Monday, April 30, 2012

Professional development of foreign language teachers (2 of 2)

(From Professional development of foreign language teachers (1 of 2))

Another matter we should take into account, is that the teacher cannot assume when starting a new topic that the student already knows the content, especially if the student hasn´t previously been in the class. It doesn´t matter what similarities there are between the native language of the student and the language being studied; sometimes this similarity makes the student learn incorrectly. The teacher, when they are explaining a language, should do it from the point of view of a “knowledge builder”, from the most basic to the most complex phase making sure that at each level the student can take in the concept and can use it correctly.

Lastly, the teacher should be able to assess and evaluate the learning process of a student and in an objective manner. By doing this they will be capable of identifying when a student doesn´t know or makes errors in the language due to their low level and when they make these errors because the teacher hasn´t explained something correctly. In the first case, the teacher should find ways to motivate the student and in the second, through self-criticism, the teacher should correct this error to avoid it happening again.

How can all this be achieved? As it has been mentioned before, a teacher is like a “surgeon or a builder” in constant training. A teacher can give classes to students of different ages: children, teenagers, young people, adults and elderly people. The first thing a teacher should do when faced with a group is to identify the age and different interests and then to adapt to them by using resources that they are familiar with: technological aids, cultural aids, etc. For this reason (amongst others) one of the continuous tasks of the professional development of a teacher is to be aware of new technology. This doesn´t mean the teacher has to become an expert in new technology but they need to know how to use it and adapt it to their own needs. Although, sometimes it can be particularly difficult to follow the advances, the teacher must always be able to assess the usefulness of such technology and use it adequately.  The teacher must avoid breaking away from the reality in which we live, the reality in which their students live. The Internet for example, allows us to be continually informed and use it whenever we want, access real material, and real language samples about any topic and in any format, written texts, audio, etc. It also allows us to do distance learning: it allows us to give language courses to our students and to do training or re-training courses. This means, we´re not just talking about the technique of the teaching service but also the learning process; the Internet is a supplier and facilitator of teaching means. If we group together all these resources, a course for teachers can, for example, teach us to find real language samples, show us how to use them and in the necessary case, how to adapt them to lower learning levels.

Let’s also talk about the training and retraining of teachers, as another logical route to improve the professional development of a teacher. How do the training and retraining courses help? For a teacher without experience, the course enables them to organise, understand and pass on the necessary knowledge to be able to learn a language. They will learn that they have to teach “how” and “when” and acquire the ability to analyse the language in a scientific way, which will in turn allow them to teach in a more conscious way. Furthermore, they will review materials, assess the use of different mediums available to them - technical or not - and they will listen to experiences that will be able to help them in the future. For a teacher that already has previous teaching experience, these courses will serve to share their experiences with other teachers who, at the same time, will share their own experiences. They will also be able to assess the activities carried out on the courses and learn from their mentors (and class mates) new techniques, new materials and news means of teaching. What´s more, if these courses are carried out in a country where the official language is the target language, the benefit will be even greater: the student-teacher will be continuously immersed in the language, making contact with native speakers of the country, and be used to teaching students of different nationalities and thus possessing a more global view of language teaching.

Technology and continuous training are only two possible routes for the development of a teacher. A teacher has to have a reflective and receptive character to be able to find new ways of teaching because then they will be on the right path towards adequate professional development. And here more than ever, the path itself is the ultimate goal.

(If you are interested in teacher training of Spanish as a foreign language/ ELE teachers, please visit our website:

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