December 2013
TEIS Newsletter



Who will be the Next Great Teacher?

We have spent much time and effort recently identifying what a good teacher will know and be able to do. The TESOL/NCATE* P–12 Professional Teaching Standards (2010), for example, aim to capture the “professional expertise needed by ESL educators to work with language minority students” (TESOL, 2011). Additionally, each of our own institutions likely has a document or two describing what a good teacher does (e.g., a state’s Department of Education ESOL Teacher Standards, student teaching evaluations, or listed criteria for a passing grade in practicum/field experiences). These documents help us envision the proficiencies a teacher candidate leaving our programs ought to have. However, what about identifying promising incoming teacher candidates? What characteristics indicate that a potential teacher candidate could be a great teacher?

Recently, I took over coordination of my university’s elementary education program, so identifying who will make a great teacher (and how our program might identify “great teacher” characteristics in an applicant) has been on my mind. Lots of people have lots of ideas. A colleague in the Mathematics Department, for example, suggested we bar any candidate with a low ACT score on the mathematics portion of the exam from elementary education; he suggested a score of 22 as a cut off, which would have put me out of the running!

Considering our own field of TESOL, what are desirable characteristics in applicants to our TESOL programs? An administrator at one of my former institutions once asked me to bar nonnative English speakers from our K–12 ESOL endorsement program, saying that school principals simply would not accept them as legitimate English teachers. (I hope we all agree this was, at minimum, an uninformed request.) On the flip side, my colleagues and I are now considering barring applicants without second language proficiency. In addition, what about applicants’ test scores and GPAs? What about their experiences (or lack thereof) with diversity, travel, teaching, and language learning? Do these predict that a candidate will be a great teacher?

The answer is yes, and no, and maybe. It is not the case, in my view, that these characteristics tell us nothing about a candidate, but it is also not the case that these characteristics tell us everything. If only we could know that an applicant with a high GPA (or any other particular indicator) will certainly become a great teacher (and a low GPA holder will certainly become a poor teacher), our agonizing over applications would be at an end.

For me, the search for the ideal ESOL teacher program applicant is as much about the program they hope to enter as it is about the applicants themselves. As I sift through applications, I wonder how each candidate’s unique set of characteristics would require our program to provide particular coursework and experiences to propel her or him toward our expectations of what a good teacher knows and can do. Can we accept all comers? Certainly, we cannot, but the process of learning to teach is complex—even idiosyncratic—enough for me to feel compelled to give the occasional unorthodox, nontraditional, low-math-scoring, but committed and enthusiastic applicant the chance to come see if they might have the stuff to be the next great teacher.

*NCATE (National Council of Accreditation for Teacher Education) has now become CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation).

Jenelle Reeves


TESOL International Association. (2010). P–12 Professional Teaching Standards (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author.

TESOL International Association. (2011). TESOL/NCATE Standards for P-12 Teacher Education Programs. Retrieved from

Dr. Jenelle Reeves is the current chair of the Teacher Education Interest Section.  She is a teacher educator and educational researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she investigates teacher identity and  teacher thinking about teaching with English learners.  You can reach Dr. Reeves at



With the growing number of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD)[1] learners in the United States school system, it is not a matter of if but when teachers will be faced with how to help them learn. Between 1980 and 2009, the number of school-age children (ages 5–17) who spoke a language other than English at home increased from 4.7 to 11.2 million, which is an increase from 10% to 21% of the population in this age range (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). The children of immigrants constitute around 20% of the K–12 student population, which is projected to more than double within the next 20 years (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 2002). In these times of rapidly changing demographics, the duty of providing preservice teachers with the rigorous preparation necessary to meet the modern demands of education is the responsibility of teacher education programs (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Darling-Hammond, Chung, & Frelow, 2002).

The Study

I approached this study, which looked at the experiences of six teacher candidates (TCs) taking an online ESL for Educators course as part of their teacher licensure program, from a sociocultural perspective (Lantolf, 1993; Vygotsky, 1978; Wenger, 1998) and drew on constructive-developmental theories of adult learning and development (Baxter-Magolda, 2001; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Drago-Severson, 2004; Kegan, 1982, 1994, 2000; Mezirow, 1997, 1990, 2000). The general purpose of this study was to explore the potential for transformative learning (i.e., a change in not just what a person knows, but how a person knows) over the course of one semester (Kegan & Lahey, 2009). I sought to learn what changes took place in students’ thinking about linguistically diverse education as a result of their participation in the course and which course activities made the greatest impact.

To better understand the teacher candidates’ learning, experiences, and practice, it was important to consider their sociocultural histories, the activities in which they engaged, the contexts in which they learned and worked, and the previous experiences from which they drew (Johnson, 1994; Johnson & Golombek, 2003; Lantolf, 1993; Teague, 2010; Vygotsky, 1978). In this study, I explored the process involved in the TCs’ shifts in thinking and how specific aspects of the course contributed to those shifts in thinking and/or development of new understandings.

One way the ESL for Educators course strove to accomplish the goal of transforming TCs’ thinking about CLD learners was through three field assignments—attending a panel discussion of local ESL directors, a cultural field experience, and an ESL classroom observation—and reflections on those experiences. Based on the results of the data collected, the topic of field assignments and reflections emerged as one of the most common themes throughout the interviews, and the TCs reported that those activities had the greatest impact on them.

