Investigating elementary teachers' instructional planning and teaching experiences with long-term English learners: a qualitative study
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English Language Learners (ELLs) are currently the fastest growing student population in the United States (Duhon-Ross & Battle, 2001; Verdugo & Flores, 2007). Within this population, there exists a group of students who are frequently criticized for lacking academic fluency in English despite having been educated in the United States for a long period of time. They are known as Long-Term English Learners. Long- Term English Learners share some characteristics with other groups of students, but occupy a unique space with regards to language issues (Olsen, 2010). The phenomenon of Long- Term English Learners is not new, but continues to present a challenge for many educators and students. The challenge for educators is being prepared to teach these students in order to close the achievement gap and get these students up to grade-level so their performance in the content areas is comparable to their native English peers. Despite this phenomenon, no research has been conducted on elementary Long-Term English Learners and how elementary teachers plan instruction for these students. The purpose of this study was to contribute to the body of knowledge of how elementary teachers of Long-Term English Learners decide on the instructional approaches and teaching methods they use to teach academic content. To achieve this, a qualitative study was conducted. In order to select the participants of this study, a criteria was set. Ten teacher participants were interviewed using semi-structured interviews (Brenner, 2006). A six-step data analysis was conducted. Analysis from the data led me to identify how elementary teachers decided which instructional approaches and teaching methods they use to teach academic content to Long-Term English Learners. In summary, the findings of this study indicated that: (1) the decisions on which instructional approaches and teaching methods participants used to teach academic content were based on the needs of their Long-Term English Learners; (2) teachers made decisions to use specific types of instruction that targeted the gaps these students possessed; and (3) teachers made decisions that displayed the type of teachers they characterized: effective and committed. Based on the findings of this study, I provide three conclusions. In addition, I provide implications for elementary Long-Term English Learners, educators, family members, and policy makers who want to help elementary Long-Term English Learners in closing the achievement gap and also help teachers who have these students with their decision making.