Working in a pretty well-organised country – not quite the same as Germany, but they are our next door neighbours – it is not easy to incorporate a dogme ‘philosophy’ into our teacher training/trainers. Personally I have never been a great believer in text books although it has to be said they do seem to be improving. But new teachers in the Netherlands are not only often obliged to work with a text book but also generally find it very useful:
- your first year as a teacher you still tend to be wobbly with regards to classroom management so a text book provides at least one less factor to think about;
- the curriculum is way less pre-determined than the British curriculum, for example, so text books provide some description of line towards the end point (and the end point vaguely resembles the CEFR so is also fairly open to interpretation);
- a text book ensures the pupils tend to be getting the same input regardless of the teacher – many teachers are not (fully) qualified, many have had no form of CPD, and in a school with around 2,000 pupils (not uncommon) the text book can prevent huge differences arising between the classes taught by teachers a or b.
That said, I personally like to encourage my students to be critical of the book they get forced into their hands. They are, after all, university postgraduates with a tremendous knowledge of their subject (English) and a steadily increasing knowledge of MFL didactics. These text books have been written for an average class in an average school……the one we all hope to encounter one day! The books tend to be RP based, though there is an inclination to include some ‘accents’ these days. I recently heard a listening exercise of an “American” baseball player – I recognised the voice from a previous life in a recording studio in London and believe me, he was most definitely not American! There was also a ‘Scottish’ girl who supposedly had a Scottish accent – not. But the publishers are trying, they are thinking along the right lines.
So what does this mean to me? I’m trying out something new. My students all have very different needs. We, as a university teacher training course, have a specific curriculum (input) we need to rub into them. Somewhere along the way we do tend to meet up, but not always ideally. So this is the aim: our next two classes are literature and intercultural education, I want the students to write a short piece on how this is represented in their specific schools (based on a questionnaire I have devised), they will then write out their own lesson plan (already given/to be given) on these two topics, they will then read and summarise the compulsory theory (mainly Kwakernaak and Brown) and will jot down their own vision on these two topics. During class I will get them to bring their papers along and present their ideas to each other in small groups and give them time to give each other feedback. I will try to answer any remaining questions and then, and only then, will I check out my own pre-class notes and see if there’s anything I wanted/needed to cover which has not already been covered. After these two classes I’ll ask the students what they thought – if this is better than the usual way we do things (i.e. they read the theory, we give a traditional lecture, we give some practical ideas, they then go away and see what they can do with it at their own school). In the past I’ve had groups which indicated they preferred being ‘sponges’ and didn’t like to have to “think” during class (and these are future teachers!). Luckily my current groups are game for anything.
Not entirely dogme-esque but my way of bringing the idea of letting go of the coursebook into the teacher training world: the curriculum is set but we can take a closer look at the students’ individual needs and their own starting point. Surely this must also help motivation? Any ideas on pushing it even further will be gratefully appreciated!