I’ve always known that I wanted to teach English literature and composition; however, as an undergraduate student in the College of Education, I never realized that teaching ESL would become a passion of mine. Then, as a student teacher in Chicago Public Schools, I began to see that understanding how to teach ESL students in an engaging and helpful way was something that teachers struggled with daily. Specifically, I remember that there were two ESL students that were disengaged from full-class discussions and did not participate when the rest of the students worked in groups. I decided then that I would spend part of my graduate studies learning how to best help these students, and thought that I would take a few methods courses in teaching ESL. To my surprise, the course that informs my teaching most today is BBE 526, a course on theory.
In BBE 526, I learned how theory informs method, which ultimately has changed the way that I approach teaching grammar. Once we learned about the concept of investment and how social identity affects second language acquisition, I started to realize that some of the lessons that I had been doing with the ESL students that I was tutoring at the time weren’t in their best interest. The theory that we studied helped me to change my lessons and focus them more on the students. Now, in my intermediate grammar course at a community college, I’ve seen real growth in my students. Learning about the sociocultural approach to language learning helped me to change my lessons from lectures to socially mediated activities where students are able to internalize the grammar concepts that they’re learning, instead of sitting passively and taking notes. I learned, from theory, that the conversations that students have can be just as effective in teaching grammar concepts, if not more so effective. My grammar course is three hours long, so I have plenty of time to have students work in pairs and groups on speaking assignments that truly help them to learn grammatical concepts, and they are proud and invested in the work that they do in my class. Now, I feel more confident because my lessons are grounded in theory, and I also have the ability to read and analyze theory on my own to help me to continue to learn and grow as an ESL instructor.