One of the biggest challenges for educators is keeping abreast of current research. Empirical studies can inform and improve our practice, but it can be difficult to find time to decipher and stay up-to-date with the literature.
This past summer, as a way of engaging in a culture of shared responsibility for refreshing our evidence-based practices, a few of my colleagues and I formed a book club. Rather than reading a bunch of primary sources, we instead chose to use The 6 Principles for Exemplary Teaching of English Learners by Deborah Short and her TESOL team as a framework for our discussions. Although the authors wrote the book for a K–12 audience, we found the general concepts applicable to our university-based Intensive English Program.
In our first meeting, we discussed our goals for the book club and how might divide the reading. We decided we would meet four times over the summer. We then consolidated Chapters 1 and 2 into our reading for the second meeting, which left us extra time to discuss Chapter 3 in the third. Chapter 3 goes into the specifics of the 6 Principles for exemplary teaching of English learners, and we wanted time to reflect on how we could extend these principles more regularly into our everyday pedagogy. We concluded our book club with Chapters 4 and 5, but our general consensus was that we should continue our conversations throughout the fall.
As members of the book club, we decided to try applying the 6 Principles in the following, ongoing ways (in both our department and around campus):
- Know your learners: We will aim to enhance our roles as cultural mediators by providing training for students on our campus that extends beyond just American culture to include the international students’ various cultural backgrounds too. Our hope is that we can use such orientations as a way to build relationships and enhance intercultural communication between domestic and international students.
- Create conditions for language learning: We will try to rethink how we can cultivate the ecology of our classrooms to be more educationally friendly (e.g., the use of memory aides, the modification of our physical space by using u-shape rather than traditional desk formations).
- Design high-quality lessons for language development: We will post highlights from the book, such as the one-page overview of “The 6 Principles for Exemplary Teaching of English Learners and Recommended Classroom Practices” (p. 36) in high profile areas, such as the copy room for teachers, to use as a quick reference when preparing for classes. We imagine this will be a user-friendly way to refresh our copy room rhetoric and lesson plan concepts.
- Adapt lesson delivery as needed: We will use the highlights from the book as a tool to reflect on our applied pedagogy in preparation for our annual reviews. Through this cyclical, reflective practice, we anticipate that we will better monitor our students’ ongoing needs and adjust accordingly.
- Monitor and assess student language development: We will continue to reflect on ways we can reuse and share our assessments and rubrics so we are giving consistent and regular feedback to our students. We value dynamic assessments and will continue to monitor and offer strategic student feedback.
- Engage and collaborate within a community of practice: We have created an informal space in our lunchroom for teachers to drop by and share some of their best practices (and challenges) in relation to the six principles. We will also continue to revisit how we build our relationships both departmentally and interdepartmentally.
In sum, our summer book club served as a practical way to involve experienced in-service teachers in a refreshing form of professional development that was effective, fluid, and collaborative.
How have you used the 6 Principles in your professional development?