Teacher Training for English Teachers in Obregon City, Sonora, Mexico
Autor: CINDY DEVOLA
Titulo: Teacher Training for English Teachers in Obregon City, Sonora, Mexico
Area: Atlantic International University
Programa: Curriculum Development
Disponible para descarga: Yes
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TABLE OF CONTENT
I wish to express my deep appreciation to the following people:
Javier my partner for his help and support,
The principals, English coordinators, teachers and my co-workers at the schools involved for their participation,
And most importantly the students, the teachers and role models of the future, for their constant motivation and inspiration.
This paper introduces a framework to aid TEFL Teachers in Obregon City, Sonora, Mexico. In spite of the undeniable progress of language education in Mexico, there are a number of problems which frustrate teachers and learners provoking poor results. Some of the problems involve decisions about language and methodology taken by teachers who are still too concerned about form and grammar.
Gone are the days when any native English speaker seeking a life of travel and adventure could pursue a successful career as a Teacher of English as a Foreign/Second Language without experience or qualifications. Almost all employers now seek teachers with a TEFL/TESL qualification plus experience, in addition to a first degree. Many even insist on an MA Linguistics/TEFL/TESL postgraduate qualification.
However, unfortunately thesis true in all parts of the globe. In many small towns in places with limited resources, finding qualified English teachers is a major challenge. When an appropriate candidate cannot be found, employers resort to the next best option, which is often the candidate with the highest level of English, regardless of their lack of teaching experience and qualifications. This has several consequences which I will discuss in my introduction.
This study primarily used surveys to conduct research involving approximately 70 employees at 5 different English schools in Obregon City Sonora Mexico. There were principals, English coordinators and English teachers. Interviews took place during a 3 month period. Based on the information from the interviews I created a teacher training course designed to help the teachers give better classes and achieve better results from their students. I conducted a follow-up survey to determine if my training course had been effective.
The methodology was based on the task-based approach, the content-based approach, language awareness and intercultural competence. The task-based approach is the framework in which academic contents are dealt with. Language awareness represents a new perspective on form and grammar within a communicative approach. Each of these three concepts has theoretical and practical implications which were intended to help teachers in Obregon achieve better results in their classes.
Analysis of the survey data showed that both teachers and principals believed that they did not have sufficient training and that there was a lack of on-going TEFL and ESL in schools. The training course involved themes based on mainstream ESL training. Through the means of another survey after the training course, I found that the participants believed that the course was beneficial.
In recent days a number of publications have announced a “paradigm shift”, following T.S. Kuhn’s terminology (1970), in second language teaching. This revolutionary paradigm shift takes second language teaching from positivism to post-positivism (Jacobs and Farrell, 2001:2) or, in a more specific comparison of educational paradigms, from a positivistic to a constructivist-interpretive and, finally, a critical-emancipatory paradigm (Kohonen, 2001:15).
There is no doubt that something is changing in the profession, at least considering those recent publications. However, is that change really taking place all around the world? My research has shown that in Cd. Obregon, it is not the case.
Obregon city s the second largest city in the northern Mexican state of Sonora and is situated 525 km south of the state's border with the U.S. state of Arizona. It is also the municipal seat of Cajeme municipality, located in the Yaqui Valley. With a population of approximately 400,000 people, Obregon has more than 266 primary schools, 72 secondary schools, 27 technical schools, 37 high schools and 10 institutions for higher education.
Recently, the Mexican Education system has implemented improvements in various areas so that they could confront the challenges and demands of being a globalised nation. This has lead to the education system that focuses on educating people that have knowledge in various areas of study, amongst which competence for international communication is essential. This is why the TEFL has become a priority for the Ministry of Education (Secretaría de Educación Pública, SEP), particularly in the Basic Education system, which comprises preschool (ages 3 – 5), primary (ages 6 – 11) and secondary education (ages 12 – 15).
Currently, teaching of English is only compulsory in secondary education. However, state education systems have come up with some interesting and valuable ideas in order to introduce English to primary schools. Today, 22 (out of 32) states operate their programmes locally, providing this service to nearly 750,000 students .
As regards secondary education, the programme of studies (national curriculum) was fully revised in 2006. The new programme, which is now being used by nearly 4 million students, establishes the minimum exit level for secondary students (equivalent to A2 of the Common European Framework), it determines the contents students have to master (in can do statements), and it offers teachers a methodological framework to guide their practice based on a model of experiential learning.
