19. PhD revisited: The professional development of English language
teachers1The chapter presents the overall results of a doctoral
study (Coburn, 2016), focusing specifically on its practical implications
for the teaching of English in Norway. The thesis in its entirety
– with theoretical, methodological and empirical details – can be
found here: https://brage.bibsys.no/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/2420139/FINAL%20James%20Coburn%20dissertation.pdf?sequence=4
Investigating the design and impact of a national in-service
EFL teacher education course
- Side: 397-417
- DOI: 10.18261/978-82-15-03074-6-2019-20
- Publisert på Idunn: 2019-06-18
- Creative Commons (CC BY 4.0)
The PhD study reported here examined the design of a part-time, one-year, blended-mode in-service English teacher education course and its impact on the development of thirty-three experienced primary school teachers. While the teachers became more confident and competent, insufficient opportunities for oral English practice and teacher collaboration were design weaknesses. The chapter includes a discussion of implications for English teaching and design of comparable courses, providing suggestions for future research.Keywords: In-service EFL, young language learners, continuing professional development (CPD), primary school teachers
Different studies (Enever, Moon & Raman, 2009; Garton, Copland, & Burns, 2011) show that steadily increasing numbers of children are introduced to English at younger ages, and that EFL instruction is often compulsory in today’s primary education as in Norway. However, in a worldwide study of primary EFL teachers’ qualifications, training and career development, Emery (2012, p. 18) observes that “[m]any teachers have not been specifically trained to teach English, or to teach the level that they currently teach. This will impact on children’s learning and may also lead to teachers feeling stressed in their jobs”. Emery concludes that these teachers “need specific training to teach this age group”. The PhD project reported here investigated the professional development of English teachers at primary school level, and how such development can best be promoted through an in-service course. The results are therefore relevant both on the national and international level.
In Norway, there has been a shortage of teachers with EFL education in primary schools for decades. A recent survey by Statistics Norway (Lagerstrøm, Moafi, & Revold, 2014), showed that approximately 66% of those teaching English at the 1–4 grade level, and 49% of those teaching at the 5–7 grade level, had not been educated as English teachers. The Norwegian authorities have therefore tried to increase the formal competence of those teaching English in primary schools through an in-service teacher education program called “Competence for Quality” (henceforth: CQ).
The teaching of English at primary school level requires specific skills. Teachers without English teacher education therefore face a number of subject-specific challenges: The use of English has become far more widespread in Norway since these teachers studied English at school. Furthermore, since the introduction of the national communicative curriculum in 2006, English teachers have been expected to teach English in a different way to that in which the language was taught to the middle-aged generalist primary school teachers who comprise the majority of the participants on the CQ courses; there are greater expectations of oral fluency and a broader grasp of active vocabulary. In addition, the ability to adjust language use to various contexts and situations has become a cornerstone of communicative competence.
Teachers who have been accepted for CQ courses have normally continued working three days a week in their own schools while taking the program, with paid study two days a week. The teachers have usually had their own English classes during the year so that they could try out new methods and ideas and reflect on the results during the year. The objectives of the one-year, two-semester courses have been to develop the teachers’ English language knowledge and skills, and their English teaching competence in relation to the goals of the Norwegian curriculum.
This study investigated the impact of one specific CQ course. On this focus course, the first semester was mostly theoretical, concentrating on knowledge of grammar and pronunciation. The second semester focused more on practical methodological knowledge and skills. Each semester there were three two-day face-to-face seminars filled with lectures and group work. The online components consisted of reading through self-study with individual and group tasks, but no synchronous learning activities. Assessment was through an oral exam at the end of the first semester and a two-day home written exam at the end of the second semester.