For the purpose of this article, I will focus on one key field assignment, which was the cultural field experience. The cultural field experience asked the prospective teachers to push themselves outside of their comfort zones and attend an event or language class conducted in a language they did not speak. The purpose was to instill a sense of empathy and give them an opportunity to walk in the shoes of their ELLs and see the world through their eyes, even if it was just for a moment. An activity such as this provided the TCs with an opportunity to be able to take on a new or additional perspective.

One of the reasons for incorporating the cultural field experience into the course was that research has shown that cross-cultural experiences are necessary if preservice teachers are to be able to transform and critically construct meaningful educational experiences for culturally and linguistically diverse students (Ference & Bell, 2004; Gay, 2002; Giroux, 1988; Nieto, 2000). Because many programs are unable to provide prospective teachers with a cross-cultural experience outside of the United States, some universities provide short-term cross-cultural experiences for preservice teachers (Bradfield-Kreider, 1999; Wiest, 1998; Willard-Holt, 2001). The cultural field assignment was this program’s version of that short-term cross-cultural experience.

A common theme that emerged from the reported experiences of the TCs during their cultural field experience was that of the importance of feeling welcome in an unfamiliar situation. Often it was just one person who made the TCs feel more welcome and hence more comfortable. In addition, some TCs described the experiences they had during their cultural field experience as emotional, which helped them take the perspective of what it might be like for someone to come here from another country and experience a language barrier. Many indicated that they would be sure to be patient and understanding as well as create a welcoming environment for their future ELLs.

Implications for Practice

Overall, there were several factors that appeared to influence the TCs’ course experiences. First, their backgrounds and prior experiences formed their preexisting assumptions about culturally and linguistically diverse learners and gave them a starting point for the course. The study participants’ life circumstances, more than age, appeared to influence their experiences of the course. Several of the adult learners were in a period of transition, and the ESL for Educators course played different roles in each of their transitions. If we take time to get to know the TCs at the beginning of the semester, their backgrounds and experiences with cultural and linguistic diversity, and the assumptions they bring with them, teacher educators can better foster transformational learning over the course of the semester.

Second, TCs’ teaching experience and teaching context appeared to influence their sense of urgency or feelings of relevance toward the course material. The two participants that were teaching at the time of the study indicated that the course content was important and relevant to their lives at that time. They were able to apply what they learned to their classroom practice and experienced positive outcomes, which is an important implication for practice. For those who are not teaching at the time they take the course, finding a context for them to which they can apply their learning may lead to a greater likelihood of transformational learning.

Finally, with respect to the online learning environment, results of the analysis highlighted the challenges and limitations of this particular online course and online learning in general. The most commonly mentioned benefits were convenience and flexibility. However, convenience and flexibility do not equate to effective learning or professional preparation. The participants were not all actively contributing to the online discussions, and the instructor was unable to provide timely feedback. The greatest challenges and limitations reported were: lack of connection, difficulty keeping up with the work, challenges in finding a routine, frustration with participating in superficial and repetitive discussions, fear of miscommunication, lack of instructor feedback, and limitations of typing versus verbalizing thoughts. Finding ways to address those challenges and limitations could lead to a more conducive environment for transformational learning experiences. Because many people take courses online due to their scheduling constraints, we need to take a more critical look at the online learning environment and make the adjustments necessary to make it more conducive to fostering transformational learning about CLD education.


Based on my collection and analysis of the multiple forms of qualitative and quantitative data, I conclude that the online ESL for Educators course did provide opportunities for learning. However, there was minimal evidence to support the claim that the course overall was an ideal context for transformative learning experiences. Several of the participants developed new understandings and experienced shifts in their thinking, and some even experienced transformational shifts in thinking, both personal and professional. However, the results imply that modifications in course design, such as getting to know the TCs better; finding a teaching context to which they can connect their experiences; and adjusting the online environment would result in a context more conducive for transformational learning. It will be difficult to determine which modifications result in greater learning and development, though, because a new group of learners and a new instructor in a new semester will bring with them their own sociocultural histories, experiences, ways of knowing, and life circumstances, which will all influence whether or not the potential will exist for transformative learning for them.


American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Committee on Multicultural Education. (2002). Educators’ preparation for cultural and linguistic diversity: A call to action. Retrieved from

Baxter-Magolda, M. (2001). Making their own way: Narratives for transforming higher education to promote self-development. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1986). Women's ways of knowing: The development of self, voice, and mind. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Bradfield-Kreider, P. (1999). Mediated cultural immersion and antiracism: An opportunity for monocultural preservice teachers to begin the dialogue. Multicultural Perspectives, 1(2), 29–32.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education: How America's commitment to equity will determine our future. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Darling-Hammond, L., Chung, R., & Frelow, F. (2002). Variation in teacher preparation: How well do different pathways prepare teachers to teach? Journal of Teacher Education, 53(4), 30.

Drago-Severson, E. (2004). Becoming adult learners: Principles and practices for effective development. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Ference, R. A., & Bell, S. (2004). A cross-cultural immersion in the U.S.: Changing preservice teacher attitudes toward Latino ESOL students. Equity and Excellence in Education, 37, 343–350.

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106–116.

Giroux, H. (1988). Teachers as intellectuals: Toward a critical pedagogy of learning. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

Johnson, K. E. (1994). The emerging beliefs and instructional practices of preservice English as a second language teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 10(4), 439–452.

Johnson, K. E., & Golombek, P. R. (2003). "Seeing" teacher learning. TESOL Quarterly, 37, 729–737.

Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self: Problems and processes in human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Harvard University Press.

