Young learners deserve the best teachers

Written by: Syana Harizanova, Deshka Maragaritova

What makes a good teacher is a question asked too often to sound exciting. Yet we still find it quite topical and thought-provoking as it is a public secret that the number of all practicing teachers exceeds, sometimes significantly, the number of good practising teachers. In Bulgaria this is especially true for subjects like English, and even more true for English in the Primary. Why is this so?

Let’s look at this question from two different angles. First, who is considered qualified to teach English in the Primary? Second, who actually does it?

Officially, until very recently the only people who had the right to teach English at school in Bulgaria were university graduates for whom English was their first or second major. (Whether and to what extent these people are trained to teach young learners in particular is a question that we shall deliberately not touch upon now.) Not surprisingly, only a few of these graduates choose to become primary teachers of English. At the same time, the need for such teachers is constantly and rapidly growing. This has led to a situation where by and large English language teaching is intrusted to people with questionable qualifications.

When, four years ago, the Ministry of Education decided to include English in the national primary curriculum, methodologists, teacher trainers and mentors were faced with the necessity to prepare urgently enough English teachers for grades 1–4. Some universities then started new four-year programmes for qualifying primary teachers who would be able to teach English together with the other subjects in the curriculum. But four years were too long to wait. The first graduates would be getting their qualification only in 2002, and the situation needed an immediate solution.

Then, in 1998, New Bulgarian University invited practising or newly qualified primary teachers with little or no knowledge of English to apply for a one-year retraining course where they could acquire an adequate proficiency level of English, and would be trained how to teach English to young learners. (For a more detailed description of the course see Figure 1.)

Sixteen applicants were admitted and graduated the course – eight coming from the capital city and eight from other towns in Bulgaria. Three of them were fresh graduates, ten were practising primary teachers and three were on their maternity leaves.

Starting in October, the sessions took place on Thursday and Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Sometimes there were lectures on Sunday mornings, too. Retrainees came for six 40-minute lessons per day. During the Easter and Christmas holidays, as well as in June and July (when the primary school year was over) retrainees studied 6 hrs every day of the week and had the weekends free. The final exams were in the last week of July.

One can’t but feel the intensiveness and toughness of the course. It took tremendous efforts on the part of all trainees, especially of those who were combining studying at NBU with teaching at school or/and looking after a family. Yet, on the whole, the course proved to be really successful. Not only from the point of view of the retrainees, who explicitly said so in their post-course evaluation but more particularly for the outcomes which were achieved. 63% of the retrainees (10 out of 16) scored excellent in English. Most of them developed a genuine feeling and a knack for teaching children English. All of them started teaching English in the primary immediately after graduating the course. Another important asset of the course was the spirit of cooperation and collaboration which grew during the year’s hard work and which didn’t fade away upon graduation. Most of the retrainees still keep in touch to exchange ideas, concerns, information, etc.

What made the course a success? Why did teachers from other parts of Bulgaria apply for it the next year and the year after next in spite of the expensive tuition fee? (NBU is a private university and fees are considerably higher than those at state universities.)

To start with, the duration of the course (just one year) makes it more convenient than other existing alternatives. What is more, it is scheduled in such a way that retrainees who are practising teachers can combine studies with work without having to go on a leave. Thus they don’t lose their jobs and keep receiving their salaries. Besides, the fact that the course is designed for people who already have sound theoretical and practical knowledge of teaching children makes it possible to optimise the content of the methodology module and to put a strong emphasis on the English language module.

Needless to say, the success of the course has been largely due to the right kind of trainers and lecturers. The team consists of people who are highly qualified and have been involved in preservice and inservice teacher training for many years. Two of the methodologists are also responsible for the bulk of the English language teaching as they have vast experience in teaching adult learners on intensive English courses. Thus the retrainees have the opportunity to see their trainers teach English and benefit directly from their knowledge and experience, references being constantly made to FLT in the primary classroom. Another fact which has proved to be quite beneficial, although initially seen as a threat by most retrainees, is that the lectures and workshops are conducted in English. This is yet another way of exposing the retrainees to English, as well as feeding them necessary and useful professional terminology in English.

Generally, the methodology module aims at combining the theoretical input with workshop-format sessions where retrainees experience techniques and activities and reflect upon them from the perspective of TEYL. The positive feedback we get from retrainees and their 100% attendance come to prove that we have more or less succeeded in hitting the right balance between theory and practice. As a particular strength of the course retrainees also point out the classroom observation and the teaching practice organised for them in several primary schools in Sofia. The objective behind these two is to provide a framework for thinking about the relationship between theory and practice. Undoubtedly, it is extremely important that our retrainees work together with mentors who have gone through preliminary training in mentoring at NBU. Thus the retrainees acquire hands-on experience in lesson planning and teaching, preparing and adapting materials, post-lesson self-evaluation, etc.

In spite of the achievements we pride ourselves on, the initial version of the course has undergone a number of changes. We have tried to make it more flexible and to answer more fully to the needs of the retainees. We have also tried to deal with some of the problems which we experienced during the first and the second year of its existence.

The biggest change is that the course has been extended from two to three semesters. This was provoked by two factors: first, the necessity to relieve the heavy load of intensive study, and second, the impossibility to organise the state exam (a lesson delivered in front of an examination board) within the same academic year. As the end of primary school year precedes by nearly three months the end of the academic year, our first group of retrainees had to take their state exam as late as September/October of the next year, when children were back to school. In the new version of the programme both the teaching practice and the exam happen during the third semester.