The objective of the study was to assess the teachers’ development, as indicated by changes in their cognitions (beliefs, knowledge, thoughts and emotions), confidence, classroom language use, and the changes in the methodological approaches they employ in their classrooms. The goal was also to investigate the relationship between the design of the course and its diverse impact on the teachers. In other words, the intention was to try to establish to what extent and in what ways aspects of the course design were associated with learning outcomes. The overall research question was therefore:
Opfer and Pedder’s complexity theory model (2011) proposes that any evaluation of teacher change should take into account the social, cultural and political contexts of school organization. According to this model, the effects of professional development depend on “the individual and school orientations to learning systems that mediate teacher learning and teacher change”, where “the myriad of elements within and between these systems poses significant challenges for conducting causal studies of teacher professional learning” (Opfer & Pedder, 2011, p. 393). Thus, the theoretical approach in this study not only considered the course design and the impact of the Competence for Quality (CQ) course in relation to the subject matter content and developmental processes, but also in relation to the broader educational context.
The impact of a Competence for Quality (CQ) EFL teacher education course will depend greatly on how receptive participant teachers are to the ideas and processes they encounter on the course. In order for a CQ course for EFL teachers to have a strong impact, it would need to place emphasis on awakening and developing teachers’ thoughts and beliefs (cognitions) about teaching by helping participants to reflect both individually and collectively. Borg (2006a) emphasizes the pivotal role that cognitions play in influencing change in teachers’ practices (or the lack thereof).
In addition to managing cognitive change, theory suggests that there is a need for an increased focus on improving oral fluency and confidence in oral abilities in EFL education for generalist teachers, in order to meet the demands of modern communicative curricula. Thus, while the subject-matter content of EFL teacher education for less specialized teachers “has typically focused on the development of teachers’ methodological skills, it is increasingly the case (…) that improving teachers’ language proficiency is the predominant focus” (Borg (2015, p. 548).
Freeman, Katz, Gomez and Burns’ (2015) recently reconceptualized the notion of subject-matter knowledge for less specialized EFL teachers, with particular reference to the needs of the increasing numbers of generalist teachers who are being required to teach English. These authors focused on improving generalist English teachers’ classroom language, combined with developing their methodological skills, as the most effective solution to improving their language proficiency, while simultaneously exposing them to a wide range of activities and methods for teaching a foreign language.
A number of meta-studies of cross-disciplinary research of professional development and in-service training (e.g. Timperley et al,, 2008; Broad & Evans 2006), as well as smaller-scale overviews of comparable studies within the EFL field (e.g. Hayes & Chang 2012; Waters & Vilches 2010), had concluded that certain key factors influence the degree of teacher development resulting from different professional development activities. These factors can be grouped under three main headings: First, Contextual and Systemic parameters, second, Ways of Working and third, EFL Subject-Matter Content. These factors headings are shown in Table 19.1 where each sub-point is briefly summarized.
|1. CONTEXTUAL and SYSTEMIC PARAMETERS||Examples of studies|
|a.||Coherence of course with broader educational initiatives||Waters & Vilches, 2010|
|b.||Time frame and number of hours on course||Desimone, 2009|
|c.||Motivation among participant teachers||Timperley et al., 2008|
|d.||Appropriately qualified teacher educators||Hayes & Chang, 2012|
|2. WAYS of WORKING|
|a.||Credible ways of working with new ideas and practices||Postholm, 2012|
|b.||Working at both collective and individual levels||Broad & Evans, 2006|
|c.||Ensuring classroom experimental opportunities and feedback||Hayes & Chang, 2012|
|d.||Active learning, a variety of activities, modelling of teaching||Timperley et al. 2008|
|3. SUBJECT-MATTER CONTENT|
|a||Development of teachers’ overall English proficiency skills||Graves, 2009|
|b||Development of teachers’ methodological repertoire||Timperley et al., 2008|
Within the third group of factors, subject-matter content, EFL research had suggested that a focus on improving teachers’ overall English language proficiency (skills and knowledge), together with the development of teachers’ methodological repertoire and pedagogical content knowledge, are critical course components (Graves, 2009; Freeman et al., 2015).
In a wide-ranging review of research into the introduction of communicative language teaching (CLT) in primary and secondary school contexts generally involving non-native EFL teachers such as those in Norway, Littlewood (2013, pp. 7–8) identified a number of challenges for teachers, summarized under two main headings: First, “excessive demands on teachers’ own language skills”; second, challenges related to the need to adapt traditional teacher-fronted approaches amid “common conceptions that formal learning must involve item-by-item progression through a syllabus rather than the less observable holistic learning that occurs in communication” (Littlewood, 2013, p. 7). Other contextual influences such as resistance from parents or even other teachers may also hinder the successful implementation of a communicative approach (see also Lundberg 2007).
