Equipping Teachers to be
Language Explorers
Exploring language in the
Elaine Tarone
Background: The Minnesota Context
 Enduring Scandinavian heritage
 Other historic ethnic groups: AfricanAmerican and German
 French voyageurs and American Indians
gave us place names and north country
activities like ice hockey, canoeing, and
Increasing Linguistic & Cultural Diversity
 25% of students in St Paul Public Schools
are Hmong
 Hispanics are the fastest growing “minority”
 Largest Somali immigrant group in the U.S.
is in the Twin Cities
 It is a very diverse group of learners that we
are preparing our language teacher-learners
to face.
Years ago I asked a teacher at
my school, what do you teach?
 I expected something like “I teach French to
a diverse group of high school freshmen.”
 She answered, “I teach Prentice-Hall.”
Basic Message of this Talk:
 Teach the learner
Don’t teach the book
Don’t teach the curriculum
Don’t teach the test
Don’t teach the parents.
Basic Message to Teacher-Learners:
 Figure out who your students are
 Figure out what language your students
know and don’t know, and what they need to
 Teach that, in ways that work for them.
Language Teaching is like a Trip:
Approach #1
 Teaching Approach #1: “I teach the book.”
– teach students who are all from the same
linguistic and cultural background, in programs
where someone else has ordered the book, and
planned the schedule, the activities, and the
– based on some professional’s global
assumptions about “the average student”
Language Teaching is like a Trip:
Approach #1
 Travel Approach #1: “I do the tour.”
– travel in groups of people like yourself on preplanned tours where someone else has
selected popular routes, schedules, hotels,
restaurants, activities
– based on trip organizer’s global assumptions
about average interests and needs of people
like them
There IS no readymade book that is designed
to meet the language learning needs of
Language Teaching is like a Trip:
Approach #2
 Language Teaching Approach #2: “I teach the
language my students need to learn.”
– teach a L2 to students from different native
languages and cultures, in a class where on an
ongoing basis you choose your own teaching
materials, schedule, activities, and tests
– based on your analysis of YOUR particular
students’ diverse needs
Language Teaching is like a Trip:
Approach #2
 Travel Approach #2: “I explore.”
– travel on your own, get off the beaten track,
choosing your own route, schedule, hotel,
restaurants and activities
– based on YOUR needs and interests
Approach #1
 Approach # 1 is EASY: just show up and
follow directions
Approach #2
 Approach # 2 is HARD: requires special
training, equipment and skills, sensitivity to
changing contexts, and wisdom to use the
right skills in the right context
U.S. teachers ill-equipped to teach students
from diverse languages and cultures
(Adger et al 2002)
 Multicultural and multilingual classes are the norm
 Students’ discourse and learning patterns are affected by
their culture and language background
 Mainstream teachers must know more about language and
culture in order to teach ANY content effectively
 Teaching world languages requires a deep and explicit
knowledge of the facts about language (map), and the
skills to analyze language on an ongoing basis (mapreading skills)
Language teachers as school
 Increasingly, mainstream teachers in schools may
turn to their language teacher colleagues (English,
ESL, FL) for the knowledge they need
 But do language teachers themselves have the
expert knowledge about language facts that is
 Are they equipped with the skills they need for
exploration in this new territory of language and
Language Teacher Knowledge
 What should be the knowledge base for
language teacher education?
 Is what we teach in our LTE programs
USEFUL to language teachers?
 Does it include tools and skills they need to
do language analysis?
Knowledge Base =
Just the Facts?
 Some LTE books and programs
conceptualize the knowledge base as no
more than a body of facts
 Teacher learners must internalize those
facts …
 … and demonstrate they know those facts
on essay and M/C tests, and in ‘reviews of
the literature’
 Examples: grammar and SLA courses
Goal of many grammar and SLA
courses for teachers:
 Show you know facts about the field.
 Memorize them to repeat them on the test.
Knowledge Base = FACTS?
 “The rules for using ser and estar in Spanish
are …”
 “The polite form for greeting a superior in
Japanese is …”
 “Research shows that teachers prefer to use
implicit corrective feedback (recasts) …”
 “Research shows the stages of acquisition
of questions in German L2 are …”
Facts are not enough
 You do need the basic facts but …
 …just owning the map and knowing the
names of the parts of a canoe doesn’t make
you an expert orienteer and canoeist.
 You need to develop skills in the USE of the
Remember where you’re going ….
it’s a much more complex context
than it used to be... requiring
skills, knowledge, and understanding.
Can we teach teachers to use facts to solve
such language learning problems as these?
 “I need a way to get these students to use ser and
estar correctly.”
 “This kind of error may require a more explicit
correction strategy than a recast.”
 “I wonder if consciousness-raising will get this
learner to use a polite greeting form.
 “Is this learner developmentally ready for this
lesson on German questions?”
