Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Methodology: The Self-Developed Langauge Teacher

"Teachers themselves who, with their colleagues, must become the pri­mary shapers of their own development."

  • Does self-development make a difference?
  • What/factors are central to teacher seIf-devclopment?

Does Self-development Make a Difference?

To emphasize the concept of self-development, I begin this book by illustrating its advantages. To do this, I invite you to enter two different EFL classrooms. The first is the classroom of a teacher (Yoshi) who has not had the opportunity to work on the development of his teaching. The second is that of a teacher (Kathy) who has taken on the responsibility for her own development. I empha­size that both teachers can gain much by paying ongo-ing attention to their development as teachers.

Yoshi’s Class           

After attending high school in the United States and earning bache­lor’s and master's degrees in geography from an American univer­sity, Yoshi accepted a position with a corporation in Japan, his home country, where he has been employed for the past six months. Because of his strong language skills, his job includes edit­ing and translating letters, contracts, and other documents in En­glish. A second part of his job is to teach English to two grqupsof businesspeople three mornings each week as part of an education program for company employees. Yoshi enjoys the editing and translating part of his job. However, he has become a little discouraged with his responsibilities as an EFL teacher. Let’s take a look  inside one of his classes.

Nine men and two women are there today and sit along the sides of a conference table. Yoshl begins by telling them to open their books to pagq 52. The text covers topics about contemporary worfd'issues.'such as world hunger, population control, and drug trafficking. The class is on chapter 4, which is about, the plight of refugees around the world. Yoshi reads tlic introductory paragraphs aloud. After he finishes, he asks the students if they have any questions, and as usual; no one does. He then tells the students to listen to a tape that accompanies the text. It is a sliortjecturciibout the common problems-rcfugces. have.

When the lecture ends, Yoshi directs questions in English to the class about the content of the tape. He asks, "What’s one of the problems refugees have in common?" A student gives the response, "They are hungry.”’Yoshi smiles and says, “Very good. What’s another problem?" The students willingly answer his questions, ail using English.        

Next, Yoshi turns to a reading activity. He asks each student in the text. As they do, Yoshi stops them to correct their pronunciation. After each student reads, Yoshi paraphrases " and explains vocabulary words tothem. Some students write down their understanding of the meaning in Japanese.

When they finish, Yoshi asks the students to answer the comprehension questions about the reading selection, and a few of the students answer his questions while the rest sit silently or look up. words in their bilingual dictionaries. Yoshi expands on each of tlic answers, sometimes offering Japanese translation. At the end of the hour, he gives a homework assignment to memorize words in the "Expand your Vocabulary" section of their textbook.

After the students leave, Yoshi reflects on the class. He is happy that he uses English most of the time, and the majority of the stu­dents arc willing to speak English with him and seem quite content with the class. However, he feels frustrated that the students do not prepare for class and do not ask questions. He also Is disheartened. because lie ends up summarizing the content of the tapes and text, doing almost all of the talking in class. Except for a few golden moments, the only time students talk is when he introduces gram­mar and pronunciation drills or directly asks them questions. F fc realizes that his geography degrees have not prepared him to be a language teacher, arid he wonders how he (might change his way of teaching. As he leaves the classroom, he considers the idea of going to the bookstore to look for books on teaching English.

Kathy’s Class

Kathy graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in history. Before going on to graduate school, .she wanted to gain some life experience, contribute something of herself (o others, and vi.sii places she had read about in her history books. Kathy was lucky enough to be selected as a Peace Corps volunteer anil was sent to Hungary to teach English. After her initial intensive training in aspects of cultural assimilation, language, and EFL teaching in Hur- gary, she was sent to teach EFL at a high school in an industrial town where she is presently the only volunteer.

The class we will, consider here is tided Fourth Year English, and her lessons usually combine listening, speaking, reading, and writing Kathy had raced too the classroom five minutes early to put pictures on the wall of people using exaggerated gestures and to put the following message on the board: j

Study the pictures on the wall. What do you think the gestures mean? Feel free to talk with your neighbor, but be sure to speack in English.

She purposely did this for two reasons. First, she is bothered by how long it takes to begin class. Second, she wants to explore how she can get students to speak English spontaneously with each other. Her objective on this day is to see if students would silently read the message on the blackboard, study the pictures, and start to talk in English.

As the students enter the classroom, they are chatting in Hun­garian. But they soon see Kathy pointing to the message, and they siicntly read it. Before long the class fills with talk, but Kathy has mixed feelings. A few of the students are using English, but othc s continue to use Hungarian. Kathy gets their attention and points to a picture of a man with a wrinkled brow and wide eyes, his head tilted, shrugging his shoulders. She asks, "How about this picture? What docs this gesture possibly mean?" One student volunteers, “It mean ‘I don't know?" Kathy accepts this and goes on to the next picture. Alter the students give their interpretations, Kathy tells the class they will spend the next few class periods considering their own and others’ nonverbal behaviors—such as eye contact, ges­tures, and the use of space—as well as different ways to express meaning in different cultures.  

