Teaching Philosophy

INTRODUCTION: 

2010-2016 – Adult ESL Education Manager and Teacher

In 2010,  I was contracted by a resettlement agency to create and organize an ESL program for resettled refugees.  I was directed to provide ESL classes to heads of households expected to get jobs, leaving out married women, elders, babies and small children not yet in school.  My goal was to find a way to include all of the family members in an ESL/family literacy situation.  A church donated space, and I invited the NISD Adult ESL and Literacy Program to serve those our program couldn’t afford to serve.  NISD’s family education program, HEB Read 3, and the Little Read Wagon also collaborated providing family literacy opportunities.

Because we served people from around the world and from many different cultural backgrounds, we had to find ways to be inclusive of all communities enrolled in the program. It was also important to raise morale especially because our families were survivors of persecution, war, genocide, and other attrocities. The resettlement process coupled with this proved to be stressful and often traumatizing for our students.  At the time, we were especially resettling families from tribal communities with strong ties to farming. Many of these groups were Kachin, Shan, Karen, Karenni, Chin, and Rohingya from Burma.  We also had students from Eritrea, Congo, Burundi, Chad, Somalia, etc. Others were from Nepal, Iraq, Iran, etc. One of their responsibilities to being resettled was to participate in ESL classes. We were responsible for enrolling students into ESL classes, learner retention, progress testing, and job placement.  

We began to include crafting and cooking and eventually gardening into our programming. We celebrated with different food and religious traditions.  World Refugee Day became a day to showcase and celebrate with art exhibits, poetry, and meal sharing. We often invited community stakeholders and constituents to celebrate with us.  Our then city councilman (now our Mayor) would hand out certificates of accomplishment. We saw a huge change in student morale.  Our retention and completion rates went up, and results of student progress testing improved greatly. When we broke ground on our garden, we named it CIELO, which means heaven. It is also an acronym for Community Interfaith Education & Literacy Opportunities. 

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (CRP)

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (CRP) was structured around our learners’ cultural histories and lifestyles. We created collaborative experiences where students could access their FoK (Moll et al. , 1992). Students learned and communicated through modeling, actions, and by accessing all linguistic capacities.  For example, not all of the ethnic groups from Burma (Myanmar) spoke Burmese, but within each group at least one spoke and understood Burmese and English and could disperse information accordingly. Often, a few Burmese speakers could speak four plus other ethnic languages. Some Rohingya from Burma spoke Urdu and could communicate with Nepali and Afghani students. Students from different camps and countries in Africa such as Burundi, Chad , Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, Tanzania, etc, spoke and understood some English French, or Arabic in addition to languages such as Kirundi, Tigrinya, Tigre, Nara, Lingala, Swahili, etc.

It was especially wonderful to use this model because many of the community elders were losing their revered positions in spaces where they were once mentors and leaders. Often, although some students spoke English and could interpret for an entire group, they still relied on the knowledge and experience of elders. This is a perfect example of translanguaging in a multilingual and multicultural environment.

This approach spoke to each theoretical consideration of CPR, including Pedagogy as Sociocultural Phenomenon, mediating through prior knowledge and symbolic tools; Pedagogy as Participatory, building learning objectives centering on learner knowledge, experiences, and artifacts instead of school curriculum that students cannot relate to; Pedagogy as Supportive of Students Linguistic Rights, which encouraged and utilized learners’ full linguistic repertoire;  Pedagogy as Sustainable, treating a learner’s full human experience as valuable assets; and Pedagogy as Caring, acting on and supporting learner needs, interests, and desires (M’Balia & Thomas, 2021, Chapter 4).

CURRENT CONTEXT:

I teach English for an Adult ESL and Literacy ISD Program to learners with a low to high intermediate oral proficiency level according to the CASAS skill level descriptor. The teaching platform is on Schoology. Videos, websites, blogs, and other applications are used and embedded into Google slides and downloaded into Nearpod presentations.  Learners also agree to complete a minimum of 12 hours of learning each month by utilizing an online curriculum focusing independently on instruction in the four skills areas: listening, speaking, reading and writing. The online component can be accessed anytime and anywhere.  In fact, over the year, students have traveled abroad with no disruption to their participation on either platform.