Research into specific challenges connected to in-service foreign language teacher education for primary school teachers showed that a lack of teacher confidence and oral language proficiency is an obstacle to effective foreign language teaching (Chambless, 2012). Other researchers had suggested that teachers who limit instruction mainly to the textbook, relying heavily on translation and cramming, and neglecting the development of oral communicative competence, usually do so because their own lack of fluency prevents them from “orchestrating mastery experiences that foster real life communication” (Chacon, 2005, p. 13).
At the time of the PhD, few studies had previously investigated the design and impact of longer-term in-service EFL training for generalist primary school teachers. An exception was Lundberg’s work (2007) in Sweden. She had documented that for primary school EFL teachers, the English (L2) input they produce is important for the development of learners’ oral production. She had also shown that teachers’ code-switching (between L1 and L2) and overuse of translation seemed to affect learners’ oral production negatively since they became less inclined to try to understand spoken English when expecting a translation, and less able or willing to speak themselves. Lundberg (2007) also noted how the teachers’ lack of language confidence may “rub off” on learners.
The study used various methods in a mixed-methods design in order to investigate the design of in-service teacher education courses and their impact on participants’ beliefs and teaching practices. The role of the researcher throughout the study was solely as an observer, with no teaching responsibilities on the course.
The mixed-methods research design consisted of both parallel (concurrent) and sequential phases (Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2009) over a period of two and a half years. The accumulation of knowledge during the progression of the research contributed to a gradual expansion and development of perspectives (Greene et al., 1989). Figure 19.1 illustrates the three-phrase progression, with Phase 1 finishing while the two other phases were still in progress, and Phase 2 finishing while Phase 3 continued.
The three phases of the project all concentrated on different aspects of the same overall theme; that is, a central concern with the design and impact of the selected CQ course. Phase 1 was qualitative; Phase 2 was mainly quantitative, with supporting complementary qualitative material; Phase 3 was pre-dominantly qualitative, with supporting quantitative data. An overview of the three research phases is provided in Table 19.2, followed by an explanation and then more detailed descriptions of the samples, methods, and analyses used in the individual phases.
|Phase 1: Comparison of different course designs||Phase 2: Evaluation of impact on group cohort||Phase 3: Case studies|
|Type of method||Qualitative||Quantitative and Qualitative||Qualitative and Quantitative|
|Main research questions||What characterises the differences in organisation, pedagogical design, evaluation and perceived outcomes of two different Competence for Quality course models vis-à-vis an independent local-regional course model?||To what extent does the in-service training have impact on the beliefs and knowledge, confidence, self-reported classroom language and practices of the teachers?|
|Sample and participants||Teacher educators, school and course administrators, teachers||33 participant teachers on a CQ course||Four volunteers from the sample of 33 course participants|
|Credibility of methods, methodology||Triangulation of data sources, member checking, open narrative clarifies researcher’s bias||Validity of quantitative data measured through SPSS. Credibility strengthened through qualitative data in the teachers’ reflections||Prolonged engagement, triangulation of different data sources, member checking, rich description|
Phase 1 compared the design of the focus course both with another comparable Competence for Quality (CQ) course’s design within the same national programme; and also with the design of an entirely separate, locally organized in-service EFL course, organized for the same target group of teachers, but not within the CQ programme. The methods included document analysis, interviews with course designers, teachers and educators, and pilot questionnaires.
In Phase 2, statistical analysis was used to assess the significance of changes in the focus course teachers’ responses to identical pre-course and post-course questionnaires concerning their beliefs and self-reported practices. The teachers’ own reflections on changes in their responses formed the qualitative material supporting the statistical data.
Phase 3 consisted of case studies of four teachers, each with early-course, late-course, and post-course school visits, classroom observations, and recordings of teachers’ classroom language and interviews. The recordings and interviews were transcribed, analyzed, and compared with the teachers’ written reflections, resulting in both qualitative and quantitative data.
