When reading the text entitled Practical Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners by Ellen M. Curtin, it became quite obvious that good teaching equates to good teaching whether ELL students are in my classroom or not. Unfortunately for most first year teachers, it proves to be very difficult to feel like a good teacher. This isn’t to say that in my third year of teaching I have it all figured out. Far from it. Yet I do feel that my experiences – including failures – helped me learn how to become a better teacher. Part of success in teaching is the art and part of the success is the science. When a teacher combines both, he or she can reach and improve performance of all students, including ELL students.
Curtin describes the art of teaching in chapter six with her opening example of Mr. O’Connor. Struggling to find a way to explain mixtures to his students, Mr. O’Connor decides to adapt his lesson in class in order to have the concepts make sense to his students. While Curtin states that this should be built into a lesson, I don’t believe that is the case. I do think that as a teacher I can brainstorm possibilities, but this is the art of teaching. Not all teachers can do this well. Like any other profession, I believe there are those who have a natural talent for teaching. This is the art. When I find myself in a class that isn’t going well, I adapt the lesson not only in the examples I use, but in the entire lesson itself. If students are sleepy, I will group them together or find ways to get them moving. If students are too energetic, some quiet writing and then sharing as a class can get them calmed down. While a teacher can predict some of this in lesson planning, most of it is done naturally and spontaneously in the classroom. This can be applied to ELL students as well. If those students seem to be struggling with a concept, then find a way to make it more applicable. This is good teaching.
The science of teaching involves all the work we prepare before a lesson and in our teacher preparation programs. Curtin provides a great way to involve ELL students in our preparation. In chapter four, she gave an example of a lesson plan with a column added to include strategies for ELL students. This would be the science of teaching. There are strategies and types of learning that will benefit all students, but even more so ELL students. In chapter five, Curtin highlights a few of these options including think-pair-share, cooperative learning, jigsaws, and round-robin. She also writes about opportunities for kinesthetic learning that may benefit ELL students. After providing an example of a teacher who utilizes these strategies, she writes: “the teacher in this scenario demonstrated interactive teaching by incorporating cooperative learning and learning centers, and using hands-on strategies that greatly enhanced learning for all students, which reduced the anxiety for the English Language Learner” (Curtin, 91).
By combining the art and science of teaching and using effective strategies, we can become teachers who improve students’ success. While we should include ELL students in our lesson plans and think specifically of ways to enhance their experience, I believe the focus should simply be on strategies for good teaching. When this is done for all students, ELL students will benefit in the process.
Curtin, E. (2009). Practical Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners. Columbus: Pearson.