Responding to the Demographic Challenge: An Internet Classroom for Teachers of Language-Minority Students

Jill Kerper Mora

In the United States, greater cultural and linguistic diversity and a new wave of immigration have led to demographic changes in our school-aged population. A growing number of students, particularly in the states of California, Texas, New York, and Florida, are native speakers of a language other than English and are classified as limited in English proficiency. Today, for example, California has 1.4 million language-minority students, a population that almost tripled between 1985 and 1999. Students with limited English proficiency make up 25 percent of the total student population, and 38 percent of all students speak a language other than English in the home (California Department of Education, 1999; online document). Among language-minority students throughout the United States, 70 percent are native Spanish speakers (Snow, 2000). These students are called bilingual learners or second-language (L2) learners, since they are adding English as a second language to their linguistic repertoire.


Related Postings from the Archives

Clearly, these demographic changes create new challenges and opportunities for public school educators across the United States. The demand for teachers prepared to address the educational needs of the large and growing population of language-minority students is a national issue. In a 1997 report sponsored by the National Research Council, August and Hakuta (online document) indicate that only a small percentage of all public school teachers hold a specialized certificate or credential for teaching bilingual learners; 10 percent of the nation's teachers are certified in bilingual education and 8 percent hold a certificate for teaching English as a second language. More recently, a comprehensive study of teacher quality throughout the United States pointed out that although 54 percent of teachers have bilingual learners in their classrooms, only 20 percent feel very well prepared to serve them (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999; online document). In 2000, only one-third of all California's bilingual learners were taught by a fully certified teacher with specialized training in language, literacy, and content area instruction for language-minority students (Rumberger & Gándara, 2000).

The growing numbers of new immigrants and speakers of languages other than English in U.S. schools has prompted a political response and dramatic shifts in public policies for educating language-minority students. In California and Arizona, laws restricting bilingual instruction have been passed as ballot initiatives. In the June 1998 primary election in California, for example, 61 percent of voters approved Proposition 227, a law that severely restricts bilingual education programs. The initiative imposed fundamental changes in instruction for the state's 1.38 million students classified as limited English proficient. Although before the election only 30 percent of these students were enrolled in bilingual education programs, the new education code provisions mandate instruction predominantly in English for all bilingual learners. The law requires placement of these students in a 1-year structured English immersion (SEI) program intended to bring them to English proficiency before they are transferred to mainstream classrooms. However, language-minority parents can place their children in an alternative program if school officials grant them a parental exception waiver. In 1999, 12 percent of California's second-language learners were enrolled in bilingual education programs through the waiver process.

Regardless of the type of program implemented for the language-minority population at their school, teachers are required to develop the full range of language skills with bilingual learners, along with reading, writing, and content area knowledge. The acronym CLAD, for “Cross-Cultural Language and Academic Development,” refers to the California credential granted to teachers with specialization in second-language acquisition theories and methods for enhancing students' English language learning and content area knowledge through culturally responsive instruction (see, e.g., Walton & Carlson, 1997). Even though they may not be certified in bilingual education or English as a second language instruction, all teachers who address the needs of language-minority students by applying these approaches and strategies in multilingual classrooms are CLAD teachers.

A Web Site to Support Teachers of Bilingual Learners

In 1997, I established Dr. Mora's Cross-cultural Language & Academic Development CLAD Website for pre- and inservice teachers interested in improving their theoretical and technical knowledge for teaching language-minority students. The site includes more than 80 Web pages and several PowerPoint slide shows, called MoraModules, that summarize course content for teacher candidates in San Diego State University's CLAD credential program. I also include a RICA study guide for California teacher candidates preparing to take the Reading Instructional Competency Assessment, an examination required for the elementary-grade teaching credential.

My original purpose in creating the site was to provide Internet access to my course syllabi and descriptions of required assignments, with links to course presentations and other online resources for teacher education students. However, the site rapidly evolved into a channel for communication and outreach to educators of language-minority students, teachers of second and foreign languages, and the general public interested in information about theories, practices, and policies related to multicultural and multilingual programs and instruction. Since the Web site provides opportunities to access instruction about crosscultural teaching, it is an Internet classroom for educators who wish to study and learn about language-minority education.

Following is a set of frequently asked questions that will help interested readers explore the CLAD Web site. By following the links provided, readers can find resources about effective program models, methods, and strategies for crosscultural language and academic development instruction.

A Question-and-Answer Tour of the CLAD Web Site

What is CLAD instruction, and how is it different from “regular” teaching?

The teaching promoted in the CLAD credential program is good generic teaching, but with a focus on the linguistic and cultural factors that students encounter in developing second-language proficiency and in their cognitive development. Good CLAD instruction draws on principles of crosscultural teaching compiled from academic disciplines including linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and educational psychology.

