Evaluation of Teacher Professional Development Languages (TPDL):
For teachers of languages in years 7-10 and the impact on language learning opportunities and outcomes for students
This study was carried out during 2008 and aims to inform the Ministry about the TPDL and the impact on language learning opportunities and outcomes for students.
Author(s): Sharon Harvey, Clare Conway, Heather Richards & Annelies Roskvist, AUT University
Date Published: December 2009
This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box). To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box. For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.
Chapter 4: Impact of TPDL Years 7-10 on the teachers' second language teaching knowledge
I've chosen to present my own provisional specifications in the form of 'principles.' I do not expect that … all language teachers will agree with them. I hope, though, that they will provide a basis for argument and reflection (Ellis, 2005b, p. 210).
It is important for those teaching an additional language to have a sound knowledge of how students learn language and in turn, ways to effectively teach a language. Language teachers need a framework from which to develop their teaching skills and the Ellis principles of language teaching (2005b) drawn from Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research provide the theoretical foundation of the TPDL programme. This chapter considers the impact of the TPDL programme on teachers' second language teaching knowledge. Two aspects of second language teaching knowledge are considered: understanding how students learn an additional language, and understanding how teachers teach an additional language.
Participants' teaching background
In considering respondents' teaching background it is necessary to consider general teaching experience, prior instruction in language teaching and length of time in teaching the TL. The cohort of teachers involved in the research on the TPDL programme was relatively experienced in general teaching, with twenty one of the thirty four respondents to survey one having been teaching for seven or more years, and sixteen of those for more than ten years. Five respondents were undertaking the course with only one to three years of general teaching experience. With regard to prior knowledge of language teaching, more than two thirds of the teachers had attended short courses or seminars on teaching language with nearly one third having no previous language teaching instruction. The length of time TPDL participants had been teaching the TL varied from no previous language teaching through to more than ten years' experience. Figure 8 shows nearly one third of participants were in their first year of TL teaching, one third were not new to teaching the TL and just over one third could be viewed as experienced language teachers.
Figure 8: Length of time teaching TL (n= 34)
Thus, the survey respondents brought to the TPDL programme a range of general teaching experience, a variety of previous instruction in language teaching and varying lengths of time teaching the TL.
Understanding how students learn an additional language
For teachers to be able to teach another language effectively, it is important for them to understand key aspects of how students learn an additional language. An integral part of the TPDL programme involved looking at the principles of SLA. Given that nearly two thirds of survey one respondents had had some prior language teaching instruction, it is not surprising that at the start of the TPDL programme, all of the core respondents, with the exception of one, indicated that they had between 'a little' and 'good' understanding of how students learn a second language (see Figure 9).
In survey three, teachers reported a considerable increase in their understanding of how students learn an additional language with 22 indicating they had a 'good' understanding and three saying they had 'expert' understanding. One teacher commented in her final interview that her understanding had increased ' out of sight' . Understanding more about how students learn language helped this teacher to make lessons more meaningful for the learners. 'I didn't realise just how shallow my teaching was last year…. This year has been purposeful. The kids remember a lot more because it's more meaningful to them'.
Figure 9: Extent of teacher understanding of how students learn an additional language
Early on, the programme introduced the Ellis principles (2005b) as a framework for increasing teachers' knowledge of how students learn another language (see Table 5). The researchers noted in the surveys and case study interviews there was constant mention about 'the Ellis principles' and how understanding these was helping them know more about their learners. One teacher, in response to the question about what things were helping her improve her knowledge, replied, ' Mr Ellis's principles. It's so logical – why haven't they used them before!'. The teacher then went on to list the principles and commented how students needed to work out patterns and have opportunities for output. Other teachers referred to single principles, especially the formulaic expressions principle, which were helping them understand an important aspect of how students learn another language and which they said they were using in their teaching. Teacher application of the Ellis principles was confirmed by the researchers in observations of case study teachers (see ). Of the seven case study teachers, six teachers were all observed making positive changes between observations one and three. Three had a stronger focus on meaning, two teachers had a stronger focus on form, one teacher created more opportunities for interaction and another teacher was providing freer opportunities for interaction. One teacher who was not able to be observed three times made no change between observation one and two.
Table 5: [Ellis] Principles (Ministry of Education, 2007c).
- Instruction needs to ensure that learners develop both a rich repertoire of formulaic expressions and a rule-based competence
- Instruction needs to ensure that learners focus predominantly on meaning
- Instruction needs to ensure that learners also focus on form
- Instruction needs to be predominantly directed at developing implicit knowledge of the L2 while not neglecting explicit knowledge.
- Instruction needs to take into account the learner's "built-in syllabus".
- Successful instructed language learning requires extensive L2 input.
- Successful instructed language learning also requires extensive L2 output.
- The opportunity to interact in the L2 is central to developing L2 proficiency.
