language policy

Policy planning part 2, continued:

Last time, we looked at a few basic elements that pertain to the English curriculum at your school, such as materials, time, and history of the program at your school.  This time, we are going to look at something even more important: the teachers themselves.

Teachers are fundamental to the entire curriculum, regardless of time and material available to them, so it’s really important to open up the dialogue about what they think, what they do, and what they need.

One way of opening up this dialogue is by using a questionnaire. In creating your questionnaire, think about aspects relating to didactics, knowledge, lesson organization, and assessment. Also, think about aspects that relate to the school’s vision and ambition. For instance, if the school is a Montessori or Dalton school, aspects relating to how well children can work independently or cooperatively might be included on your list. Below is an example of a questionnaire.

Teacher-variables-2

A quick sample of a questionnaire

This sample is meant as a start, to help you get inspired for writing your own questions.  Each school has its own points of focus, so you’ll need to create questions that reflect that.  Handy hint: if you want more inspiration in this area, handy search terms are “checklist good EFL lesson” or “what makes a good EFL lesson”.  Once there, you’ll find all sorts of blogs and sites offering questions worth thinking about.

In designing your questionnaire, it’s important to allow for degrees of opinion and anonymity in supplying answers to these questions.  Remember, you’re looking for points to improve upon, so it’s really important that people feel the space to be honest instead of only providing socially acceptable answers.  Allowing for an anonymous response is a good way to achieve this.

Also, allow space for open answers.  That way, your fellow teachers will be able to explain why they gave certain answers.  For instance, when a teacher says “I disagree with ….” perhaps he would like to explain why he says that.

Once you’ve designed your questionnaire, put it aside for a day or two, and come back to it later with a fresh pair of eyes.  Put it along this checklist, and be critical!  Take the time to refine your questions, add one or two when needed, but also to remove questions that don’t work well.

  1. Does each question only cover one topic?  (question 3 of the sample given clearly does not do this)
  2. Is each question concrete and clear, or is there space for ambiguity?
  3. Is the questionnaire too long?  It is too short?
  4. Do the questions relate to teacher skills, knowledge, and school vision?
  5. Is there space for open input?

Tip:  for more information about writing a good questionnaire, you might have a look at this blog: “Good survey questions” or infographic.

Once you’ve gotten everyone’s anonymous responses, it’s time to tally up the numbers.  In order to do this, you simply tally, per question, the number of responses per possibility.  Here is an illustration of a quick tally:

teacher-variables-3

Tallying up the answers shows general tendencies.

 

As you can see, this tally only shows general tendencies among the teachers, highlighting points that might make for some interesting follow-up discussions.  In looking at the data like this, it allows any follow-up dialogue to be open and non-personal, and everyone can have a role in addressing the issues at a team level without feeling personally called out.

Begin by describing what you see.  For instance, no-one claims to (re-)design lessons to make the learning tasks more authentic.  Few use extra materials for the weaker or stronger children.  The group plan is not always used as the basis for the lessons.  These are simply factual descriptions of what you see, without labelling anything as “good” or “bad”.  Your observations will form the basis for any follow-up discussion with your colleagues.

In thinking about these points, it’s important to find out why this is the way it is.  For instance, teachers do not (re-)design lessons to make the learning tasks more authentic.  Does the material used already makes the learning tasks authentic?  Or is this perhaps something that teachers didn’t think about before?  Do they want more authentic tasks?  Also, is authenticity of learning tasks considered important?  Also important, did they understand the question correctly?

Again, it must be stressed that any dialogue about the outcomes of the questionnaire must take place in an open and safe manner.

Talk about these questions with others at your school and make a note of your findings.  As you do this, also note any problems that need to be addressed, along with any ideas that people give for tackling these issues.

Next time, we will look at the issues of assessment of learning, and how to move towards the next step of creating points of action.

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Policy planning part 2: the present-day situation

If you were to describe the English program at your school, what would you say?  Would you talk about the textbooks you use, or the computer programs the children employ?  Would you talk about how much time you spend teaching, or how often English is taught in your school?  Or would you describe teacher beliefs and attitudes, and how children’s progress is tracked?

All of these things, and more, are what make up the total English program at your school, and each of these things is worth exploring as you continue developing a language policy plan.  Let’s start with the easy stuff.

Lesson time:  How many  minutes or hours is English taught per week in your school, per class?  Does that amount of time change from year to year, or is it constant?  Make a table to depict this information.  Perhaps each class spends equally much time on English every week, or perhaps the time spent varies, as shown in these examples below.Knipsel

Once you’ve done this, look at the data you’ve gathered and ask the following questions: how did your school decide on this schedule?  What is the reasoning behind this schedule?  Is there enough time allotted to the English program?  And also important, while your school may allot a certain amount of time to the program, is this time actually used for English every week?  Or does the English lesson get dropped from the schedule on a (semi-)regular basis?

