Archive for the ‘teacher training’ Category

Seven years ago, the British Council brought out a report (Dearden, 2014), entitled ‘English as a medium of instruction – a growing global phenomenon’. The report noted the ‘rapid expansion’ of EMI provision, but observed that in many countries ‘there is a shortage of linguistically qualified teachers; there are no stated expectations of English language proficiency; there appear to be few organisational or pedagogical guidelines which might lead to effective EMI teaching and learning; there is little or no EMI content in initial teacher education (teacher preparation) programmes and continuing professional development (in-service) courses’.

Given issues such as these, we should not expect research findings about the efficacy of EMI to be unequivocally positive, and the picture that emerges from EMI research is decidedly mixed. In some countries, learning of academic content has deteriorated, and drop-out rates have been high, but we do not have enough information to make global generalisations. Improvements in English language skills are also often disappointing, although a number of research reports indicate gains in listening. We cannot, however, assume that following EMI studies will lead to greater language gains than, say, attending fewer hours of an intensive English course. The idea that two birds can be killed with one stone remains speculative.

The widespread rolling-out of EMI programmes in higher education has led to concerns about a negative effect on the status of other languages. There is also a danger that EMI may exacerbate social inequalities. Those who are most likely to benefit from the approach are ‘those whose life chances have already placed them in a position to benefit from education’ (Macaro, 2018). It is clear that EMI has spread globally without sufficient consideration of both its benefits and its costs.

This year, the British Council brought out another report on EMI (Sahan, et al., 2021), looking at EMI in ODA-categorised countries, i.e. receivers of foreign aid, mostly in the Global South. What has changed in the intervening seven years? The short answer is not a lot. Unabated growth continues: problematic issues remain problematic. Support for EMI lecturers remains limited and, when it is offered, usually takes the form of improving teachers’ general English proficiency. The idea that EMI lecturers might benefit from ‘training in appropriate materials selection, bilingual teaching pedagogies, strategies for teaching in multilingual or multicultural classrooms, [or] an awareness of their students’ disciplinary language needs’ does not seem to have taken root. The insight that EMI requires a shift in methodology in order to be effective has not really got through either, and this, despite the fact that it is well-known that many lecturers perceive EMI as a challenge. The growing body of research evidence showing the positive potential of plurilingual practices in higher education EMI (e.g. Duarte & van der Ploeg, 2019) is not, it would appear, widely known to universities around the world offering EMI classes. The only mention of ‘plurilingualism’ that I could find in this report is in the context of a discussion about how the internationalization (aka Englishization) of higher education acts as a counter-force to the plurilingualism promoted by bodies like the Council of Europe.

The home of the Council of Europe’s ‘European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML)’ is in Austria, where I happen to live. Here’s what the ECML’s website has to say about itself:

Developing every individual’s language repertoire and cultural identities and highlighting the social value of linguistic and cultural diversity lie at the core of ECML work. Plurilingual education embraces all language learning, e.g. home language/s, language/s of schooling, foreign languages, and regional and minority languages.

To support plurilingual education, a ‘Framework of Reference for Pluralistic Approaches to Languages and Cultures’ has been developed, along with a bank of resources and teaching materials that are linked to the descriptors in the frame of reference. Plurilingualism is clearly taken very seriously, and, across the country there are many interesting plurilingual initiatives in primary and secondary schools.

But not at universities. There is steady growth in EMI, especially at master’s level. Almost a quarter of all master’s at the University of Vienna, for example, are EMI. However, this has not been accompanied by any real thought about how EMI changes things or how EMI could best be implemented. It has simply been assumed that the only thing that differentiates teaching in German from using EMI is the choice of language itself (Dannerer et al., 2021). Only when things go wrong and are perceived as problematic (e.g. severe student dropout rates) ‘does the realization follow that there is so much more to teaching in another medium than language proficiency alone’ (ibid). Even language proficiency is not deemed especially worthy of serious consideration. Dannerer et al (2021) note that ‘the skills of teachers […] are neither tested nor required before they begin to offer courses in English. Although there are English language courses for students, academic, and administrative staff, they are mainly voluntary.’ There are no clear policies ‘as to when English or other languages should be employed, by whom, and for what’ (ibid). In summary, ‘linguistic and cultural plurality in Austrian higher education is not considered an asset that brings added value in terms of institutional diversity or internationalization at home’. Rather, in the context of EMI, it is something that can be Englishized and ignored.

