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Language proficiency in an era of accountability: using the target language to learn how to teach.

This article presents a qualitative study of integrating target-language (TL) materials and activities within a world language (WL) teacher preparation program at a large, Midwestern public university. Based on document and interview data, I analyze how teacher candidates engaged with curricular materials written in the respective TL, how they interacted with their peers in the TL about those materials, and how they described the effect of both on their learning. As the analysis demonstrates, candidates reported that these experiences with integrating language learning and language-teacher learning helped them extend their proficiency into pedagogical and professional domains of the language. They also reported that this work helped them more fully understand the complexities of teaching.

The study was designed in response to several interrelated pressures--some external to the program described in this article, some internal--currently affecting WL teacher education. Readers of this journal will be well aware of the public and political scrutiny currently applied to teacher education broadly (e.g., Fuller, 2013; Kubota & Austin, 2007; Kumashiro, 2010; Sleeter, 2008; Zeichner, 2010). This scrutiny has implicated WL teacher education, as well (Tedick, 2009). The most significant changes have involved assessment, namely, defining proficiency benchmarks for candidates' oral and written language as a condition of program accreditation and teacher certification. In 2002, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) issued a new set of WL teacher preparation standards.' These standards based program accreditation in part on a requirement that at least 80% of teacher candidates in a given program attain either advanced low or intermediate high, depending on the language, on ACTFL's Oral Proficiency Interview and Written Proficiency Test. Furthermore, more than 20 states have set specific proficiency benchmarks as a condition of teacher certification. It may seem intuitive to require WL teachers to have achieved advanced proficiency in the language they wish to teach. But these requirements have raised a number of concerns: What evidence do we have that advanced proficiency and effective teaching practice are positively correlated? Does mandating standards (i.e., top-down reform) in fact improve WL education? Why do so many candidates struggle to meet the standard, or, asked differently, is being passionate about the language enough to be a good teacher? More fundamentally, who is best positioned to determine if and when a candidate is ready to teach other people's children? (Burke, 2013; Glisan, 2013; Tarone, 2013; Tedick, 2013).

This external pressure around assessment manifested internally, as well, in the program I used to oversee. In 2008, the Midwestern state in which this study took place linked teacher certification to oral proficiency benchmarks (2) in addition to the state's written exam. Since then, a sizable portion of candidates in the program studied here has struggled to meet this requirement. Many take the exam at least twice before reaching it; roughly 10% never do. The mood in the methods courses, which I regularly co-taught with doctoral students, changed. With the exam looming over them, many candidates would share their apprehension, and at times their tears, about whether they could meet the standard, which they often construed as "passing the test." These anecdotal experiences are consistent with Burke (2013), who challenged the legitimacy of high-stakes oral proficiency testing. Part of her argument is linked to this very anxiety that candidates experience: After years of earning high grades and otherwise enjoying success in their language programs, too many are then told they are not proficient (read: good) enough to be teachers.

These external and internal pressures prompted me to design the study reported here. The study introduced curricular changes to a two-semester sequence of methods courses. The goal of the intervention was to help teacher candidates develop TL proficiency in pedagogical and professional domains. This is the mundane classroom language that WL teachers use to create learning opportunities in which students interact in the TL (rather than using English to talk about the TL), articulate clear written and oral instructions, pose effective questions, redirect student behavior, transition from one activity to the next, open and close a lesson, and so on. My inquiry focused on teacher candidates' perceptions of these curricular changes and the impact, as they described it, on their own learning. In this article, I first ground the work in relevant scholarship on second language teacher education (SLTE). Second, I outline the research design, describing the curricular intervention and my approach to analysis. Third, I elaborate three significant themes that emerged from the data. Finally, I discuss the implications of these themes, both in local terms of this specific teacher preparation program and for WL teacher education more broadly.

Situating the Study

Synthesizing research on SLTE (Burns & Richards, 2009) research is no easy task. In part, this difficulty stems from the fact that "second language" teaching, learning, and research is scattered across various disciplinary homes (e.g., Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages [TESOL], bilingual education, foreign/WL education, and heritage language education), with concomitant differences in what constitutes "good" teaching and "good" research (cf. Tedick & Walker, 1995; Velez-Rendon, 2002). Moreover, as Wilbur (2005) noted, SLTE research lags a decade behind the vast literature base on K-12 teacher education. This gap is especially problematic given the current policy climate, alluded to above, challenging the legitimacy of university-based teacher preparation and questioning what impact, if any, it has on K-12 student learning (cf. Darling-Hammond, Holtzman, Gatlin, & Vazquez Heilig, 2005; Fuller, 2013;

Wilson, Floden, & Ferrini-Mundy, 2002). Consequently, the basic claim made in overviews of the field published over the last 25 years remains largely the same: There is a need for systematic, ongoing, and rigorous scholarship that spans different SLTE contexts and incorporates lessons from general teacher education inquiry (Bernhardt & Hammadou, 1987; Johnson, 2006; Schulz, 2000; Tedick, 2009, 2013; Velez-Rendon, 2002; Wilbur, 2005).

Language Proficiency and the SLTE Knowledge Base

One consistent concern within SLTE research has been the knowledge base for language teaching and what it does (or should) comprise. Velez-Rendon (2002) had conducted the most comprehensive review of various models of the SLTE knowledge base, drawing from literature on TESOL and WL contexts alike. In most cases (e.g., Dittrich, Strum, & Stewart, 2001; Freeman & Johnson, 1998; Richards, 1998; see also Watzke, 2007), these models elaborate on Shulman's (1987) model of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). These applications of PCK to language teacher preparation recognize a fundamental difference between language education and other subject areas: The TL is both the object and medium of instruction. This dual role means that language teachers must not only be able to craft and execute effective learning activities about the language but also to make a wide range of pedagogical moves in the language (Pearson, Fonseca-Graeber, & Foell, 2006).

This distinct feature of language education helps to explain the sharper focus within the limited scholarship about WL teacher education on teacher candidates' language proficiency. As Morain (1993) argued, "The sine qua non of a good foreign language teacher is the ability to communicate with ease in the foreign language. Lacking this skill, confidence crumbles and disaster slips into the classroom in assorted guises" (p. 101). Schulz (2000) painted an even starker picture: "I have argued elsewhere the conviction that the single most important obstacle to effective FL education in the United States is the limited and often inadequate language competence of many teachers" (p. 518). Far from being an abstract discussion about the language teacher knowledge base, this claim is most concrete: without sufficient proficiency, teachers are likelier to eschew precisely those language-rich, communicative activities that best support student learning; in lieu thereof, discrete grammar and vocabulary activities occupy the core of the curriculum (Wilbur, 2007).

This claim is at the heart of a recent Perspectives debate in The Modern Language Journal about proficiency testing in WL teacher education (see Tarone, 2013). As mentioned above, Burke (2013) challenged the legitimacy of high-stakes language proficiency testing for WL teacher candidates. An important part of her argument is that there is no empirical evidence that advanced proficiency leads to effective teaching practice. In fact, the claims made about advanced proficiency and the SLTE knowledge base are largely inferred from second language acquisition research on the relationship between the quantity and quality of language input and student learning (Chamblass, 2012). Burke (2013) built on this point in two ways. She maintains that good teachers who are creative and passionate about the language--even if they have only achieved intermediate proficiency--can still organize communicatively oriented WL classrooms. She also argues that achieving advanced proficiency in the language is no guarantee that a candidate will teach for communication. Tedick (2013) conceded the point: Advanced proficiency is a prerequisite to, not a guarantee of, high-quality instruction. I share Burke's concerns about the politics and ethics of high-stakes proficiency testing. However, this study assumes the accuracy of Tedick's claim, namely, that without advanced proficiency in the TL, novice teachers are less likely to design and deliver high-quality instruction.