Another strategy developed by SEP in collaboration with the British Council and UCLES, is the “SEPA ingles” (Learn English) programme, based on the Look ahead course. This programme has been in operation for over 10 years, and it has benefited students of technological education, high-school and universities, as well as some teachers in pre and in-service teacher education schemes.
However, there seems to be a growing sense of dissatisfaction among language teachers in Obergon. The efforts made in teaching does not seem to correlate with enough fluency or accuracy, being the communicative competence still a utopia.
There may be a number of reasons for this frustration. Some of them are historical, ranging from a poor tradition in language teaching, anchored in the grammar-translation method, to the difficulty of finding parents who can speak in English to support their children. Other reasons are structural problems of the educational system. One of these, for example, is the ratio of students per teacher, which is still too large (45:1).
The solutions to these problems depend on many different people and institutions. The government must make a continuous effort to improve education in general and ESL in particular; schools should participate facilitating cooperation of teachers across the curriculum and even bilingual programs as well as in-service teacher training; parents could accept the responsibility of promoting the acquisition of a foreign language at home; teachers must make the effort of using the best techniques to teach the language, being critical with themselves and earnestly demanding whatever they may need to improve their practice.
One of the problems which may be hampering the acquisition of English in the educational system affects teachers directly. In Mexico there is a generation of teachers of English working in the schools who have learnt themselves with the methodologies of the 60s and 70s, basically the grammar-translation and the audiolingual methods. However, this generation of teachers has been trained at the university in the communicative and more up-to-date approaches.
This situation is provoking a dilemma in the teachers’ minds, who would like to use communicative activities in a learner-centred curriculum but who actually tend to implement more structural, guided, teacher-centred activities in the classroom.
Furthermore, teachers see themselves compelled to do this by all the problems mentioned above, as they perceive that sort of methodology works better when there are too many students, sometimes with problems of discipline and very little motivation. However, this way of thinking becomes, in the long run, the main source of dissatisfaction. Due to all those problems, teachers believe that they cannot use the most efficient methods to teach a language, which then provokes poor results, not in relation to the assessment but to the communicative competence they have aimed at.
The other extreme is the teachers who have never had formal English training and have learnt English whilst living or working in the United States (or another English-speaking country). Without any formal language training teachers are often left with many grammatical short comings and a limited vocabulary centered in the colloquial dialect of the area in which they learnt.
I also found that many language teachers were teaching without any formal training in education, nor ESL education and that they were contracted purely for based on their knowledge of English.
Nevertheless, this vicious circle can be broken both by the school and the teachers. A redefinition of the teaching practice is needed to establish which are the objectives of learning a foreign language within the educational system as well as the procedures to achieve them.
Furthermore, this redefinition is particularly necessary in Secondary Education, when children make the most important effort, in number of hours, to learn the language. In fact, that growing sense of dissatisfaction we have commented upon above is especially acute among Secondary teachers, overloaded with responsibility and problems, and this paper is written with their situation in mind.
Hence, this paper tries to primarily identify the major issues and short comings that English teachers in Obregon are facing and then secondly resolve them with a teacher training course. The four key concepts that are the pillars for the training course are as follows; the task-based approach, the content-based approach, language awareness and the intercultural competence. These four concepts, supported by research on Second Language Acquisition, represent a step forward of teachers and language institutions in Obregon City, Sonora, Mexico.
The following abstract is taken from an article by Fernando Trujillo Sáez called “Elements for a redefinition of TEFL in Spanish Secondary Education”. he explains four methodologies that are the focus of my study and their necessity in TEFL.
The task-based approach
The notion of “task” is, on the one hand, as old as humankind may be in the common sense of the concept and it is even quite well established in the rapidly changing world of TEFL. On the other hand, it is a relatively unheard-of term in the lexicon of many Englsih teachers in Obregon.
In TEFL, the term task has received a number of definitions, which are summarised in Nunan (1989: 5-11). Nunan himself defines it as a piece of classroom work which involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention is principally focused on meaning rather than form. The task should also have a sense of completeness, being able to stand alone as a communicative act in its own right. (Nunan 1989:10)
Skehan (1998: 95) prefers to collect the most important features of tasks from other authors’ works, saying that “a task is an activity in which:
- meaning is primary;
- there is some communication problem to solve;
- there is some sort of relationship to comparable real-world activities;
- task completion has some priority;
- the assessment of the task is in terms of outcome.”