Higher education EMI in Austria, then, is, in some ways, not so very different from EMI in the countries that feature in the recent British Council report. Or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world, with just a few exceptions (such as a number of universities in bilingual parts of Spain). My question is: why is this the case? Why would universities not actively pursue and promote plurilingual approaches as part of their EMI provision, if, as seems highly probable, this would result in learning gains? Are they really unaware of the potential benefits of plurilingual approaches in EMI? Is the literature out there (e.g. Paulsrud, et al., 2021) beyond their budgets? Have they, perhaps, just not got round to it yet? Is there, perhaps, some sort of problem (contracts? pay? time?) in training the lecturers? Or, as the British Council report seems to suggest, is there some irreconcilable tension between plurilingualism and the Englishizing world of most EMI? And, if this is the case, could it be that plurilingualism is fighting a losing battle?

References

Dannerer, M., Gaisch, M. & Smit, U. (2021) Englishization ‘under the radar’: Facts, policies, and trends in Austrian higher education. In Wilkinson, R. & Gabriëls, R. (Eds.) (2021) The Englishization of Higher Education in Europe. Amsterdam University Press, pp. 281 – 306

Dearden, J. (2014) English as a medium of instruction – a growing global phenomenon. London: British Council

Duarte, J. & van der Ploeg, M. (2019) Plurilingual lecturers in English medium instruction in the Netherlands: the key to plurilingual approaches in higher education? European Journal of Higher Education, 9 (3) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21568235.2019.1602476

Macaro, E. (2018) English Medium Instruction. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Paulsrud, B., Tian, Z. & Toth, J. (Eds.) (2021) English-Medium Instruction and Translanguaging. Bristol: Multilingual Matters

Sahan, K., Mikolajewska, A., Rose, H., Macaro, E., Searle, M., Aizawa, I., Zhou, S. & Veitch, A. (2021) Global mapping of English as a medium of instruction in higher education: 2020 and beyond. London: British Council

Wilkinson, R. & Gabriëls, R. (2021) The untapped potentials of EMI programmes. The Dutch case, System, 103, 102639

Wilkinson, R. & Gabriëls, R. (Eds.) (2021) The Englishization of Higher Education in Europe. Amsterdam University Press.

Five years ago, in 2016, there was an interesting debate in the pages of the journal ‘Psychological Review’. It began with an article by Jeffrey Bowers (2016a), a psychologist at the University of Bristol, who argued that neuroscience (as opposed to psychology) has little, or nothing, to offer us, and is unlikely ever to be able to do so, in terms of improving classroom instruction. He wasn’t the first to question the relevance of neuroscience to education (see, for example, Willingham, 2009), but this was a full-frontal attack. Bowers argued that ‘neuroscience rarely offers insights into instruction above and beyond psychology’ and that neuroscientific evidence that the brain changes in response to instruction are irrelevant. His article was followed by two counter-arguments (Gabrieli, 2016; Howard-Jones, et al., 2016), which took him to task for too narrowly limiting the scope of education to classroom instruction (neglecting, for example, educational policy), for ignoring the predictive power of neuroimaging on neurodevelopmental differences (and, therefore, its potential value in individualising curricula), and for failing to take account of the progress that neuroscience, in collaboration with educators, has already made. Bowers’ main argument, that educational neuroscience had little to tell us about teaching, was not really addressed in the counter-arguments, and Bowers (2016b) came back with a counter-counter-rebuttal.