Irrespective of whether one sides with Burke or Tedick on this question, one must account for the fact that the newest version of the WL teacher preparation standards, to which all programs will be accountable as of spring 2016, sets clear expectations for oral language proficiency (ACTFL & Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation [CAEP], 2013). The first of the six standards explicitly names the proficiency levels that candidates must meet. It states,

The expected level of oral proficiency for teacher candidates is set to ensure that they have the ability to conduct their classes in the target language, and that they have the requisite degree of fluency and spontaneity to respond to student questions, provide explanations, and negotiate meaning on cultural and interdisciplinary content. (ACTFL & CAEP, 2013, p. 3)

The standards also include implicit assumptions about what teacher candidates should be able to do in the language. For example, a recurring theme across the standards is that candidates teach their students specific strategies: for negotiating meaning, for critical thinking and problem solving, for monitoring their own progress and evaluating their own performance, and for reflecting on their learning. To meet these expectations, teacher candidates require not just general proficiency in the TL, but also knowledge of, and experience with, the specialized language needed to deploy pedagogical moves like those just listed above. This study assumes that teacher candidates require specific learning opportunities that support them in learning this kind of pedagogical and professional language.

A Holistic Approach to Proficiency

The second major theme in extant SLTE research seeks out a more holistic explanation as to why so many K-12 WL teacher candidates lack advanced proficiency in the language. Although concerns over proficiency are contemporary, the root of the problem is historical. Watzke (2003) remains the most comprehensive historical account of WL education and policies about it. One conclusion, concise if also cynical, to draw from his study is that WL education in the United States is a project designed to fail. At the turn of the 20th century, the Americanization movement triggered the removal of WL study from the elementary curriculum, and concerns over a rapidly expanding secondary system led to the curricular marginalization of WL study. Far from developing advanced proficiency, the de facto function of K-12 WL education has been to operate as a gatekeeping subject for university. Despite some 60 years of federal policies--almost always in the name of national security and economic competitiveness--and any number of efforts by language professionals and scholars to expand WL education, its status within the K-16 curriculum has not fundamentally changed.

The primary exceptions to this are the various civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s and the subsequent development of bilingual/bicultural curricula and related policies. Indeed, the decline of those movements facilitated the marginalization of bilingual education from the 1980s on (cf. Bale, 2012). Liskin-Gasparro (1999) captured the impact of these contradictions for WL teacher preparation:
   That the linguistic proficiency of beginning teachers is a major
   topic of concern in foreign language professional circles is
   related to such realities as the limited place of foreign languages
   in K-12 curricula and the marginalized status generally of speakers
   of languages other than English in the United States. It is one of
   the great ironies of the late 20th century that initiatives to
   improve the linguistic proficiency of beginning foreign language
   teachers exist side-by-side in state legislatures with language
   policy measures that discourage the development and maintenance of
   bilingualism. (p. 285)

In the 15 years since Liskin-Gasparro's comment, this contradiction has only sharpened: Three states have restricted bilingual education; No Child Left Behind abolished the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 and replaced all mention of bilingual education in the legislation with references to English-language acquisition; simultaneously, relatively significant funds are earmarked for "critical" language education in the name of geopolitical and economic security (cf. Bale, 2014; for multiple perspectives on these competing national language policies, see Blake & Kramsch, 2007; Byrnes, 2004, 2005, 2008).

Beyond these socio-historical constraints, there exist additional curricular and structural obstacles to the development of teacher candidates' advanced proficiency. Because of the curricular marginalization of WL education across the K-16 spectrum, most teacher candidates enter the profession with a few years of high school study, an academic major (or, less often, a minor) whose advanced courses typically focus on literature and cultural studies and some form of study abroad. That their own secondary WL teachers likely had this same set of curricular experiences indicates the nature of the problem facing WL teacher education. Wilbur (2007) linked this cycle to Lortie's (1975) seminal concept of apprenticeship of observation. The many years that teacher candidates spend in school observing teaching as students--in this case, observing secondary WL teachers whose own proficiency may have been limited--is a powerful counterweight to any formal intervention that teacher education programs attempt. Based on such apprenticeship, WL teacher candidates may believe their own language skills suffice to be an effective teacher. In fact, some of the candidates quoted in Burke (2013) not only believed that their intermediate skills were sufficient to be successful teachers but also that ACTFL was arbitrarily preventing them from realizing their professional goals.

Moreover, as Ingold and Wang (2010) noted, the traditional structure of teacher education excludes the very populations for whom advanced proficiency is less an issue, namely, native and (some) heritage speakers (HSs). Few such speakers pursue undergraduate degrees in their language; but because teacher credentialing is generally tied to one's undergraduate major, these potential candidates are effectively shut out of the field. In fact, the resource guide that accompanied their paper indicated that as of 2009, only 18 states had created special programs to recruit HSs as language teachers (see Wang, Jackson, Mana, Liau, & Evans, 2010, Table 3-4, Section 3).

Irrespective of the WL teacher candidate's profile (i.e., native, heritage, or non-native speaker [NNS]), the curriculum of teacher education programs presents its own challenges. Less often a focus in the literature, but of immediate relevance to this study, is the language of instruction in such courses. As Tedick (2009) noted, most WL teaching methods courses, including the one studied here, enroll candidates from multiple language majors. This means that English is the default medium of instruction. Wilbur (2005) confirmed this phenomenon in her analysis of 32 methods course syllabi from teacher preparation programs at various types of universities nationwide. She compiled a list of assigned readings across the syllabi, identifying 159 articles and books. Of this total, only two texts were written in a TL (in both cases, in Spanish). Moreover, seven English-language titles from the list suggested that these texts focused on only one language (e.g., a textbook titled Teaching German: A Practical Guide). This begs the question why they were not written in that language in the first place (cf. Wilbur, 2005, Appendix H, pp. 145-156). Defaulting to English within teacher education programs continues despite calls for SLTE to attend specifically to teacher candidates' advanced proficiency (Fraga-Canadas, 2010).

Taken together, this constellation of practices (i.e., the academic major's focus on literature and cultural studies, tying teacher certification to an academic major, and English-medium methods courses) poses a significant barrier to the development of teacher candidates' proficiency. If language learning is the domain of the academic major, few majors provide any opportunities for candidates to develop proficiency in the specific "teacher language" they will need for the classroom. Likewise, if pedagogy is the domain of the teacher education program, yet that program is generally delivered in English, candidates are again denied an opportunity to develop the specific language proficiency they will need to be successful. It is based on my understanding of this contradiction that I used a two-semester sequence of WL teaching methods courses to create more opportunities for teacher candidates to expand their TL proficiency.

Research Design

The study's goal overall was to use TL materials to support language-teacher learning, such that candidates develop their understanding of language teaching while also expanding their language proficiency into classroom-specific domains. This inquiry focused on teacher candidates' perceptions of that integration and the impact, as they described it, on their own learning.

