TESOL Teaching Philosophy
While teaching practices change over time based on research and trial-and-error, the teaching philosophy is a guiding set of principles that prevail when the practice goes poorly. And, when practice goes poorly, the principles reframe the experience to set both the students and the instructor up for the better.
Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or in the same way.
Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.
As a teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), I find that I return to Evans, Adams, and Einstein’s words often when faced with a challenge or victory which reveals the complex nature and monolithic achievement of learning another language. Whether from my own language-learning experience or that of my students’, it is clear that the development of a second (or third, or fourth…) language proficiency is quite set apart from any other educational pursuit. Sharing in the perspectives of Evans, Adams, and Einstein, I believe that even though many students struggle to learn English, all can achieve an elevated proficiency when given the opportunity to search for it “with ardor” with the help someone there to attend to the cognitive, emotional, and social needs “with diligence.” With this frame of mind, I strive to create a culturally responsive, cognitive learning theory-based, student-centered classroom that supports the learner in sifting through the challenges of expanding their communicative repertoire. These elements together and more come together with the ultimate goal of equipping students with the necessary tools and opportunities to develop their own independent learner-ship in preparation for the time when “they forget what they have learned in school.”
As a native English speaker from the Southeast United States and English-French bilingual, I understand the challenges of second language acquisition from the perspective of the student who had the privilege of learning a globally validated language in a classroom setting with a culturally diverse, yet intact, day-to-day life. I know and speak natively the language in which my society and culture expressed itself. The reality for many English Language Learners (ELLs) is that this context is not afforded to them based on the structures and limitations of the educational resources and systems available to them. 9.5% of all students in the United States public school system qualify as ELLs, meaning their first language (L1) is not English or they possess very elementary English language skills (Bialik et al., 2020). Out of these approximately 5 million students, 72% were born in the USA, while the other 28% were born in other countries, from every continent (Bialik et al., 2020). These statistics inform the practical, hands-on elements of my teaching philosophy of TESOL education because while I was able to develop a proficiency in a second language (L2) elevated enough to teach it at the university-level in five years, many ELLs devote years to learning English, but struggle to extend their acquired linguistic knowledge beyond the lesson block or classroom walls.
My TESOL teaching philosophy anchors itself in the pursuit of student-centered success. In the TESOL classroom, the teacher’s core responsibility is to be a supporter and facilitator, rather than a source of knowledge and legitimization. This facilitator-supporter function strengthens particular substrata of the iceberg-like challenge (cognitively, culturally, socio-emotionally) that ELLs face when developing an L2. In my classroom, I employ specific, yet dynamic, tools and strategies to optimize students’ success, and reduce the impact of various challenges they may encounter in and outside the classroom.
Having explored, applied, and reviewed the behaviorist (Celce-Murcia, 2014), communicative (Duff, 2014), and cognitive (Murray and Herrera, 2015) pedagogies, it is clear that the role and function of the teacher is most effective when treated like a facilitator and supporter. Because the “sage on the stage” approach to the instructor’s presence in the classroom can be a major fault line in many academic experiences, I strive to serve my students as a source of stabilization and support in their education successes. Over the past year and a half, I have developed a strong commitment to facilitating second language acquisition (SLA) and content learning through a blend of communicative and cognitive pedagogical strategies. The Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and Cognitive Academic Language Learning (CALLA) approaches lend themselves well to both language and content education. Additionally, they allow the instructor and students to collaborate, negotiate meaning, and build on students’ funds of knowledge in the face-to-face and online classroom.
The disconnect and even tension between the teacher’s expectation and the ELL’s funds of knowledge (FOK) is one significant challenge that many ELLs face (Moll et al., 1992). Regardless of students’ past academic experience, they are experts in something of value and complexity. When students’ FOKs are discredited or completely disregarded, the instructor’s job becomes more difficult, and the student’s ESL experience can become discouraging, unconnected to the greater learning goals, and irrelevant to daily life and real-world experience. Assuming the posture of facilitator and supporter allows the teacher to bypass these possible learning environment challenges and establish a pleasant, effective, and productive classroom. Facilitating and supporting ELL success through this blended approach opens the door for the teacher to be a “sociocultural mediator” for a more culturally responsive classroom (Nieto, 2017, 8), ultimately creating space for success through scaffolded, yet independent, learning based on the students’ areas of expertise, rather than just “teaching and learning” a curriculum.
