Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Action Research in English as a Foreign Language Teacher Training in Spain: Trainees' Perception of Their Development of Competencies for Effective Teaching and a Comparison with Language Teacher Competency Development in the UK

Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Action Research in English as a Foreign Language Teacher Training in Spain: Trainees' Perception of Their Development of Competencies for Effective Teaching and a Comparison with Language Teacher Competency Development in the UK

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

The field of second/foreign language teacher preparation has received well-deserved attention for some time now (Bernhardt and Hammadou, 1987; Fanselow and Light, 1977; Freeman, 1989; Mulkeen and Tetenbaum, 1987; Paquette, 1966; Peck and Tucker, 1973; Richards and Nunan, 1990) and an account of the good practice most widely implemented these days would become a major enterprise given the quantity and range of activity types that currently make up the area of teacher education.

Notwithstanding this, whereas aspects of teacher performance related to mechanical class routines seem to have been studied in depth -in fact virtually all prospective teachers can easily leam them through trainingit seems that in the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) of English language teachers in Spain we have fallen short in terms of addressing the way in which other equally essential, but less mechanical teaching components should ideally be dealt with, in order to enhance their birth and growth. As Lange (1990) explains, it is the movement away from "training" as the paradigm of reference -a framework characterized by viewing teacher preparation simply as acquainting trainees with skills and techniques for the classtowards "education" as a more ambitious model, that has revealed the extent to which the less mechanical areas of teacher preparation appear to be somewhat underexplored. The "education" perspective in teacher preparation entails a more active engagement on the part of the prospective teachers in order, for example, for them to develop a deeper insight into teaching, understand the nature of their own decision-making processes and develop strategies for reflection and self-evaluation. It is generally recognized nowadays that effective teaching involves higher-level cognitive processes which will not necessarily result from the straightforward impact of the transfer of knowledge from the trainer to the trainee but rather which will emerge if instructors devise experiences which demand from student teachers a high degree of involvement in an on-going process of critical analysis. In this way the student teachers should undergo a process of personal exploration which will hopefully lead to heightened awareness and the development of their own (personal) approach to teaching.

Consequently, educators who aim to offer prospective teachers a sound, indepth, valid and reliable education should not see their role as that of mere trainer, but they should provide pre-service teachers with opportunities to generate hypotheses and test them, and to use the knowledge accumulated as the triggering factor for further development. The aim is to help them to find out what effective teaching involves and thus, through this awareness-raising, they will have a better chance of acquiring the skills and competencies needed for successful professional performance.

The term "competency" may seem straightforward to understand as it immediately evokes a cohort of terms with a positive connotation, such as "ability", "capability", "skill", "qualification", or "quality". Those who are competent are simply those who "can". In general, competent professionals are "high-quality" ones in that they have the ability to comply with the expectations. Accordingly, competent teachers can be said, for example, to possess an on-going desire to grow professionally, keep up-to-date with techniques and principles, to have a positive attitude, motivation, patience, empathy and good communication skills, plus the technological skills to keep abreast with the new requirements of our era, fully aware of their strengths and weaknesses (Maflú and Goyarrola, 2011).

However, if we aim to delve further below the surface and dissect the notion of "competency" we may then find out that what being competent implies might not be so straightforward for those decision-makers, who for example, (1) are in charge of determining the nature of different competencies in order to decide how to promote them successfully or (2) have to compile the list of the different competencies that would determine a certain professional profile. …

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