Cambridge English has long been recognised as one of the international leaders in pre-service teacher education through the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) qualification. In recent years, we have been working around the world at a national level with both in-service and pre-service teachers to improve levels of pedagogical skill and knowledge in a variety of different countries, for example Panama, Ukraine and Malta.
Underpinning the work that we do in teacher education are a number of guiding principles which spring from our educational philosophy. We believe that learning is best conceptualised through a social constructivist theory of learning. A key tenet of this is the view that learning is constructed by the learner, as opposed to the traditional, “transmission” model of teaching and learning in which knowledge is passed on to students fully formed, ready to be assimilated. Furthermore, learning is primarily a social activity – knowledge and skills are constructed through interaction with others. This is an extension of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, which maintains the primacy of social interactions, mediated through the prevailing culture, in a child’s development (Salkind, 2004).
Based on this philosophical approach, Cambridge English have developed a number of key principles which inform our work in teacher education.
Learning is an active process
Learners build their knowledge through active engagement with learning opportunities. Therefore, teachers are required to be “activators” (Hattie, 2009, p. 243), and should encourage active learning through setting learning goals, providing engaging tasks, assessing achievement and giving targeted feedback.
Learning is additive, incremental and takes time
Learning takes place in small steps and builds on the learner’s existing knowledge structures (Johnson, 2006). In order to be fully incorporated into these knowledge structures, a learner needs to interact with new information three or four times (Nuthall, 2000). Therefore, teacher education should seek to work with what teachers already know, introducing new ideas and methods gradually, with time for assimilation, practical application, and reflection during the learning process.
Feedback and reflection play important roles in learning
Hattie (2009) emphasised the importance of feedback in learning when he suggested that it should be inseparable from instruction, the two working together to help a learner construct and reconstruct knowledge. Reflection on this feedback is also crucial as it allows learners to self-assess learning, and formulate their next actions. Writing specifically about teacher education, Borg and Albery (2015) suggest that reflective practice should underpin all teaching and learning.
Learning should be goal-focused and evidence-based
Learners should know in advance what they are aiming to learn, and also, how they can measure their achievement against this learning aim. Teacher education should therefore provide clear goals from the outset, and incorporate assessment of achievement which produces data that can support teachers in achieving these goals.
Experiential learning and practice are needed for skills development
Skills are developed through on-the-job practice, and any career which has a practical element incorporates this in its education programme – consider medical professionals and pilots as just two examples. Teaching is no different in this regard, and any teacher education programme should include an element of real teaching in real classrooms, with the chance to receive feedback and reflect on performance.
Peer-collaboration is an effective way to learn
Learning from others is a key tenet in a social constructivist theory of learning, and this seems particularly true in teacher education: in their 2007 report, McKinsey and Company identified how, in a number of high-performing education systems, teacher collaboration has been found to facilitate teacher development. Equally, Schleicher (2018) noted that evidence from the OECD’s TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey) study suggested that professional development activities for teachers had most impact when mediated through group work.
Attitude to learning plays a key role
A consistent finding in high-performing education systems is that students believe that achievement is a function of hard work rather than innate intelligence (Schleicher, 2018). This attitude to learning has been termed a “growth mind-set” (Dweck, 2006). It is therefore important that teacher education programmes emphasise the importance of a growth mind-set among teachers in order for them to pass it on to their students.
Digital is increasingly a useful facilitator of learning
Using digital resources, e.g. apps, websites, and software, allows new avenues of learning to be accessed. This may be through changes to formal learning such as facilitating blended learning and the flipped classroom, or it may be through more informal tools e.g. apps on a smart phone. ICT and digital tools have become increasingly prominent in teaching and learning globally, and therefore, more than ever, should be considered an important component of teacher education programmes.
In summary, these are the main principles which inform our work in teacher education globally. However, it must be remembered that teacher education is always a local process too, and it is crucial for us to collaborate with teachers to understand the context that they work in and what their needs are regarding professional development. Without this flexibility, this ability to adapt to local needs, any programme of teacher education is unlikely to be successful.
- Borg, S. & Albery, D. (2015). Good practice in INSET: An analysis of the Delta. In R. Wilson & M. Poulter (Eds.), Studies in Language Testing 42 (pp. 37–61). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.
- Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning. London: Routledge.
- Johnson, K. E. (2006). The Sociocultural Turn and Its Challenges for Second Language Teacher Education. TESOL Quarterly, 40(1), 235–257.
- McKinsey & Company (2007). How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/social%20sector/our%20insights/how%20the%20worlds%20best%20performing%20school%20systems%20come%20out%20on%20top/how_the_world_s_best-performing_school_systems_come_out_on_top.ashx
- Nuthall, G. (2000). The Role of Memory in the Acquisition and Retention of Knowledge in Science and Social Studies Units. Cognition and Instruction, 18(1), 83–139.
- Salkind, N. J. (2004). An Introduction to Theories of Human Development. London: Sage Publications.
- Schleicher, A. (2018). World Class: How to build a 21st-century school system. Paris: OECD Publishing.