Tag Archives: Teacher education

The complex business of teaching literature and language

Teaching English language is a vast and complex field involving different perspectives, contexts and approaches. It may take some of us quite a long time before we can find a place in this vast world where we can feel at home; a niche that corresponds to our interests and matches the way we see teaching English. It may take us an even longer time to be able to devote ourselves to develop this particular interest and be able to put this into practice in our everyday work. I believe I can consider myself lucky that after so many years teaching English I can now start to gear my professional activities towards the area in ELT that makes me tick: combining the teaching language with the teaching of literature.

Both fields have been historically linked, albeit one can argue that not always in an entirely positive way (Eagleton, 2008; Howatt, 2004; Parrinder, 2008). However, a certain re-consideration of the potential benefits of using literature in English language teaching seems to have been on the way (Hall, 2005; Johnson, 2013; McGuinn, 2014) The fact that the British Council (2015) has been investing in producing materials in the field and that more presentations at IATEFL are devoted to different ways of bringing together literature and language (2015) seem to attest to such a trend that in fact started in the late 80s and early 90s (Brumfit, 1986; Collie & Slater, 1987; Cook, 1994; Gibson, 1998; Lazar, 1993; Widdowson, 1982).

Teaching literature and language in the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is perhaps even more complex business that doing so in general English language education for it demands from the tutors a highly multifaceted set of knowledge and skills. It does not suffice to be keen on literature or have a BA in English; it is not enough to be an experienced teacher; it requires more than being knowledgeable on the practices and conventions in the field of literary studies. If fact, it requires all these things at the same time and at a very high level. The list below may help to illustrate the point I am trying to make.

Ideally, an English language and literature EAP tutor should have considerable knowledge of:

  • English literature in general
  • Specific literary works in the course syllabus
  • Film, theatre and popular culture
  • Philosophy and literary theory
  • Different lines of literary criticism
  • History
  • English Language Teaching
  • Teaching English for Academic Purposes
  • Academic reading in general and in the field of literary studies
  • Academic writing in general and in the field of literary studies
  • Linguistics
  • Syllabus development and materials design
  • Assessment in EAP
  • Use of learning technologies
  • Institutional values and regulations in Higher Education

Considering the lengthy list above, it is little wonder that there is considerable shortage of professionals in the field and if we want to keep improving the quality of the teaching we provide, more teachers need to be trained to do so. Learning technologies may help us by making distance learning teacher training programmes available to teachers working in different contexts all over the world. A first step was the creation of the ELT Online Reading Group (Lima, 2013), but I do feel now that we need a more focused programme and structure. I am still thinking about it, but this is certainly something I am considering putting into practice at some point in the near future.

References

  • Brumfit C.J. (1986) Literature and Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Carter, R. and Long, M. (1991) Teaching Literature. Harlow: Longman.
  • Collie, J. and S. Slater (1987) Literature in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Cook, G. (1994) Discourse and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gibson, R. (1998) Teaching Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Eagleton, T., (2008) Literary Theory. Minneapolis. MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Hall, G. (2005) Literature in Language Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Howatt, A.P.R. (2004) A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Johnson, K. (2013) Shakespeare’s English. Harlow: Pearson.
  • Lazar, G. (1993) Literature and Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lima, C. (2013) Accounts from an Online Reading Group for English Language Teachers Worldwide. PhD. Open University, UK.
  • McGuinn, N. (2014) The English Teacher’s Drama Handbook. London: Routledge.
  • Parrinder, P. (2006) Nation & Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Widdowson, H. (1982) The use of literature. Paper given as a plenary address to the TESOL Convention 1981. New York, NY: Hines and Rutherford.

Using blogs with trainee teachers

In the previous entry I discussed the use of blogs with my EAP learners, now I would like to focus on how we have been using blogs in a teacher training distance learning course.

Our trainee teachers are adults who have varied degrees of experience teaching English but not necessarily experience in teaching EAP and would like to move into the field or acquire a qualification to do so. They are from all over the world and access the course via the university Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). As my EAP students, they write blog entries as part of their unassessed module activities but, differently from the language learners, they are required to writing a longer blog entry as part of their course assessment.

