Preparing Effective Teachers of English Language Learners: The Impact of a Cross-Cultural Field Experience
Teague, Brad L.
This study explored the role of cross-cultural field experiences in the preparation of teachers of English Language Learners (ELLs). The case is made that direct and sustained contact with linguistically and culturally diverse individuals leads to unique types of learning that cannot be replicated in the university classroom. The study took place at a prestigious private university in the southeastern United States, and focal participants included six undergraduate education majors. Each of the participants spent at least 15 hours at a designated site (or sites) in the community and was required to interact with ELLs and to participate in a number of non-English-language activities. Using the lens of sociocultural theory, I traced the development of participants’ knowledge and beliefs regarding ELLs throughout the experience. Data sources included demographic and background questionnaires, pre- and post-experience surveys, reflection papers, class observation notes, and transcripts of individual and focus-group interviews. Data analysis was ongoing throughout the study and followed the constant-comparative method. Findings indicated that participation in the cross-cultural field experience resulted in increased knowledge and more positive beliefs among most of the teacher candidates. For example, the participants made explicit connections between theories and concepts covered in coursework and the personal experiences of ELLs with whom they interacted. Significantly, they commented that combining coursework with real-life experiences led to deeper and more meaningful learning. The candidates also gained familiarity with local community resources, they learned about group-specific cultural practices, and they articulated culturally relevant instructional practices grounded in their out-of-class experiences. Many of them likewise evidenced more positive and affirming beliefs toward ELLs, they challenged many of the unfounded assumptions with which they had begun the course, and some of them became more comfortable being in a non-familiar setting and interacting with diverse individuals. Overall, the study demonstrated a number of specific types of impact that direct interaction with linguistically diverse individuals can have on prospective teachers.