T is for Teacher Knowledge

5 05 2013

teacher ny 1920What you do need to know in order to be able to teach?

The question concerns not only teachers, but also teacher educators and methodology writers, since the way we answer it impacts on the design of training programs and their related materials. Do teachers need to know a lot about grammar, for example? Second language acquisition? Educational theory? Curriculum design? Developmental psychology? And so on.

Those who study these things have hypothesized a number of different kinds of knowledge that appear to be implicated in teachers’ decision-making, including subject matter knowledge, general pedagogic knowledge (such as classroom management skills), and contextual knowledge, such as knowledge of the curriculum, of the students, of their social context and so on. At the same time, this slicing up of the pie should not obscure the fact that, in the actual business of teaching, these knowledge bases are deployed simultaneously and interdependently, and constitute ‘an integrated and coherent whole’ (Tsui 2003 p.59). ‘It is the melding of these knowledge domains that is at the heart of teaching’ (op. cit.p.58).

Nevertheless, in the interests of teacher training and evaluation, and for the purposes of  course design, it is often necessary to tease apart these diverse domains and organize them into a structured programme.

One such attempt at isolating and itemizing the components of teacher knowledge in our own field is embodied in the Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT), a teaching award offered by Cambridge ESOL. Aimed primarily at teachers whose first language is not English, and in response to a perceived need for affordable training opportunities in a wide range of contexts, the TKT was originally ‘designed to assess English language teachers’ knowledge about teaching, including concepts related to language, language use and the background to and practice of English language teaching and learning’ (Harrison 2007 p.30).

teacher romania ndInitially conceived purely as a test of knowledge, the TKT did not at first include an assessment of teaching ability in the classroom. Yet there was evidence to suggest that, for some teachers at least, the TKT was perceived as being as much a test of ability as of knowledge. An impact study on the TKT in Uruguay, for instance, found that ‘even though TKT is a test of knowledge, 61% of respondents seemed to expect the test to have an impact on their teaching practice’ (Valazza 2008 p.22). This expectation may well derive from the widely-held belief that knowledge does in fact equate with ability and that the more you know, the better you teach — that, in short, the naming of parts is tantamount to being able to use these parts. But, as Freeman (2002 p.11) observes, ‘One needs the words to talk about what one does, and in using those words one can see it more clearly.  Articulation is not about words alone, however.  Skills and activity likewise provide ways through which new teachers can articulate and enact their images of teaching’.

Just as important, therefore, as identifying, naming, and describing the knowledge bases of teaching is understanding how they are proceduralized in practice and developed over time.  It is now generally accepted that learning to teach involves a dynamic interplay between knowing and doing. As Tsui (op. cit. p.65) puts it, ‘teachers’ knowledge shapes their classroom practices, but their classroom practices in turn shape their knowledge, as they reflect on their practices during and after the action, and they come to a new understanding of teaching’.  For this reason, teacher training programs, whether pre-service or in-service, ideally (some would say necessarily) involve some kind of hands-on practical component, where planning-for-teaching, teaching, and reflecting-on-teaching are integrated into a continuous developmental cycle.

To their credit, Cambridge ESOL have now incorporated a practical test, involving 40 minutes of assessed teaching, into the packet of core modules on offer as part of the TKT.  This can only be a good thing. But ‘core’ does not mean compulsory, and there is always the risk that, because of pragmatic and economic considerations, the practical component will be side-lined, and the ‘knowledge modules’ alone will be considered a sufficient measure of classroom teaching ability.

As publishers, training and examining bodies scramble to address the very real needs of language teachers worldwide, shouldn’t we be asking: What is the minimum a professional development program should offer teachers?

teacher mexico 1923References

Freeman, D.  2002.  ‘The hidden side of the work: Teacher knowledge and learning to teach’.  Language Teaching, 35/1.

Harrison, C. 2007.  ‘Teaching Knowledge Test update — adoptions and courses’.  Research Notes, 29, University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations.

Tsui, A, B. M. 2003. Understanding Expertise in Teaching: Case Studies of Second Language Teachers.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Valazza, G. 2008.  ‘Impact of TKT on language teachers and schools in Uruguay’. Research Notes, 34, University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations.

This post is an adapted version of a review of Jeremy Harmer’s Essential Teacher Knowledge (Pearson, 2012) that appeared in the ELT Journal, 67/1, January 2013.

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62 responses

5 05 2013
geoffjordan

Jack Richards recently published an interesting article about teacher competencies in ELT. The Abstract says “In order to plan for the professional development of English language teachers, we need to have a comprehensive understanding of what competence and expertise in language teaching consists of. What essential skills, knowledge, values, attitudes and goals do language teachers need, and how can these be acquired? This paper seeks to explore these questions by examining ten core dimensions of skill and expertise in language teaching. These are: language proficiency, content knowledge, teaching skills, contextual knowledge, language teacher identity, learner-focussed teaching, specialized cognitive skills, theorizing from practice, joining a community of practice, and professionalism. Each construct will be examined, its contribution to teacher competence and performance illustrated, and implications discussed for the development of English language teachers and teacher education programmes.”

Richards, J. (2013) Competence and Performance in Language Teaching., RELC Journal, April, pp. 44 to 59.. (How do you get italics on these replies??)

5 05 2013
Higor Cavalcante

Hi Geoff,

Thank you very much for that! Do you have a link to this article?

Thanks again!

6 05 2013
geoffjordan

Hi Higor,

I’m afraid I was confusing it with an article which Jack Richard’s wrote this year for RELC.

The article I referred to is Richards, J. (2010) Competence and-Performance in Language Teaching. RELC Journal, Vol 41, August 2010, pp.101-122. (I’ll leave italics to Scott, tho tanks Karenne for your attempt to help me!).

