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Teacher perspectives on professional development needs for better serving Nebraska's Spanish heritage language learners

Janet Marie Eckerson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In Nebraska and across the United States a growing number of heritage language speakers of Spanish are enrolling in Spanish language courses during secondary school. Current scholarship has suggested that these heritage language learners (HLLs) have very different instructional needs than learners of second or foreign languages. Because Spanish language instruction in Nebraska secondary schools has been traditionally conceptualized only as foreign language instruction, classroom teachers and the World Language departments may not be adequately prepared to meet the needs of HLLs. This dissertation examined the experiences of Nebraska secondary Spanish teachers who worked with HLLs in order to inform the creation of relevant professional learning experiences for pre- and in-service teachers. Specifically, data were collected from a statewide survey of Nebraska Spanish teachers (n=92) and follow-up semi-structured interviews of nine of the survey participants representing three sub-groups. Findings from this design study indicated that while most teachers recognized significant differences between HLLs and L2 learners enrolled in their courses and had very positive attitudes towards HL maintenance, few were engaged in significant instructional differentiation practices in mixed-enrollment courses. There were few reported instances of HLL specific courses offerings such as Spanish for Spanish speakers (SSS), though interviews revealed a growing interest in developing such courses across the state. Respondents reported, on average, receiving very little pre- or in-service professional development related to HLLs but indicated strong interest in learning more about serving HLLs. These data informed the design and delivery of a practitioner-led professional development workshop focused on one of the most significant practitioner- articulated learning needs: instructional differentiation for HLLs in mixed courses. Additional professional development areas identified by study included sociolinguistic characteristics of HLL affect and motivation, models of curriculum design and development for SSS courses, models of course articulation sequences and placement procedures for HLLs in World Language departments, and frank collegial discourse on the subject of teacher qualifications for HL instruction. This dissertation illuminated the importance of practitioner-led inquiry into “problems of practice”, and suggested several foci for future efforts in better preparing Spanish teachers to work with HLLs.

Subject Area

Modern language|Education|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Eckerson, Janet Marie, "Teacher perspectives on professional development needs for better serving Nebraska's Spanish heritage language learners" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3738830.