Within education there has been considerable research into the process of learning to teach. This has often taken the form of investigations of trainee-teachers' knowledge and beliefs. However, within ELT, empirical research into the development of trainees' thinking whilst taking a formal training programme is limited.
This article reports on a case study of a pre-service (CELTA) course and takes as its focus an in-depth look at the development of one trainee. The trainee, Penny, despite her ab-initio status, held strong beliefs about teaching which interacted with her experience of the training programme in sometimes complex ways. Whilst some of her pre-course beliefs showed elaboration and a deepening understanding, others were remarkably resistant to change. One particular area where she did evidence a growth in her understanding, was in the shift of her perspective on grammar from that of a learner to that of a teacher.
Teacher trainees bring a variety of often conflicting experiences, beliefs and goals to the process of learning to teach. This background affects their reception of teacher training in unpredictable and idiosyncratic ways. This study looks at one teacher on an initial teacher training programme for teaching English to speakers of other languages. Her experience involved a complex mixture of change, partial change or adaptation, and resistance to change.
The research utilises a case study approach, allowing an in-depth look at the development of a trainee teacher. In using this kind of qualitative study, it is possible to see the complexity in the details of a trainees development and avoids the risk that individual change is masked by group scoresa problem found with some questionnaire-type quantitative studies. The context of training is the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course that is a four-week pre-service training programme. The conceptual tool which is used to investigate the trainee teacher's development is her beliefs, specifically her beliefs about teachers and teaching, language learning and learning to teach.
Before outlining the role that beliefs play in the interpretation and understanding of new information and tasks, it is necessary to define what is meant by belief because, despite its widespread use, belief remains, in research terms at least, a "messy" construct (Pajares, 1992). There is as yet, no commonly accepted definition for belief and the potential for confusion is made worse by the large number of other analogous terms which are used either independently of beliefs or as its near-synonyms despite their differing meanings. For the purposes of this research, belief was defined as "a proposition which may be unconsciously held, is evaluative in that it is accepted as true by the individual, and is therefore imbued with emotive commitment; further it serves as a guide to thought and behaviour" (Borg, 2001, p. 186).
Considerable research on teacher education has been carried out under the mantle of teacher cognition or, as it is alternatively known, teacher knowledge or teacher thinking. Research in teacher cognition has followed three main phases (Calderhead, 1995) with the most recent focus being on teachers' knowledge and beliefs (following after decision making and perceptions and routines). The focus on beliefs follows considerable research into the importance that beliefs have in our personal and professional lives. Briefly, an individual's beliefs will play an influential role in the appraisal and acceptance or rejection of new information and memory processes such as the retrieval and reconstruction of an event (Nespor, 1987; Schoenfeld, 1983). Trainees arriving on a teacher education course are no exception to this. They bring with them a large number of well-established preconceptions and beliefs about teaching and learning. These beliefs may lead to the rejection of the information presented to them on the course, thus serving as a kind of filter (Anderson & Bird, 1995; Goodman, 1988; Nisbett & Ross, 1980; Pennington, 1996; Tillema, 1994; Weinstein, 1989, 1990; Zulich, Bean & Herrick, 1992).
The pre-existing beliefs that trainees bring to courses come from a variety of life experiences but probably the most significant are those formed during their schooling. In Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study, Lortie (1975) introduced and discussed an idea which was to play a central role in our understanding of the preconceptions and beliefs of pre-service teachers. He pointed out that unlike other professions such as lawyers or doctors, student teachers arrive for their training courses having spent a great many hours (as schoolchildren) observing and evaluating what would be their chosen profession. He coined the term the "apprenticeship of observation" to describe this period of teacher watching which is likely to amount to thousands of hours. This apprenticeship, he argued, is largely responsible for many of the preconceptions that pre-service teacher trainees hold about teaching.
One further consequence of this apprenticeship period is that, whereas people entering other professions, such as medical students or law students, are likely to be aware of the limitations of their knowledge, teacher trainees may fail to realise that the aspects of teaching which they perceived as students represented only a partial view of the teacher's job. Lortie writes of how a student "sees the teacher frontstage and centre like an audience viewing a play," the student sees the teacher doing thingsorganising activities, monitoring, correcting, lecturing etc. The students do not, however, see what we could call the "backstage" behaviours of teachingthe thinking, planning, preparing, reflecting and selecting goals or aims etc (Rust, 1994). That is, it is likely that the students gained little sense of the pedagogical principles underlying teacher behaviour during their long apprenticeship.
Nor are pupils likely to analyse the teaching behaviours they observe in any detail, meaning that what students have learnt about teaching is "intuitive and imitative rather than explicit and analytical" (Lortie, 1975). What we can say they have learnt from the apprenticeship of observation, therefore, are the "folkways of teaching," that is "ready-made recipes for action and interpretation that do not require testing or analysis while promising familiar, safe results" (Buchmann, 1987, p. 161). This provides trainees with "default options," a set of tried and tested strategies which they can revert to in times of indecision or uncertainty (Tomlinson, 1999).
A number of empirical studies have affirmed Lortie's assertion that pre-service teachers' beliefs are already well-established at the start of a teacher education programme. Student teachers bring with them both explicit and implicit beliefs about teaching and learning, although these beliefs are unlikely to form a coherent theory (Holt-Reynolds, 1992; Von Wright, 1997). The nature of the beliefs held can lead to differential learning as they filter course content (Hollingsworth, 1989). Both Holt-Reynolds (1992) and Von Wright (1997) found that the implicit beliefs were particularly resistant to change. Von Wright argued that, in the traditionally additive approach to teacher education, implicit beliefs are often not problematised, inconsistencies between the beliefs students may hold and what is presented to them are not explored. She suggested that this often results in the development of "parallel models" or "separate line[s] of thought" whereby student teachers learn the rhetoric of their teacher education programme without real development of their reflective capabilities and awarenesses (Von Wright, 1997, p. 264).
In a study by John (1996) of PGCE students in the UK the trainees on the whole were keen to adopt new and varied ways of teaching in order to engage learners. They held negative memories of teachers, centred around a lack of pedagogic skills and a tendency to be overly didactic. However, their apprenticeship proved too powerful and they saw alternative models of teaching as "peripheral to the learning process" (John, 1996, p. 97) which they felt centred on the learning of facts. This was despite the fact that the implicit theories and beliefs trainees held at the beginning of the course about the nature of teaching, characterised good teachers largely in terms of personal attributes such as "enthusiasm, charisma, warmth, likeability and good subject knowledge" (John, 1996, p. 94).
