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Listening to the Learners: The Role of the Learner Diary in RSA/UCLES CTEFLA Teaching Practice
by Henny Burke
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Language learners play an essential role in creating an authentic teaching practice encounter. Their voices can be heard through the medium of the learner diary which in turn helps the Teaching Practice (TP) Tutor to employ a flexible syllabus and one that is sensitive to ongoing evaluation. Learner diaries provide an important part of the ongoing evaluation which such a syllabus requires. The TP Tutor can also receive ongoing evaluation of the syllabus from the trainee teachers and his/her own observations. However, I shall argue that listening to the learners is an area which has not received enough attention on UCLES CTEFLA programmes and shall illustrate my claim that learner diaries are a powerful tool through the use of a case study.

Introduction

In this article I intend to focus on the teaching practice (TP) component of the UCLES CTEFI.A (Certificate In the Teaching of English As a Foreign Language To Adults). I shall begin by briefly discussing what the CTEFLA is and then move on to describe the Teaching Practice (TP) encounter. It will be shown that the TP tutor can play an essential role as syllabus designer in ensuring the smooth running of TP provided s/he is prepared to accept ongoing evaluation of the syllabus not only from the trainee teachers but also from the language learners.

I shall argue that for everybody to gain maximum benefit from the Teaching Practice encounter the TI' tutor should employ a Process syllabus: "the Process syllabus provides the framework within which a predesigned content syllabus would be publicly analysed and evaluated by the classroom group. (Breen 1984:55)

Often learners' needs are considered by the TP tutor, but on the basis of the Tutor's speculation and intuition. By using learner diaries, the TP Tutor can actually begin to hear the learners' voices and, equally important, so can the trainee teachers. It can be too easy to focus on the trainees' needs more than the learners' needs in a microteaching situation. However, this is erroneous as the more the learners are listened to, the more the trainees are likely to experience a genuinely effective teaching encounter. Furthermore, the trainees need to be shown how important it is to listen to the learners. This can only he achieved if the TAP tutor views the learners as individuals, and not "guinea pigs" receiving free classes, when designing and conducting a Teaching Practice Programme.

What the CTEFLA is

The CTEFLA is a form of initial teacher training in TEFL. The scheme aims mainly to provide pre-service training in EFL teaching and is intended for those who wish to enter the profession and for those teachers who have no previous training in this particular field. Trainees should be at least 20 years old; have a good standard of education (e.g. University Matriculation Standard); and have a standard of English, both written and spoken, equivalent to that of an educated speaker for whom English is a first language. Assessment is carried out on a continuous basis and trainees are evaluated by the Course Tutors on written assignments and their participation and performance in both the input sessions and teaching practice. (UCLES CTEFLA Syllabus 1990/1:1-9)

The teaching practice encounter

In order to comply with UCLES stipulations each trainee is required to fulfil a minimum of 6 hours supervised practice teaching observed by the TP Tutor. "Micro-teaching using foreign students is included in practice teaching." (UCLES CTEFLA Syllabus 1990/1:5.2 ii)

In a microteaching situation the TP Tutor normally provides the trainee teachers with a brief (TP points) of what to teach. These TP points are, in effect, statements of the syllabus content. The trainees teach, following the TP points, and start off by teaching short slots.

One of the problems facing the learners is that they are being taught by inexperienced, untrained teachers and this can cause learners to feel insecure. Classes on courses like this are normally offered free to the learners. Such factors can sometimes affect learners' motivation and if they feel their needs are not being met or that they are not making progress then attendance can drop.

Low attendance on the learners' part rapidly becomes the TP Tutor's problem as it is impossible to have TP without learners. Furthermore. UCLES is very strict on this point: "Such classes should contain no fewer than 10 adult students." (UCLES CTEFLA Syllabus 1990/91:5.2 iii)

The TP tutor as syllabus designer

The problems outlined above can, to a great extent, be solved by the TP Tutor playing an active role in employing a process syllabus with regard to the programme of classes the trainees teach the learners.

I would argue that what is necessary is for there to be dialogue between the trainees and the TP Tutor over what direction the TP course is going in or should be going in. Such dialogue is necessary as the TP Tutor is the most qualified and should design the course, but the actual teaching will be done by the trainees.

There is ample opportunity for dialogue between TP Tutor and trainees especially as after TP, oral feedback takes place.

Another vehicle fur dialogue between trainees and TP Tutor is provided through the trainees' writing of TP logs. The use of such logs has been described by Scott Thornbury. (Thornbury 1991).

The TP Tutor, who initially reads the TP logs after each feedback session in his/her role of evaluator of trainee performance. can also read them in his/her role of Syllabus Designer and thus receive feedback him/herself from the trainees.

The TP Tutor, as Syllabus designer, has also to consider the role of the learners. Learners are central to any authentic teaching experience but all too often their voices are not well represented in TP encounters. Strategies need to be built into the syllabus which allow for the TI' Tutor and the trainees to receive information on how the learners themselves feel about the course and what areas they feel they need to work on. One of the best ways to provide for this is by having each learner write a learner diary during the course. (Budd and Wright 1992).

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