From reading to reading critically

In many EFL/ESL/TESOL coursebooks, the approach to reading is usually to proceed from pre-reading strategies of, e.g., content prediction, vocabulary activation, to while-reading sub-skills of skimming and scanning and then to detailed understanding with the occasional inference question and possible post-reading exercises that exploit the text for lexical or grammatical development, or focus on discourse features.

For EAP and mainstream secondary/high school readers in open societies, there is a need to go further by developing the skills of reading critically. This is because writers of media articles may seek to persuade the reader to accept a certain explanation of an issue, or a certain moral stance on an issue. Critical readers are not won over by propaganda or marketing-style tactics such as the use of images that evoke sympathy, the misuse of logic, or the inclusion of emotive words. By contrast, critical readers fairly judge the validity and soundness of writers’ claims.

Critical reading is a learnt skill. Teachers and coursebook authors can help learners by guiding them to search for particular features of persuasive writing. Through responding to skillfully devised questions, students can learn to identify the…

  • issue itself
  • causes of the issue
  • writer’s identity and background (if available)
  • reasons for the writer’s concern and interest in the issue
  • stakeholders, i.e. groups in society with a vested interest in the issue
  • possible value conflicts between stakeholders
  • writer’s conclusion
  • writer’s reasons
  • writer’s assumptions (= hidden reasons)
  • evidence for the writer’s proposition
  • sources of that evidence (if cited)
  • ambiguous, emotive and euphemistic vocabulary
  • logical fallacies, e.g. hasty generalisations

Teachers and authors can provide helpful support by setting questions that require identification of these features. Once the skill of identification is mastered through practice, students can progress to setting similar questions for their peers and finally formulating such questions independently for themselves when they encounter other media articles in future.

To help authors and teachers, a questioning framework is a useful reference. There are many available, but suggested here are Socratic questioning and Biggs & Sollis SOLO Taxonomy.

Below, I provide an example of a reading lesson that begins conventionally but ends with more critical reading by means of Socratic questions. A similar result could be achieved with the SOLO or Bloom’s taxonomies. It is based upon a 2007 article that appeared in the South China Morning Post on the issue of conservation of historic buildings.

Taxi driver lone dissenting voice as conservationists plead for pier (10th May 2007 SCMP)

http://www.scmp.com/article/592156/taxi-driver-lone-dissenting-voice-conservationists-plead-pier

Pre-reading

Speculating 

Cover the text. Describe what you see in the accompanying photograph (with the original article). Can you guess the situation?  (clue = date: 10th May 2007) What do you imagine the people are looking at? How are the people feeling? The placards are blank. Can you imagine what was written on them?

Sharing personal experiences related to the topic of the article

Have you ever been involved in a protest? If so, can you describe the experience? If not, do you know anyone who has? Would you join this protest? Why/why not?

Comparing initial opinions on the issue involved

How do you balance heritage conservation with economic development?

Activating related vocabulary

Now that you know the topic of the article, predict 10 words and phrases that you believe will appear in it.

Capture2

Researching key vocabulary 

Work in small groups. Use a dictionary and race to complete the table below using 4 of the following words/phrases: dissenting, public hearing, conservationist, public sentiment, plead, antiquities.

Capture

While-reading

Skimming

Choose the most appropriate title for this article:

  • Pier preservation incontestable argue conservationists
  • Taxi driver lone dissenting voice as conservationists plead for pier
  • Queen’s pier – new symbol of civic movement


Scanning & identifying key points

Who expressed the following opinions?

Capture3

Summarising the article

Complete the chart below to summarise the opinions, reasons and possible consequences described by Mr Lam and Ms Lung.

Capture4

Critical reading

Distinguishing facts from opinions

Which of the following statements from the article are factual?

  1. “Queen’s pier has a high level of heritage collective memory.”
  2. “Reconstructing the pier between two public piers might be cheaper and easier, but the pier would be much more significant as part of the City Hall complex.”
  3. “Mr. Lee was a government architect between the 1960s and 1970s.”
  4. “What has happened since the demolition of the Star Ferry pier in December has given Queen’s Pier a new meaning.”
  5. “Representatives of 11 conservation groups and a lone taxi driver spoke at an unprecedented public hearing…”

Socratic questioning

  • Questions that probe assumptions

What belief is behind the words of Ms Man-wah when she says that “The pier witnessed how Hong Kong evolved…”?