Kegan, R. (2000). What "form" transforms? A constructive-developmental approach to transformative learning. In J. Mezirow & Associates (Eds.), Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress (pp. 3–34). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. (2009). Immunity to change: How to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organization. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Lantolf, J. P. (1993). Sociocultural theory and the second-language classroom: The lesson of strategic interaction. In J. E. Alatis (Ed.), Georgetown University round table on languages and linguistics 1993. Strategic interaction and language acquisition: Theory, practice, and research (pp. 220–233). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1997(74), 5–12.

Mezirow, J. (Ed.). (1990). Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: A guide to transformative and emancipatory learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (Ed.). (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2002). Schools and staffing survey, 1999–2000. Overview of the data for public, private, public charter, and Bureau of Indian Affairs elementary and secondary schools. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

Nieto, S. (2000). Affirming diversity (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Longman.

Teague, B. L. (2010). Preparing effective teachers of English language learners: The impact of a cross-cultural field experience (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Wiest, L. R. (1998). Using immersion experiences to shake up preservice teachers' views about cultural differences. Journal of Teacher Education, 49(5), 358–365.

Willard-Holt, C. (2001). The impact for short-term international cultural experience for preservice teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17(4), 505–517.

Stephanie Dewing, PhD, is an instructor in the MA TESOL Program at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She has more than 15 years of experience as a Spanish teacher, ESL teacher, and teacher educator.

[1]“Culturally and linguistically diverse learners” is used interchangeably with “English learners,” “English language learners,” and “linguistically diverse learners.”


The ethnic makeup of American K–12 classroom settings has dramatically changed over the last several decades. One of the most significant changes found in classrooms is the increasing number of English Language Learners (ELLs) enrolling in American educational settings each year. In fact, the largest growing subgroup of learners in American schools is ELLs, with the highest percentage of ELLs entering seventh through twelfth grades (Calderón, Slavin, & Sánchez, 2011). As the number of ELLs in educational settings continues to grow, the need for qualified educators to effectively teach this subgroup of students is becoming increasingly more important. Therefore, requiring preservice and in-service teachers to complete coursework focused on culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) learners is becoming of upmost importance.

Through this type of coursework, preservice and in-service teachers can begin to acquire confidence in their abilities to facilitate effective learning outcomes for CLD learners. Lucas, Villegas, and Freedson-Gonzalez (2008) have stated that “to be successful with ELLs, teachers need to draw on established principles of second language learning” (p. 362). Faculty who teach coursework focused on CLD learners need to determine how to effectively incorporate assignments and activities into their classroom settings because it is through this type of coursework that preservice and in-service educators will be able to develop the confidence and skills needed to work with the ELLs they may encounter in their classroom settings. However, not all courses focused on CLD learners are offered in traditional face-to-face classroom settings. Due to the convenience and flexibility of online courses (Evans & Nation, 2003), more preservice and in-service teachers may choose to complete CLD coursework in a distance learning environment.

Online Education

The popularity of online education has grown substantially as a result of the advances in technology (e.g., improved web experience and portable devices) and the expansion of social learning theories (Ke & Hoadley, 2009). Online classes can now be found in settings such as formal education (e.g., K–12, college/university), professional development (e.g., continuing education courses), and knowledge sharing (e.g., support groups; Chang, 2003; Pearson, 1998). However, online educational environments may provide many inconveniences (e.g., lack of face-to-face interaction with teacher and peers), and learners may find these types of settings challenging. Indeed, McLoughlin and Marshall (2000) have stated that distance learners may be for the first time “faced with a new learning environment and the expectation that they will have independent learning skills and the capacity to engage in activities that require self-direction and self-management of learning” (p. 1).

Web 2.0

One way to provide distance learning students’ efficacious learning experiences is through the use of Web 2.0 tools (e.g., blogs, wikis, VoiceThreads™). Samouelian (2009) has proclaimed that through Web 2.0 tools, students are able to “embrace collective intelligence and participation” and that these tools help to “afford previously passive recipients of content the opportunity to engage with, combine, share, and ‘mash up’ information in new and imaginative ways” (p. 43). Essentially, through the use of these tools, learners in online environments can be provided more engaging learning experiences in which they may be able to become more interactive with their peers. One such tool that has been used in educational settings is VoiceThread™.


Brunvand and Byrd (2011) describe VoiceThread™ as a multimedia tool that has the capability to provide a slide show with pictures, documents, and videos. Through the use of this tool, learners are able to provide their responses to teacher directed discussion questions in a video, audio, or text (or combination of any of the three) format. As a result, students may be more likely to be engaged with the online course materials because they are able to see and hear their peers. Additionally, educators can incorporate visuals and recorded lectures with VoiceThread™ to provide their learners a better understanding of the course content they are teaching. For example, when completing a lesson focused on the stages of language development, the educator can upload charts, examples of activities, and so forth, that would be useful for ELLs at various stages of language development. The educator is also able to record a brief lecture outlining the purpose of the image and appropriate accommodations for ELLs at a particular stage of language development. Learners in the online class are able to view the VoiceThread™ link multiple times prior to typing or recording a response to discussion questions provided by their educator.

Once preservice teachers and in-service teachers learn to use this Web 2.0 tool in their online educational courses, they are able to incorporate the tool into their classes when working with ELLs. Brunvand and Byrd (2011) outline several learner scenarios in K–12 settings in which the incorporation of VoiceThread™ could help to facilitate and enhance learning outcomes for all students. Although the examples in their article are not focused on ELLs, the benefits they outline within their scenarios are considered effective accommodations and strategies for ELLs as well (e.g., providing extra time for assignments, integrating all four language skills, incorporating visuals for content, and repeating exposure to content).


