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Walking a Mile in Their Shoes:
Transforming Teachers' Beliefs about English Language Learners

Grace Cho
Debra DeCastro-Ambrosetti

California State University, Fullerton

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In California, educators at all levels face the challenge of meeting the needs of English Language Learners (ELLs), whose English proficiency levels and academic needs vary. Recent scholarly literature demonstrates that the public has little knowledge of the natural language acquisition process. Unaware of widely accepted general principles of language acquisition, many wrongly believe that children learn languages quickly and easily; that the more time students spend immersed in a second language setting, the quicker they learn the language; and that there is no difference between social (e.g., conversational language) and academic language (e.g., formal language used in academic settings). Based on our professional experiences in training teachers, we would add to this list yet another misconception held by many teachers: the belief that language-learning issues are irrelevant to content-area teachers.

Through our experiences of working with those who teach a student population that is becoming increasingly diverse both linguistically and culturally, we have identified two major issues. Many teachers feel frustrated by their inability to meet the needs of ELLs; we believe that these frustrations are based on their misconceptions associated with the language-learning process. Consequences of these misconceptions may include frustration for the ELLs and teachers, poor classroom performance, and miscommunication between teachers and ELLs. The difficulties associated with the teaching of ELLs are not discipline specific, but apply to everyone involved in the education of students. These educational concerns can be addressed through effective teaching approaches and methods, as well as instructional strategies to help ELLs to conceptualize and understand the instruction and to promote their active class participation.

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Posted February 5, 2002
Modified October 28, 2002

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board.
©2002 by Grace Cho & Debra DeCastro-Ambrosetti.

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