School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Jessica Talada


small group instruction, zone of proximal development (ZPD), scaffolding, differentiation of instruction, achievement gap, English language learners (ELLs)


Education | English Language and Literature


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the lived experiences of middle school content area instructors (CAIs) who teach English language learners (ELLs) in public schools in ELL-heavy districts. The theory guiding this study was Vygotsky’s theory of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), as research studies indicate the ability of ELLs to access content area instruction when teachers effectively scaffold them in their ZPD to use discipline specific literacy strategies. Data were collected using one-on-one interviews with 10 content area teachers in six ELL-heavy public-school districts to participate in the study. Further data collection was completed using focus groups of teachers from each school who met for one hour to participate in detailed discussions of teaching perspectives and understandings, as well as lesson plans collected from instructors. Data were analyzed through open and source coding to develop clusters of meaning from significant statements and generate themes to describe the phenomenon. Several findings were obtained that highlight how scaffolding ELLs can be used successfully in CAI lessons. All the teachers who participated in this study encouraged the provision of CALI during discipline specific instruction and understood the importance of ELLs’ development of CAL. The findings indicate that vocabulary instruction, modeling, visuals, activation of background knowledge, and small group instruction are the most effective methods of supporting and scaffolding ELLs in CAI. Finally, a pivotal finding from this study was that the motivation of ESL students is critical to their academic performance and willingness to develop CAL.