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

Publication Details

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

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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 8: Conclusion

Introduction

This chapter provides a summary of key findings as regards the effectiveness of TPDL in the following areas: teachers' development in language proficiency; second language teaching knowledge; knowledge of the curriculum and specific language curriculum guidelines; student learning and outcomes; and programme sustainability and possible replication. The summary is followed by a consideration of issues raised by the research. In addition, there are recommendations for programme design which would maximise the effectiveness of future professional learning in Learning Languages for teachers of Years 7-10 students.

Teachers' development in language proficiency

The teachers on TPDL were, in the main, teachers of European languages, female and from North Island urban schools. Although many of the survey respondents were experienced teachers, the majority had three or fewer years experience in teaching the TL. There were some expert TL users in TPDL, but most teachers perceived themselves to be at intermediate level or below at the beginning of the course. By the end of the course, there was a decrease in teachers describing themselves at lower levels, and an increase in those perceiving themselves at intermediate level or higher.

Sitting and passing an internationally recognised language examination provided evidence of TL proficiency and proved to be motivating for teachers. In total, 54 TPDL teachers from 2005 - 2008 have sat 79 internationally recognized language proficiency examinations with 100% success rate.  For case study teachers, sitting an examination and engaging in three to four terms of language study resulted in the greatest perception of change in language proficiency.

As regards teachers' language learning, most teachers surveyed initially planned to study the language for two semesters and the programme provided for this, but only half of those who had studied in the first semester continued. One reason was that not all teachers were aware that costs for a second semester of language study would be met by TPDL. Teachers who continued their language learning throughout the year generally maintained their motivation, though a little less so than at the beginning. This may have been due to heavier work commitments as the year progressed. The decrease in motivation (from 'highly motivated' to 'motivated') contrasts with teachers' reporting that they maintained high levels of participation over the year with TL communities. They did this mainly through indirect experiences (internet, DVDs, films and books) but also through direct contact (with expert users of the language). The decrease also is at variance with many teachers' plans to continue language study the following year and interest in the Ministry funded LIAs. The reported decrease in motivation also varies with survey findings which revealed that teachers perceived that their confidence in using the TL with the students had increased over the year with the majority indicating they were 'confident' or 'very confident' at the end of the course. A longer term investigation could usefully provide information as to the extent to which motivation is maintained beyond the course.

Language study courses were seen as effective by most teachers but some teachers believed their course was only a little effective or not effective at all. Teachers were generally positive about the benefits of language study courses which included not only TL acquisition but also gaining insights into teaching and into the challenges of being a language learner. However there is a need for consistently high quality language study courses to provide for the needs of all language teachers. Some teachers believed they needed to have some TL proficiency and language learning experience before they began teaching their own students and TPDL could consider how this could be achieved.  There is also a need for teachers' TL proficiency to develop beyond TPDL since as Gibbs and Holt (2003) argue, teachers' level of TL proficiency is one of the crucial factors in successful language learning.

Teachers' development of second language teaching knowledge

The impact of TPDL on teacher knowledge of how students learn an additional language and on knowledge of language teaching methodology was considerable for most teachers in the study. By the end of 2008, the majority of teachers indicated achieving a good understanding of how students learn a second language, a considerable movement from the initial survey. The Ellis principles (Ministry of Education, 2007c) provided a valuable framework for helping teachers understand second language acquisition and effective language teaching and learning with teachers regularly mentioning these principles in the three surveys over the year. The principles were perceived as helping with both confidence and approaches to language teaching. Observations and interviews with case study teachers supported this. Teachers were observed applying the principles in their practice and in the interviews, frequent reference was made to them as useful  to 'hang on to' and as a guide for their teaching.

One of the Ellis principles for successful language acquisition is extensive TL input. Teachers were observed providing TL input for a range of classroom purposes although the amount and quality varied. The teachers with greater TL proficiency and previous contact with the TL culture understandably provided students with richer exposure to the TL (e.g. in terms of length of utterances, grading of language, pace) compared to teachers with lower levels of proficiency (less able to extend and elaborate in the TL during lesson delivery). Oral TL input was also provided through other sources such as multi-media resources, the internet and expert TL users.