All Jack’s stuff can be found at his website http://www.professorjackrichards.com/

7 05 2013
Higor Cavalcante

Thanks, Geoff!

5 05 2013
Rob

Geoff, I don’t know if we can italicize on these replies, so I just use asterisks.

5 05 2013
kalinagoenglish

Hi Geoff,
To get italics within your comment, you need to type the “less than and greater than” signs with the letter “i” inside them and then to close the phrase off with a slash… am wondering how to show you what I mean without writing in italics myself so I will add spaces

… when you copy the below (if this works) then delete the spaces I am adding and don’t use the quote signs….hope this works, if not apologies…
so to open the area you want in italics type : ” ” within your text, then write the words/phrase you want in italics, then close this phrase, the one you put in italics with a ” ” and that should do the trick.

5 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

I will do the italics, don’t worry!

6 05 2013
geoffjordan

Thanks, Scott.

I notice that you didn’t mention that you wrote the review of Harmer’s book in ELTJ.

Your review in ELTJ suggests that our Jeremy is a bit shaky on SLA, an opinion I share. But it goes on to say that a “cognitivist model of learning, whose dominant metaphor of MIND IS A COMPUTER is now yielding to what Block (2003) has dubbed the ‘social turn in second language acquisition’, one which takes the view ‘that mental processes are as social as they are individual and external as they are internal’ (ibid.: 93)”. .

If you look at the most recent work published in relevant journals about SLA, you’ll find that work on the numerous cognitive approaches to SLA – including emergentism :-), – continue to dominate and that Block’s nonsense (well-summarised by the motherhood quote you give) is only shared by a thankfully small number of daft devotees.

Attempts to study the social factors which undoubtedly play an important part in explaining SLA are to be welcomed, and
various attempts by the likes of Dörnyei, Duff, Kramsch,, Svanes and others at least deserve our careful attention, not least because they. respect basic norms of a realist epistemology. Block’s work seems to attract “rebels” into his topsy-turvey world where a straw-argument view of the “ruling paradigm” is replaced by a hopelessly-confused attempt to bolt together a collection of misunderstood postmodernist claptrap into a viable alternative view. To suggest that Block is in any way responsible for making a cognitivist view “yield” to his view would be laughable if it didn’t come from someone as influential as you.

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

True, Geoff, I didn’t actually say I wrote that review, but I think that the fact that I did is implied. I certainly wasn’t hiding behind anonymity through fear of incurring your wrath! ;-)

Nor, by the way, did I credit Block for being responsible for the social turn, simply for dubbing it as such.

5 05 2013
Avi Darkbloom

Thanks, Scott.

I have just a minor aside…

Perhaps one neglected part of teaching training is a set of tactics that every teacher surely employs from the very start:
What to do when they are on the spot and they don’t know something (particularly in response to a student’s question).

We’ve all had those (many) moments when we start giving a demonstration/explanation of something and we just draw a blank and fumble our way desperately through – often talking longer than is good for us at this point.

Unfortunately no amount of lesson stage preparation is ever going to shield teachers from these awkward moments and I think it would good in basic teacher training to have at least a session on issues like this…

‘How to wing it!’

My most common blank is on spelling, when I attempt to write a word on the board and suddenly realize, mid-flight, I don’t remember it (or never knew it in the first place). These days I just make a casual joke (with compulsory funny face) and get the students to look it up (or check for homework), but it takes know-how and practice to be able to be (semi)comfortable with this. To my mind, it doesn’t come automaticaly… err, I mean ‘automatically” (thank God for spellcheck! hehehe).

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Avi.. Yes, dealing with the unexpected, spontaneity, reactive teaching.., whatever you call it, this would seem to be a key dimension in the teacher’s knowledge base. You suggest that ‘a set of tactics’ could be included in a training program. Interesting idea, and I guess this would need to be complemented by opportunities to put these tactics to work in a practicum experience, maybe working alongside a more experienced teacher or mentor who could ‘protect’ the novice from too much ‘threat to face’ – a bit like a driving instructor?

5 05 2013
thesecretdos

The closing question is one that I endorse fully. My angle these days is more concerned with what one should expect a teacher to know and to do, but I think both types of enquiry can trace their parentage back to the proto-question of just what it is that should be expected from a teacher.

However, such questions are often answered by the production of a list of competencies – something which I know you are not a big fan of. Personally, I rather like Dylan Wiliam’s view that teaching is about creating effective learning environments (environments full of affordances, we might say) and responding in one way or another to how these affordances are exploited.

Are we so far apart as recent discussions have suggested? I hope not!

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment – and it’s perhaps not entirely accidental that this discussion in a sense parallels the discussion on your own blog about the knowledge base of learners.

I’m not sure if taxonomies (i.e. lists of competences) are a good thing or a bad thing – I guess it depends on whether they are descriptive or prescriptive, which in turn depends on (a) how they are derived (e.g. from observation of teachers, from teacher interviews/questionnaires, from learners even); (b) their degree of generalizability to different contexts; (c) their face validity – i.e. how plausible are they to teachers (in training) and teacher educators; and (d) very importantly – what is done with them. Do they become the ‘syllabus’ of a training program? Do they form a checklist of teacher assessment? (There’s often a woods-and-trees effect of taxonomies – in trying to capture every competence, you lose sight of the big picture, which, as you say, is about creating effective learning environments).

Not far apart at all!

5 05 2013
Nick Bilbrough

My brand new copy of ‘Meaningful Action’ is already well thumbed and dogeared. There’s so much really interesting stuff in it – including your chapter Scott on the Learning Body.

