Developing Student Education Practice for Language Teaching

Written by Cheryl Greenlay

DEVELOPING PHILOSOPHY AND CONTEXT OF PRACTICE

This reflection will consider the development of my teaching philosophy in the context of my teaching practice which is ‘English for Academic Purposes’ (EAP) for international postgraduate students entering PGT degrees from a range of disciplinary backgrounds. I’ve identified three main areas for discussion as relevant to my professional development. First I’ll outline observations of my teaching practice, then I’ll consider use of technology to enhance learning and finally I’ll highlight issues related to internationalisation and inclusivity.

A suitable starting point for reflection is on my Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI), which I took at the beginning of the programme and then again recently, (Pratt & Collins, 2014). The second set of results indicate some significant changes in my perspectives, shifting from dominant Transmission and Apprenticeship (36 and 35 respectively) to dominant Apprenticeship, Developmental and Nurturing, (37, 34 and 34 respectively). It’s also noticeable that the height of the bars increased in all areas except for the Transmission perspective, which reduced 4 points. This indicates a readjustment of my teaching practice and a strengthening of my convictions in all areas but Transmission.

When I reflect on how these changes have occurred, it seems the experience of participating in the micro teach was pivotal. Prior to the PGCAP, I would not have considered myself to be a dominant ‘transmission’ teacher, yet there was clearly some room for reflection from the first TPI results. Teacher-fronted delivery of content, redundant teacher-talking time, and lengthy teacher-led feedback stages are things I consciously tried to avoid in my professional practice. However, not only were more changes required in these areas, but also a shift to reach the realisation that it’s not necessary, (or indeed possible), for me to know everything for my teaching to facilitate deeper learning. At level 3 teaching (Biggs, 2012), the focus in lessons shifts onto what learners are doing and the teacher aims to facilitate a transformation in the ways students think and understand.

In the micro teach session, I observed colleagues who despite attempting to follow the BOPPPS[1] model, still fell back into transmission teaching. As a learner, I experienced that this approach is only as strong as the individual delivering the content; if the ‘presenter’ does not have sufficient skills to engage and deliver clearly, the potential quantity of learning drops, content becomes less memorable and students experience a more passive way of receiving information and are less involved (if at all) in deeper cognitive thinking processes. Crucially in language learning, students lack practice, which according to Syed, (2011), is the key to achievement and success. In addition, adopting a learner-centred approach increases autonomy, which is a key expectation at postgraduate level. I‘m satisfied that my TPI Transmission perspective reduced, but will need to be mindful and monitor this, as my results showed a difference between my intentions (9) and my actions (12).

The second area of greatest change in my TPI was ‘developmental’ which increased by 5 points. In EAP teaching the cohort is very diverse so it’s important to understand students’ thinking in order to facilitate cognitive engagement. International cohorts come from a very wide range of educational backgrounds, even within the same country, so they need to understand the expectations of how knowledge is gained and demonstrated at MA level. This process is more than learning input and repeating it in different ways to demonstrate understanding, (UG level), but rather a transforming of knowledge to contribute something new. I’ve realised that finding out what teaching and learning occurred at UG level, and what differences exist within the group, is highly important in order to know what questions need to be asked and what direction we might need to take. This is important for deeper learning because conceptual gaps may occur if there is inadequate scaffolding towards autonomy. Students need a ‘high enough prior knowledge to provide internal guidance’ (Kirschner et. al. 2006, p42). In short, without the teacher knowing something about the knowledge and experience learners bring into the classroom, how can the process of helping them build on their knowledge and then transform it even begin? This question has changed my focus, particularly at the start of classes incorporating pre-evaluation activities to take learners through processes that activate prior learning, resulting in richer and more valuable contributions.

An increased attention to students’ previous learning and how this is linked to facilitating the development of an open mind set, (Dweck, 2012), has also led to an improvement in learning environment. This represents an important shift in classroom dynamics. Beforehand, I might have relied more on my ability to engage groups and create a rapport in teacher fronted ways. Now my efforts are more focussed on producing a community of practice in which students share their knowledge and learn from each other. This is something evidenced in my observation feedback (A3) and reflected in an increase of 4 points in my ‘nurturing’ TPI perspective (A4). International students, face increased cognitive challenge due to learning a discipline through the medium of a second language. To face this challenge successfully, they not only need training in metacognitive strategies to develop language and study skills necessary in their further studies, but also the right support to develop an open mind set to be confident, self-determined and able to engage with resilience when they face challenge and possibly failure in assessments. I’ve facilitated nurturing to develop resilience in learning in various ways: discussing the nature of ambiguity in dealing with the application of abstract concepts applied to their own discipline (A5); considering cultural, educational and linguistic differences that may lead to accidental malpractice and plagiarism, (Amsberry, 2009); understanding the role of formative and peer and self evaluation in assessment to increase awareness of the required standards (David and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006); engaging in feedback processes to include reflection in the consultation process (A6, log 11) and finding genuine ways to praise effort in learning both inside and outside the classroom.

My reflections on the use of technology in teaching and learning is the second area on which I’d like to focus. While I have strong convictions about the benefits of technology enhanced learning, it’s an area in which I need to significantly upskill. However, an investment of training, time, patience and confidence is required and this presents a challenge for me, (A6, log 10). Participating as a part-time student on the PGCAP (A6 log 6) has convinced me of the benefits of students engaging in blended learning which is why I chose to use a flipped classroom approach in my observation practice (A3). By applying a pre-evaluation and post- evaluation into plan, I was able to see that students saw the process of flipped learning both highly engaging and valuable and this is therefore a method of teaching that I will incorporate again in my teaching practice in future.

