Mandated to Learn, Guided to Reflect: Pre-Service Teachers’ Evolving Understanding of English Language Learners

Spring 2012

Source: Issues in Teacher Education, Volume 20, Number 2, Spring 2012, p. 39-57.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the author describes pre-service teachers’ understandings of English Language Learners (ELLs) and the ways that their understandings evolved through participation in their Foundations of Structured English Immersion (SEI) course.
The purpose of this study was to investigate pre-service teachers’ beliefs about and understanding of ELLs.

The author designed the study around qualitative research, in particular, teacher research.
This study was situated in a state-mandated SEI course that she taught for pre-service teachers. Students were attending a large university in Arizona, taking the first of their two required SEI classes.

Over the three semesters, total of 72 pre-service students participated in the study.
Data were collected through anecdotal records, documented observation when classroom activities allowed me to do so, collected student work/artifacts from course learning experiences, and a personal teaching journal kept by the author.


This study shows that, within one course, when given the opportunity to do so, students moved beyond narrow ideas and deficit thinking about ELLs.
At the beginning of the semester, the students were quick to define the term English language learner.

However, at the end of the course, students recognized their limited thinking and were able to expand the way they define the term English language learner.
As students expanded their ideas about language learners, it became increasingly more difficult for them to write a definition that was sufficiently broad and specific at the same time. Students began to question the notion of a one-size-fits-all ELL label.

As a teacher-researcher, the author believes that it is her job to offer pre-service teachers the time and space needed to examine their thinking.
She cannot change my students’ beliefs or attitudes.
She can only create opportunities for students to acknowledge what they believe, recognize why they believe what they do, and offer counter-stories to challenge and renew their understandings.
Ultimately, a change in attitudes and beliefs is the responsibility of the learner.

Updated: Nov. 26, 2014