TPDL places considerable emphasis on student oral TL output. In particular, facilitators' in-school visits included a strong focus on encouraging teachers to provide opportunities for sustained student TL output and on using the language 'as a tool for communication' (Thomson, 2009, Appendix 15). Teachers were thus well aware of the need for opportunities for student TL output and a range of ways to provide these was observed. The output varied from single word through to extended utterances and was mainly student to teacher and student to student but there were also opportunities for some students to engage with TL community members such as language assistants. TPDL facilitators reported the majority of teachers were meeting the expected or accelerated standards as regards providing opportunities for students to interact. However, researchers' observations revealed that these opportunities were not always fully realised, for a number of reasons related to lack of teachers' classroom skills in appropriate scaffolding, instructions and monitoring.

Teachers' reported understanding of how to teach an additional language increased noticeably with more than three quarters of teachers surveyed at the end of the course viewing themselves as generally or highly effective. However the teachers' perceptions of the impact of TPDL on classroom practice at the end of TPDL was less than anticipated earlier in the programme. This was possibly because of teachers' new and growing awareness of the complexity of skills involved in successful language teaching as well as the time needed to develop these. Factors that fostered teachers' increased knowledge of language teaching methodology included a balance of theory and practice, the Ellis principles which provided a clear language teaching framework, study of the curriculum and the action research project.

Consistent, constructive feedback from facilitators during the in-school visits was viewed as valuable and because of the spacing of visits, gave teachers time to reflect on their own context and implement new learning. Support from EDPROFST360 tutors as well as from peers was also noted by teachers as a further factor that fostered learning. The language group meetings with colleagues for example gave opportunities for teachers to try out language activities, exchange resources and ideas and practise their TL. These two features of the course, engaging '… external expertise' and '… providing opportunities to interact in a community of professionals' align with teacher professional best practice as identified in Timperly et al. (2007, p. xxvi).

Also mentioned by teachers was their experience of being language learners themselves. They felt they gained valuable ideas on how to teach as well as what it was like to be a language learner. Those who were expert users of the TL already did not need to enrol in classes. The researchers felt however that the teachers would have gained insights into their students' situation if they had had the chance to be a language learner again (in a language other than their TL).

Almost half of the teacher respondents indicated that there were no factors that made it difficult for them to gain maximum knowledge of language teaching methodology. Of the teachers who indicated there were reasons, a key factor that emerged was the overall teaching workload and a consequent lack of time. Also, a few teachers thought that facilitator feedback was not realistic given the limited amount of TL timetabled teaching time (especially Years 7 and 8), and timetable demands of other curricula subjects. Two other factors that made it difficult for some teachers to gain knowledge of language teaching methodology was a lack of resources for teachers of Asian languages and an inadequate understanding of the scope of the action research project.

Teachers' development of knowledge of the curriculum and specific language curriculum guidelines

Three areas of teacher curriculum knowledge were investigated: teachers' perceptions of their understanding of the Learning Languages area of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) (Ministry of Education, 2007a), their knowledge of the TL specific guidelines, and their implementation of the cultural knowledge strand. Teachers reported a low level of knowledge with the Learning Languages area of the curriculum near the beginning of TPDL however there was a notable increase in teachers' perceptions of the extent of their knowledge by the end of the course. The curriculum tests administered as part of EDPROFST360 were viewed by teachers as useful and helped to increase confidence. As regards the language specific guidelines, most teachers indicated a level of comfort with these and commented positively on them. It is of concern however that some teachers were unaware of their existence at the beginning of the course and so were unable until later in the year to access these. It was also not clear which version of the guidelines teachers had been using.

The Cultural Knowledge strand is an important component in the new curriculum. Its focus on the interrelationship between culture and language, making connections between known and TL cultures and the inclusion of intercultural competence presented a challenge for many language teachers, particularly those new to language teaching. The extent to which teachers were integrating cultural knowledge into their programmes was variable. Researcher observations showed that lesson aims focused mainly on language and communication. Where teachers did have cultural aims in their lessons, there was a range of ways culture was addressed. Interestingly, teacher skill in developing cultural knowledge for students did not seem to be attributable to one specific factor such as facility in the TL, but rather was due to a range of factors. Our research indicates that teachers need more explicit instruction on how to teach the Cultural Knowledge strand. In particular, given the government's expectation of the development of interculturally competent students, this area needs to be given attention in TPDL. TPDL directors are aware of the need to foreground the cultural knowledge strand and have already instigated changes for 2009 (Thomson, 2009, Appendix 15). The research team questions whether this can be managed within the current 15 point EDPROFST360 paper and suggest expanding the current paper to 30 points to accommodate the requirements of the cultural strand.

