Quality Assurance in English Language Teaching Centres
Quality assurance denotes the adoption of management and professional practices that inspire confidence that requirements of the highest standards will be fulfilled in an organisational setting. Along with quality assurance, the notion of standard setting is pertinent; standards—high bars of performance in targeted areas—are set so that there are clear criteria and objectives to work towards and maintain operationally. The context of the ASEAN-Australian education collaboration sees effort invested among individual English Language Teaching (ELT) centres, including transnational campuses of Australian universities as well as Australian Quality Assurance bodies such as the National ELT Accreditation Scheme (NEAS), to ensure quality in education and training. NEAS’s framework provides for quality assurance in nine quality areas that identify quality principles and quality drivers to provide a clear guide on how ELT centres can strive towards best practices and student learning experiences in their respective settings.
The University Technology Sydney (UTS), a transnational Australian university campus, provides a quality assurance framework that UTS Insearch has developed for its ten ELT centres in the region, which include centres in Jakarta, Hanoi, Ho Chi Min City (HCMC) and Yangon. The required professional standards for ELT teachers at all ten centres, as well as the process for teacher development, are spelled out in the framework together with the test writing standards within their EAP direct-entry curriculum (UTS Insearch Academic English). In other settings such as the School of English and University Pathways (SEUP), RMIT Vietnam, the centre’s desire to have an impact on the quality of the ELT teaching community in Vietnam is achieved through their Teacher Talks seminar series. Teacher Talks was developed from the beginning as a joint project called TESOL Talks with other organisations, which evolved into an RMIT-led project that runs twice a year in all three of their locations in Vietnam: Danang, Hanoi and HCMC. The themes were in 2018: Innovations in Learning and Teaching and Extensive Reading, and in 2019: Learner Engagement, and Active Learning.
Quality Teacher, Quality Learning
One of the first quality areas mentioned in the NEAS framework is the quality of teaching, assessment and training. In the context of ELT centres, quality in this first area is intertwined with the quality of the ELT teacher as effective student learning is dependent on highly skilled
teaching in a conducive setting that inspires the motivation to learn.
Teacher training and teacher quality are central to facilitating effective student learning, besides other factors. Beyond the initial training phase, teachers must also develop themselves professionally in terms of deepening their expertise in ELT practices and identifying effective practices that facilitate learning. Education experts recommend that improvement in learning and teaching depends upon the development of systematic observation and inquiry into teachers’ practices.
Unlike other professionals such as surgeons, whose practice knowledge may be recorded and analysed in detail, teachers’ practice knowledge tends to stay with the practitioner, who discovers and uses it and frequently, the teacher may not even be fully conscious of its significance and impact. Teachers tend to practise in isolation from other teachers and within their own classrooms. Unless in an appraisal or review situation, other teachers do not get to see each other’s tacit knowledge being manifested in the classroom context.
Systematic Inquiry into Teaching Practices
The process of doing systematic inquiry into one’s own teaching practices is called by different names. Action research, the scholarship of teaching and learning, lesson study are some such labels. Essentially, the aim of these professional development avenues is to investigate one’s pedagogical knowledge and its effectiveness on learning in the context of what other experts have been or are doing in their practice in similar areas. By doing so, the teacher may be able to assess how best to teach towards a goal, as teaching methods are being compared, contrasted, reflected upon and analysed within the framework of professional community practices for their impact on student learning. These insights are then publicly disseminated among relevant ELT teaching communities. This constitutes an important step in the process.
It is through such communal reflection, discussion and constructive dialogue sessions that pedagogical knowledge and practices are further developed and shaped in the context of teaching the relevant discipline.
Action research experts suggest these four steps for a systematic inquiry into classroom teaching: planning an intervention, implementing the intervention, observing the results and finally, reflecting on the results—which leads to planning the next cycle. Various topics can be explored in such a systematic process, including the following:
What is the role of progress and motivation in the university English classroom? How does a student-centric approach facilitate the development of communicative competence? To what extent is the flipped approach suitable for the teaching of academic writing? Inquiries into these relevant areas of ELT classroom methodologies provide insights to further inform practices to enhance learning.
Benefits of Systematic Classroom Inquiry
How does such a systematic inquiry develop teacher professionalism and ensure quality? Firstly, these areas of inquiry are motivated by an authentic desire to understand why some activities, methods or strategies may work in one’s classroom. It allows deep engagement in critically analysing one’s practice. Secondly, such a process compels the teacher to engage with relevant literature in the teaching of similar areas so that the context of the inquiry can be systematically developed. This engagement with theories and other practitioners’ scholarly insights contributes to the academic base of a teacher’s teaching practice. Thirdly, the process provides the possible connection with the ELT community that is keen on conversations and further investigations into best practices. In all, these benefits potentially shape the professional development of an ELT practitioner towards better quality teaching.
The question of what good ELT teaching is needs to be better understood, more open to inquiry, and better communicated. ELT teachers should develop professionally through adopting scholarly approaches to their teaching, and learn how to systematically collect and present evidence of good teaching practices as proof of their teaching effectiveness. Essentially, the processes of reflection, inquiry, evaluating, documenting and communicating about teaching will contribute to the development of better quality teaching and ultimately, assures quality learning at ELT centres.
WU SIEW MEI
Wu Siew Mei is the Director of the Centre for English Language Communication (CELC), National University of Singapore.