From our perspective, a task is the sum of activities performed to produce something from an input. These activities are the means to achieve the goals established in the teaching-learning process. The output of the task must be a real-world material product. During the performance of the activities the teacher and the learners must assume different roles, which go beyond the teacher as the centre of the classroom.
The emphasis on a product as a result of the task is justified for two reasons: on the one hand, research on second language acquisition has shown that, apart from some comprehensible input, it is necessary to produce some comprehensible output to provoke acquisition, and the creation of a material product and its subsequent presentation can foster that comprehensible output (Ellis 1985: 157-159; Swain, 1995; Skehan, 1998: 16-22); on the other hand, the realization of the product is part of the activity motivation which tasks seek to promote (Ellis, 1985:300). The product is the rationale for the task, and for that reason the realization of the product must be related to the learners’ interests and needs.
Regarding the organization and planning of tasks, Dave Willis and Jane Willis (2001:163), after stating six propositions to guide ESL, explain that what is needed is a methodology rooted in meanings and which exploits natural language behaviour, activities which encourage a focus on form and a syllabus which is holistic and which is specified both pragmatically and linguistically.
To achieve these demands, they create a task-based framework (Willis and Willis 1996 and 2001). This task-based framework, which creates a bridge between the concepts of “task” and “didactic unit”, consists of three parts and some sub-elements. (See Graphic 1)
This task-based framework represents an interesting way of organising the ESL curriculum. On the one hand, the teacher does not explicitly establish the list of structures and the range of vocabulary which would be studied during a unit, but they devise tasks to fulfil some goals based on the learners’ needs and interests. On the other hand, it goes beyond the traditional method of organizing language teaching described by Skehan (1998:93-95) as the 3 Ps, Presentation, Practice and Production.
Furthermore, this framework, like the task-based approach itself, has some interesting advantages. First, it focuses on meaning while it does not forget about form. Second, it fosters not only individual work, but basically pair- and group-work. Third, this framework does not constrain the selection of activities or the use of the textbook. Moreover, the task-based approach encourages the integration of skills in a realistic manner. Finally, this framework moves beyond the concept of assessment as the measure of the acquisition of a closed set of linguistic items predefined by the teacher.
In conclusion, a task-based approach, within this task-based framework, can provide teachers and students with a space for communication which is not present in many language lessons. Now, this approach must be complemented with the three following elements, the content-based approach, language awareness and the intercultural competence.
The content-based approach
The second element to help teachers is the content-based approach. This approach is originally related to the immersion programmes in Canada and the USA as a response to the problems of language learners who must cope with a new language and with the contents of curricular areas in second language contexts.
From this original objective, it has evolved to become a way of language instruction used in foreign as well as second language situations, and in that sense it is related to some of the most important teaching movements in TEFL, namely the natural approach, the communicative approach, experiential learning or the whole language movement (Madrid and García Sánchez 2001).
Basically, the content-based approach, also called “curricular integration” (Jacobs and Farrell, 2001: 6-7) can be described as that type of instruction in which “ESL, bilingual, or foreign language teachers use academic texts, tasks, and techniques as a vehicle for developing language, content, and thinking/study skills” (Crandall 1993: 114). Jacobs and Farrell (op.cit.: 6) define it and at the same time explain its advantages:
Curricular integration serves to overcome the phenomenon in which students study one subject in one period, close their textbook and go to another class, open another textbook and study another subject. When various subject areas are taught jointly, learners have more opportunities to see the links between subject areas. By appreciating these links, students develop a stronger grasp of a subject matter, a deeper purpose for learning and a grater ability to analyze situations in a holistic manner.
Mimi Met (1994:159-182) describes, step by step, how to implement a content-based approach. Some very interesting suggestions are made in that chapter, such as the difference between content-obligatory and content-compatible language objectives (ibid.:161), the importance of experiential, hands-on, cognitively engaging and collaborative activities (ibid.:164), the integration of culture in the syllabus (ibid.:166), the negotiation of meaning (ibid.:167), the roles of the teacher (ibid.:170-173), and the need of adequate assessment procedures.
