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Updated: March 7, 2014 21:16 IST

The teacher trainer

Harshini Vakkalanka
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English teacher trainer Julian Edge believes that being an English teacher is to be aware of the moral, political and ideological implications that it brings

One of the case studies in the book focuses on a corpus linguistics, which is a body of text of a particular language fed into a computer with a search engine so the nuances of language can be studied.

“There are many things about language and how it is used that you cannot find in a dictionary. So if we take all the books in, say a library, and feed them into a computer, we would call it a corpus of language. Then through the search software, you can explore language,” says Julian Edge, one of the editors of the publication Innovations in pre-service education and training for English language teachers published by the British Council, that aims to open up teaching methods for English language teachers around the world.

If for instance, he explains, you want to find out what the difference between ‘happy about’ and ‘happy with’ is, you won’t find it in a dictionary. “But if you get a good corpus of language, you would find the phrases. And then perhaps you could draw the inference that ‘happy with’ occurs in a positive sentence but ‘happy about’ occurs in a negative sentence. You’d never find this in a dictionary but if you search language, you will find new and interesting things.”

And so, explains Julian, this is an example that shows the teachers or those who are going to be teachers, how students can find answers to specific questions using a corpus of language while learning to be independent as language learners.“The book is about teacher education, its authors are teacher educators and its students are people who are going to be teaching at various levels, from primary school to the university level,” says Julian, who worked with Steve Mann to choose from more than 150 papers and put them together into 14 chapters.

“We tried to make a choice based on various criteria. Obviously they needed to be good and interesting, but the focus was on innovation. We decided that we would define innovation as ‘new in context’ because what is important is people trying things they haven’t tried before. Another thing we focused on was that we didn’t want just new ideas, we decided that innovation would mean something that is actually being done.”The book works through case studies, of innovations in teaching methods across the world, from traditional face-to-face teaching contexts, some are online and some are a blend of both. “So the challenge for the readers is to look at what they can learn from these various contexts. Even if the training given to a primary school teacher is different from somebody teaching at a higher level, there will be something in common, such as technology,” he explains.

Juilan says the book cannot say what teachers need to do and how they need to do it in every situation, but the book can offer examples on how different people have tried to do different things in their situation.“It’s up to the reader to learn from it. That’s the sort of learning we hope will carry on. The book does not say here is a new theory and you must apply it and here’s the best way for everybody to do something because the book itself has these different contexts and respects that fact that everyone’s context is different.”

The book also encourages teachers to continue their professional development even after their training, says Julian. This involves looking at other teachers and imitating best practises, understanding what makes it a good practise and then implementing it to see how it actually works.

Another important aspect about being an English teacher is to be aware of the moral, political and ideological implications, believes Julian.“Teaching English means supporting globalisation, which is not always such a good thing because the world moves around wherever there is profit. It is frequently the case in many places that small or indigenous languages are being wiped out because everybody is switching to bigger languages and we know that for children, cognitive development is best done in the mother tongue,” he says.

“And English teaching in schools is getting younger in many countries. There is also the case that in many countries the teaching of English is actually increasing the gap between the well-off and the not-so-well-off. There are lots of implications that the teacher can keep in mind while teaching English. I am not sure what can be done about it, but it is well worth being aware of.”

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