Life after CELTA and CertTESOL: Effective online professional development for novice ESOL teachers

Comments like the one below from Dave’s ESL Cafe’s Teacher Training forum prompted me, back in 2002, to investigate the instructional design and content of an online course or resource to help novice ESOL teachers continue their professional development. By ‘novice’ I mean teachers in the first two years of full-time work following completion of a pre-service certificate such as the Trinity Cert TESOL or Cambridge ESOL CELTA.

CELTA course inadequate

Posted By: Teaching in Korea
Date: Monday, 29 October 2001, at 3:36 p.m.

I finished my CELTA course in Australia this year and am now working in Korea. While the course was useful for a general overview, it was too fast-paced and it overlooked a lot of the practical realities of teaching e.g. level testing, how to teach exam classes, how to cope with discipline problems, how to set tests etc etc.

A four week course is not long enough to learn about teaching ESOL!!! I still have a lot of questions that need to be answered. I think the course should be at least 3 months full time to adequately cover what we will need in the profession.

I was aware from my own experience as a teacher and trainer that, after earning their certificates, newly-qualified ESOL teachers typically receive no additional professional guidance from training centres (except perhaps when these teachers immediately get a job at the language centre where they trained). Instead, it’s up to the first employers and the teachers themselves to continue professional development. This leads to disparity in the amount and quality of professional development opportunities in which new teachers may participate.

For novice teachers who have not yet had a chance to become practised at being reflective practitioners, or who work for an institution that provides few or no opportunities for professional growth, the result can be the sense of isolation described by Holmes (2000), ‘Teaching can seem a lonely career, with many new teachers feeling that they must cope with the job alone.’ Holmes wrote this about newly qualified state school teachers in the UK. The problem of professional isolation, I suspected, is likely to be more chronic in the world of TESOL because of greater distances and the lack of a statutory induction period and support overseen by bodies such as the UK’s Teacher Training Agency (TTA).

ESOL teacher trainers on pre-service certificate programmes, however great their efforts, are not really able to prepare new teachers for the tremendous diversity of TESOL contexts that can be encountered. Teaching situations may range from one-to-one business English, to playing educational games in English with pre-schoolers, to lecturing to over a hundred university students, and more. ESOL teachers encounter a broad range of cultural and educational heritages, learner expectations and motivations for learning English. Work ethics vary considerably from place to place as well as between public and private sectors.

There are factors that, traditionally, have limited the provision of continuing professional development in TESOL. Teacher educators are not expected to remain involved after the conclusion of certificate courses. In fact it states explicitly on the back of my own certificate that:

Successful candidates at this level will continue to need guidance from their employers to help them develop their potential and broaden their range of skills as teachers.

It is, however, not the intention that this guidance should be provided by the original training centre. Training centres are commercial, and have fulfilled their obligations by the end of the pre-service course. Another restricting factor has been that newly qualified teachers disperse all over the world and are often physically distant from their training centres. So, the amount and quality of guidance that these teachers receive is normally dependant upon their choice of first job, the willingness of senior colleagues to act as informal mentors, and their own ability and enthusiasm to reflect on and learn from experience.

My suspicion was that ESOL teachers need greater provision of professional development opportunities after a pre-service certificate. In particular, such opportunities began to seem necessary as preparation for the challenge of an in-service diploma course or MA a few years later. Moreover, improved continuity in professional development may benefit students and schools and promote the credibility of TESOL as a profession. Reducing disparities in professional development would also make it easier for potential employers to compare ESOL teachers who have the same number of years of experience. Such professional development opportunities could be provided online and made globally accessible.

I decided to verify my suspicions and to investigate how online professional development might fill the perceived gap. I conducted research on suitable professional development content for ESOL teachers in the first few years of their careers, on a suitable synthesis of online learning models and on the technical means to deliver professional development online. The research process involved both direct investigation and a review of relevant literature.

My direct investigations began with a pilot questionnaire of a small group of recently qualified ESOL teachers (who were my ex-trainees). Feedback on this questionnaire informed the design of a wider anonymous Web survey of 109 novice ESOL practitioners around the world. In addition, I conducted interviews with 11 ESOL teacher educators. Surveyed novice ESOL teachers’ suggestions for professional development topics were coded according to Cambridge ESOL DTEFLA syllabus divisions. Some valuable insight was also gained from feedback on the trial version of a Web site. I designed this resource, called the Certified English Language Teachers’ Improvement Centre or CELT-IC for short, in accordance with the preferences of those ESOL teachers who answered the pilot questionnaire.

I came to several conclusions as a result of the literature review*:

  • The evidence for a genuine need for online professional development opportunities for novice ESOL teachers is indirect.
  • There are many, many possibilities for the content of an online resource for ESOL teachers at an early stage of their career.
  • Models of online learning most recommended currently are inspired by cognitive or social constructivism.
  • Adult learning theory and reflective practice may be integrated without conflict into an overall constructivist approach.
  • There is a wealth of data and advice regards online course design, but relatively little for online resource design.
  • A voluntary online resource presents challenges for the successful use of online discussion forums because a healthy level of participation on such forums is only ensured when their use is a compulsory part of a course. The implication to me is that either the topics for discussion must be so interesting that users cannot resist contributing or online discussion forums should not be made a central feature of a voluntary resource.

