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Adjust Your Teaching Styles for English Language Learners (ELL) in ESL/Bilingual Classrooms

Action Research in the ELL/ESL Classroom
Tobey Bassoff

There is a recent trend in the number of teachers taking advantage of “action research.” But what exactly is action research and how can the ESL classroom benefit from this reflective teaching practice?

Southern Cross University, adeptly defines action research as: “a family of research methodologies which pursue action (or change) and research (or understanding) at the same time.” As ESL teachers, we actively seek ways to improve our understanding about the students we teach. Furthermore, we hope that understanding guides us to a set of actions that will increase our student’s knowledge of English and their feelings of acceptance in the classroom.

Action research achieves these goals by using a cyclic or spiral process which alternates between action and critical reflection. Simply stated, action research is what teachers do naturally, but with a reflective piece added to it. This reflective piece is essential to making conscientious decisions about what steps we need to take next in the process of educating children who are learning a second language.

Teachers begin with a question. For example, in my own classroom I asked myself, "Are my second language learners feeling connected to the classroom community and to me?" After a question is identified, the information gathering process begins. The information may come from all different kinds of places. It can be via a journal of reflections about the teacher's interactions with the child. It can be copies of notes that the teacher sends home. The information can include copies of assessments that the student took relevant to the question. After the teacher/researcher feels that sufficient time has passed, then she looks at the data and makes decisions about what she can do, or has done to address the initial question. This reflective analysis may lead her to: 1) come up with a new question related to the first question 2) gather more data 3) come up with an entirely new question based on the data gathered.

Even though this process seems rather “soft,” in terms of scientific research, many studies have shown the tremendous impact it has had on master teachers. This year, my action research has opened my eyes to the need for a "Welcome to Class Program." Often times I receive new ESL students with little or no warning. Prior to my action research, I had no formal way of welcoming them into the daily tapestry of our "classroom life. Now, through questioning, interviewing, and reflecting, I have developed a whole system for making new students feel connected to the classroom and to me from the first day. It is truly one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. The revelations that I have had are staggering and have led me to really hone my teaching skills and deepen the connections I have as an ESL teacher to a highly mobile population.

If you have questions, please email me. I have compiled a list of websites for you to visit if you’re eager to learn more about this fascinating and rewarding research process!

The Teachers Network Learning Institute publishes many action research papers by TNLI MetLife Fellows. For a listing of them, go to:


Other action research websites:

Questions or comments? E-mail Tobey.


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