In the Spanish context, Quincannon y Navés (1999: 51) introduce some techniques and strategies to develop a content-based approach: 1) use of visual aids (graphs, diagrams, tables, etc.); 2) use of redundancy and reformulation; 3) active learning through experiments, manipulation, problem solving, etc.; 4) comprehension checks by different procedures (including TPR); 5) inclusion of cognitive skills in the language planning, and 6) learn-to-learn techniques. Obviously, these techniques and strategies require more than an adaptation; the authors are describing a real modification of TEFL through the integration of tasks and contents.
There are a number of reasons for implementing a content-based approach. The content-based approach can be beneficial from the language learning perspective as well as the cognitive perspective. Thus, Stoller (1999: 9) explains the following benefits of a content-based approach:
1. A content-based approach eliminates the artificial separation that often exists between language instruction and subject-matter courses, lending a degree of reality and purpose to the language classroom.
2. Students learn content in the L2 and in the process develop both language and academic skills.
3. Content-based instructional units lend themselves naturally to an integrated-skills approach.
4. Thematically organized materials, which are typical of content-based classrooms, are easier to remember and learn.
So, the content-based approach can help develop the foreign language, but it can also help the cognitive growth of the learners, as it is explained in McKeon (1994:28). The developmental sequence of the curricular areas is also followed in the foreign language classroom, where, instead of considering concepts from their everyday realities, the learners deal with contents with an increasing level of abstraction and complexity.
Furthermore, the content-based approach suits the task-based approach described above. Tasks represent the how whereas the academic contents represent the what of the teaching process. Thus, the task cycle can include mathematical problems, natural science projects or historical argumentation, among many others.
Similarly, the content-based approach is closely related to cooperative learning. Fathman and Kessler (1993: 128) define it as follows: “Cooperative learning refers to group work which is carefully structured so that all learners interact, exchange information, and are held accountable for learning.”
Then, they make clear the value and use of this technique: “Cooperative learning is designed to engage learners actively in the learning process. Through inquiry and interaction with peers in small groups, learners work together towards a common goal.” (Fathman and Kessler, ibid.: 127) Therefore, tasks, contents and cooperative learning can become a powerful collection of techniques to redefine TEFL.
In that sense, the content-based approach would run against the traditional isolation of ELT as a separate subject, different from the other, more “serious” curricular areas. The whole curriculum would gain coherence and the students might see that the contents of one subject are not relevant only during one hour, but for them as individuals and members of a community, as it is reflected by the coordinated work of the ELT teacher and the rest of the staff.
But, then, logically this approach requires from the staff a greater coordination than it is normally found. It implies sharing information about each one’s curricular areas, not only about the contents but also about the methodology used in each subject, including the activities which are normally performed. These activities would be, after the normal adaptation to a language learning situation, the axis of the task-based approach (see Vale and Feunteun 1995 for suggestions on a content-based approach within an activity-based framework in primary education, and Martí 2002 for a description of a content-based experience at a school in Barcelona; see https://www.ugr.es/local/ftsaez/enlaces for a collection of links on cooperative learning).
One of the characteristics of the Spanish language teaching culture is its concern about the grammatical aspects of language teaching. In spite of the progressive introduction of new methodologies, the general acceptance of the communicative approach and the use of notions and functions, grammar is still at the core of language teaching, sometimes explicitly but normally implicitly under more or less communicative syllabuses. For that reason, it is important to make clear this concept of “Language Awareness” as a new way of incorporating a focus on form into language teaching.
The term “Language Awareness” is used here in two senses. First, it refers to “any pedagogical effort which is used to draw the learners’ attention to language form either implicitly or explicitly” (Spada 1997, 73). Second, it also means the conscious attention of language learners towards language form as a procedure to improve learning. So, language awareness covers many other terms such as attention focusing, focus on form (Williams, 1995), consciousness raising (Fotos 1993; Schmidt, 1990), noticing, explicit instruction, or analytic teaching.
Interestingly, research on SLA has shown that the “best way” to learn a second or foreign language is through comprehensible input and comprehensible output or negotiated interaction. These two pillars of the communicative approach, however, must be accompanied by a monitor device in order to avoid the lack of accuracy in favour of fluency (Schmidt 1993). That monitor device is Language Awareness.