- Instruction needs to take account of individual differences in learners
- In assessing learners' L2 proficiency, it is important to examine free as well as controlled production.
Table 6: Teacher application of Ellis principles in observations 1 and 3
Interaction: T set up interactive task in TL (card game) which students played for 45 minutes, using TL formulaic expressions.
Output: T provided some opportunities to use the TL orally
Meaning: Focus on meaning
Form: No focus on form observed.
Assessing production - T assessed the practice by asking for student feedback on activity.
Interaction: T set up interactive bingo game in TL to revise numbers. T set up interactive controlled practice of new key vocabulary related to insects and revision of formulaic expressions for "is it a (butterfly)?"
Output: T provided some opportunities to use the TL orally.
Meaning: Focus on meaning.
Form: Some focus on form (pronunciation, gender).
Interaction: T set up opportunities for group interaction but students did this in English.
Output: T provided some opportunities to use the TL orally. Response to roll call, T set up controlled practice of known TL through play reading and sentence ordering.
Meaning - Focus on meaning.
Form: Vocabulary and pronunciation.
Interaction: no pair/group oral interaction in TL.
Output: T provided opportunities to use the TL orally and in written form. Students observed using formulaic expressions.
Meaning: Considerable focus on meaning.
Form: Focusing on form: grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation.
Interaction: no pair/group oral interaction in TL.
Output: T focused on introducing new language and providing controlled practice through translation and sentence writing. T provided some opportunities to use the TL orally.
Meaning: Focus on meaning.
Form: Verb endings, singular/plural, pronunciation.
Interaction: provided opportunities for students to interact in TL in groups.
Output: T provided many opportunities for output, oral and written.
Meaning: strong focus on meaning through students' categorisation of vocabulary.
Form: T provided some opportunities for focus on form.
Interaction: T set up short controlled practice with opportunity for students to interact through a mingle activity using the TL to revise formulaic language.
Output: T provided some opportunities for students to use the TL orally.
Meaning: Some focus on meaning.
Form: Pronunciation and some translation to highlight structures.
Interaction: T provided opportunity for interactive, freer practice of new language and previously learned formulaic expressions through student preparation and delivery of skits.
Output: T provided some opportunities for students to use the TL orally and in writing.
Meaning: Some focus on meaning.
Form: Word endings.
Interaction: T Set up related practice activity for groups (asking about birthdates). Free use of TL language in role play where students access all known language was on a topic of students' choice.
Output: T provided opportunities for students to use the TL orally - choral songs, repetition of vocabulary and formulaic expressions after DVD model and after teacher. Role play and group activity. Written output: copying from board.
Meaning: Some focus on meaning.
Form: No focus on form.
Interaction: Interactive free language practice: ordering in café.
Output: Many opportunities for oral TL use.
Meaning: Some focus on meaning.
Form: Pronunciation, gender, plurals, apostrophe, prepositions.
Interaction: T set up controlled practice through interactive mingle task asking about family tree members.
Output: T set up opportunities for output of TL through singing, noughts and crosses, vocabulary exercise, sentence writing.
Meaning: T set up opportunity to negotiate meaning.
Form: grammar (prepositions).
Assessing production: T assessed the practice by asking for student feedback on activity.
Interaction: T provided opportunity for pair reading of dialogue.
Output: T set up opportunity for output of TL through singing and writing.
Meaning: Focus on meaning of vocabulary.
Form: Pronunciation, gender of words.
Interaction: Students work in pairs in question and answer exercise asking and answering about the time.
Output: T provides opportunities for chorus responses, individual students to ask questions and paired exercises.
Meaning: T made considerable effort through use of flashcards, wall charts and worksheets to convey meaning.
Form: Some focus on form through attention to writing system in TL and sentence order.
Interaction: Students work in pairs in question and answer exercise discussing animals and which animals students like.
Output: T provides opportunities for chorus responses and repetition. Written cross word to fill in with new TL vocabulary items. Paired exercise for questions and answers.
Meaning: Excellent flashcards, video, teacher explanation, good recycling so plenty of opportunity for students to understand meaning.
Form: Not too much attention to form. More teaching individual items or chunks of language.
Observed language input
This section reports further on teacher provision of language input and language output. The teacher can provide language input for the students by using the TL during the lesson to manage the classroom, manage social aims and as a medium of instruction. As well, the teacher can provide input from other sources of TL such as songs, DVDs, classroom displays, written texts, and through opportunities for students to listen to each other.
Language input from teacher TL use
As noted in Milestone Report Five there was a 'very low level use of the TL amongst most teachers' at the start of the TPDL course (Thomson, 2008b). However, three months later when the researchers carried out their first observations of case study teachers, all of the observed teachers were able to utilise some TL to give instructions, maintain discipline, give encouragement and group students.
