Podcast: Standards for ESL/EFL Teachers of Adult Learners (MP3)

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Standards for ESL/EFL Teachers of Adults, February 2009

Rob Jenkins

Hello and welcome to a podcast on an exciting new tool recently completed and published by TESOL called Standards for ESL/EFL Teachers of Adults. My name is Rob Jenkins and I chaired a group of writers who took the standards developed by a TESOL taskforce and put them into meaningful classroom contexts so they would be more accessible to all ESL instructors of adults no matter their type of program. The standards address what the profession of English language teaching considers to be successful teaching and those qualities that effective professionals possess. Our team developed vignettes to illustrate each of the eight standards in adult education, workplace, college/university, intensive programs, and foreign language settings. We also developed a tool to help teachers analyze themselves and create a plan to improve their effectiveness as instructors based on the standards.

There has been a movement in the United States and abroad to look at the role of the teacher as a participant in the learning process instead of merely a transmitter of information. In 1993, Freeman and Richards stated that teaching should be viewed as thinking and reasoning. In 1995 Barr and Tag wrote “When we focus on instruction rather than learning, we confuse the means with the ends”. With this emphasis, the committee developed eight standards: planning, instructing, and assessing as the core standards followed by 5 additional standards which are: identity and context, language proficiency, learning, content, and professionalism.

Let me speak to the first one, planning, as an example of the thought provoking nature that this volume provides. Each standard is first identified in a short description. Planning states; “Teachers plan instruction to promote learning and to meet learner goals, and modify plans to assure learner engagement and achievement”. A longer and more in depth description leads to the performance indicators. I enjoy the performance indicators. They are so important for self-reflection. This is where you can ask yourself which of the performance indicators you can honestly say you carry out in your daily planning. There are 15 indicators in this first section on planning. I will present only a few of them to you in question form to facilitate your self analyses:

  • Do you identify learners’ interests and integrate them in planning?
  • Do you design or sequence strategies and activities to address individual differences?
  • Do you design or sequence strategies and activities that encourage learners to use English beyond the classroom?

Again, these are three of 15 for the first standard. The intention is not to make you feel inadequate or to point out where you are not good as a teacher, but to raise awareness of issues that affect instruction and to enable you to find ways to improve. In the appendices is a tool to check items you feel are important to work on. All the performance indicators are in checklists to help facilitate your analyses. This can help you create a systematic approach to your own professional development. The tool in the appendices is also useful for school administrators to create interview questions and help those being interviewed prepare.

The indicators may leave the reader with more questions. Help follows quickly with vignettes describing the implementation of the indicators in your own personal classroom setting.

In the Adult/Community vignette describing planning, we read how Susan Jacobson, a part-time teacher of 35 Beginning High ESL students, plans her lessons and makes short-term and long-term goals. We learn that she needs to be flexible as she discovers her students’ needs throughout the semester. Susan incorporates most of the performance indicators, some more than others. A series of discussion questions follow that you might address with colleagues or if you are a TESOL student, your classmates and instructor. Again, to be clear, each of the eight standards are addressed with vignettes and discussion questions for the various settings including Adult Education, Workplace, College/University, Intensive, and EFL Programs.

Let me take just a minute to summarize each standard. I am reading form the short description at the beginning of each standard section. At times I will include only part of the description to stay as brief as possible:

  1. Planning: I already mentioned: Teachers plan instruction to promote learning and to meet learner goals, and modify plans to assure learner engagement and achievement.
  2. Instructing: Teachers create supportive environments that engage all learners in purposeful learning and promote respectful classroom interactions.
  3. Assessing: Teachers gather and interpret information about learning and performance to promote the continuous intellectual and linguistic development of each learner. Teachers involve learners in determining what will be assessed.
  4. Identity and Context: Teachers understand the importance of who learners are and how their communities, backgrounds, and goals shape learning and expectations of learning. 
  5. Language Proficiency: Teachers demonstrate proficiency in social, business/workplace, and academic English. Proficiency in speaking, listening, reading, and writing means that a teacher is functionally equivalent to a native speaker with some higher education.
  6. Learning: Teachers draw on their language and adult language learning to understand the processes by which learners acquire a new language in and out of classroom settings. 
  7. Content: Teachers understand that language learning is most likely to occur when learners are trying to use the language for genuine communicative purposes. Teachers design their lessons to help learners acquire the language they need to successfully communicate in the subject or content areas about which they want or need to learn.
  8. Commitment and Professionalism: Teachers continue to develop their understanding of the relationships between second language teaching and learning through the community of English language teaching professionals, the broader teaching community, and the community at large.

I want to emphasize the last standard for a moment in conclusion because in fact I see these standards as an incredible mechanism that can help guide us in our professional development pursuits benefiting our students in the process. I hope that we all can reflect on our teaching. This volume is an excellent way to get started. Thank you for listening to this podcast.