Four pre-service trainees on an MA in the USA seemed to recognise the limitations of the teacher-centred didactic models learnt during their schooldays but despite this, when on teaching practice, reverted to their schoolday models (Johnson, 1994). The trainees record feeling powerless to change due to a lack of alternative models available. One student teacher rather insightfully records in her journal:
It's been really frustrating to watch myself do the old behaviors and not know how to "fix it" at the time. I know now that I don't want to teach like this, I don't want to be this kind of teacher, but I don't have any other experiences. It's like I just fall into the trap of teaching like I was taught and I don't know how to get myself out of that model. I think I still need more role models of how to do this, but it's up to me to really strive to apply what I believe in when I'm actually teaching. (Johnson, 1994, p. 446)
A desire to break free from a didactic approach may not in itself be sufficient to allow trainees to do this, if they lack alternative models of teaching. During their university teacher training, student teachers are likely to be taught in fairly traditional lectures. This is likely to reinforce any transmission-oriented schooling experience and deprive them of an alternative model for putting into practice the ideas presented on the course.
Another major influence on the formation of beliefs and preconceptions about teaching and learning which pre-service teachers bring with them to their courses can be grouped under the heading "personal experience" and includes: informal learning experiences, including language learning (Almarza, 1996) and life experiences, such as raising children, previous work experience, and cultural, religious, and socio-economic upbringing (Feiman-Nemser & Buchman, 1986; Powell, 1992; Richardson, 1996). Interest in and knowledge of the subject has also been noted as a major influence on prospective teachers (Virta, 2002).
An example of a study which illuminates this area is Powell (1992), who looked at traditional and non-traditional pre-service teachers in the USA ("non-traditional" trainees are defined here as career changers). Whilst students coming directly from university indicated the influence of the apprenticeship of observation, students from a non-traditional background referred to a variety of influences on their education-related constructs, chiefly those from their previous career which included dealing with clients, non-classroom teaching and raising children. Non-traditional trainees also made more references to information gained through the teacher education course as a source of influence on their beliefs.Research on the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA)
Published empirical studies of the CELTA (or its predecessor, the CTEFLA) are rare (Ferguson & Donno, 2003); however, two which warrant a mention here due to their relevance to this study are: Richards, Ho and Giblin (1996) and Murray (2003).
The study of five trainees on a certificate course in Hong Kong by Richards et al. looked at how trainees' ideas and beliefs about teaching changed over the duration of the courses. The study focused on the experiences of five part-time trainees on a course in Hong Kong. The researchers found that trainees' focuses in TP shifted from a concern early in the course with looking like a teacher, with comments relating to their voice and confidence, to a later concern with the teaching itself, with comments relating to elements such as the role of the teacher. The researchers commented that to some degree the focuses of concern of the trainees differed according to their different perspectives on teaching, which they distinguished as concerned with a "teacher-centred focus," a "curriculum-centred" focus and a "learner-centred focus" (Richards et al., 1996, p. 253).
Murray (2003) also looked at the adoption of professional discourse by trainees, this time on a part-time course in Switzerland. As with other studies referred to earlier, Murray found that trainees arrived with "implicit and unexamined beliefs about language" from their early schooling and that that over the duration of the course, "a number of trainees held fast to language or school-based linguistic stereotypes and prejudices despite exposure to new, discrepant information."
Before describing the setting in which the research was conducted, it is necessary to give a brief description of the CELTA course.
The CELTA course (previously known as the CTEFLA) is one of the most important qualifications in the British ELT industry, being recognised worldwide by both private sector and public teaching institutions. Among many private language schools in particular, the Certificate and Diploma are widely accepted as a reliable form of English language teacher accreditation (Roberts, 1998). The CELTA course is run in over 35 countries worldwide producing around 7,000 qualified teachers per annum (UCLES/RSA, 1998).
The modern day CELTA has its origins in a course set up in 1962 by International House founders John and Brita Haycraft which was initially intended to train teachers for their own school of English (Haycraft, 1988, 1998). In these early days of TEFL, the only course available to trainee teachers in EFL was a one-year PGCE which tended to focus on the philosophy of education and was thus far removed from the practical, applied course which the Haycrafts desired. The model they used for their short two-week course was one taken from business and industry where training tended to be short and applied (Haycraft, 1988). The stated objective of this early course was "to give the trainees as much practical grounding and exposure to the classroom as possible" (Haycraft, 1988, p. 4). The following extracts from Haycraft's autobiography written shortly before his death are informative:
I became increasingly interested in teaching techniques. There were few inspiring or instructive text-books. Practical teacher training was largely unexplored. No university courses told you how to teach a class of beginners all of different nationalities. (Haycraft, 1998, p. 185)
The crux was to suggest ways of teaching a beginners' class with different nationalities, in English. Without translating, new words had to be taught with pictures, mime, or blackboard drawing, or real objects brought into the class. Practice was done through repetition drills and acting out little situations [...] The only parallel was primary school level, where teachers talked less and used visual teaching and games more. (Haycraft, 1998, pp. 193-4)
The administration of the course was taken over by the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) in 1978. Over the next two decades, the certificate continued to evolve, most notably when administration was passed to University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES). It was also renamed several times. The current certificate, the CELTA, was launched with a new syllabus following an extensive consultation by UCLES in 1996. Many of the original features developed by Haycraft persist, including the practical orientation of the course. Also following Haycraft's design, the course unites theoretical input with teaching practice in a single site of learning. The trainees teach volunteer language learners taken from the same student group as are taught by the experienced teachers. These experienced practitioners are in turn observed by the trainees. In this way the community of practice and the community of discourse are interwoven, whether the course is taught in a private language school, a Further Education College or a University.
The CELTA is an initial teacher training course intended to introduce candidates with little or no language teaching experience to ELT and "prepare them for their entry into the profession" (UCLES/RSA, nd). UCLES, as the governing body, stipulates course content. One of the stipulations is that the centres running the CELTA programmes must provide at least 114 contact hours for trainees (at the time of the study) and this is generally fitted into a four-week full-time framework.
