings next.


Within upper elementary classrooms, we compared how high-ELL, high-gains teachers showed support to their students compared with teachers in no-ELL, high-gains classrooms and teachers in high-ELL, low-gains classrooms. We find that high-ELL, high-gains teachers were doing more to show supportiveness, whether by being effusive and frequent in their praise, explaining the relevance of content to students lives, or making efforts to form relationships with their students. In contrast, the remaining teachers primarily engaged in affirmative praise to indicate if a student had correctly answered a question. One high-ELL, low-gains teacher sometimes interacted insensitively with her class. This contrast suggests that in general, high-ELL, high-gains teachers used a variety of supportive teacher-student interactions.

These three forms of supportiveness may be particularly useful for Latino ELLs in upper elementary school. In general, the quality of teacher supportiveness in upper elementary school can decline (Jerome et al., 2009). With regard to ELLs specifically, upper elementary ELLs are no longer viewed as dual language learners and are expected to be proficient in English. Students who do not become proficient English speakers during lower elementary school can experience academic difficulties in upper elementary school (Halle et al., 2012). Upper elementary ELLs are in need of teacher supportiveness to help them face these challenges. We consider why these types of supportiveness may useful, particularly for Latino ELLs.


The role of praise in classrooms has been a research topic for decades. A review of praise literature reveals that, when delivered contingently and in response to students appropriate behaviors, praise can increase desirable behaviors (Partin, Robertson, Maggi, Oliver, & Wehby, 2009). As Brophy (1981) noted, for praise to be effective, it must be contingent, specific, and credible. That is, praise must be delivered immediately in response to a students desirable behavior; specific regarding what about the students behavior is desirable; and believable by the student. With regard to our teachers, one high-ELL, high-gains teacher regularly used praise contingent on students correct answers. Her praise was often effusive, which students could have interpreted as exaggerated and thus unbelievable. However, her students rated her as very highly caring, which may indicate that her praise was credible. Her praise lacked specificity; the majority of her praise was general and embedded within IRE sequences. The lack of specificity is likely due to her instructional style: When teacher questions are centered on checking students answers to test-prep questions, students answers may not lend themselves to specific praise. Other qualitative work (Garza, 2009) suggests that Latino high school students preferred their teachers to show support by providing targeted academic help and affective academic support over having a general, caring dispositiona teaching style that is clearly aligned with Teacher Bs emphasis on relationship and relevance during her interactions with students. It may be that students would have viewed Teacher A as even more supportive if she praised them with greater specificity, so that students understood why their answers were correct. Alternatively, although general praise does not encourage effort, this type of praise may create a mutually feel-good moment for students and teachers, which may create space for teachers to build relationships with students.

Praise is not often described as a specific strategy for showing support to Latino ELLs. This is possibly because teacher praise is often viewed as a behaviorist teaching strategy (e.g., Sutherland, Wehby, & Yoder, 2002). While a purely behaviorist approach to instructing ELLs could easily omit the two other key constructs that emerged from our findingsrelevance and relationshipat the same time, praise may be a worthwhile strategy to employ in classrooms with ELLs. ELLs are contending with two sizeable, simultaneous challenges: learning English and learning content simultaneously. Praise is an easy-to-implement strategy that lets all students, including ELLs, know that their efforts are seen and appreciated (Partin et al., 2009). Simultaneously, frequent use of general praise may be symptomatic of test-oriented instruction and fail to benefit ELLs long-term development as readers and writers. Future work should consider the role of praise in supporting ELLs academic outcomes, both short and long term.


