Second Nature

ESL Major’s Research to Provide Guide for Teachers

Written by Niki Bliss-Carroll


Shaquavia with project mentor Dr. Anita Sanders

During her sophomore year, Gardner-Webb University student Shaquavia Chiles of Greenville, S.C., was approached by one of her professors with a unique idea. Dr. Anita Sanders, assistant professor of education, suggested the English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) major spend a portion of her summer on campus as part of the undergraduate research scholars program.  As Chiles recounted her answer, she grinned.

“Funny story,” she shared. “I didn’t want to do it. I pretty much said, ‘No, thank you. I don’t want to.’”

Not long after that initial conversation, Chiles’ mother visited campus. “My mom and my professor started talking, and Dr. Sanders told her about the idea she had. Later my mom told me, ‘Oh yeah, you’re doing that,’” she recalled. But even though she hesitated initially, Chiles immediately began to enjoy the challenges of her project, and she took seriously her role as an advocate for an often-underserved population.

“In high school, I was a tutor, and a lot of my ESL friends would come to me … they were struggling,” she reflected. “Obviously, I know much more now than I did then, but as much as I could help them, I would try. I realized that I loved teaching, being around people, and helping people, so I decided to pursue a career in it.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an average of nine percent of students in U.S. public schools are English Language Learners; that number is closer to 14 percent in cities. Many of these students are integrated into mainstream classrooms within a year—well before their English language skills are proficient.

9% of students in U.S. public schools are English-as-Second-Language learners. - National Center for Education Statistics

For her research project, Chiles developed a classroom handbook for K12 teachers who are trying to meet the needs of their students but who may not have direct access to an ESL professional every day. “Typically, ESL teachers travel between two and sometimes three different schools,” she explained. “So that can present a problem for classroom teachers who may not be sure about how to help their students whose primary language is not English. So the main goal of the project was to provide an immediate resource to teachers to help them implement strategies that can improve ESL-student interactions.”

Chiles initially planned to develop most of her information for the handbook from interviews of current ESL teachers; however, she wasn’t able to gain access to as many direct sources as she had initially hoped. So she modified her research to include both primary sources (e.g. interviews) as well as secondary sources (e.g. previously published strategies). The result is a printed handbook that Chiles plans to continue to refine.

Shaquavia Chiles (right) helps a student with her class work

Shaquavia Chiles (right) helps a student with her class work

“I really wanted the final version to be bound, look like a real handbook, and be beneficial not only to me but to people all over the world,” she stated. “So I have a final copy. But would I say it’s a finished product? No, I don’t think it will be finished until I complete all of my ESL studies in my undergraduate program. Then I would really like to revisit it again and add more information.”

As she considers her experience at Gardner-Webb, and the way her professors have taken a personal interest in her future, Chiles admits she is completely biased. “I love Gardner-Webb,” she asserted. “I love that most classes are relatively small—even core classes. I love the town and the fact that you can walk to everything. I love the parades and the games and the fact that GWU is the life of the town. It’s just home.”

And she is grateful that her professor pushed her to go a little deeper and offers some advice to other students. “If an opportunity presents itself, don’t just shut it down like I did,” she encouraged. “Actually take some time to think about it and really consider it. Because you never know what’s going to come from it.

“I’m looking at these strategies and showing other people how they can use them, and I’m learning how to use them too,” she continued. “I feel like I have an advantage when I go out into my field. So take the opportunity. Don’t just shoot it down. You may even end up loving it.”

During the 2016 summer term, six GWU scholars participated in undergraduate research projects. Chris Beguhl, Mariah Case, Shaquavia Chiles, Jeff Day, Christopher Lile, and Starr Tate each shared information about their research in one-on-one interviews on For more information on the Undergraduate Research Program at Gardner-Webb, or to find out how to apply for the Summer Scholars Research Program, contact Dr. June Hobbs at 704-406-4412 or email

Listen to full interviews with the 2016 research scholars:

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