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Ways to help ELLs: ESL teachers as consultants.


This article proposes the idea of utilizing English as a second language teachers as educational consultants to assist general education teachers who usually do not have formal training in teaching English language learners (ELLs). The article highlights the benefits of applying a consultation model for general education teachers and their ELLs. The increased general education teachers' competency in accommodating ELLs will result in enhancing academic performance for ELLs, which is a desirable outcome for all concerned.

The 2000 US Census (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002) reports that one in five U.S. residents is foreign-born, and this number has tripled since 1970. The number of English language learners (ELLs) is on the increase across the nation. The ELL population grew by 105% during 1990-2001 school year, and in California alone, 32.9% of the school population is ELLs (Kindler, 2002). The changing demographics of American public schools unquestionably will affect the way public school teachers teach their students and these realities beg the questions: "Do general education teachers know how address the unique learning needs of ELLs? Are they prepared to teach them effectively?"

These are critical questions because ELLs spend most of their school time in general education classrooms, not in English as a second language (ESL) classes (Brown, 2003). Moreover, the great majority of general education teachers are not formally trained to teach ELLs. At the same time, a substantial academic achievement gap exists between native speakers of English and ELLs. These conditions suggest a need for close collaboration between general education and ESL teachers to ensure that ELLs are not left behind in the general education classroom. For ELLs, the major barrier that keeps them from academic success is their English proficiency. Their lagging academic performance has been linked to the explanation that they do not get access to curriculum because they do not understand their teachers' instruction in general education classes (Brown & Bentley, 2004). "ELLs are low achievers" is a simplistic observation. Their low achievement cannot be regarded as low ability because children cannot achieve if they do not understand general education teachers' explanations. If ELLs can comprehend more of their general education teachers' instruction, they can become more successful learners. The real issue, here, is the way ELLs are taught or not taught. If general education teachers knew how to accommodate ELLs, these students could learn and demonstrate adequate progress.

General education teachers are not entirely at fault because they do not know how to be effective with ELLs. Part of the problem can be traced to structural problems in higher education. First, courses such as ESL methods or second language acquisition are usually not part of teacher preparation program requirements for general education students. Upon graduation, these teachers step into the classroom without knowing how to adequately instruct ELLs. Asa result, ELLs who are culturally and linguistically diverse are not exposed to the curriculum in the same ways as their fully English-speaking counterparts. In the end, a lack of proper training of pre-service teachers can markedly affect ELLs' learning and their academic achievement.

Second to university structural problems is that licensure programs in state educational agencies ate slow to catch up with the changing demographics of the student population. State educational agencies generally do not require pre-service teachers to take ESL-related courses for obtaining teaching licensure, except for a few states (i.e., California and Florida). If state educational agencies require such courses as part of credentialing, then higher education institutions will make such courses requisite for all pre-service teachers.

Teacher education has to reframe its focus and make changes within its system. While waiting for structural changes to happen at a macro level, what should educators do? There have to be alternative ways to assist general education teachers so that they can more effectively accommodate the needs of ELLs. At a micro level within each public school, there are many competent ESL teachers whose expert knowledge can be of great assistance to general education teachers. Extending ESL teachers' role to include them as consultants to general education teachers is a way to address the current situation.

An Alternative: ESL teachers as Consultants

In special education, the consultation model has been well established over the last 20 years or so. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the inclusion of the special education students in the least restrictive environment has mandated consultations as a way to support exceptional children (Noell, 1999). Dealing with a group of students with special needs requires specialized knowledge and skill that most general education teachers have not developed. Under this consultation model, special education teachers provide their expert knowledge to general education teachers. This consultation model also emphasizes shared responsibilities between general education and special education teachers regarding teaching students with special needs. Students with special needs are not referred as "yours" versus "mine", but as "ours." When teachers collaborate to accomplish the same goal, the ultimate benefits go to students. Research has shown that collaboration through co-teaching and planning improved student achievement and teacher effectiveness (Green, Arreaga-Mayer, Utley, & Terry, 2001; Klingeer & Vaughn, 2002).