It should be noticed, however, that this paper does not advocate a grammar-based instruction. What is being discussed here is a focus on form within a communicative task-based approach. Thus, Spada (ibid.:77) explains, in the light of SLA, how to implement Language Awareness: “learners who benefited most in these studies were those who received form-focussed instruction which was operationalized as a combination of metalinguistic teaching and corrective feedback provided within an overall context of communicative practice.” So, two of the basic instruments of Language Awareness should be metalinguistic teaching and corrective feedback.
Three procedures will be mentioned in relation to metalinguistic teaching, namely input flood, input enhancement and grammar consciousness-raising tasks. Input flood implies the inclusion of a great number of samples of the structure under focus in the texts being used. Input enhancement refers to the artificial highlighting of the structure by means of typographic devices such as underlining, bold letters, etc. Finally, grammar consciousness-raising tasks are a type of task which provides learners with grammar problems to solve interactively (Fotos 1994).
Six possible types of corrective feedback have been analysed (Lightbown and Spada, 1999: 103-106): Explicit correction, recasts, clarification requests, metalinguistic feedback, elicitation and repetition. This list of types of corrective feedback requires two comments. First, research has shown that, in general, explicit methods of correction are more effective than implicit methods, elicitation, clarification requests, metalinguistic feedback and repetitions being the most efficient ones (Spada, 1997:78-79).
However, and that is our second comment, the importance of corrective feedback compels teachers to investigate their own practice on correction, in order to find out not only which type of corrective feedback one normally uses, but also the effectiveness of that feedback.
Finally, with this third element, language awareness, the outline to redefine the teaching practice in Secondary Education is complete. The suggestion made here is that teachers should wisely use a task-based approach in which the contents from other curricular areas might be at the centre of the syllabus and in which the focus on form should have an important role but within a communicative framework.
However, a fourth element is missing. Learning a language cannot be considered simply as skill development. Learning a language is a very complex educational adventure which engages the whole person and the whole group. Terms such as “negotiation of meaning” or “collaborative learning”, so common in those theoretical issues we referred to at the beginning of this paper, demonstrate that language learning aims at something more than learning the present progressive. That “something” is the Intercultural Competence.
In a recent article Dwight Atkinson (1999: 625) stated that “(e)xcept for language, learning and teaching, there is perhaps no more important concept in the field of TESOL than culture.” Probably this has been so since the very first historical attempts of learning a foreign language as a way of approaching a community of speakers and their culture. However, in recent years there has been a special emphasis put on the relation between culture and learning, as well as on the importance of culture in language learning.
One of the most difficult issues in relation to culture is its own definition (Lessard-Clouston (1997) reports that Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1963) found over three hundred definitions of culture, nearly forty years ago!) . Culture in FLT has received, traditionally, two types of definitions (Bueno, 1995: 362). First, Formal Culture is said to include the history, the arts and the great achievements of a community. Second, Deep Culture includes the customs and the way of life of a community. A third definition, more updated from the anthropological point of view, could be added, Cognitive Culture, which is defined as “learned and shared systems of meaning and understanding, communicated primarily by means of natural language”. (D’Andrade, 1990: 65)
So, considering, primarily, these definitions of culture, what is the intercultural competence? To begin with, it must be said that the “intercultural competence” is a term which appears not exclusively in the field of language teaching. The wider field of Education coined the expression “multicultural and intercultural education”, from which the intercultural competence is derived.
Secondly, the appearance of the intercultural competence is related to the evolution of language teaching objectives expressed as competences (Trujillo Sáez, 2001) and to the general evolution of the field of language teaching as explained in the introduction to this paper.
Oliveras (2000:35) has analyzed the different proposals and establishes two sets of definitions of the Intercultural Competence. On the one hand, it is defined as a skill or ability to behave adequately in a multicultural context (as, for example, Meyer’s (1991:137) definition). On the other hand, it is defined as an attitudinal stance towards cultures in general or a culture in particular. So, according to these definitions, the Intercultural competence consists of three components: attitude, knowledge and skills.
Kramsch (1993: 205-6; 1998) proposes four new ways of dealing with language and culture in a teaching context: first, establishing a “sphere of interculturality”, which means not only a transfer of information but a deep reflection on the target and on the native culture; second, teaching culture as a interpersonal process which “applies itself to understanding foreignness or otherness”; third, teaching culture as difference, showing diversity as an inherent feature of culture; and, finally, crossing disciplinary boundaries to include studies from other social sciences.