Reconceptualizing the
knowledge base
 Defining the elements of the knowledge
base that needs to be provided in any
language teacher education program.
Three dimensions of knowledge
for language teacher education
(Allwright, 2001; Tarone & Allwright 2005)
Dimension #1: SKILLS
– How to demonstrate a new speech sound
– How to keep students engaged in class
– How to recast an error in conversation
 Essential to language teaching, but not enough
 Skills and techniques may enable one to “teach
the book” -- but not to make decisions required in
teaching a group of students with varied needs
Dimension #2: KNOWLEDGE
 FACTS about language / language learning
– Basic units of language
– Rules for using definite and indefinite articles
– Stages of acquisition of questions in the L2
 Essential to language teaching, but not enough
 Knowing these facts does not enable the teacher
to move beyond “teaching the book”
 How and when to USE skills and
– When to provide a particular form of corrective
feedback to learners
– Why Group Activity X helps learners to move from
Stage 2 to Stage 3 question formation
– How and when to analyze a sentence’s structure
 The ability to USE implicit skills and explicit
knowledge is what enables one to move beyond
teaching the book to teaching students.
John Dewey: Pragmatism
(Hickman & Alexander, 1998)
 Education [of language teachers] should not be
simply teaching “dead facts”
 Skills and knowledge learned should be fully
integrated into their lives
 Learn by doing: not just knowledge, not just skills,
but skills that put knowledge to use
 Teacher learning requires a combination of content
mastery, skills development and understanding
Is the knowledge base implicit or
 Implicit: unconscious, unanalyzed,
unstated, not the focus of attention
 Explicit: conscious, analyzed, verbalized,
the focus of attention
Language Learner Knowledge
 May be almost entirely implicit, particularly for a
native speaker or a student from a program like:
– Communicative Language Teaching
– Natural Approach
– Language immersion with little language focus
 Implicit knowledge of the language is not an
adequate knowledge base for language teaching
Language Teacher Knowledge
 Language teacher knowledge is both implicit
and explicit
– Skills are implicit
– Knowledge of facts is explicit
– Ability to use both is both implicit and explicit
 Language teachers need to know more than just
the language.
 Language teachers must have explicit knowledge
about the way language is structured, and know
how to analyze and sometimes talk about
language structure
 Language teacher educators have the job of
helping teacher learners make their implicit
knowledge about language EXPLICIT (fostering
the ‘aha!’ moment).
Teaching Grammar as Fact AND
 Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999)
The Grammar Book (supplement w/Yule 1999).
 Approach to teaching L2 grammar to
teacher-learners: (described in Tarone and Lazaraton, 2005)
 Facts of English grammar presented in terms of
Form, Use, Usage
Example: English passive
 Form of the ‘be passive’: the prescriptive rule
– Describe syntactic rules: The patient, or receiver of the
action, becomes the subject of the passive sentence.
– The midfielder kicks the ball.
– The ball is kicked by the midfielder.
 Use of the ‘be passive’: the function or meaning
– use the passive to foreground the patient, and
background or even delete the agent
 Usage of the ‘be passive’: the descriptive rule
– The ‘get passive’ may be more common.
– Speakers seldom include the agent in ‘by phrase’
Usage Studies and Applications
 Teacher-learners are asked to compare
prescriptive grammar rules in the book with actual
usage (descriptive rules)
 ‘Usage studies’: they ask a RQ, gather data,
analyze it, and compare
 Then they consider implications for pedagogy
If I would have known …
 FORM: Book rule for past counterfactuals:
– If I had known, I …
– If I would have known, I …
 Noriko Ishihara
After this grammar course,
teacher-learners can …
 Move beyond the book, treating textbook grammar
rules as prescriptive, not descriptive
 Confidently analyze grammar usage by native
speakers in the real world, and compare it to the
grammar rules in the book
 Transfer that new knowledge into their own
language classrooms, considering implications for
pedagogy -- perhaps, ways to transmit the
knowledge implicitly to their students
 LTE programs often now require teacher-learners
to take a course on second language acquisition
(SLA) research
 Rationale: language teachers ought to understand
how their students learn foreign languages
 Problem: the content of SLA courses focus on
knowledge, not skills or understanding
 Proponents of these courses argue they
teach how to evaluate published SLA
 Is this knowledge useful for language
teachers? (Freeman & Johnson 1998)
 Is this knowledge all that language teachers
Many SLA teachers are happy if at the end of
the course, their teacher-learners can say
things like this:
 “Research shows that teachers prefer to use
implicit corrective feedback (recasts) …”
 “Research shows the stages of acquisition
of questions in German L2 are …”
 Intro SLA books: cover prominent SLA
theories and theorists, and research that
supports or contradicts them
 Published research studies: ‘hot off the
press’, the newer the better
 Evaluation: essay tests or papers focused