Based on the same rationale, the consultation model used in special education can be applied to accommodating ELLs in general education as well. In a recent survey of art teachers regarding their preference of gaining more knowledge about teaching ELLs, respondents indicated that consultation by ESL teachers was the preferred choice (Brown, Taylor, Perkins, & Krashen, 2005). Currently, ESL teachers' expertise is under-utilized. Informal exchanges of opinions of concerns over ELLs between general education and ESL teachers do happen. However, if a systematic approach within the school system is established, it will greatly benefit ELLs' learning. As it stands, no professional developmental model that delineates ESL teachers' role as consultant exists in the literature. ESL teachers who are equipped with expert knowledge in language acquisition theories, ESL methods, assessment, and cross-cultural issues ate highly qualified to assist general education teachers who want to improve their teaching for ELLs. ESL expertise can contribute in maximizing educational outcome for ELLs and in overcoming many challenges faced by general education teachers.

Establishing ESL teachers as consultants can have many benefits. First and foremost, it can bring general education and ESL teachers together as an instructional team in attempting to fully integrate ELLs in general education classrooms. Close communication between teachers has been identified as one of the essential components in making meaningful instructional decisions that can improve student achievement (Baca, 1998). A close working relationship between general education and ESL teachers will result in ELLs' accelerated learning.

Second, teachers from different disciplines working side by side can ease some of the emotional stress experienced by ELLs in general education classes. ELLs are keenly aware of their differences regarding language, culture, and race in relation to their peers. Being placed with general education students can be difficult for ELLs because being different does not necessarily imply something positive in many classroom settings. When general education and ESL teachers work together, ESL students are better understood and supported by their general education teachers and peers.

Third, general education teachers will become more knowledgeable about teaching ELLs; thus, they will feel more confident and comfortable in the classroom. It has been reported that some general education teachers consider ELLs to be burden because they worry that ELLs will pull down test scores (Brown & Bentley, 2004). This is, however, associated with their feeling inadequate about knowing how to appropriately teach ELLs. Once general education teachers are equipped with improved instructional and management strategies, their confidence will lead to competence. As a result, they can deliver more effective instructions for ELLs.

Fourth, one of the most valuable aspects of general education teachers' improved efforts to meet ELLs' instructional needs is that it will result in benefits for all students (Prater, 2003). That is, when general education teachers scaffold instruction in ways that make lessons comprehensible for ELLs, all general education students benefit. The impact of general education teachers' improved instructional behavior on student learning is greater for all students.

From the aforementioned advantages of employing ESL teachers as consultants to general education, one can see how promising this endeavor is for the teachers of ELLs. Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, general education teachers are held responsible for all students, including ELLs. It is critical that general education teachers are given the support they need if we want ELLs to succeed. ESL teachers can be a great assistance in accomplishing this goal.

An ESL Consultation Model for general education Teachers

What kind of consultation model will facilitate ELLs' full integration in the general education classroom and improve their achievement? The purpose of the consultation model is to provide expertise or technical services. ESL teachers share their expertise with general education teachers based on identified instructional needs. One of the main functions of the ESL teachers is to assist general education teachers with instructional and curricular adaptation strategies to accommodate ELLs in general education classes. ESL consultation can be delivered to general education teachers in two ways--directly or indirectly--depending on the general education teachers' comfort level, the degree and intensity of the needs for assistance, and the level of general education teachers working knowledge on accommodating ELLs.

Indirect Consultation

Indirect consultation is characterized by direct service to general education teachers, but indirect service to ELLs. ESL teachers do not directly work with ELLs in the class while helping their teachers to be effective. As consultants, ESL teachers can plan lessons together with general education teachers. While planning, they can share ideas, especially the kind of strategies that make content more comprehensible for ELLs. For example, ELLs need visual aids, realia, and hands-on activities to support their conceptual understating (even more than general education students). Teachers need to slow down their rate of speech when presenting concepts orally. They need to explain the same concept multiple times in various ways. Extensive scaffolding is a must for ELLs, since they do not have the same background knowledge that middle class English-speaking general education students bring to learning. The ESL teachers' job as a consultant is to point out certain concepts in the lesson that need to be visualized and scaffolded, or identified language for complex concepts that needs to be simplified. It is easy for general education teachers to assume that the way they instruct is good enough for ELLs when they are not familiar with second language acquisition issues. It takes conscious efforts to recognize one's strengths and weakness as general education teachers for ELLs. ESL teachers can assist general education teachers in their efforts to get better at teaching ELLs.