Students are in the US for varying reasons and with different visa statuses.  This is important to state as there are students with refugee, asylum seeker, special immigrant visas, etc that require a sensitive approach to lesson planning and creating a safe and encouraging environment with consideration to the effects of trauma and stress. This isn’t to say that this approach should not be extended to all learners all the time, especially now since so many of us have suffered many harsh effects of COVID.

Learners have differing educational backgrounds, but all have a minimum of a BA degree, still others have multiple degrees including PHDs.  Learners are mechanical/electrical engineers, clergy, opthamologists, entrepreneurs, educators, former ministry officials, accountants, journalists, etc. as well as two retirees. They come from such countries as China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Mexico, etc. Their ages range from 35 to 75. 

This ESL class focuses primarily on conversation with some attention to writing skills.  Needs assessments, goal setting, and progress testing are revisited often. The current goal is to develop confidence in oral communication within different speech communities such as professional, leisure conversations with new friends, children’s teachers and other education support people, Doctor/patient, consumer speech, etc. 

SOCIOCULTURAL THEORY /PERSONAL THEORY

My personal teaching theory aligns with Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory which argues community plays an important role in shaping learner processes. Lantolf, et al. (2015) state that within the SCT framework, people use and create new and existing cultural artifacts to regulate, monitor, and control their behavior.  Cultural artifacts are tools created and used over time and studied in relation to social and psychological behaviors. Symbolic artifacts such as religion, art, music, poetry, education systems, language, politics, etc. are also taken into consideration and all of these artifacts help shape, structure, and mediate behaviors.  SCT claims that important cognitive learning or processing develops through interacting with material environments and social interactions within communities. 

The following lesson demonstrates my personal view on developing practices in teaching language, ESL, and English as an additional language within one lesson over several activities on superlatives: Students presented certain objects: 1. the most precious gift, 2. the most meaningful photo, and 3. the oldest article of clothing. Students discussed the items using superlative adjectives correctly producing conversation from sharing these artifacts. Items held meaningful stories of individuals, families, and cultural traditions. Students listened and took notes per each classmate’s responses. Students were then assigned to present on a particular student’s discussion on one object and discuss a personal reflection and consider a similar connection. These were posted on a collaborative board on Nearpod where students could also upload a photo.  By sharing these personal items and stories, students created understanding and compassion in their commonalities and tolerance in their differences. 

In addressing writing practice, students first drafted their posts in pairs and worked on edits on a shared Google doc before posting.  This allowed for conversation, peer edits, and review. I wandered about monitoring, prompting, giving examples, asking leading questions, etc.. This mediation helped students to broaden and expand on their writing. Students then posted their writing, and I randomly selected students to read aloud a post other than their own or their partner’s. Students were encouraged to comment and ask questions. In this way, we covered speaking, listening, reading, writing, and digital literacy skills in one lesson over two days. 

CONCLUSION 

This is how most of my lessons are designed with consideration to input, language exposure; interaction, conversations/discourse; and output, where students have an opportunity to correct their word choices when others or if I ask for clarification (VanPatten & Williams, 2015). My use of group dynamic assessment (G-DA) is an important construct of SCT within the aspect of Zone of Proximal Development.  ZPD, as Poehner (2009) presents, was Vygotsky’s belief that learners should be taught information beyond their independent level of ability in order that they might be guided through  mediation. ZPD is useful and includes both teaching and assessment implementation to facilitate the development of learners’ knowledge, skills, abilities, values, etc. within a particular learning objective. This in no way covers every consideration to theories, methods, and other ideas I implement in my teaching, but it provides a pretty good example and I especially love learning the valuable information in my current coursework which validates my teaching. 

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