Service-Learning as Authentic Practice for Teacher Candidates to Work With English Language Learners

Service-Learning as Authentic Practice for Teacher Candidates to Work With English Language Learners

Hyesun Cho (University of Kansas, USA), Peter Johnson (University of Kansas, USA) and Sylvia S. Somiari (University of Kansas, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8543-5.ch003


This chapter investigates how the incorporation of service-learning to a teacher education course changes teacher candidates' perceptions of English language learners (ELLs). It also examines the benefits and challenges of the service-learning project in which preservice teachers worked with ELLs individually or in groups in the elementary classroom. Through course artifacts and focus group interviews of 48 preservice teachers at a large Midwestern U.S. university, the impacts of service-learning as authentic practice with ELLs are discussed. Findings reveal that the experience reduced participant anxiety about working with diverse populations, provided opportunities for self-reflection, and promoted a sense of confidence and competence which led to professional growth for teacher candidates. This chapter concludes with recommendations for teacher educators interested in implementing service-learning in a teacher education program as well as directions for future research.
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The number of English language learners (ELLs) in the classroom across the U.S. has been growing rapidly, approaching 10% of all public-school students (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2018). Of importance in this demographic trend is the increasing presence of ELLs in classrooms beyond border states, across the more rural settings of the U.S. Midwest. For example, Kansas has witnessed the largest percentage-point increase in ELL enrollment---4.9 percentage points---in the country between 2002-2003 and 2012-2013.

In increasingly diverse classrooms, the skills necessary to adapt lessons to ELLs’ linguistic and cultural competence is of central significance to prospective teachers who will be working with such diverse learners (Garcia, Arias, Harris Murri, & Serna, 2010). Yet, there is a mismatch between cultural and linguistic diversity in the student population and the comparative lack thereof within the teaching profession. Over 80 percent of classroom teachers in the U.S. identify as non-Hispanic White on the National Teacher and Principal Survey (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-2016). In their study of a rural teacher education program in Wyoming, Cho, Rios, Trent and Mayfield (2012) found that white teacher candidates’ attitudes towards classroom language diversity as a whole were positive, but that a sizeable percentage (30%) reported feeling “fearful/anxious about working with ELLs” (p. 75). Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, and Driscoll (2005) also found lower levels of instructional confidence among teacher candidates without significant preparation for working with ELLs. In rural areas, challenges in working with diverse populations were especially acute due to scarce resources. Therefore, teacher educators face the imperative need to implement curriculum and learning experiences in the teacher education program so that they can better prepare future educators to work with culturally and linguistically diverse students. It is in this context that service-learning stands as an opportunity for preservice teachers to engage authentically with such diverse student populations and prepare themselves for the realities of their future classrooms.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Preservice Teachers: Students in a teacher-education program at a point in their training before they have had significant teaching experience.

Reciprocal Relationship: A relationship in which all participants learn from and teach each other in the most equitable manner possible.

ESL (English as a Second Language) or ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages): Learning English in a social context where English is the primary spoken language.

Pull-Out ESL: A programmatic format in which English learners are “pulled out” of their content classrooms to receive English instruction.

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners: Learners who are part of an ethnic and/or language group considered to be different from that of the majority population.

Thematic Unit: A collection of lesson plans organized around a central theme that are executed over a period of time.

TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages): The practice of teaching English to learners that do not speak it as a first language.

Elementary Teacher Education: Educational programming designed specifically for those interested in entering the education profession at the elementary level.

LEP (Limited English Proficiency): A designation marking language limitations significant enough to warrant assistance in accessing services and resources.

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