In Phase 1, three course samples were selected with the aim of comparing the design of the CQ focus course with the design of another CQ course and with that of a non-CQ course. The purpose was to compare the design of another CQ course with the focus CQ course, and then to compare these with a third point of comparison, a local in-service course outside the CQ framework.
In Phase 2, the sample consisted of the 33 teachers who completed the selected focus CQ course. Of these, 18 taught grade 5–7, while 15 taught grade 1–4. On average, the teachers had five years of English teaching experience and taught in mostly rural schools. Phase 3 of the study consisted of case studies of four of the focus course teachers, who had also participated in the questionnaires and reflections in Phase 2. These teachers had volunteered and were observed and recorded teaching in their classrooms. There were two teachers from each grade level (1–4 and 5–7). Three of these teachers had 10–20 years of experience teaching English, while the fourth had only one year.
In Phase 1, the course designs were studied using document analysis, semi-structured interviews with individual teacher educators (course designers) and with small focus groups of teacher educators at each of the three institutions where courses were compared.
Phase 2 of the research investigated changes in the cognitions, confidence, self-reported language, and teaching practices of the group of primary school teachers taking the focus CQ course. These were measured quantitatively through changes in their responses to identical Likert-scale items in pre-course and post-course questionnaires, and qualitatively through the teachers’ written reflections on the changes in their responses to the same questionnaire items, and through their reflections on their answers to open questions, which were also included in the pre-course questionnaire.
Phase 3 included three visits to each of the teachers’ schools, one early on in the course, one late in the course, with a final visit 16 months after the course. During the early-course and late-course visits, the researcher observed and recorded different lessons that were subsequently transcribed. Conversations with the teachers were recorded before and after lessons, and semi-structured interviews were recorded when the teachers had more time on each visit.
In Phase 1, document analysis started with the evaluation reports (Rasmussen and Klewe 2012; Gjerustad and Kårstein 2013) of the national CQ courses commissioned by the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training (NDET). In addition, unpublished historical documentation providing background for EFL in-service education initiatives in Norway before the CQ program started was analyzed. Finally, interviews with the teacher educators at the three focus institutions were analyzed. The semi-structured interviews with the different teacher educators (who were also the course designers) were organized using a template with prepared thematically based questions as a point of departure.
In Phase 2, the statistical material comprising the changes in the teachers’ responses to the 81 Likert-scale questions in the different sections of the questionnaire was analyzed using SPSS (Pallant, 2013). A significance level of 95% was set. The qualitative material provided by the teachers through their answers to open questions in the first questionnaire and in their reflections on the changes in their responses to individual questionnaire items was researched using content analysis (Dörnyei, 2007).
In Phase 3, notes were taken during class observation using semi-structured observation forms with categories of activities on one axis and 5-minute time units on the other. Walsh’s (2011) theoretical classroom model was used to analyze the classroom interaction patterns. The quantitative data resulting from analysis of the language in the transcriptions of the recordings was compared with qualitative analysis of the teachers’ language in the context of the specific lessons. The quantitative data was in the form of comparative analysis of the classroom language used by the teachers in different lessons, early on and late on in the course. Four methods were used to analyze this language: First, the number of English and Norwegian words in each lesson were counted and compared. Second, lexical variation was measured using the Giraud Index (the square root of the number of words divided by the number of word types) to counterbalance the fact that a simple word token/type division would otherwise give a skewed result because it declines with increases in total word use. Third, the average word speed of spoken English per minute was compared. Fourth, the number of grammatical errors teachers made, as agreed by two independent expert raters, was compared. The resulting quantitative material was used to complement analysis of the qualitative observations and recordings showing how teaching practices and patterns of interaction changed.
The overall research question was:
How does the impact of a Competence for Quality in-service EFL education course on participant teachers’ professional development compare with an analysis of the design of the course?
In answer to this question, the following section presents an integrated analysis of the results from the three phases of the research, divided under three headings: Course design, Course impact: changes in beliefs and reported practices, and Longer-term professional development.