From that perspective, we define interculturality as critical participation in communication, having in mind that the view of “cultures” as watertight compartments is a simplification of a complex reality marked by diversity as its main feature; the intercultural competence, then, is defined as the development of the cognitive environments of the students to understand and accept diversity as a constituent of society, and critical analysis and communication as instruments of knowledge and awareness in a complex society. Thus, the intercultural competence means, among other things, critical education, cooperative learning and reflection on social problems at the language classroom.
Hence, the Intercultural Competence becomes the authentic educational objective of FLT, as a number of authors have suggested (see Castro Prieto 1999 for a reflection on the European dimension of FLL). In that sense, Vez (1996: 20) redefines the purpose of ELL:
English language learning from the point of view of the curriculum does not simply aim to fulfil practical and utilitarian purposes. And neither is this the underlying philosophy of a communicative approach to language teaching. Through the process of learning a foreign language at school students are also encouraged to become involved in the construction of the world around them.
Thus, modern FLT must regain the educational, humanistic and cultural ambition which originally underpinned learning a foreign language. Learning a foreign language, as seen from the perspective of the intercultural competence, contributes to personal development. Second, it also contributes to intellectual development, as learning about other languages and cultures enhances your general knowledge of the world; and, finally, adding a cultural element to FLL can also help improve the receptive and productive language skills, as some aspects of language are culture-bound, as the contrastive rhetoric hypothesis has explained (Connor 1996; Trujillo 2001b).
Statement of the issue
A problem in Obregon is that there are many people who speak English are contracted to teach English without any theoretical knowledge. Another problem is that many University courses for English teachers do not include English, nor how to teach English as a subject. I proved this by doing a survey of all the teachers in 5 English institutes in Obregon and a group of future English teachers graduating from University, as well as conducting interviews with the principles and English coordinators of the institutes. The survey consisted of questions about their current employment, their knowledge of TEFL and ESL methodologies, and how confident they feel about teaching English.
I started seeing these issues after working for 2 years privately, and in private schools in Obregon City, Sonora, Mexico. Not only have I worked with, hired and trained several TEFL teachers in Obregon, I have also been contracted privately by the teachers themselves, to give private classes on grammatical subjects and teaching methodology. I have observed classes from teachers in these schools and have seen a lack of basic teaching methodology from the TEFL principals. I have spoken to many teachers on a personal level who said that they do not feel confident teaching and would benefit for some form of training.
I first became interested in this problem after speaking to many teachers about their experiences and seeing countless careless mistakes by my fellow co-workers. Also, during interview processed for hiring future teachers I was astonished at the lack of knowledge and experience from the applicants. Then, when I became bombarded with requests from teachers for private training classes, I wanted to find out where the problem was coming from.
Training is not implemented (especially in private schools) for two reasons. Firstly because it cost money, and secondly because here in Obregon there are very few people qualified to do such training. Qualified TEFEL teachers and TEFEL methodologies are not recognized nor valued within the language education system in Obregon.
The consequences of this problem are huge. Not only are many students not learning, as can be demonstrated by the extremely low international level of English, as shown by a recent national government survey, the survey also showed that the English teacher in Mexico were extremely under-qualified. I also believe that this results in a lack of motivation amongst students (a key factor in TEFL learning), as they see that their teachers are not confident nor equipped to give their classes.
The above article was taken from the expreso newspaper on the 12 may 2008. It made the front page. It says that students are graduating from primary, secondary and high schools without being able to speak English, even though English is a part of their curriculum. It says that it is because the majority of the teachers do not dominate the language. They say that after 3 years of English education, students have not even mastered 10% of the language.
Jesus Romero Amaya, the head of English education at SEP (Secretaria de Educación Pública) say that the problem is because the majority of teachers “don’t not talk, the read, they translate and they write, but they don’t speak English.” It says that English teachers are not taught English at university, nor is their English assessed and that future teachers are only taught teaching methodologies that are non-specific to language learning.
The article expresses great concern for the future of Mexico’s youth. Here one can see the second page of the article with the big heading “how are they going to learn?”
The article says that the level of English is extremely deficient and that students are not receiving integrated learning. I believe that if teachers and coordinator are content with the fact that their education does not fully teach all aspects of the language, this must mean that not only are they lacking in their knowledge of English, but their pedagogical training is insufficient as well.
