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Apprenticing Educators of English Learners: Linguistically Responsive Practice in Classrooms, Schools, and Communities

Sat, April 9, 8:15 to 10:15am, Convention Center, Floor: Level One, Room 143 B


Across multiple neighborhoods of a large urban district, educators serve over 25,000 labeled English language learners speaking over 110 languages. Situated at an urban university, the Language Matters project partners with teachers and leaders working in linguistically diverse classrooms, schools and communities. Using the framework of linguistically responsive practice, we build capacity for rigorous literacy and content area instruction that supports the language development of English learners (ELs) (Lucas, Villegas, & Freedson-Gonzalez, 2008). Grounded in sociocultural theory (Rogoff, 1997; Vygotsky, 1978), we utilize the apprenticeship model of teacher learning and development. In this paper, we describe teacher expertise as developing through apprenticeship across multiple planes of practice: (a) individual, teachers’ appropriation into classroom practice, (b) interpersonal, teachers’ guided participation in shared practices, and (c) institutional, teachers’ apprenticeship into the educational context.

On the individual plane of linguistically responsive practice, teachers provide high-quality curriculum and instruction that specifically targets students’ language development. Instructional planning is a regular practice for teachers, but educators must learn to explicitly consider language in backward design of learning goals, assessments, and instructional practices (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). When designing linguistically responsive instruction, teachers must build upon students’ existing funds of knowledge, identify the essential academic language included in the lesson, make connections between content and language standards, and plan for opportunities to meet the diverse needs of all students through a variety of instructional strategies. With an explicit lens on language, classroom teachers support students’ language development simultaneously with academic instruction.

High-quality instruction does not stop in the classroom. Teachers need to engage in joint work with peers and experts to learn and develop expertise over time (Rogoff, 1997). On the interpersonal plane, educators develop knowledge and skills for ELLs through professional collaboration to promote learning and capacity development, specifically embedded in their unique school contexts (Rogoff, 2003, Vygotsky, 1978). To support professional learning, schools must build linguistically responsive contexts on a larger scale, including foundations and structures that prioritize language development and foster shared focus, commitment and collaboration to language learning and ELLs (Heineke et al., 2012). With collaborative structures in place to support ongoing professional learning with a specific lens on language development, faculty members explore ways to incorporate language and literacy across the curriculum. In addition to learning from peers, expert partners apprentice educators over time by modeling and scaffolding access to enduring understandings and high-quality instructional techniques to support students’ language development (Vygotsky, 1978).

On the institutional plane, macro-level policies influence daily practice and require district infrastructures to support high-quality curriculum and instruction for ELLs. Sociocultural theory conceptualizes multiple layers impacting daily practice, and we conceptualize policies, initiatives and stakeholders at the macro-level that support and sustain linguistically responsive practice in classrooms and schools (Ricento & Hornberger, 1996). Focused on strengthening system structures, we collaborate with district leaders to develop deep understanding of language development, prioritize language within educational initiatives, and create policies that positively impact ELLs. Through ongoing dialog, educators collaboratively foster linguistically responsive practice within the broader system.