Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Practicum Experience in Teacher Education: Is Experience the Best Teacher?

Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Practicum Experience in Teacher Education: Is Experience the Best Teacher?

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

This chapter sets out to examine practicum experience in teacher education, and more specifically the role played by practice abroad in second language (L2) teacher education. It raises the following question: given that L2 trainee teachers need to develop their mastery of the L2 as well as their pedagogical expertise, could professional experience abroad be considered the best teacher for them?

Learning by doing has long been advocated (e.g. Dewey, 1899). A pragmatic view of learning is also well grounded in the field of L2 acquisition: L2 learning (and teaching) through tasks carried out with peers in the target language has been supported for some time by numerous researchers including Breen (1987), Ellis (2003), Nunan (2004), O'Dowd and Ware (2009), to name a few. In line with this well-established theoretical perspective of the importance of socio-cultural contexts for L2 development, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Conseil de l'Europe, 2001) promotes an action-oriented approach in which L2 acquisition is rooted in social interaction. Such social interaction sometimes takes place online and, in today's ever increasingly more globalized and digital world, may include communication with native speakers (NS) as well as with non-native speakers (NNS), especially with the growing development of social networks.

In this mainstream action-based approach, however, little research has been done on the interest of combining action (teaching practice in this case) and reflection that is underpinned by theory, so as to reduce the effect of nativisation (that is to say the impact of the languages and cultures a learner already knows) in teacher education. These are precisely the topics which will be explored in this chapter. Based on the experience of trainee teachers engaged in academic mobility, it thus analyses the importance of action and reflection for the benefit of their linguistic and professional development.

After introducing the research context and the theoretical rationale which sustains it, the results of a project carried out with French trainee teachers who went on placement abroad will be examined, in order to consider whether it may lay the foundation for future teacher training programmes.

2 General framework

2.1 Research context

The study involved students enrolled in a two-year Master's degree in the teacher training institute of Paris-Sorbonne University in France. As most of these Master's students plan on becoming primary school teachers in France, one of the courses they can take is aimed at enhancing their professional development as well as their L2 skills in English. This is in keeping with the fact that L2 teaching is required in primary schools in France and that English is the most commonly L2 taught. Considering that most of the trainee teachers are not English specialists, they are particularly interested in improving their mastery of English with a focus on the oral skills needed for teaching. Gaining confidence in spoken English is thus of the utmost importance to them.

To meet this demand, international exchanges were set up, so that the Master's students could do their teaching practicum abroad. In the second year of their Master's degree, they can thus go to England, Scotland, the United States, India, Germany or Spain, to teach for a time period ranging from four weeks up to nine months. Professional experience abroad is therefore at the heart of the programme. Moreover, one of the requirements is that the trainee teachers should create digital resources that meet the following criteria: they must be professionally-oriented and include interviews carried out in English with foreign professionals no matter where the placement takes place so that they can be analysed by all the participants. Since this programme is informed by research, it is worth considering its underlying theoretical rationale.

2.2 Theoretical rationale

A review of the relevant literature on this topic emphasizes the importance of pragmatism. …

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