In addition to helping design instructional modifications, ESL teachers can also show general education teachers how to modify instructional material so that ELLs with less-developed academic English are able to access the grade-level curriculum. Since ESL teachers are more experienced and knowledgeable in cross-cultural areas, they will be ah excellent source for enlightening general education teachers regarding important cross-cultural issues. ESL teachers can inform general education teachers about the culturally-responsive materials available for ELLs. ESL teachers can also guide general education teachers on how to differentiate assessment for ELLs whose English is characterized as being below grade level. General education teachers can be informed of alternative assessment strategies that do not penalize ELLs' less-developed English proficiency. ESL teachers can assist general education teachers with how to interpret the results of their assessments and help them design subsequent instruction accordingly. A major benefit of indirect consultation is that general education teachers gain vital knowledge in a low-key setting, and they can enrich their newly learned instructional strategies through trial and error in a safe, supportive relationship.

Direct Consultation

Direct consultation involves ESL teachers in direct contact with ELLs. ESL teachers not only work with general education teachers, but also get involved in teaching ELLs. ESL teachers can visit the classroom either as needed or regularly, when there is a sizable group of ELLs in general education class. When there is a large number of ELLs to be pulled out for ESL services, it is more beneficial for ESL and general education teachers to team-teach the class. The greatest advantage of the direct consultation model is that ESL teachers actually model modified/differentiated instruction for general education teachers. For some teachers, discussion of accommodation/modification strategies might not be sufficient to independently implement differentiated instruction. They need to observe concrete examples of how the instructional strategies are to be carried out, including the way ESL teachers activate ELLs' background knowledge, scaffold complex concepts, repeat explanations in multiple ways, effectively incorporate realia, differentiate their rate of speech, use body gestures and various tones of voice, allow more time for completing tasks, clarify misconceptions, help ELLs make connections between the concepts and their personal lives, utilize ELLs' native language, or encourage ELLs to take up challenges. By observing their colleagues, general education teachers will gain concrete understating and hands-on experience concerning how to implement adequate instructional strategies for ELLs.

In the direct consultation model, general education and ESL teachers can explore some options. First, ESL teachers directly work with ELLs to facilitate their learning in the general education classroom, while general education teachers work with the rest of the students. Especially when the ESL teacher speaks the native language of the ELLs, this can be a powerful way to help them understand instruction. Research has shown that the biggest challenge for ELLs in general education is difficult, unfamiliar vocabulary used by general education teachers to explain complex concepts (Chamot & O'Malley, 1994). Thus, through students' native language, ESL teachers can help bridge instruction and student-comprehension. In this option, ELLs can keep up with their peers. As a second option, ESL and general education teachers can team-teach the entire class by taking turns. For instance, the general education teacher can introduce the topic of

the lesson with opening activities to help students connect their background knowledge to the lesson. Then ESL teachers can conduct reading of the related text, utilizing reading comprehension strategies. Guided practice can be followed by general education teachers' carefully scaffolded sequences. While students are engaged in independent practice, each teacher can work with individual students. Depending on the teachers' preference, the ESL teacher can work with ELLs, the general education teacher with general education students, or vice versa. The strength of the direct consultation is that its impact can be more enduring and long-lasting, which is an ultimate goal of consultation.

Reaching Out to a Larger Population

While ESL teachers work closely with general education teachers based on their individual needs, they can also provide their expertise to the entire school faculty through in-service workshops. Workshops often have a limited impact on changing teacher behavior. However, ESL teachers are ready for consultation if general education teachers have questions based on what they have gained from in-service experiences. In this regard, consultation processes can be accelerated because ESL teachers do not have to fill in gaps for general education teachers.