In Adrian Underhill’s chapter on the Inner work bench, he makes the distinction between teachers as ‘teacher’ and teachers as ‘facilitator’. Teachers have competence in topic and methodology but facilitators, above and beyond these two areas, also have competence in relationships.

He defines a facilitator as ‘a teacher who understands the topic, is skilled in the use of teaching methods and techniques, and who actively studies and pays attention to the psychological learning atmosphere and to the impacts of his or her intentions and interventions’ (Underhill 2013).

How much does the TKT, or indeed any course for teachers, explore this area? If good teaching really is about relationships, isn’t this something that really should be part of the bare bones of any teacher development programme?

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Nick, and thanks for plugging Meaningful Action (ed. by Arnold and Murphey, Cambridge, hurry while stocks last! ;-) )

I’m not sure if the interpersonal aspect of teaching (which is what I understand as ‘competence in relationships’) can be developed to any great extent in any short TT program, since training tends to focus on the more instructional aspects of the teacher’s role. But this doesn’t mean to say it shouldn’t be prioritized. There always used to be a section in the DTEFLA (now DELTA) observer’s checklist called ‘Rapport’ (which, now that I think about it, I’ve written about here). To what extent this is a personal quality that you either have or don’t have, I’ll leave it up to others to argue!

5 05 2013
Nati Gonz'alez Brandi

Amazing post Scott! It’s interesting you mention Uruguay because I’m Uruguayan, and I studied at the school where Valaza is Cambridge ESOL manager, I did my initial teacher training course there, and couple of years later, my DELTA, though now I’ve moved to IH Baires.

First of all, sth very important about Uruguay is that we are very theoretical, we are a society where theroy is very important. At Anglo Uruguayo your initial qualification is a two year course, full of theory and with only 4 hours of assessed teaching practice (or display lessons), although there’s more non-assessed teaching practice.

It only makes sense that people feel that TKT will have an effect in their practice, because in Uruguay Cambridge is a BIIIIG thing, everyone looks up to taking Cambridge exams, and I might feel that TKT is sold as a teaching qualification, or sth more than just a test, especially for those who can’t afford or don’t have time to do a two year or four year teacher training course (which again are normally way more theoretical than practical) Besides, it’s also interesting that in Uruguay CELTA courses are not run, and neither is DELTA Module 2, so people know about TKT but they don’t know about CELTA, for instance, So it makes sense that TKT is also seen as sth big ish, cause it’s a Cambridge Certificate that says that you ‘know’ about teaching, and you can’t get that many international teaching awards in Uruguay (let alone international teaching awards that involve practice)

However, I quite like what you say about the link between the know how and the know about, and I really think that link should be about learning, are students getting anything from lessons, are we taking them anywhere? Are lessons conducive to learning? And probably a mentoring scheme might help you to reflect on that. There is an enormous number of non-qualified teachers in Uruguay (a lot of demand, and not enough teachers, basically), and selling TKT courses is sth Cambridge does, so that those teachers get a certificate or sth that says, well I’m into teaching, or I wanna be an EFL teacher or i am an EFL teacher. How much do they get out of it? I don’t know because really I don’t think TKT gets into whether lessons are conducive to learning. There is exposure to theory and reasons why we might do certain things, but is it helping teachers to get students to learn?

I wish mentoring and tutoring were more appreciated than courses like TKT, to have a mentor that helps you to reflect, and that focuses on whether your students are learning and helps you reflect on their learning, and from there start building your ELT knowledge, seems to be a real learning seed, sth that helps you to engage in reflective practice and to focus on who your students are and what you do to help them learn. TKT? It’s great to learn about new approaches, theory in general, lesson shapes, etc, but I don’t think it really helps those teachers who want to improve their practice. To improve your practice, I’d always favour a continuous professional development scheme, mentoring, etc, of course it’s more time consuming, and normally you don’t get a Cambridge University Certificate out of it, but hey you may get learners who get more out of your lessons, and you might become a teacher with a reflective attitude… But of course a Cambridge ESOL Certificate is always more attractive (my TKT certificates and my DELTA modules certificates, all have the same layout, and I’m super proud about my DELTA, because I had mentors and peers observing my lessons and making me reflect a lot, whereas TKT was just a compulsory component in my initial teaching qualification, which I didn’t find memorable, and I honestly don’t remember what I was tested on). However, I do remember feedback from DELTA tutors, peers, and of course my mentors at the places where I’ve worked.
So honestly, I embrace reflective practice! But I guess ELT is also a big industry, and people want or need certificates, and well smart people sell those, and it proves to be very successful in some parts of the world.

Thanks very much for your post! Sorry for the rather wordy comment.

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Hi Nati – I think you hit the nail on the head in pointing out both the collaborative and ‘public’ nature of CELTA and DELTA type training, and how this differentiates it from courses like the TKT, making the former that much more of a learning experience. It’s also interesting that you identify a preference for theory in your own context, and it’s certainly true that a lot of training programs seem predicated on the view that theory should generate practice, rather than the other way round.

5 05 2013
mikecorea

Hello Scott,
Great post (as always). One thing jumped out at me in this post. (Actually, I think you wrote something very similar in your review of Harmer’s latest book in relation to its relationship with the TKT and it made me wonder then too.) Above you wrote, “This can only be a good thing” referring to Cambridge incorporating a practical test. I feel like I can think of quite a few ways this might be a very bad thing. :) For example, let’s say that word gets out that Cambridge prefers a nice long presentation stage in a solid PPP lesson. (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with PPP. wink.) Or if teachers feel they need to use a bunch of useless CCQ questions because this is what Cambridge is looking for. Or if #dogme is banned. Or certain standards on teacher’s pronunciation is imposed willy nilly. I think you can see what I am getting at here.

