Elementary Teachers’ Perspectives on English Learners’ Academic Language Difficulties: A Phenomenological Study

Pell-Lopez, Erika
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Abstract English language learners (ELLs) impact the education system and account for 10.1% of public- school students in the United States. ELLs are outperformed by their non-ELL peers, causing achievement gaps. ELLs are outperformed in comparison to their native-English-speaking peers. Additional studies are needed to explore English as a second language (ESL) teachers’ perceptions of ELLs’ academic language learning difficulties. The purpose of the qualitative phenomenological study was to describe elementary ESL teachers’ lived experiences of ELLs’ academic language difficulties. The theoretical framework incorporated the theories of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and Zeeb et al.’s growth mindset. Elementary teachers’ perceptions highlight scaffolding, knowledge of learners, and growth mindset as effective in teaching ELLs. Participants included 15 elementary ELL teachers teaching at least 5 years and possessing an English for speakers of other languages-related master’s degree. Virtual questionnaires and interviews were used to collect perceptions of ELLs’ difficulties with language. Data were analyzed via thematic analysis, and findings confirmed existing literature and extended knowledge of teachers’ lived experiences of academic language difficulties. Common themes that were identified included knowledge of learners, scaffolding, and differentiated instruction (DI) to support ELL academic language acquisition. Future policy recommendations include increased knowledge of learners, effective strategy implementation, and evidence of DI targeting ELLs. Keywords: English Language Learner, ELL, knowledge of learner