Overall, the process of considering the value of using technology enhanced course design has helped me focus on which content and skills are best delivered online and learned independently to reduce unnecessary transmission teaching. From my own experience on this module, knowing that what I had gained from well-scaffolded independent learning tasks online would then need to be communicated and transformed (in some way) with peers in student-led activities face-to-face, forced me to take responsibility for my own learning. The output (group work in live sessions) was extrinsically motivating and so has the potential to increase engagement and participation of all learners. This is particularly pertinent for international students who usually have high intrinsic motivation to study their discipline, but may have only extrinsic motivation to study it in English. The formative observation process helped me appreciate the importance of providing students with clear rationales when using blended learning, since their engagement cannot automatically be assumed and may depend on levels of individual autonomy. Therefore, increasing commitment and establishing expectations for independent learning is required; crucially students need to fully understand that their learning at home will form the backbone of the following live sessions. Careful scaffolding to enable all students to participate using the same quality input is also important, for example, internet sites and sources should be pre-selected by the tutor, (unless search and evaluation skills are learning outcomes). Necessitating students to learn before they enter the classroom fulfils pedagogical benefits by: allowing them to work at their own pace and to select new information at their level; providing space for critical thinking; reducing transmission teaching in the live session; increasing motivation and participation in the live session; facilitating peer learning and increasing a nurturing environment through the modelling of a community of practice.

The issues I face around the practical application of using technologies such as Padlet, Blackboard, live polling apps and so on to facilitate blended learning is something of a personal challenge which I need to address as this could hinder my professional development. As with all skills, I need to develop fluency in using technology in programme design and classroom delivery and achieving this will signify a threshold learning experience. In April I’m presenting at one of the largest industry related conferences in my field, so will need to have a more professional looking Power Point, (a comment made in my micro teach feedback, A1), and I will be attending various training sessions on Minerva, OneDrive and online feedback as well as setting time aside each week on my calendar to learn new skills using Youtube. I will commit to using a live voting app to get feedback at the post evaluation stage of an upcoming workshop.

The last area for consideration is the wider HE issue of internationalisation, which I think also impacts on issues around inclusivity. With 9000 international students and a teaching cohort from over 90 countries, (Leeds University, 2019) our campus represents a global environment, something deemed to be valuable as part of the Russell Group, and figures at UG levels are set to increase in line with University policy. However, Neves and Hillman (2018) report that home students across the UK do not attach a high value to internationalisation in education and that Chinese students in particular are significantly less satisfied with the quality of support in learning and teaching they receive when compared to White, Black, Asian and Mixed counterparts studying in UK Higher Education. This data is significant and indicates possible problems around inclusivity. What curriculum design, assessment, lesson planning and linguistic considerations are in place to ease the increased cognitive load that learning in a second language unquestionably entails for international students? What can be done to increase cross-cultural accommodation skills much needed between home and international students to increase all the cohort’s confidence dealing in global interactions in preparation for research and employment? Raising awareness of some of these issues was the focus of my micro teach and it was rewarding to receive positive comments on the relevance of this topic; I’m encouraged to find avenues to explore and possibly research these questions further.

At classroom practice level, as a result of my learning on the module, I’m now incorporating a number of examples from Hattie (2015) in my teaching practice to increase inclusivity and hence support internationalisation: I’ve enhance a diagnostic writing task to include a reflective element; I’ve put in place a reflective consultation feedback loop to engage learners meaningfully in formative feedback from tutors; I provide clear checklists based on criteria to help students gain understanding of the standard; I provide clear rationales and regularly evaluate the impact of my teaching, I include pre-evaluation stages to recap previous lessons, I encourage sharing of previous learning and I set challenging, but achievable collaborative tasks to increase motivation within the group. These are enhancements to procedures already much in place within the Language Centre. It’s perhaps note worthy that The Leeds University PGT Programme Survey, 2018 (A8) reports that student satisfaction with teaching and learning on our pre-sessionals was very high and that sharing practice across Schools might therefore be beneficial.

 

REFERENCES

Amsberry, Dawn. (2009). Deconstructing Plagiarism: International Students and Textual Borrowing Practices, The Reference Librarian, 51:1, pp 31-44.

Biggs, J. (2012). What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research and Development. (31:1), pp 39-55.

David J.N, Macfarlane-Dick, M. (2006). Formative assessment and self regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education (31:2), pp. 199–218.

Dweck, C.S. (2012). Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. Constable & Robinson, London.

Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshall, S. (2015). Teaching & Learning in Higher Education. Oxen: Routledge.

Hattie, J. (2015). The applicability of Visible Learning to Higher Education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. 1(1), pp 79-91.

Kirschner, P. Sweller, J. Clark, R. (2006). Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Educational Psychologist. (41:2), pp 75-86.

Leeds University. (2019). Facts & Figures [Online]. [Accessed 06/01/19]. Available from: https://www.leeds.ac.uk/info/5000/about/140/facts_and_figures

Neves, J & Hillman, N. (2018). Student Academic Experience Survey Report. HEPI. Oxford.

Pratt, D. (2002). Good Teaching: One Size Fits All? New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. (93), pp 5-16.

Pratt, D. & Collins, J. (2014). Teaching perspectives Inventory. [Online]. [Accessed on 25/10/2018]. Available from: http://www.teachingperspectives.com/tpi/

Syed, M. (2010). Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success. Harper.

Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. (2018). BOPPPS Model for Lesson Planning. [Online]. [Accessed 05/01/09]. Available from: http://www.queensu.ca/teachingandlearning/modules/active/18_boppps_model_for_lesson_planni ng.html

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] A model for lesson which combines the key principles of constructive alignment and active learning. The six elements are:  Bridge in; Outcomes; Pre-assessment; Participatory Learning; Post-assessment; Summary.