The brain responding to seductive details

In some ways, the debate, like so many of the kind, suffered from the different priorities of the participants. For Gabriele and Howard-Jones et al., Bowers had certainly overstated his case, but they weren’t entirely in disagreement with him. Paul Howard-Jones has been quoted by André Hedlund as saying that ‘all neuroscience can do is confirm what we’ve been doing all along and give us new insights into a couple of new things’. One of Howard-Jones’ co-authors, Usha Goswami, director of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at the University of Cambridge, has said that ‘there is a gulf between current science and classroom applications’ (Goswami, 2006).

For teachers, though, it is the classroom applications that are of interest. Claims for the relevance of neuroscience to ELT have been made by many. We [in ESL / EFL] need it, writes Curtis Kelly (2017). Insights from neuroscience can, apparently, make textbooks more ‘brain friendly’ (Helgesen & Kelly, 2015). Herbert Puchta’s books are advertised by Cambridge University Press as ‘based on the latest insights into how the brain works fresh from the field of neuroscience’. You can watch a British Council talk by Rachael Roberts, entitled ‘Using your brain: what neuroscience can teach us about learning’. And, in the year following the Bowers debate, Carol Lethaby and Patricia Harries gave a presentation at IATEFL Glasgow (Lethaby & Harries, 2018) entitled ‘Research and teaching: What has neuroscience ever done for us?’ – a title that I have lifted for this blog post. Lethaby and Harries provide a useful short summary of the relevance of neuroscience to ELT, and I will begin my discussion with that. They expand on this in their recent book (Lethaby, Mayne & Harries, 2021), a book I highly recommend.

So what, precisely, does neuroscience have to tell English language teachers? Lethaby and Harries put forward three main arguments. Firstly, neuroscience can help us to bust neuromyths (the examples they give are right / left brain dominance and learning styles). Secondly, it can provide information that informs teaching (the examples given are the importance of prior knowledge and the value of translation). Finally, it can validate existing best practice (the example given is the importance of prior knowledge). Let’s take a closer look.

I have always enjoyed a bit of neuromyth busting and I wrote about ‘Left brains and right brains in English language teaching’ a long time ago. It is certainly true that neuroscience has helped to dispel this myth: it is ‘simplistic at best and utter hogwash at worst’ (Dörnyei, 2009: 49). However, we did not need neuroscience to rubbish the practical teaching applications of this myth, which found their most common expression in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Brain Gym. Neuroscience simply banged in the final nail in the coffin of these trends. The same is true for learning styles and the meshing hypothesis. It’s also worth noting that, despite the neuroscientific evidence, such myths are taking a long time to die … a point I will return to at the end of this post.

Lethaby and Harries’s second and third arguments are essentially the same, unless, in their second point they are arguing that neuroscience can provide new information. I struggle, however, to see anything that is new. Neuroimaging apparently shows that the medial prefrontal cortex is activated when prior knowledge is accessed, but we have long known (since Vygotsky, at least!) that effective learning builds on previous knowledge. Similarly, the amygdala (known to be associated with the processing of emotions) may play an important role in learning, but we don’t need to know about the amygdala to understand the role of affect in learning. Lastly, the neuroscientific finding that different languages are not ‘stored’ in separate parts of the brain (Spivey & Hirsch, 2003) is useful to substantiate arguments that translation can have a positive role to play in learning another language, but convincing arguments predate findings such as these by many, many years. This would all seem to back up Howard-Jones’s observation about confirming what we’ve been doing and giving us new insights into a couple of new things. It isn’t the most compelling case for the relevance of neuroscience to ELT.

Chapter 2 of Carol Lethaby’s new book, ‘An Introduction to Evidence-based Teaching in the English Language Classroom’ is devoted to ‘Science and neuroscience’. The next chapter is called ‘Psychology and cognitive science’ and practically all the evidence for language teaching approaches in the rest of the book is drawn from cognitive (rather than neuro-) science. I think the same is true for the work of Kelly, Helgesen, Roberts and Puchta that I mentioned earlier.