The literature review revealed that direct investigation was required of the following:

  • an indication of the size, scope and extent of novice ESOL teachers’ professional development needs;
  • novice ESOL teachers’ preferences for professional development content;
  • whether the stated professional development preferences of teachers are what they really need;
  • suitable methods of instruction/learning;
  • the degree of direction required from the teacher educator who manages the online resource;
  • novice ESOL teachers’ preference for either an online course or online resource.

I analysed the survey and interview results and compared my findings with the literature review. Keeping in mind the modest sample sizes as a basis for making generalisations, I reached the following conclusions:

  • The professional development needs of novice ESOL teachers are sufficient reason for the development of online resources.
  • The surveyed ESOL teachers were strongly in favour of acquiring skills of self-management that are relevant to the workplace.
  • The highest priority for professional development topics was for resources and materials, followed by classroom management, TESOL theory and language awareness.
  • The teacher educators most frequently suggested language awareness and ICT skills as topics for professional development.
  • There appeared to be a preference amongst survey respondents for learning independently of other learners, but a design fault in a survey question put this conclusion into doubt.
  • Training modules consistent with a transmission model of learning (such as those at ICT4LT) and guided discovery tasks were the most favoured ways to learn online.
  • There was evidence of novice ESOL teachers preferring to learn from and through communication with authorities on TESOL rather than from and through communication with their peers.
  • The discussion of cultural issues and workplace difficulties could be beneficial in two ways – to promote reflective practice and to provide opportunities to develop skills to adapt to new work environments.
  • A majority of the teacher educators recommended strong direction for novice ESOL teachers in their professional development.
  • An online resource was much more popular than an online course, which has implications for the successful use of online discussion forums.
  • Guided discovery tasks appeared suitable to meet the demand for both clear direction and the preference for an online resource.
  • Download times should be kept to a minimum to reach as many novice ESOL teachers around the world as possible.
  • Some teachers suggested the use of video in online learning but this was brought into question by long download times in some parts of the world.
  • Web site navigation must be of a high standard to promote maximum usability and accessibility and to avoid user misinterpretation of the learning philosophy of the site.

Recommendations

To sum up,

  • Teacher educators deciding to design and manage an online resource for novice ESOL teachers should consult the particular      group about their security and privacy preferences. It is possible to have different levels of openness in different areas (pages) of the online resource. For example, on CELT-IC the training modules are completely open but joining the mailing list is subject to approval by its owner.
  • ESOL teacher educators embarking on the design, implementation and running of an online resource or course should assess      their own skills and develop new Web design, materials design and online moderating skills as necessary.
  • The content priorities are just that – priorities. If the online resource grows sufficiently, then a greater range of professional development topics can be included.

Additionally, I recommend the following research in order to determine:

  • the proportion of ESOL teachers preferring either solitary learning or learning with others, together with an investigation of the reasons for such preferences;
  • why novice ESOL teacher survey respondents favoured training modules and guided discovery tasks as ways to learn online;
  • how to accommodate the use of digital video and visual learners on an online resource when download times are a      constraining factor in certain locations;
  • effective ways to introduce users to online educational resources.

Large TESOL organisations interested in providing online professional support or ESOL teacher educators with financial support could investigate:

  • the logistics and financial considerations of larger scale provision of online professional development for novice ESOL      teachers;
  • the issue of course/resource recognition in providing online professional support in TESOL;
  • the attributes of various Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as WebCT or Moodle in order to choose one suitable to facilitate the promotion of novice ESOL teacher development and to simplify the authoring process for teacher educators.

Note

*This review included journal articles (e.g. Burt and Keenan 1998, Hawk 2000, Lloyd and Draper 1998, and Skinner 2002: 271) and books (see especially Holmes 2000, McVay Lynch 2002 and Salmon 2000).

References

Burt, M. and Keenan, F. (1998) Trends in Staff Development for Adult ESL Instructors. Eric Digest. URL: http://www.cal.org/caela/digests/TrendQA.htm

Cambridge ESOL DTEFLA Syllabus. URL: http://www.cambridgeesol.org/teaching/dTESOLa0104.pdf  

Dave’s ESL Cafe’s Teacher Training Forum. URL: http://eslcafe.com/discussion/dz1/

Hawk, W.B. (2000) Online Professional Development for Adult ESL Educators. Eric Digest. URL: http://www.cal.org/caela/digests/pdQA.htm

Holmes, E. (2000) Newly Qualified Teachers. The Stationery Office Books.

ICT4LT. URL: http://www.ict4lt.org/

(A Web site devoted to training language teachers in relevant ICT skills)

Lloyd, C. and Draper, M. (1998) Learning interactively at a distance: supporting learning, teaching and continuing professional development using information and communication technology. Journal of In-Service Education, Vol. 24, No. 1, p.87-97.

McVay Lynch, M. (2002) The Online Educator: A Guide to Creating the Virtual Classroom. Routledge Falmer.

Salmon, G. (2000) E-Moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online. Kogan Page.

Skinner, B. (2002) Moving on: from training course to workplace. TESOL Journal, Volume 56, Issue 3, pp. 267-272.

Questions for teachers and teacher educators

Do you agree with my findings? Has the situation changed since this research was conducted?

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