Two fluent case study teachers used the TL 70-80% of the teacher talk time to manage the class, and also as the medium of instruction (e.g. to explain the lesson for the day, to elicit ideas from students). The less proficient teachers still made some use of the TL to manage the class. In all the observed classes, teachers used basic classroom language to greet students, to take the roll, to give instructions such as, 'stand up', 'take your books out', 'shut the door', 'look at this', and 'say it all together'. One teacher was observed using some inaccurate grammar and pidgin TL along with English for some of these instructions. In Years 7-8 where students remained with the same teacher for a range of subjects, some teachers explicitly wove the TL into aspects of normal classroom routine for example, requiring dates and times to be written in the TL. As well, all teachers were able to give encouraging feedback to learners, for example, 'yes', 'well done', 'that's good' in the TL.
Thomson (2009) states that during visit four, the majority of the TPDL cohort (43 of the 47 teachers observed) were meeting or exceeding the expected progress standards (which were raised for each observation) in teacher use of the TL. The researchers noted in their final observations that the TL input from case study teachers had generally been maintained, although there were occasions where teachers were using English to manage the class when the researchers felt they were capable of using the TL. There was one occasion where the teacher was using more English than she had in the first observation. It is interesting to note that the TPDL programme and the teachers' language study course had finished for most of the teachers by the time the researchers' final observations were undertaken. This may have had some influence on the amount of TL and English that was used in the final observations.
Richness of language input
The researchers noted throughout the observations that there was a range in the depth and breadth of language the teachers used with the students. Case study teachers with an advanced level of proficiency and previous contact with the target culture, gave their learners rich exposure to the TL (natural pace, frequent repetition, well graded language, long utterances, complex sentences, interesting cultural anecdotes and explanations). In one case, the teacher had the linguistic fluency and awareness to noticeably increase the level of her TL input, taking into account the time students had been learning the TL. In contrast, teachers with lower levels of proficiency provided more limited language exposure. They had less facility to extend and elaborate in the TL when delivering the lesson, and were less able to respond spontaneously to the classroom situation.
Another form of rich language input that some teachers were able to provide was through using a language assistant (a fluent native speaker of the TL). This facility was available to approximately one third of the respondents. Two of the case study teachers indicated they had access to language assistants, one on a regular basis, and the other only very occasionally. Both these teachers were the most fluent speakers of the case study teachers. The first teacher indicated through interview that the language assistant regularly engaged in intensive conversation and games with students. One researcher observed the second teacher using a language assistant in the lesson to monitor and engage with students in the TL during the lesson.
Language input from other TL resources
records the oral input teachers provided for their learners. As well, researchers noted case study teachers provided TL input through a range of other resources. There were extensive displays of student work in the TL, posters of the country, maps and wall charts (e.g. of grammar rules), as well as key vocabulary and laminated formulaic expressions. All of the case study teachers were observed using commercially prepared audio materials such as songs, CDs and DVDs which provided students with further exposure to authentic TL. One teacher provided opportunities for her learners to use the internet to search for TL material in order to write a newsletter while another used an internet based translation software (Language Tools) to find a TL phrase and encouraged students to find TL vocabulary items they wanted to use in a speaking activity.
To conclude, teachers were providing students with a wide range of input in the TL. They used the TL to give instructions, manage the class and on some occasions were able to use the TL as a medium of instruction. As well, teachers provided further opportunities for TL input through a range of other written, aural and visual resources.
Observed teacher provision for language output
Providing opportunities for student oral language output is a significant part of the TPDL programme. Student oral TL output can be described as single word, short phrases, formulaic expressions or extended utterances in the TL. Oral TL output can be promoted in two main ways, through teacher-student interaction and student-student interaction. As well, teachers can provide other opportunities for language output through individual and whole class tasks, including singing songs, reading aloud and repeating after the teacher or CD/DVD/tape. Further language output can be in written form with students recording TL in books, completing worksheets or other written tasks.
Teacher-student interaction in TL
The researchers observed that case study teachers frequently asked students questions, either in the TL or in English. Some questions elicited one word TL responses, for example, saying 'here' to answer the roll. Other questions elicited short phrase responses in the TL (e.g. '4th June') or formulaic expressions (e.g. 'sorry I'm late'). There was little observed emphasis on teachers asking questions that encouraged students to produce extended utterances in teacher-student interactions.
Student-student interaction in TL
The TPDL director noted in the base-line data gathered at the beginning of the course that not many teachers were planning opportunities for students to interact using the TL (Thomson, 2008b). Three months later, in the first observation of the case study teachers, the researchers noted teachers did provide opportunities for language output through student-student interaction. For example, there were bingo games practising numbers, and card games that students played using formulaic expressions such as 'don't cheat', 'it's my turn', 'who's next?'. In other observed classes, teachers set up mingle activities for students where they circulated in the classroom using formulaic language to ask others about names and family members. In the final observation of case study teachers, further activities were observed where students worked in pairs or groups, for example, to run a quiz in the TL about insects. Some teachers were observed organising role-plays for students to use new language or to combine new language with previously learned language. In a few cases interactive tasks were organised for students to talk about the language (e.g. group correction of previously written TL sentences, and group preparation of a newsletter in the TL) rather than in the language.