It is perhaps the case these days that educationalists prefer to refer to ‘Mind, Brain, and Education Science’ (MBE) – the ‘intersection of neuroscience, education, and psychology’ – rather than educational neuroscience, but, looking at the literature of MBE, there’s a lot more education and psychology than there is neuroscience (although the latter always gets a mention). Probably the most comprehensive and well-known volume of practical ideas deriving from MBE is ‘Making Classrooms Better’ (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2014). Of the 50 practical applications listed, most are either inspired by the work of John Hattie (2009) or the work of cognitive psychologists. Neuroscience hardly gets a look in.

To wrap up, I’d like to return to the question of neuroscience’s role in busting neuromyths. References to neuroscience, especially when accompanied by fMRI images, have a seductive appeal to many: they confer a sense of ‘scientific’ authority. Many teachers, it seems, are keen to hear about neuroscience (Pickering & Howard-Jones, 2007). Even when the discourse contains irrelevant neuroscientific information (diagrams of myelination come to mind), it seems that many of us find this satisfying (Weisberg et al., 2015; Weisberg et al., 2008). It gives an illusion of explanatory depth (Rozenblit & Keil, 2002), the so-called ‘seductive details effect’. You are far more likely to see conference presentations, blog posts and magazine articles extolling the virtues of neuroscientific findings than you are to come across things like I am writing here. But is it possible that the much-touted idea that neuroscience can bust neuromyths is itself a myth?

Sadly, we have learnt in recent times that scientific explanations have only very limited impact on the beliefs of large swathes of the population (including teachers, of course). Think of climate change and COVID. Why should neuroscience be any different? It probably isn’t. Scurich & Shniderman (2014) found that ‘neuroscience is more likely to be accepted and credited when it confirms prior beliefs’. We are more likely to accept neuroscientific findings because we ‘find them intuitively satisfying, not because they are accurate’ (Weisberg, et al. 2008). Teaching teachers about educational neuroscience may not make much, if any, difference (Tham et al., 2019). I think there is a danger in using educational neuroscience, seductive details and all, to validate what we already do (as opposed to questioning what we do). And for those who don’t already do these things, they’ll probably ignore such findings as there are, anyway.

References

Bowers, J. (2016a) The practical and principled problems with educational Neuroscience. Psychological Review 123 (5) 600 – 612

Bowers, J.S. (2016b) Psychology, not educational neuroscience, is the way forward for improving educational outcomes for all children: Reply to Gabrieli (2016) and Howard-Jones et al. (2016). Psychological Review. 123 (5):628-35.

Dörnyei, Z. (2009) The Psychology of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Gabrieli, J.D. (2016) The promise of educational neuroscience: Comment on Bowers (2016). Psychological Review. 123 (5):613-9

Goswami , U. (2006). Neuroscience and education: From research to practice? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7: 406 – 413

Hattie, J. (2009) Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge

Helgesen, M. & Kelly, C. (2015) Do-it-yourself: Ways to make your textbook more brain-friendly’ SPELT Quarterly, 30 (3): 32 – 37

Howard-Jones, P.A., Varma. S., Ansari, D., Butterworth, B., De Smedt, B., Goswami, U., Laurillard, D. & Thomas, M. S. (2016) The principles and practices of educational neuroscience: Comment on Bowers (2016). Psychological Review. 123 (5):620-7

Kelly, C. (2017) The Brain Studies Boom: Using Neuroscience in ESL/EFL Teacher Training. In Gregersen, T. S. & MacIntyre, P. D. (Eds.) Innovative Practices in Language Teacher Education pp.79-99 Springer

Lethaby, C. & Harries, P. (2018) Research and teaching: What has neuroscience ever done for us?’ in Pattison, T. (Ed.) IATEFL Glasgow Conference Selections 2017. Faversham, Kent, UK: IATEFL  p. 36- 37

Lethaby, C., Mayne, R. & Harries, P. (2021) An Introduction to Evidence-Based Teaching in the English Language Classroom. Shoreham-by-Sea: Pavilion Publishing

McCabe, D.P. & Castel, A.D. (2008) Seeing is believing: The effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning. Cognition 107: 343–352.