In essence, incorporating Web 2.0 tools into distance learning courses for preservice and in-service courses could be beneficial for helping ELL educators acquire L2 learning strategies and providing them with activities they can incorporate into their future lessons. Through the enhancement of new Web 2.0 technologies, educators are able to provide their learners new ways to demonstrate their levels of understanding course content. Moreover, incorporating interactive Web 2.0 tools into classroom settings can be one way to engage and motivate learners in their academic pursuits. Brunvand and Byrd (2011) have suggested that “such tools can provide a guided learning environment where students can participate in ways that are conducive to their individual learning styles” (p. 36). As American classroom settings continue to become more diverse, meeting the needs of all learners will continue to be a goal that all educators will need to determine how to most successfully obtain. The incorporation of Web 2.0 tools, such as VoiceThread™, can be one way to enhance ELL academic and language skills.


Brunvand, S., & Byrd, S. (2011). Using VoiceThread to promote learning engagement and success for all students. Teaching Exceptional Children, 43(4), 28–37.

Calderón, M., Slavin, R. & Sánchez, M. (2011). Effective instruction for English learners. The Future of Children, 21(1), 103–127.

Chang, C. (2003). Towards a distributed web-based learning community. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 40(1), 27–42.

Evans, T., & Nation, D. (2003). Globalization and the reinvention of distance education. In M. G. Moore & W. G. Anderson (Eds.), Handbook of distance education (pp. 777–792). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ke, F., & Hoadley, C. (2009). Evaluating online learning communities. Educational Technology Research and Development, 57(4), 487–510.

Lucas, T., Villegas, A., & Freedson-Gonzalez, M., (2008). Linguistically responsive teacher education: Preparing classroom teachers to teach English language learners. Journal of Teacher Education, 59(4),361–373.

McLoughlin, C., & Marshall, L. (2000). Scaffolding: A model for learner support in an online teaching environment. In Flexible futures in tertiary teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching and Learning Forum.

Pearson, J. (1998). Electronic networking in initial teacher education: Is a virtual faculty of education possible? Computers & Education, 32(3), 221–238.

Samouelian, M. (2009). Embracing Web 2.0: Archives and the newest generation of web applications. The American Archivist, 72(1), 42–71.

Kelly Torres is an assistant instructor in the Foreign and Second Language Education Program at Florida State University. Kelly also works with preservice interns and volunteers in a local ESOL program.


I begin this article by introducing a recent, international report on online English language teacher education, which then leads to a discussion of building Communities of Practice in virtual environments. Next, I examine some advice from participants completing an online master’s degree in TESOL to their professors to help make the case for ensuring that learners’ voices are made an essential part of this rapidly growing area of teaching and research.

Online English Language Teacher Education

Earlier this year in May 2013, The International Research Foundation (TIRF) published an important 112-page report titled “A Case for Online English Language Teacher Education.” The report, written by Professor Denise Murray, a TESOL past president (1996–1997), represents one of the most up-to-date accounts of one of the newest and fastest-growing areas in our field (Murray, 2013).

In the foreword to the report, Professor Kathleen Bailey, president and chair of TIRF’s Board of Trustees and TESOL past president (1998–1999), explains that online language teacher education “is central to our ongoing discussions about English in the 21st-century workforce.…As technological developments exert more and more influence on education in general and teacher training in particular, it behooves us to understand the impact of those developments” (Murray, p. 4).

In the report, Murray (2013) compares online language teacher education (OLTE) to the American frontier in the western United States in the 19th century. “However, as with all new enterprises, it can also be characterized as the ‘Wild West,’ with a certain amount of lawlessness and exploitation of promises not kept” (p. 13). As online teacher education is still largely uncharted territory, Murray offers a cautionary note: “The prospective English teacher or the language teaching program searching for a quality online program needs to carefully sift through much of the online rhetoric” (p. 13).

Murray (2013) found nearly 190 OLTE programs, of which approximately 100 were being offered by universities and colleges and the rest by professional associations and private companies. This gives some indication of the current scale and scope of this area. In terms of geographical distribution, more than 80% of the programs being offered (approximately 160) are based in English-dominant or Inner Circle countries, with nearly half of those 160 in the United States. This distribution reflects the fact that, at least for now, “the online commercialization of language education involves an export market of education, primarily to developing countries from rich countries” (Murray, p. 13).

The findings of the report, based on 18 case studies of OLTE programs in different countries, are grouped under four main areas, with the set of findings particularly relevant to this article coming under the heading of Developing Communities of Practice. Here, Murray (2013) stresses the importance of context.

Effective student learning requires collaborative, student-centered, and student-created knowledge. It requires that students understand their local contexts within the global context so that they can test the theory and research input in the program against their own (and others’) professional contexts. (p. 14)

Murray also highlights the importance of making students an essential part of a collaborative process.

(Re)Creating Classroom Communities Online

By late October, Kathleen Bailey and I will have given a presentation on “(Re)Creating Classroom Communities in Online and Blended Courses” at the California Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (CATESOL) 2013 Conference in San Diego. In our CATESOL proposal, we noted that, although publications on teacher education have been in circulation for more than half a century (e.g., Cottrell, 1956), publications about online teacher development are far more recent, mostly appearing within the last 10 years. As King wrote in 2002, “The rapid pace of technological innovation, along with the global fascination with the Internet, continues to result in a dominating call to integrate Internet technologies into higher education” (p. 231).