Both practical and theoretical reasons informed this design choice. On one hand, this was our first attempt to use TL materials systematically in a methods course. Thus, a qualitative study was more appropriate to explore the many complicated facets of this intervention (Merriam, 2009). Moreover, this sort of design is consistent with the trend in SLTE research toward qualitative studies (Velez-Rendon, 2002), many of which emerge from local problems of practice and are conducted by researchers who also teach in the programs under study (Johnston & Irujo, 2001).

On the other hand, I am intentionally eschewing a connection between this study and general K-12 teacher quality research, the dominant trend within which is to find objective, standardized protocols to predict a novice teacher's future success, or to assess a practicing teacher's performance and link her salary to it (cf. Russom, 2012; Zeichner, 2010). Quite the contrary, my understanding of language-teacher learning is informed by sociocultural perspectives that suggest the difficulty, even the impossibility, of teasing apart discrete domains of teacher knowledge (e.g., language skills from pedagogical skills from interpersonal/social skills, etc.). Instead, I see teacher learning as a process in which candidates interact with peers, instructors, cooperating teachers, students, curricular materials, technology, and other physical tools within specific historical and social contexts. Through this interaction, they integrate past learning, prior experiences, new knowledge, and their deliberation over new experiences to form their understanding of language and language teaching (cf. Freeman, 2002; Freeman & Johnson, 1998; Johnson, 2006, 2015; Tedick & Walker, 1995). TL proficiency is but one resource--for some more fully formed, for others less so--which teacher candidates use to inform this process (Pasternak & Bailey, 2004). Burns and Richards (2009) noted the recent reconceptualization of teacher learning as a "form of socialization into the professional thinking and practices of a community of practice" (p. 2), while Freeman (2002) specified the content of that socialization:
   The role of external input--of theory, prescriptions, and the
   experiences of others--lies in how these can help the individual
   teacher to articulate her experience and thus make sense of her
   work. Teacher education must then serve two functions. It must
   teach the skills of reflectivity (Stanley 1998) and it must provide
   the discourse and vocabulary that can serve participants in
   renaming their experience, (p. 11)

The study's goal was to support candidates in developing specific "discourse and vocabulary" in the respective TL and to understand how they learned to mediate such "professional thinking and practices" and "rename" it in that language.

Research Context

The study was conducted within the teacher preparation program at a large, Midwestern public university. The program leads to certification in six languages (viz, Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish); the particular cohort in this study included all languages except Chinese. The program is structured such that candidates complete the bulk of their teacher preparation coursework alongside their academic major. The academic language majors at this university are typical insofar as advanced courses focus on literature and cultural studies. Upon graduating with their bachelor's degree, candidates then pursue a fifth-year internship, in which they complete a 32-week student-teaching placement and four graduate-level teacher preparation courses.

The intervention took place in a two-course methods sequence that candidates complete during their senior year, that is, just prior to their student-teaching internship. This course sequence accounts for 11 credit hours in total: a five-credit class in the fall and a six-credit class in the spring. These credit loads indicate that the courses are not merely about methods. Instead, shoehorned into the curriculum across the year are units on second language acquisition, the "traditional" methods, the standards, microteaching labs to practice and study specific language-learning strategies, formative and summative assessment, lesson and unit planning, technology integration, inclusion of students with disabilities, classroom management, and K-6 language learning. (3) Throughout fall semester and prior to spring break, the class meets twice per week for a total of 5 hr and 40 min of instruction; after spring break, that total declines to 3 hr and 40 min. In addition, candidates are placed in a local middle or high school from mid-October until late April and spend 3 to 4 hr per week conducting both structured and unstructured observations, assisting the cooperating teacher, and teaching.


The methods courses in this program are typical insofar as all language majors are in one section. This means that English has traditionally been the medium of instruction. For this study, however, I integrated curricular materials about the course topics described above that were written or presented in the respective TL and used them to design content-based language-learning activities. For a given unit in which we did this "TL work," candidates started with common English-language materials, such as Hall's (2001) methods textbook and the online "Foreign Language Teaching Methods" course developed by the University of Texas at Austin (see http:// To complement English-language texts, I either provided materials in the respective TL or assigned candidates to find their own. The core of these TL materials comprised teaching methods textbooks. The Arabic, French, German, and Spanish texts focused either on foreign language teaching methods generally or teaching methods for that specific language; the text in/ Japanese was designed for future English-as-a-Foreign-Language teachers. I did not control for the content or theoretical orientation of these textbooks or of the other TL materials used in this intervention. Rather, these materials provided candidates with authentic examples of specific pedagogical and professional language and opportunities to engage with that language. I did control for the content and theoretical orientation of the course through the English-language materials we used. In fact, we regularly asked candidates to identify where there were gaps and/or disagreements between what they were reading in their TL and what they were reading in English.

I followed Cullen (1994) in designing content-based language-learning activities as a three-stage sequence of input, processing, and output. Generally, I would assign homework to candidates on a given topic that used materials in both English and the respective TL. In class, I would initiate a conversation about the topic with the whole class in English and then assign individual, partner, or group work organized by TL. Candidates would report their work either orally or in writing in the TL, after which we would close the activity as a whole group in English. TL activities were designed with the broad descriptors of advanced proficiency in mind: Paragraph-length utterances on topics that move beyond autobiography, in which the speaker narrates across all major time frames with general, but not complete grammatical accuracy, and in which the speaker responds to an unexpected complication (see ACTFL, 2012, p. 5). Finally, TL work included activities designed to help candidates understand the TL text they had read and to connect that text to specific teaching strategies.

I implemented this TL work in three units (the "traditional" methods and lesson planning and microteaching in the fall, and disability/special education in the spring), and for ad hoc activities about topics such as pedagogical grammar and assessment. Here, I describe three examples of this work to indicate the variety of content-based tasks; in the "Findings" section, I briefly describe additional activities so as to contextualize the data reported. In early fall, for example, we jigsawed a reading of Freeman (2000). Each chapter of this book focuses on one traditional language teaching method. We broke candidates into groups per TL and assigned one chapter of the text to each group. I then provided each group a second reading about the assigned method in the respective TL. For the next class, candidates were given two tasks: to create a summary on the course wiki of what they had learned about their method based on both readings and to design a short language-learning activity to exemplify the method and teach it to their peers. The summary and their collaboration in designing the activity were done in the respective TL, and the teams taught their activity to the rest of the class in the TL (to the extent appropriate given the assigned method). The class then debriefed the entire activity in English.

A second example of this TL work was a written prompt I gave to candidates about pedagogical grammar. I asked them individually to brainstorm in the TL a list of three to five grammatical features of their language that are the most difficult for English speakers to learn and to describe in writing what is difficult about each item. Candidates then paired up and shared their responses and then again into triads or quads. Once in the larger group, I instructed candidates to choose only one item from their lists, and design a short activity to teach the grammar item. That is, by choosing only one, candidates had to negotiate through their TL which of the items was most difficult for English speakers to learn or could be most generative to teach. Candidates used chart paper to record their notes about which item they chose and why. Finally, they described in English to the rest of class what the grammar item was, why it is often troublesome for English speakers, and the activity they designed to teach it.