ELLs are at risk of feeling unwanted or burdensome in their schools. Lower levels of English proficiency can be stressful for ELL students (Dawson & Williams, 2008) and can be related to students poor internalizing and externalizing behaviors (Niehaus & Adelson, 2013). Teachers A and B also demonstrated a willingness to establish relationships with their students through a variety of means, such as attempts at humor, asking about students lives, and showing their enthusiasm about instructional content. The importance of being relational in a classroom with many ELLs cannot be overstated. For example, Walker, Shafer, and Iiams (2004) found that 70% of teachers surveyed did not want ELLs in their classrooms. Even when teachers are willing to support ELL students, larger systemic issues, such as a lack of personnel or poorly aligned resources, can make teaching ELLs a challenge (Batt, 2008). It is therefore critical that teachers in classrooms with many Latino ELLs make efforts to forge relationships with their students, both to cement ELLs value within the school community and to affirm their capabilities as scholars. We note that teachers efforts to form relationships with students came from ordinary moments, such as asking about a students weekend or calling a student sweetie. As Yu, Johnson, Deutsch, and Varga (2016) noted, these simple, everyday interactions can build to form of meaningful relationships, which may in turn support students academic development (e.g., Hughes, 2011; Martin & Rimm-Kaufman, 2015; Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2015).


The other high-ELL, high-gains teacher, Teacher B, showed supportiveness by explaining the relevance of content for students. Multiple theories and educational approaches acknowledge the importance of making learning relevant. For example, constructivist pedagogy generally encourages teachers to help their students perceive meaning in the phenomena they are learning (Richardson, 2003). Similarly, other theories of motivation cite relevance as key for eliciting student engagement and willingness to learn (Ames, 1992). Empirical evidence supports these theories: It is important to clarify the relevance of expected behaviors so that students will engage accordingly (Skinner & Belmont, 1993). Upper elementary students report that when teachers convey the relevance of what they are learning, they have more positive feelings, fewer negative feelings, and are engaged in school (Assor, Kaplan, & Roth, 2002).

Only one teachera high-ELL, high-gains teachermade an obvious effort to describe the relevance of what students were learning. Making learning relevant for ELL students may be particularly critical. Research on best practices for instructing ELLs often focuses on developing ELLs oral English proficiency, with less of a focus on learning academic content (e.g., Janzen, 2008; Slavin, Madden, Calderon, Chamberlain, & Hennessy, 2011). Similarly, in schools, teachers may try to protect their ELL students by placing them in courses with limited academic demands and in which learning English is the primary aim (Kanno & Kangas, 2014). ELLs consequently may receive the message that their main academic task is to learn academic English. These findings therefore add to literature suggesting that having a teacher who focuses on why content (and not just learning English) is important may therefore be a key show of support for Latino ELLs. It is important to note that in the present study, the teacher who articulated relevance the most frequently also had her students engage in quality literacy activities and rarely used test prep. The likelihood of explaining relevance is tied with the depth and authenticity of instruction. Additionally, this teacher varied in how she described relevance: Sometimes she emphasized the general importance of content, and other times she described how content was important for her and her students. Future research should continue exploring the role of relevance; in particular, researchers should consider whether or how ELLs perceive and value the two types of relevance.


An interesting aspect of our study is the degree to which student-report measures and observational measures align with our findings. The two teachers with the highest student-reported Care scores were the teachers in high-ELL, high-gains upper elementary classrooms. We observed these same teachers distinctively showing support through frequent praise, efforts to build relationships, and discussion of content relevance. Thus, students report of teacher caring aligned with our qualitative observations of teacher supportiveness. However, observational measures of teacher supportiveness and instruction did not align with our case descriptions or students reporting.

