I am currently in the process of planning a 4th year course on Content and Language Integrated Learning at Universidad Pontificia Comillas. Now, as you may know this is one of the courses I’ve been teaching for the last 5 years, and pride myself on contributing, albeit modestly, to my students becoming effective CLIL subject teachers.
Well, the special thing this year is that I will be teaching the two sections of the course together with two other teachers – not splitting sections into sub-sections as originally planned, but following a team-teaching strategy. That’s spending a lot of time together in class, but using the extra humanpower (so to speak) to better monitor student’s individual and group work, provide better feedback, and have an alternative vision to the leading teacher’s.
Now, this is bound to be challenging and, in all cases, more work for the three of us. But, the more I think, the more I feel it will help overcome my limitations as a teacher and, why not, send a strong symbolic message to the student teachers who’ll benefit from our work.
We teachers tend to be individualistic – our method, our students, our classroom (with our doors conveniently shut, of course). At CES Don Bosco, my previous institution, I was lucky enough to teach the same teacher trainees over a period of three years. This was useful in so many ways, and one of my targets was to develop some language and teaching skills across several subjects and years: skills such as effective public speaking, lesson planning skills or basic language awareness. Effective as that might have proved, I feel that these and other skills would have been better integrated by students had my colleagues teaching in the EFL specialism and I managed to work in a more coordinated way so as to give students a greater sense of continuity and cohesion in what they were being asked to learn.
And this is a shortcoming of the education we provide in many university programs: the fragmentation. I have been noticing during the last years -probably more since the advent of the new Grados (4 year degrees based on the European credit transfer system) and their semester-long courses, that many (maybe most) students don’t naturally make connections between what they learn in different, yet strongly related, courses.
Once, a colleague of mine complained to me that her students were terrible at delivering presentations. Surprising, I thought, as those same students had done terrific work on public speaking with me just a semester before. More recently, teaching Comillas Translation students, I have noticed how hard it is to get them to cite their sources consistently when writing an essay or an assignment, and closely follow a citation guide (APA, in this case). They will do it, eventually (they need it to pass), but more often than not in the next course and with the next teacher they will revert to their high school ways unless being explicitly required to follow the criteria they learned with me. And this, of course, requires coordination between the teaching staff.
The moral of all this? Well, of course it’s rewarding to be valued by what happens in your class. However, you can still hold on to your unique teaching style and have a lot of fun in class while making some compromises so that students will not only remember you, but the whole “package” they received from the institution.
John Hattie sums it up nicely in Visible Learning for Teachers (2012, p.15):
Too often, we see the essential nature of our profession as autonomy – autonomy to teach how we know best, autonomy to choose resources and methods that we think are best, and autonomy to go back tomorrow and have another chance of doing what we have already done many times. […] We have good evidence that most, if not all, of our methods, resources and teaching do have a positive effect on achievement – and many attain greater-than-average effects. The profession needs to be embracing the notions of what it is to be successful in teaching, helping all in a collaborative manner [emphasis mine] to attain this excellence, and recognizing major effects when they are evident.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: Routledge.