The final example comes from the unit on disability and inclusion. Midway through the unit, I led a whole-group class discussion in English to compare and contrast three typical models for educating students with disabilities (inclusion, integration, and alternative settings). Once we had developed a detailed table describing each model in English, I asked candidates to free-write in their TL about which of the models they viewed as the most just for students with disabilities, compare that with the model they see in their placements, and then describe how they might implement their preferred model in the future. After writing, candidates were asked to form small groups, use the TL to share what they had written, and decide as a group which one of the three models they felt was most appropriate. Assuming there would be differences in opinion, I instructed each group to elect only one model, thereby prompting them to negotiate in the TL across their potential disagreements. This in-class assignment followed three other TL activities about disability and special education, such that candidates had already begun to develop a modest vocabulary base in their respective TL with which to write and discuss.

Because TL work was carried out in some, but not all the units in this methods course sequence, it is not possible to give an exact figure of how much time candidates spent using their TL in class. Typically, TL work took up at least half of a given class session. Although I co-taught these courses with two doctoral students, I led all class activities in which this TL work was carried out, and I conducted the research about it. In terms of facilitating the TL work during class, I speak German at an advanced level and Spanish at an intermediate level; one of my partner doctoral students during the study is a NS of Spanish; and the other is comfortable working in Spanish and German, as well. Grant funding for this project allowed me to hire doctoral students (native or otherwise proficient speakers of Arabic, German, and Japanese) from the university's applied linguistics program. They assisted with finding relevant TL materials and, on a few occasions, joined the class to facilitate TL work. As much as possible, instructors and assisting graduate students provided both language and content feedback to candidates during TL work. Doing so consistently was not possible for this stage of the intervention. It is primarily for this reason that this study was not designed to make claims about candidates' actual proficiency development as a result of this work, but rather to focus on how they described their experiences with the TL work (see research questions below).


The cohort in this study started with 30 candidates, one of whom left the program midyear. All but two were in their senior year of university (some were fifth-year seniors); the two Arabic candidates were pursuing a new post-baccalaureate pathway designed to prepare native and HSs of Arabic as language teachers. Table 1 below presents an overview of key demographic information about the participants.

As with any effort to capture diverse human experiences in tabular format, this table is lacking. For example, I am listing Francois, (4) the Togolese candidate, as a NS, although he reported several West African languages in addition to French as his native languages. However, all his formal schooling until immigrating to the United States was French-medium. Likewise, the category heritage language is insufficient to reflect fully the language profiles of these candidates. Treisy was born in Peru, but moved to the United States when she was 3 and had little chance to use Spanish outside the home. By contrast, Ofelia was born in the United States and raised in a Spanish-speaking home, community, and church, who in turn raised her children bilingually. Nelly described herself as an NS of Japanese, but the literature (e.g., Valdes, 2001) would categorize her as a HS. Although Ellen identified as a HS of German based on attending high school in Germany for 2 years, this falls outside formal definitions of heritage language speakers. I have not included either participant's self-reporting in the table above. Finally, the category non-traditional age spanned candidates in their late 20s to those with children and grandchildren.

Research Questions

Given the novelty of the strategies described above, at least for this program, I designed this inquiry as a qualitative case study (Merriam, 2009) so as to focus on candidates' perceptions and understanding of the TL work we did, and how that related, if at all, to their overall teacher learning. Two research questions guided the inquiry:

Research Question 1: How do teacher candidates define the challenges and affordances of using TL work to expand their proficiency into pedagogical and professional domains?

Research Question 2: How do they describe the impact of this TL work on their learning to how to teach?

Data Collection

Both document and interview data informed my analysis. I modified Brookfield's (1998) Critical Incident Questionnaires (CIQs) to solicit immediate, anonymous written feedback from candidates about the TL work described above. This data collection instrument was appropriate to the research design given the focus of the research questions. That is, the study was not designed to measure whether candidates' language proficiency improved. Rather, the study was designed to understand from candidates' perspective what their experiences were with TL work as part of learning how to teach. CIQs are designed to capture such perspectives and to do so in relation to events that have recently transpired in the classroom (rather than asking a participant in an interview to reflect back across weeks or months of time). I distributed carbon-copy "memorandum" office notes, on which candidates responded to specific prompts such as, "What strategies did you use tonight to stay in the TL during table talk?" and "Was there an activity we asked you to do tonight but you weren't sure why? How about one where you were sure why?" They kept one copy, and I collected one, which I later used for analysis. Collection of CIQs was dependent on the timing of the TL work and thus not systematically distributed across the two-semester course sequence. Collection occurred either at the end of a class session during which we did TL work, or at the end of week (i.e., after two class sessions) of such work. Response rates were 100% for all candidates present in a given class.

I also conducted two rounds of semi-structured interviews (Merriam, 2009) with candidates; the first round was in the middle of the fall semester; the second round took longer to complete, starting in February and ending before spring break of that year. I used the first round in part to establish more background on candidates' prior TL learning experiences, both formal and informal, and the extent to which they use the TL in informal settings. Both rounds asked candidates to reflect on their experiences with the TL activities, their interactions with peers during those activities, and their general assessment of their own progress throughout the year. To facilitate scheduling, some interviews occurred as small focus groups of two to three students, while most were one-on-one. Individual interviews lasted between 40 and 60 min; group interviews lasted between 60 and 75 min. Between the course load these candidates carried, their work schedule, and their placements in local schools, time constraints meant that I had to choose between interviewing the most number of candidates, and keeping the interviews consistent as one-on-one conversations. In only one case of these group interviews were the two participants more distant from each other, meaning the individuals did not appear to be close friends (based on informal observations in class) and they had two different language majors. In the other three cases of group interviews, candidates signed up with friends, and they all had the same language major. As the reader will see below, candidates were candid in their remarks, both in terms of assessing their own abilities and those of their peers. That degree of candor was consistent across the interviews, meaning the mix of group and individual interviews did not seem to affect the quality of data collected. In total, I interviewed 21 of the 29 candidates in the cohort; two candidates participated in the first round but not the second, while two participated in the second but not the first round.

As I have noted above, I was both a course instructor and the researcher. I see this dual role as not only beneficial to the study but also an important limitation. Because the cohort and instructors spent more than 160 hr of class time across the academic year together, the rapport we had with each other likely allowed candidates to speak more frankly about their perceptions. For example, as Brookfield (1998) explained about CIQs, students typically hedge their comments until they observe instructors make changes based on their feedback. Thereafter, students begin to write more candidly about their opinions of class work. That we spent an entire year together and frequently tweaked the courses based on candidates' feedback suggests the sort of rapport we built over time. On several occasions during the interviews candidates joked that our conversations "felt like therapy." The obvious limitation is that this rapport may have pressured candidates to provide socially preferable answers. This is especially relevant given that candidates were aware that the curricular interventions they were using were new, and they were difficult to design and implement. I foregrounded my awareness of this limitation during each stage of data analysis; in reporting the findings below, I have indicated where such pressure on candidates may have influenced their comments.

