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Encountering the "Other": M.Ed. Preservice Teachers Explore Reading Strategies With English Language Learners.
Unformatted Document Text:  PROPOSAL, AACTE Annual Meeting, 2006 Encountering the “Other”: M.Ed. preservice teachers exploring reading strategies with English language learners During a 15-week practicum class, students participated in a ten-week tutoring field experience that also functioned as an assignment for the reading methods class they were taking the same semester. Students partnered with a foreign student who was studying English at a language institute in the same building as the teacher education faculty. For four pre-service teachers who expressly requested it, we also enlisted the ESOL department of a local high school, one of two in the area with a specific ESOL program. Teachers were asked to nominate struggling readers who might benefit from the extra help our pre-service teachers offered. As a first step, the tutors got to know something about their partners and wrote a brief biography. Each tutor also wrote an initial, informal assessment of his or her partner’s needs and strengths in reading and, in some cases, writing. On their own, and in discussions with classmates and advisors, the M.Ed. students considered the theory they were encountering in their reading methods class and designed an individualized plan for teaching their “tutee” strategies that would be particularly useful to his or her specific needs. Each week the tutor would meet with his or her partner, implement the individualized “lesson plan,” assess outcomes, revise and replan for the following week, in a continuing cycle. In this way, we created an opportunity for our pre-service teachers to make more explicit links between theory and practice. We could also discuss the experience as a group and use our collective knowledge to brainstorm strategies, try them out, reflect on them and revise them. Finally, the M.Ed. students were asked to reflect explicitly on the quality of the experience in terms of their growing knowledge of the reading process, the teaching of reading, and in terms of the experience of language learners in our schools as they perceived it. We also discussed and reflected on how they felt about their own capacity for adjusting their “mainstream” knowledge of the teaching of English language arts to the needs of diverse learners, in particular language learners. Admittedly, the language learners the students worked with in this study were not typical of English learners in the majority of our public school classrooms. Most of the “tutees” were recently arrived students from abroad, often with extensive academic success in their home countries. Although the political issues that often surround ELLs in our schools were absent, in all cases an essential element was there for us: personal interaction with a person from a different culture. In addition, the fact that most of the students were roughly the same age as our interns, and could discuss their reading on a metacognitive level, albeit with limited English, seemed to increase the validity of the experience for our students; they were working with people who were essentially their peers. The pre-service teachers’ reactions to the experience were overwhelmingly positive. A frequent comment was amazement at the accomplishment of the foreign students, especially when our interns reflected back on their own language learning experiences. In their final syntheses, our pre-service teachers especially commented on their increased awareness of the lived experience of linguistically diverse students and their own ability to address this diversity in the classroom. As the tutors tried to communicate with their tutee, what impressed many of them was a realization for the first time in their lives of the difficulty involved in simultaneously learning English and learning in a content area. More than one professed experiencing a new respect for these students who were not only trying but succeeding. Based on this response, we judged the experience highly successful and incorporated it into the program as one of the field experiences. Although the close-up contact with a real person using (or not) reading strategies in different contexts was interesting, the ulterior motive in the assignment was to introduce our students to a person who was simultaneously trying to learn English and trying to learn. Qualitative data in the form of reflective journals and week by week planning and revised 2

Authors: Kiss, Katherine.
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PROPOSAL, AACTE Annual Meeting, 2006
Encountering the “Other”:
M.Ed. preservice teachers exploring reading strategies with English language learners
During a 15-week practicum class, students participated in a ten-week tutoring field
experience that also functioned as an assignment for the reading methods class they were taking
the same semester. Students partnered with a foreign student who was studying English at a
language institute in the same building as the teacher education faculty. For four pre-service
teachers who expressly requested it, we also enlisted the ESOL department of a local high
school, one of two in the area with a specific ESOL program. Teachers were asked to nominate
struggling readers who might benefit from the extra help our pre-service teachers offered. As a
first step, the tutors got to know something about their partners and wrote a brief biography.
Each tutor also wrote an initial, informal assessment of his or her partner’s needs and strengths in
reading and, in some cases, writing. On their own, and in discussions with classmates and
advisors, the M.Ed. students considered the theory they were encountering in their reading
methods class and designed an individualized plan for teaching their “tutee” strategies that would
be particularly useful to his or her specific needs. Each week the tutor would meet with his or her
partner, implement the individualized “lesson plan,” assess outcomes, revise and replan for the
following week, in a continuing cycle.
In this way, we created an opportunity for our pre-service teachers to make more explicit
links between theory and practice. We could also discuss the experience as a group and use our
collective knowledge to brainstorm strategies, try them out, reflect on them and revise them.
Finally, the M.Ed. students were asked to reflect explicitly on the quality of the experience in
terms of their growing knowledge of the reading process, the teaching of reading, and in terms of
the experience of language learners in our schools as they perceived it. We also discussed and
reflected on how they felt about their own capacity for adjusting their “mainstream” knowledge
of the teaching of English language arts to the needs of diverse learners, in particular language
learners.
Admittedly, the language learners the students worked with in this study were not typical
of English learners in the majority of our public school classrooms. Most of the “tutees” were
recently arrived students from abroad, often with extensive academic success in their home
countries. Although the political issues that often surround ELLs in our schools were absent, in
all cases an essential element was there for us: personal interaction with a person from a different
culture. In addition, the fact that most of the students were roughly the same age as our interns,
and could discuss their reading on a metacognitive level, albeit with limited English, seemed to
increase the validity of the experience for our students; they were working with people who were
essentially their peers.
The pre-service teachers’ reactions to the experience were overwhelmingly positive. A
frequent comment was amazement at the accomplishment of the foreign students, especially
when our interns reflected back on their own language learning experiences. In their final
syntheses, our pre-service teachers especially commented on their increased awareness of the
lived experience of linguistically diverse students and their own ability to address this diversity
in the classroom. As the tutors tried to communicate with their tutee, what impressed many of
them was a realization for the first time in their lives of the difficulty involved in simultaneously
learning English and learning in a content area. More than one professed experiencing a new
respect for these students who were not only trying but succeeding. Based on this response, we
judged the experience highly successful and incorporated it into the program as one of the field
experiences.
Although the close-up contact with a real person using (or not) reading strategies in
different contexts was interesting, the ulterior motive in the assignment was to introduce our
students to a person who was simultaneously trying to learn English and trying to learn.
Qualitative data in the form of reflective journals and week by week planning and revised
2


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