Professional learning communities as a critical structure for ELL schooling

Miguel Angel Serrano, University of Texas at El Paso


Nationally, English language learners (ELLs) have underperformed in making the grade on standards set by the U.S. Department of Education. National data indicate that ELLs are performing lower (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). ELLs are likely to perform less well on state assessments and drop-out rates are higher than their English speaking peers (Ballantyne, Sanderman & Levy, 2008). Current school practices lack a comprehensive knowledge base as to how to prepare ELLs to be academically successful. With the advent of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), educators have to demonstrate annual language and academic gains for English Language Learners (ELLs) with greater accountability than ever before. Further understanding of learning English and learning in English is necessary. This study focused on Borderland High School that did not meet the academic standards for ELLs as set by NCLB. In its efforts to improve the academic performance of ELLs, the school identified professional learning communities (PLCs) as their strategy to address this challenge. PLCs involve teachers and administrators coming together to work on improving student performance in schools. This research utilized team learning as its theoretical framework. Team learning is one the five disciplines that indicate that learning in teams happen when colleagues work together towards a common goal (Senge, 1990). Four guiding research questions determined which variables of the PLC had the greatest impact on the academic performance of ELLs. A mixed methods study examined Borderland High School's 2007 reform efforts to determine if PLCs and their variables led to ELL achievement. The quantitative research phase indicated the academic literacy variable in the PLC to be correlated to and a predictor of academic success for ELLs in the area of Reading. In comparison, the research showed that for non-ELLs the academic literacy variable in the PLC to be correlated and a predictor of success in the area of Mathematics. The multiple regression model indicated GPA to be a predictor of success for non-ELLs on the Mathematics TAKS exam. In addition, this phase also showed that PLCs were a predictor of the overall academic success of students at Borderland High School. The research also revealed that the teacher planning variable showed a positive relationship with the PLC as whole. The qualitative research phase examined both student and teacher perspectives. In this phase, the student perspective showed that the academic literacy variable of the PLC supported ELL academic performance at Borderland High School. From the teacher perspective, the teacher collaboration and planning variables of the PLC proved to be critical in supporting the academic literacy of ELLs.

Subject Area

English as a Second Language|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Serrano, Miguel Angel, "Professional learning communities as a critical structure for ELL schooling" (2012). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3525792.