Pickering, S. J. & Howard-Jones, P. (2007) Educators’ views on the role of neuroscience in education: findings from a study of UK and international perspectives. Mind Brain Education 1: 109–113.

Rozenblit, L., & Keil, F. (2002). The misunderstood limits of folk science: an illusion of explanatory depth. Cognitive science, 26(5), 521–562.

Scurich, N., & Shniderman, A. (2014) The selective allure of neuroscientific explanations. PLOS One, 9 (9), e107529. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone. 0107529.

Spivey, M. V. & Hirsch, J. (2003) ‘Shared and separate systems in bilingual language processing: Converging evidence from eyetracking and brain imaging’ Brain and Language, 86: 70 – 82

Tham, R., Walker, Z., Tan, S.H.D., Low, L.T. & Annabel Chan, S.H. (2019) Translating educational neuroscience for teachers. Learning: Research and Practice, 5 (2): 149-173 Singapore: National Institute of Education

Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2014) Making Classrooms Better. New York: Norton

Weisberg, D. S., Taylor, J. C. V. & Hopkins, E.J. (2015) Deconstructing the seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 5, September 2015, pp. 429–441

Weisberg, D. S., Keil, F. C., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E., & Gray, J. R. (2008). The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 20 (3): 470–477.

Willingham, D. T. (2009). Three problems in the marriage of neuroscience and education. Cortex, 45: 54-55.

by Philip Kerr & Andrew Wickham

from IATEFL 2016 Birmingham Conference Selections (ed. Tania Pattison) Faversham, Kent: IATEFL pp. 75 – 78

ELT publishing, international language testing and private language schools are all industries: products are produced, bought and sold for profit. English language teaching (ELT) is not. It is an umbrella term that is used to describe a range of activities, some of which are industries, and some of which (such as English teaching in high schools around the world) might better be described as public services. ELT, like education more generally, is, nevertheless, often referred to as an ‘industry’.

Education in a neoliberal world

The framing of ELT as an industry is both a reflection of how we understand the term and a force that shapes our understanding. Associated with the idea of ‘industry’ is a constellation of other ideas and words (such as efficacy, productivity, privatization, marketization, consumerization, digitalization and globalization) which become a part of ELT once it is framed as an industry. Repeated often enough, ‘ELT as an industry’ can become a metaphor that we think and live by. Those activities that fall under the ELT umbrella, but which are not industries, become associated with the desirability of industrial practices through such discourse.

The shift from education, seen as a public service, to educational managerialism (where education is seen in industrial terms with a focus on efficiency, free market competition, privatization and a view of students as customers) can be traced to the 1980s and 1990s (Gewirtz, 2001). In 1999, under pressure from developed economies, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) transformed education into a commodity that could be traded like any other in the marketplace (Robertson, 2006). The global industrialisation and privatization of education continues to be promoted by transnational organisations (such as the World Bank and the OECD), well-funded free-market think-tanks (such as the Cato Institute), philanthro-capitalist foundations (such as the Gates Foundation) and educational businesses (such as Pearson) (Ball, 2012).

Efficacy and learning outcomes

Managerialist approaches to education require educational products and services to be measured and compared. In ELT, the most visible manifestation of this requirement is the current ubiquity of learning outcomes. Contemporary coursebooks are full of ‘can-do’ statements, although these are not necessarily of any value to anyone. Examples from one unit of one best-selling course include ‘Now I can understand advice people give about hotels’ and ‘Now I can read an article about unique hotels’ (McCarthy et al. 2014: 74). However, in a world where accountability is paramount, they are deemed indispensable. The problem from a pedagogical perspective is that teaching input does not necessarily equate with learning uptake. Indeed, there is no reason why it should.