I fully agree with you that thinking of the TKT as proof of practical skill is problematic but I am not certain that including a 40 min assessed teaching is without risk. I wonder what makes you positive about the practical test. (I guess my thought is that it would be better if the TKT were recognized and known for what it is).
Thanks for the Sunday thoughts!

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Yes, I agree, Mike – a practical component doesn’t necessarily ‘protect’ a training program from prescriptivism of the worse sort. In fact, some language school chains work on the principle that a short sharp training program is the only way to inculcate their in-house method. And I take your point that including a 40 minute practical test in the TKT is fairly cosmetic. Nevertheless, it does get the teacher up in front of a real class, and, presumably (in order to prepare for it) more than just once or twice. This has to be better than nothing. Again, the analogy with learning to drive could be enlisted (yet again) here, but I won’t belabour it!

5 05 2013
Andrew

As a minimum, I think a course should offer a taste of what teaching is like i.e. you’ll need to have good subject knowledge, good pedagogical skills, be able to deal with paperwork, and be able to keep students happy.
The time constraints of teaching courses make it hard to fit everything in. I’d like to see courses that had a tapered start, maybe with a TKT knowledge part as an online component before the beginning of the course proper. This would free up time for more hands-on practical work.
As for student reactions/keeping them happy, could a part of your teaching be judged by a panel of trainers/students with weighted scores (a la X-factor)?
I’d think that after a course like this, you would know if teaching was for you!

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Andrew. I think online ‘delivery’ offers lots of advantages for, as you say, pre-course preparation (learning about language, materials, watching videos etc) and perhaps is not exploited enough. The ideal would be a blended course, perhaps, alternating hands-on teaching and collaborative sessions, with an online component which would include discussion forums.

5 05 2013
thesecretdos

Wiliam refers to “facilitation” as the “F- word” of teaching. He asks if the implication is that teachers should just hang around the classroom in the hope that some learning takes place. I don’t think he’s convinced.

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

I’m not sure that ‘facilitation’ does imply just hanging about – more the opposite, if anything. I think, though, that as a term it has been discredited by association with learner-centredness. In Classroom Management Techniques, Jim Scrivener writes (on the subject of learner-centredness): ‘The teacher’s role is not to abdicate all responsibility and sits back reading a newspaper. There is a real need for expert facilitation skills, i.e. to do those things that help people learn to work autonomously, work together, listen better to each other and discuss and negotiate successfully’. This implies that facilitating is a form of active intervention. Presumably something that can be trained, too.

5 05 2013
Higor Cavalcante

Hi Scott, and thanks for the post!

I believe most people will be commenting here on — using the terms you used in the post — a teacher’s general pedagogic knowledge and contextual knowledge. If you don’t mind, I’ll focus specifically on the ‘subject matter knowledge’ aspect of this triad, although I agree that it’s ‘the melding of these knowledge domains that is at the heart of teaching’.

As I wrote to you in an email this week, I believe ELT all but ignores the language aspect of a teacher’s formation. The TKT, for example, by name a test of teacher’s knowledge, recommends teachers have “at least an intermediate level of English, e.g. PET, IELTS band 4, CEFR/ALTE B1 for all the levels but KAL, for which the recommended level is B2″ (Spratt et all p 2). Most universities in Canada, for example, which commonly require candidates submit an IELTS certificate together with their application forms, would not accept at undergraduate level a candidate who got a 4 in his IELTS. How can that be OK for teachers?

I’m Brazilian, a non-native teacher of English just like, it seems to me, the majority of ELT teachers in the world today. I’ve been in ELT for about 14 years and worked with teacher training and language development for teachers for the past 7. I’m also a speaking examiner for Cambridge, from PET to CPE, and prepare teachers for all the TKT modules except for CLIL and Young Learners. Writing this comment on your blog has so far taken me 40 minutes, many visits to Cambridge dictionary online, and I’ll have it proofread before actually posting it. And I’m sure there are inaccuracies, or, at the very least, parts that look a bit weird. How do I get better? Where are there books that will shed some light on that? Blogs? SIGs?

I find it rather odd that there wasn’t a single talk in this year’s IATEFL conference on the issue of a teacher’s language development (I could be wrong), although there were teachers from over 100 countries in Liverpool last month. But I find it even more odd (odder?) that nobody seemed to notice. Why is that? Is it a fear of hurting non-native teachers’ feelings? Is it really not that important that an English teacher is proficient in English? Isn’t it high time we started ‘demanding high’ from teachers linguistically as well, and devoted more time to thinking up ways of helping teachers improve their English?

I finish here then with a similar question to yours: What is the minimum level of English an English teacher must have?

____

Spratt, M.; Pulverness, A.; Williams, M. 2011. ‘The TKT Course – Modules 1, 2 and 3″. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

5 05 2013
Nati Gonz'alez Brandi

I agree with you HIgor, but I really have a strong opinion on TKT, which as most strong opinions is probably wrong… guess I need time to come to terms with TKT.
I feel it’s part of this whole ‘FedExing’ teacher education movement, they are aware of the fact that it’s full of teachers of ENglish out there with a B1 or B2 level, and they want to reach those, the ones who can’t take up formal teacher training courses because of their language constrains, among other things. ANd then there’s no pass or fail rate, just like YLE……..
Btw, everyone is Liverpool said your ENglish was fantastic, Higor!
Nat

7 05 2013
Higor Cavalcante

Hey Nati,

I have mixed feelings about the TKT as well, but I think I mostly like it.