There are multiple possible reasons for discrepancy, including issues of generalizability and rater effects (see Mashburn, 2017). Given the focus of the present study on majority-Latino classrooms with ELLs, we highlight one key possibility: the need for observational measures that align with culturally and linguistically diverse students expectations for supportive teachers. An important example is teachers descriptions of relevance. In the present study, we triangulated relevance code patterns and frequencies with observational scores of Instructional Support, because these scores capture in part whether or not the teacher made a connection to prior learning or the outside world. However, these two constructsrelevance versus connections to prior learningalthough related, are not synonymous. In the present study, relevance implied more than real-life or prior learning connections. Rather, relevance was an explicit statement regarding how instruction would benefit students as emerging readers and writers, which may help students perceive themselves as readers and writers. This type of nuance could be captured in culturally and linguistically specific observational measures of classroom quality. As another example, we also observed high-gains teachers of ELLs using effusive, general praise. Using specific, effort-focused praise instead of general, person-focused praise is typically recommended for teachers as a means of strengthening students motivation (e.g., Mueller & Dweck, 1998). However, general effusive praise may still help Latino ELLs feel valued by their teachers. Consequently, this practice may be worth including in observational measures developed for diverse classrooms.

Given the current importance of observational measures for understanding the effectiveness of classrooms, it is critical to explore whether existing measures include key processes that support diverse student groups, such as Latino ELLs. A benefit and trade-off of the present study is the small number of classrooms we observed, which allowed us to make specific and nuanced observations about the ways in which teachers demonstrated support to their students. These types of interactions can then be tested in larger samples to determine whether these interactions are broadly beneficial. Additionally, future work could include semistructured interviews with upper elementary Latino ELLs to determine whether the types of interactions we observed in the present study map onto their ideas of teacher supportiveness.


As previously noted, a primary limitation of this work is the nature of our data. We used videotaped lesson data, which allowed us to capture and continuously review how teachers interacted with their classes. A benefit of using large-scale secondary data is the wide range of classrooms from which we could select and observe: We were able to find classrooms that fit our specifications in terms of gains and percentages of ELLs. However, a trade-off of using secondary data is that we cannot be certain if we observed teachers interacting with their ELL students. Moreover, we could not interview teachers or students, particularly Latino ELLs, to understand their perspectives on teacher supportivenessfor instance, to be certain that Latino ELLs perceived their teachers praise as credible. We have therefore kept our analyses focused on the teacher; however, a clear follow-up to this study would be to conduct in-person observations in classrooms with similar levels of gains and percentages of ELLs in order to determine if our findings hold. We also were able to observe four ELA lessons per teacher; observing more lessons would have provided additional data. Future research can address these gaps.

It is also important to note that multiple variables can influence average classroom gains. For example, given the nature of our data, we cannot be certain of ELLs English proficiency levels across the classrooms we observed. Perhaps students in the high-gains classrooms were more proficient than those in low-gains classrooms, which contributed to their stronger performance on the end-of-year tests. Future research could collect key data with greater nuance and ensure even greater similarity across observed cases.


The results of this comparative case study are important for classrooms with ELLs in a period of changing national education standards (Valdés, Kibler, & Walqui, 2014). These shifts in standards are challenging for teachers and students alike to enact and learn, particularly in classrooms with varying levels of English proficiency. However, when teachers show support by using a variety of strategiespraise, relationship, and relevance, among other possibilitiesthey may create contexts in which these standards can be achieved. For instance, if teachers work to understand and showcase the relevance of content, they may both deepen their own understanding of how to teach new content and heighten students motivation to tackle challenging content. However, teachers cannot shoulder this responsibility alone. Education leaders can create opportunities for professional development that allow teachers to fully support all students. Specifically, creators of professional development could include the themes of praise, relevance, and relationship in modules aimed at developing teachers abilities to emotionally support fourth- and fifth-grade ELL students.

We note that our findings may only be generalizable to other majority-Latino classrooms with some ELLs. However, the ELL student population is unevenly distributed throughout this country, and schools with fewer ELLs tend to also have fewer resources for supporting this student group (e.g., Cosentino de Cohen, Deterding, & Clewell, 2005). Fortunately, the supports observed in this study are no-cost and consequently are relatively simple to implement. Similarly, these supports could easily be integrated into preservice teacher preparation programs. Even the best intentioned teachers may come to see their ELLs only as learners of English and become forgetful of their ELLs full personhood (Rosa, 2016). Teacher educators could devote class time to considering specific ways for meeting ELLs social-emotional needs, in addition to ELLs linguistic and instructional needs. Encouraging preservice teachers to praise, build relationships, and articulate the relevance for ELLs during preservice training may help these supports become ingrained in novice teachers pedagogical philosophies and approaches.


