Fieldwork Reflections: Michael Kieffer

The Teaching of English M.A. program at Teachers College offers a bi-weekly workshop series and colloquium for all student teachers in the program. The goal is to connect M.A. students with the work of master teachers and leaders in English education in ways that will inspire them to implement innovative instructional practices in their own classrooms. The “Fieldwork” strand of the blog provides M.A. students with a forum to discuss how the featured presenters’ work might influence their own practices in the field.

Michael Kieffer (TC): Effective Classroom Practices for Teaching ELL Students

The lecture began by putting each of us in the shoes of English Language Learners. Immediately I was struck by the insecurity and the bewilderment I felt. It was a good wake up call. Native English speakers in America are often very comfortable. We might not understand how our English Language Learners are feeling in our classroom, nor care to put ourselves in their position. This lecture made me examine my role as the teacher of English Language Learners and how I am open myself up to being a more inclusive teacher in mind and practice.

Prof. Kieffer made a point to say that most English Language Learners understand parts of the texts presented to them, but are unaware as to how to put what they know together. It is our job as the teacher to be the one who demystifies. Prof. Kieffer also emphasized that the text, activity, and the reader we teach are all impacted by the surrounding social and cultural context.

I thought it was quite apt that he mentioned that we secondary teachers can not take for granted that reading and writing are not tools already learned and ready to be utilized, but are still developing skills in the secondary classroom—especially among English Language Learners. As secondary teachers, we need to be aware that reading and writing needs to be worked on and thought of as skills not only tools.

After reading the different case studies of English Language Learners and the two passages excepted from secondary textbooks, it was easy to find similarities and parallels between the text and the problem areas of the students. Multiple meanings of words, abstract concepts, and confusing structures riddle texts in the English language making comprehension very difficult for all students. We in Prof. Kieffer’s audience realized how many idioms and double meanings English texts—academic texts—include and use! We teachers need to incorporate these skills of spotting such confusion into our instruction. Teachers need to be transparent and show students who are English Language Learners what skills are needed to be successful in school and in the reading of English texts. After reading the various case studies, the audience noticed how the English Language Learners who had formal schooling and learned how to be a student in their home country/home language were more successful in learning English and writing and reading fluently in English, than their English as a Second Language peers who had not learned “how to be a student.” There are hidden rules in schools that we teachers need to be transparent about in every grade.

- Alexandra Stahl