Learning opportunities and outcomes for students

The research indicates improved language learning outcomes and language learning experiences for students as perceived by teachers, TPDL facilitators and researchers. These included improvements in students' abilities to understand and use familiar expressions and to engage in interactive tasks, to recognise that the TL and culture are organised in particular ways and in students' ability to make connections with the target culture. Gains other than those directly related to language acquisition included development of Key Competencies (including learner independence) and the acquisition of language learning strategies which enhance the capacity to learn further languages. Five of the case study participants noted positive changes in many of their students' responses to their teaching with the students being more positive, confident, motivated and engaged. Students were also observed with high levels of engagement in a number of TL activities. These tended to be restricted practice type activities and games that included clear linguistic aims. Teachers in the surveys perceived their students to have maintained high levels of motivation and willingness to communicate. Students had opportunities for contact with the TL community but this was mainly indirect contact in the form of the internet, books and DVDs. Opportunities exist for the enhancement of meaningful and authentic student TL interaction for example, through language assistants and technology mediated communication.

Understanding of the impact of TPDL on student achievement was limited to teachers' perceptions since no individual student academic achievement data was able to be accessed. Teachers' initial expectations of the impact of TPDL on achievement, student learning and motivation decreased during the course. This decrease paralleled the decline in teachers' initial optimism of the impact of TPDL on classroom practice during the year. Given that teachers viewed their students as having made progress and shown improvement in a number of sub skill areas, this anomaly is difficult to explain. Further research could shed light on whether this situation continued over the following year or, as teachers embedded the new learning, they rather viewed the macro impact of TPDL more positively.

Assessment of student learning was mainly informal at Years 5-8, with some formal assessment occurring in Years 9-10. Students' speaking was assessed more frequently than other skills. The recording of students' progress showed considerable variation from no reporting, because in some cases the school did not require this (Years 5-8 classes), to assessment of the four skills through unit tests and end of year exams (a Year 9 class). An enhanced focus on assessment in TPDL, recognising its important role in learning and achievement, would help to maximise outcomes for students.

Programme sustainability and replication

If professional learning is to be more than just a brief undertaking for teachers, it needs to be sustainable. In analysing sustainability, several aspects were examined: the sustainability of the TPDL course, of the learning for teachers and of the learning for the students. This section also considers aspects of replicability.

Key factors identified for successful and sustainable professional development that change teachers' practice are: a strong foundation of deep principled knowledge; opportunity for participants to develop inquiry skills; a supportive school environment for participants and membership of a knowledge community or community of practice ref. In terms of a strong foundation of knowledge, teachers are able to gain this in a number of ways including through EDPROFST360, access to Ministry of Education (and other) websites and through relevant core readings. TPDL is founded on a strong knowledge base linked to the principles of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) (Ministry of Education, 2007a) as well as a strong focus on the Ellis principles of instructed language learning and more recently, on the work of Byram (1995) and Scarino (2000). The In-School support component with facilitator observations followed by feedback and discussion is a further means to attaining language teaching knowledge and one which teachers noted as valuable. In terms of the potential to develop inquiry skills, this was achieved mainly through the action research project which involved reading, classroom intervention and sharing findings. TPDL provided an impetus for teachers to become part of a knowledge community through the provision of interaction opportunities during the course especially at the language group meetings. Finally the TPDL programme itself requires continuity of staff, course infrastructure and systems if it is to continue to successfully prepare teachers for high quality TL teaching.

The research raised issues for the ongoing sustainability of learning for teachers and concomitantly, students. If the goal of effective teaching in languages is to be widely realised, teachers' knowledge of their subject area, that is TL proficiency and cultural knowledge (including intercultural competence) needs to be developed on an ongoing basis. Teachers need continuing access to language classes at the appropriate level and these classes need to be convenient and of high quality. Certainly the use of customised distance programmes, regarded positively by some teacher participants, makes a contribution to TPDL's sustainability. In addition, enhanced participation by teachers with TL communities has the potential to result in increased interaction and hence TL acquisition, as well as a better understanding of the TL culture(s). The availability of further ongoing professional development, not necessarily only through tertiary education organisations but also through schools, can facilitate further learning for teachers in these areas.

In order for students to continue their language learning while at school a range of factors need to be in place: students need to have access to their language of learning from primary through to secondary school; classes need to be at the appropriate proficiency levels for students at different stages of their study and language teachers need TL proficiency levels higher than their students. With the Ministry of Education's expectation that all schools with students in Years 7-10 should be working towards offering students the opportunity to learn an additional language, there needs to be an increasing pool of teachers wanting to become language teachers and the TL proficiency of many current language teachers needs to increase. Additionally, increasing the profile and status of language learning should be promoted in the school and wider community to make the learning of languages more desirable for students.