All the teachers we observed displayed supportiveness in some way. Only one teacher engaged in interactions that the authors perceived as negative or insensitive. That said, only high-gains teachers with many ELLs in their classrooms displayed several distinctive types of supportiveness, through praise, efforts to form relationships, and articulating relevance. This contrast suggests that high-ELL, high-gains teachers are adept at employing a variety of support strategies. Although we cannot infer causality from the present analysis, our findings suggest that teacher use of praise, relationship building, and relevance may be useful strategies to support achievement gains in classrooms with varying levels of English proficiency. It is increasingly important that teachers of ELLs reflect on the nature of their interactions and strive to facilitate interactions that support all students.


The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant No. R305B090002 to the University of Virginia. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education. This dissertation was also supported by the Measures of Effective Teaching-American Educational Research Association dissertation fellowship, as well as a dissertation award from the Society of Research in Child DevelopmentStudent and Early Career Council.


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Sample Transcript

The following provides an expanded example of transcribed language from teachers, with accompanying field notes. Specifically, this excerpt was coded as an example of general and effusive praise. Bolded print represents our additional notes. All language was transcribed verbatim; nonverbal elements such as student or teacher gestures, tone of voice, classroom configurations, or student work were added as narrative notes.

T then starts reading the next passage from the test-prep book, about fish that produces electricity. She reads through the first questions and the possible A, B, C, and D options. Students immediately start raising their hands and shouting various answersB! A! B! as soon as she stops reading.


Teacher A:

Do not call out guys, I know youre excited, but do not call out. (Repeating the question) The author wrote the story to& (lots of hands go up). Yall are reading for 30 minutes every night and its paying off, I see that. S?





Teacher A:

I think you are a smart boy. Smartest boy in the United States. Lets give him a round of applause. (Students immediately start clapping for their peer). S, Im so proud of you, ok? Very proud of you!

Below is an example of an analytic memo written at the end of a different transcript. The memo includes the readers observations, references to the lesson, and quotes from the lesson. This memo focuses on the no-ELL, high-gains teacher who asked her students to make inferences about a biography, an example discussed in the results section.

The passage students were asked to read was very explicitlyit didnt really require a lot of inferencing, since it was detailed, factual biography. The teacher says at one point we were discussingand we really dont need to in this story. It gave us really good details but theres a few details that we were trying to infer and we werent 100% sure. Then the inferences they draw about this individuals biographywho is a nurseare all on the same vein of she likes helping people, she cares about people. In the teachers efforts to focus intently on inferencing and the main idea, Im not sure that the true purpose behind drawing inferences (i.e., good reading comprehension) is realized in this lesson. That said, she has a warm and even tone. She doesnt take a lot of time to express warmth specifically through words or actions, thoughits mostly the absence of a negative climate coupled with an even tone.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 7, 2019, p. 1-42
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22688, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 8:07:24 PM

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About the Author
  • Holland Banse
    University of Denver
    E-mail Author
    HOLLAND W. BANSE is a postdoctoral fellow at the Marsico Institute of Early Learning and Literacy at the University of Denver, where her research foci include supporting English language learners, early childhood mathematics education, and the intersection of those two domains.
  • Natalia Palacios
    University of Virginia
    E-mail Author
    NATALIA A. PALACIOS is an associate professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia whose research interests include teacher interactions with linguistically diverse students, with particular focus on the educational contexts experienced by Latino children.
  • Anna Martin
    University of Virginia
    E-mail Author
    ANNA MARTIN is a graduate of UVAís Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science masterís program and works in assistive technology at Northern Virginia Community College, aiming to make education accessible for students of all abilities.
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