Data Analysis

Data collection and analysis proceeded in an iterative fashion. Consistent with constant comparative analysis (Charmaz, 2004; Glaser & Strauss, 1967), I mined the document and interview data for initial themes and compared them both within and across data source types to verify, refine, or refute emerging themes. Using Microsoft Excel, I typed the CIQs verbatim into one spreadsheet organized by the date on which the CIQ was collected. In the second column, I noted initial themes that emerged from each CIQ entry, and I used the third column for my notes, questions, and reflections. I used a second spreadsheet for the interview data. After transcribing the interviews, I coded the transcripts by cutting and pasting an extract from the transcript with the relevant timestamp from the recording, noting in the second column the theme I had identified, and using the third column for notes, questions, and reflection. I used early themes to inform the prompts I used for CIQs and the second round of interviews. This move in particular allowed me to test initial themes and again to verify, refine, or refute them based on candidates' responses. Once I had collected all the data, I repeated this process of reading across both data sets and the initial themes I had identified to refine those themes into three major findings.

I shared my analysis with the entire class once the formal intervention and associated data collection were complete. I presented candidates with a handout of the three themes described below and highly truncated extracts from the document and interview data to ensure candidates' anonymity as much as possible. Even though only 21 candidates participated in the interviews, all candidates had given consent to include their CIQ responses as data; as such, this first member check involved the entire class. In addition, I sent individual candidates the entire transcript of our interview and the direct excerpts I was taking from it to ensure that they were comfortable with my use and interpretation of their comments. I received no direct feedback from candidates with respect to the CIQs or to the interview excerpts. During the class session in which I presented the class with the three findings described below, there was additional informal discussion about the "judgmentalness" I discuss below, which served only to underscore to me how salient this notion was for candidates.


The goal of this study was to support candidates in developing their understanding of language teaching while also expanding their TL proficiency into pedagogical and professional domains. The findings reported here address each research question in turn, that is, how candidates understood the affordances and challenges of using TL work to expand their proficiency into pedagogical and professional domains and how they described the impact of this TL work on their learning how to teach.


Candidates from all three language-learner profiles--NNS, HS, and NS alike--reported benefits from the TL work in this study. At first glance, this finding may appear self-evident. The literature reviewed above noted that many NNS teacher candidates struggle to develop the sort of advanced proficiency they need to be successful teachers. Moreover, the debates about what constitutes the language teacher knowledge base tend to separate formal knowledge about the language from proficiency in it. This separation is immediately relevant to NS candidates, insofar as their superior language skills do not automatically translate into metalinguistic awareness of the language or understanding the relationship between metalinguistic awareness and specific teaching strategies. Finally, the very definition of HS means that most HS candidates lack proficiency in academic registers of the language. On all counts, then, it is not particularly surprising that candidates from all language-learner profiles reported benefitting from TL work in these methods courses.

However, analysis of document and interview data revealed important nuances of these needs. First, with respect to the NNS who made up the vast majority of this cohort, they reported how rarely they use the TL in their daily lives. In almost every case, that use was limited to coursework in their major and the TL work in these methods courses. Their comments were particularly revealing, given the expectations in this course and the support structures elsewhere on campus for candidates to use the TL outside of class. For example, an ongoing assignment in these methods courses is to develop and carry out a plan for 2 to 3 hr per week of informal TL practice. Also, the language departments and associated centers sponsor a number of informal opportunities for candidates to practice the language. That so many NNS candidates reported how little they use the TL outside formal class settings suggests they did not avail themselves of these opportunities, did not engage in our assignment very faithfully, and/or did not see much value in either.

Equally revealing about the interview data with NNS candidates is the timing of their studies. The first round of interviews included questions about the candidates' experiences with the curriculum in their academic major to get a sense of what kind of courses they had taken, in what sequence, and so on. In almost every case, they reported their study abroad experience as at least a semester behind them before starting the methods courses. Given the particular structure of this teacher preparation program in relation to the academic major, almost all NNS candidates reported being enrolled in only one major course alongside this methods sequence. In fact, more than a few stated in our interviews that it was in these methods courses that they spoke the TL most often and for the most sustained period of time.

These first two points present an obvious, but nevertheless troubling paradox: at precisely the moment when WL candidates need to perform on a high-stakes oral proficiency exam to meet state credentialing standards, they are engaged in the least amount of major coursework and sustained use of their TL in either formal or informal settings. It was on this basis that NNS candidates discussed the benefits of the TL work used in this study for supporting their language proficiency development.

The potential benefits of TL work in methods courses extend to native and HSs as well. This potential showed itself most clearly with respect to various reading tasks I had assigned. For example, the four Japanese majors included Nelly, a HS as per scholarly definitions (e.g., Valdes, 2001) but who identified herself as an NS, and Jack, an NNS who had recently married an NS of Japanese not in our program. Both candidates described their experiences with the Japanese-language articles on learning disabilities. Nelly's comments were from an anonymous CIQ, but the content of them suggested her authorship. In response to my prompt, "What was easy about tonight's work, and what was hard?" she wrote,
   The Japanese articles were impossible to read. I'm a native speaker
   and I passed the highest level proficiency test for Japanese but I
   was still struggling. Learning disabilities were super hard to find
   online, since Japanese society denies they exist. I honestly felt
   like the entire activity was extremely difficult.

In our second interview, Jack stated, "[The article on disability] was really difficult for me to read. I took it home to my wife, and even she had trouble reading it. It was a collegelevel reading."

Nadia, one of the two Arabic majors, shared a similar reflection in our second interview:
   I liked the article and doing the charts, etc. I felt that was very
   helpful. Even for me, as a native speaker, the articles were too
   long and complicated. To write down those main ideas helped me to
   organize my thoughts better and understand it better.

In both interviews, she connected TL work to the specific diglossic nature of Arabic and the multiple varieties spoken throughout the world. Nadia, who was raised in Jordan, described how awkward it felt during microteaching activities and while teaching in her placement to sustain use of standard Arabic for long periods of time. She explained, "Speaking all in standard feels like a cartoon. To be honest, it felt ridiculous to stand in front of the class and teach only in standard." Furthermore, her classmate, Rania, who was raised and educated in Egypt, discussed similar issues regarding Arabic language variation. While the two varieties of Arabic they speak are not as linguistically distant as other varieties, both candidates described in separate interviews how they learned to be more conscious of the language they used with each other while doing TL work.

Treisy, a HS of Spanish, offered a third insight that is in some ways opposite from those of her peers. In an interview, she explained her past disinclination to disclose her heritage status. At school and in previous university courses, she reported feeling that others placed unfair expectations on her language skills once they knew her background, expectations she felt she always failed to meet because of "gaps" in her Spanish. By contrast, she described a different experience with the TL work. While discussing a Spanish-language article about disabilities and inclusion, she stated,
   You know I'm a heritage learner, so when I first started reading
   Spanish, I couldn't read very well... (5) But when you gave us
   articles, and I could read it really easily, I was like "Yeah!" I
   felt so good about myself, because [the article] was something
   [designed for] the public, like I feel like the public has a
   general reading level, and so I'm like, I can read as well as them!

Particularly because HSs are often defined by what they cannot do (i.e., read and write in academic language), this insight reflects how TL work in a methods class can reaffirm one's abilities. In each case, these reflections offered by native and HSs alike suggest the benefits of TL work that is beyond the typical concern for such candidates' formal metalinguistic knowledge.


By contrast to the several affordances candidates reported of using TL work to develop their language proficiency, the most consistent theme that emerged from the data focused on the challenge of this work. Candidates described, sometimes at length, the extent to which they judged each other's language proficiency and felt judged by their peers. This evaluative practice revealed itself in a number of ways, but most often in the context of candidates' own anxieties that their language skills were simply not good enough.