Other output opportunities
Case study teachers were also observed providing other opportunities for student TL output. In most classes, teachers asked students to sing songs, either accompanying commercially produced CDs or singing previously learned songs from memory or with the aid of song-sheets. Some teachers asked students to read aloud from text books, stories or prepared dialogues. Teachers also provided opportunities for written TL output through sentence writing and written gap-fill exercises.
To conclude, by the end of the course, case study teachers had been observed providing a wide range of opportunities for student TL output. Teachers demonstrated that they were aware of the need for TL output and also they had an understanding of the ways to encourage it. The effectiveness of these opportunities for student TL output is discussed in 4.3.2.
Understanding how to teach an additional language
The teachers had clearly gained an understanding of how students learn a language by the end of the course. As observed by the researchers and reported in (p. 32) the teachers were applying their knowledge of the Ellis principles in their lesson planning and lesson organisation and had demonstrated some positive change by the end of the course. It is also interesting to consider teachers' perceptions of their understanding of how to teach the TL. Following this, the researchers' observations of teacher effectiveness are discussed.
This section examines how much teachers said they understood about how to teach an additional language. It also considers the teachers' perceptions of how much the TPDL programme had impacted on their classroom practice and looks at how effective the teachers felt they were at teaching.
Teacher perceptions of their understanding of how to teach
Early on in the course teachers were asked the extent to which they understood how to teach an additional language. Figure 10 illustrates the findings. Three quarters (18) of the core respondents to survey one said they had 'some understanding' of how to teach an additional language, with five indicating they had 'good understanding'. Survey three revealed that by the end of the course, 20 indicated they had 'good understanding', and two described themselves as 'expert'. So overall, there were changes in teacher perceptions of their level of understanding of how to teach an additional language.
Figure 10: Extent of understanding of how to teach an additional language
Teacher perceptions of the impact of the TPDL programme on classroom practice
Teachers can gain knowledge of how to teach an additional language from many different aspects of the TPDL programme: from the language study component, from the EDPROFST360 paper and from observation feedback by TPDL facilitators. Early on in the course, participants were asked to what extent they thought the TPDL programme would impact on their classroom practice. Figure 11 shows three quarters (18) of the core respondents believed the course would have 'considerable' impact on their teaching practice. To ascertain the extent of the impact, teachers were asked a similar question in survey three. Figure 12 shows that at the end of the course, approximately half (12 of the 23 respondents) said the course had changed their classroom practice 'considerably'. While others noted some change, and all the change was reported as positive.
Figure 11: Expected impact of the TPDL programme on teaching practice (Survey 1)
Figure 12: Perceived impact of the TPDL programme on teaching practice (Survey 3)
It appears that some respondents expected a greater degree of change in their teaching practice than they perceived had actually occurred. One way to account for this difference is that teachers may have become more realistic about the complex skills required to teach an additional language. In addition, they may have become aware of the length of time needed to learn about and implement these skills.
Survey respondents were also asked to indicate how they expected the TPDL programme would change their practice. At the beginning of the TPDL programme, the respondents anticipated that the main impact would be an improvement in their knowledge of the TL. However, subsequent surveys showed a shift in their perceptions. Teachers focused increasingly on their developing classroom skills. When asked for details on how the TPDL programme had impacted on their classroom practice, teachers gave positive responses. Sometimes there were general comments about improved understanding of how to teach a language. Other respondents were more specific. Teachers indicated there was now more oral interaction in their classrooms (nine comments), they used the TL more confidently in their classes (four comments) they had a greater repertoire of teaching strategies (three comments) and two teachers commented their lessons were more student centred. Other teachers mentioned having greater insights into the curriculum.
The impact of the programme on classroom practice was explored in more depth through the case study interviews. Case study teachers reported the TPDL programme was impacting on their classroom practice in several ways: increased use of TL, change in classroom dynamics, and confidence and skills in how to teach a language.
Case study teachers said they were focusing more on using the TL in class and were planning more for TL output. This resonates with Ellis' recommendation to maximise use of the TL inside the classroom, using it as both 'the medium and the object of instruction' (2005a, p. 39). Increased TL use by case study teachers was also a result of the visits by TPDL language facilitators who rated teachers on aspects of TL production in their classes. These visits, especially the initial ones, prompted teachers to utilise as much TL in the classroom as they were able to. One teacher spoke of 'using the TL as much as possible for classroom management and within the lesson' while another said she was trying 'to cut out my own English'.
Further changes described by case study teachers included changes in classroom dynamics with one teacher commenting on a 'shift in power to the students' and another saying, 'it's made a difference not being an expert' . One teacher also talked of 'giving students more ownership' and 'trying not to underestimate their knowledge'.
