Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Sustaining Expertise through Collaborative/peer-Mediated and Individual Reflections: The Experiences of Chinese English Language Teachers

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Sustaining Expertise through Collaborative/peer-Mediated and Individual Reflections: The Experiences of Chinese English Language Teachers

Article excerpt


This exploratory investigation of the professional development of Chinese English Language teachers (ELTs) was part of a collaboration between two teacher educators, one from the U.S. and the other from China, during the 2011-2012 academic year. We were involved in the professional development in three schools (elementary, middle and high schools) in Beijing's northwest area, in which teachers worked intensively with peers in "jiaoyanzu" or teacher research groups. During our shared experiences, we found ourselves pursuing the question of what type of knowledge emerges when teachers reflect with peers. We were interested specifically in teacher reflections for their contributions to the professional development of the Chinese ELTs with whom we were working in particular, and of language teachers in general.

Research Setting

"Jiaoyanzu" and Workplace-Based Professional Development

In the schools we were attached to, much of the in-service teacher professional development (PD) was school-based. This is typical in China, where formal education in universities marks only the beginning of PD for teachers, which is expected to continue in schools as the primary sites of their learning (Tsui & Wong, 2010). The defining feature of school-based PD sessions is teachers working together in "jiaoyanzu." (Although jiaoyanzu is translated from Mandarin as "teacher research groups," peer-mentoring teaching activities are the mainstay of group meetings). Each group consists of six to eight teachers, including a head teacher assigned by the principal. Usually a "backbone" or model teacher is also in the group, i.e. someone most experienced in the subject area, and who might also be the head teacher. New teachers are also assigned mentors from the jiaoyanzu to provide individual support.

The teachers we worked with shared a spacious office space reserved for English teachers. In that space, they spent a great deal of time in proximity with each other because most taught only two or three 40-minute periods a day or ten to twelve periods a week, especially at the middle and high school levels. (American middle and high school teachers generally teach 15-20 periods a week). In these offices, ideas are shared, lesson plans are revised and resources are prioritized, of which the most important are teaching powerpoints, which are central in public school teaching. Additionally, new and veteran teachers develop powerpoints for each other as they share mandated teaching texts and follow prescribed curricula outlined by the approved textbooks. Discussions often center on how to use the powerpoints to teach the textbooks. The focus of these is primarily on a well-sequenced approach to topic coverage, usually involving knowledge points (aspects of the topic students need to know), main ideas and key points, and points that students are likely to have difficulty with (Tsui et al, 2010). In the schools with which we were affiliated, jiaoyanzu groups also discussed the macro aspects of teaching and school-related affairs including test preparation, schedules, teaching/research projects, government regulations and the standardized curriculum.

Another very important feature of these jiaoyanzu meetings is the preparation of new and younger teachers (less than 40 years old) for demonstration teaching (open classes) or teaching competitions, which happen at least twice a year. Often during these meetings, senior members of the jiaoyanzu group report on award-winning practices they observed when attending national teaching competitions in other provinces. Teachers also engage in frequent observations to learn from each other and from more experienced teachers, and they are frequently observed (we saw over 15 observations in one semester) by head, backbone, and mentor teachers and peers who belong to the jiaoyanzu. Moreover in our schools, each classroom was also videotaped and channeled live to the principal's office. …

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