And thanks for the ‘fantastic’! :)

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Higor … yes, the question of the teacher’s language skills is a moot one, and perhaps deserves another blog post (although, since you yourself have just blogged on the subject, I’ll abstain for a bit!).

I agree that teachers should be given opportunities (beyond the conventional Cambridge etc exam suites) to develop their language skills, although I’m wary about setting a minimal level of proficiency, because I think that (a) this might act to exclude many teachers who are already teaching effectively and (b) language proficiency alone is not, of course, a prerequisite for teaching effectiveness, but interacts with other skills and knowledge bases in subtle and intricate ways – e.g.. teaching effectiveness in one domain might compensate for lack of knowledge in another.

But I would like to raise a related issue: what is the teacher’s professional obligation to speak their learners’ language well?

7 05 2013
Higor Cavalcante

Hi Scott,

When I asked what the minimum level of proficiency for an English teacher was in your opinion I didn’t mean in any way to ‘exclude’ any teachers. What I believe is necessary, however, is for teachers to understand that a B1/B2 level of proficiency in a language is (nowhere near) enough for a language teacher, and that when that’s the case the teacher in question should be always aiming at getting better, which is not always the case.

As for language proficiency not being a prerequisite for teaching effectiveness, I’m not so sure. I agree that it “interacts with other skills and knowledge bases in subtle and intricate ways”, but I believe effectiveness in teaching anything begins with knowledge of the subject matter.

As for your question, I don’t think it’s an obligation at all, but I most certainly think it is very helpful. It seems to me understanding a student’s L1 — even if you’re not fluent in it — is extremely helpful in understanding, for example, a student’s errors, and thus in helping them correct those errors. Do you agree?

Thank you!

5 05 2013
Rob

Thanks for another great post, Scott!

I really like Nick’s comment about relationships, a subject I believe is often overlooked or sniffled at as too touchy-feeling and unscientific (ie, too hard to measure and quantify using traditional metrics).

And, if I may, Higor’s English looks just fine to me! But I do understand how we can become our own harshest critic. :-)

During a recent teaching demo before a screening committee interviewing me for a tenure track position (high stakes!), I ‘performed’ a ten-minute lesson for a class of 20 adult learners who were not present. Quite awkward, but the four members of the committee apparently just wanted to see that I could act teacherly – whatever that means! The only thing missing was me tap dancing off the stage as I finished, waving my cane and hat.

And that ties into the very subject you’ve raised here about minimum offerings on a professional development program, because it was confidence and experience that made my demo look (I presume) at least professional. The CELTA and DELTA did a lot to boost my confidence since I had to stand in front of actual students and do something ‘teacherly’ although, in retrospect I believe I was being trained how to do pretty standard stock lessons (a reading lesson generally goes like this…) and hit all the high notes if you will, so as to get all the right boxes ticked.

My MA TESOL really helped me learn how to do professional research and assess the research studies I read. Critical thinking was the order of the day, and I realized discourse analysis is something I’m good at, which hasn’t really improved my teaching as far as I know.

Honestly, it’s the daily interaction with learners that’s provided me with the knowledge and empathy I feel necessary to afford opportunities for meaningful learning that can lead to language acquisition. And how to get that under one’s belt in the span of a professional development program is beyond me; however, the suggestions posted here thus far seem to point in the right direction.

I would add that a person who wants to teach should be encouraged to discover if teaching is in fact her or his vocation (calling), and if it is, then that individual should then be offered the tools and resources to let his or her ‘inner teacher’ unfurl. But like I said, that is probably too romantic and abstract for the mainstream set. :-)

Rob

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Nice story, Rob (about the teaching demo). I remember my nephew writing to ask advice about a similar ‘audition’ he had to do, for a job as a teacher’s assistant in Japan, and I was appalled to discover he would have to do his demo to a student-less room! A bit like swimming on dry land.

I guess, as you say, all they want to know is if you can ‘act teacherly’. The problem is, of course, that some teachers go through their whole career just ‘acting teacherly’ (no one I know, I hasten to add!!)

6 05 2013
geoffjordan

I couldn’t agree with you more, Rob. For all my interest in things theoretical, it’s exactly as you say: the big question is Do you really enjoy teaching, and do you learn from your practice? I think Earl Stevick was the best at getting this across. While he never claimed to be an academic, it was as an educator, and as a teacher trainer, that he shone. Teaching remains a craft: something you have to really like doing and know how to get better at through practice and through reflecting (with help) on your experience. Any attempt at evaluating teachers, any tests of teacher competences that we might devise, risk ignoring the essence of a good teacher, not to mention snuffing out the candle of the inner teacher which might still need time to burn brightly .

6 05 2013
Rob

Thanks for that, Geoff. You’re absolutely right about Stevick. I often think of him as a teacher who quietly entered the ELT arena, went about business rather quietly, then gathered up his things and left forever, leaving his work to speak for itself. Just my personal impression, of course.

7 05 2013
Higor Cavalcante

Hi Rob and thanks for the ‘terrific’. :)

My point, however, was that there seems to be very little focus in ELT on a non-native teacher’s language development, and bearing in mind these teachers are (probably) the majority of ELT teachers in the world, that is really odd.

I couldn’t agree more that “a person who wants to teach should be encouraged to discover if teaching is in fact her or his vocation (calling)”. Romantic, but not any less true because of that.

Higor.

7 05 2013
Rob

Yes, Higor, I hear what you’re saying about the focus on language teachers’ language, and it should apply whether we’ve inherited a language or otherwise acquired it, shouldn’t it?

7 05 2013
Higor Cavalcante

Certainly, Rob! But I think it’s especially important when you’ve acquired it.