Teaching linguistically and culturally diverse students requires a refined knowledge of the natural progression of second-language development, as well as of L2 teaching methods and factors in the learning environment that promote rapid, complete, and simultaneous acquisition of language and academic knowledge. Bilingual learners challenge teachers to understand and enhance the dynamic interaction between linguistic competence in a native language and literacy learning in English (Bernhardt, 1991; Fitzgerald, 1995).

Successful programs for advancing student achievement in crosscultural contexts are based on 30 years of research in effective schooling practices for language-minority children that provide a theoretical basis for designing and implementing programs to address the educational needs of culturally diverse student populations (August & Hakuta, 1997; online document). They include transitional bilingual education and dual-language programs in which students are taught literacy and academic content in their native language while learning a second language. Also included in the research base for CLAD teaching are studies of the characteristics common to classrooms where children learn English as a second language (Wong Fillmore, 1982).

How do I plan lessons and select strategies to develop learners' English language proficiency?

The body of methods for developing L2 proficiency in English are commonly referred to as English as a second language (ESL) instruction or English language development (ELD). Second-language learners advance most rapidly in their vocabulary and conceptual learning when L2 instruction is highly contextualized and embedded in authentic language learning experiences. As bilingual learners advance to higher levels of language proficiency, teachers employ selected strategies in the content areas, termed “specially designed academic instruction in English” or “sheltered” English instruction. The instructional approaches build students' cognitive abilities and academic language skills.

The characteristics of sound L2 teaching are embodied in thematic instruction based on an integrated language arts framework, where the language skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing are all included (Au, 1998). Teachers of bilingual learners adjust instruction to focus on the language skill in need of development for a particular level of L2 acquisition. The focus and intensity of language arts instruction are determined through ongoing language assessment. The principles of differentiated instruction for L2 learners are delineated in the “Four by Four” model of thematic planning. This model provides teachers with a framework for selecting appropriate instructional activities for each of the language arts skills for four different levels of language proficiency commonly found in linguistically diverse classrooms.

How are reading and writing taught to second-language learners?

English literacy instruction for non-native speakers who are becoming bilingual is frequently more complex and challenging than literacy instruction for children who are fully proficient in English. The report of the Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children of the National Research Council (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998, online document) includes a recommendation that initial literacy instruction be provided in the child's native language whenever possible. According to the committee, initiating reading instruction in the native language of bilingual children reduces the risks of reading problems for students who face the additional challenge of learning to read in a second language (p. 223). While initial literacy development in a second language is often successful, teaching the bilingual child to read in his or her native language as he or she is also developing English oral language has the advantage of producing a student who is biliterate. A biliteracy curriculum framework provides a coherent sequence and parallel learning activities for developing bilingual learners' language and literacy abilities concurrently through dual-language instruction.

Despite strong research evidence that supports the use of students' primary language for initiating literacy development (Greene, 1998, online document; Krashen, 1999; Ramírez, Yuen, & Ramey, 1991, online document), many children with limited English proficiency find themselves in classrooms where their first experiences with reading and writing are in their second language. Monolingual teachers of second-language literacy can be successful with children who are developing oral English and emergent reading simultaneously if they are knowledgeable about second-language acquisition and can select and apply appropriate instructional strategies (Mora, 2000).

One basis for understanding the complexities of L2 reading instruction is a model of the L2 reading process based on three cueing systems (Coady, 1979; Freeman & Freeman, 1997). This model is useful in pinpointing the particular areas of difficulty that second-language learners will encounter in the reading process. It also addresses specific teaching strategies to overcome obstacles and promote bilingual learners' crosslinguistic transfer of literacy skills (Mora, 2001).

Good CLAD teaching also involves a balanced approach that addresses the relationship between language and literacy development and features of text through a variety of guided and independent literacy experiences. Literacy instruction in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms, for example, focuses on responses to multicultural literature, among other genres.

Teachers of English language learners in California also focus on content area reading and the development of critical thinking skills to address state-mandated content standards. They are skilled at identifying the relationship between students' conceptual knowledge and level of linguistic proficiency -- what is termed the language-concept connection (Garrison & Mora, 1999).

In L2 writing instruction, CLAD teachers pay special attention to providing structured and guided writing tasks based on students' developing command of English grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.

How do I address the needs and learning styles of culturally diverse students?