However, King (2002) also noted that “pressing questions remain as to how online and hybrid classes may support quality and success in professional development, teacher education, and professional schools’ programs” (p. 231). We believe that one of these pressing questions is how to build a classroom community among course participants who are far removed in space and time from each other and from their teacher(s). One goal of our presentation was to build on the work presented in the recent TIRF report by highlighting the voice of the learner in the online environment, particularly on this pressing question.

Advice From the Learners to the Teachers

To ensure that the voice of the learner in the OLTE environment is included in the work in this area, we asked a group of course participants completing an online graduate TESOL course at Anaheim University (AU) for their input on creating and re-creating classroom communities online. The MA TESOL program at AU uses a blended learning approach in which most of the courses are taken online via an asynchronous discussion forum. Attendance at face-to-face classes is also required; some of these are conducted via webcam using the Citrix GoToMeeting program, and some are held in person with the AU professors going to Korea or Colombia for brief, intense periods of classes in situ.

In July 2013, nine course participants completed an online course on classroom-based assessment taught by Kathleen. At the end of the course, they were asked to reply to a series of questions via e-mail about online classroom communities. Six of the nine course participants responded, giving an all-important “third corner of the triangle” in terms of triangulating input from professors, program administrators, and course participants. The participants in the AU MA TESOL program all have had English language teaching experience, and most of them teach while taking their courses. The course participants are a mixture of native and nonnative speakers of English.

Based on their experiences of having taken dozens of MA TESOL courses at AU in recent years, the six course participants had much to say, generating nearly 7,000 words of input. One of the key questions asked was “What advice would you give to a professor who had not taught these kinds of courses before and who had not been in one of these kinds of groups/communities before?”

Bob (pseudonyms are used for all responses) gave the following advice: “I would advise professors who are new to this method of teaching to try and engage students as much as possible, try to have students share their experiences and really find a way to relate to them.” It is interesting to note that none of Bob’s advice is unique to the teaching and learning environment. What is different is that “engaging students” and “relating to them” in a virtual space is different and in many ways more challenging than in a concrete, physical space.

Dan’s advice was more specific to the online environment:

"Be active on the discussion forums and encourage interaction during real-time classes. If you are able to share resources, please do so because many students do not have access to online periodicals. Invite questions and allow time for students to ask questions during real-time classes."

Dan makes a number of important points, particularly about access to online resources, which is especially important for course participants who are not working at universities—which is most of the AU students—and who do not have access to online journals and other online publications through university library subscriptions.

Dan also reiterated Bob’s point about engaging with and relating to students as this is especially important in online environments where face-to-face contact is far more limited than in physical classrooms. “If you are willing, share some personal information and background information with the students. It is important not to underestimate the importance of having some shared informal experiences, especially in online communities and courses.”

Karen’s advice highlighted the importance of the immediacy of feedback, which happens all the time throughout lessons in a physical classroom but can be significantly delayed when teachers and students are spread across so many time zones. “Be available for your students. Answer emails and comment on [discussion forum] posts promptly.” Like Bob and Dan, Karen also gave advice that relates to the creation of teaching and learning communities in virtual spaces using technology. “Share your personal experiences—students love that! Encourage students to come on camera!” Karen emphasized here the importance of the webcam presence in online, pedagogical environments in an effort to engage students.


The course participants gave a great deal of helpful and useful advice, only a little of which it has been possible to share here. However, their comments clearly demonstrate the importance of ensuring that as OLTE continues to grow and expand exponentially, the voices of the learners are made an essential aspect of the research being done in this area.


Cottrell, D. P. (1956). Teacher education for a free people. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).

King, K. P. (2002). Identifying success in online teacher education and professional development. The Internet and Higher Education, 5(3), 231–246.

Murray, D. E. (2013). A case for online English language teacher education. The International Research Foundation. Retrieved from

Andy Curtis will be President of the TESOL International Association during the 50th Anniversary Convention in 2016. Prior to that, he will be installed as President-Elect from 2014 to 2015 at next year's March convention in Portland. He teaches TESOL courses at Anaheim University and other organizations, and he writes a biweekly TESOL blog about teaching and learning online.


A regrettable reality of the TESOL world is that large numbers of people who have little or no professional-level preparation work as teachers or tutors of English as a second or foreign language. Often, their only qualification is that they speak English natively. These teachers usually discover, to their consternation, that speaking English does not mean they know how to teach it (Pennycook & Coutand-Marin, 2003; Snow, 2006). Nevertheless, geographic distance, time constraints, and/or limited finances may prevent them from enrolling in university-based TESOL teacher-preparation courses.

The Audience

Precisely how many untrained novices or volunteers teach ESL/EFL around the world is difficult to determine. The number of such teachers is not normally tracked or reported. All indications, however, are that the number is huge. For instance, in 1986 the Center for Statistics “examined the services provided by and the role and training of volunteers in adult literacy programs in the United States” (from the abstract). The Center gathered information on 2,900 adult education programs (offered through school districts, adult learning centers, and community colleges) and an additional 1,300 local adult literacy programs (sponsored by libraries, community-based organizations, and private literacy organizations). Well over half (58%) of these programs provided ESL instruction, both oral and written. An additional one-fourth provided ESL speaking instruction. The study concluded that “about half of the adult education programs and nearly all the [local adult literacy programs] used volunteers” (from the abstract). In fact, “an estimated 107,000 volunteers served in these the following capacities: one-to-one tutoring, teaching small groups, serving as teacher’s aides, and teaching classes” (pp. 4-5).