On full-time courses in many centres, the day is usually split into input and teaching practice, with mornings and afternoons providing a natural divide. One part of the day will be taken up with input sessions which cover basic ELT theory, key concepts and methodology. This will include theory and practical ideas for teaching the four skills, in addition to input on phonology, textbook evaluation, and approaches to language teaching, motivation and learning styles. A considerable amount of time is usually devoted to language awareness, which provides trainees with a basic understanding of and terminology for language description and an appreciation of how this can be taught. Eight hours of observation of experienced teachers must also be accommodated in the timetable.
The other part of the day is devoted to teaching practice and feedback. UCLES specify that trainees must complete at least 6 hours of teaching at two different levels. In many centres, sessions are organised so that trainees prepare for teaching in groups and teaching is often staged so that students may begin with twenty minutes and build up to a full hour of teaching. This practice does vary from centre to centre, with some trainees starting with a full hour; feedback is usually carried out after teaching practice.
The school in which the study was carried out is a private language school in the south of England. It has two teacher trainers, Robert and Jim, who have been successfully running the CELTA programme, eight courses per year, for more than ten years.
The course consisted on a daily basis of: guided preparation for teaching practice (TP); two input sessions; teaching practice; and teaching practice feedback. In addition to the daily programme above, trainees also had twice weekly observation of experienced teachers.
The actual data collection period of the study corresponded to the full four-week period of the CELTA course at the school. Data was generated in the form of interviews with the trainees (beginning and end of the course), observation of guided TP preparation, input sessions, TP, and TP feedback; questionnaires and documents, including lesson plans and other trainee-generated texts.
This article reports on the results relating to one of six trainees on a CELTA course, and it forms a part of a larger doctoral study (Borg, 2002).
The trainee who is the focus of this study has been given the pseudonym, Penny. She was in her early to mid-thirties, began the course as a legal secretary who had been working as a temp for a considerable period. She was bored with her job and was considering a career in ELT, if she was successful on the course. Additionally, she felt it would provide a break from work before Christmas and an opportunity to learn something new. In the first interview, she also talked about her desire to learn more about "English and grammar."
The data from the various sources outlined above has been divided into broad themes: beliefs about teachers and teaching, language and language learning and beliefs about learning to teach. Further divisions were grounded in Penny's specific beliefs and concerns.
Penny believed in the necessity of a positive attitude in teaching, combined with a belief in the motivating potential of this positive attitude for her students. She talked about how important and influential a teacher is in a student's life: they are "a figurehead [ . . . ] of a child's life." Therefore she thought it important for the teacher to have a "positive attitude" and be respectful towards students. The teacher she felt should also have positive expectations of the students and further, should know what is needed to help them to "succeed." This cluster of beliefs appear to be drawn from her own experiences as a child in school as she related the story of two different teachers, one who was positive and one who was not:
one teacher had a positive attitude towards us even if we did the wrong thing or if we didn't perform very well in a lesson or in an exercise whereas the other teacher found the negative side of everything we did even if it was good
Related to this feeling that the teacher needs to be respectful towards students was Penny's belief that a good teacher should be interested in and care about their students. She felt that if the teacher was not interested, then the students would "sense" this: "they know when they see a teacher who is just not interested in either them or the subject." The teacher should be "patient especially with children," "understanding" and "sympathetic" in their treatment of their learners. Penny indicated that she thought children who have "got to be there" will be more difficult to motivate than adults who "want to be there." Penny also expected her own experience as a child in school to help her in this way as she became a teacher "I think that's what makes you a richer person anyway isn't it and a little more understanding and more sympathetic in different ways."
Other elements Penny felt were needed for a good teacher was the need for the teacher to be "relaxed," with "a sense of humour" and not "too strict" with the students. She also felt that it was important for the teacher to be responsive and "attentive" to "each student" and "the way they're responding." The importance of the relationship between teacher and students was further emphasised in one of her assignments when she commented positively that, on the CELTA, "all teachers were humorous in the classroom and openly friendly with students."
Penny emphasised that teachers also need to have a good knowledge of their learners in order to judge if activities will work with them and in order to help teachers to be sensitive when using tasks. She felt that teachers need to be aware of students' background experiences and sensitive to the fact that adults may not want to discuss certain issues or may be shy. She believed that the teacher also needs to be careful in case tasks become "too serious or too personal."
Penny felt that it was important for students to be interested in the topic of the lesson as this also helped their concentration. She indicated that the teacher needed to make the class interesting and light-hearted and to help the students have fun. She contrasted this with school learning where fun was seen as disruptive, unlike the constructive way it is viewed on the CELTA programme. She described how school involved a considerable amount of "sitting at the desk [ . . . ] bored with the subject" and she contrasted this with the CELTA course:
it was good in the way it was participation because that's what we didn't get at school we didn't participate like that we didn't do tasks and things we were just sat at the desk and we wrote and sat at the table and we had to sit there that was it couldn't move there was no fun involved otherwise it was seen as disruptive or or whatever whereas here it's not seen it's seen as constructive isn't it
Whatever the different individual approaches to teaching, Penny felt that one thing which was important was the teachers' ability to get the students to relax and to smile.Sensitive feedback
Penny specifically identified one key area where the qualities listed above of respect, a positive attitude and understanding, should be brought to bear, and that was when the teacher gives learners feedback. In an extract (from an interview) Penny seemed to move between seeing herself in the learner and in the teacher role as she emphasised the need for understanding and discretion:
I just think patience understanding and and discretion especially if you do something wrong don't tell the whole class you know [laughs] and make sure you do it in a way that doesn't embarrass the child and make them worse you know you've got to have a certain amount of discretion haven't you if it just involves the one child don't involve all your friends as well
Again, drawing on her own experience as a school child she recalled the effect of feedback from a teacher who focused on the negative, in this case the shortness of a story that she wrote:
so I wrote this ghost story and erm she came after you know she handed them and after all that she said was [...] "that was very good but could've been longer" and the story was a good story but it was only a page or two well and to me that was really bad instead of just saying that was really good expand on what you've done in there but instead I dwelled on that I instead of thinking that was good I'll I was thinking it could've been longer and it was just er to me that was it's the wrong approach to teach people to I think it should be the other way round I think it should be "oh yes that was very good expand on such a thing in that story expand on improve on" instead of saying "good" and then immediately knocking it down
However, in teaching practice, Penny was not immediately able to enact her stated belief in sensitive feedback. In giving feedback on one of her early teaching practice sessions, the tutor suggested that she avoid simply saying "no" to students' responses, and work instead to help students to build on each others' offerings:
|TT||but the thing is not to say "no" you'll very often in reading and listening=|
|P||=just say "think of another word" ^ say "think of another word" rather than ^|
|TT||yeah something sort of on target but not exactly what you want you say "yeah good could be no it wasn't exactly tablet it was?" yeah so give the students something to build up on and very often the right answer comes out of two or three students contributing you know helping each other "oh what is it so and so oh yeah"|
|P||so as long as they are on the right line don't say "no" just say "think of another think of another word"|
In the subsequent teaching practice feedback session, Penny raised the topic of how she had managed a listening task. She focused on how she encouraged the students and how she avoided saying "no" when they struggled to find the correct answer:
that's what I tried to do that's why I said yes you're nearly there [ . . . ] I tried to point out that that they were nearly there and I didn't say no you're wrong I just said "yes you're nearly there and I'll play it again for you"
In a later session Penny received feedback praising her patience and sensitivity to student needs but the trainer then qualified this by warning her that she needed to remember it was a class and "you can't have a series of one-to-one dialogues with students that's gonna take all day." He then suggested that she used other students to help weaker ones which would be "quicker" and would help the "class dynamic." In the final interview, Penny mentioned this incident as an example of how a teacher needs to be careful with feedback, saying that the trainer told her that she should have brought in help from other students because it "is a class situation remember you can't concentrate on just one student coz it blocks out the others." She accepted this, adding that she felt that student-to-student correction was useful because "it takes the pressure and the load off" the teacher. However, her acceptance of the idea seemed cautious as she talked about the need for student-to-student correction to be controlled for use at lower levelslimited to the teacher and one student onlyin order to avoid confusion.