5 05 2013
stevebrown70

Hi Scott,
As I opined yesterday in the secret DOS’s blog (http://thesecretdos.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/today-i-want-to-publish-my-bold-manifesto/), knowledge and skills go very much hand in hand and, like everything, there’s not much use in a teacher knowing a load of stuff related to teaching if they can’t actually apply it in a classroom. As far as I am aware, the TKT (like the ICELT) is usually a course taken by existing teachers of English – an in-service qualification rather than a pre-service one like the CELTA. In this case, perhaps a practical component is less important because the trainees have their context in which they can apply the knowledge they are gaining from the course. Pre-service qualifications that don’t include teaching practice, on the other hand, can’t hold much value as many if the ideas covered can only be conceptualised by trainees in a very abstract form.
Another point I would like to make (if you don’t mind) is the difference between the generic and the specific with regard to teacher knowledge. Cambridge ESOL qualifications like the TKT, ICELT and CELTA are internationally recognized and are therefore obliged to be very generic. But any teaching practice can only exist in a specific context. Does this mess with the reliability of the qualification? I mean, if you can get a B in a CELTA that involves teaching multilingual adult groups in London, does this mean you are still a CELTA B teacherwhen you get a job teaching 1-1 to businessmen in Seoul, or teenagers in Barcelona, say?

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Great point, Steve, about the generalizability of training courses. In my experience, there is a real tension between the situated nature of the practicum (these students in this room on this course) and the trainee teacher’s potential future contexts. This is where a checklist of competencies could be helpful, in that it might serve to remind all those involved that there are certain (as you put it) generic skills that need to be addressed, even if they might not be so relevant in the immediate training context. One of these might be the effective use of published materials and of technology. Another might be coping in situations where there are no materials or technology!

5 05 2013
kalinagoenglish

Am with Nick and Rob above, in that there is simply not enough attention paid to psychological relationships nor how to build them nor their importance… it seems like there is an ultimate elephant in the room, a taboo word unspoken

…so I’ll just go ahead and say it.

The word is love – an utterly inadequate word in English – but when I say it, bear with me, I mean the love for learning, along with the love of one’s students and the love of one’s teachers.

Great, truly great, teachers are not just the masters of knowledge, but are instead those who inspire their students to actively adopt some of that knowledge (being that knowledge cannot be transmitted from one to another anyway), and this is done through energy, passion, drive and enthusiasm to allow the students the space to test it out, to seek out more, to build upon it, to own it.

So while I believe that certifications help shift wheat from chaff, in a manner of speaking, I wonder is there really any qualification that can ever teach a teacher to love their subject, to truly love it so much so that they inspire this in their students? Is there a test that measures the ability to love one’s students? Because I do think it’s two-fold, it’s not just the love of the subject that’s necessary, because that could be just a selfish love (it’s my knowledge), but also requires a want, a desire, to share that knowledge…

Anyway, I suspect that as long as we pretend that there really isn’t any quantifiable differences between what the most amazing teachers do (the teachers we remember all of our lives) and the other teachers who teach perfectly competently, but we never remember their names, nor what they actually taught us, then we will always be left with a wide gaping hole – a lack of knowledge about one of the most important ways on how learning happens.

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Hmm, you’ve certainly raised the stakes, Karenne! While I agree that there is a lot more to teaching than knowledge transmission (and a good training course should disabuse those who think it is), it might be equally risky to prioritize affective factors (such as love), since this might convey an equally ‘degenerate’ message, e.g. that ‘all you need is love!’ I know that this is not what you’re saying, but there are many people who enter teaching precisely because they feel passionate about it, but this passion can – if they are not supported properly – be horribly deflated by the (sometimes cruel) reality of classroom life. Unlike the image that many Hollywood movies convey of teaching – that teachers are either inspired and charismatic or burnt-out and embittered – the reality is somewhat different! But I take your point: you ignore the affective factors at your peril!

6 05 2013
J.J. Almagro

North & Rossner are trying to chart ELT professionalism following the same scheme they used for the description of CEFR’s language proficiency levels. The project is called ‘European Profiling Grid’ (www.epg-project.eu).

No traces of TLC (Teaching as a Love Conversation), sniff….No, seriously, I would like to see the affect factor being part of their components and descriptors. I guess it’d be hard to pin down..

6 05 2013
J.J. Almagro

This is the link to access the document:
http://clients.squareeye.net/uploads/eaquals/North-%20TQAC.pdf

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, J.J. Now that you mention it, I have seen some reference to this project – I’m grateful fro the link.

6 05 2013
philchappell

As usual, a thought-provoking post, and some stellar responses, Scott! Whenever the topic of teacher knowledge or teacher competencies comes up, I find myself reverting to the work of Basil Bernstein which, although often a little hard to get into, is based on a theory of pedagogy that puts the language used in social practices such as teaching/learning at the forefront. His idea of pedagogic discourse sees two simultaneous things going on (as in Tsui’s “integrated and coherent whole”). First, managing the overall direction of lessons and the sequencing, pacing, selection of activities, and management of student behaviours; and second, to introduce the content to enable the development of new language knowledge and skills. The latter is enabled through the former. There can be no development of new language knowledge and skills without mediation through the regulative discourse. When you put this theory into practice by looking at classroom lessons and seeing how teachers manage the two forms of talk and activity at the same time (which reveals so much about a teacher’s assumptions about language and learning), it (IMHO) certainly foregrounds the need to view teacher knowledge as more than modules of propositions to be learned), rather, as effective ways to develop meaningful interactions between learners and teachers. So I’d like to suggest one answer to the question: “What is the minimum a professional development program should offer teachers?” as one that puts the everyday language and inter-activity of teaching and learning at the top of the syllabus.