Talk about these questions with others at your school and make a note of your findings.  As you do this, also note any problems that need to be addressed, along with any ideas that people give for tackling these issues.

History of the English program at your school: When did your school start teaching English?  For some schools, English has been taught for over a decade, while other schools have only recently started.  This will have an effect on certain aspects of the program at your school.  For instance, if the school started with English only four or five years ago, it’s reasonable to think it’s not entirely “full-grown” throughout the entire school.  Textbook series, however, are often written so that each one builds further on the information from the years before.  Teachers in the lower classes will soon make the adjustment to these textbooks, but teachers in upper classes may find themselves faced with a gap beteween that which the children can do and that what the textbook offers, as illustrated below.

Program in development

While a program is in development, there may be an “ability gap” between the material offered by the textbook and the material children are actually ready to handle.

If you find there is an “ability gap”, then it’s important to look at issues regarding this.  For instance, what do the teachers do, when faced with this issue?  Is there a plan of action, or do they just “follow the book” and hope for the best?

Talk about these questions with others at your school and make a note of your findings.  As you do this, also note any problems that need to be addressed, along with any ideas that people give for tackling these issues.

Materials used:  for each class, inventory what textbooks, games, dvds, and other materials are actually used for the English lessons.  Again, make a table of your findings.  Make it as systematic as possible.  Here is an example:overview-materialWhen you are looking at the material, think about the following questions: does this material fulfill the needs of the teachers and children?  Do the children and teachers enjoy using this material?  Also important, in what way does this material help realise the vision and ambition of the school, which you looked at earlier?  Is there anything you miss?  Is the material outdated and needing to be replaced?

Again, talk about these questions with others at your school and make a note of your findings.  As you do this, also note any problems that need to be addressed, along with any ideas that people give for tackling these issues.

In the  next blog entry, we’ll continue looking at the issue of describing the current state of the English program at your school.  Until then, it’s really important to continually include others in your work and to open up the conversation about the program in such a way that everyone feels free to contribute.  After all, writing a policy plan is meant to do two things: firstly, to lay bare the current situation, along with its foibles and its hidden Jewels; and secondly, to make space in such a way that everyone is encouraged to improve his or her teaching and can take pride for his or her part of the program.

 

Policy planning part 1: vision and ambition

Vision

How do you see education?  What is the goal of education?  What are important aspects of education?  What do you think?

At your school: How are children viewed, in their role as learners?  What aspects of learning are important?

What kind of education does your school provide?  What is the role of the teacher, of the child, the material to be used, and material to be learned, in this view?

What kind of pedagogical climate does the school wish to achieve?

When I look through various school guides, I see certain recurring phrases: “We stimulate each child’s independence in learning…”, “We use the (explicit) direct instruction model”, “We value children’s creative, musical, and cultural development…”, “We think children should develop and employ their various talents in education…” and so on.

Very often, one reads something about the high expectations that the school has of the children, or how the child forms the heart of the educational plan, and how the school hopes to educate children so that they can function as autonomous adults in modern society.

When writing a policy plan, it is essential to start at this point: what is your own school’s vision regarding education?  How does your school see the learning child?  What is your school’s goal in educating children?  How does your school want to achieve those goals?

Take a moment to think about these questions for yourself, and then look for the school’s vision.  It might be found on the school’s webpage, or in the school guide.  It might be posted on the school walls, or maybe even something that is brought to attention on a regular basis during school meetings.

Wherever you find the school’s vision of education described, make a note of it.  Then, decide what the core concepts are described in the school’s vision.  Make sure to note these clearly for yourself, as you’ll be referring back to these as you write the rest of the policy plan.

For example: if your school endorses “independent learning”, it will be important to hold the various aspects of the English program up to this light.  To what degree do teachers allow space for “independent learning” during their lessons?  Does the material used, including textbooks and digital material, provide space for “independent learning”?  Do the children actually get the time to work independently during or outside of the lessons?

 

Also, look for the ambition of the school.  What does the school hope to achieve with its English program?  What language skills does the school consider important in the program?  For instance, is it the goal that children are confident with conversing in English with strangers, or should they be able to read and write in the language as well?  Are the goals described in terms of the Common European Framework of Reference, or in other terms?  Is there any information about ambitions related to internationalisation or international projects?

However the goals are defined, it’s important to make a note of these, so that when you’re writing the policy plan, you can keep these goals in mind.  Again, in terms of teacher- and material-related variables, but also in terms of planning for and tracking achievement.

In conclusion, start with the basics.  Describe the school vision regarding learning in general, and where possible regarding the English program.  Decide what the core concepts of this vision are and highlight these.  Then, define the ambition of the school, including levels for the various skills areas and internationalisation where applicable.  You’ll be referring back to this in the rest of your writing.

Next time, we’ll focus on describing the present-day situation of the school