In the end-of-course interview, Penny retold the story which had illustrated her points about feedback in the first interview. This time, rather than focus on the affective results of the teacher's comments, Penny talked about why the teacher's feedback "wasn't a good approach":
I wrote a story a ghost story and the teacher said instead of saying "oh that was really good you know that's a good style it's good the way you've done that you know carry on next time" instead she it was just erm "tick but could've been longer" and and that plays on your mind you think oh next time I've got to make it longer in other words I'm not thinking it's gotta be interesting it's gotta be grammatically correct I'm just thinking it's got to be longer and that doesn't make it any better it can be quite bad actually if you're just rambling on about something and it's all over the place so it wasn't a good way to teach it wasn't a good approach [ . . . ] so to say something should be longer it's like saying how long is a piece of string how much longer you know it's just not the right approach whereas at least if someone says 70 words then you then write as much as you can in 70 words and you are trying to convey a message across aren't you
Penny believed that teachers should behave in a "professional manner" and she talked of the need for teachers to know their subjector to admit if they don'tand the need for teachers to be able to think on their feet. She referred to this as a general skill in life, where sometimes you need to "have the grace to say 'well I'll have to look that one up and get back to you'."
I realise that as a teacher of the English language I must know my subject but to make the lesson interesting with an element of humour. It is also important for the students to communicate in English when learning the language so it is vital to have as less [sic.] teacher talking time as possible. For this reason it is essential to give the students clear instructions, set interesting tasks and encourage them to communicate in English. It is important to know the reason why the students want to learn English as this would not only help when setting tasks but also generate involvement in the lesson from the students.
In this assignment extract, it is also clear that the themes of teacher knowledge, and interesting, fun lessons are present. Penny also indicates a concern to minimise teacher talk and maximise student talking time. She sees clear instructions, the harnessing of student interest and motivation, and the need for the teacher to be encouraging as important in this.
In addition to the need for teachers to know their subject matter, Penny added that the teacher should be interested in the subject otherwise this would be apparent to the students:
so just choose a subject that YOU are interested in and not get too fed up with it and that's what many teachers are aren't they some teachers don't like the subject that they teach they're just doing it and it comes through and that's even to children children can sense things like thatAvoiding didacticism
In feedback on Penny's first teaching practice session, the tutor's summary focused on two points: the grading of her language, which he said was "pitched very high," and secondly her tendency to lecture the students. He suggested that instead of giving "a little lecture on what an adverb is" that she should just "go straight into it" and that this would avoid lots of "purposeless teacher talk that they don't understand anyway." Penny did not really respond to the point about lecturing, focusing instead on the practical implications of this approach in terms of labeling the grammar under consideration:
|P||so don't ask them if they know what an adverb is? <TT: no> and if they say "no" then explain|
|TT||no don't even go there don't don't just start start start which means write the adverbs up put the percentages up say ok "always which one is it?"|
|P||and do you tell them that it's an adverb no? [...]|
|TT||you have a tendency I want to nip in the bud here of lecturing and explaining <P: yeah> I don't want you to go down that road <P: yeah> because it's it's not useful especially at this level so just start with the first task go straight in|
In her subsequent teaching practice feedback session, Penny's first comments concerned the lecturing style of her previous TP. This time, with the exception of Penny herself, the other trainees and the tutor all felt that she had made a vast improvement in this area:
|P||^ ok erm I didn't thing I rambled as much but I still rambled [P laughs] I think|
|A||no you were much better|
|P||do you think?|
|TT||huge huge huge difference|
|A||/ yeah a real improvement \|
|P||/ I still had to explain the infinitive \ [...] so I knew more or less straight away that there they wouldn't know what the infinitive was so I tried to explain that so I didn't ramble as much but I still had to explain|
|TT||well explaining isn't rambling is it?|
The tutor continued, telling her she had made a "tremendous improvement in ungraded and unnecessary teacher talk" and an "overnight transformation" in this area.
Generally during the course, tutors' feedback mentioned her ability to "involve students in the tasks" and her ability to get good feedback from students. This point was also noted by other trainees in their feedback. In one session, later in the course, Theo emphasised her "happiness" and her rapport with students:
there was er great progress today [...] this is your happiest lesson [...] the students related to you and the interaction was better much better than in any of your other lessons you were happier you were laughing more relaxed and they were er coming with you
In interview, Penny was clear about her feelings about a didactic approach to teaching, saying that if the CELTA had encouraged this approach, this would have been unacceptable to her, saying:
The teacher's voice
I was hoping it would be it would be erm more open so in that way it was quite pleasant to find that it was like that so although I came with the..ooh if it's like that you know if it's such a way but then I would've left I wouldn't have stayed at it I would've thought I'm not getting involved in this I wouldn't have stayed for that reason if I'd've thought it was you know ba..you know errors and the teacher standing in front of the class and the teacher is there and you are there [gestures]
Right from the beginning of her teaching practice, Penny was told by the tutors and other trainees about the need to "slow right down [ . . . ] project and enunciate more" when she spoke, particularly when giving instructions. Later the same week she was told of the need to make her instructions "stand out from the rest of what you are saying." He suggested that this be done by "change the tone make it higher a bit louder hit the wall with your instructions and have a pause between what you were saying."