Teachers in culturally diverse classrooms must draw on their own cultural traditions, values, and experiences in creating a positive learning environment and selecting content for language minority students (González & Darling-Hammond, 1997). Effective teaching in multicultural classrooms requires the use of methods and strategies that are culturally responsive, with the goal of respecting and enhancing teachers' and students' awareness of themselves as cultural beings undergoing an acculturation process (Gibson, 1998). As teachers develop higher levels of self-knowledge and reflect on their practices, they formulate a coherent philosophy of CLAD instruction, which they are able to articulate clearly. This philosophy is based on their own cultural and linguistic experiences, as well as their professional preparation for teaching in multicultural settings. CLAD educators continually read books and professional journals to enhance their knowledge base, and they seek out expert analysis and discussion of issues to inform themselves about policies and legal requirements that affect their practice. Areas for ongoing exploration include research on second-language acquisition and reading development and effective schooling practices for language-minority children.


Au, K.H. (1998). Social constructivism and the school literacy of students of diverse backgrounds. Journal of Literacy Research, 30(2), 297-319. Available:

August, D., & Hakuta, K. (Eds.). (1997). Improving schooling for language-minority children: A research agenda. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Available:
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Bernhardt, E.B. (1991). Reading development in a second language. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

California Department of Education. (1999). Language census (form R30-LC). Sacramento, CA: Author. Available:

Coady, J. (1979). A psycholinguistic model of the ESL reader. In R. Mackay, B. Barkman, & R. Jordan (Eds.), Reading in a second language. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Fitzgerald, J. (1995). English-as-a-second-language reading instruction in the United States: A research review. Journal of Reading Behavior, 27(2), 115-152.

Freeman, Y.S., & Freeman, D.E. (1997). Teaching reading and writing in Spanish in the bilingual classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Garrison, L., & Mora, J.K. (1999). Adapting mathematics instruction for English language learners: The language-concept connection. In L. Ortiz-Franco, N. Hernández, & Y. De la Cruz (Eds.), Changing the races of mathematics: Perspectives on Latinos (pp. 35-48). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Gibson, M.A. (1995). Additive acculturation as a strategy for school improvement. In R.G. Rumbaut & W.A. Cornelius (Eds.), California's immigrant children: Theory, research, and implications for educational policy (pp. 77-106). San Diego, CA: University of California Center for U.S. Mexican Studies.

González, J.M., & Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). New concepts for new challenges: Professional development for teachers of immigrant youth. McHenry, IL: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Greene, J. (1998). A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of bilingual education. Claremont, CA: Tomas Rivera Policy Institute. Available:

Krashen, S.D. (1999). Condemned without a trial: Bogus arguments against bilingual education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mora, J.K. (2000). Staying the course in times of change: Preparing teachers for linguistically diverse classrooms. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(5), 345-357.

Mora, J.K. (2001). Effective instructional practices and assessment for literacy and biliteracy development. In S.R. Hurley & J.V. Tinajero (Eds.), Literacy assessment of second language learners (pp. 149-166). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

National Center for Education Statistics. (1999, January). Teacher quality: A report on the preparation and qualifications of public school teachers. Available:

Ramírez, J.D., Yuen, J.D., & Ramey, D.R. (1991, February). Final report: Longitudinal study of structured English immersion strategy, early-exit and late-exit transitional bilingual education programs for language-minority children: Executive summary. San Mateo, CA: Aguirre International. Available:

Rumberger, R.W., & Gándara, P. (2000). The schooling of English learners. In E. Burr, G.C. Hayward, B. Fuller, & M.W. Kirst. Crucial issues in California education 2000: Are the reform pieces fitting together? (pp. 23-44). Berkeley, CA: University of California, Policy Analysis for California Education.

Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Available:

Snow, M.A. (Ed.). (2000). Implementing the ESL standards for pre-K-12 students through teacher education. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Walton, P.H., & Carlson, R.E. (1997). Responding to social change: California's new standards for teacher credentialing. In J.E. King, E.R. Hollins, & W.C. Hayman (Eds.), Preparing teachers for cultural diversity (pp. 222-239). New York: Teachers College Press.

Wong Fillmore, L. (1982). Instructional language as linguistic input: Second-language learning in classrooms. In L.C. Wilkinson (Ed.), Communicating in the classroom: Language, thought and culture (pp. 283-296). New York: Academic.

About the Author

portrait of the author     Jill Kerper Mora is an associate professor of teacher education at San Diego State University, California, USA. She specializes in preparing teachers for Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development (CLAD) classrooms. Her teaching and research focus on English as a second language and Spanish/English biliteracy instruction. She is a strong advocate for effective schooling practices and policies for promoting academic achievement among language-minority students. Contact her by e-mail at


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Citation: Mora, J.K. (2000/2001, December/January). Responding to the demographic challenge: An Internet classroom for teachers of language-minority students. Reading Online, 4(5). Available:

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Posted December 2000
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