The in-service format is an effective way to dispel myths and to highlight facts about ELLs. One of the most elusive aspects of ELLs to most general education teachers is understanding ELLs who struggle academically while communicating with native-like proficiency in their classroom. Such students are often a big puzzle for them. In fact, there is concern that these students are over-represented in special education and underrepresented in gifted and talented programs because of misdiagnoses of second language associated-phenomena (SLAAP) as language disabilities (Brown, 2004). The misidentification is perpetuated by general education teachers' unfamiliarity of two different English proficiencies. According to Cummins (1996), decontextualized, highly Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency that is used in reading and writing is different from Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills English used for daily conversation. In other words, writing academic papers and comprehending conceptually-laden texts requires English proficiency beyond that of basic communicative English. ELLs with low academic language struggle in spite of high command in basic communicative English. What tricks general education teachers is that, while basic communicative English can be attained within 2-3 years, development of academic English takes a longer time, 5-10 years. These are examples of the kinds of knowledge that general education teachers should have, but often do not. Such information can be disseminated through in-service workshops and ongoing consultation.

It is often easy for general education teachers to misjudge ELLs' ability to comprehend complex academic concepts expressed in decontextualized English because their true ability can be masked by their fluent basic communicative English. If general education teachers were aware of these aspects based on direct/indirect consultations from ESL teachers, it would result in improved instructions for ELLs. With less developed academic language proficiency, these students, too, can be successful, if they are provided with well scaffolded-instruction from their general education teachers.


Utilizing ESL teachers as consultants is a great way to provide professional development opportunities to general education teachers who usually do not receive ESL training. Through collaboration and co-teaching, ESL teachers can help general education teachers succeed in teaching ELLs. Importantly, administrators must be aware of such a model and be willing to support conditions that allow collaborations to take place. In order to implement an effective consultation model by ESL teachers, changes in roles and responsibilities for ESL teachers have to be redefined and reconfigured. Furthermore, the ethos of the school has to change so that ELLs are not considered to be instructional burdens.

ELLs are fully aware of their surroundings and have an accurate picture of how they are treated. They yearn for their teachers to take an interest in them. Too many times, they are inadvertently silenced by teachers' inability to include them in instruction. General education teachers have the responsibility to teach them, but they need much more support from the system. Meeting their needs is a challenge for all stakeholders, but, it is the challenge that can be overcome through cooperation and concerted effort. Setting up a consultation model like the one described here can provide some of the support they need.


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Brown, C. L., Taylor, E. S., Perkins, E. G., & Krashen, S. (2005). Art class and beginning English language learners: Art teachers' views, practices, and educational background in second language acquisition. The International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 1 (2).

Chamot, A. U., & O'Malley, J. M. (1994). The CALLA handbook: Implementing the cognitive academic language learning approach. U.S.A: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

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Green, C., Arreaga-Mayer, C., Utley, C., Gavin, K., & Terry, B. (2001). Classwide peer tutoring learning management system. Remedial and Special Education, 22(1), 34-37.

Kindler, A. L. (2002). Survey of the LEP students and available educational programs and services, 200-2001 survey report. Retrieved May 30, 2005, from

Klingeer, J. K., & Vaughn, S. (2002). The changing roles and responsibilities of an LD specialist. Learning Disability Quarterly, 25(1), 19-31.

Noell, G., & Witt, J.. (1999). When does consultation lead to intervention implementation? Critical issues for research and practice. The Journal of Special Education, 33(1), 29-35.

Prater, M. A. (2003). She will succeed! Strategies for success in inclusive classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children, 35(5), 58-64.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2002). Report: The foreign born population in the United States. Retrieved May 10, 2005, from

Clara Lee Brown, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Brown, Ed.D. is Assistant Professor of ESL Education in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.
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Title Annotation:English language learners
Author:Brown, Clara Lee
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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