Investigating Novice and Experienced ESL Teacher Differences: Implications for Teacher Training

Elizabeth Gatbonton, Concordia University

Elizabeth Gatbonton is an Associate Professor at the TESL Centre, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Any new insights that can potentially inform language teacher education are welcome in our field today. Since the late 80s, there have been calls to examine, improve, and consolidate the knowledge base of teacher education (Larsen-Freeman, 1990; Clark & Peterson, 1986; Richards & Nunan, 1990; Richards, 1998). For years, people saw this knowledge base largely as information on how to help prospective teachers develop expertise in their subject areas (the content of teaching). So they focused largely on gathering the content necessary for teachers in training to acquire the skills to teach their subjects effectively.

Recently, however, teacher educators have realized that knowing what to teach is only one of the many types of knowledge that teachers bring into their teaching. They also bring knowledge concerned with transforming content into teachable forms. Shulman (1986) suggests that not all content can or need be taught and it takes special skills to know what is teachable and how to package it so that students can learn it (pedagogical content knowledge). Teachers also possess beliefs and implicit theories about teaching (Hollingsworth, 1989; Richards, 1998), formed from their experience as students and from teacher training or experience, which influence their classroom behaviour (Breen, 1991; Johnson 1995; Van Patten, 1997).

Recently, second language acquisition studies (e.g., Lightbown & Spada, 1993) and classroom instruction studies (e.g., Chaudron, 1988) are among the most discussed sources of information for a solid knowledge base. But I am focusing here on comparison studies of novice and experienced teachers, which abound in general education (e.g., Fogarty, Wang, & Creek, 1983; Magliaro & Borko, 1986), but are only beginning to appear in L2 teaching (e.g., Almarza, 1996; Johnson, 1994; Richards, Ho, & Giblin, 1996; Richards, Li, & Tang 1998). Nevertheless, I think these studies have interesting implications for L2 teacher education.

Three Comparison Studies

My studies comparing novice and experienced teachers were the natural offshoot of an earlier study I conducted on experienced ESL teacher's pedagogical knowledge (Gatbonton 1999a), asking whether one could gain access to teachers' pedagogical knowledge by probing the thoughts they claimed they had as they taught. The participants were two sets of experienced teachers: Course I teachers (n=3), and Course II (n=4). These groups taught similar courses in English to adult students a year apart. Each teacher had spent at least ten years teaching ESL, five years in communicative language teaching. Novice teachers co-taught Course II, but this study did not focus on them.

I videotaped both sets of teachers teaching their lessons, then asked them to view a one hour-segment of their first or second videotaped lesson and tape record the thoughts they recalled having while teaching these segments. I then conducted qualitative and quantitative analyses on their recorded thoughts (See Gatbonton 1999a for the full analytical procedure).

The study confirmed that it is possible to gain access to teachers' knowledge through their revealed thoughts. Each set of teachers independently reported a similar list of 20 to 21 categories of pedagogical knowledge. Some concerned students: for example, noting student reaction and behaviour; knowing student personalities, likes, dislikes, backgrounds, etc. Others focused on teachers: knowing self, self-critique. Still others related to instructional matters: comprehension check, decision-making, language management, organizing group work, probing previous knowledge, procedure check, progress check. The rest focused on affective matters like creating rapport, planned acts like executing the lesson plan, and others-for example, aids.

In a follow-up study (Gatbonton, 1999b) I took the data of the second set of experienced teachers (Course II Teachers) in Gatbonton (1999a) and compared them with the data of novice teachers (n = 4) who co-taught the course. These novice teachers had less than two years' beyond their teacher training program's practice teaching, some with none or little.

The analysis revealed that the two groups were similar in important ways. For example, the novice teachers reported categories of pedagogical knowledge that matched 20 of the categories reported by the experienced teachers. Of these 20 categories, a subset of seven or eight were also predominant for both experienced and novice teachers.

But there were also striking differences. For example, two categories--self-critique and note student reactions & behaviour--which appeared in the novice teachers' predominant set but not in the experienced teachers' predominant set. In addition, the most frequently reported category for the experienced teacher was language management: the handling of (a) input, the language they wanted their students to be exposed to in the learning activities; and (b) output, the language the students produced. In contrast, language management ranked only third for the novice teachers. Their top category was noting student reaction and behaviour, suggesting that for them charting how the students related to them was more important than ensuring that they learned the language. This result is consistent with the finding in general education that novice teachers focus initially on their relationships with the students and on the task of learning only in latter stages (e.g., Calderhead, 1991).

Since novice and experienced teachers reported differences in the frequency and saliency of language management thoughts, I decided to examine this category further and conducted further content analysis on each of the language management comments from the original study (Gatbonton 1999c). The first aim was to discover what specific strategies of input and output management the teachers were thinking of as they taught. The second was to find out whether the two sets of teachers differed in the kinds of strategies they used and the frequency with which they used them.

The results again revealed interesting similarities between the experienced and novice teachers: for example, similar categories of input management strategies, ranging from making sure that there was input, to ensuring that the amount was sufficient, to highlighting the input so students can take note of it, and checking student comprehension. They also reported the same categories of output management strategies. These ranged from simply noting that someone produced or did not produce language to creating situations to provoke the production of certain utterances, to correcting them, and so on. However, the results also revealed interesting differences. Experienced teachers generally reported more varied strategies per category of input and output management than did novice teachers. For example, in the category of making sure there was input, experienced teachers reported 14 different strategies (e.g., providing input by manipulating the task, providing input through reading, provoking the production of certain utterances using props, eliciting) while novice teachers reported only three.

Implications for teacher training

These results suggest that one can access concrete areas of differences between experienced and novice teachers. Although not all are relevant to teacher education, there is a great deal of possibility that some are. One can conceive of the development of teaching expertise as a continuum, with novice teachers placed at earlier stages and experienced teachers at latter stages. Some differences between teachers found at different stages may reflect novice teachers' gaps in knowledge. Can these gaps be remedied by teacher training? For example, further exploring the differences between novice and experienced teachers' use of language management may reveal a role for teacher training. One can find out, for example, whether and how teaching the different strategies reported by experienced teachers but found missing in novice teachers can affect the latter's development.

Examining these areas, no doubt, requires painstaking and careful research but the efforts will pay off. As mentioned earlier, any insights gained from these studies will inform the knowledge base of teacher education, the building of which is a central task in teacher education these days.




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