The most frequently mentioned areas of impact were confidence and skills in how to teach a language, linking in tightly to the Ellis principles and the importance of using formulaic expressions. Interactive student–centred, task-based activities also became more of a focus for teachers in their planning of lessons. As well, teachers commented on learning styles, developing learner independence and using resources. One case study teacher commented on the change in her teaching style '…finally I'm letting go of the 'direct teaching' by providing more student directed activities' . In the final interview, although very positive about the course, one teacher in her first year of language teaching recognised that she needed more time to implement aspects of the course.
Teacher perceptions of effectiveness at language teaching
In terms of teacher perception of their own effectiveness at teaching the TL, there was considerable positive movement in how the teachers viewed their teaching effectiveness throughout the course. At the beginning, nearly half of the respondents described themselves as 'effective in teaching in some areas' and half described themselves as 'generally effective' (Figure 13). There was a noticeable shift in the second survey, and survey three showed that more than three quarters (19) of the core group saw themselves as 'generally effective' or 'highly effective' by the end of the course. This positive movement may reflect the teachers' developing confidence as they applied their new learning in the classroom context.
Figure 13: Teacher perception of effectiveness at teaching the TL
Observed effectiveness of teaching
One of the main aims of the TPDL programme is for teachers to encourage student TL interaction, one of the key Ellis principles (see Table 5). The TPDL facilitators observed the teachers in the classroom throughout the course and reported that the majority were meeting the expected or accelerated standards in providing opportunities for students to interact in the TL (Thomson, 2009). The researchers also saw some successful instances where teachers set up lessons so that students were fully engaged in extended interaction in the TL. For example, one class played a game in TL in small groups with a supporting list of formulaic expressions to refer to, which enabled them to use the TL throughout the game.
As well as observing successful examples of teachers providing opportunities for learners to interact in the TL, it is also important to note that the researchers saw other situations where the teacher's intention for learners to produce the TL was not always fully realised. This was not because the students did not have the necessary TL, but because the teacher did not deliver the activities effectively. As well as being founded on the Ellis principles, successful lessons require systematic delivery which depends on the scaffolding of activities, clear and staged instructions and the monitoring of students. Scaffolding, monitoring and instructions are general principles of good teaching which become particularly important in the language teaching classroom where subject knowledge (the TL) is also the language of instruction.
In several cases, teachers gave sufficient language input but then asked the learners to engage in tasks without sufficient scaffolding. On some occasions, the case study teachers did not provide sufficient opportunities for students to practise the language before being asked to complete a detailed task. For example in one lesson, learners had TL input on I am Polish, I am a New Zealander, but because the teacher did not provide opportunities for students to become familiar with the new words and phrases, the students quickly fell back on using English when they started the activity.
In a number of cases the researchers noted there could have been more effective student output of the TL if the teacher had provided clearly staged delivery of instructions. In one observed lesson the task was for students to order food in a café. The students were organised into groups and given worksheets with listed food items. The teacher modelled the activity and then set students off in pairs. However many of the students did not complete the task effectively as the teacher's instructions were not clear. Many students did not fully engage in the task because they were not aware they had to take the role of the waiter and the customer. Consequently they did not get the desired amount of TL practice.
As well as giving carefully staged instructions it is important that teachers monitor students once the task has begun. Some students need extra support in starting activities, which if they understand from the beginning, will ensure they keep up with the group and successfully complete their task. The researchers noted in several case study classes there was very successful monitoring. Even in very lively classrooms where students went off task, the teacher quickly brought them back to focus through constant, vigilant circulation. However, in other classes there was insufficient monitoring. In one case the teacher concentrated on one small group of focused learners. This resulted in not all students attempting the task, and some of those that started not continuing. Instead they became disruptive, but were ignored by the teacher. In another class, disruption also arose through lack of monitoring resulting in the teacher cutting short the activity and admonishing the whole class. In both cases, a proportion of the class had no useful language practice.
It is clear from Milestone Report Six that teachers on the course were exposed to models for effectively setting up activities. Instructions to facilitators of the first group meeting regarding presenting workshop activities to the TPDL participants were: 'In the way you present/demonstrate the following activities, please model how you would expect them to do so with their classes (i.e. using TL for instruction, management and social interaction)' (Thomson, 2008c, Appendix 9). However, many teachers need more opportunities to analyse the complexities of scaffolding, giving instructions and monitoring. This would assist teachers in providing the best opportunities for students to have the maximum TL output.
In addition, teachers who are less fluent in the TL need more useful TL instructional language (e.g. Here is…, listen to me, say these words, what do you say, talk to your neighbour, who do you talk to? etc). Increased teacher facility in using the TL provides students with more useful TL input and reinforces student TL learning. One case study teacher wanted to use more TL. However, she mentioned the unreliability of online translation facilities for classroom management instructions. As a beginner learner of the language she needed somewhere she could quickly go to obtain reliable translations for the instructions she wanted to use with her class.
