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Governing Ourselves

Governing Ourselves informs members of legal and regulatory matters affecting the profession. This section provides updates on licensing and qualification requirements, notification of Council resolutions and reports from various Council committees, including reports on accreditation and discipline matters.

Language Proficiency

The Language Used in Teaching

By Charles Ungerleider and Tracy Lavin

Internationally Educated Teachers (IETs) who hope to begin work in Canada may soon be taking a nationally developed assessment to determine their proficiency in English or French. If implemented, the assessment would be administered provincially and would evaluate teachers’ use of language for performing profession-specific tasks such as teaching, preparing report cards, and communicating with parents and other professionals.

Directions Evidence and Policy Research Group developed several versions of the assessment under contract to the Corporation of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, working under the direction of the Language Competencies Subcommittee of the Registrars for Teacher Certification Canada. In this article, Directions illustrates the importance of language to a broad repertoire of instructional strategies that are strongly linked to student achievement.

Language and Teaching

Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal teaching is the set of instructional strategies designed to help students improve their reading comprehension and learning skills. The teacher leads a discussion about a written passage and models a set of language skills for building comprehension of the passage. Then students take on the role of discussion leader and receive feedback from the teacher.

Teachers need to be able to speak clearly using language appropriate to students’ proficiency levels. They need to be able to generate questions that are sufficiently clear and specific, so students will understand how to answer them. They need to listen to student discussion leaders to determine what they have understood and misunderstood. They also need to be able to reframe any misunderstood concepts until they become clear to students.

Metacognitive Strategies

Metacognition refers to thinking about thinking. Teachers employ metacognitive strategies to show students how to approach new tasks, how to evaluate their own learning and progress, and how to monitor their comprehension of material they are learning.

Teachers present, discuss and model metacognitive strategies by expressing in language their own use of these strategies, what some call “thinking aloud.” They check for student progress and understanding by listening carefully to students and providing them with oral feedback, prompting them to articulate their ideas and thought processes.

Problem Solving

Teachers use problem solving as an instructional strategy to help students to define the nature of a problem and to guide them as they identify, prioritize and select approaches to solving this problem.

In the problem-solving context, the teacher’s role is to facilitate learning and moderate the dialogue among students. Teachers must be able to ask questions that challenge and advance the learning of students with varied levels of expertise. They must also provide verbal support for their students’ explorations and listen to students express their ideas without taking over the process of thinking through solutions.

Direct Instruction

Teachers will orient students to a topic, make explicit presentations of new material, guide students while they practise working with the new ideas or procedures and — once concepts are properly mastered — structure opportunities for students to practise independently.

The effectiveness of direct instruction relies almost entirely on teachers’ use of language. Teachers need to give rich verbal descriptions and examples of the material they are presenting and use language that is appropriate to students’ proficiency levels.

Setting Instructional Goals

Goal setting establishes a direction for learning. Student learning improves when teachers clearly state the purpose of their lessons and identify the learning objectives.

This requires clear statements about what students are supposed to learn and how this learning will be assessed. Effective goal setting requires very precise use of language: if teachers define the learning goals too narrowly then students may ignore relevant information. Goals that are too broadly defined engender ambiguity and confusion.

Advanced Organizers

Teachers use advanced organizers when introducing new material to help students make sense of and interpret new information. Advanced organizers represent the new material to be learned at an abstract level and provide a framework within which students can situate the new material.

To make effective use of advanced organizers, teachers need to be able to describe, classify and categorize information — orally and in writing. They must supplement the organizers with clear instructions using explanation and questioning techniques.

Four Lessons From the Literature

While each of these teaching strategies makes use of a different set of language competencies, four generalizations can be drawn from the literature about teachers’ effective use of language:

  1. Teachers must be proficient in all four of the language modalities: speaking, listening, reading and writing.
  2. Teachers need to be able to modulate their use of language so that it is appropriate to students’ proficiency level.
  3. There are a few key language forms that teachers must master including: giving clear explanations; providing concrete examples; and generating questions to test students’ knowledge and guide them toward deeper understanding.
  4. Teachers must also understand and be able to articulate their own learning processes so they can help students become competent learners.

The proposed language assessment for IETs would bring consistency to language skills evaluation across the country while ensuring that profession-specific language skills are assessed. The proposed assessment would also help IETs transition more smoothly to teaching in Canada.