The consequences for the students are my main concern. Without properly equipped teachers, how can students be expected to learn English and compete on an international level in today’s society where second languages (especially English) have become prerequisites for future employees?
My proposal for my thesis was to design a teacher training course for current and future English teachers in Obregon. I then gave the course for free, with the aim of helping teachers feel more confident and prepared for giving classes and helping them achieve better results in their classes.
The main aim of my thesis was to help benefit English teachers in Obregon. I also believe that my research will not only help the teachers to feel more confident and prepared, but also help motivate students to learn English. The schools also benefited as they should see better results from their employees.
It also helped principals and human resources contract more qualified and prepared teachers for their schools. My research could also be applied to other schools in Obregon and similar cities in Mexico that suffer from the same problem.
To start my thesis I first designed the surveys and interviews that I was going to use. The teacher survey (see appendices) included questions about the teacher’s education, current position, feelings and opinions about their English level and the level of other teachers in Obregon. It also included a section testing their knowledge of basic grammar and TEFL terminology and their preferences for the training course.
The interview for the principals and English coordinators includes questions about how they hire employees and their opinions about their level of English in Obregon. I went to 4 of the largest private language schools, and 2 public universities and had an interview with the principles. I explained my thesis, did the interview and left them with copies of the survey to apply to their English teachers. I noticed a high level of enthusiasm from teachers and principals to the “free” training course. I returned to weeks later to collect.
Common mistakes that I personally observed teachers make include; explaining grammatical structures in Spanish and then expecting students to complete exercises in English and not correctly using the PPP method to allow for holistic completion of learning objectives.
The survey was applied to 64 teachers currently teaching English in Obregon City and a group of 15 prospective teachers. The sample came from 6 different schools and universities 4 of which were private and 2 public. The teachers who are currently teaching have an average of 8.5 years experience teaching English.
74% are working part-time, 26% were studying, 52% also gave classes privately outside of the school and 83% had studied another career and/or had a different job apart from teaching. 14% had studies in the United States, however for periods shorter than 6months.
73% of the teachers had never had any official training in English other than what they had learnt in primary and secondary school. Of the 15 teachers that were completing a Bachelors of Education majoring in English, all 15 had never received any English training as part of their career and were expected to learn English privately apart for their formal education.
None of the teachers had a TEFL or TESL qualification or its equivalent. Many claimed to have received typical training courses in the past, these courses usually consists of 5-10 hours of training in one specific topic.
Surprisingly, to the question “Do you feel that you have had adequate training to teach English?” 27% answered no.
The interviews with the principals and English coordinators showed that none of the 6 schools required their teachers to have a TEFL certificate or equivalent and only 2 of the 6 schools required their teachers to have passed the TOFEL. One of the 6 institutes required compulsory training for their teachers. One school said that they “occasionally” provided training courses for their teachers, none of which where the teachers were paid for their time.
The graph below shows the answers to the section in the teacher survey that asked the teachers if they had ever had any formal training in the following areas. There was not one area where the 79 teachers all answered yes.
7 of the 79 teachers knew the correct definition of the acronyms TEFL and ESL, 2 misspelled the word “language”. None of the teachers could correctly give a description of neither the Presentation-Practice-Production method nor the Task Based approach.
The main challenges that teachers mentioned that they had in their classes were acquiring and maintaining student’s attention and participation. Motivating students was also a major concern amongst teachers.
13 of the 79 teachers felt that they were adequately paid for your services.
Of the 34 grammar questions on the survey the average number of correct answers for each teacher was 23. Although many of the teachers stated that they had previously received formal training in the following areas, the graph below shows the number of teachers that requested further training in the following areas.
Despite admitting that they would like training in a number of complicated areas 88% of the teachers said that they believed that the training course should be 3-5 hours. 91% believed that the course should be on a pass/fail basis.
After collecting the results I worked on the design of the course. (see appendices). I was original surprised at the amount and variety of subjects that the teachers requested training in, and the few hours that they expected to study during the training course. The average number of hours that they expected to study was 3-5, with one exception of one teacher who was willing to study 40.
My original plan was to have the teachers do a 20 hour weekend course of TEFL methodologies, whilst completing a 20 hours grammar component with a self study guide. After realizing that teachers were not prepared to invest so much time into their professional development I decided that I would make the self study component a 12 hour work book of the most requested teaching methodologies, an evaluation project (see appendices) and a 4 hour weekend course to discuss the importance of the task-based approach, language awareness, the communicative approach, and intercultural competence.