on demonstrating knowledge of the facts
I’d like to propose a different kind of SLA
course for language teachers … to
– Provides a broad overview of state of knowledge in the
field, the main theories, and most generally agreed upon
facts about SLA derived from research
– An intro course does not get into detailed theoretical
nuances, research design, or the very latest published
– Provides teacher-learners with the tools to analyze the
language of learners FOR THEMSELVES, and
opportunities to practice using those tools in a lab
setting before trying them on their own
– Asks them to consider pedagogical implications of their
Goal of Lab Case Studies
Through carrying out their own case study analyses
of learner language, teacher learners will:
 Develop a deeper understanding of SLA research by
DOING it (learn by doing)
 Develop analytical skills to better understand language
learning in their own classrooms (local research)
 Develop confidence in assessing the usefulness of
published SLA research for their own context
(move away from subservience & toward autonomy)
 Provide teacher-learners with video clips of actual
L2 learners
 Provide teacher-learners with transcripts of the
language produced on those video clips
 Set up pair-work activities focused on identifying
particular interlanguage features in the learner
language samples they have
 Report what they see and reflect on what they
have and haven’t learned
 Commercially available option (used differently)
– Teemant & Pinnegar, 2002
 Make your own
 Forthcoming book for ESL, with videos
– Tarone & Swierzbin
 Planned CARLA site for FL videos
Transcript: Barbara
 I have two years and a half, two years and a
half have been in USA and I came from
Guatemala. And I stay for three month, an’
first in Las Vegas, then my dad didn’t like
Las Vegas, so we came... My dad before
work in Geneva, that’s a company, and he,
he work there, he was a welder, welder.
Lab in LTE Provides Supportive
Context for Learning:
 How to use knowledge of language structure
as a tool to analyze language
 How learner language changes in changing
 How to think about best pedagogy to use in
response to learner language needs
Equip teacher-learners to be
language explorers …
 Give them knowledge about the structure of
language …
 Give them knowledge about the way second
languages are learned …
 Give them practice analyzing the language that
learners produce …
 Help them reflect on pedagogical implications …
 And they will have tools to take pedagogical action
in meeting the local needs of language students in
their own classes.
 They will be well-equipped to be …
Language Explorers …
… language teachers who can do more than
just survive in the new territories of
linguistically and culturally diverse language
classrooms --- they …
… will be enabled to thrive there!
They’ll know when to portage past rough water
… and come to places we ourselves may never see.
Adger, C. T., Snow, C.E., & Christian, D. (Eds.) (2002). What teachers need to know about
language. McHenry, Ill: Delta Systems Co., Inc; Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied
Linguistics: ERIC.
Allwright, D. (2001). Three major processes of teacher development and the appropriate
design criteria for developing and using them. In B. Johnston & S. Irujo, Eds., Research
and practice in language teacher education: Voices from the field. (pp. 115-134). CARLA
Working Paper #19. Minneapolis, MN: Center for Advanced Research on Language
Acquisition (CARLA).
Allwright, D. (2003). Exploratory practice: Re-thinking practitioner research in language
teaching. Language Teaching Research 7, 113-141.
Celce-Murcia, M. & Larsen-Freeman, D., with Williams, H. (1999). The Grammar Book: An
ESL/EFL teacher’s course. (2nd ed.) Boston: Thomson Heinle.
Freeman, D. & Johnson, D. (1998). Re-conceptualizing the knowledge-base of language
teacher education, TESOL Quarterly, 32, 397-418.
Hickman, L. & Alexander, T. (1998). The Essential Dewey: Vols. I and II. Bloomington, IN:
Indiana University Press.
Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. (2006). How Languages Are Learned, 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Tarone, E. (2006) The language classroom: A co-production of all participants, in
S. Gieve and I. K. Miller (Eds.), Directions in Classroom Language Learning
and Teaching: A festschrift for Dick Allwright. (pp. 163-174). New York: Palgrave
References (cont.)
Tarone, E. & Allwright, D. (2005). Language teacher-learning and student
language-learning: Shaping the knowledge base, in D.J. Tedick (Ed.), Second
Language Teacher Education: International Perspectives (pp. 5-23). Lawrence
Erlbaum Publishers.
Tarone, E. & Lazaraton, A. (2005). The teacher-learner as fellow scholar: A model
for ESL teacher education, in J. Frodesen & C. Holten (Eds.), The Power of
Context in Language Teaching and Learning - A Festschrift in Honor of
Marianne Celce-Murcia. (pp. 55-66). Boston: Thomson Heinle.
Teemant, A. & Pinnegar, S. (2002). The Second Language Acquisition Case.
Provo, UT: BEEDE Program, Brigham Young University. [Order: Mary Jo
Tansy, Creative Works Dept, (801) 422-7634.]
Yule, G. (1997). Referential Communication Tasks. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates.
Yule, G. (1999). Explaining English Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Equipping Teachers to be Language Explorers