Cheers
Phil

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Phil … and this circles back to Higor’s (com)plaint, that not enough is done to support teachers’ language proficiency. I would want to qualify that – in the light of your comment, Phil – and say that perhaps not enough is done both to raise awareness as to how language mediates learning and to train teachers in those kinds of (linguistically mediated) interventions that optimise learning. That is to say, the language that teachers need in order to provide and scaffold learning opportunities is possibly of more importance than their overall language proficiency, wouldn’t you say?

7 05 2013
philchappell

I’d say that you’ve hit the nail on the head, Scott, and I agree. Luiz used the term “teacher language development” which sounds to me like a great name for a unit in a language teacher training and/or education program, which could include both streams.

6 05 2013
Luiz Otávio Barros

Hi, Scott!
Just a quick comment on the research carried out in Uruguay and on the degree to which “knowing that” can cross over into “knowing how”…
In my teacher training experience, this couldn’t possibly be further from the truth.

I think it was Donald Freeman who once said that teachers do what they do in class based on an (often unexamined) set of beliefs deriving from their own experience as learners, their own (often intuitive) sense of what seems plausible to do in any given teaching situation, on the (always tacit) “staffroom culture” of the institution they belong to and, to a lesser degree, on the initial training they received. In other words, teacher development seems to be a very organic, multifaceted process.

In my experience, input sessions always seem relatively innocuous and perhaps even more so if we operate on a “here’s a new bit of theory, try it out next class” basis. Willing as they might be to try new concepts out, teachers will often filter the new theory mcnuggets (no copyright infringement meant, ok? wink wink) through their own set of beliefs. I think it takes a lot of feedback and opportunities for retrial (through ongoing lesson observation) for teachers to accommodate new teaching techniques in their existing repertoire.

6 05 2013
Luiz Otávio Barros

Just an after thought: The no-interface position I appear to be advocating in the second line is in actual fact a weak-interface position, whereby theory can seep into practice as long as it happens over time, experientially and through ongoing feedback.

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Luiz – and thanks for the qualification: I like your use of the no- vs weak interface metaphor, which I hadn’t heard applied to the theory-practice dimension before.

On the subject of theory vs practice, I remember seeing the late Chris Brumfit talking on the subject many years ago, and he was citing some research (done in general education I assume) as to teachers perceptions of where training activities might be characterized, on a spectrum from very theoretical to very practical. It transpired, of course, that virtually everything was labelled theoretical – even talking about teaching techniques, or a lecture on classroom management – apart from activities that involved actually getting up and ‘doing teaching’. (I wish I could locate the source of this study.)

6 05 2013
Luiz Otávio Barros

“I like your use of the no- vs weak interface metaphor, which I hadn’t heard applied to the theory-practice dimension before.”
Neither had I, Scott. It’s just that I kept thinking about declarative vs. procedural knowledge as I wrote the post and I was drawn to the word interface.

6 05 2013
David Deubelbeiss

Higor,

Well said. But I do know there are some tests of teacher spoken English out there. They are usually delivered locally and internally. Publishers and companies haven’t jumped at standardized versions I think, simply because it isn’t too profitable, much like how speaking was late on the scene in standardized testing. I was involved in developing and implementing one.

But for ELT, it is important that teachers be able to speak comfortably and competently while providing instruction in English. Not that easy and a second language brain is very overloaded when communicating and even more so when teaching. You note the difficulty in writing but it is even worse when speaking. Teachers have to make dozens of decisions every minute, comparable to air traffic controllers – not easy with a second language brain (forgive my use of this term but it is the only one that seems available, I don’t like the term NNESTs). I once was asked to teach my grade 4 ESL class French. There weren’t enough French teachers available. I said ok and passed the board exam with flying colors. Got my temporary permission from the College of teachers and I was set to teach French. I figured I’d just do the same as what I did with English, just flip it and it would be a piece of cake. What a shock! It was so terribly hard to both speak in French and then think of all the millions of things a teacher has to think of. I spent the whole year feeling like I was teaching in mud.

High fluency in a social or even academic situation also doesn’t translate well to the dynamics of a classroom. TOEIC, IELTS scores can give some indication of teacher spoken language competency but should never be used by themselves as a measurement of speaking ability.

6 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, David – and a salutary reminder of the challenge facing teachers with – as you put it – a second-language brain! No wonder many such teachers are skeptical of teaching approaches (no names) that require a high degree of spontaneity!

6 05 2013
Rob

That’s fascinating to me, David, as I’ve sometimes considered teaching a second language of mine (German). And it raises the issue of teaching English (my L1) insofar as the extent to which a teacher might put time and energy into ‘acting out’ roles, using pat phrases, and following institutional protocol rather than focusing on the learners as individuals, collecting their (inter-)language, and reflecting on practice. In other words, does a course like the CELTA engage us (physically,cognitively, emotionally) in behavior that absorbs energy we might otherwise expend doing more learning- and learner-centered things that would enhance our professional development on a more personal level?

I hope that makes sense… I’m dashing off in my Work Brain while my First Brain types this (?). ;-)

Rob

6 05 2013
Luiz Otávio Barros

To me, the greatest language obstacle non-native teachers face is their willingness / readiness to work with emergent language. I think the less confident you feel (languagewise), the more likely you are to rely on the core syllabus and nip most “deviant” forms in the bud.

7 05 2013
Higor Cavalcante

Absolutely, Luiz. That reminded of Michael Lewis in ‘The English Verb saying — and I’m not quoting — that if you find examples which do not fit a rule, you should discard the rule, not the example. That, of course, is the opposite of what less confident non-native teachers usually do.

