In my pursuit to meet the learning needs of teachers of English in all levels and stages of education in the Dutch education system for our Teaching English Programmes , I am attending a variety of conferences about (language) learning these months. We are offering professional development courses that Cambridge English developed for non-native teachers of English in Primary and Secondary Education and a course support lecturers in universities with instructional English to teach their subject in International Bachelor and Master programmes. Really exciting, hands-on programmes tailor-made for each specific group and so I find it important to understand the day-to-day struggles teachers experience in their classrooms and in particular in teaching English as a second language to large groups of students.
My first conference this month was a professional development day for teachers of MFL (Modern Foreign Languages) and Dutch in Voortgezet Onderwijs (Secondary Schools).
These are the most important issues discussed:
- working with large groups of students (up to 42) with different levels
- how to practice speaking skills in such large groups
- students, only aiming for the minimum requirement of a pass grade and motivation in general
- how to organise formative assessment and to monitor the students’ progress
- and how to deal with special learning needs and concentration difficulties of students
The teachers I spoke to during lunch time, either were there on their day off or classes were postponed to later that week (it was a Monday), adding to the pressure of being away for the conference. But all teachers were highly motivated to find answers and to share best practices with each other.
The next conference was for School Leaders in Primary Education (PO Schools). Different by nature and more focusing on leadership. The one workshop that motivated me to attend, was how to teach English from an earlier age onwards (starting in group 1). Currently the standard is to only teach English one hour a week in groups 7 and 8, the last 2 years before Secondary School. And in practice, most teachers teach less than an hour a week or some even no English, because of their other workload and / or inability to teach English.
The day was kicked off by Jef Staes, inspirational speaker from Belgium, who talked about passion based learning. His take on improving learning is to encourage innovators (Red Monkeys) and to not be sheep (followers). He of course told it in a much more entertaining way, mixing Flemish with English and he was really funny! I even got the bumper stickers: ‘ik rem voor (image red monkeys)’ and ‘no sheeping (crossed-out image of sheep) but do check out his website: http://www.redmonkey.be
Topics discussed at AVS 2017 Conference ‘Daadkrachtig Leiderschap’:
- large groups and too much content to deliver
- inequality in pay – salaries PO are much lower than in VO
- work pressure – teachers working 40+ hours per week
- lack of funding for resources and innovation
- underrepresentation of men in PO schools etc.
In the workshop to start English at an earlier age, many school leaders had questions regarding how to reach this goal, considering the above issues and the lack of knowledge in English teaching:
- teachers are not trained to teach English and lack the specific methodology of English teaching (from zero)
- their own level of English is often insufficient and the curriculum is already overloaded, so it’s easier to do the bare minimum
- there is no time, nor the money for extensive training of all teachers involved
- there is still this fear that teaching English at an earlier age will have a negative effect on the children’s learning of Dutch, their writing skills and so on.
Parents however see the need and importance of English for their children’s future and the pressure is on!The one common question was, should we start with training all teachers or use a dedicated English teacher to teach all groups? where do we start?
One school leader had started implementing English from year 1 with his whole team and in the first years the use of English was very well received by both children as well as teachers and mixed in with their regular activities. But the workshop leader was discouraging the use of English in groups 3 and 4 when Dutch children start to learn to write. This does not make sense to me at all and research actually shows that children very easily learn multiple languages at the time, without it disrupting learning their Mother Tongue.
All in all, I was quite discouraged by the lack of support and funding school leaders have in implementing English at an earlier age. They need help and we can offer it! More encouragement for me to try to put those 2 things together:).
Cant’s end this blog yet without mentioning the inspiring performance of Dr. Zachary Walker who closed off the conference with some thought provoking statements about leadership in education. He came all the way from Singapore and works at the NIE, National Institute of Education there. This image is one of his 12 questions we need to ask ourselves; ‘Who sits at your table?’ (meaning, where do you get inspired and supported)
For the other 11 questions, I would suggest to invite him for a conference yourself or to follow him on Twitter @lastbackpack