To summarise, a lack of clear scaffolding prior to students working on a task, a lack of clear staged instructions in setting up interactive tasks, and lack of careful monitoring of students during tasks resulted in minimal student TL output in some observed classes.
Three areas where TPDL could focus more on these necessary skills are in language group meetings, the facilitator feedback and observation form, and in the planning template. In the language groups, the facilitator could not only introduce the activity and relate it to the Ellis principles, but also analyse and unpack the staging and techniques used for delivery. Another way would be to include a section on teacher delivery on the newly introduced planning template. Milestone Report Eight notes the effectiveness of this planning template and indicates TPDL is considering extending and improving the template (Thomson, 2008e). There is an opportunity here to focus teachers on their use of TL in the management of activities. A third way to ensure this is addressed is to include on the facilitator observation form 'Evidence of 'principles and strategies', how teachers scaffold, give instructions and monitor ensuring maximum student output. Milestone Report Eight notes in the minutes of the TPDL team meeting term three that this form is in the process of revision and re-ordering of points for implementation in 2009 (Thomson, 2008e).
Factors that foster teachers gaining second language teaching knowledge
The researchers have identified from survey and case study data the following factors that teachers suggest foster their gains in knowledge of how to teach an additional language (Table 7).
Table 7: Teacher perception of most beneficial factors for language teaching knowledge
- Mentoring from my observation tutor.
- Observation tutoring particularly helpful – prompted reflection about effectiveness of different teaching strategies.
- Feedback about my specific situation helped improve my teaching.
- The classroom visits were positive and gave a specific time to reflect on my teaching of TL.
- Ellis principles.
- The pedagogy with tutor.
- Learning the theory of effective language learning.
- Activities gave me some good ideas to use in class.
- Worksheets useful.
- Getting ideas of what to do with my students.
- Sessions on activities for vocabulary were of immediate help.
- Meeting with and sharing language learning experiences with other teachers.
- Being a learner.
- Interacting with other beginner learners.
- Reminding myself of language instructions.
- Support and encouragement from all tutors.
- It's given me a good understanding of the curriculum.
- Action research.
- Invaluable discussion with colleagues.
- Meeting some awesome practitioners who have been only too willing to share their professional knowledge about how they teach the TL.
(Note: Combined data from survey 3, question 6 (What did you find most useful in your language study course? n=20) and question 82 (What aspects helped your language learning and language teaching the most? n=24). There was no duplication of respondent answers between the questions. Where respondents made comments on more than one aspect, all comments have been categorised and included.)
The qualitative feedback indicates that having a balance of theory (academic readings) and practice was seen as useful by participants. While some respondents noted the theory as the most helpful, others focused on the benefits of the practical experience such as classroom practice, observation and practical ideas for teaching. Teachers, like students, have different learning styles and the balance of theory and practice on TPDL seemed to suit teachers' different learning styles. While teachers identified the above factors as useful in their development of second language teaching knowledge , it is important to keep in mind that these factors may not necessarily change their teaching practice, particularly in regards to promoting immediate improved outcomes for diverse learners (Timperly, Wilson, Barrar & Fung, 2007).
In-class observation, feedback and support
Support from TPDL facilitators was a significant factor that helped teachers gain more understanding of how to teach a language. Observation feedback and discussion with the facilitators and tutors was increasingly valued by most participants throughout the course (see Figure 14).
Figure 14: Perceived helpfulness of TPDL tutor feedback and discussion
Survey and case study interviews showed that tutors were both challenging and supportive. One participant commented early on in the programme, '…I'm not sure what they want me to do – they want me to let go, but I'm too experienced to throw out the bath water and the baby'. Another case study teacher enthused, '… [TPDL facilitator] is wonderful - I'm on cloud nine after she has been'! The influence of facilitator support was linked with the powerful experience of being observed and receiving feedback on teaching. The feedback and discussion on teaching provided an opportunity for teachers to reflect deeply on their particular teaching context. One participant noted a direct link with an improvement in her own teaching, 'Feedback in my specific situation helped improve my teaching' . The comprehensive form used by the TPDL facilitators for giving feedback clearly focused on language input, language output and teacher providing opportunities for student interaction (Thomson, 2008e, Appendix 10). Using this form contributed to consistent, constructive feedback to TPDL participants.
Experiential learning: being a language learner, discussing and gaining practical ideas
It is useful to note the link the teachers made between learning a language and understanding how to teach a language. Having to consider language learning from the language learner's point of view rather than their usual position as teacher was seen as valuable. Participants noted how useful it was in their language classes to receive feedback on accuracy of language and to have the opportunities to use the TL with their classmates. As well they appreciated opportunities to get ideas, worksheets, other resources, and cultural information from the language learning classes that they could then apply to their own immediate teaching situation. The opportunity of being a language learner was available to the majority of TPDL participants. However, those bilingual and fluent speakers of the TL who were not required to study the TL missed out on the language learner experience.