The teacher as a facilitator and supporter with the goal of creating a culturally responsive classroom reflects the iceberg-like tasks ELLs face in learning English. Learning English as a second language is not just a linguistic task, but a multidimensional feat that blends language, culture, personal background, internal comfort levels and external goals. For example, when many ELLs receive not only input in English, but they must also reformat that input into their L1 configuration of meaning and recontextualize the meaning within their home culture (C1) perspective on the given topic. Additionally, if the L1 and C1 of the student is quite different from the English and anglophone culture they are learning, then there will be higher cognitive demands in relating the L2 and C2 to their language and culture of origin, therefore adding extra steps in the learning process for these students. Underlying all of these challenges are the various intra- and interpersonal tensions that arise when one individual begins to adopt additional language and cultural realities into the mundane.
There are several ways that I strive to support my students in these circumstances, while also encouraging them to achieve the highest standards to the best of their ability. The primary method of support is to engage both the L1 and L2. Based on the principle of the common underlying proficiency (CUP), the language learner uses the L1 to understand comprehensible L2 input and repackage it for meaningful output that serves the purposes of the learner (Cummins, 1980). Putting Cummins’ work into practice, the presentation of specific class objectives, comprehensible input and numerous opportunities for guided, independent, and collaborative output make up the entirety of each lesson. In order to scaffold these objectives and input-output phases, each lesson follows a review-preview-view-review progression. In this trajectory, the class activates prior knowledge (review), observes new material through comprehensible presentation (preview), then sees the language or content in use through instructor modelling and consecutive guided and independent output (view), finally reviewing the old and new material in context and culture with each other. In each phase, I check for student comprehension, and offer appropriate metacognitive strategies that are prefaced briefly at the beginning of the class. This lesson format is heavily influenced by the CLT (Duff, 2014) and CALLA (Murray and Herrera, 2015) approaches.
In addition to the overarching review-preview-view-review structure, there are many metacognitive strategies that resonate with students and support noticeable achievement. In my classroom, the following metacognitive strategies make frequent, if not daily, appearances: the use of KWL charts; deciphering of grammatical and lexical patterns through cognates, collocates, comparisons and contrast; and multi-modal self-assessment (i.e., summarizing in the student’s own words on paper or to a partner, concept mapping, drawing a picture, making up a song or rhyme to remember patterns and concepts, etc.). In assessing student progress and achievement and the efficacy of these instructional approaches, I design each assessment as a continuing education activity for content covered in class, with both low-stakes (i.e., quizzes with the opportunity to submit corrections) and high-stakes (tests and graded conversations) interactions (Shin and Crandall, 2014).
Ultimately, my teaching philosophy of facilitator and supporter hinges on personal progress over linguistic perfection, and acquisition over accuracy (Manchón, 2017, p. 190 qtd. In TWAP). These principles guide each lesson, each teacher-student interaction, and most importantly, provide space for dynamic adaptability and growth with each new challenge and victory, and second language skills are acquired even after the student “forgets what was once learned in class.”
Best of luck and see you in the classroom,
Bialik, K., Scheller, A., & Walker, K. (2020, May 30). 6 facts about English language learners in U.S. public schools. Pew Research Center. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/25/6-facts-about-english-language-learners-in-u-s-public-schools/.
Celce-Murcia, M. (2014). An Overview of Language Teaching Methods and Approaches. In Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language, 4th edition (pp. 2–13).
Cummins, J. (1980). The construct of language proficiency in bilingual education. In J.E. Alatis (Ed.), Georgetown University roundtable on languages and linguistics (pp. 76-93). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Duff, P. A. (2014). Chapter 2: Communicative Language Teaching. In M. Celce-Murcia, D. Brinton, & M. Snow (Eds.), Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (pp. 2–13). Heinle.
Herrera, S., & Murry, K. (2015). Mastering ESL/EFL Methods: Differentiated Instruction for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Students (pp. 2–13). Pearson.
Manchón, R. M. (2017). The multifaceted and situated nature of the interaction between language and writing in academic settings: Advancing research agendas. In J. Bitchener, N.
Storch, & R. Wette (Eds.), Teaching writing for academic purposes to multilingual students: Instructional approaches (pp. 145-167). New York, NY: Routledge.
Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31(2), 132-141.
Nieto, S. (2017). On becoming sociocultural mediators. TeachingWorks Working Papers.
Shin, J. K., & Crandall, J. (2014). Chapter 7: Assessment. In Teaching Young Learners English (pp. 243–278). Heinle.
Singh, C. K. S., et al. (2017). Grammar errors made by ESL tertiary students in writing. English Language Teaching, 10(5), 16-27.