Knowing How to Know: Building Meaningful Relationships Through Instruction That Meets the Needs of Students Learning English

From Section:
Instruction in Teacher Training
Dec. 01, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education,61(5), p. 403-412. November/December 2010.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors wish to highlight the need for teachers to build healthy and productive relationships with students while at the same time finding ways to provide them with more effective instruction and programming.

The Importance of Building Relationships With English Learners
The authors argued that it was necessary to focus more on relationships to inform the field of education regarding the quality of instructional practices for frequently marginalized students.
The authors believe that these two issues, lack of meaningful relationships and lack of instruction and programming designed to move students forward with respect to their academic achievement, are linked. To move toward the two goals of building relationships and providing more meaningful instruction, the authors argue that the first step is to find ways to learn more about students, about their communities, and about their cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Accordingly, the authors first present a quick synopsis of what scholars know about helping preservice teachers learn about students learning English, the problems involved in preparing teachers to work with this population, and what the literature reveals concerning what teachers need to be able to do to teach these young people more effectively.

Finally, the authors provide some specific exercises and procedures that they have employed to help preservice teachers move in the direction of learning about and developing relationships with students.

Challenges and Directions for Future Research

The authors encountered some challenges in their attempts to help their teacher candidates learn how to build meaningful relationships with their students.
Shallow cultural engagement coupled with an overreliance on mainstream assumptions about students’ prior experiences led many of the teacher candidates to believe that diverse personal connections to mainstream curricula are not always possible or even warranted.
However, the authors argue that to be successful in providing access to content through students’ lived experiences, teachers must develop a deep understanding of both the curriculum and their students’ backgrounds.

More specifically, within the next few months the authors will present a set of tools to their preservice teachers that make it possible for them to recognize and access students’ cultural and linguistic resources to foster their students’ reading comprehension.
The authors also plan to demonstrate and employ techniques that allow their students to continue to learn about their students’ prior knowledge and lived experiences.


In conclusion, the authors believe that it is necessary to put relationship building squarely on the agenda of teacher education. In addition, the authors believe that healthy relationships cannot be taken for granted or viewed as peripheral when working with students who are learning English as a new language.

The authors also conclude on the basis of their work and prior discussion in this article that they need to combine and examine systematically the factors they have identified.

Finally, the authors see strong potential for educational reform in providing prospective teachers with frequent and sufficient opportunities to work on designing, delivering, and receiving feedback on instruction that includes culturally relevant content, thoughtfully designed language support, and opportunities to get to know their students in more satisfying ways.

Updated: Jan. 11, 2022
Academic achievement | English (second language) | Instruction effectiveness | Preservice teachers | Student characteristics | Students’ needs | Teacher student relationship