Feedback at the end of Week 3 involved a crucial conversation when the tutor asked her about her voice:
|TT||yeah how do you feel about your voice projection?|
|P||I know that but I know I'm not going to get it in four weeks so I can / only try \|
|TT||/ is that because \ having observers do you think or?^|
|P||no just I think it's because it's such an intensive course and / because it's a voice it's something you need to practice \|
|T||/ I'm thinking about er speaking more loudly \|
|P||yeah it's something that you need to practice <TT: oh yeah> and it's not what I'm used to whereas Theo's <TT: hmm> in that kind of business whereas I'm not you see <TT: yeah it's true that's right> so it's hard <TT: yeah> for me to erm concentrate on that coz I'm not I I'm used to speaking softly but firmly you know I do speak firmly <TT: yeah [laughs]> but you you know at work you know you have to speak erm firmly but I don't speak loudly I speak firmly [...]|
|TT||so you you're you're projecting now you see|
|P||yeah yeah because I'm not concentrating on other things <TT: oh right> yeah you understand it it's two it's putting the two together <TT: yeah yeah yeah that's right yeah> I can do it but not in erm it's when I've got other things to do and this because it's so intense <TT: yeah> you know we're learning as well so=|
|TT||=yeah so your attention is taken up=|
|P||=and it's taken up with concentrating on what's / going on around me \|
|TT||/ what activity am I doing now yeah sure \|
|P||yeah so that's you know <TT: yes> whereas you can do that anyway can't you because that's what you're pr..you've had practice at that <T: yeah> so it comes naturally to you more naturally whereas to me to combine the two is more it's more difficult to do so|
Learning from your students
Penny was clear in her discussions that she felt that the teacher can learn from the students. She mentioned that she felt that there were "tricks" and "quick ways" to learn things and indicated that she felt that she might learn some of these from students themselves, especially if "they had a better education than I have."Drawing on life experience
Towards the end of the course, Penny mentioned a difficulty that she faced with her boardwork, linking it clearly to her previous experience as a secretary:
|P||dot the i's cross the t's less proofwork pro..proof-reading because that's what I do I write and proof-read <TT: uhu> you see whereas I've I've got to get out of the habit ^ but that's my job you know so it it's a habit isn't it if you just write and then you I I I I always read things again <TT: hmm yeah> and check|
|TT||yeah you have to go for the first draft|
|P||so you have to practice making it ready first time|
From her first interview, it became clear that Penny's beliefs about language were split into her beliefs about a second language and about a first language. With the former she associated communication and culture, and with the latter she associated grammar and spelling.
When asked what she thought was important for learning a language, Penny listed "tolerance" as a major factor. She felt this was important because her notion of language was that it was part of a culture and hence was social and cultural in nature. She felt that students needed to be aware of the "social living" use of the language and shouldn't simply try to learn it in a "clinical way." She seemed to equate grammar teaching with a "clinical way":
I don't know tolerance I think you know to understand because it's not just a language it's a cultural thing as well isn't it so you've got to think in context you can't just you know assume that the language is you know take it just for itself because it's a it's it's a social and cultural thing as well isn't it so you've got to understand ^ that it fits into a place [ . . . ] whereas you learn the language in you know their language in a clinical way whereas they know it in a social living way [...] it's like communicating or learning grammar
In the second interview Penny referred again to the idea that learning a foreign language was not just about the language but also involved learning about the culture. She concluded that because of this cultural element it was important that teachers need to be "understanding and non-judgemental." She outlined her belief that learning a language makes people more tolerant of other cultures and gives them "extra knowledge" and "extra understanding" of people. She believed that, as language is concerned with communication, it has a "moral side."
When discussing language learning in her first interview, Penny raised the topic of grammar knowledge. However, it was clear that in this area she was thinking more about grammatical knowledge in the L1, rather than in learning a second language. She talked at length about how essential a knowledge of grammar is. She felt that it helped people to write and spell better and in general was an important part of communication, both "verbal and written."
Penny talked in detail about her belief that grammar was not valued in education today, "I think it's the education system that's let people people down in that way because grammar is important it is and that's just in communication." She also blamed teachers themselves who, she felt, didn't teach grammar because they didn't "know it well enough to teach it." She stated that grammar teaching needed to be introduced early for L1 learners, in primary school.
