Recently I’ve been involved in mentoring teachers to prepare portfolios of evidence and a reflective account of their practice for the purposes of BALEAP TEAP Accreditation. I’ve also had a number of submitted portfolios to assess. One striking aspect of some of the Reflective Accounts of Professional Practice (RAPPs) is the tendency for teachers to describe and list their practice in general terms rather than explain and justify specific aspects of their practice. The following examples are compilations. Compare the first three with the fourth.
- Many students are reluctant to share ideas verbally, so I encourage them to use their microphones and turn on their cameras when responding to tasks (online).
- I try to get students to speak more by having them provide an answer to a task orally and then respond to other students with requests for clarification.
- I recommend online corpora to my students to understand how academic language is used and the role it plays in academic discourse.
- A few students in the class had previously struggled with the concept of finding significant points in articles they are reading. So I started the session with a reminder of what we mean by significant points in a line of argument. I then showed some examples of their own writing and asked them to highlight significant points.
We might say that the first three teachers are delivering lessons, whereas the fourth is responding to students’ needs. We don’t get a sense that the first three teachers know much about the individual capabilities of their students and are simply responding to perceived stereotypes or offering generic advice. A BALEAP assessor is not able to use these statements to evaluate the competence of the teachers in relation to the criteria of the BALEAP TEAP Competency Framework.
I’ve been interested in this contrast between knowledge telling (knowing that) and knowledge transforming (knowing how and why) since I first read about research in the development of writing in young children by Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987). Children begin by describing the world they see around them but are later able to use what they observe to achieve more complex explanations and positions in their writing.
Later I came across intriguing research by Keith Johnson and colleagues at the Language Teaching Expertise (LATEX) Research Group at Lancaster University. They compared a small sample of novice and experienced teachers as they designed tasks (Johnson, 2003) or evaluated coursebooks (Johnson et al., 2008) in general ELT contexts. These researchers found that novice teachers focused on how the materials might help them ‘survive’ in a class, designing lesson plans around the tasks or looking for familiar types of activities in a coursebook. More experienced teachers showed awareness of learning outcomes and the need for materials to address students’ immediate needs. Teachers with the most experience were able to create several scenarios for task design, which they could work on simultaneously until finally selecting one that seemed most appropriate. In coursebook evaluation, they were more likely to refer to linguistic or learning theories and to take into account how teachers besides themselves, with different levels of expertise, might relate to the materials and tasks.
Researchers in a variety of different education sectors are interested in teacher expertise – what it is and how to develop it. Tsui (2003) presented detailed case studies comparing four ESL teachers at a secondary school in Hong Kong. She concluded that developing expertise involved a dynamic and continuous process of questioning taken-for-granted assumptions. Rather than relying on established classroom routines, expert teachers set themselves new goals and challenges, through which they gained new insights and new competence.
Elliott (2009) was interested in the disruptive behaviour of pupils in UK schools and how ‘soft skills’ such as relationship building, awareness of pupils’ backgrounds and the demonstration of authority could promote positive classroom behaviour. He referred to ‘withitness’ as a concept: ‘the teacher’s awareness of everything that is taking place around them’ (2009: 200). He used the metaphor of the continually circulating spotlight in a lighthouse. Authoritative teachers can manage multiple activities in a class and students recognise that the teacher is aware of their activity without it being the focus of attention. We might see evidence of this in an EAP classroom with a teacher who can divide their time equally around a class rather than just chatting to the more fluent or extrovert students. In order to develop this level of authority, teachers need a sound understanding of teaching content and procedures so that they do not suffer cognitive overload.
In preparing a Reflective Account of Professional Practice (RAPP) for the BALEAP TEAP Portfolio, it can be useful to write a short reflective account of a lesson you have taught recently or one you plan to teach. Try to account for what you did or plan to do rather than simply describing activities and tasks.
- Are you able to relate your decisions and actions to any theories of language or learning?
- Can you identify any established routines that you use but which you could question and problematise?
- How aware were you or will you be of what all the students in the class are doing?
Bereiter, C. & Scardamalia, M. (1987). The psychology of written composition. New Jersey: Hillsdale.
Elliott, J.G. (2009). The nature of teacher authority and teacher expertise. Support for Learning, 24/4, pp. 197–203.
Johnson, K. (2003) Designing Language Teaching Tasks. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Johnson, K. et al. (2008). A step forward: investigating expertise in materials evaluation, ELT Journal, 62/2, pp. 157–163, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccl021
Tsui, A.B.M. (2003). Understanding expertise in teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.