Strengthening the classroom kete

Issue: Volume 94, Number 14

Posted: 10 August 2015
Reference #: 1H9crq

Fee scholarships are offered to teachers wanting to upskill with a TESSOL qualification. Education Gazette talks to a primary school enriched with skilled language teachers, and a secondary teacher who is applying her recent study to improving intercultural communication in her school.

As teachers are keenly aware, New Zealand is growing more diverse every day.

But how can we more deeply understand the strengths and needs of our bilingual students, in order to better support them in school?

Having teachers with a TESSOL (Teaching English in Schools to Speakers of Other Languages) qualification in a school can greatly improve outcomes for English language learners, at a time when they need it most.

The Ministry of Education offers tuition fees scholarships for TESSOL qualifications. These scholarships are offered in partnership with a tertiary provider and the teacher’s school, and courses are taken part-time, usually over two years.

In order to better support teachers to undertake TESSOL training, these scholarships fund between two and five specified core papers, and includes course fees and approximately $100 towards books. The funding usually covers two years’ study, at a rate of one paper each semester, based on two semesters per year.

The scholarships are offered to both primary and secondary classroom teachers, as well as to senior leaders and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teachers. Teachers who apply for the scholarships will be working with students who are learning English in all English-medium curriculum areas, from year 1-13, from mathematics to social sciences.

More information about the scholarships can be found on the Education website(external link)

In some schools, the tradition of these particular scholarships is so well-established, that there is a waiting list for applicants each year.

Teachers are encouraged to apply in pairs or small groups so they can support each other with their learning in the classroom back at school.

The teachers’ kete of TESSOL knowledge is used for establishing the culture of a school that respects students’ first languages, assists collegial planning and classroom-based inquiries using Ministry of Education documents such as the English Language Learning Progressions (ELLP), and other resources.

In fact, the scholarship holders’ work has been so inspirational, several principals have felt compelled to undertake TESSOL study themselves.

Leading by example at Roscommon school

One such school is Roscommon in Manurewa, Auckland, a year 1-6 school where more than 54 per cent of the 539 students come from Pasifika backgrounds. Principal Sonia Johnston was inspired by one of her teachers to undertake her own TESSOL study at the University of Auckland in 2008-2010. Sonia says, “When I saw what she was doing, I knew I had to find out what this was all about.”

School culture and professional development

Since then, Sonia has not only encouraged and supported her staff to undertake TESSOL study but has also worked to ensure that the teachers’ kete of TESSOL knowledge is shared widely and incorporated into the school culture.

“I’ve been able to encourage many of our staff to undertake the Dip TESSOL studies,” she says.

“When they ask me, ‘Sonia, do you think I should do this study?’ – I share with them wisdom from Pauline Gibbons – who says: ‘we can no longer think of our English language learners as a group apart from the mainstream – they are the mainstream’.

“So I tell them, ‘If you plan on continuing to teach in schools in any multicultural city in the world, let alone New Zealand, as a ‘mainstream teacher’ – this will be your mainstream’.”

“Teaching in a multicultural city demands that you know about languages and how to weave these into the teaching and learning of all the curriculum. The teachers gain so many skills and resources in their study you want them to be able to share these with all the staff.

“They love the practical nature of the course as well as acquiring an understanding of the theory behind what they are inquiring into. We can integrate this TESSOL knowledge into school wide professional development. TESSOL knowledge also informs our school goals. Teachers also integrate their TESSOL study with appraisal goals.”

Sonia finds that TESSOL study works best when teachers study together in pairs and small groups. At Roscommon School, the demand for scholarships is so strong that there is a waiting list of those wanting to apply.

A teacher's view

One of those teachers, Moran Apelila, began her TESSOL qualification this year with another one of her colleagues. Already they are noticing the impact of their studies.

Outside the classroom as well as inside: a focus on how to listen

Moran says her work in TESSOL has made her understand the importance of listening.

“I realise that children need to learn to listen not just for their learning but also for getting on with each other outside the classroom when playing games,” she says.

After a playground incident, she found the boys were able to resolve the situation having ‘learnt to listen to each other’.
From this incident, she resolved to have a broader focus on listening.

“I found I specifically need to teach listening and help children to become aware of the need to listen and that listening can help us in different situations.”

Impact on teaching

Moran has already made many changes to her classroom programme as the result of her study. Most significantly, she has found that because she now has a range of new activities such as skills flow and shared dictation (and other activities found on ESOL Online), she is able to keep students engaged in the same text as they move from informal to formal language. She is observing ELLs (English Language Learners) taking the skills they learn in one activity and applying them to another.

Activating prior knowledge

Moreover, Moran has found that all students, not just ELLs, have benefited from the considered way she now activates prior knowledge. “It’s about making connections with what they already know”.

Talking about learning

Moran has found that now she and the students are reflecting more on their work, conversations and reflective writing around what have they found difficult, what they have found ‘fun’ are now commonplace. In this way, she is able to incorporate their opinions into her curriculum planning.

Impact on class culture

Students are far more engaged, and Moran notices that all, including new ELLs, are now more ready to venture their opinion and be risk takers. She relates this development back to her first assignment, where her inquiry led her to realise the need to be much more explicit about expected classroom behaviour.

Impact on colleagues

Despite having just begun her TESSOL studies, Moran is already helping her colleagues with shared planning. They want to know how TESSOL study has influenced her classroom practice and some are already putting their names on the waiting list for the 2016 scholarships.

Rethinking the role of ESOL: a secondary teacher's view

Helen Mills is an English teacher and dean at Dannevirke High School. She was given the opportunity to teach ESOL in the school in 2015, and in the same year studied a cross-cultural communication paper through Massey University and the TESSOL scholarship scheme.

Helen says the paper has not only given her a deeper understanding of her own culture, but also about the needs and strengths of her international students.

“I had no prior experience teaching English as a second language, and I knew it would be challenging but I had no idea about the impacts that cultural differences would have on my teaching and my students’ learning,” she says.

“Studying this paper has made me aware of the influence that culture has on communication and education, and has helped me adapt my pedagogy accordingly. I’m understanding that my role as ESOL teacher is not only about teaching the English language, but also about teaching the New Zealand context.”

And this study marks the beginning of a longer journey for Helen.

“I was aware that teaching ESOL would change my pedagogy. However, after completing this paper, I can see the importance of using a wider range of tasks and different types of resources,” she says.

“I understand that when more students arrive from different cultures, I will need to continue to adapt my pedagogy to suit the needs of the students and their culture.

“It’s a never-ending cycle of reflections and learning.”

Applying for a TESSOL study scholarship

TESSOL tuition fees scholarships are offered for study at

  • University of Auckland Faculty of Education for teachers from Auckland schools.
  • Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) for teachers from Waikato schools.
  • Victoria University for teachers from Wellington schools.
  • Massey University for teachers from schools in rural areas and provincial cities.
  • University of Canterbury College of Education for teachers from schools in Christchurch.

You are eligible to apply if you:

  • currently teach new migrant, Pasifika or international students in a state-funded school.
  • have at least two years’ teaching experience.have a permanent position in a mainstream class or a specialist ESOL class.

The full criteria and requirements for support from your school are explained on the applications. In October these are posted out to schools, along with course information from the providers. Applications close on 30 October 2015.

More information about scholarships can be found on the Education website(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 4:31 pm, 10 August 2015

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