Penny's concern about the need to teach grammar to English L1 users seemed to stem from feeling that she was not taught grammar, and she suggested that it was because her teachers didn't think she was "capable":
we weren't taught grammar in the sense that we weren't given names of names of the parts of a sentence to think about we were just taught the very very basic probably because they thought we weren't capable of learning such a huge such a huge aspect of English
As the extract above seems to indicate, Penny seemed to regard an important part of learning about grammar to be learning grammatical terminology. She indicated that this knowledge of grammar "names" was needed in addition to knowing "how it's applied to the sentence." However, in teaching practice, and the feedback sessions which followed, it became clear that Penny's knowledge of grammar, both usage and terminology, was somewhat weak, as the example below shows:
|P||is it's just that what Theo did today did you do "-ing" today|
|T||did I do "-ing" no I didn't that was erm|
|P||oh coz I'm doing the spelling on the "-ing"|
|TT||yeah that's right|
Penny's discussion of grammar in the end-of-course interview, also dealt with the importance of grammar in UK education. She explained that she felt that grammar was undervalued and thought to be unimportant and that the failure to teach grammar in school has resulted in a society in which people have poor grammar and spelling. She felt that children were not taught grammar in schoolneither tenses nor terminology for referring to grammar:
I don't think grammar's sort of very important [inaudible] in the sense that you don't hear them coming home from school talking about "we did the present tense today we did the future simple today" you just don't hear them say that
She stated that it tends to be assumed that people know their grammar and can use it to write "proper sentences." She felt that people don't write much in their jobs but that if you read a lot then grammar can "infiltrate itself into your mind" although only if books are "edited well":
you do speak and write better if you read well if you read lots of books and read lots of good writing then that's how you it just it infiltrates itself into your mind and eventually you do erm you do use it
Unlike in the first interview however, Penny did refer to grammar in relation to L2 learning. She said that grammar is "the hub" of language learning and that it is therefore essential. She also indicated that the grammar knowledge needed for L1 users is different from that needed by L2 users. She talked about how some L1 grammar knowledge is "inbuilt" in us and was clearly distinguishing by this point between the kind of grammar knowledge that an L1 user would need and that required by a second language learner:
Developing pedagogical knowledge
I don't suppose that we would have to know time references the way we have to teach it in TEFL [ . . . ] so I just think that we don't need to know all of it the way a foreign student would have to because of the tenses the time references because that's inbuilt in us anyway
Penny talked in the second interview and in an assignment ("Profile 2") about the differences between a teacher's knowledge of grammar and a student's. She described how the teacher has a different perspective to students and how the teacher needs to "convert" this knowledge for students. She stated that the teacher speaks the language "naturally" and that this is what the teacher is trying to teach the students. She indicated that she had reflected on whether this difference in grammatical knowledge between teacher and student was also found in other areas of language such as in knowledge of words or of dictionary use:
I liked the Profile 2 [ . . . ] it was finding out how a student learns so in that way because I was learning the grammar myself and I would look at the books and I was learning the grammar the way I was learning it so that when I was going to lessons it was the way I needed to learn it whereas when I did the Profile 2 I I was learning it as well but then I had to try and teach it to someone who was learning it so in that way it changed the way I was looking at grammar coz I re..that's when you realise that I was learning it for me but then I was learning instead of just learning it for me I was then trying to convert that to for someone else to learn but me to show them [ . . . ] whereas before I was learning the grammar as a student whereas after that I was trying to learn the grammar as a student and as a teacher and try to think about it in another way although I still couldn't do it properly
Throughout the course, Penny seemed to resist taking responsibility for her lessons, both in planning and materials. Whilst other trainees began to adapt materials and teaching plans to their own ends, Penny remained resistant. There were many examples in the teaching practice feedback sessions where she blamed the coursebook for confusing students and for containing errors and her teaching practice outline for being boring, as in the extract:
I know I said that this morning it's not a very I said it was a boring lesson [...] I know it was and that's why I didn't want to erm I didn't want them to sit in silence underlining that's why I wanted them to do the board and make it a bit lively
In the interview at the end of the course, Penny also talked about the need to be cautious in using coursebooks because she believed that there are "so few coursebooks that are any good." She talked about the need to adapt materials and her feeling that in order to do this that you need experience:
adapting the course books which really we don't have the the erm experience to do properly er you just erm adapt a certain a certain amount of it just to get you through those in hindsight after you've done the lesson you think "god I could've adapted that that much better and focused more in certain ways"
In a paragraph from a reflective assignment submitted towards the end of the course, Penny recognised commonality between how the trainees are taught to teach and how the experienced teachers work. She referred to this model as "guidelines." However, she did not see these "guidelines" as restrictive, commenting that they have been merged with teachers' personalities. She stated that this allowed for individual style and freedom, and variety of teaching, and contributed towards a relaxed learning environment.
All teachers conducted lessons according to the Cambridge/RSA guidelines whilst at the same time incorporating their own personality into teaching. This appealed to me as it makes teaching less uniform for the students and allows for a relaxing classroom environment. By developing an individual style for teaching I feel that the teacher is able to maintain a sense of freedom which helps all students engaged in the learning process.
In the final interview, she elaborated on the "guidelines" further, saying that she felt that within this, each teacher had their own style, which was "flowing" and had a sense of "freedom." She did not feel that the CELTA "guidelines" hindered the teachers; rather that they had grown into them naturally. Two of the points she mentioned as being important in terms of the CELTA "guidelines" were getting students to relax and smile and eliciting from students rather than giving things away.
it was good to look at experienced teachers because they were obviously flowing in their lessons and they they all did the erm they all followed the guidelines of CELTA they were all you know eliciting things they didn't really give much away it was all coming from the students and and erm they were all different styles just like the trainees all different styles so that was a common thing was that they were all different styles and it didn't hinder anything [ . . . ] it was good to see how how they erm how the experienced teachers have grown into the guidelines naturally you know they've just but still kept their own individual style and freedom about the classroom they still just had this sense of freedom
Besides providing "guidelines" for teaching Penny also talked about her sense that the CELTA course provided a good model of teaching for trainees, in that the trainees themselves were taught in a similar way to how they were expected to teach the learners of English and that this method of teaching was also seen in the lessons of the experienced teachers:
what we were asking the students to do especially in the participation thing we were also asked to do in our tuition so that's where you could see it does work it is fun so I think that it it got down to the more serious stuff and we all sat there and so and that was exactly the way it was in the teaching practice and and in the experienced teachers' lessons as well it was just the way it was the way we were taught was the way we were going to teach [ . . . ] but I think that was good the way that we did in the teaching we did in our tuition lessons the same as what we asked the students to do
Penny also commented on the learning that she owed to watching her peers teach in their teaching practice. That learning focused on seeing them using the techniques taught on the course and noting how they worked:
Awareness of own learning
For me, learning from the trainees was to observe how they put into practice each new tool of teaching and after teaching practice finding out whether it worked well or could have been improved. In this way, the recommendations are a reminder to myself on how the lesson should be taught.
Penny seemed very aware of her own learning on the course. In a progress report that she completed, she wrote in the "areas which need attention" section about her need for more distanced, considered reflection rather than the immediate reflection which was called for on the course:
Many things in place but need to be "polished." I need to think about feedback and the lesson privately so initial feedback not always good.