 The term ‘heritage collective memory’ was used by Mr Cheong. What do you understand by this term?

  • Questions that probe reason and evidence 

Is any evidence reported in the article to support the views expressed?

What kind of evidence might support Mr Cheong’s opinions?

  • Questions about viewpoints or perspectives

 Do you see any relation between the opinions expressed and the vocations of the people who expressed them?

What opinions do you think would be expressed by a prominent business leader, a representative of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, or a traffic police officer?

  •  Questions that probe implications and consequences

What are the consequences of asserting that the Queen’s Pier is “an inseparable part of the City Hall complex”?

References

Biggs, J.B. & Collis, K.F. (1982) Evaluating the Quality of Learning: Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome Taxonomy. Academic Press Inc.

Brown, M.N. & Keeley, S.M. (2007). Asking the right questions: A guide to critical thinking. Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-220304-9

Van den Brink-Budgen, R. (2000). Critical thinking for students. How To Books. ISBN 978-1-85703-634-3

 

Concept checking – a valuable technique for any educator

In this entry, I will demonstrate the art of concept checking, i.e. using questions to elicit whether students have understood a difficult concept, or are able to distinguish commonly confused concepts.

Concept checking is a tried and tested technique in teaching grammar and vocabulary. Personally, I learnt the technique when I was training to become a TESOL practitioner. There is a good description of concept checking for language teaching at http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/checking-understanding

However, in this entry I would like to show how concept checking can be used for other subject teaching. In every subject there will be terminology that is hard to grasp or is easily confused with a related concept. For instance, how about “Internet” and “World Wide Web”? In everyday conversation they are used interchangeably but they are not the same.

My example concepts are ‘plagiarism’ and ‘copyright infringement’. These two concepts are often confused or conflated no matter how clearly they are presented. On more than one occasion I have been tasked to help university students and lecturers comprehend the difference between them.

Step 1: Present the concept(s) as clearly as possible

“Plagiarism occurs when someone tries to pass off another person’s work or ideas as their own without acknowledgement.” http://edc.polyu.edu.hk/PSP/teacher.htm

“Copyright infringement occurs when someone copies, publishes or distributes a piece of writing, music, picture or other work of authorship without permission.” http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/copyright

Step 2: Pose concept checking questions

What kind of offence is plagiarism – moral or legal? (moral)

What kind of offence is copyright infringement – moral or legal? (legal)

Who carries out punishment for plagiarism? (higher education institutions / the academic community)

Who carries out punishment for copyright infringement? (courts of law)

How can plagiarism be avoided? (acknowledge sources)

How can copyright infringement be avoided? (seek permission or pay)

Is there any flexibility in plagiarism rules? (No)

Is there any flexibility in copyright law? (Yes)

Reasons for concept checking

  • It intercepts and corrects misconceptions at an early stage, prior to application of knowledge and assessment.
  • It informs decisions whether to re-teach the concepts in another way or continue with, e.g., additional input.
  • It is a tool for formative assessment.
  • It can improve learning.
  • It is a diagnostic tool for differentiation by readiness.
  • It is a tool in inquiry-based learning and other inductive approaches.
  • It is a model of effective study skills.

Not Jolly but Folly Phonics for China

I’m going to argue in this post that phonics is inappropriate for children learning English as a foreign language in countries such as China.

I was prompted to write this post by two experiences.

Firstly, I met the owner of a chain of language centres in mainland China who was in Hong Kong to purchase phonics kits from regional distributors of US/UK publishers. According to him, phonics courses sell very well in China.

Secondly, I read a balanced article about phonics on the BBC News website entitled Viewpoints: Teaching children to read  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-19812961 To summarise the content, research evidence supports the view that bottom-up systematic phonics is more effective than the alternative ‘look and say’ method. However, it does have drawbacks and limitations and shouldn’t be relied upon alone to cultivate good readers. In other words, it is a necessary but not sufficient component of an overall approach to early literacy development. Those drawbacks and limitations are listed in the BBC article so I won’t repeat them here. The evaluation of phonics by the writer of this article was done with native speaker environments in mind.

