Tag Archives: teacher education

Amy Tsui: Understanding Expertise in Language Teaching (TESOLacademic.org)

by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Academic is a knowledge dissemination site which links the work of TESOL-based academics to teachers, teacher-trainers, teacher-trainees, decision-makers and other researchers. Edited by Huw Jarvis, it provides a global forum for people to talk about how their published research, or an aspect of it, impacts on language pedagogy. TESOLacademics.org only posts talks about research which have gone through the peer review process and this ‘guarantees’ the quality of the submissions.

In the following video webcast, Amy Tsui discusses the nature of expertise in language teaching, its development, and how teachers employ it (click on image to view):

I very much agree with what Amy Tsui has to say about improvisation in structured learning environments. This essential aspect of teaching (which she refers to as “skilled improvisation” in her talk) should definitely not be underestimated (in the midst of the standards- und test-oriented teaching hype).


The Eurydice Network

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The face of EFL teacher education in Germany is changing dramatically at present, mainly because of recent developments in education politics, governance and administration in Europe. 

The Eurydice Network provides very interesting and useful information on and analyses of European education systems and policies. It consists of 35 national units based in all 31 countries participating in the EU’s Lifelong Learning programme (EU Member States, EEA countries and Turkey) and is coordinated and managed by the EU Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) in Brussels, which drafts its publications and databases. All Eurydice publications are available free of charge here

The Role of the Textbook in the EFL Classroom (3)

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

What do we really know about how textbooks are actually used in secondary school EFL classrooms around the globe today? Research indicates that EFL textbooks are used in many different ways, depending on a wide spectrum of factors. The teacher seems to be the most important factor. In a number of scholarly publications, including some introductory books to teaching English as a foreign language, different preferences or styles of textbook use are identified and described in more or less detail (see, for instance, Haß 2006), ranging from complete textbook-reliance to more selective approaches, from the eclectic use of many different instructional resources to the employment of self-made materials, especially in project-oriented or project-based sequences of instruction. In this context, textbook-bound teaching (i.e. progressing through the book page by page over the course of the school year) is often set in opposition to more flexible approaches to textbook use. The latter is often seen as the most adequate, convincing and appropriate.

The empirical basis is weak, however. This is regrettable, not only because it leaves us with a vague picture of actual textbook use (around the world, in different educational contexts). More fundamentally, identifying different styles of textbook use does not really tell us anything about how to use EFL materials and media most effectively and efficiently.

I am very interested in hearing what you think about this personally, and, more specifically, in how you make use of EFL materials and media in everyday classroom practice. On this blog, I have already referred to the many images and metaphors used by scholars to describe how textbooks and related materials and media should or should not be used in the EFL classroom (see: the role of the textbook in the EFL classroom, parts one und two).

Here are some very interesting and thought-provoking learner images for EFL textbooks documented in McGrath (2006):

“A coursebook is a pair of glasses (which help me to see what the teacher is talking about).“

“A textbook is a beggar (no one likes to approach it).“

“A textbook is an angry barking dog that frightens me in a language I don‘t understand.“

You can also find a lot of teacher images and metaphors for textbooks in McGrath (2006) as well, for instance:

„A textbook is like oil in cooking – a useful base ingredient.“

„Textbooks are like ladies‘ handbags because we can take what we need from them and ladies tend to take handbags wherever they go.“

„A textbook is the stone from which a sculpture will be made (needing bits chopped off, added on and occasionally a little crushing.“

Food for thought…

Haß, F. (Hrsg.) (2006). Fachdidaktik Englisch. Tradition, Innovation, Praxis. Stuttgart: Klett.

McGrath, I. (2006). Teachers‘ and learners‘ images for coursebooks. ELT Journal, 60 (2), 171-180.

“Visions of Languages in Education”

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

New publication: Doff, Sabine; Hüllen, Werner & Klippel, Friederike (Eds.) (2008). Visions of Languages in Education – Visionen der Bildung durch Sprachen. Berlin, München, Wien, Zürich, New York: Langenscheidt ELT. [MAFF = Münchener Arbeiten zur Fremdsprachen-Forschung; edited by Friederike Klippel, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, Germany]

Public discussion of school education in Germany has been dominated by a move towards purely functional goals. The obligation to compare learning outcomes between schools, regions or even countries may, in many respects, be helpful, but it narrows the teaching in schools. This is particularly true for foreign language teaching. As a consequence, general goals of Bildung, self-formation and the acquisition of cultural knowledge are neglected or even by-passed intentionally.