In interview too, Penny evidenced a degree of self-awareness, talking for example about how the intensive nature of the course tended to force people to sacrifice some things as not all the material could be adapted. She felt that as she learnt more about grammar she would have more success at putting ideas into practice. She talked about the importance of learning from making mistakes and from hindsight. She felt that getting mixed up and confused were a part of learning, and appreciated that on the CELTA course, unlike at school, mistakes were not seen as failure:
the more you try to work on something the more confusing it gets doesn't it and the more mixed up it gets in your head and that's part of it isn't it [...] because it is mixed up until it eventually sorts itself out
they don't see errors as failure whereas generally I think people still do see you know if you get something wrong it's a failure
In a reflective section of her assignment Penny's sense of her own strengths is made clearhighly motivated, able to deal with skills tasks and authentic speakingand her weaknesseslanguage awareness, focus and lesson planning, voice projection and intonation. On the whole she seemed to see these as being things which will improve with experience, practice, and confidence. She also seemed to view the area of language awareness as underlying many of the other problems she was having.
Although all areas of teaching will improve with experience and effort I feel that a better awareness of the language will improve focus and lesson planning which in turn will improve voice projection and intonation. The confidence gained for a better understanding of language awareness will lead to thorough lesson planning and the delivery and explanation of instructions will be carried out confidently.
Penny arrived on the CELTA course with a variety of beliefs about teaching and learning, despite the fact that she had never taught before. These beliefs came from a variety of sources but the major areas were her schooling and work experience. Penny mentioned her school experience a number of times but in most of these cases the experience mentioned was a negative one.
Penny's school experience was clearly influential in the formation of her beliefs, for example, her lengthy and detailed discussion in both interviews of her experience of writing a ghost story. In this case the underlying beliefs can be seena concern for the respectful treatment of learners and the need for sensitive and discrete feedback.
Penny expressed a general rejection of the kind of didactic teaching methodology which she associated with school learning. She talked about teachers who stood at the front talking whilst learners were bored, sitting at their desks copying things down.
In contrast, Penny talked at length of the need to make lessons interesting and fun for learners by using varied activities. She emphasised the need for learners to be active and involved in lessons and her feeling that teachers should use humour in the lessons, and that they should be lively and energetic. Another major concern was the need to treat students with respect. Other words she used in this area included "patience" and "empathy." Penny also felt that she, as a teacher, could learn from her students in a reciprocal learning process.
On the whole, then, it can be seen that Penny's beliefs could be broadly described as anti-didactic in nature. Studies by researchers such as Holt-Reynolds (1992) and John (1996) have indicated the role of schooling, that is the apprenticeship of observation, in equipping trainees on initial teacher education courses with beliefs about how to be a teacher. Penny arrived with beliefs about what made good teachers and bad teachers and on the whole she tended to be dissatisfied with the didactic elements of her school learning experiences. This rejection came despite the long hours of teacher watching during schooling which provided her with a didactic model, as, being a good constructivist, she did not simply accept this model but reacted to it in her own individual way. Other studies raise the importance of other life experiences in the formation of trainees' beliefs. Powell (1992) described non-traditional student teachers, that is those who were changing careers, as being influenced more by life experiences such as work and children, than by the apprenticeship of observation. Penny would be classified as "non-traditional" by Powell's definition. She drew explicitly on her work experience at one point to explain how difficult she found writing on the whiteboard due to a habit developed in her job of writing in draft form and revising.
In terms of her beliefs about language and language learning, Penny made clear links between learning a second language and learning about another culture. Penny also talked about the importance of grammar, although she related this to L1 learners and use rather than to L2.
At the end of the course, Penny's beliefs expressed in the interview and in assignments and elsewhere in the data were very similar to those expressed at the beginning of the course. There was again a very clear rejection of a didactic approach to teaching in favour of one which centred around a focus on learners who needed to be kept active and involved in lessons, and a need to respect learners, creating a relaxed, comfortable and non-judgemental atmosphere in which they could work.
New elements which Penny mentioned were the need to adapt materials and teaching to the learners and her experience of observing the experienced teachers. She commented on the fact that she had observed four different teachers on the course and that all of these teachers had their own individual style, and yet they were all effective teachers. She additionally commented that these teachers were using the techniques and approaches which they themselves were expected to employ.
In terms of beliefs about language and language learning expressed at the end of the course, there was not a great deal of change in general ideas, with comments on the need to focus on speaking and communication. There was a clear distinction being made by the end of the differences between grammar for L1 and for L2 use. Grammar was now seen as important for both areas.
If her beliefs indicate a high degree of consistency between the beginning and the end of the course, the question of "why" arises. Firstly, why did the changes which were evidenced occur and secondly, why was there such a level of continuity between the beliefs early in the course and those held towards the end? These questions will now be considered in turn.
Although, as discussed earlier, Penny held largely anti-didactic beliefs about teaching which were acquired during her lengthy apprenticeship of observation in school. The beliefs about elements such as the need for a teacher to be humorous and lively, to have a good voice and presence, and the need for learners to be active, etc, were concerned with the front-stage behaviours involved in the job. Backstage elements did not feature in her early discussions. By the end of the course, however, she did seem to have a developing appreciation of the importance of these backstage elements, although, as the quotation below indicates, even by the end of the third week Penny was still viewing teaching as classroom performance, and seeing this as separate from planning and preparation:
|P||it's hard work|
|TT||well teaching is hard work|
|P||no I mean the it's just I don't mean that side of it it's just the|
|TT||what's the hard work?|
|P||just the all the tasks and everything and trying to work out how to fit them into it <TT: oh yeah> to make them flow you know|
|TT||that's that's the hard work of teaching|
Lortie's (1975) assertion about the limitations of the apprenticeship of observation, in providing trainees with a view of those elements of a teacher's job which are observable, that is the front-stage elements such as classroom management, seems to be upheld with reference to Penny. However the increasing attention towards the end of the course that Penny gave to the backstage elements of planning and fulfilling aims suggests that over the duration of the course Penny had become more aware of the backstage processes once she had taken on the teacher role, although in Penny's case this responsibility was reluctantly adopted, possibly due to a still restricted sense of the job of teaching or to a limited sense of what tasks were appropriate for a trainee teacher.
Turning now to the second question of why her beliefs at the beginning of the course were so similar to those they held at the end of the course, we need to look at the course itself to try and understand how or why this may be the case.
The CELTA course was developed in opposition to traditional teacher education with its emphasis on philosophy, psychology and the separation of theoretical knowledge and practice (Haycraft, 1988, 1998). The course has also been strongly influenced by various approaches such as humanism and neurolinguistic programming, resulting in an approach to teaching which claims a focus on the learners with the priority on the development of a comfortable, relaxed environment in which they can work in an active, involved way. As the CELTA has always involved training people to teach adults rather than children, there has been little need to deal with problematic issues of school teaching such as maintaining discipline in the classroom. Further, with a general model in mind of language school courses in Europe, and the UK, the difficulties of teaching large classes and working around a shortage of materials have not been major concerns. The result of these various elements, which have shaped the development and hence delivery of the course, have tended to favour an eclectic approach to teaching which has at its core a reaction against much of the methodology traditionally employed in schooling.