I would, however, like to underline a serious problem with phonics in language environments such as China where English is taught as a foreign language to young children. Those children are likely to lack the oral skills in English that are an essential prerequisite to success in learning to read through phonics. This is because phonics teaches children to decode words by sounds. Once a native speaker child has successfully sounded out an unfamiliar written word, they can access meaning by associating it with the spoken version of the word that they already know. So, as one of the literacy experts interviewed for the BBC article, Lisa Morgan, points out, “children with good oral language skills are likely to become good readers”.

So why is phonics so popular in China?

Phonics kits, e.g. Letterland,  Jolly Phonics, etc. are packaged very nicely. Such good presentation alone can give the impression of professionalism and reliability and may be one of the reasons why parents of young children have faith in the method.  It is also systematic, encouraging the view that it is well-conceived. Moreover, repetitive learning is widely practised and accepted in China and phonics fits in well with this educational heritage.

Phonics may become effective after English oral skills and vocabulary have been developed adequately. But from what I observe, it is used at introductory levels of instruction with (very) young children.

Question

Are you using phonics to teach young learners of English and, if so, what are your experiences of this method?

Integrating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) with Task-Based Learning (TBL)

Abstract

In this post, I explore the practicalities of integrating ICT with the TBL framework devised by Willis (1996). This is done by drawing a comparison with an established learning framework that already incorporates ICT, by reflecting on what ICT could add of educational value to TBL tasks, and considering the compatibility of TBL and published language learning activities that make use of ICT. The issue of preservation of task design quality is addressed and it is noted that TBL offers useful guidelines for devising communicative tasks for educators outside TESOL who employ ICT. I also argue that it is desirable for teachers and materials writers to acknowledge the development of thinking skills in ICT in TESOL lesson plans in a standard way and as a matter of standard practice.

Introduction

Two comments in the literature about TBL prompted me to explore the practicalities of integrating ICT with TBL. Knight (2000) suggests that “Long and Crookes’ model of TBL is transferable and therefore realizable in Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) contexts.” He also puts forward the opinion that “other models of TBL may also be relevant for CALL” but does not pursue this line of enquiry. Moreover, Warschauer and Healey (1998) identify TBL, project-based learning and content-based learning as methods to develop both language and ICT skills within authentic contexts.

The aim of this post is to consider whether a TBL framework conceived primarily for language teaching in the classroom, as proposed by Willis (1996), is still workable and perhaps enhanced when ICT is employed. I take three approaches:

  1. Comparing the characteristics of TBL with those of a learning framework not specific to TESOL (i.e. WebQuest) that purposefully integrates ICT;
  2. Conceiving ways to incorporate ICT into TBL tasks and reflecting on the educational benefits of doing so;
  3. Examining the task types used in published TESOL materials that integrate ICT to see whether they match either TBL or WebQuest task types.

As a result I hope to identify, gather and synthesize positive aspects of existing practice into guidelines for integrating ICT and TBL. In addition, I reflect on a possible two-way exchange of insight between TESOL and other branches of education.

The aim of this post is not to debate the validity or usefulness of TBL. I do not wish to constrain course designers, materials writers and teachers by promoting TBL as the best way to integrate ICT with language learning. Whether to adopt TBL is a choice left to those professionals.

Finally, before proceeding, it should be mentioned that the learning scenario envisaged by me is that of ICT being used to compliment and enrich a face-to-face course rather than one which is conducted purely online.

Two learning frameworks: TBL and WebQuest

TBL is an instructional framework, a methodology for language learning. There is a full expression of TBL for classroom teaching in Willis (1996), according to which each task-based lesson has three phases. The first is to activate learners’ schemata regards the topic and to clarify relevant vocabulary (without knowledge of which students might struggle to complete the central task). The second phase is the main communicative task together with preparation and presentation of a reflective report on how the main task was performed. The final accuracy phase is a focus on language items used during the main task together with additional practice of those items. The idea is to provide as genuine a communication opportunity as possible given the restrictions of the classroom. Willis also details ‘processes’ in example TBL lesson plans which may be interpreted as thinking skills (e.g. analysing) or as functions of language (e.g. giving opinions). The language teacher will see the primary value of TBL as a means to develop learners’ language proficiency. The development of thinking skills through the group processing of information is of secondary concern.