Of course, that number represents only the tip of the iceberg; these statistics refer only to literacy-oriented ABE-ESL programs in the USA. Further, they are now more than 25 years old and do not reflect the huge numbers of immigrants and refugees to the United States in the last few decades (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2010), which has substantially increased the numbers of ELLs in the United States. The number of ESL programs serving this audience and utilizing volunteers has undoubtedly grown correspondingly. To illustrate, the 2006–2007 statistical report of just one program—ProLiteracy Worldwide, which offers ESL classes from low beginning to advanced levels—explains that in its 1,200 affiliate programs across the United States, 189,600 students are taught by 117,283 volunteers (ProLiteracy Worldwide, 2007, p. 1).

These large numbers lead to the realization that—even though trained, experienced professionals may provide the best ESL instruction—there simply are not enough professionally prepared teachers to meet the instructional needs of the increasingly large audience of ELLs. Furthermore, in many cases the ELLs who need help the most are the least able to afford expensive classes taught by professionals. For these reasons, volunteers are a widely utilized resource.

Novice, volunteer ESL/EFL teachers, and tutors need TESOL training to be effective, of course. Unfortunately, in many cases the organizations with which the volunteers work may not provide such training. Further, even trained ESL volunteers can benefit from additional guidance and connections with professional resources.

To their credit, many novice volunteers recognize this need for training and information. In fact, my experience has been that most of them want such guidance. What they typically lack, however, is the means for getting it. That is the problem that the BTRTESOL program is intended to help solve.

Program Features

Basic Training and Resources for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages: The Least You Should Know and Where to Go to Learn More(abbreviated BTRTESOL, pronounced “Better TESOL”) differs substantially from traditional, university-based teacher education programs. To prepare untrained, novice, volunteer teachers to become more effective, professional, and successful in their teaching situations, the BTRTESOL program utilizes a minimalist, connectivist, and problem-based instructional approach. In addition, it employs a hybrid instructional delivery system that allows users to get TESOL training when they need it, wherever they may be.

Instructional Approach

BTRTESOL’s approach to preparing ESL/EFL teachers and tutors is minimalist, connectivist, and problem-based. Minimalist means that each of the nearly 50 units in the program merely introduces teachers to the most important concepts and procedures (“the least you should know”) related to the topic of that unit. Each BTRTESOL unit is only a few pages long and is written at a ninth- or tenth-grade readability level, making it easy for nonuniversity-based novice teachers to read quickly and understand readily.

Of course, short, readable units cannot provide great breadth and depth, but this minimalist approach is just what the intended audience typically wants and needs. In line with the principles of situational leadership (Hersey & Blanchard, 1982; Blanchard, Zigarmi, & Zigarmi, 1985), BTRTESOL’s minimalist approach acknowledges that teachers’ preparation needs vary depending on the teachers’ competence and commitment levels. In contrast with the career-oriented teachers in many university TESOL teacher education programs, novice, volunteer teachers typically have only a short-term commitment to teaching ESL/EFL and work only in one particular program. These teachers usually need and want simple, directive instruction of a “teacher training” sort.

The BTRTESOL program is connectivist in nature because, after providing minimalist instruction, it connects users with other sources of information (“where to go to learn more”)—either in print or online. Users may access and study these additional resources in as much depth as their time, needs, resources, and motivation dictate.

Finally, problem-based means that each BTRTESOL unit starts with a brief (50–100 word), problem-oriented classroom scenario or case study in an authentic ESL/EFL setting. These scenarios not only illustrate the challenges teachers face in the real world but also immediately confront users with realistic instructional challenges and engage them in problem-solving tasks.

Structure of BTRTESOL Units

All BTRTESOL units follow a similar instructional pattern. Every unit begins with an authentic, engaging, problem-oriented scenario that depicts and describes a teaching situation and challenge. For example, the unit on teaching English conversation classes begins with the story of an American physics professor in Japan on an academic exchange. This professor is approached by some Japanese acquaintances who ask him to teach them conversational English. He knows a lot about physics, but—even though he speaks English natively—he has no idea how to teach English conversation. After this opening scenario, the unit poses questions such as “What would you do in this situation?”

Then, the unit’s objectives are clearly stated. After that, key points related to these objectives are briefly explained in an easily readable, expository manner. For instance, the unit on conducting conversation classes explains five main points: topic selection, class atmosphere, speaking in English, class management, and responding to mistakes. As users read through this explanation, they are asked to respond to comprehension questions. For additional explanations on tangential points, readers are referred to other, related BTRTESOL units.

After reading the expository text, users view a short (2- to 3-minute), authentic video clip that shows a teacher or tutor (who might be located anywhere in the world) dealing with the instructional issue presented in the opening scenario. These clips not only allow participants to envision real-world instructional settings but also provide the basis for reflection later. After viewing each video, users are invited to reflect on it, guided by questions such as “What did the teacher do right?”, “What could the teacher have done differently?”, “Why might that be better/worse?”, and “What would you do in this situation?” In the online version, after typing in their reflections, users may then view what previous users have written in response to these questions, compare their thoughts with those of other BTRTESOL users, and thus learn from others’ perspectives.

Every BTRTESOL unit concludes with a “Where to go to learn more” section that provides not just brief descriptions but also live links or publisher/contact information for websites, selected books, and other resources that will give users more in-depth information on the unit’s topic.