Studies in teacher education indicate that some student teachers arrive on their courses with beliefs that teaching should not be so teacher dominated, but rather should involve active learners (John, 1996; Johnson, 1994; Virta, 2002). However it was also reported, for example in the study by John (1996), that student teachers believed that teaching equalled knowledge transfer. It was also noted that Penny seemed to revert to the default model provided by her schooling. For example, in her first TP feedback session she was criticised for lecturing the students. She held generally anti-didactic beliefs and the CELTA course, unlike traditional teacher training, did provide an alternative model to the didactic one so familiar from her schooling. Penny explicitly approved of this alternative model. The explicit she saw and experienced on the CELTA allowed her to bring her beliefs into line with her practice and she successfully moved from "lecturing" to a student-focused lesson with maximum student involvement.
Although Penny did change her beliefs in some ways, such as those described, the picture is complex. Possible reasons for the complex mixture of change and resistance to change might be found in the nature of the CELTA course. Freeman (1992) outlined a number of characteristics which he thought would increase the likelihood of a teacher education course having an impact on trainees: a unified discourse; reflexivity in the practices of the teacher educators and the use of reflection for trainees; the utilisation of different contexts of teaching; and an underlying constructivist practice on the course. The CELTA course achieved a largely unified discourse partly due to the fact that the centre of theory was also the centre of practice, and also because the two trainers involved in the course interacted with each other on a daily basis. Although their discussions centred on the trainees and their progress, these contacts facilitated considerable interaction concerning methodology and pedagogy. The trainers and teachers were also graduates of the same system that produced the trainees, that is the UCLES certification process. Freeman's point about the need for teachers to be taught in the way that they are expected to teach was something commented on by several trainees and was very evident in the reflexive approach to the input sessions (Freeman, 1992). Further, as mentioned earlier, this modelling was also reinforced by the lessons of the experienced teachers. The context of teaching on the CELTA course was always a real-world language school, and the teaching always carried a degree of risk, as all of the teaching involved working with real students and it was all assessed. Trainees were reminded a number of times, though, that trainers regarded making mistakes as a part of learning, and Penny noticed this philosophy and approved. However in relation to Freeman's final point regarding the need to underpin a teacher education course with constructivist principles, the CELTA clearly diverges. There was never any discussion with trainees of what they brought with them to the course, and trainees were expected to adopt and use techniques without much consideration of their beliefs or stance towards these techniques.
A clear example of resistance to the techniques and concepts of the course comes from the strikingly different outcome related to Penny's mastery of voice projection and teacher talk. She was repeatedly told that she needed to work on her voice projection and this continued throughout the four weeks of the course. Penny herself seemed to accept that this was something that she needed to work on and had even mentioned voice as an important quality for a teacher in the first interview. In an exchange in a TP feedback session at the end of Week 3, it became clear that her resistance to working on voice projection seemed to come from her beliefs about what it was possible to change over a course of such short duration. This example contrasted with her problem with teacher talk. Despite saying in her first interview that it was important that learners had a chance to speak and it should not be just the teacher talking in class, she was criticised for lecturing students in the first TP feedback session. However she achieved an "overnight transformation" according to the trainer, which was backed up by other trainees, in which she brought her talking under control and reduced it to an acceptable level. Clearly, she not only believed it important to master the control of teacher talk but she also must have viewed it as something she could accomplish in the time available.
This article has reported the results of a case study of one trainee learning to teach English. Despite her ab initio status, as suggested by Lortie and subsequent research, she arrived on the CELTA with strongly held beliefs about teaching and language learning. These beliefs were essentially anti-didactic and were influenced by her schooling experiences. Over the duration of the four-week course, it can be seen that her beliefs changed in a complex way, involving limited change, some elaboration and, in other areas, little development of her beliefs.
There is a real dearth of research on teacher training in ELT, and in particular on the CELTA and DELTA programmes. As a result, there are a number of areas in which further research could prove interesting and fruitful. As this study was limited to an in-depth look at what happened in one centre running the course, further research is needed into courses in other centres to test the degree of similarity and difference in how the course is delivered and received, eg part time and full time courses, courses in the UK and abroad.
Further research could be carried out on various elements which make up the course in order to understand what these lend to the CELTA experience. Candidates for analysis would be a focus on the observation of experience teachers or the teaching practice feedback sessions. It would be interesting, for example, to investigate whether the effectiveness of the teaching practice feedback session varies according to the composition of the trainee group or the approach of the trainer.
A further area which would be worthy of research would be what happens to trainees when they move into the work place upon completion of the course. It is known that a large number of trainees leave ELT each year, usually within two years of taking a course or starting work (Phillips, 1989). Although a certain number of drop outs will be due to people intentionally working in the field for a short period only, there must remain a large number of people who simply fail in the workplace for one reason or another. Although a study of this kind would be logistically difficult to carry out, it could provide a valuable insight into the preparation of novice teachers.
Obviously there are many other areas in which research could be directed, such as the role of reflection on a course of such brevity, and how this is best achieved, or research directed towards the trainers on the course, looking at their backgrounds, beliefs and the impact that this has on their delivery of a fairly strictly controlled syllabus.
One thing is clear, the importance of the CELTA as a gatekeeper into ELT suggests that the course and the impact that it has on trainees needs further empirical research and investigation.
The author would like to thank the ESRC for funding the doctoral study upon which this article is based.
Where no speaker is indicated then the speaker / writer is Penny (P). Other interactants are the teacher trainer (TT), and the trainees Helen (H), David (D), Angela (A), Jeff (J), and Theo (T)all names mentioned in the study are pseudonyms
|[ . . . ]||section omitted|
|=||indicates no overlap nor pause between turns|
|<>||indicate brief interjections, concurrent with the main speakers turn|
|/ \||indicates overlapping turns|
|^||indicates a pause of 3 seconds|
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Michaela Borg is a lecturer in the English Language Centre, Northumbria University, UK. She teaches on the MA in TESOL. Her research interests are in teacher education.
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