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    Language-sensitive teacher education
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This section contains a definition of how we use the term 'module', as well as information and tasks on how different kinds of modules can prepare teachers for language-sensitive education.

What is language-sensitive education?

To review or create teacher education modules for language-sensitive education, it is useful to consider and agree on a definition of the term. The definition offered below can serve as a starting point: The term 'language-sensitive education' describes an inclusive approach to teaching any subject: teachers help their learners to deal with the language demands of learning tasks so that, whatever their language and/or social background, all learners can make the most of their education.

For a more detailed discussion of what language-sensitive education involves, users are invited to refer to Building block 1.

Most teacher education curricula contain modules covering general aspects of pedagogy, psychology and related disciplines, which in many cases are offered to (future) teachers of different subjects. The modules concerned with specific subjects and disciplines are organized in different forms. In many contexts, teachers complete a degree (e.g. a Bachelor or Master degree, often depending on the target level of teaching they qualify for) in one or more subjects in higher education before studying to become a teacher at a separate teacher education department, or even a different university. In other contexts, the subject/disciplinary modules are offered within an institution that specialises in teacher education. A broad offer of subject modules is a characteristic component of curricula for secondary teachers, while they may be less prominent in primary education, especially for teachers who will teach all subjects across the curriculum. The modules concerned with subject-specific methodology and teaching practice are intended to build on the competences that students have acquired in general pedagogy, psychology and also subject-specific courses and to ‘distil’ and ‘channel’ these competences into the specific professional competences required by teachers, whatever subject they teach.

View table 2

What do we mean by modules?

This Building block is about modules in teacher education. We understand 'module' as part of a teacher education curriculum that can consist of one or more courses; often, the two terms are used synonymously, such as a first year module/course on pedagogical psychology, an introductory module/course on applied linguistics in one's fourth or fifth semester (term), or a subject specific module on the teaching methodology of any subject, such as geography, the language of schooling, or a foreign language. Modules often span one or two semesters and are typically under the responsibility of one or more teacher educators. These educators can often decide on aspects of the content and the methodology they use, and perhaps its overall content. They may work on their own or share responsibility for a module with colleagues.

While most examples in this Building block are geared towards initial teacher education, we think that they are also relevant and helpful for addressing language-sensitive education in in-service / continuing professional development contexts.

What typical kinds of modules are there in teacher education, and how can they contribute to language-sensitive education?

At the level of modules, there are two main ways in which language-sensitive education can be catered for in teacher education:

  • teacher educators can review and adapt an existing module to include aspects of language education;
  • teacher educators can create one or more new modules that focus specifically on language-sensitive education.

To consider the options in more detail, it is useful to start with an overview of the modules in one's teacher education curriculum. Table 1 illustrates a range of typical modules in a generic teacher education curriculum for teachers of one or more subject(s) in obligatory schooling. The three columns cover three subjects: geography (which is used here as an example of a subject other than languages), the language of schooling and a foreign language. The rows are organized by traditional areas of professional competences, based on the notion of "teacher professional knowledge" (Shulman, 1987), and contain indicative titles of teacher education modules.

View table 1

TASK A Discussion questions

i. To what extent does the categorization of disciplines and modules correspond to your context? Could you think of further subcategories of modules (further rows in the table), or alternative ways of categorising and visualising the content and the target competences of teacher education? If so, which ones?

ii. Consider the modules in the first row (‘general pedagogical knowledge’). In what ways can they contribute to language-sensitive education?

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iii. Now consider the subject of geography, or any other subject of your choice other than languages. What kind of subject (e.g. geography) module would you create or adapt to include language sensitivity?

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iv. Table 11 also contains modules of exemplary language subjects, the language of schooling and a foreign language. How can these modules contribute to language sensitivity? What are some possible pitfalls?