The Quest for a Mainstream EAL Pedagogy

Sep. 26, 2009

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 111 Number 9, 2009.


Previous research shows that class teachers often have little training to teach students with English as an additional language (EAL). Therefore, they may often operate on a trial-and-error basis, become frustrated easily, feel negative, and have little confidence in their ability to be successful with EAL students. In addition, mainstream teachers may be reluctant to undertake relevant professional development if there are just a few EAL students in the class. Teacher educators may therefore struggle to help these teachers, particularly because the existing literature seldom provides any guidance on how to adapt effective EAL pedagogic frameworks for use in a busy mainstream class setting.

Purpose: This research sheds light on the realities for teachers who have small numbers of EAL students in their mainstream classes, and the factors that influence their practice decisions with regard to these students.

Setting: The inquiry was undertaken in four primary schools in the central North Island of New Zealand, a region that characteristically has just small numbers of EAL students. Each of these schools became the setting for the inquiry for one term over the course of a four-term school year.


In each school, 1 teacher in a Year 1-2 class and 1 in a Year 5-6 class participated in the research. The 8 class teachers had a range of general and EAL teaching experience.

Research Design: A qualitative approach, which used in-class observations interspersed with a series of in-depth reflective discussions with each class teacher, allowed for the evolution of in-depth insights over time.


It was found that some teachers generated strategies for EAL students within the context of regular class instruction, whereas others worked with individual EAL students within the class. However, most teachers reported they experienced stress when trying to balance the individual needs of EAL students with those of the rest of the class. Ultimately, it emerged that the teachers' efforts to develop useful working theories and practices with EAL students were influenced by the dynamic interaction of factors within and across three contextual layers: the personal-professional, the immediate classroom interaction, and the wider educational context.


In conclusion, it is argued that simply providing teachers with professional input on existing EAL pedagogy addresses just one part of the problem. If teacher educators intend to significantly influence teachers' practice decisions with EAL students, it may be important to take a broader socio-cultural approach that considers the interaction of factors within and across the three contextual layers of teachers' professional lives.

Updated: Mar. 18, 2009