For each module, our trainee teachers are asked to submit three different pieces coursework as their assignments and one of them is a blog entry. The blog entry should be 500-700 words in length and be critical and reflective in nature. Moreover, the writer’s arguments should be supported by proper academic references, which should appear in a reference list at the end of the post. Considering this description, one could argue that such a ‘blog’ is nothing more than a short essay in disguise and that, to be honest, is not too far from the truth. However, unlike an academic essay, we do not expect extensive referencing, and we do allow for more informal use of language, a more personal tone, and a greater focus on the writer’s teaching and learning practice. Instead of being a mini-literature review, these blog entries are expected to show us how much our trainee teachers can bring together the course reading input, their professional experience and reflection.

One may also question the status of such piece of writing. It is indeed disputable whether we can adopt labels such as ‘academic blog’ to the pieces we are asking our students to produce since there is little consensus of what to expect from such kind of writing. There are considerable variations in the way different academics write on their internet blogs and also significant diversity in terms of format and features in different disciplines. In the field of education, it is possibly fair to say that we would expect quite lengthy pieces that are a mix of theoretically informed opinion – with a couple of citations – and critical reflection on practice. In the field of literary studies, for instance, we could expect some discussion of theory and literary analysis with a much more substantial number of citations and possibly some direct quotes from primary and secondary sources.

One aspect that needs to be mentioned is that it is important to make a distinction between medium and genre. A blog is a not a writing genre; it is a medium, a vehicle for writing and expression in the same way books, films, games and other cultural artifacts are different media. A book is an artifact, a medium; epic poetry, the realistic novel, fantasy and autobiography are book genres and sub-genres. Films are a medium; sci-fi, action movies and period dramas are film genres. A video game is a medium; WRPGs, JRPGS, FPS games and action games are different game genres. Likewise, blogs are electronic artifacts people use to express themselves in writing; there are personal blogs, opinion blogs, travel blogs, entertainment blogs, reflective blogs and ‘academic’ blogs. These can be seen as blog ‘genres’, even though the medium is perhaps still too young for us to be able to reach a consensus about the features each kind of blog should display to be classified as such.

When I started this blog, nine years ago, blogs were new things and people tended to use them as travel logs, to post their personal reflections, write brief comments on their hobbies, or upload photos of their family and friends (cats & dogs included). Since them, the internet has change considerably and these functions are now performed by social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. Blogs were then almost on the verge of extinction till some people started to find other uses for them: quality online newspapers, like The Guardian, now use their blog function as an interactive comment space for their columnists and readers; publishers, like Bloomsbury, use them as spaces for authors to extend the experience (and the marketing) of their books; scholars, such as Northop Frye, use them to make their theories more accessible to a general readership; and teacher trainers, such as Jeremy Harmer, use them to share their ideas and professional practices.

When we ask our trainee teachers to write blogs as part of their coursework, we are not only using the tool as a form of assessing their performance, but also giving them the opportunity to get familiar with a new medium and form of writing. Whether we call such pieces of writing ‘academic blogs’ or ‘‘professional blogs’, or any other terminology you may wish to adopt, the fact is that they do not display the rigour expected from an academic essay, but they are still too formal to comply with the traditional idea of an internet opinion blog. These pieces of writing are hybrid forms; they are like mythological beasts which are half animal, half human. However, instead of dismissing them as natural impossibilities, they should perhaps be judged by their own standards and seen as products of our teaching/academic creative imaginations.

At the end of the course, we do provide our students examples of professional teaching-related blogs they have to read and discuss and do encourage them to leave the neat and protected blog area of the VLE and adventure as full-fledged bloggers in the wide wild world of the internet.

Further reading

  • Albion, P.R., 2008. Web 2.0 in Teacher Education: Two Imperatives for Action. Computers in the Schools, 25(3-4), pp.181–198.
  • Coutinho, C., 2007. Infusing technology in pre service teacher education programs in Portugal: an experience with weblogs. In R. Carlsen, K. McFerrin, J. Price, R. Weber & D. Willis (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2007 (pp. 2527-2534). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
  • Hatton, N., and Smith, D., 1995. Reflection in teacher education: Towards definition and implementation. Teaching and Teacher Education, 11(1), pp.33–49.
  • Shih-Hsien Y., 2009. Using Blogs to Enhance Critical Reflection and Community of Practice. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 12(2), 11–21.