One particular factor noted earlier on in the course was the usefulness of teachers working together with other colleagues in language group meetings. During the four language group meetings participants experienced being a language learner in a supportive environment. They had opportunities to try out language learning activities with follow up discussion and reflection time as well as examination of the underlying principles. As well, the language group meetings provided opportunities for the teachers to discuss what they were doing in the classroom and to exchange resources and ideas. From the discussion and reflection, teachers took these ideas back to the classrooms and put them into practice with their own learners.
The Ellis principles (Ministry of Education, 2007c) were mentioned in response to several questions in the research study. Their usefulness was noted early on in the course, when the participants were introduced to the ten provisional principles for language learning and teaching (see Table 5, p. 26). Both the survey respondents and case study teachers frequently reported how useful these principles were in helping them plan and evaluate their lessons from the beginning of TPDL. One case study teacher, who had previously taught the TL for one year using the Ministry of Education Learning Language Series (LLS) text, commented:
When doing my lesson plan, I'm keeping in mind the principles and thinking of where I have, in my lesson, the input, the output, the formulaic expressions, the meaningful context. And I try to get a mix of listening, speaking, reading and viewing. This is the biggest change. Instead of just following the [Ministry of Education resource], I'm looking critically at the lesson plan and thinking how can I incorporate whatever the lesson is light on .
Mid-course another teacher said '…I've done a lot with the Ellis principles. I review and revisit the principles. I use them to plan my lesson. I ask myself, what do I start with first?' At the end of the course, three of the case study teachers noted how useful the Ellis principles were in guiding their teaching and helping them increase their knowledge of how to teach a second language.
Studying the new curriculum was also identified as a useful factor in helping teachers develop their language teaching. It provided teachers with broad goals for teaching, through statements of student achievement objectives and expected language and cultural knowledge. The usefulness of studying the curriculum is further reported on in Chapter Five.
Other aspects that helped teachers learn how to teach an additional language were reading about methodology and exploring the theory of language teaching. Readings around areas of interest led teachers to choose action research projects related to their own students and contexts. Teachers particularly mentioned how much they learned through undertaking the action research project. Milestone Report Nine Appendix 14 provides a list of course participants' inquiry learning topics (Thomson, 2009). One teacher, for example, looked at whether three short lessons a week were more effective than one long lesson. Another looked at how many words students could learn within a set time period. This application of theory to practice confirms Lightbown '… it is only when [newly trained teachers] have tried out some of the pedagogical applications suggested by SLA research that they will understand what it really means for their own teaching context' (2000, p. 453).
Factors that hinder teachers gaining second language teaching knowledge
As well as considering what factors foster gains in knowledge of how to teach an additional language, survey respondents were asked to identify aspects of the programme that made it difficult for them to develop language learning and teaching skills. This question was also explored in the case study interviews.
Table 8 shows the survey three (n=20) participants' responses to the question on factors in the programme that hindered their gain in second language teaching knowledge. Before discussing these factors, it is important to mention that nine teachers commented that there was nothing in the programme made it difficult for them. One teacher said, 'If anything, it pushed me to extend myself' . However, other teachers mentioned factors that did make it difficult for them to develop their teaching. The lack of time and aspects of the observation visits were the main areas of identified difficulty. Other aspects teachers commented on were resources, pedagogy and TPDL lecturer availability.
Table 8: Factors that made it difficult for teachers to develop language learning and teaching
- Nothing. If anything, it pushed me to extend myself.
- Time spent travelling.
- I felt a long way behind everyone else, which was quite demotivating.
- Nothing. However this was on top of a demanding teaching/administration workload and I found the year exhausting.
- One of the things the course does not take into consideration is that most of the course participants have a lot of other subjects to deal with and they have just not got the time or energy to devote solely to the course.
- School focus was literacy and numeracy ahead of language.
- The visits for observations were not realistic. The expectations didn't fit with the timetable of the class learning, didn't respect the makeup of the class.
- The fact that it expected students to communicate very early in the course before they had time to acquire much vocab. With only two hours a week I found the students forgot a lot in between lessons and I felt the progress was very slow.
- Stressful observations, given other teaching commitments.
- Too much emphasis on pedagogy (not enough for language learning).
- Some weekend pedagogy sessions became boring – could be shortened.
- Few resources - only one other person doing my TL and she was a native speaker.
- (No explanation).
- I was very frustrated when I was not able to reach (tutor) when I was doing my research.
Not unexpectedly, many teachers mentioned time and workload as a real problem for them. Full-time teachers found they had a lack of personal time. They reported working long hours each week to keep up. They were studying the language at night time, and the pedagogy in block courses which included some Saturdays. For some the course required them to travel quite long distances to attend sessions. As well, they were being regularly observed, and felt they wanted to prepare lively, interactive lessons with appropriate, engaging resources for their learners to demonstrate their new learning. Finding, adapting and preparing resources was time-consuming. One teacher commented, '… Saturday is my laminating day.'