Referencing the microteach labs in the fall, in which candidates designed 10-min language-learning activities and taught them to the class using the TL, Olivia, a NNS Spanish major, had this exchange with me:

Olivia: When you're in front of a group of your peers, of teachers, and they're evaluating you, it makes me a lot more ... nervous, I guess? I mean, even though it's a hypothetical classroom, it's not. Everyone is evaluating you while you're doing this.

Me: But your students next year will do that, too.

Olivia: But I think that's different. Because they're evaluating you on what you're doing and if they can understand you. As opposed to [puts on a posh accent] "Is she using correct language? Is she using this topic we talked about in class?"

In the second interview with Victor, a NNS German major, and Oliver, a NNS German-Japanese double major, we had this exchange:

Victor: But for me, it's scary! I hate being judged, like, I'm supposed to be a German major, I'm supposed to be awesome at German, that's what people think. And it's like, I'm pretty good! [His intonation reflects "I know I'm not great, but at least I'm pretty good!"]

Me: Who's judging you, though?

[Victor and Oliver laugh.]

Victor: No one.

Oliver: No one. Especially not in our class.

Victor: Especially not in our class. I just feel like that. You feel like all under pressure, and I blank out. Whereas, like, in front of the class [in my placement], I'm fine. In front of any group, I'm fine. But like, if we switched to German right now, it would be really uncomfortable. Knowing that I'm being recorded and everything? Oh, that's awful. That's what scares you for the [oral language proficiency exam].

Me: Is that an expectation that the instructor sets or is it your own?

Oliver: It's my own... I do feel that foreign language learning is a lot like a competition in the classroom.

Victor: Exactly. Exactly! You know who's better than everyone else. Always. Whereas in a math class you know like that this kid and this kid and this kid are good at math, and I'm not really good in math. But in a language class, like, there's a hierarchy. And for the students, it's so easy to pick out where everyone stands.

Me: Who sets the hierarchy? The teacher? The students?

Victor: The students.

Oliver: Uh-huh.

Their insistence that this sort of judging did not happen "in our class" might reflect the pressure I discussed in the "Research Design" section, namely, to provide socially acceptable answers to my questions. In my estimation, however, the balance of their comments outweighs whatever hedging they may have engaged in during our conversation.

Treisy, a HS of Spanish, raised similar concerns about what she called judgmentalness while reflecting on specific language errors both she and a peer had made during the microteach labs in the fall:
   We judge, we know how harsh people can be. Like, I was really
   embarrassed when I said... Moises [one of the doctoral student
   co-instructors] was like, "It's not a big deal, but...." He was
   really nice about it, so I appreciated that, like, in the email he
   was like, "You're saying miercoles wrong. You're making the O
   into a U. And that would be ok, but you kept saying it over and
   over again." And, when Jackie said zapatos [sic] wrong, it was
   like burning in everyone's ears. So, I can feel myself being in her
   position in saying miercules [sfc] wrong and her saying zapatos
   [sic] wrong. And just being like, "Oh my god, everyone is
   laughing at me," not realizing what I'm saying and like you can
   totally embarrass yourself and not even know it sometimes. So
   that insecurity and judgmentalness can really weigh down on a
   person. I can see people just wanting to be really careful when
   they use their language.

Finally, Gina also addressed this sort of critical peer evaluation. Her comment, though, was in the context of explaining why she feels comfortable speaking in German in this class:
   I think it's because I feel comfortable with everyone. I think if I
   were in a different class I wouldn't feel as comfortable... I
   think it comes down to the classroom environment, slash, the
   people. Because I've had, like, one of--I thought--one of my best
   friends was in my German classes, and I ended up finding out that
   she thinks I'm horrible at German, and this horrible person. And
   that like shocked me. And that's like, and a lot of, like, digs, I
   don't understand why we do it to each other, I don't really do it
   because I think it's just ridiculous, but I don't understand how
   that even started.

The level of "judgmentalness" and anxiety candidates reported was an unexpected theme from my perspective. Beyond the initial surprise, what is noteworthy about their insights is how candidates generally distinguished between using the TL with people they know and are comfortable with and those they do not; and using the TL with their students versus their peers. In the former instances, they reported feeling less anxious, while in the latter, they reported these contexts as triggers.

Teacher Learners and Learner Teachers

With respect to the second research question, candidates described their engagement with the TL work as opening up learning opportunities potentially unavailable in an English-only environment. Specifically, candidates' assessments of these TL activities reflected their simultaneous status as novice language teacher and expert language learner. Their insights suggested these activities helped them to synthesize these dual roles and thus better understand the topics we explored.

To help contextualize the perceptions candidates reported, I briefly describe additional TL activities included in the study's intervention. One such activity asked candidates to read a TL text about disability, identify and define unknown key words, and summarize the main ideas. They formed groups to review their work and verify their understanding of the text. In their groups, they were asked to develop a set of pre- and post-reading questions they would use if they were to teach that text to other learners of their language. Finally, they were asked to identify the principles behind giving learners pre- and post-reading questions when engaging with a text. This was all done in the TL, which we later debriefed as a whole class in English. Reflecting on this activity, Nicole, a NNS French major, explained in her second interview:
   We looked at this both from a student perspective and teacher
   perspective. We were given articles as students to process, and
   then asked to turn around and say, ok, what things would you
   identify, what questions would you ask students? I think that was
   really cool to be students first, to talk about it with peers, and
   process how it went and why it went a certain way, and then see how
   to teach something like that. It's cool to be a student first.

In a separate interview, Beth, a NNS Spanish major, referenced the same activity and explained:
   I haven't taken [a class] in Spanish before where... I've never
   read an article where I thought about it like the reader. I've
   always been the second person, but never thought about it like the
   person presenting it.

My reading of this comment is that by "second person" and the "person presenting it," Beth means that she has not been asked in previous classes to think in Spanish about curricular materials as both student and future teacher, only as student. The fact that both candidates referenced and described the same activity suggests to me that it was not just "cooler" or more fun to engage the reading the way we did, but rather that these candidates found the activity to be more meaningful or instructive.

Later in the interview with Beth, in which Nadia also participated, the topic changed to a TL activity about assessment. In that activity, I had provided candidates with samples of chapter test items from third-year high school WL textbooks (in Nadia's case, from an English as a second language [ESL] course, because English for her is a FL). Within each language group, I provided candidates with different test items. They were asked individually to complete the activity, swap with a partner, and then "grade" the activity. By not defining what I meant by "grade," the goal was to open up a conversation about what precisely we mark when assessing student work, why, and to what end. In reflecting on that activity, Beth and Nadia said,

Beth: Like when we got those tests in our language, I think the idea was to see it from the students' perspective.

Nadia: It was trying to see what the students see when we give them work.

Beth: It was like I said before, about getting to think of reading in Spanish in a different way.

In my interview with Barb and Nancy, two NNS Spanish majors, they made similar comments, this time referencing the pedagogical grammar activity described in the "Method" section. They said.

Barb: I liked the activity where we had to pick a grammar item that was hard about Spanish and say why. Because sometimes we forget what is difficult about early level Spanish. Like gender agreement, I don't think about that now, but in the beginning you think, that's so weird, so different than English, it's hard to get your head around it.

Nancy: And as [inaudible name] pointed out, you learn that all grammar is hard. Either because it doesn't exist in English, or because you're a native speaker but don't really know why it exists.