We also agreed that it would be more efficient to schedule the course in Testing, Assessment and Evaluation during the third semester, when the retrainees have finished the Primary TEFL methodology course, so that they were more prepared to understand the principles of assessing young learners.

Another big change was that the teaching hours for English have been reduced to 720 as this was considered a reasonable number for taking our retrainees from beginner to solid intermediate level. At the same time, the number of hours in the methodology module has increased by ninety with all the respective consequences. (For specific changes in the course outline see Figure 2.)

The admission procedure has also been changed. Initially, only primary teachers with beginner level of English had the right to apply. They had to write an essay (in Bulgarian) ‘Why I want to teach English in the Primary’, and shortlisted were invited for an interview. Now any qualified teacher can apply for the programme. There is also a new opportunity for teachers with pre-intermediate or intermediate level of English to apply for the course. They only do the methodology module and may join in the ELT module at level 2 or 3, depending on their competence in English.

As someone might have noticed, Figure 2 is called ‘latest’ and not ‘last’ version of the course, which speaks for itself. The syllabus of the course and the methodology of the training are under constant development. There is always something to improve or simply to do differently.

Today, with retraining programmes going on at many universities in Bulgaria, NBU programme remains an unbeatable option foranybody who is looking for professional development

Figure 1:          DEPARTMENT OF APPLIED LINGUISTICS

NEW BULGARIAN UNIVERSITY

SOFIA

[↑]

Programme:               Teaching a Foreign Language to Young Learners

[↑]

(initial version – academic year 1998/1999)

Aim: To provide adequately prepared qualified FL teachers for the primary schools in Bulgaria

Objectives:

  • to initiate and build up in trainees a FL competence
  • to make them aware of the key aspects of the FL teaching/learning process
  • to give them theoretical  as well as practical knowledge and skills for teaching a FL to YL.

Course Outline: The course runs in two modules and takes 2 semesters:

  • an intensive FLT course (840 hrs) divided into 4 levels:

-          Levels 1 and 2 (240 hrs each) are done during the 1st semester.

-          Levels 3 and 4 (240 hrs + 120 hrs) are done during the 2nd semester, together with the methodology module.

  • a methodology module (180 hrs).

Content of the methodology module:

  • Primary FLT methodology                                     60 hrs
  • Textbook evaluation and materials design             15 hrs
    • Testing, assessment and evaluation                        15 hrs
    • Audio-visual and information technologies           15 hrs
    • Lesson observation                                                 15 hrs
    • Teaching practice                                                   60 hrs

Teaching mode for the methodology module:

Lectures

Workshops

Case-studies

Discussions

Modes of Assessment:

- for the language course:

participation in discussions

written assignments

3 progress tests (after Levels 1,2 and 3)

Final test (at the end of the course)

- for the methodology module:     The course in Primary FLT Methodology is followed by written and oral exams. As part of the oral exam, trainees have to do a problem-solving task taken from the teaching context.

After the course in Audio-Visual Technologies the trainees have to present (in a written form) an original idea for applying the new technologies in a specific teaching situation.

After the course in Textbook Evaluation and Materials Design trainees have to either evaluate a primary English coursebook (local or other) not discussed previously, or suggest self-designed teaching materials to complete a named coursebook

The Testing, Assessment and Evaluation course is followed by trainees’ producing a self-designed testing material, which they elaborate on orally. (Type, purpose, duration, etc. of test + age and level of children should be specified.)

The Teaching Practice ends up with delivering a self-prepared E. lesson before an examination board.

Some issues for the Primary ELT methodology course:

  • How children learn foreign languages (introduction, awareness-raising)
  • The four language skills
  • Teaching the different aspects of language (vocabulary, grammar, spelling)
  • Making EL learning fun (using songs, games, puppets, etc.)
  • Classroom management (lesson planning, classroom organisation, pairwork/groupwork, etc.)
  • Integrating EFL into the primary curriculum
  • Teaching culture
  • Books for children, storytelling

Figure 2:          DEPARTMENT OF APPLIED LINGUISTICS

[↑]

NEW BULGARIAN UNIVERSITY

SOFIA

[↑]

Programme: Teaching a Foreign Language to Young Learners

(latest version – academic year 2003 – 2004)

Aim: unchanged

Objectives: unchanged

Course Outline: The course runs in two modules and takes three semesters:

  • an intensive FL course (720 hrs) divided into 3 parts (240 hrs per semester)
  • a methodology module (270 hrs) consisting of 7 components covered throughout the three semesters

Content of the Methodology Module:

  • Primary FLT methodology                                     60 hrs
  • Lesson observation                                                 15 hrs
  • Textbook evaluation and materials design             30 hrs
  • Testing, assessment and evaluation                        30 hrs
  • Audio-visual and information technologies           30 hrs
  • Children’s literature in English                              45 hrs
  • Teaching practice                                                   60 hrs

Teaching mode for the methodology module: unchanged

Modes of Assessment:

- for the language course:

  • participation in discussions
  • written assignments
  • progress tests (throughout the semesters)
  • 3 end-of-term tests
  • Final State Exam

- for the methodology module:

  • unchanged + an exam in Children’s Literature
    The Children’s Literature course is followed by an oral examination: trainees answer one theoretical question and then tell a story of their choice, suggesting ideas for presenting/using it in the primary classroom.

Some new issues added to the Primary ELT methodology course:

  • Approaches and methods in FLT
  • How children learn foreign languages
  • Teaching YL pronunciation, intonation and rhythm
  • Teaching the alphabet (ways of introducing letters, teaching handwriting, etc.)
  • Classroom language
  • Error correction
  • Visual aids in TEFL to YL

Tags: , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.