The school timetable was also another factor that was limiting some teachers' ability to implement their new learning. In the Years 7-8 classes, there were prioritising issues. In several cases the teachers were aware they were consciously prioritising the TL at the expense of other subjects while they were on the course in order to try out language teaching activities and to complete the TPDL requirements. In other instances, teachers were finding it difficult because of the demand of other curriculum subjects and the strong school focus on literacy and numeracy, science and IT. It was often difficult to schedule enough time for language teaching. One case study teacher commented, 'Finding 45 minutes to maintain TL teaching each week is hard as it's the first thing to get bumped off , to meet the requirements for literacy, numeracy and inquiry learning.' This is confirmed in Milestone Report Nine with the comment that language learning was not given a regular time throughout the year and students were disadvantaged because of it. Thomson states, 'Every one of the In-School Facilitators is able to cite cases of being greeted by the teacher at Visit 4 with a comment such as 'we haven't had a lot of … TL since your last visit'' (2009, p. 19). This was also confirmed by one researcher whose case study teacher was available for the final interview but could not offer a class for observation because she was no longer teaching TL to the class.
Facilitation visits and expectations
Teachers of Years 7-8 also commented on the facilitator visits in connection with their acquisition of language teaching knowledge and skills. One teacher reported that observations were stressful. Two others made comments about the somewhat unrealistic expectations of TPDL observation visits. One felt that her students were expected to communicate before they had sufficient knowledge of vocabulary. Another teacher commented that what she had to do in the facilitator visits did not fit in with her class learning.
Of the other comments from survey respondents, two need mentioning: the lack of TPDL resources for Asian languages, and the lack of guidance with the action research project. One teacher commented that teachers of languages other than Asian languages seemed to get ' heaps of resources .' The resources were sometimes translated from one European language into her Asian TL, but a further complication was that when she got the translated resources, they were not at the right level for her learners. Two case study teachers said that although they benefited from completing the action research project, they had difficulties understanding the scope and standard of what was expected. Most teachers at this level would not have adequate grounding in defining a research question, in research methods (and specifically action research), nor on consent procedures for working with students, nor did TPDL appear to offer these skills.
The majority of the teachers in the study were experienced general classroom teachers, and two thirds had had some prior instruction in how to teach a language. The impact of TPDL on the teachers' second language teaching knowledge is considered in two main areas: understanding SLA and understanding how to teach an additional language. The research data indicates that teachers perceived they gained in knowledge about how students learn an additional language. The researchers' observations of case study participants support these findings. Teachers demonstrated knowledge of the Ellis principle of providing input. Mostly, case study teachers used the TL to deliver some or all of their lessons and manage their classes. Those teachers who were more proficient in the TL were provided richer language input than those who were less proficient. Teachers also exposed students to TL through a range of other resources. As well as providing TL input, case study teachers demonstrated knowledge of other Ellis principles by providing opportunities for TL output and opportunities for students' TL interaction.
With reference to teachers' knowledge about how to teach an additional language, the teachers perceived they had gained knowledge about how to do this and that they had increased their level of effectiveness in teaching. Case study observations revealed that teachers had made positive changes in their implementation of the Ellis principles by the end of the course. However, in some observed cases application of the Ellis principles did not result in maximum student TL output and TL interaction because of insufficient scaffolding, clear instructions and monitoring.
Many aspects of the TPDL programme fostered teachers' gaining knowledge of how to teach a language. The key contributing components were a balance of practice and theory. Practical aspects included in-class observations and feedback, practical ideas, facilitator support and discussion. In addition, being a language learner helped teachers gain knowledge of learning and teaching. Theoretical aspects mentioned particularly were the Ellis principles and the academic theory component of the action research project. As well as positive comments about the impact of the programme on teachers' second language teaching knowledge, there were some factors that hindered gains in knowledge. Time was a pressure for some TPDL participants. Moreover, in Years 7-8, participants sometimes felt they were prioritising language teaching time at the expense of other areas of the curriculum. In two cases, teachers noted that the expectations of observation visits were difficult to meet.
In spite of the factors that some participants perceived as hindering their learning, overall the majority saw the impact of the programme on their teaching as being very positive. The TPDL programme enabled the participants to gain second language teaching knowledge through offering a theoretical framework and a wide range of practical experiences.
Recommendations and implications for the TPDL programme
- Teachers gain insights into pedagogy through being language learners themselves, so providing opportunities for advanced or bilingual language teachers to briefly study a new language could be considered.
- TPDL needs to focus on three general principles of effective lesson delivery (scaffolding, instructions and monitoring) and highlight their importance for the language teaching. This could be achieved and modelled in language group meetings, the facilitator feedback and observation form, and in the planning template.