Imagination in teacher professional development

In a previous entry on imagination in teacher education I focused on publications intended to promote creativity and imagination in English language teaching and learning. Now I would like to focus on professional development since the way the content and ideas advanced in books and articles are disseminated among ELT practitioners is mainly through teacher education programmes, courses, workshops, seminars and conferences which are sponsored and supported by major publishers and educational organizations.

Disputable as it may be in terms of long term results, sustainability and impact (Lamb, 1995, pp.78-9) and cultural appropriateness (Leather, 2001, p.232), attendance at short courses, talks and workshops in conferences is still an important and stimulating part of ELT professional life for most teachers and teacher trainers (Beaven, 2009, p.8). Conferences organized by TAs usually attract a fairly good number of delegates and a flow of ELT professionals linked to the publishing industry, education providers, and institutions interested in the promotion of English around the world, such as the British Council. A way to see how much currency imagination and creativity have among ELT professionals who participate in such events is to look at conference programmes.

For instance, the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language’s (IATEFL), Annual Conference consists of a 4-day programme of over 300 talks, workshops and symposia (IATEFL, 2014, online). In the past ten years, there has been a small but steady increase in the number of presentations related to classroom techniques and activities to promote creativity using songs, drama, storytelling, literature, visual arts, and new media. The IATEFL Literature, Media, and Cultural Studies (LMCS) SIG has also been promoting imaginative and creative uses of material to promote language learning in its pre-conference events and in its SIG day presentations for years. At Cardiff 2009, there was a symposium especially devoted to Art in ELT, convened by Alan Maley. At Harrogate 2010, I delivered a talk on Imagination in Teacher Education which largely focused on the research I carried out for my MA degree. At Harrogate 2014, we saw the creation of the C Group, and had a symposium devoted to Creativity in ELT, once again largely organized by Alan Maley. The C Group and the LMCS are now organizing a joint event to take place in October 2014 in Oxford which theme is Teachers Create Learners Create. On the whole, it seems to be true that there has been a growing awareness of the importance of creativity in teacher education and language learning, at least among teachers and teacher trainers associated to IATEFL.

We should also consider if the same tendency is present at formal teacher education programmes, both at initial teacher training and continuing professional development levels. As for academic qualifications, it is virtually impossible to draw accurate conclusions about the status of imagination and creativity in the syllabus of degree programmes due to the overwhelming number of undergraduate and postgraduate Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) courses being taught at education colleges and universities around the world. What we can do is to look at the syllabuses of some of these courses in the hope that this will reveal a general trend in some specific contexts. This can be a potential area of investigation for educators interested in taking future research in the field.

When it comes to professional qualifications, the market of TESOL short certificate and diploma courses is unquestionably dominated by the Cambridge – Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA), the Cambridge Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (DELTA) – and the Trinity College – Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL) and Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (DipTESOL) (Barduhn and Johnson, 2009, p.62). These are courses for candidates who have little or no previous English Language teaching experience; candidates with some teaching experience but little previous training; or candidates with some experience but who wish to achieve a higher professional qualification in ELT. These courses are usually taken by both English native speakers who want to obtain a professional qualification to teach English abroad and non-native speaker EFL teachers who seek to obtain an internationally recognized qualification to improve their career prospects. There is considerable controversy and criticism regarding the efficiency and suitability of such courses to prepare people to teach EFL (Brandt, 2006; Ferguson and Donno, 2003), but it is undeniable that they can provide some training where otherwise none would be given and that they can be a first step towards further later academic TESOL qualifications.

In these courses, the knowledge and skill development model of teacher education is embodied in the concern for the development of teaching skills, with emphasis on classroom management, teaching methodology and language awareness, which reveals the strong influence of competency-based training. This is in turn coupled with a marked tendency towards analysis and reproduction of supposedly effective teaching practices and focus on knowledge of and about the English language. The words ‘creativity’ and ‘imagination’ do not appear in the syllabus or handbook any of these professional qualification programmes.

A note of warning is necessary here though. Even with the content of academic and professional teacher training programmes excluding overt references to imagination and creativity, it does not necessarily follow that the teacher trainers’ approach in class excludes those. Teacher trainers working on such courses may well introduce tasks involving imagination and creativity in their own sessions and propose the discussion of such issues in their lessons with their trainee teachers. There is no way of knowing the extent to which imagination is actually present in the everyday sessions of student teachers without an ethnographic study in specific institutions as it depends on the trainers’ own views and understanding of what is important in teacher education, which makes the whole discussion of the roles of imagination and creativity in teacher development even more indispensable.

