Language AND Content? How do Curriculum Teachers of Year 12 English Language Learners Combine Two Disciplines?
The provision of language instruction in secondary schools for students who speak English as an additional language (EAL) is moving from the domain of the English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) classroom where it traditionally lay. Increasingly, curriculum teachers are urged to take responsibility for language learning within their subject areas. How are curriculum teachers responding? Has this affected their professional relationships with ESOL teachers? What is the nature of the professional engagement between language and content specialists? This qualitative investigation uses an exploratory case study approach to examine the beliefs and teaching approaches identified by secondary school curriculum teachers as beneficial to learning for EAL students in their classes. Data were gathered using a questionnaire, interviews, and classroom observations for seven participant teachers, then analysed thematically using a conceptual framework derived from content-based language teaching principles. The findings were that these teachers’ approaches to teaching language appear to be shaped by their disciplinary beliefs and pedagogical content knowledge. Their openness to applying a systematic language focus to their teaching seemed to relate to whether their curriculum area was characterised as ‘hard’ or ‘soft’. They struggled to differentiate between language and literacy learning and largely assumed language to mean vocabulary. This indicates that many language challenges facing EAL learners may be invisible to their teachers. Curriculum teachers’ unfamiliarity with research-based language teaching has implications for teacher education and professional development. This study suggests the urgency for compulsory pre-service teaching courses to illustrate how disciplinary meaning is shaped by specific language forms. It also indicates that curriculum teachers with specialist qualifications in teaching EAL learners may provide a powerful link between ESOL and subject expertise.