Specific teaching abilities are required to promote the balanced development of proficiency in all four skills. We spoke with Chihiro Kawai, Senior Manager at the British Council, English Programmes (Schools Education), about English teacher training.
- Please tell us about how to best promote the balanced development of proficiency in all four skills. How do the four skills relate to each other?
“Learning to speak can help build listening skills and learning to write can help build reading skills. This is because, by making sounds in English, you will be able to hear those sounds, and by writing sentences expressing your thoughts, you will be able to understand the sentences written by others. Although most students tend to have stronger receptive skills (listening and reading) than productive skills (speaking and writing), it is helpful to consciously link speaking and listening, and reading and writing, in order to develop all four skills.
In addition, the key to progress in any skill is to combine both knowledge and practice. To acquire speaking skills, one must not only memorise the sounds of English (knowledge), but also pronounce them in a way that others can understand (practice). Classes should incorporate not just lectures but activities to practise what is being taught. It is best to do this by first showing an example and giving feedback on what was done well and what could be improved.”
- How do the British Council's teacher training programmes help them to improve their ability to teach the four skills? What results have you seen?
“The British Council's teacher training programmes introduce practical and specific teaching skills. Although teachers understand the importance of increasing the number of opportunities for students to use English in the classroom, many teachers are looking for concrete ideas for how to do this. We provide training not only to explain teaching methods, but also to help teachers increase both their teaching skills and confidence through hands-on training.
In our training, teachers first participate in a demonstration from the student’s perspective. The next step is to analyse the stages of instruction as teachers and practise teaching skills. There is a big difference between watching others do something and trying it yourself, so this hands-on approach has been very well received. We have received many comments such as ‘I can use this in my class tomorrow’ or ‘I want to try this’.
For example, speaking instruction can be broken down into a number of stages and techniques. To start with, teachers need to offer a lot of “scaffolding” – this is when teachers provide support and information that complements the student's skill level in order to help them progress. The most effective way to learn to scaffold effectively is to actually practise it, rather than to listen to explanations. Therefore, the way the training is conducted is very important.
Teachers who have implemented the skills they learned in training have commented that their students enjoy the activities and that they find it easier to teach using the techniques learned in the training. When students have more opportunities to use English in a way that is meaningful and enjoyable for them, they start to see gradual improvements. Then, teachers are able to see the effects of their teaching.”
- What role do assessments play in developing the four skills?
“In class, it is important to increase what students are able to do in English. Students use their listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills based on real-life situations and objectives. Assessments should determine how well the students performed and then help plan what lessons should follow.
Assessment literacy is an important part of the evaluation process. This is the ability (i.e., literacy) to make correct judgements and appropriately assess based on sufficient knowledge and understanding of the subject. Specifically, it is the ability to understand the content of the testing and link them to learning objectives and instruction.
What’s important for assessment is “assessment literacy”. The word “literacy” refers to having the necessary knowledge and understanding of assessment in order to be able to use it effectively. In concrete terms, this means understanding the specific features of different tests and being able to link assessment to learning aims and instruction.
For example, the ability to interact with others requires the ability to ask questions, respond, and take turns at speaking and listening. Incorporating these elements in both classwork and assessments will improve students’ ability to communicate. With writing skills, some questions evaluate spelling and grammar. Others focus on the actual content, in which students express their feelings and opinions along with reasons for their answers. In order to develop the ability to express themselves, we design our classes around the intentions of such test questions.
In fostering the four skills, it is necessary to first decide the skills you want the students to develop, then understand what kind of skills each individual test assesses, and select the appropriate test based on that. When teachers' assessment literacy is enhanced, classroom learning objectives and instruction are organically linked to the assessment. As teachers, as well as students and parents, gain assessment literacy, their understanding of the relationship between learning and assessment deepens, and their efforts to develop the four skills advance.