Schools' philosophies and commitment are essential for the maintenance and promotion of language learning in Years 7-10. Teachers in the surveys noted schools providing encouragement and guidance as well as more practical assistance such as release from teaching and financial assistance but the amount of support varied from school to school. Such school support was considered important by teachers because of the increased workload while on the course.

In discussing the issue of replicability, two aspects are considered: expanding TPDL to include other languages and the duplication of the programme by other providers in other parts of the country. The use of a framework incorporating core intervention and core implementation components (Metz, Blowie & Blasé, 2007) is helpful. Core intervention components considered essential to meeting the desired outcomes include adopters having similar beliefs about language teaching and learning as well as being able to provide the three key elements on the programme. Core implementation components include sufficient financial resources, suitable staff and administrative structures and classroom teaching opportunities. In addition to the components listed above, effective replicable programmes need to be flexible and capable of being customised to meet the needs of the target participant group. One possibility may be to move an expanded version of TPDL into a full academic qualification, perhaps a postgraduate diploma, available through a number of universities in New Zealand. Another would be to offer such a qualification by distance from one university. As noted previously this might be difficult to achieve under current institutional arrangements as the Ministry of Education is unable to recommend directly to tertiary institutions the programmes they should offer.

Finally, TPDL makes a valuable contribution to effective teaching as defined by the Ministry in the Statement of Intent, 2006-2011 (Ministry of Education, 2007b). The research has demonstrated that TPDL has resulted in improvements in the areas listed above. However the research has also highlighted some issues and areas requiring improvement and/or further investigation and these are listed in the following sections.

Issues to be considered further

A number of points for further consideration have arisen in the course of this research. Firstly, the proficiency level of teachers does seem to impact on student learning and so every effort needs to be made to provide ways for teachers to improve their TL proficiency. This includes access to quality language learning classes, immersion opportunities and access to the TL and community in other ways (directly and indirectly). Secondly, it is important that language teachers are taught the specific skills of language teaching. One particular area that seems to require attention is that of careful scaffolding of languages learning. A greater focus on the practical delivery of effective language teaching needs to be integrated into TPDL.

In addition, the effective integration of culture and language teaching is not explicitly addressed through TPDL. This is reflected in teacher practice which tends to be patchy.  Students need to be provided with robust opportunities to learn more about the target culture and to become interculturally competent.

The area of assessment of student achievement in language learning also needs to be addressed within TPDL. Until there is systematic assessment (both formative and summative) of student learning it will be very difficult to know whether students are making much progress or not. In addition, the reporting of achievement across the country should be given careful consideration.

The time that professional development programmes like TPDL take in teacher energy needs to be factored into further developments. For Years 5-8 teachers especially, the burden is considerable as teachers have a number of other subjects to teach and the amount of time for each cohort of students is minimal. If TPDL or something similar were to be modularised (i.e. not everything had to be done in the same academic year) teachers could take the programme over several years.

While many schools were supportive of TPDL participants, others were more variable. It would be helpful if principals were visited by TPDL coordinators or facilitators, or Ministry of Education personnel to apprise them of what the school could and should provide to TPDL participants.

In discussions with Years 5-7 teachers researchers learned of their apprehension over what students could expect at high school in relation to language learning opportunities, including the range of languages taught and the proficiency level of the teacher. A greater understanding of language learning experiences and opportunities over time for students would be valuable.  

Finally the low number of teachers of Asian languages on the TPDL programme, particularly in light of the Government's International Education Agenda 2007–2012 in which Asia and the Pacific Rim have a particular focus, is of concern.

The heavy reporting load of the TPDL directors as evidenced in the milestone reports does not appear to be a sustainable feature of the programme. If the current contract is to be continued, it may be time to move to a high trust model where educator professionalism is taken as a given.

Recommendations for TPDL (in its current form)

Language study

Information on the language learning opportunities for teachers needs to clearly state that fees for second term courses are paid for and this information should be more widely disseminated.

All language study courses that teachers undertake ought to be monitored for quality and accessibility i.e. there is a need for consistently good language study courses to provide for the needs of all language teachers.

There is a need for intensive language learning opportunities or opportunities for teachers new to the TL to undertake initial language study before they begin teaching.

Expert users of the TL should be encouraged to undertake language study (i.e. of another language) since being in the role of a language learner can help teachers gain insights into both learning and teaching.