Each of these insights from candidates indicated their positive response to the TL work insofar as it seemed to help candidates become more aware of their dual roles as language teachers and language learners. The way candidates described this awareness suggests they came to understand the structure and dimensions of specific language-learning activities more deeply.


This study analyzed teacher candidates' understanding of the affordances and challenges of using teacher education curricular materials written in the TL in a methods course sequence and how they described the impact of engaging with such materials on their learning. As I first began to design the curricular intervention and the study, I conceived of the work in part as taking advantage of an opportunity: teacher candidates spend 11 credit hours in a significant methods course sequence, so why not use that to their advantage in terms of further developing their TL proficiency? However, the first finding in particular suggests that this sort of integrated approach to language and language-teacher learning is not merely an opportunity to be exploited, but rather an obligation for WL methods courses to fulfill.

Two points support this conclusion. First, irrespective of which formal model of the SLTE knowledge base one endorses (cf. Velez-Rendon, 2002), at the heart of each is a theoretical, practical, and contextual understanding of schools and how the teachers and students in them learn. Such knowledge is rarely addressed in the academic language major. Moreover, as discussed above, much of the theoretical literature on what does (or should) constitute the SLTE knowledge base addresses the TESOL context, where candidates' proficiency in English is often assumed. In a WL education context, especially in the United States, no such assumption can be made. Each teacher candidate profile--native, heritage, and non-native alike--requires time and curricular space to develop this theoretical, practical, and contextual knowledge in the respective TL. As the participants in this study indicated, the scope of this need ranges from developing a TL vocabulary base in pedagogical and professional domains, to expanding expertise at the discursive or textual level with "college-level readings," as Jack described it, to restructuring advanced or native proficiency to fit a specific schooling or curricular context, as Nadia indicated with respect to using standard Arabic while teaching.

The second point is perhaps more local in nature and is connected to the paradox described in the "Findings" section, namely, that at precisely the moment when our teacher candidates need to perform on high-stakes exams, they have (or utilize) the fewest opportunities to develop their TL proficiency. Although this study was not designed to test the claim that TL work in a method course increases candidates' proficiency, it nevertheless suggests that teacher education programs must take more responsibility in ensuring that candidates have as many opportunities as possible for sustained, rich, and meaningful TL use as one way to prepare candidates for such exams.

Beyond the opportunities that an integrated approach to language and language-teacher learning in WL methods courses provides candidates for expanding their proficiency into pedagogical and professional domains, candidates suggested that this TL work helped them to better understand the content of those domains, as well. In the data presented above, candidates connected this fuller understanding of pedagogical and professional knowledge to the TL work, specifically how that work linked their dual role as novice teacher and expert learner more directly. Engaging with TL curricular materials about language teaching required candidates to call up their own language-learning strategies to make sense of the content. As Beth described it, she had never before considered a Spanish-language text simultaneously from the perspective of the "second person" (or student) and the "person presenting it" (or teacher). Each TL activity went a further step by asking candidates to consider what they had read or discussed in terms of the students in their current field placements or in their future classrooms. Thus, by "trying to see what the students see when we give them work," as Nadia described it, candidates not only had opportunities to expand their TL proficiency but also to grasp fully the complexities of language teaching itself.

Asking teacher candidates to consider a particular learning activity from the perspective of their future students is itself not a novel task. Both with this cohort, and with previous ones, this was a regular activity in class. However, that task is usually done in English, based on English-language curricular materials about how to teach. By contrast, as described above, the TL work studied here asked candidates to do this same work in the TL. At no point during the interviews or with CIQs did I specifically prompt participants to compare the English-language and TL approaches with course material or to discuss which language helped them learn the material more effectively. Yet, when reporting their ability to understand language learning from their students' perspective, candidates connected this insight to the TL work we did, not to the English-language activities. It appears, then, not only to have been "cool to be a student first," as Nicole described, but also more effective in understanding the task of language teaching.

This interpretation of candidates' insights is consistent with sociocultural perspectives on learning broadly and teacher learning specifically. As Johnson (2006) argued,
   Learning ... is not the straightforward appropriation of skills or
   knowledge from the outside in, but the progressive movement from
   external, socially mediated activity to internal meditational
   control by individual learners, which results in the transformation
   of both the self and the activity, (p. 238)

By positioning candidates as both (language) learner and (language) teacher, this TL work appears to have supported candidates in moving between multiple internal and external sites of learning: their own past experiences and expertise in language learning; new formal information about language teaching and learning, which they processed both individually and with peers; and the specific context of their field placement and the strengths and needs of the students in it. The TL not only functioned as an object of learning, insofar as especially NNS expanded their expertise in the language. But also, it seems to have served as a meditational tool to help candidates integrate these external and internal sites of learning.

Despite the potential of integrating language and language-teacher learning, implementing TL work in methods course is no simple proposition. Certainly, there were numerous practical hiccups to carrying out the TL work. However, the second finding reported above, namely, the degree to which candidates described their own TL proficiency as inadequate, represented the most significant obstacle to realizing this work. The finding partly contradicts Wilbur (2007) and her insight that WL teacher candidates may view their TL proficiency as sufficient for teaching. The finding also represents another possible response to high-stakes proficiency testing: whereas some of the candidates Burke (2013) described were confident that their intermediate language skills were sufficient to be successful teachers, candidates in this study reported a fairly stark fear that their language skills were not good enough. From Treisy's embarrassment about making language mistakes--her description of mistakes as "burning in everyone's ears"--and Victor's frustration of peers expecting him to be "awesome at German" because that is his major, to Gina's almost seamless elision between being "horrible at German" and a "horrible person" and the hierarchy that Oliver and Victor insisted language learners use to rank-order their peers, candidates in this study seem to have internalized a conception of WL education as a competitive project in which grammatical accuracy is synonymous with academic success and even personal worth. Anything short of such accuracy is cause for "judgmentalness," as Treisy labeled it. I cannot claim that I was conscious of these candidates' feelings while I was teaching; they only revealed themselves later through the two rounds of interviews. But it is clear that this fear of inadequacy mediated their experience of the TL work.

In her interview, Gina suggested a specific question as to the source of this critical peer evaluation: "I don't understand how that even started," she stated. While at no point during the courses or the research did I frame the TL work in terms of the pending oral language exam, I interpret the anxiety these candidates reported in relation to this high-stakes exam, indeed to the long career most of these candidates have had with high-stakes standardized testing. This interpretation is consistent with Brown (2010) and his analysis of the impact of high-stakes testing practices in K-12 settings on teacher education. All but five of the 29 candidates in this cohort were traditional college-aged seniors (i.e., 21 or 22 years old). This particular age cohort is the first to have experienced almost all of their formal schooling in terms of the dramatic expansion of high-stakes standardized testing within U.S. schools. As a growing body of critical education scholarship has detailed, passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002 not only expanded the scope and frequency of high-stakes testing in public education but also has profoundly affected the culture and practice of schooling (e.g., Au, 2008; Hursh, 2008; Meier, Kohn, Darling-Hammond, Sizer, & Wood, 2004; Nichols & Berliner, 2007; Ravitch, 2010). These and other critical studies have decried the narrowing of the K-12 curriculum--including entire WL programs being cut--to make room for test preparation work; the loss of teacher autonomy and the de-professionalization of the field due to scripted literacy and math curricula; the increasing privatization of the school curriculum, indeed of schools themselves; and the use of standardized testing to exacerbate a long-standing function of public schools to rank and sort their students.

