top of page


Developing Educator Expertise to Work with Adolescent English Learners
Module 1 – Introduction to Key Constructs

By Aída Walqui

OVERVIEW    |    INTRODUCTION    |   PART 1   |     PART 2   |    PART 3   |   REFERENCES

Part 3: A Brief Historical Review of the Practice of Teaching English as a Second Language


In 2014, Aída Walqui wrote an appendix to a paper entitled, Changes in the Expertise of ESL Professionals: Knowledge and Action in an Era of New Standards (Valdés et al.). The paper was written for TESOL International as deliberations were taking place around the country about what would happen to English Learners as a result of the United States’ adoption of new learning standards. The new learning standards — at the time called Common Standards — had not considered English Learners centrally in this educational reform effort.

The paper’s appendix was intended to brief subject-matter educators on historical changes in conceptual and theoretical frameworks used to conceptualize the teaching of English that English Learners needed to be offered in school.

It is important to review the history of teaching English as a second language because understanding the earlier theoretical stances in the field that led to many current practices can help today’s educators aim for coherence in their teaching. Educators’ knowledge needs to be coherent in order to effectively foster deep engagement and learning. However, a lot of “drill and kill” currently goes on in English as a second language classes. Rather than emphasizing rigorous subject-matter learning in English, the focus is often on grammar, pronunciation, and translation, along with some communicative efforts. Knowing where instructional practices come from can help us challenge our own teaching and redefine it in ways that are more productive for our students and that enable them to tackle deep subject-matter learning in English.

Activity 3.1: Reading with a focus on theoretical stances on English language teaching

Participants will engage in: individual reading and note-taking (homework in preparation for class discussion)

Reading: Historical and Current Conceptualizations of Language and SLA in Language Teaching: A Basis for Rethinking (Valdés et al., 2014).

As homework, you will be reading the appendix (pp. 38–48) of the paper Changes in the Expertise of ESL Professionals: Knowledge and Action in an Era of New Standards in preparation for a class discussion (the downloadable document features the whole paper, which you may choose to review in its entirety).


As you read through the history of English as a second language teaching, keep the following questions in mind (please take notes that you can use during the class discussion):


  1. How is the language to be taught defined?

  2. How is it sequenced for instruction and testing?

  3. Which techniques are used to teach the language?

  4. What do you perceive as being advantages and disadvantages in each way of addressing second language teaching?

  5. What are some historical limitations in the way language teaching has, for the most part, been conceived when it comes to the education of English Learners in American middle and high schools?


Activity 3.2: Class reflection on themes discussed in the module

Participants will engage in: group reflection and discussion


  • Place participants into groups of four.

  • Have participants share their responses to the questions in Activity 3.1 in a Round Robin fashion — that is, letting each person contribute one by one without interruption.

  • Next, give participants 5 minutes to think about an English as a second language class that they taught or observed, describe the class, and then analyze the class using questions 1–3 from Activity 3.1.

  • Then, have participants consider questions 4 and 5 from Activity 3.1 in order to reflect on the education of English Learners in American middle and high schools.


Activity 3.3: Wrapping up ideas from the module: “I used to think …. And now I understand …”

Participants will engage in: individual reflection and group discussion


  • Ask participants to revisit the notes they took throughout the entire module, beginning with Have them compare their notes with their current understanding after having completed the module.

  • Have participants write down their evolving understanding. There are various possibilities for this step, including the following:

    • Participants can develop a double-entry journal and list changes in their understanding side by side.

    • They can write an essay about their evolving understandings.

  • Have participants engage in a Round Robin in which each participant has a turn to present all their ideas — even those that have been mentioned by other colleagues — with no interruptions.

  • After everybody has shared and their points of agreement and disagreement are evident, they should engage in a brief discussion.

bottom of page