The task types proposed are:

  • Listing
  • Ordering, sorting, classifying
  • Comparing, matching
  • Problem-solving
  • Sharing personal experiences, anecdote telling
  • Creative tasks, project work.

Which learning theory underpins TBL? TBL is closely identified with Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). Willis also refers to cognitive theory and learning styles.

Webquest, a model for learning developed by Dodge (not the car manufacturer) in 1995 at San DiegoUniversity, bears some resemblance to TBL. According to Dodge’s description, the model features an introduction to set the stage and provide background information, a task that is achievable and interesting, a clear process, the teacher should provide guidance, and some kind of closure is required. A clear process may be advocated but the guidelines for preparing a WebQuest are less specific than those in TBL. To be fair, this is partly because WebQuests may be cross-curricular rather than subject specific. An example of a short-term WebQuest is online research followed by student reports to the whole class. A long-term WebQuest involves creating something concrete that can be responded to by others. This can be an authored electronic product (e.g. a digital video story).

Webquest task types include:

  • Responding to a series of questions
  • Summary writing
  • Problem-solving
  • Researching a position to be defended
  • Creative work.

However, these are not the only possibilities and Dodge’s criterion of a good task is “anything that requires processing and transformation of the information.” (Some thoughts about WebQuests)

Which learning theory underpins WebQuest? Dodge makes reference to the work of Marzano (1992) on thinking skills. Marzano’s model is an expansion of Bloom’s taxonomy. The emphasis of this learning framework is on developing thinking skills (e.g. classifying) as well as subject knowledge.

A major difference between the two instructional frameworks is that TBL is largely informed by an approach to learning that is distinct from general learning theory. This can be justified in that “L2 learning needs to be understood in its own terms rather than approached via something else.” Richards (2001). Despite adherence to different approaches, TBL and WebQuest are similarly structured frameworks for learning and even share one task type, namely problem-solving.

A comparison with published TESOL materials that integrate ICT

In Dudeney (2000), a wide range of tried and tested activities are presented in which the Internet and other technologies are employed. Amongst others, the following task types are represented:

  • Basic research
  • Projects
  • Reviewing and classifying
  • Getting opinions
  • Problem-solving

These are reminiscent of WebQuest task types and the task types in TBL that involve more complex cognitive operations.

The value of adding ICT to TBL tasks

Can anything of educational value be added through using ICT in TBL tasks? For a quick reminder of TBL tasks here are examples from Willis (1998):

For example, taking the topic “cats,” a listing task might be: List three reasons why people think cats make good pets. A comparing task might be to compare cats and dogs as pets. A problem-solving task could be to think of three low budget solutions to the problem of looking after a cat when the family is absent. An experience sharing or anecdote telling task could involve sharing stories about cats.

As it stands, the listing task – list three reasons why people think cats make good pets – relies solely on students’ general knowledge. Based on this, students are pretty likely to come up with common, unsurprising reasons. By contrast, given access to the Internet, search skills (and a sensible time limit) students could locate reasons not imagined by any of the class members or evidence to back up their reasons and so promote more stimulating discussion during the comparison stage. Indeed, one group of students could research the pros of cat ownership while a second group does the same for dogs. Members of different groups could then pair up and argue the case for their kind of pet. Alternatively, pairs or small groups of students could sit around computers to discuss the reasons they have found as they cut and paste into PowerPoint slides for presentation to the rest of the class. If the classroom is equipped with an interactive whiteboard, then presentation of ideas is very conveniently managed. It is also true for problem-solving tasks that having the Internet available for access to a wide range of authentic materials is a major advantage.

Importantly, through searching for and gathering ideas from websites, students read and then discuss for a genuine reason, evaluate the ideas they find and synthesize them into something worthy of presentation to their peers. In this example, both language and cognitive skills beyond those intended by classroom-based TBL are exercised through the introduction of ICT. In addition, by completing TBL tasks that employ ICT, students are also given opportunities to hone their ICT skills.

Maintaining task design quality

The advantages of integrating ICT with TBL (or using Webquests in language teaching & learning) will only be realised as long as teachers and materials writers maintain quality in lesson design.