7 05 2013
Higor Cavalcante

Hi David,

I agree with you completely, especially since I’m a ‘second brain user’ myself. It’s difficult and it is sometimes like “teaching in mud”. That, in my opinion, is all the more reason for ELT to focus on that a lot more.

PS: I don’t think TOEIC tests anything really. LOL

6 05 2013
stevebrown70

Hi again Scott,
In case you or your readers are interested, I’ve just posted on my own blog about the value of teacher training courses and what we tend to learn on them – http://stevebrown70.wordpress.com/2013/05/06/universality-and-mediocrity-part-3-training-for-what-exactly/

6 05 2013
alexcase

I know this is only a tiny segment of the English teachers in the world and not what the TKT was designed for but…

A worrying aspect of the TKT is online courses including a TKT-preparation component and using that to pretend that the low standards of their courses are somehow endorsed by Cambridge. There is also a more general danger that having a lower level certificate with Cambridge on it could drag down the initial requirements for teaching jobs from the already fairly basic CELTA (or equivalent).

However, the initial requirements for many teaching jobs are already “white face and degree”, so if some of those employers would be tempted to at least ask for a TKT that might be an improvement, and I suppose Cambridge might be helping bring up the standards of those online courses by them taking the TKT into account.

7 05 2013
alexcase

To put it another more general way. As someone whose only direct involvement in this particular question is as someone who writes about the industry, does the TKT and an emphasis on teaching knowledge more generally (or perhaps organisations like Cambridge responding to that long emphasis on teaching knowledge) have an overall positive or negative effect on the industry? I’m completely on the fence on this one, even for the tiny segment of the industry (Japanese “eikaiwa” conversations schools) that I actually work in.

8 05 2013
VACLAV SPILKA

Hi Scott
It was interesting all here in above . Your Teachers have a uphill tasks for us ‘students’ not only to “pass as much as possible of your knowledge ” but also to keep/ make us keen on learning more at the class rooms for in many ways it might and it is ‘boring’ . One rather take the “life” classes such as at work, on the streets ,in pubs,by traveling afar etc etc .So I have been trying to “nose’ my way through it and since there were also other languages worth to know ( Spanish, French ,German ,Russian ,,,,,,, ) my English will never bee too deep eve thought it is on the first place in the raw .
Thanks and have a great time and I wish you lot of health !!!!
Vaclav Spilka

9 05 2013
Svetlana

Hello everybody

I will vote with my both hands for teacher knowledge. Traditionally it is believed that the knowledge of the subject (e. g. the English language) is the priority. It is certainly true, yet this knowledge equates with the knowledge of applied linguistics which teachers-to-be are thoroughly taught and tested on. The result is that this kind of knowledge becomes a stumbling block and may completely disable the teacher at the board to HEAR what a student says, it is a kind of deafness. (I wonder if there is a cure for it :-)) Then the classroom looks exactly like what the pictures in this post depict. What I like most about the TKT exam that the core modules contain only 5 pages which are about language systems, thus destroying the stereotype of traditional information-delivery mode of teaching. What some of my trainees say (I have been running TKT preparation courses for 6 years) at the end of the course is, “Wow! I have never expected teaching to be so complicated! You need to know a lot “. Once one of the TKT groups brainstormed about 50 jobs that a teacher has to do, and just one of them was a linguist.

What knowledge does the teacher need? The survival kit is group dynamics and classroom management, strategies for motivating students and maintaining this motivation if you ask me. Then “pre-fabricated chunks” of stages (activities) in the lesson which serve as the basis for “implicit learning” for later on analysis and awareness raising through reflection. What comes next is the explicit knowledge of various approaches and methods from the history of teaching and experiencing the techniques from these approaches and methods. (Teaching foreign languages as a profession has been around for centuries, why reinvent the wheel?) And of course the knowledge we have so far about how languages are learned (SLA or psycholinguistics or cognitive neuroscience, whatever you call it).

And the same techniques as those in teaching a language can be applied to training teachers in an attempt to achieve the optimal link between teacher knowledge and the skill of teaching (creating ZPD, doing guided discovery, noticing the patterns, etc).

Just waiting for the teaching skill to “emerge” through isolated teaching may result in a “fossil” resembling the lesson which one has inherited from the previous generations of teachers (the lesson in the pictures in the post).

Won’t you agree?

Thank you for reading this!

10 05 2013
Scott Thornbury

Traditionally it is believed that the knowledge of the subject (e. g. the English language) is the priority…

Yes, I would agree with everything, Svetlana, and just add this, by the late great Leo van Lier:

While appreciating the need for ‘training in linguistics,’ I … argue that the knowledge teachers need is not that of theoretical linguistics, prescriptive grammar, and formal accuracy, but a knowledge that starts from everything they already know about language, that connects this knowledge to all that their students already know about language, and then builds bridges to deeper understandings of the uses and processes of language in personal, social, academic, and professional contexts.

van Lier, L. 2002. An ecological-semiotic perspective on language and linguistics. In Kramsch,. C. (ed.) Language Acquisition and Language Socialization: Ecological Perspectives. London: Continuum.

9 05 2013
chazpugliese

Hi Scott, All,
On top of everything else that’s been mentioned in this thread so far, I’d like to argue that any TT course should have an element of Creativity training embedded.

The classroom is a microcosm governed by diversity, as we all know, students may differ in ways more than one: styles, attitudes, predominant intelligences, age, motivation, level of proficiency, expectations, previous language learning experiences, and the list goes on.

It would be unthinkable that a teacher may able to reach out to all their students without a principled, creative approach. In this sense, creativity is a must and a teacher’s best friend. Far from being a genetic endowment, far from being the stuff geniuses are made of, creativity (with a small c) can actually be developed, and can be taught.

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