Kathy then has students select pieces of hard candy from a bag, telling the students with the cherry flavor to form a group in the back, those with lemon to group to the right, those with grape in the front, and those with lime to the left. After the students settle, she gives each group a set of statements about nonverbal behavior and asks them to decide if they are true or false. The students are silent at first as they study such statements as this one: "during a conversation in Japan, the proper place to focus one’s eyes is on the neck of one’s conversation partner, while in Saudi Arabia it is proper to gaze directly into the person’s eyes."

As they work on this task, Kathy circulates among the groups. She does not tell them the answers, even when they coax her. The room is full of laughter, but Kathy also notices that students are speaking more than the usual amount of Hungarian today. She also notices their language errors and wonders how she might give stu­dents more feedback on their language use.

Kathy next gets their attention and goes through the list of statements. Students ask her questions and react to each others’ opinions. In the end, they discover that all the statements are true. One student whispers to her in jest, “You trick us!”

As planned, Kathy then hands cut a short article on nonverbal behavior she learned about at a workshop for language teachers. She tells the students to read the first three paragraphs' silently, after which she has a volunteer paraphrase the meaning. The arti­cle is about kineslcs (the study of gestures, eye contact, and pos­ture). She then passes out five small gold stars to each student and tells them to read the article twice, the second time pasting the stars next to ideas in the reading they find most interesting. Kathy told her students they should try to guess the meaning of an unfamiliar word from the context. She points out that if they are stumped, they can call on her, as she jokingly calls herself, a "walking dictionary."

As Kathy walks out of the class,, she has mixed feelings aboui the lesson. Her exploration with the message and pictures seemed somewhat successful; she started the class quickly, and some of the students used English. The students also stayed on task during the class, and they appeared to enjoy it. But rhany of the students used Hungarian during group work. She was also concerned that she did not give them feedback on their language. “Perhaps if I gave then more feedback, they'd want to use more English," she murmured to herself.

Comparison between Yoshi’s and Kathy’s Teaching

There are some obvious differences between Yoshi’s and Kathy's way of teaching. While Yoshi goes through his lessons in a more or less "lockstep” fashion, mostly following the text, Kathy designs her own lessons and brings innovative ideas into her teaching Yoshi follows a course program in which he leads into a topic with a tape, followed by a reading selection, comprehension questions another reading, and discussion questions. He rarely breaks from the step-by-step progression in the course text, even when he senses the students are not showing interest or comprehending the content. He does his best to explain the meaning of the text, but he, does not break from it. Nor does he engage the students in negoti­ating the meaning of the text with him or each other. He feels secure in having the text to follow, and although at some level he senses that his lessons could be greatly different, he does not break away from his lockstep way of teaching.

In contrast, Kathy likes to break from a lockstep way of teach­ing. Rather than making herself the ce,nter of classroom interact on, she consciously pays attention to how she can provide opportuni­ties for the class to be a community of learners in which students feel free to communicate with each other in English, ask her and classmates real questions, and take on some of the responsibility for their own learning.

Recognizing the differences between the way Yoshi and Kathy approach teaching, it is worth asking why Kathy explores creative ways to teach while Yoshi does not. Probably part of the reason is bccause Kathy went through an intensive Peace Corps training pro­gram. But this training was relatively brief, and it was meant Only to acquaint her with what EFL teachers do in the classroom. Perhaps cultural background has something to do with the difference. Kathy is a native speaker of English who comes from America, while Yoshi has the same native language and cultural background as the students. Although the students want Yoshi, a near-native speaker of English, to use English with them in class, they might be hesitant to speak up in English with someone who also,shares the same native language and rules of their own culture. This could also be difficult for Yoshi, who, outside of class, likely speaks Japanese with these same people.

Perhaps the setting has something to do'with it. Yoshi teaches in a corporate world, a setting where, in many cases, students’ business responsibilities take precedence over English classes and homework assignments and where students are not required to attend the classes. Kathy teaches at a high school where many of the students are quite motivated to learn English (and other languages).

However, a significant reason for the difference is the way they approach their development as tcachers. While Kathy is eager to take on the responsibility fvr her own development, Yoshi is now just realizing the need to do this. As such, it is worth asking what Kathy has done to work on her development, and in the next sec­tion I address what she has done. I also point out that although Kathy has made considerable progress in her development, she car learn more about how to explore her teaching. As I discuss in chapter 2, she could, for example, learn to more systematically reflec and act on her reflections through self-observation, observing otli ers, keeping a teaching journal, and engaging others jn talk abou teaching.

What Factors Are Central to Teacher Self-development?

