Teacher Cognition and Lesson Planning for Very Young Learners

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Teacher cognition and very young learners

Can you believe it’s been a month since 3,000 ELT professionals descended on Brighton for an action packed week of plenaries, workshops and social events?

IATEFL 2018 was an absolute blast and we loved meeting so many passionate teachers there. For those who were unable to make it, do not despair! We’ll be bringing you some of the highlights straight to the blog.

Today, Shay Coyne gives us the low-down on her talk about teacher cognition and the impact of teacher beliefs on lesson planning, with a focus on Very Young Learners (VYLs) and the Global Scale of English (GSE).

The impact of teacher beliefs on lesson planning

In the article The Apprenticeship of Observation, Michaela Borg talks about teacher cognition – the ideas and beliefs that teachers hold about education – and explains that educators tend to teach the same way that they were taught as students.

The problem is that not all beliefs about teaching are validated by theory. If teacher beliefs are not explored or challenged, the repertoire of activities and materials selected at the lesson planning stage will be limited to those familiar to (although not necessarily effective for) the teacher.

Given that the majority of preparatory EFL teaching qualifications and training focus on adults, many VYL teachers base their curriculums, lesson plans and classroom practice on their own early experiences at school.

Different VYL teachers therefore provide very different classroom experiences for their learners, because their beliefs influence the activities they select and plan for – regardless of individual learner needs or other contexts that they may be faced with.

Teacher cognition has an impact on all facets of the teaching process and the success of any curriculum is at least partly determined by the beliefs of the teachers who plan to implement it. This makes understanding teacher cognition vital for policy makers, as it serves as a filter, determining the learning experience teachers will ultimately plan for.

I believe the topic of VYL teacher cognition in an EFL context is important for three reasons:

  1. With the advent of globalization, many newly-qualified teachers find themselves teaching VYL classes for which they have not been prepared. Without specialized training, I believe the EFL programs these VYL teachers are involved in are less efficacious and the students are therefore at a great disadvantage.
  2. My role as a teacher trainer has afforded me insight into how little support VYL teachers are given, and oftentimes how negative their first VYL classroom experiences can be.
  3. I also feel that VYL education is misunderstood in terms of complexity and the unique demands it places on its teachers.

Using the Global Scale of English to support research-backed teaching practice

When I became a freelance teacher, I no longer had a director of studies to give me a textbook or syllabus, so I was responsible for creating this myself. Despite the fact that I had specialized in curriculum and syllabus design during my MA, I felt unprepared to create a curriculum that was based on theory and research.

Consequently, I started looking online for learning objectives and outcomes. The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) focuses on adult students, which was not always relevant to the contexts of our VYL learners. That is when I came across the Global Scale of English (GSE).

What stood out for me was the fact that the learning objectives were age-appropriate and took the VYL context into account. Using the GSE as my base, I have been able to create individualized study plans that place my learners at the center of their learning.

Furthermore, this research-backed curriculum has allowed me to be flexible, responding to what is happening in class. I can easily assess with the GSE during and after the class, whether my learners need more input and practice, or whether they are able to use the language independently. This is the core of teaching VYLs: we want to prepare our students to move confidently in a multilingual and multicultural globalized world.

If you’d like to find out more about teacher cognition check out Shay’s book – VYL teacher cognition: The impact of teacher cognition on lesson planning for very young learners in an EFL context.

Discover the Global Scale of English and how the GSE Teacher Toolkit can help you plan relevant, level-appropriate classes for your students.  

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