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TESOL’s 6 Principles for Teaching English Learners

In 1964, the Association of Teachers of English as a Second Language, now known as TESOL International Association was “created out of professional concern over the lack of a single, all-inclusive professional organization” that might “bring together teachers and administrators at all educational levels with an interest in teaching English to speakers of other languages.” The primary goal of TESOL International Association is to advance excellence in English language teaching, as reflected in its stated mission and activities:

TESOL International Association advances professional expertise in English language teaching to speakers of other languages in multilingual contexts worldwide through professional learning, research, standards, and advocacy.

What Are TESOL International Association’s Six Principles for Teaching English Learners?

These six guiding principles are based on years of research and collaboration among English language teaching professionals and leaders around the world. Here are snapshots of each principle:

  1. Know Your Learners

Fundamental to quality education of any sort is knowing the learner. For TESOL, this involves understanding a student’s background and experience: linguistic, educational, personal, cultural and socioeconomic. Developing this complex understanding is essential when responding to the learner’s needs and strengths, and for teaching in ways that are both engaging and appropriate for the learner’s level of English development.

  1. Create Conditions for Language Learning

Teachers must create and maintain a classroom environment and culture which supports English language learning through high expectations and positive motivation. Students from diverse backgrounds enrich the classroom environment and can offer unique learning opportunities for every student. By providing opportunities for social and educational collaboration, all students will feel part of the classroom culture and take ownership of its success. This sense of empowerment will result in intrinsic motivation, vitally important in overcoming the challenges of learning English.

  1. Design High-Quality Lessons for Language Development

Lessons should be designed to support both English language development and general education learning goals and outcomes. This means offering a variety of resources that reinforce language acquisition in multiple ways, addressing each student’s unique needs and proficiency levels. Written materials and verbal content can be reinforced with visuals and translated summaries. Multimedia materials can also be chosen for their relevance to the student’s experiences and background.

  1. Adapt Lesson Delivery as Needed

Meeting students at their academic and social/emotional level and continuing to challenge them to learn means paying close attention to each student’s engagement and progress. If a student is having a hard time comprehending a certain concept or aspect of a lesson, the teacher should stop, assess and address the problem. Again, adapting teaching practices in a fluid, ongoing manner based on each student’s needs and English proficiency development is a necessary part of helping every student succeed.

  1. Monitor and Assess Student Language Development

As with adapting lessons as needed, teachers must constantly assess a learner’s language development both formally and informally. This allows teachers to address problem areas specifically as they arise as well as continue to facilitate overarching language learning objectives for each student.

  1. Engage and Collaborate Within a Community of Practice

TESOL does not exist in the vacuum of an English as a second language (ESL) classroom. Effectively teaching English learners relies on intentional collaboration between and among all educators involved in a student’s daily experience. The quality of English learning experience should be consistent throughout courses in all content areas.

In addition, a strong ESL program promotes and provides professional development for all teachers and staff. Leaders in the field are essential to professional development, creating school cultures that cohesively support and continually improve English language learning for their students.

Promoting the 6 Principles

The online Master of Science in Education (MSEd) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) offered by the University of Southern Maine (USM) is designed with working educators in mind. The advanced degree program takes a multifaceted approach to TESOL, in which studies focus on the theoretical underpinnings of second language acquisition, research in the field, and practical application in curriculum design and instruction methodologies. Graduates of this degree program can use what they learn to provide support for English language learners in a holistic environment at every level.

The learning outcomes of USM’s MSEd in TESOL degree program align with the six principles for teaching English learners developed by TESOL International Association. These core principles will serve as actionable guidance and useful tools for ESL teachers, program administrators and professionals in related TESOL fields.

Learn more about the University of Maine’s online Master of Science in Education in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program.

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