English Learner Underachievement: In Search of Essences and Meanings: A Phenomenological Study of Educator Experiences of Underachievement among English Learners in One Georgia Public School System
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Publication of an article pending
The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand and describe the educators’ experiences of English learner underachievement. The overall aim was to discover and illuminate the essences of this phenomenal experience. The essences embody what is immanent and universal to the phenomenon, what makes the phenomenon the way it inherently is, and what cannot be removed from the phenomenon. This study sought to reveal the general essential features educators’ experiences of English learner share. Furthermore, it was an attempt to arrive at a deeper understanding of the world of everyday human experience. The school system where the study took place is located in southeast Georgia, United States. The group of elementary, middle, and high school educators who participated in the study consisted of eight professional women of diverse cultural backgrounds. All of them had extensive experience of working with English learners in the environment where English was the primary medium of instruction. Data were collected using in-depth interviews and essays. Participant confidentiality was maintained throughout the data collection and analysis. The collected data were organized and analyzed using Moustakas’s modified version of the Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method that utilizes the processes of the epoché, phenomenological reduction, imaginative variation, and synthesis. Several textural and structural categories emerged from the analysis of the data. The textural thematic categories included: underachieving English learner performance in school, emotional and psychological barriers, language and cultural change, prior educational experience, family’s socioeconomic status and parental involvement, educational practices and teacher attitudes. The structures underlying the educators’ experience of English learner underachievement were represented through evaluation, observation, communication and interaction, development of professional awareness and accountability, examination of students’ backgrounds, professional collaboration, and examination of educational practices. The totality of what the educators experienced in relation to English learner underachievement reveals that no aspect or quality of this phenomenon can be singled out to prevail in this phenomenal appearance. What makes the phenomenon of English learner underachievement intricately complex is its multi-dynamic character which emerges amidst educational, cultural, and socioeconomic inequities. English learner underachievement is ingrained in the structures of school and society. The key findings from the study suggest that educators need to create effective learning situations to accommodate individual needs of underachieving English learners. Similarly, educators need extensive support from the school, district, and policy in ways that help them gain professional knowledge of approaches, strategies, and programs to provide quality education to all English learners. The study has contributed to the overall understanding of the phenomenon of English learner underachievement and drawn attention to the importance of the educator voice in educational decision making.
EdD in TESOL