References

  • Bardhun, S. and Johnson, J., 2009. Certification and Professional Qualifications. In
  • A. Burns and J. C. Richards (Eds) The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Beaven, B., 2009. Exeter Conference Selections. Canterbury: IATEFL.
  • Cambridge English, 2014. Teaching English. [online]Available at http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/teaching-english/ Accessed 10 Aug 2014
  • Lamb, M., 1995. The consequences of INSET. ELT Journal, 49/1.
  • Leather, S., 2001. Training across cultures: content, process, and dialogue. ELT Journal, 55/3.
  • Trinity College London, 2014. Teaching English. [online] Available at http://www.trinitycollege.co.uk/site/?id=293 Accessed 10 Aug 2014

Imagination in teacher education: initial thoughts

IATEFL is already on the horizon and this year a group of us will be launching an initiative to motivate teachers to adopt a more creative approach to English language teaching. You will be hearing more on this in time but one of the reasons for me to join the initiative is my firm belief that we should be giving both teachers and students more opportunities to develop their creativity and imagination.

My Masters dissertation (2009) was on Imagination in Teacher Education. I haven’t had time since then to transform the work into a proper publication – which is something I still intend to do. My main argument in the paper is that imagination, in the context of language teacher education, has been, generally speaking, either neglected or severely constrained. The fundamental reason to attempt a study of imagination in teacher education was then – and still is now – my conviction that imagination is not something that is only manifest when teachers and teacher-trainers use creative material in their sessions or propose tasks which lead students and participants’ to employ their own imagination and creativity. It is much more than that.

Imagination is the core principle that defines the way we see the world, how we understand ourselves and how we act in society. Imagination is what shapes human actions and responses to the self and to others, and what enables human beings to communicate and change their world (Bronowsky, 1978, pp.32-5). Therefore, a discussion of imagination should have an important role in teacher education, since learning to teach necessarily engages the learner in a process of ‘personal meaning-making’ and in the ‘participation in and membership of a culture of teachers’ (Malderez and Wedell, 2007, pp.14-15) in particular socio-historical and cultural contexts that are rarely stable and require an imaginative stance and agency.

It is a curious thing that there is, in fact, plenty of material available for teachers who want to use activities that explore the imaginative, creative side of their English language learners. However, in very striking contrast with the number of titles on storytelling, drama and multimedia published as supplementary materials, the search for professional literature dealing with aspects of imagination in language learning and teacher education yields quite disappointing results.  It seems to be a trend in ELT publishing that the exploration of imagination, creativity and the Arts in language learning should be pursued and that teachers should be provided with a good supply of add-on material to use music, drawings, poetry, drama and role play in the language classroom. However, the same does not seem to happen when it comes to professional literature. Articles and books for teachers that promote the exercising of imagination are few and scattered (e.g., Carter, 2004; Malderez and Bodoczky, 1999; Woodward, 2001). The whole message seems to be that imagination is an important component of learning a language but does not have any major contribution to make to the formation of teachers as professionals.

I hope I will be able to develop more on this in the months to come. Meanwhile, here there are some titles I find particularly inspiring. It is a pity that none of them comes from anyone involved in ELT. If you know other titles that have escaped me, please do post a comment and share them. It would be very much appreciated and would help us to do more justice to people in the field.

 Suggestions for further reading

  • Bronosky, J., 1978. The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination. London: Yale University Press
  • Frye, N., 1964.  The Educated Imagination. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Kearney, R., 1988. The Wake of Imagination. London: Hutchinson.
  • Pope, R., 2005. Creativity: Theory, History, Practice. London: Routledge.
  • Ricoeur, P., 1994. Imagination in discourse and in action. In G. Robinson  and J. Rundell (eds). Rethinking Imagination. London: Routledge.
  • Warnock, M., 1976.  Imagination. London: Faber & Faber.

References

  • Bronosky, J., 1978. The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination. London: Yale University Press.
  • Carter, R., 2004. Language and Creativity. London: Routledge.
  • Malderez, A. and Bodoczky, C., 1999. Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Malderez, A. and Wedell M., 2007. Teaching Teachers: Processes and Practices.London: Continuum.
  • Woodward, T., 2001 Planning Lessons and Courses. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.