Critical ELT in global times: avenues for teacher development in Norway

Nord University/UiT/Utdanningsdirektoratet, Norway

8-9 May 2018

At this two-day event organised by Janice Bland of Nord Universiteit, participants were some two dozen English language teachers and teacher educators working all over Norway in schools and universities, with speakers from the UK, Germany and France, as well as Norwegian universities and the directorate of the Ministry of Education. The teachers included some L1 speakers (perhaps one third) and working with teachers of either younger learners (grades 1-7) or older (5-10). I learned that the overlap is necessary because not all schools across the country cover a standard age range. Many of the teacher educators are currently involved in an in-service training programme (KfK) which offers 30 hours over the school year, releasing teachers from class for continuing professional development in a given discipline, in this case, ELT. Some teachers may later obtain a second year course if the school administration is willing and so the question of priorities and continuity in training arise.

The seminar opened with a talk by Michael Byram (Durham/Luxemburg) on the topic of  intercultural learning and criticality. Byram’s doctoral research tackled the foreign language teaching research question: does teaching of French lead to more tolerance and greater knowledge of others? He found it not to be the case (one kid’s take: “French is just a funny way of speaking English”). His subsequent work has been to develop the alternative purpose of intercultural competence (ICC) whereby FL learning increases awareness of one’s own culture. We were shown a 1998 Christmas card project developed by a Bulgarian EFL teacher (see Byram, Nichols, & Stevens 2001) and the theory behind ICC:

  • savoirs (knowledge)
  • savoir comprendre
  • savoir apprendre
  • savoir être (curiosity and openness, suspend disbelief about own culture)
  • => savoir s’engager (critical cultural awareness).

Byram also mentioned CLIL and Agar’s notion of languaculture as ways of meeting higher order purposes for FL education: knowledge that is not traditional, trivial information, but rather critical knowledge and understanding of another way of doing things and the learners’ own. I was happy to learn the original reference to knowing that versus knowing how (Ryle 1945) and how Byram fits this with a three-tier model of FL competence:

  • linguistic/grammatical
  • communicative (Hymes)
  • intercultural – identify, critically analyse, know how to discover, be able to compare and contrast.

Knowing that, Byram claims, is cultural but not intercultural.

The speaker offered further examples of ICC teaching (Wagner, Conlon, Byram 2017) developing critical thinking skills and autonomy with young Spanish learners in the US, exploiting links between Spanish L2 and English L1 writing. Byram goes so far as to advocate education for citizenship (which he finds already in Norwegian educational programmes), drawing on Allport’s theory of prejudice and ways to combat it: create equal status, provide institutional framework, assign a common task. In a collaborative project with learners in Argentina and Denmark on recycling (using English as a lingua franca), the stages are as follows:

  • stage 1: discover recycling at home
  • stage 2: present to other class and compare
  • stage 3: mixed (international) groups) produce advertisements
  • stage 4: do something in own community (back in L1)

A full description is provided in From principles to practice in education for intercultural citizenship (Byram, Golubeva, Hui & Wagner 2016). Other references include

Mary Ann Ronaes has responsibility for ongoing curriculum development in English as part of a process of fagfornylsen – subject renewal – in Norwegian education. The aim is to renew the curriculum and decentralise competence-building, consulting widely with teachers and parents to decide

  1. which competences are important?
  2. which changes are needed to develop these competences?
Policy documents include the Ludwigsen report 2015 on the School of the future and a 2016 White Paper setting out the KfK reform on the promotion of knowledge, involving
competence aims, five basic skills, adapted education and pupil participation in curriculum, assessment and practical training. What is new for Norway is the
open and transparent process of reform, with the goal of achieving deeper understanding across subjects, and providing a better tool for teachers. The new system will offer a hyperlinked platform to help teachers write new competence goals. The aim is to work on interdisciplinary themes, highlight progression, prioritise in-depth learning, in a competence-based curriculum featuring narrower content.

The Sun (Munch)

4 competences for English are being considered:

  • communication  (CER p. 108 all human competences may contribute to a person’s ability to communicate)
  • intercultural competence
  • language learning (second language research)
  • language and technology (digital skills)

Janice Bland who edits the journal Children’s literature in English language education ( talked about critical thinking and critical literacy. She asked these questions (and offered these answers):

  • should values education be explicitly taught? (yes)
  • does it belong to ELT? (yes because English is a global language)
  • which values are explicitly or implicitly taught? (it is important to encourage more voices)
Stressing the need to develop creativity and critical thinking among learners, the speaker cited a number of examples of children’s literature and showed how topics and treatment addressed critical issues with suggestions for classroom exploitation.
  •  The island Greder (2007) on migration, offering a visualisation of xenophobia allowing teachers to tackle the hidden curriculum (Giroux 1988).
  • Me and you Brown (2010) on class discrimination
  • Hunger games Collins (2008) on mental enslavement. Bland notes a hidden agenda in the film adaptations, where there are no black main roles
  • Mouse, bird, snake, wolf Almond (2013) – values (Christian values, European enlightenment).

Against those who suggest such topics are too sensitive and teachers should avoid them, Bland argues that Norway is an open society, and ignoring topics is taking sides, a pervasive and subtle side of censorship. She notes that out of school English possible in Norway as extensive reading and viewing and social media all occur frequently.

Other talks were given by Laurenz Volkmann (Friedrich Schiller University, Jena) who has co-written a 2015 volume on Teaching English and Andreas Lund (Oslo) whose talk was entitled I am connected, therefore I am and highlighted epistemological, ontological and philosophical perspectives on technology in education. Lund pinpointed an “awkward relationship” between 21st century media practices and existing educational systems and called for transformative competence drawing on teacher and learnaer agency (capacity to distance self and recognition of possibility to intervene and transform) and transformative agency (breaking away from the given frame of action; Virkkunen). He cited an example of a trainee teacher developing activities for disengaged pupils as an example of transformative agency.

My own talk was on Making connections across learners, between classes, and among teachers.



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