Drawing on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) for inspiration, new performance scales have emerged in recent years. These include the Cambridge English Scale and the Pearson Global Scale of English. Moving away from the broad six categories of the CEFR, such scales permit finer-grained measurement and we now see individual vocabulary and grammar items tagged to levels. Whilst such initiatives undoubtedly support measurements of efficacy, the problem from a pedagogical perspective is that they assume that language learning is linear and incremental, as opposed to complex and jagged.

Given the importance accorded to the measurement of language learning (or what might pass for language learning), it is unsurprising that attention is shifting towards the measurement of what is probably the most important factor impacting on learning: the teaching. Teacher competency scales have been developed by Cambridge Assessment, the British Council and EAQUALS (Evaluation and Accreditation of Quality Language Services), among others.

The backwash effects of the deployment of such scales are yet to be fully experienced, but the likely increase in the perception of both language learning and teacher learning as the synthesis of granularised ‘bits of knowledge’ is cause for concern.

Digital technology

Digital technology may offer advantages to both English language teachers and learners, but its rapid growth in language learning is the result, primarily but not exclusively, of the way it has been promoted by those who stand to gain financially. In education, generally, and in English language teaching, more specifically, advocacy of the privatization of education is always accompanied by advocacy of digitalization. The global market for digital English language learning products was reported to be $2.8 billion in 2015 and is predicted to reach $3.8 billion by 2020 (Ambient Insight, 2016).

In tandem with the increased interest in measuring learning outcomes, there is fierce competition in the market for high-stakes examinations, and these are increasingly digitally delivered and marked. In the face of this competition and in a climate of digital disruption, companies like Pearson and Cambridge English are developing business models of vertical integration where they can provide and sell everything from placement testing, to courseware (either print or delivered through an LMS), teaching, assessment and teacher training. Huge investments are being made in pursuit of such models. Pearson, for example, recently bought GlobalEnglish, Wall Street English, and set up a partnership with Busuu, thus covering all aspects of language learning from resources provision and publishing to off- and online training delivery.

As regards assessment, the most recent adult coursebook from Cambridge University Press (in collaboration with Cambridge English Language Assessment), ‘Empower’ (Doff, et. Al, 2015) sells itself on a combination of course material with integrated, validated assessment.

Besides its potential for scalability (and therefore greater profit margins), the appeal (to some) of platform-delivered English language instruction is that it facilitates assessment that is much finer-grained and actionable in real time. Digitization and testing go hand in hand.

Few English language teachers have been unaffected by the move towards digital. In the state sectors, large-scale digitization initiatives (such as the distribution of laptops for educational purposes, the installation of interactive whiteboards, the move towards blended models of instruction or the move away from printed coursebooks) are becoming commonplace. In the private sectors, online (or partially online) language schools are taking market share from the traditional bricks-and-mortar institutions.

These changes have entailed modifications to the skill-sets that teachers need to have. Two announcements at this conference reflect this shift. First of all, Cambridge English launched their ‘Digital Framework for Teachers’, a matrix of six broad competency areas organised into four levels of proficiency. Secondly, Aqueduto, the Association for Quality Education and Training Online, was launched, setting itself up as an accreditation body for online or blended teacher training courses.

Teachers’ pay and conditions

In the United States, and likely soon in the UK, the move towards privatization is accompanied by an overt attack on teachers’ unions, rights, pay and conditions (Selwyn, 2014). As English language teaching in both public and private sectors is commodified and marketized it is no surprise to find that the drive to bring down costs has a negative impact on teachers worldwide. Gwynt (2015), for example, catalogues cuts in funding, large-scale redundancies, a narrowing of the curriculum, intensified workloads (including the need to comply with ‘quality control measures’), the deskilling of teachers, dilapidated buildings, minimal resources and low morale in an ESOL department in one British further education college. In France, a large-scale study by Wickham, Cagnol, Wright and Oldmeadow (Linguaid, 2015; Wright, 2016) found that EFL teachers in the very competitive private sector typically had multiple employers, limited or no job security, limited sick pay and holiday pay, very little training and low hourly rates that were deteriorating. One of the principle drivers of the pressure on salaries is the rise of online training delivery through Skype and other online platforms, using offshore teachers in low-cost countries such as the Philippines. This type of training represents 15% in value and up to 25% in volume of all language training in the French corporate sector and is developing fast in emerging countries. These examples are illustrative of a broad global trend.

