Inclusion of English Language Learners in a Mainstream Classroom: A Case Study of the Beliefs and Practices of One Elementary Teacher

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Fox, Carol
English language learners , Inclusive Instructional Practices
The purpose of this study was to describe the ways in which one elementary teacher included English language learners (ELLs) in her mainstream classroom. A case study design was chosen to obtain an in-depth understanding of this teacher’s beliefs and practices about ELLs and their inclusion. Descriptive data were collected from teacher interviews, classroom observations, and various artefacts. Data from these three sources were found to be highly consistent, indicating a close relationship between the teacher’s beliefs and practices. Two main themes emerged relating to the teacher’s ways of supporting and including young ELLs. The first theme was concerned with the teacher’s beliefs in and employment of broad-based instructional strategies such as differentiating instruction and assessment; emphasizing engagement through the use of a variety of meaningful activities and materials; focusing on oral language; stressing problem solving and cooperative learning; and encouraging students to take the lead. While the literature endorsed these general practices, it also stressed the need for teachers to address ELLs’ distinct language and cultural needs. Appreciating and incorporating diversity to facilitate ELLs’ inclusion was the second theme. Here, the data primarily came from interviews with the teacher who reported the value of exposing children to diversity and examining one’s and others’ biases, as well as utilizing practices that integrate the cultural knowledge of various groups and involve parents of diverse linguistic/cultural backgrounds. An analysis of these data found that many of the teacher’s approaches to incorporating diversity were integral to her program and addressed diversity from a critical standpoint. It was in this way that the findings connected to Dei et al.’s (2000) work–a key component of the study’s theoretical framework. Upon examining the data through the lenses of various theoretical constructs, one main concern regarding this teacher’s views and practices was raised throughout. Although the teacher appeared to recognize the value of students maintaining their home languages, there was little evidence of her promoting first language usage in the classroom. Ramifications of this omission were discussed, pointing to the need for further research to uncover some of the concerns educators may have about supporting ELLs’ first languages in the classroom.
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