Several factors affect teacher self-development. First, preservice teachers have an advantage in that the time factor is built into the teacher education program. However, teachers in in- service teacher development programs or teachers working on their development on their own usually have less time. Nonethe­less, if teachers believe that development is important, then they need to make a commitment to devote time to their development. 

In addition, for teachers new to teaching, time is also needed for them to work through stages in their development. Kathy, for example, allowed herself to work through these stages. She was not always confident or able to create and re-create relevant, inter­esting lessons for the students. The developmental stages of a teacher include going from being dependent on outside sources (such as supervisors and the textbook) and concerned with self-sur­vival (“What do I do tomorrow in class!") and with what kinds of techniques to use, to being concerned with student learning and able to make informed teaching decisions.

Second, development requires an ongoing commitment. Development's not something that teachers do just while in a teacher education program or at the beginning of a teaching career. Rather, even the most experienced .teacher can learn new things about teaching, and development is enhanced when the teacher make' a commitment to ongoing development. For example, although many would call Kathy’s teaching skills developed, she continues to explore, her teaching and its consequences on students.

Third, development is enhanced through problem solving When tcachers recognize problems and work at solving them, tfiey can discover new things about teaching and about themselves as teachers. For example, Kathy’s exploration into getting the class started quickly and her interest in getting students to use more English in class indicate that she continues to generate ways to solve perceived problems in her teaching, 

Fourth, development is also enhanced through exploratioi] for exploration’s sake. Teachers can, indeed, discover much by explor­ing simply to explore, not to solve a problem. Such exploration can be based on pure interest—for example, trying the opposite simply to see what happens or trying out an idea simply because it sounds Interesting.

For example, Kathy pays attention to the basics of teaching. Although her introduction to the basics began during her Peace Corps training, she has contin­ued to study ways to provide chances for students to interact in English, ways to manage classroom behavior, materials and media used to teach FFL, and cultural concepts as they relate to language and herself as a teacher. In addition, she has undoubtedly consid­ered ways to 'teach different skills, such as reading, writing, listen­ing, and speaking.

Sixth, development is enhanced by searching out opportunities to develop. Kathy, for,example, looks for opportunities to develop her teaching. She talks with other teachers about teaching, reads about teaching, attends teaching seminars and workshops, and par­ticipates in other activities that give her chances to reflect on her teaching ancjl see new teaching possibilities. In other words, when we, as teachers, teach lessons in different settings, read about teaching, observe our own and others’ teaching,.write about teach­ing, and talk about'teaching issues and problems, we are provided with opportunities to raise new questions about our teaching, as well as ways to search for answers to these questions. The more activities wp experience related to teaching, and the more ques­tions and answers we can come up with through this ongoing process, the more chances we have to develop our teaching beliefs and practices.

Seventh, as Kathy also recognizes, self-development of teaching beliefs and practices requires the cooperation of others. It takes others who arc willing to observe, listen to, and talk with us. These people include administrators, students, other teachers, and friends. Without their cooperation, self-development is very diffi­cult, as there is neither any source for feedback nor any stimulus for ideas.

Teacher Self-development Tasks

These tasks can be an integral part of your development as an EFL/ESI, teacher. Although some can be done alone, it is to your advantage to gain the cooperation of others. If you are using this  book , as part of a preservice or in-service, teacher education, pro­gram, it will be easy to attain the support of oilier tcachcrs. If you are reading this book on your own, 1 encourage you to seek out oth­ers who will read this book and work on the self-development tasks with you. If you arc not yet teaching and are using this book as a way to learn about the field, it will not be possible to do all of the tasks. However, there will still be many you can do, and it is still possible to do them with others.

Talk Tasks

1. What does self-development mean to you? What kinds of ihinp. do you believe you can do to work on your development as a teacher? Find another EFL/ESL teacher. Ask her or him these questions. Discuss what self-development means and the kinds of things you can do to work on your own development.

2. Draw up a plan to work on your development as an EFL teacher. Here are a few questions to get you started.
a) Are you ready to work on your teaching development? How strongly do you want to expand your knowledge of teaching and learn how to explore your teaching beliefs and prac­tices?
b) How much time are you willing tp invest in your develop­ment as a language teacher? Can you make a tentative schedule of the time you can devote to this undertaking?
c) Thumb through this book. Also study the table of contents and the list of questions at the beginning of each chapter. What areas of teaching are you interested in developing right now? What questions capture your interest?
d) How will you read this book? Will you selectively read chap­ters? Use the index? Use the questions at the start of each chapter as a way to decide on what to read? 
e) How will you get others involved in your process of devel­opment?      '

Sit down with another EFL/ESL teacher Who has made a plan. Com­pare your plans. Can you revise your pJari based on this discussion?

Journal Writing Tasks
  1. Purchase a notebook that you can easily carry around with you around that has ample space for writing. 
  2. Write freely about what self-development means to you based on your discussions with another teacher.
  3. Create in writing a plan for working on your development. What kinds of things do you plan to do to work on your development as a teacher?