Therefore, the authors of this volume thought it imperative to redefine the educational goals of teaching English, French, Spanish, Russian, and other languages in schools at the beginning of the 21st century and to ask:

  • Why do we teach foreign languages in schools to everybody and what are the aims of doing this?
  • What exactly is the contribution of language teaching to the formation of character and the acquisition of cultural knowledge?
  • In what way does language teaching support other areas of school education?
  • What are the past, present and future visions of foreign language teaching?


a) Visions for Europe / Visionen für Europa

Werner Hüllen: Karl Magers Vision einer Bürgerschule mit Unterricht in den neu-europäischen Sprachen

Herbert Christ: Didaktik der Mehrsprachigkeit: Die Vision eines Sprachen und Schulfächer übergreifenden Lernens

Daniel Coste: Plurilingual Education, Identity, Citizenship

Michael Byram: Education for International Citizenship: Language Teaching and Education for Citizenship – In Europe and beyond

b) Visions for Learners – Learners’ Visions / Lern(er)-Visionen

Katrin Gut-Sembill: Visionen – Ein Antrieb zum Fremdsprachenlernen

Jürgen Kurtz: Life Skills-based Education in Secondary School Foreign Language Classrooms – Cornerstone of a Challenging Vision

Barbara Schmenk: Visions of Autonomy as a Core Concept in Language Education

Helmut Sauer: Von der Lernerorientierung zur Lehrerorientierung: Die Lehrkraft als Schlüssel zu “Bildung durch Sprachen”

c) Visions and Context in Historical Perspective / Geschichtliche Fundamente

Frans Wilhelm: Goals in Dutch Foreign Language Teaching: A Historical Perspective, 1500-2000

Daniel Tröhler: Zwischen Ideologie und Institution: Die Etablierung der modernen Fremdsprachen im Gymnasium Preußens und Zürichs

Christiane Ostermeier: Französisch statt Latein: Der Reformplan Julius Ostendorfs (1823-1877)

Sabine Doff: Was von Visionen übrig bleibt: Frauen, die neusprachliche Reformbewegung und ihr Echo in den Lehrplänen des frühen 20. Jahrhunderts

d) Visions in and beyond the Curriculum / Curriculare Visionen

Stefan Kipf: Schule im Umbruch – Perspektiven für den altsprachlichen Unterricht

Erik Kwakernaak: Fremdsprachenunterricht in den Niederlanden: Ein Fach ohne Identität?

Henry Widdowson / Barbara Seidlhofer: Visions and Delusions: Language Proficiency and Educational Failure

Claire Kramsch / Michael Chad Wellmon: From Bildung durch Sprache to Language Ecology: The Uses of Symbolic Competence




CLT in Theory and in Practice

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

Three months ago I pointed out on this blog that communicative language teaching (CLT) is a ‘fuzzy’ concept which has been interpreted and translated into secondary school EFL syllabuses, textbooks, and everyday classroom practice in a variety of ways around the world since its inception in the 1970s (see: “A Cognitive Science View on Communicative Language Teaching”). In theory, advanced university students of English as a foreign language understand this in principle, as the following key-word summary which a class of mine came up with collectively illustrates (click on image to enlarge).

Unfortunately, this does not automatically mean that students of English as a foreign language can indeed implement CLT in actual classroom practice successfully (and many, but not all are well-aware of this). More classroom research is needed on how to enable students and novice teachers to translate the principles of CLT into practice in primary and secondary schools (including task-based and content-based instruction as well as CLIL; becoming aware of its potentials and problems). 

In Germany, however, arguing for a better mix of theory and practice, of knowing and doing in initial teacher education is problematic, because of the relatively low status of Fachdidaktik (i.e. domain-specific pedagogy and methodology) in general, and Fremdsprachendidaktik (i.e. research-based foreign language pedagogy and methodology) in particular, which is still seen by many decision-makers as a mere additum to, and not as a core element of initial teacher education in the twenty-first century.

Quo Vadis, EFL Teacher Education?

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

What do we really know about the overall impact and the specific effects of initial EFL teacher education? Much of the current educational policy debate in Germany seems to be based on the intuitively appealing and seemingly plausible, yet premature and unrealistic assumption that a modularized, standardized, more rigidly evaluated and, ultimately, more intensively monitored teacher education program is desirable or necessary for producing better qualified teachers who as a result are better equipped to enhance target language and intercultural learning in EFL classrooms. However, from a scientific perspective, it is by no means clear how teacher education affects individual students and the quality of their teaching in the future. We are only just beginning to understand the complex interplay of the many factors influencing professional teacher development (see, for instance, Terhart 2004).

Teaching English as a foreign language can certainly not be reduced to ‘applied’ or ‘applying’ linguistics and psychology, and initial teacher education is definitely not what many German first semester TEFL students expect or might like it to be, i.e. an educational enterprise reduced to the prescriptive transmission of methodological recipes for teaching the target language.

All this is well-known world-wide. Initial teacher education should not of course aim at the practitioner per se. It aims at the reflective practitioner, seeking to provide an interdisciplinary, theory-driven and research-based array of courses, and – as far as this can be achieved under the given institutional circumstances – an optimal mix of theory and practice. The leitmotif of the reflective practitioner constitutes an enormous challenge though, especially because of students’ experientially-based and often deeply rooted preconceptions of teaching (their subjective theories), which often collide with the scientific theories and research evidence they are confronted with at university. A course of study that would mould a genuinely critical, reflective, innovative young teacher would necessitate an array of interrelated tasks that require time and a gradual professional maturing process that cannot be compartmentalized even further, cut down in breadth and width, and laid in the hands of the technocrats of evaluation and testing. What is now needed is the exact opposite, even if this puts much higher and more subtle demands on the university.