It is this last point that connects most closely to this study and the hierarchy--"where everyone stands," as Victor described--with respect to language proficiency. If a significant portion of these candidates' formal schooling has been mediated by high-stakes exams, the expansion of such testing for teacher credentialing to include oral proficiency exams has only extended these experiences to higher education. The irony is both clear and cruel: if, as I noted above, we can explain holistically why so many K-12 WL teachers lack advanced proficiency in the language (i.e., in historical, social, and contextual terms), then linking teacher certification to high-stakes oral language proficiency exams does the opposite. It telescopes this broad socio-historical perspective and instead holds teacher candidates individually responsible for making the mark or not. My point is not to criticize oral proficiency exams per se, but to provide further evidence to bolster Burke's (2013) concerns about how high-stakes exams are currently used. Indeed, these high-stakes hurdles most certainly "can weigh down on a person," as teacher candidates in this study so articulately expressed.

At the same time, a holistic understanding of the obstacles to developing advanced proficiency among WL teacher candidates does not exonerate individual teacher preparation programs from the obligations I argued earlier. Indeed, the challenge to university-based WL teacher education has been clearly articulated. Whether in the form of high-stakes proficiency testing as part of WL teacher credentialing, or whether part of the broader political pressure being placed on K-12 teacher education overall, WL teacher education programs are facing heightened demands and increased scrutiny. The intervention studied here is a novel, modest attempt to respond to these demands, and to provide a model of sorts of what it takes for traditional university-based programs to make significant changes. To be sure, integrating TL materials in five languages in a sustained way over two semesters of work is extremely challenging: It requires significant and multilingual human resources, and most WL teacher education programs do not have the luxury of a two-semester course sequence to work with. Moreover, it would be inappropriate to claim that simply using the TL in methods courses is alone sufficient to solve the perceived proficiency crisis. Nevertheless, the affordances documented in this study suggest that making and further refining such TL interventions is worth the effort.

This study holds three implications for practitioners and scholars of WL teacher education to consider. First, and perhaps most complicated, is how to ensure WL teacher candidates are prepared for the high-stakes hurdles to certification without reducing their preservice experience solely to proficiency "test prep." In this intervention, we attempted to do this by not associating the TL work in any way with the pending oral language proficiency exam; that is, we never positioned it as helping candidates "get ready" for the test. For subsequent cohorts of this same methods sequence (i.e., not part of the study reported here), we began to integrate materials from the Teaching Effectiveness for Language Learning (TELL) Project (see The TELL Project has developed a framework, aligned with national standards, for defining what effective WL teaching is. It has also created a series of observation protocols and self-assessment forms that use descriptive, not evaluative, language to help WL teachers reflect on their practice. These materials were designed for practicing WL teachers, not teacher candidates. But they were nevertheless helpful for teacher preparation contexts by providing concrete descriptors of the pedagogical and professional moves that WL teachers make. By placing these moves at the heart of a methods course and by supporting teacher candidates in developing the TL needed for executing those moves, there is potential for methods courses to do much more than simply get candidates ready for a high-stakes oral proficiency exam.

Second, and related to the above point, it is important to redefine the standard against which teacher candidates' proficiency is defined. As Salvatori (2007) found in his study of French-language teacher candidates in Ontario, most measures of TL proficiency are based on an idealized model of the "educated native speaker." This implies that WL teachers must have the same linguistic repertoire at their disposal as a NS of the language they are teaching. With such an impossible standard, it is little wonder teacher candidates express so much anxiety about their language proficiency and tests of it. The intervention reported here, and the materials developed by the TELL Project described above, take a starkly different approach. Instead of expecting teacher candidates to behave like NSs of their language, the point is to create a teacher preparation experience that identifies the specific moves that effective WL teachers make and supports candidates in learning how to make them in the TL.

Third, it is not enough simply to translate an English-medium methods curriculum into the respective TL. Rather, attention to candidates' language development must be carefully considered. This intervention attempted to do this by designing content-based language-learning activities as described above. The primary error we made was in not differentiating the language demands of these activities. Because most candidates were expected to be at the advanced-low level of proficiency, we oriented these activities one level higher, that is, to the advanced-mid level. For some candidates in this cohort, this was simply too demanding. Instead, each activity needs to be differentiated so that candidates at various levels of proficiency can access and engage in it.

There is a tension at the heart of the intervention and study reported here. As the introduction clearly stated, both were designed in response to the reality of high-stakes accountability measures as they have come to be applied to WL teacher education. The response was not, and should not be construed to have been, to recast teaching methods courses as oral proficiency test preparation. There is no evidence that the era of accountability is waning. The challenge thus remains how to support teacher candidates without allowing assessments to limit or dictate the terms of their teacher preparation. The intervention studied here was one modest effort to get that balance right: to identify key content of WL teacher education, find relevant iterations of that content in the respective TLs, and support candidates in developing their proficiency in the language used to describe that content. One avenue of future research should determine whether this approach to teacher preparation in fact supports candidates in developing more advanced proficiency overall. The more compelling question is the one suggested by Burke (2013): Does more advanced proficiency in fact translate into more effective and more communicatively oriented instruction?

DOI: 10.1177/0022487116667196

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Funding for this study was provided by a Lilly Teaching Fellowship, awarded by the Office of Faculty and Organizational Development at the university where this research took place.


(1.) In 2013, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NC ATE) effectively merged with the other national teacher accreditation association to form the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. In the same year, a revised and updated version of the WL teacher education program standards was issued.

(2.) For French, German, and Spanish majors, candidates must score at the advanced low level or higher; for Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese, the minimum score is intermediate high as measured by American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages' (ACTFL's) Oral Proficiency Interview or an approved substitute.

(3.) This university offers WL teacher preparation primarily at the secondary level, although there are some limited pathways for K-12 WL certification as well.

(4.) All names are pseudonyms.

(5.) Transcription conventions follow Schiefflin (1990).


American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (2012). ACTFL proficiency guidelines 2012. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from public/ACTFLProficiencyGuidelines2012_FINAL.pdf

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Author Biography

Jeff Bale's research interests include critical and historiographical analysis of language policy, language teacher education, and comparative study of education policy. He is co-editor of Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation. He taught English as a second language (ESL) for 10 years with newcomer students in urban secondary schools before becoming a professor.

Jeff Bale (1)

(1) University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Corresponding Author:

Jeff Bale, Associate Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, 252 Bloor Street West, No. 10-260, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S IV6.

Table 1. Overview of Teacher Candidates' Majors and Demographic

Language    Total per      Native      Heritage
major        language     speakers     speakers     Gender

Arabic          2            2                        2 F

French          3            1                     2 F; 1 M
German          4                                  2 F; 2 M
Japanese        4                         1        3 F; 1 M

Spanish         16                        2          15 F;
                                                      1 M

Language    International        Ethnic/racial          Non-
major         diversity            diversity         traditional

Arabic        1 Egypt; 1                                  2
French          1 Togo                                    1
Japanese                      1 Asian American; 1         1
                               African American
Spanish         1 Peru        2 African American;         1
                              1 Mexican American
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Author:Bale, Jeff
Publication:Journal of Teacher Education
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2016
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