Implications

Given the current climate, teachers will benefit from closer networking with fellow professionals in order, not least, to be aware of the rapidly changing landscape. It is likely that they will need to develop and extend their skill sets (especially their online skills and visibility and their specialised knowledge), to differentiate themselves from competitors and to be able to demonstrate that they are in tune with current demands. More generally, it is important to recognise that current trends have yet to run their full course. Conditions for teachers are likely to deteriorate further before they improve. More than ever before, teachers who want to have any kind of influence on the way that marketization and industrialization are shaping their working lives will need to do so collectively.

References

Ambient Insight. 2016. The 2015-2020 Worldwide Digital English Language Learning Market. http://www.ambientinsight.com/Resources/Documents/AmbientInsight_2015-2020_Worldwide_Digital_English_Market_Sample.pdf

Ball, S. J. 2012. Global Education Inc. Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge

Doff, A., Thaine, C., Puchta, H., Stranks, J. and P. Lewis-Jones 2015. Empower. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Gewirtz, S. 2001. The Managerial School: Post-welfarism and Social Justice in Education. Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge

Gwynt, W. 2015. ‘The effects of policy changes on ESOL’. Language Issues 26 / 2: 58 – 60

McCarthy, M., McCarten, J. and H. Sandiford 2014. Touchstone 2 Student’s Book Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Linguaid, 2015. Le Marché de la Formation Langues à l’Heure de la Mondialisation. Guildford: Linguaid

Robertson, S. L. 2006. ‘Globalisation, GATS and trading in education services.’ published by the Centre for Globalisation, Education and Societies, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1JA, UK at http://www.bris.ac.uk/education/people/academicStaff/edslr/publications/04slr

Selwyn, N. 2014. Distrusting Educational Technology. New York: Routledge

Wright, R. 2016. ‘My teacher is rich … or not!’ English Teaching Professional 103: 54 – 56

 

 

Ok, let’s be honest here. This post is about teacher training, but ‘development’ sounds more respectful, more humane, more modern. Teacher development (self-initiated, self-evaluated, collaborative and holistic) could be adaptive, but it’s unlikely that anyone will want to spend the money on developing an adaptive teacher development platform any time soon. Teacher training (top-down, pre-determined syllabus and externally evaluated) is another matter. If you’re not too clear about this distinction, see Penny Ur’s article in The Language Teacher.

decoding_adaptive jpgThe main point of adaptive learning tools is to facilitate differentiated instruction. They are, as Pearson’s latest infomercial booklet describes them, ‘educational technologies that can respond to a student’s interactions in real-time by automatically providing the student with individual support’. Differentiation or personalization (or whatever you call it) is, as I’ve written before  , the declared goal of almost everyone in educational power these days. What exactly it is may be open to question (see Michael Feldstein’s excellent article), as may be the question of whether or not it is actually such a desideratum (see, for example, this article ). But, for the sake of argument, let’s agree that it’s mostly better than one-size-fits-all.

Teachers around the world are being encouraged to adopt a differentiated approach with their students, and they are being encouraged to use technology to do so. It is technology that can help create ‘robust personalized learning environments’ (says the White House)  . Differentiation for language learners could be facilitated by ‘social networking systems, podcasts, wikis, blogs, encyclopedias, online dictionaries, webinars, online English courses,’ etc. (see Alexandra Chistyakova’s post on eltdiary ).

