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In the June, 2011 EL Gazette, Steve Hirschhorn, a TESOL trainer who has been involved in postgraduate TESOL courses for many years expressed his concerns over the unrealistic demands that UK accreditation bodies place on the 4-week TESOL certificate course (see article here). For a TESOL preparation course to be successful, he suggests that following:
- course participants should develop the ability to deal with a ‘broad variety of teaching situations’.
- they should have the opportunity to experiment with different teaching approaches and methodologies
- they should develop an awareness of cultural and linguistic diversity
- assignments should reflect the kinds of activities that teachers do in the real world
- participants should ‘have had exposure to the best thinking in terms of the grammar of the language they are teaching – not just tenses and aspects’
- they must be up to date on theories of learning.
The author goes on to suggest that the 4-week TESOL preparation course is not able to deal with these curricular demands. It’s not my place to debate whether or not this claim is true, however my immediate thoughts went straight to the postgraduate TESOL course that I am responsible for.
Indeed, this university-based postgraduate TESOL course, offered at Macquarie University, meets the handful of criteria described above, and does so over a far more manageable time period (for the learners). While the course can be completed within one semester (5 months, including holidays), many students elect to take the course part-time over two semesters (effectively a year of study). In this period, students have the “time and space” to engage with and reflect upon the course content, to explore diverse teaching situations in a variety of cultural contexts, to appreciate linguistic and cultural diversity, to become immersed in the most recent thinking and applications of functional grammar for second language teaching, and to become acquainted with and reflect upon the most recent thinking on second language learning, acquisition and development theories. Learning tasks and course assignments are directed toward developing understandings and skills in second language teaching, and displaying these understandings and skills in authentic-like activities and tasks.
Whether or not the 4-week TESOL certificate course can achieve these key targets is open for discussion. However, perhaps the question ought to be asked whether they need to. Initial teacher preparation courses are preparing novice teachers for a career involving life-long learning and the developing abilities to engage in a process of reflective teaching (see Tom Farrell’s recent book – Farrell (2007) – for an excellent outline of reflective practice for language teaching). Short, intense courses should probably be more focused on learner-training – helping to shape novice teachers’ abilities to become reflective teaching practitioners. The longer courses, such as Postgraduate Certificate in TESOL courses offered in university faculties where pathways to higher degrees are available (Diplomas and Masters in Applied Linguistics) ought to be concentrating on delivering more complete programs that meet the criteria proposed by Steve Hirschhorn in the article mentioned here.
Farrell, T.S.C., (2007), Reflective language teaching: From research to practice, Continuum, New York.