How languages are taught in elementary school second language classrooms

Date of Completion

January 2001


Education, Language and Literature|Education, Curriculum and Instruction




This study presents an ethnographic picture of how languages are taught in elementary school second language (L2) classrooms in an urban school district. It combines both qualitative and quantitative techniques. Given the universal sample of 18 teachers working in innovative L2 programs, it examines the context in which they work, their views, and classroom applications. When compared to present theoretical models of second language acquisition (L2A)—behaviorism, innatism, interactionism, information processing, connectionsim—it attempts to provide a picture of the district's emergent model. ^ It presents research on the advantages of child L2A, theories and models that have been successfully implemented, policies encouraging the practice, and the emergence of new programs as a result. It shows how teachers from different educational backgrounds are attempting to meet the challenge of teaching a L2 within the mainstream curriculum. The four research questions posed are: (1) How is the participants' knowledge of L2A described within the context of their experience? (2) What are the participants' views about child L2A? (3) How do participants apply their L2A knowledge in their classroom? and (4) What theoretical model represents the applied L2A knowledge of the participants? ^ A questionnaire was used to ascertain teachers' views and an observation scheme was used to codify observations and classroom dialogue transcripts. In addition, the researcher, as participant observer, also conducted informal interviews to complement the data and create context charts. ^ Results from data analyses showed the important role of district support at the superintendency level, as well as financial support in the continuity of programs, on a par with a strong school leadership, teacher commitment and parental interest. Teachers' views leaned towards a behaviorist model of L2 learning. However, in practice, teachers also evidenced other L2A theoretical applications, such as innatism and interactionism. The emergent model is still dominated by behaviorism with evidence of more than just imitation going on in L2 classrooms. The strengths and gaps of the emergent model are presented, with implications for professional development, program support and future research. ^