Instructional Delivery System

The teachers and tutors who constitute the intended audience of BTRTESOL are challenging to reach because they are not enrolled in traditional campus-based teacher education programs. Rather, they are scattered all over the world—often in remote locations far from university campuses. Consequently, BTRTESOL utilizes a flexible, hybrid delivery system that permits learners to study units in a manner and at times that are most convenient and productive for them. Units may be used for class instruction by a trainer or for individualized self-study, in distance learning or face-to-face arrangements. This hybrid delivery system utilizes (1) web-based text materials, which may be printed out on paper for use in settings where internet access is limited, (2) digital video, and (3) interactive online activities. Depending on the users’ technological preferences or limitations, core instruction is available either online or on paper. Digital video clips related to each unit’s focus are available through web-based streaming video or on a DVD.

Conclusion and Invitation

BTRTESOL is not a commercial product or for-profit venture. Rather, the online version is offered as a public service at no charge to anyone who may benefit from it. It is being developed by Lynn Henrichsen, with the assistance of undergraduate and graduate-level TESOL students in the Linguistics and English Language Department at Brigham Young University. Nearly 50 units grouped in 10 sections are planned. At the present time, 20 of these units have been completed and are functioning online on the BTRTESOL website. A few rough units are online in pilot form, and the remaining units are still at the conceptual or developmental stage. Interested TESOL teacher educators, as well as novice teachers in need of basic training, are invited to visit the website, work through units of interest to them, benefit from the units’ content, and provide feedback via the online survey at the end of each unit.


Blanchard, K., Zigarmi, P., & Zigarmi, D. (1985). Leadership and the one minute manager: Increasing effectiveness through situational leadership. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Center for Statistics. (1986). Adult literacy programs: Services, persons served, and volunteers. OERI Bulletin, 10, 1–4. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED268387)

Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1982). Management of organizational behavior: Utilizing human resources (4th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Pennycook, A., & Coutand-Marin, S. (2003). Teaching English as a missionary language. Discourse: Studies in the cultural politics of education, 24(3), 337–353.

ProLiteracy Worldwide. (2007). 2006-2007 statistical report. Retrieved from

Snow, D. (2006). More than a native speaker: An introduction to teaching English abroad (rev. ed.). Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2010). Yearbook of immigration statistics: 2009. Retrieved from

Lynn Henrichsen is a professor in the Linguistics and English Language Department at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he teaches courses for graduate students, undergraduates, and novice volunteers in TESOL methods, materials development, and research.


For today’s young diverse children, the home environment plays a critical role in their cultural and linguistic development. Every family, including both native-born or newcomers to the country, has varying cultural and linguistic backgrounds and holds unique experiences, values, and beliefs towards early learning and family interactions. Home visits are an important way for understanding and connecting with culturally and linguistically diverse families. Home visits can be a vehicle for educators to learn about family households and to expand their own knowledge of their students’ lives and cultural backgrounds (Ginsberg, 2007; Sanders, 2008).

For many mainstream educators, working with families whose home language is not English can provide an exceptional challenge: they have to effectively teach students who have diverse and largely opaque literacy practices that might differ from the mainstream culture. The classroom teacher will often turn to the English Language Learner (ELL) teacher for instructional advice to gain a better understanding of the students/families. Visiting homes is an effective way for the ELL teacher to learn more about the families and their cultures. This information can be shared with other faculty and staff members to help them reach out to families. Because of this, knowledge about conducting home visits should be part of English Language Teaching (ELT) training programs.

It is essential that we begin to learn about the families’ lives so that meaningful connections between everyday and school learning can occur. Families can share their personal perspectives and their funds of knowledge that they bring to any learning situation. Moll, Armanti, Neff, and Gonzalez (1992) describe funds of knowledge as the rich and untapped intellectual resources that students, particularly those who are culturally or linguistically diverse, bring to school or any situation. This unique information gained during a home visit by the ELL teacher can be recognized and then used to extend, enrich, and infuse meaning into the school-classroom environment and curriculum for the students.

Considerations for Conducting Home Visits

When conducting a home visit where the culture environment is different than one’s own, the ELL educator will want to reflect on his/her own cultural heritage and established knowledge base. This allows the person to realize what influences his/her own beliefs and if there is a match or mismatch with cultural and linguistically diverse families. If there is a mismatch, this mismatch is often interpreted through the lens of a deficiency and is not realized as an inherent strength of the family (Heath, 1983; Compton-Lilly, Rogers & Lewis, 2012). Home visits allow people to challenge their own assumptions and learn from others. By examining one’s own cultural background, an educator can realize how a student’s culture and language can influence his/her interactions and how s/he approaches learning situations (NAYEC, 2009).

Home visits can help to establish and build relationships between families and educators (Bradley & Schalk, 2013). When interacting with the parents, it is important to consider that most culturally and linguistically diverse families hold educators in very high regard. During the home visit, the family’s questions and conversation about their children’s education may hold different perceptions and expectations. For example, Chavkin and Gonzalez (1995) found that Latino parents perceived educating their children through nurturing, teaching values, and instilling good behavior and characteristics, whereas school and educators were expected to handle the actual academic learning. Through home visits, closer cooperation between home and school can be achieved which can limit misunderstandings (Valdez, 1996).