In the analysis of the different types of course designs (Phase 1), one of the main strengths of the organizational design of the CQ courses was found to be the provision of two days a week paid study time over one whole school year, compared with the almost total lack of such a provision on the local non-CQ course. This allowed teachers to study English in depth while continuing to teach English in their own classrooms. These generous conditions meant that teachers could read, try out ideas, and then reflect over new theoretical conceptions linked to a communicative teaching approach.
The three courses compared in Phase 1 all provided school-based learning opportunities through classroom-based tasks as recommended in the research field (Hayes & Chang, 2012). The choice of subject matter content for the three courses differed most in relation to the amount of knowledge about language that was included. On the local course, the linguistics component was limited and not well received by the teachers, who much preferred the presentation of new teaching ideas and methods that could be tried out immediately. In contrast, both CQ courses – especially the focus course – devoted considerable time to teaching knowledge about language. However, none of the courses gave teachers the opportunity for structured practice of their oral English between the course seminars. There were also very limited opportunities for teachers to collaborate on the CQ courses between seminars.
In the broader educational context, weaknesses in the CQ organizational design were identified as the individualized course delivery, lack of knowledge-sharing in home schools, and the lack of contact between the institutions delivering the courses, the teachers’ home schools, and local municipalities, as well as the lack of post-course follow-up. The consequences of these weaknesses became clearer in Phase 3, which focused on the four case study teachers’ home school contexts – when the course participants returned to their own schools and local teaching contexts, they faced different challenges since many of their colleagues lacked EFL teacher education and had not shared the ideas and approaches offered on the course.
Course impact: Changes in beliefs and reported practices
On the focus CQ course, the SPSS analysis (in Phase 2) showed that the teachers’ feelings of competence in relation to their abilities to help their pupils attain curriculum goals changed significantly in relation to most of the goals for oral communication. The exceptions were for those relating to teaching pronunciation, and for the teachers of pupils in grades 5–7, the goal of helping their pupils to learn to “start, maintain and terminate conversations”.
Further evidence of the teachers’ development is implicit in the reported significant increase in the teachers’ use of pair work for the grades 5–7 group, with the teachers’ qualitative reflections emphasizing their growing realization of the importance of activating pupils orally. These changes were connected with the significant increases in both the teachers’ and pupils’ use of English in the classroom as reported by the teachers. In addition, the teachers’ feelings of efficacy in relation to all but one of the written communication goals also changed significantly. The exception was the curriculum goal “to use digital tools to find information and experiment with creating texts”.
The statistically significant positive changes in the participant teachers’ beliefs in their abilities to help pupils achieve curriculum goals for oral and written communication (Phase 2) can be linked to a number of factors in the course design and delivery (Phase 1). As indicated, the generous study provisions and the integration of course tasks linked to classroom practice are conducive to teacher development. In addition, the role of the experienced teacher educator responsible for methodology must be especially credited. Her systematic efforts to raise teachers’ awareness of their own beliefs helped to deepen their understanding as they tried out a wide range of new ideas, practices and resources. This integration of practical ideas backed by simple but powerful explanation (i.e. theory) helped to gradually convince teachers of the increased effectiveness of a more varied and communicative approach to teaching.
There were some differences in the results between the 1–4 and 5–7 grade teachers (phase 2). The 1–4 grade teachers beliefs about their ability to help their pupils achieve curriculum goals for language learning strategies and for developing knowledge about English speaking countries’ literature and culture changed significantly, while the 5–7 grade teachers did not experience significant change in these areas. However, both the 1–4 and 5–7 grade teachers reported using significantly less correction.
With regard to the teachers’ self-reported classroom language use, both the 1–4 and 5–7 grade groups reported that significantly more English was used in all areas, but especially when explaining vocabulary and grammar, for creating a good class atmosphere, and for assessing learners. In the qualitative feedback consisting of the teachers’ reflections about changes in their answers to the identical pre-course and early course questionnaire, it was clear that teachers were using less translation and becoming more confident in their oral language abilities. The results for the questionnaire section concerning teachers’ confidence in their oral proficiency also showed a positive significant change, except for some hesitation due to uncertainty about grammar. Furthermore, the move towards less textbook dependence, more varied activities, more active pupils, and the use of a wider range of teaching materials all provide evidence of significant development.