Terhart, Ewald (2004), „Struktur und Organisation der Lehrerbildung in Deutschland.“ [Stucture and Organization of Teacher Education in Germany]. In: Blömeke, S.; Reinhold, P.; Tulodziecki, G. & Wildt, J. (Hrsg.) [Eds.]. Handbuch Lehrerbildung. [Handbook of Teacher Education]. Braunschweig: Westermann, 37-59.


A Cognitive Science View on Communicative Language Teaching

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

From a cognitive science perspective, communicative language teaching (CLT) can be thought of as an ‘idealized cognitive model’ (see Lakoff 2007), which has been interpreted and translated into secondary school EFL syllabuses, textbooks, and everyday classroom practice in a variety of different ways around the world since its introduction in the 1970s. Implementations of CLT in secondary schools usually vary in their subjectively perceived or intersubjectively agreed upon degree of typicality or similarity to its theoretical core assumptions and the set of general learning and teaching principles derived from it (for a brief overview see, for instance, Richards 2006). Some instructional designs, procedures, and forms of classroom interaction appear to bear close resemblance to the theoretical core of the overall CLT framework. It seems to be reasonable to see them as prototypical examples, as highly representative cases or ‘good members’ of the ‘CLT family’ (see Spada 2007). Other ways of instruction appear to share relatively little with the idealized core theory – their family resemblance is considered to be comparatively low. They may therefore be viewed as more or less ‘peripheral family members’ or ‘distant relatives’ only. Yet, excluding these supposedly less representative members from the CLT family entirely is problematic, because they often share a few of the central properties of the abstract prototype, or seem to be motivated by it at least in certain ways.

Judgements as to whether a certain instructional design or practice is or is not to be accepted as a member of the CLT family are notoriously difficult, because they call for ‘reference point reasoning’ (see Rosch 1975), i.e. for categorization of teaching practices relative to a culture, context- and person-independent theoretical prototype. This highly complex process is influenced by a large number of individual and contextual factors such as teacher biography and education, teaching experience and know-how, the specific cultural, institutional and situational context of teaching English as a foreign language, non-native English teachers’ subjective theories and beliefs of how the target language is taught and learned best, the curriculum and the textbook, to name just a few.

Judgments concerning the typicality of a specific classroom practice are all the more difficult when the underlying theoretical core assumptions and the basic set of principles of learning and teaching on which this practice is supposedly based are themselves vague. One of the central problems of CLT seems to be that in contrast to some basic everyday cognitive models such as ‘bird’, where many people would say that ‘robin’ is a typical member of the bird family and ‘penguin’ is a less typical member, because birds usually fly, agreement on what is or is not CLT is far more difficult to achieve. The main reason is the elasticity of the overall CLT framework which is relatively fuzzy with regard to the significance and the optimal balance of language form and language use in the learning and teaching process (strong vs. weak version). Furthermore, there are so many different theoretical manifestations of CLT nowadays, for instance TBI (task based instruction) and CBI (content based instruction), that it is difficult for EFL practitioners – and especially for teaching novices – to recognize whether their teaching is in line with the core CLT theoretical framework.

Coming to a better understanding of the complex relationship between theory and practice is vital. According to Larsen-Freeman (1997) this is ‘an area crying for research’ – and this has not changed enough since Larsen-Freeman first recognized the need for further research over ten years ago. Categorization, (proto-)typicality, family resemblance and category membership are central concepts in cognitive science. They could help us gain a more profound knowledge of the complex relationship of CLT in theory and in practice, of how core theoretical concepts in foreign language education are acquired / learned, mentally represented and accessed in practice. This in turn could help to explain the discrepancies which often become visible when CLT is translated into actual everyday classroom action by individual teachers.

Lakoff, George (2007), “Cognitive models and prototype theory”, In: Evans, Vyvyan; Bergen, Benjamin & Zinken, Jörg (Eds.). The Cognitive Linguistics Reader. London & Oakville: Equinox, 130-167.

Larsen-Freeman, Diane (1997), “Chaos / Complexity Science and Second Language Acquisition.” Applied Linguistics, 18/2, 141-165.

Richards, Jack C. (2006), “Communicative Language Teaching Today.”

Rosch, Eleanor (1975), “Cognitive Reference Points.” Cognitive Psychology, 7, 532-547.

Spada, Nina (2007), “Communicative Language Teaching: Current Status and Future Prospects.” In: Cummins, Jim & Davison, Chris (Eds.). International Handbook of English Language Teaching. Part 1. New York: Springer, 271-288.