Culturally and linguistically diverse parents tend to have low school participation rate at school events (Floyd, 1998). There is an urgent need for increased parental involvement among Latino parents who do not speak English as a first language and for them to participate in the decision making process of their children’s education (Chavkin & Gonzalez, 1995). Research has shown that parent involvement tends to help student attendance and academic achievement (Epstein & Sheldon, 2002). An increase in academic performance can result when the parents, the school, and the community create a partnership for the benefit of the children (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001). A recent research study showed that the children whose families took part in a home-visiting program showed positive benefits once they enrolled in school, compared with their peers who did not receive regular home visits (Samuels, 2013). Home visits are a way for ELL teachers to reach out to the families and help them feel welcome when entering the school.

Suggestions for Conducting Home Visits

The following suggestions have been culled from the conducting of home visits with culturally and linguistically diverse families:

  • Make appointments in advance and follow up with reminders. Try to schedule visits when key family members (primary caregivers) will be home. It sends an important message of respect to arrive on time.
  • Let partners know the purpose of the visits. Assure parents that they do not need to make any special preparations for the visit.
  • Offer interpreter services if needed.
  • Plan on brief visits, but follow the family’s lead on how long to stay.
  • Take something (e.g., books, crayons/paper, etc.) to provide an opening for sharing information and opportunities for observations (Johnston & Mermin, 1994).
  • Expect the unexpected (e.g., cancellations, unfamiliar situations and surroundings, sharing of emotional and troubling information) (Kyle & McIntyre, 2000).
  • If the parent offers you something to eat or drink, politely accept because the parents are observing you as well.
  • Do not make quick judgments about the home environment. Every household has its own cultural values and beliefs.
  • Focus on families’ cultural norms when visiting. For example, where people sit in proximity to you during the visit can mean different things in different cultures.
  • Remember that parents and family members are experts about their children, so observe, listen and learn.



Home visits allow ELL educators to learn more about culturally and linguistically diverse families’ interactions and experiences and build on those activities in the educational setting. The visits can provide an amazing source of information regarding the socio-cultural processes, academic, and linguistic development of students. Home visits are a start to relationship building between teachers and parents where everyone benefits. ELL teachers benefit from learning more about their students’ interests and cultural experiences. Parents benefit from the teachers showing how much they care and value what the parents have to offer to the educational process. Students benefit the most from knowing how much their teachers and their parents care about them.


Bradley, J.F., Schalk, D. (2013). Greater than great: A teacher’s home visit changes a young child’s life. Young Children, 68(3), 70-75.

Chavkin, N., & Gonzalez, D. L. (1995). Forging partnerships between Mexican American parents and the schools. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 388 489).

Compton-Lilly, C., Rogers, R., & Lewis, T. Y. (2012). Analyzing epistemological considerations related to diversity: An integrative critical literature review of family literacy scholarship. Reading Research Quarterly, 47(1), 33–60.

Delgado-Gaitan, C., (2001). The power of community: Mobilizing for family and schooling. Boulder, CO: Riwman & Littlefield.

Epstein, L., & Sheldon, S.B. (2002). Present and accounted for: Improving student attendance through family and community involvement. Journal of Educational Research, 95, 308- 318.

Floyd, L. (1998). Joining hands: A parental involvement program. Urban Education, 33(1), 123-135.

Ginsberg, M.B. (2007). Lessons from the kitchen table. Educational Leadership, 64(6), 56-61.

Heath, S.B. (1983). Ways with words: Language, life, and work in communities and classrooms. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Johnston, L., & Mermin, J. (1994). Easing children’s entry to school: Home visits help. Young Children, 49, 62-68.

Kyle, D.& McIntyre, E. (2000), Family visits benefit teachers and families-and students most of all.. Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Research on Education, Diversity, & Excellence.

Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & González, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31(2), 132-141.

NAYEC, 2009. Where we stand on responding to linguistic and cultural diversity. Retrieved May 26, 2010 from

Samuels, C., (2013). Study says early home visits show school benefits. Education Week. Retrieved on from

Sanders, M. (2008). How parent liaisons can help the home-school gap. Journal of Educational Research, 101(5), 287-297.

Valdez, G. (1996). Con respect: Building the bridges between culturally diverse families and schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Stephanie Wessels is an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her teaching experience includes working with ELL students in the classroom. Her current research focuses on bilingual literacy programs.



The TEIS Newsletter encourages submission of articles and book reviews on topics of significance to teacher educators. We also solicit TEIS voices from all of our members.

Articles should be between 800 and 1,500 words and may address program descriptions, course descriptions, best practices, teaching techniques, or any topic pertaining to teacher education/training. The focus of the article should be on teacher education, training programs, or professional development.

Book reviews of between 300 and 500 words should provide the reviewer’s analysis of books that are relevant to the practice and theory of teacher education.

TEIS Voices are paragraphs of approximately 100 words that introduce a teacher educator’s work. TEIS voices serve as a networking tool as well as an opportunity to shine a spotlight on a teacher, program, or country we might not otherwise read about.

Here are additional submission guidelines:

  • Include a title for the article (written in ALL CAPS).
  • Include author’s name, affiliation, city, country, and e-mail.
  • Include a 50-word abstract or teaser for the newsletter homepage.
  • Include a 2- to 3-sentence biography of the author.
  • Contain no more than five citations.
  • Format text in MS Word (.doc(x)) or rich text (.rtf).
  • Include author’s photo in jpeg format with a head-and-shoulder shot.
  • Write manuscript according to APA style (6th ed.).

We publish a couple times a year, and we would like to include as many voices as possible from different parts of the world. Please send your contributions to Valerie Traurig.