Here are some examples, from my experience, of ways in which poor design can reduce the benefits of TBL lessons that incorporate ICT:

1. Topic rather than task

Simply asking students to spontaneously contribute to an online discussion thread on a given topic does not qualify as a ‘task’ in TBL terms because it lacks communicative purpose. Some students will have sufficient extrinsic motivation to participate, and some may be motivated by the topic itself, but many learners will not be particularly enthused. Moreover, when presented with a topic rather than a task, students tend to tangent or diverge from the topic.

2. Insufficient preparation for the main task

When the first phase of a TBL lesson is too economical the main task may fail or not progress very far. An overview of the topic by the teacher can have a leveling effect, making sure that all the learners are aware of common knowledge about a topic. Then, their online research can push that knowledge further. Linguistic preparation in the form of pre-teaching key vocabulary is also vital to lubricate the main task. An example where a main task has ground to halt is when a written role play was set up on a Bulletin Board System (BBS) with insufficient contextualization beforehand. It was difficult for students to imagine the next lines of characters in the role play without full details of those characters and the situation.

3. A lack of audience

Students may publish Web pages as a means to present project work or creative tasks. This appears to offer an easy solution to the challenge of finding an audience, an important element in authenticity of tasks. People outside the school could view and respond to their work. But this requires more thought and preparation otherwise those Web pages are never visited. One solution is to teach students how to use HTML meta and title tags to improve their ranking in search engines. Another is to upload student work to a free online platform such as Oracle’s Think.com if your institution is a primary or secondary school.

A lesson for TBL from WebQuest

The development of thinking skills is not something that ESOL teachers are in the habit of expressing in lesson aims and objectives. In the Willis version of TBL this is addressed by the inclusion of ‘processes’ in sample lesson plans. However, reference could be made to a more-widely recognised classification of levels of thinking (as WebQuest does by referring to Marzano). It may be the case, if this is not done, that a bias develops in TESOL course materials to develop some thinking skills to the exclusion of others. Another benefit of using a common terminology is that liaison with teachers from other disciplines would be facilitated, especially where ESOL teachers are working in a state or international school. Greater recognition of the relationship of TBL with wider social and psychological processes occurring in classrooms is recommended. This also accommodates humanistic approaches to language learning, the desire to develop the whole person.

 A lesson for WebQuest from TBL

The TBL framework can contribute to quality assurance in WebQuests. By following TBL guidelines for designing communicative main tasks, this ensures that tasks are purposeful, meaningful, real world and probably more memorable. This is reminiscent of Vygotsky (1986) who sees a central role for language in cognition in young minds. He emphasizes that learning should take place in meaningful contexts. If no ‘real’ communication opportunities are provided in the classroom, I question whether conditions are optimum for cognitive development. Putting students in situations that include an information gap between them is important because it is by trying to clarify matters with and for others that we reach a better understanding ourselves.

Conclusion

This was an investigation of the marriage of a TBL framework and ICT. The conclusion reached is that TBL is practicable when ICT is introduced and offers the bonus of supplementary linguistic, cognitive and ICT skills development as long as lesson design quality remains high. In the process of considering TBL and WebQuest, I came to believe that each framework has something to offer the other. TBL has the virtue of a central communicative task which should also be valued in general education and WebQuest makes overt reference to a model of thinking skills.

References

Dodge. B(1995) WebQuests. URL: http://edweb.sdsu.edu/courses/edtec596/about_webquests.html

Dudeney, G. (2000) The Internet and the Language Classroom. CambridgeUniversity Press.

Knight, P. (2000) The role of language and learning models in student-directed CALL. In: Brett, P. (ed.) CALL in the 21st Century. IATEFL.

Marzano, R.J. (1992) A different kind of classroom: Teaching with dimensions of learning. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Richards, J. (2001) The ideology of TESOL. In: Carter, R. and Nunan, D. (eds.) Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. CambridgeUniversity Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1986) Thought and Language. The M.I.T. Press.

Warschauer, M. and Healey, D. (1998) Computers and language learning: an overview [Online]. Language Teaching, 31, 57-71. URL: http://www.gse.uci.edu/markw/overview.html

Willis, J. (1996) A Framework for Task-Based Learning. Longman.

Willis, J. (1998) Task-Based Learning: What kind of adventure? [Online]. The Language Teacher Online, Issue 22. 07-July 1998. URL: http://jalt-publications.org/tlt/files/98/jul/willis.html

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?