Supporting Teachers in Providing Effective Reading and Language Instruction
This is the second blog post in our series on Language of Instruction. In this post, we consider how to assess teachers’ language skills and support them through professional development opportunities.
Teachers are a critical part of the education system and are essential to providing children with high-quality learning opportunities. Their importance to student learning is why they are included in USAID’s Reading MATTERS Conceptual Framework as one of the seven components crucial for supporting students’ acquisition of literacy skills. Teachers promote the development of reading skills by providing direct and explicit reading instruction that builds student mastery through scaffolded instruction and incorporates universal design for learning principles. They should have a solid understanding of the five reading skills (phonological awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension), familiarity with the curriculum, and use best practice pedagogical approaches for teaching reading. Most importantly, teachers must teach in the same language that their students use and understand. These language skills, coupled with the necessary pedagogical content knowledge and instructional approaches, are essential for providing effective reading instruction.
USAID and the Global Reading Network’s new Handbook on Language of Instruction Issues in Reading Programs offers guidance for supporting teachers in providing language and reading instruction.
Assessing Teachers’ Language Skills
The handbook advises reading programs to assess teachers’ proficiency, knowledge, and beliefs about language:
- Proficiency: Teachers should be proficient (i.e., able to speak, use, read, write, and teach in) the language their students use. This includes sign language if they have students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Knowledge, Skills, and Practices: Teachers should know the curriculum and have the necessary skills to teach reading in the language(s) of their students.
- Attitudes and Beliefs: Teachers’ attitudes and beliefs about students’ language, how students learn language, and how language should be applied in the classroom can influence their teaching.
Teacher Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes in Sub-Saharan AfricaRead the Report
To do this, programs can conduct classroom observations, administer questionnaires, and interview teachers. At a national level, governments should aim to ensure that teachers speak the same language as their students by conducting mapping exercises to assess teachers' language and literacy abilities in the language they are assigned to teach.
Given the linguistic diversity in many countries, language mapping exercises can help identify which languages children use at home (including spoken and sign languages) and determine which language(s) should be used for instruction within a school community or geographic area. By understanding the languages used in schools and those that teachers speak, policies and practices can be adjusted to promote “teacher-student language match”: Teachers should be placed in schools and classrooms where they speak the same language as the students. Additionally, language mapping can help identify gaps in available teaching and learning materials for certain languages and prioritize development of materials for languages that have limited resources available.
The handbook outlines useful mapping activities and examples from reading programs to help guide stakeholders in designing, conducting, and analyzing findings from a mapping exercise.
Ghana Language Mapping Study: Analysis ReportRead Now
Teacher Training and Support
Results from teacher mapping exercises also provide important insights to inform and modify program components, like professional development opportunities. It’s not enough to simply require teachers to use their students’ language as the language of instruction; teachers also need training and continuous professional development opportunities that address issues of language in teaching and learning. Training curricula and professional development opportunities for teachers should be tailored to meet teachers’ specific needs and improve their language skills, develop their pedagogical skills for teaching reading, and address language-related aspects of teaching and learning.
Some teachers may be fluent in the language their students use and understand but lack the content knowledge and pedagogical skills to teach children how to read it. Other teachers may feel there is less prestige associated with certain local languages and resist adjusting their teaching. Still, others may be able to speak the language of instruction but have more limited reading and writing skills in the language that hinder them from being able to teach it. Targeted training—both pre-service and in-service—and support can help teachers work through such challenges so they can effectively teach in a language appropriate to their student population.
It’s also important to provide teachers with opportunities to practice in their language of instruction. If possible, teacher training should be administered in the language teachers will use in their own instruction so that they develop the pedagogical vocabulary and skills in that language while simultaneously improving their own literacy levels. Likewise, the handbook advises that teaching and learning materials should be provided in conjunction with trainings and in the language teachers use in their instruction. In designing trainings this way, teachers will receive direct instruction in how to use the materials, gain practice in using them, and develop the appropriate language and vocabulary for teaching with them.
Continuous professional development in early grade reading programsWatch the Webinar
Teachers are a gateway to improved student learning. By supporting teachers in improving their proficiency, knowledge, and beliefs about language and literacy instruction, programs have the opportunity to improve student learning outcomes. Read the full section on teachers and teaching in the handbook for further valuable insights and guidance.
In the next blog post in this series, we dive into language considerations in teaching and learning materials.