Consideration should be given to funding teachers for on-going TL learning beyond TPDL until those of Years 7-8 reach an acceptable minimum level of proficiency (Intermediate).

Second language teaching methodology paper

A strong focus on language teaching skills should be included in the EDPROFST 360 sessions and perhaps at language group meetings. Teachers need to develop skills in scaffolding, giving clear and staged instructions and monitoring activities should be integrated into the programme. These delivery skills should be modelled and incorporated into the lesson observation template and in the planning template.

Clear instructions and expectations as to the scope of the action research project need to be provided. Many teachers do not have the research methodology and design skills to undertake even small research projects.

There is a need for a heightened focus on assessment as this is seen to have a key role in learning and achievement, so that student learning and achievement can be maximised.

Enhancing the teaching of the Cultural Knowledge strand and improving outcomes

A need exists for considerable further exploration and development on the TPDL programme of the Cultural Knowledge strand of the curriculum and intercultural competence so that teachers can provide opportunities for learners to develop these.  Consideration should be given to the addition of another paper or expanding the current one to 30 points to accommodate the requirements of the cultural strand.

A set of principles on the Cultural Knowledge strand and intercultural competence could usefully be integrated into the programme. The language acquisition methodology component in the EDPROFST360 paper and classroom observations by facilitators have had some success in improving student language learning opportunities and outcomes. A similar set of principles integrated into the programme and underpinned by in-class observations could prove equally effective in developing teacher knowledge and expertise in the cultural knowledge strand and intercultural competence. We understand that these are near completion.  

TPDL directors should consider what attributes teachers bring to TPDL as a starting point for developing the ability to teach intercultural competence for example, experience in the target culture.

In-school and online support provided by programme facilitators

There is a need for greater awareness on the part of some facilitators as to the amount of weekly time students in primary and intermediate schools spend on learning the TL and a more realistic understanding of what can be achieved in that time.

Other

TPDL could promote opportunities for students to access TL speakers and communities in order to provide for meaningful and authentic interaction. Some of these opportunities are listed below:

  1. Access to language assistants. The Foreign Language Assistantship programme is administered by ILANZ on behalf of the New Zealand Ministry of Education and provides native speaker language assistants from France, Germany and Spain to New Zealand schools. Further publicity about the scheme and its benefits could result in more schools or groups of schools collaborating and hosting language assistants.
  2. Use of technologically facilitated communication. Chat rooms, email and the use of virtual learning environments /immersive virtual worlds enable students to have direct contact with TL speakers. TPDL could take a greater role in encouraging such interaction by including practical sessions on how to teach this way.
  3. School to school relationships created through links between immersion award participants and schools in immersion countries. The Language Immersion Awards (LIA) for teachers provide important opportunities for teachers to develop their TL proficiency, their cultural knowledge and intercultural competence. They could also provide more opportunities to make ongoing links with TL speakers in the immersion countries. TPDL could usefully play a role in promoting this.
  4. Promotion of opportunities for students and teachers to have an 'immersion experience' within New Zealand by linking with TL communities here. For example, teachers learning Chinese could stay for a weekend with a Chinese speaking family.

For consideration by the Ministry of Education

The issue of transition for languages students (particularly from Year 8 TL classes to Year 9 classes) would benefit from consideration by the Ministry of Education so that the continuity and efficacy of language learning for students is assured. Closer links with neighbouring schools and the use of portfolios (along the lines of the European Language Portfolio), so teachers have information as to what students have previously achieved, are two areas that could be explored.

Further research

Further research is needed in order to evaluate the long term impacts of TPDL on teacher language teaching practices. It is recommended that a further survey to 2008 TPDL participants and a follow up with 2008 case study teachers be carried out in a year.

The area of student achievement in Years 7 -10 needs to be investigated in more depth with student participants. This could include the tracking of long term student language learning experiences (including proficiency of teachers, different languages encountered and studied and achievement attained). 

Further evidence is also needed on the teaching of Asian languages as the TPDL evaluation raised some issues as regards native and non-native speaking teachers and a paucity of resources. Additional case studies would provide in-depth data that would be of assistance to the Ministry of Education in making decisions about long term planning for Asian languages.

Intercultural communicative language teaching (iCLT) is a new focus in the curriculum. Evidence of the impact of TPDL on student experiences, learning and achievement in this area, through case studies and a survey would yield useful data on the efficacy of TPDL teaching of this.

Another useful area of research would be how transition arrangements for students are managed in other countries. In the first instance this could take the form of a literature review.

Where to find out more

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