Longer-term professional development
These findings were corroborated by the case study evidence and analysis (Phase 3), which showed that all of the four case study teachers began to use a more varied repertoire of methods and materials. In developing a more communicative approach, these four teachers spoke more English and their classroom language became less controlled and more spontaneous and interactive. Their word variation increased a little, while their frequency of errors remained the same or increased, probably as a result of the faster and more spontaneous teacher talk and more interactive teaching methods. The significant increases in the amount of English that teachers reported using in their classrooms (Phase 2), together with the reduction in the use of translation, backed by the weight of evidence from the observation and measurement in the case studies (Phase 3), are also clear signs of the effectiveness of the course.
Nonetheless, the longer-term evidence from the case studies (Phase 3) also suggested that there were a number of factors working against the sustainability of some of these gains in professional development. While three of the four teachers’ confidence as English teachers increased, the confidence of three teachers as oral role models was judged to have decreased or remained the same. Therefore, the longitudinal case study evidence from the four teachers’ home contexts indicated that even though teachers’ confidence in their oral proficiency and methodological competence had developed during the course, there were signs that the momentum provided by the course input was slowing down. For example, the lack of regular opportunities outside English lessons to practice speaking English seemed to erode three of the four case study teachers’ oral confidence over time.
In fact, as shown in Phase 1, the lack of emphasis on practicing oral English between course seminars was identified as a serious weakness of the course design, implying the need for a more targeted concentration on the development of oral proficiency in the design of future courses. In Phase 2, the lack of significant change in the entire cohort of teachers’ feelings of competence with regard to teaching pronunciation, as well as the lack of significant change in relation to hesitancy and grammatical errors, can both be related to low confidence in their oral proficiency. Furthermore, in the case studies in Phase 3, both the teachers’ fears of making mistakes, as well as their actual mistakes, undermined their confidence.
Discussion: Contributions to the english didactics field
This mixed-methods study examined the professional development of a group of experienced primary school teachers who had previously taught English without any EFL teacher education. The study compared the course design and course impact on the teachers. Although the results were generally positive, the research findings raise questions as to what the subject-matter content of in-service EFL teacher education courses for generalist primary school teachers should comprise, how such course programs should be organized and implemented, and to what extent the impact of the courses are sustainable. The results gave clear indications of the areas in which participants faced the greatest challenges. The following discussion therefore focuses on these areas and related challenges for course design.
Empirical Contributions: The sustainability of gains in oral fluency and confidence
In the long-term, maintaining language proficiency is a challenge for generalist language teachers (Valmori & De Costa, 2014; Richards, Conway, Roskvist, & Harvey, 2013). This is important because increased fluency can have benefits for increasing the flexibility of the language teacher’s classroom practices (Richards 2007). Problems with fluency and oral confidence in the classroom can therefore also affect teaching in other ways, leading, for example, to less experimentation and creativity and greater dependence on textbooks.
While the course generally strengthened teachers’ language awareness and confidence in their oral proficiency, and helped them to try out new, more communicative teaching approaches, the longitudinal case study results in Phase 3 cast considerable doubt on the sustainability of the teachers’ gains in oral confidence. In the post-course interviews 16 months after the end of the course, three of the four teachers mentioned having difficulties in maintaining their proficiency due to lack of opportunities to practice speaking English.
While the first part of the focus course concentrated on raising the teachers’ language awareness (Language in Use), and Module 2 concentrated on teaching methodology (Teaching and Learning English), neither module included interactive oral language practice outside of the seminars. The research results indicated that there was no significant change in teachers’ confidence in their ability to speak without hesitation due to grammatical errors, while the case study results in Phase 3 showed no decrease in teachers’ grammatical errors. Furthermore, questionnaire results showed that the teaching of pronunciation was the one area where both the 1–4 and 5–7 grade teachers’ beliefs in their own competence to help their pupils achieve curriculum goals did not change significantly. These results may also indicate that there is a need for a greater concentration on how to teach grammar and pronunciation (pedagogical content knowledge) as opposed to the more theoretical linguistic component that comprised the first part of the course. A more concentrated focus on the development of teachers’ language proficiency should help to strengthen teachers’ confidence in exemplifying and modeling the language when, for example, teaching pronunciation and grammar.
