Language development objectives are nothing new in the EL world. At the university level, we work diligently to ensure our ESL teacher candidates leave the program writing strong language development objectives and understanding that language is taught through the content in order to make the content accessible to students learning English. However, learning how to write language development objectives is typically not part of coursework for non-ESL teacher candidates. Mainstream teachers often have had very little, or no, training in writing these language objectives.
So, what role do language objectives have outside of EL? Is it necessary for mainstream teachers to understand and develop language objectives in their content lessons if they have EL students in class? What if there are no EL students in the class?
Typically, we think language instruction falls on the EL teacher. This is valid as this person is the specialist specifically hired to teach English to non native speakers. However, EL students, typically those in low incidence schools, often are taught a majority of their day from a teacher who is not licensed or certified in ESL, and, like all teachers in American monolingual schools, the mainstream teacher uses English to teach his or her content objectives. There’s simply no way around it; he or she will either speak about their content, have students listen to the content, have students read or write about the content. This is how we communicate. Language is the vehicle for the content instruction. If a student is not fluent in this vehicle, which is delivering the content, there will be no opportunity to communicate the content; and thus, the content cannot be learned. It is impossible for an EL teacher to design every mainstream lesson. Thus, to be an effective teacher who teaches all learners, every content teacher must be a language teacher.
What happens when a mainstream teacher has no EL student in class which often occurs in low incidence schools? Is language still a concern?
Language, even for native speakers, is something teachers should always be thinking about, particularly when students are not meeting proficiency standards. We have to look at how the instruction is being delivered, which is through language. Yet, most of us rarely think about the language as it is part of our subconscious. The language of school is the language of the academic middle class which represents the teachers themselves. So, the language of instruction is second nature to us as teachers. Yet, it is not second nature to many of our students, who may represent culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds, native English speaking students included.
The answer is yes, while EL students have unique needs that native speakers may not need, language development objectives do have a place in the mainstream classroom. All teachers are language teachers. All teachers must be thinking about what language needs to be explicitly taught in order for students to access the content.
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