EFL policy

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.



EFL in the big picture: policy planning

team sport

In previous blog entries, I’ve looked at various aspects of planning English lessons.  In terms of long-term planning for instance for the coming half a year or so, I’ve written about writing semi-annual plans based on lines of language development.

In terms of shorter-term planning, for instance per theme and per lesson, I’ve looked at theme planning, implementing multiple intelligences, and group work.

All good and well for the individual teacher looking for inspiration on a classroom level.  However, as every teacher is aware, teaching is a team sport.  At the end of the year, the class often moves on to a new teacher, and then it’s up to the new teacher to pick up where the other left off, and we pick up where the previous teacher left off.


When teachers work together towards common goals, they need to insure the continuity of the program.  When there is continuity, teachers can build upon what was already taught in prior years, and move steadily forward towards a long-term goal.  When there is no continuity, the language program may make a significant development in one year, only to have the entire thing dropped in the year that follows, resulting in loss of learning and, effectively, wasted time.  After all, language is one of those skills where the adagium “use it or lose it” holds.

This is when a school-wide language policy plan comes in handy.  A school-wide policy plan is a document in which the long-term goals are laid out.  The present situation is described, along with the desired situation.  The differences between the two becomes the basis for a plan of action, so that everyone knows what he needs to do, in order to work towards the long-term goals.


Basic parts of an EFL policy plan

In the coming blog entries, I plan to work out each of these aspects in greater detail so that schools without such a policy plan can learn to develop one of these on their own.

Important note:  many schools already have a language policy plan which helps them work with children in multi-lingual environments.  Schools around the world, for instance in Canada, Africa, south-east Asia, Australia, and even in the United States, have written excellent, useful plans based on years of experience.  Therefore I cannot claim that the information I give will be new or innovative.  I do hope, however, that it will be useful to schools who don’t yet have access to these policy plans, or who would like to try their hand at writing their own.