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ELT Book Reviews


Teaching English Language Learners: the how-to handbook

Teresa Walter
Pearson Education, Inc, 2004
pp. x-143

Reviewed by :
To the Profile PageRobert J. Dickey
Gyeongju University, Korea

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(Re)Training a Different Type of Teacher
Most training texts for EFL teachers assume that the trainee has little or no teaching experience, and present general classroom skills and language-specific resources in equal measure. Teresa Walter’s Teaching English Language Learners, however, is different in this respect. While not limited to only one type of teacher, TELL speaks to the needs of the experienced classroom teacher with little exposure to ESL/EFL students.

Culture, literacy development, and academic/content area development, which are overlooked in many EFL teacher training texts, are major topics here.

Walter builds on teacher competencies without leaving the pure novice behind.

Tools we can use
It’s not enough to simply explain things. The book’s subtitle “The How-to Handbook” is quite on the mark. Like a good teacher, Walter addresses her various readers’ learning styles through richly-developed pages, not through more words. The worksheets are particularly clear and effective. Chapter preview and review sections incorporate lots of space for teachers to pencil out their thoughts, and the wide margin page format allows more personalized scribbles. Pages are filled with simple and clear graphics, tables that explain rather than obfuscate, and easy to find “tip” boxes and notes in those wonderful margins. Step-by-Step guides and examples of teacher and student work leave no room for doubt.

Organized to the “Nth” degree
Some books are designed (or not!) to be read through, virtually non-stop. It can be hard to find pause points for reflection, or to find your place if you lose your page mark. TELL is not like that. The table of contents lists chapter headings and eight or more subsections for each, with page numbers. Within the text, we find mini-sections used prominently, you can almost see the author’s outline through these headers. Chapters are cross-referenced in the margin notes, along with comment notes, as well as refferal to references and additional resource pages (at the back of the book).

Within each page, the design is easy on the eye. As I grow older, I appreciate the slightly larger text with wider spacing between lines, although I’m not sure I love the ink color (something like this, perhaps it’s a dark teal or slate?).

Building on Teacher Strengths
Of the more than 50,000 expatriate teachers in Northeast Asia, many of them are licensed teachers in their homeland, but may have little exposure to English Language Learners. Schools across Asia are eager to hire experienced teachers, only to discover that many are somewhat lost in terms of teaching English outside the native-speaker context. But they don’t need to be retrained in the basics of other essential aspects, such as lesson planning, classroom management, or the fundamentals of language arts. Culture, literacy development, and academic/content area development, which are overlooked in many EFL teacher training texts, are major topics here. As classrooms in Asia become less traditional, and North American materials become more accepted as the content of language learning classrooms, the CALLA and SDAIE designs Walter discusses will become increasingly important. The approach promoted here is strongly rooted in the teaching to standards movement that most North American teachers have become comfortable with.

Teaching English Language Learners does not ignore the theory that underpins the practical advice that is the mainstay of the book. The reference section is a good cross-section of contemporary ELT, albeit with a very strong North American orientation. Unfortunately, the lack of availability of most of these references diminishes the value of the book in terms of supporting further reading, at least in the Asian context. This is the sole weakness of Walter’s work.

Developing the Future
For schools that prefer to hire new teachers holding home-country teaching qualifications, this is an invaluable addition to the staff library. More experienced EFL teachers, too, will benefit from the accessible discussions of academic and content development, and the assessment chapter has some really practical (and easy-to-use) tools that are eye-openers. There are worksheets within for classroom use, and others could guide development of new syllabuses and individual lessons. Useful stuff! It doesn’t pretend to be the book for everyone. But everyone should give it a browse, and read carefully the sections that are of interest.

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