Although the longitudinal results were based on a small number of observations and case studies, the research raised questions about how sustainable the gains in oral proficiency and confidence were; it also showed that the course design and CQ program lack measures which can contribute to sustaining professional development in the long run. The research overview by Timperley et al. (2008, p.219) shows that sustainability resulting from professional development courses depends on a number of factors including “ongoing opportunities for teachers to deepen relevant knowledge and skills and to work and learn collaboratively with colleagues”. The research results in this study showed that teachers on the CQ course had very few opportunities for systematic collaboration on the course, with no synchronous online communication course-based components between seminars. Neither was there any systematic cooperation with home school or home area English teachers.
The individualized course design and lack of planned collaboration on the CQ courses mitigate against sustainability, especially given the lack of post-course follow-up. Indeed, in Phase 2, one of the questionnaire results showed that only one of the 33 course participants was part of an English teacher network. This is a problem threatening the long-term credibility of the course program since teachers cannot develop in isolation. Indeed, Broad (2015) argues in a recent study of teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) that:
[t]he most significant barrier to engagement with beneficial and meaningful CPD is the result of teachers operating in impoverished and limited teacher/CPD networks. These impoverished networks do not offer teachers the opportunity to forge links with similar subject-specialist teachers, leaving them to develop subject and occupational expertise in isolation (Broad, 2015, p. 16)
Despite the lack of follow-up or participation in English teacher networks, most of the teachers on the CQ course may still have learned sufficient skills for inquiry and gained sufficient knowledge, skills and momentum to be able to continue developing, albeit sometimes in relative isolation, if they can find sufficient time to seek out new impulses and resources.
The study started with a broad comparison of course designs focusing on the contextual dimension, before the focus was narrowed down to one course group as a whole, finally culminating in a longitudinal study assessing aspects of the impact of the course on individual teachers in their local contexts. By combining the use of mixed methods and a longitudinal design, the three-phase design succeeded in covering a wide field in depth. As such, the study design and research progression can be considered as a contribution to knowledge – the model showing how a single researcher can shed light on a broad research area while taking into account context, before focusing on a course cohort group and then individual participants.
The overall mixed-methods approach, especially in the second phase, allowed insights to emerge that would otherwise have remained hidden. For example, the quantitative data indicated that the amount of translation used by the teachers had reduced significantly. One of the reasons given for this by a teacher was that she was now able to justify not translating when confronted by parents who expected that teachers should always translate words in class in case one pupil did not understand. This is an important finding in relation to, for example, the problems that Lundberg’s (2007) research showed that teachers face in conservative local cultures. In the case of the PhD study reported here, the mix of data allowed a greater depth of understanding. Nonetheless, the study had methodological limitations which meant that direct causal claims of the impact of different aspects of course design on teacher development must be treated with caution.
Simon Borg (2015), who has been in the forefront of the research development in teacher cognition within language teacher education, argues that much of the increasing amount of research into teacher cognition (e.g. Fives & Gill, 2014) has unnaturally separated teachers’ beliefs and their classroom practices. In the research project discussed here, however, there was a deliberate focus on integrating the study of teachers’ professional development with the analysis of changes in teachers’ classroom language, practices, confidence, and cognitions. In other words, teachers’ beliefs were not isolated from their language use and teaching practices. This holistic focus resulted in the combined breadth and depth of the overall findings in this study.
The study also provides examples of the complexity of theorizing teacher development since some cognitive and affective processes do not necessarily progress in a coherent fashion. For example, one case study teacher reflected that her confidence in her own oral English did not increase during the course due to her becoming more aware of her own limitations. Yet, the same teacher answered that she now found it easier to help her pupils achieve curriculum goals because, as she said (original language): “I become more certain about myself”. In the same sentence, she reflected: “that surprise me really because I feel more unsure now than I did in the beginning, but when I think about it I become happy”. This illustrates how the research sometimes resulted in the emergence of a fuller picture of the complexity of developmental processes.