But here’s the crux. If we want teachers to adopt a differentiated approach, they really need to have experienced it themselves in their training. An interesting post on edweek  sums this up: If professional development is supposed to lead to better pedagogy that will improve student learning AND we are all in agreement that modeling behaviors is the best way to show people how to do something, THEN why not ensure all professional learning opportunities exhibit the qualities we want classroom teachers to have?

Differentiated teacher development / training is rare. According to the Center for Public Education’s Teaching the Teachers report , almost all teachers participate in ‘professional development’ (PD) throughout the year. However, a majority of those teachers find the PD in which they participate ineffective. Typically, the development is characterised by ‘drive-by’ workshops, one-size-fits-all presentations, ‘been there, done that’ topics, little or no modelling of what is being taught, a focus on rotating fads and a lack of follow-up. This report is not specifically about English language teachers, but it will resonate with many who are working in English language teaching around the world.cindy strickland

The promotion of differentiated teacher development is gaining traction: see here or here , for example, or read Cindy A. Strickland’s ‘Professional Development for Differentiating Instruction’.

Remember, though, that it’s really training, rather than development, that we’re talking about. After all, if one of the objectives is to equip teachers with a skills set that will enable them to become more effective instructors of differentiated learning, this is most definitely ‘training’ (notice the transitivity of the verbs ‘enable’ and ‘equip’!). In this context, a necessary starting point will be some sort of ‘knowledge graph’ (which I’ve written about here ). For language teachers, these already exist, including the European Profiling Grid , the Eaquals Framework for Language Teacher Training and Development, the Cambridge English Teaching Framework and the British Council’s Continuing Professional Development Framework (CPD) for Teachers  . We can expect these to become more refined and more granularised, and a partial move in this direction is the Cambridge English Digital Framework for Teachers  . Once a knowledge graph is in place, the next step will be to tag particular pieces of teacher training content (e.g. webinars, tasks, readings, etc.) to locations in the framework that is being used. It would not be too complicated to engineer dynamic frameworks which could be adapted to individual or institutional needs.cambridge_english_teaching_framework jpg

This process will be facilitated by the fact that teacher training content is already being increasingly granularised. Whether it’s an MA in TESOL or a shorter, more practically oriented course, things are getting more and more bite-sized, with credits being awarded to these short bites, as course providers face stiffer competition and respond to market demands.

Visible classroom home_page_screenshotClassroom practice could also form part of such an adaptive system. One tool that could be deployed would be Visible Classroom , an automated system for providing real-time evaluative feedback for teachers. There is an ‘online dashboard providing teachers with visual information about their teaching for each lesson in real-time. This includes proportion of teacher talk to student talk, number and type of questions, and their talking speed.’ John Hattie, who is behind this project, says that teachers ‘account for about 30% of the variance in student achievement and [are] the largest influence outside of individual student effort.’ Teacher development with a tool like Visible Classroom is ultimately all about measuring teacher performance (against a set of best-practice benchmarks identified by Hattie’s research) in order to improve the learning outcomes of the students.Visible_classroom_panel_image jpg

You may have noticed the direction in which this part of this blog post is going. I began by talking about social networking systems, podcasts, wikis, blogs and so on, and just now I’ve mentioned the summative, credit-bearing possibilities of an adaptive teacher development training programme. It’s a tension that is difficult to resolve. There’s always a paradox in telling anyone that they are going to embark on a self-directed course of professional development. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune and, if an institution decides that it is worth investing significant amounts of money in teacher development, they will want a return for their money. The need for truly personalised teacher development is likely to be overridden by the more pressing need for accountability, which, in turn, typically presupposes pre-determined course outcomes, which can be measured in some way … so that quality (and cost-effectiveness and so on) can be evaluated.

Finally, it’s worth asking if language teaching (any more than language learning) can be broken down into small parts that can be synthesized later into a meaningful and valuable whole. Certainly, there are some aspects of language teaching (such as the ability to use a dashboard on an LMS) which lend themselves to granularisation. But there’s a real danger of losing sight of the forest of teaching if we focus on the individual trees that can be studied and measured.