I felt that this would be a better way of allowing teachers to take their time and investigate any area further if they need to do so. Also it would allow each teacher to study in the hours that suited them, except for one Saturday morning where they would have to attend class.
Unfortunately this did not allow space for a grammar component; however, this would be a good topic for another thesis.
Almost unanimously, the teachers agreed that the course should be on a pass/fail basis. Therefore the course outline also includes assessment criteria.
I designed course book based on readings about the topics that teachers requested in the survey. Each topic has a related article and an activity. Full credit is given to the authors of all articles as well as a link to the website where it came from. This was to encourage teachers to use internet resources to continue their study as a TEFL teacher.
The weekend course was designed to primarily be centered on the 4 topics discussed by Fernando Trujillo Sáez and what I felt would be the most beneficial to the teachers. It was also used as an opportunity for teachers to meet and discuss any problems they may have had with the course book.
Teachers were notified by email about the weekend course. The course book and project were sent as an attachment and they were given 30 days to complete the book and project.
The project was done so that teachers use newly learned methodologies in their classes and then reflex on the impact of what they had learnt on their classes. It was also a good way to evaluate the written English of the teachers.
The weekend course was scheduled for the 3rd of January 2009 at total of 52 teachers said that they would attend the course. As I was unable to conduct a conversation group of 52 teachers so I divided the group into 2 and invited half in the morning and half in the afternoon.
The first half of the course was spent on introductions and general discussion about teaching English in Obregon before we went on to discuss the 4 major concepts. Then we had a short break. After that we spent time talking about the course book, the activities and doubts and questions.
I really enjoyed meeting all the teachers personally and hearing about their experiences.
At the end of the course teachers submitted their course book and project work and were given the after course survey to fill out. I graded the projects the following Sunday. I was very surprised to see that many teachers had decided to used the task based approach and intercultural communications as the topic for the projects.
Notification of a pass or fail was sent via email and certificates (see appendices) were printed. Teachers were either emailed their certificate or they collected it when they collected their graded project work.
A total of 47 teachers attended the weekend course and submitted the required work for graduation. The quality of insight and application of the course materials was very high. Teachers seemed very interested and open to learning new techniques. All 47 teachers passed the course.
The results for the after course survey (see appendices) were as follows:
Possible limitations of my study could be the small data sample and the qualitative nature of my research.
Also the majority of schools were private institutions where the quality of teaching is generally better. A further study could be done focusing purely on public intuitions.
One comment that I received was, that teachers would have like more time to finish the course work and project before the weekend course. This could explain why only 47 teachers attended the course.
Personally I believe that the course should have been more interactive and dynamic. Unfortunately, the time restraints of the teachers made it difficult to include everything that I originally felt was important.
I also have to consider intercultural variables when I am designing my surveys and the courses, such as intercultural difference between me, as an Australian, and the Mexican culture.
I see my study purely as the tip of the ice berg. Education of teachers in Mexico needs to first change on a government level before we can expect to see any significant improvement in the students. Teachers are still not trained in English language or TEFL methodologies when they become qualified at university level to teach English.
Many schools do not look to train their teachers or improve the current situation. None of the principles or English coordinators had a university degree in education, therefore how do they know what to look for to train teachers and help students learn.
The objective of my thesis was to explore strategies that will on the whole, improve the level of TEFL in Obregon. With this course I feel confident that I have done so by giving a group of English teachers some important skills that they can now apply in their classrooms.
Nevertheless, the battle is far from won. I also feel that teachers spoken English and grammar needs to be improved, as well as they access that they have to current teaching information and methodologies.
This could be done by creating some sort of club or organization of teachers with a website, forum as well as monthly meetings.
Fernando Trujillo Sáez Elements for a redefinition of TEFL, https://fernandotrujillo.com/publicaciones/elements.pdf
Nunan, D. 1989. Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schmidt, R. W. 1990. “The role of Consciousness in Second Language Learning”. Applied Linguistics, 11/2, pp. 129-158.
Schmidt, R. W. 1993. “Awareness and Second Language Acquisition”. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 13, pp. 206-226.
Skehan, P. 1998. A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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