Implications for English teaching
As documented in the introduction, a high proportion of those who teach English to children in Norway have no specific EFL teacher education. The research in this study indicates that many of these teachers are likely to be strongly lacking in confidence in their oral proficiency and in the range of their teaching methods. The implications are therefore that there is a specific need for the CQ courses to focus on developing these teachers’ oral language skills while broadening their methodological repertoire. The results suggest that future CQ courses should more fully utilize the spaces between face-to-face seminars by organizing regular (weekly) conversations between teachers in English, with the support of teacher educators, in order to discuss the implementation of classroom-based tasks as new input and theory is tested out in class, in line with research recommendations (e.g. Hayes & Chang 2012). In this way, not only will course participants practice oral English, but this form of teacher collaboration, supported by teacher educators, will also allow teachers to regularly reflect on and learn from others’ experiences as well as to pick up new ideas and resources, as recommended by theory and research into teacher development (Broad and Evans, 2006, Timperley et al.2008).
In terms of classroom changes and improvements, the results suggest that CQ course participants will solidify their English subject knowledge base and expand their English language teaching repertoire. Nonetheless, the study also implies that many teachers will remain lacking in confidence in their own oral English. This is likely to hamper their ability to teach oral fluency, including pronunciation and intonation, in a sufficiently playful or creative manner to ensure that they are able to instill a lasting love of English language learning in their pupils during the vital early years. This is a serious limitation because the nurturing of such an enthusiastic appreciation of the language can help to create a strong longer-term motivational foundation in young learners. Such an affective development can in turn function as an effective buffer when pupils grow older and face the more stringent demands and cognitive challenges of more complex language learning. If pupils have learned to love English, they may, for example, be more receptive to the teaching of language accuracy and grammar in secondary school.
In terms of the overall organizational design of the CQ courses, the implications of the research results are that there is a need to re-organize the CQ courses, turning “the development of competence into a collective responsibility rather than simply a private privilege for individual teachers” (Hagen & Nyen, p. 168). The national program could be substantially devolved to the regional and local levels so that schools and municipalities can assume co-responsibility for collective development, including the creation of English subject teacher networks, in collaboration with the universities and colleges delivering the CQ courses. This could potentially lead to the kind of ideal solution identified by the Early Language Learning in English (ELLiE) research project: “When a top-down process is combined with a supportive bottom-up school and home environment, the ideal conditions for sustainability are much more likely to be encountered” (Enever, 2011, p. 25).
Suggestions for future research
The results suggest the need for two main areas of research focus, first in relation to changes in subject matter content, course organization, and implementation; and second, but equally important, in relation to longer-term impact and follow-up. Given the expense and dimensions that the CQ in-service EFL (1–7) teacher education programme is now assuming in Norway, it is essential to evaluate how it can become more effective. Such research needs to adopt a multi-dimensional perspective, including using a longitudinal approach, and different research methods, both qualitative and quantitative.
The effect of the introduction of a sustained focus on oral proficiency as the main course subject matter integrated with English teaching methodology should be investigated. Such research would depend on the implementation of obligatory participation in regular online English conversation between seminars. These classes would consist of discussion and reflection on classroom-based tasks, supported by teacher educators. The research would attempt to measure the impact of the course on oral proficiency and confidence. The former would require the conception and use of a specific research tool to measure the development of teachers’ oral proficiency at different points in time. Another important aspect of this research would be to try to establish more clearly how and in what ways the development of oral proficiency and English teachers’ methodological repertoire are connected.
Second, a longer-term research project is needed to assess the effectiveness of developing English subject teacher networks to improve the post-course impact of the CQ courses. This could take the form of action research, designed to find optimal solutions for developing thriving local or regional communities of English primary school teachers.
|1||The chapter presents the overall results of a doctoral study (Coburn, 2016), focusing specifically on its practical implications for the teaching of English in Norway. The thesis in its entirety – with theoretical, methodological and empirical details – can be found here: https://brage.bibsys.no/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/2420139/FINAL%20James%20Coburn%20dissertation.pdf?sequence=4|