Thursday, July 11, 2013

Teaching with CEFR

    After such a long period of hibernation,  (ironically) though it is summer, I'm back to my blog and my weekly-basis writing, hopefully. I am back with some good news : we attended a national seminar on the 5th and 6th of July about teaching with CEFR. The seminar was held at the CREFOC of Nabeul area, under the assistance of Mr.Najjar Rachid and Mr.Khlifi Slaheddine .We worked in two groups, each group was under the assistance of a different inspector. With great pleasure, we worked with Mr.Najjar. And as we were  from different areas, the meeting in itself was such a rich and joyful experience. Many discussions were taking place and we learned much from the experienced colleagues and their fruitful exchange. What really amazed me is the great tact and expertise of Mr.Najjar. 
 Below are the notes I took from the workshop given by Mr.Najjar and I truly cannot express enough my gratitude for the wealth shared with us all . Moreover, I should not forget to mention with an elated heart, the positive spirit that reigned and the willingness I felt from approximately all the colleagues to collaborate, share and learn from each other. 
As the title of this post suggests the workshop was about teaching with CEFR. 
Many thanks to my colleague Adnane Ferdjany for sharing !

            What is the CEFR? 
 It is a Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment,[1] 
abbreviated as CEFR, is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe and, increasingly, in other countries (for example, Colombia and the Philippines). It was put together by the Council of Europe as the main part of the project "Language Learning for European Citizenship" between 1989 and 1996. Its main aim is to provide a method of learning, teaching and assessing which applies to all languages in Europe. In November 2001 a European Union Council Resolution recommended using the CEFR to set up systems of validation of language ability. The six reference levels (see below) are becoming widely accepted as the European standard for grading an individual's language proficiency. ( Wikipedia

And as Mr.Najjar put it :" In order to discuss language education, 
we need standard terminology." Then with precise definitions of 
each level, we can describe what learners can do in meaningful 
terms. And some advantages of the CEFR are: 

  • It's not prescriptive . " we do not set out to tell practitioners what to do, or how to do it."
  • It's not neutral : the CEFR supports methods which help build attitudes, knowledge and skills they need to : become more independent in thought and action. 
We, as teachers, have to bear in mind that the CEFR is :
  • A process
  • It is action-oriented : the aim of language education is to achieve communicative competence ( ie. being able to carry out activities and processes for the reception and production of texts, being able to construct discourse to fulfil tasks in the domain of social existence) 
  • It is learner-centered : the learner is at the centre ( their needs, motivations and characteristics/ what will they need to do with the language? / What will they need to learn in order to do what they want? / What makes them want to learn? / What kind of people are they? / What access do they have to resources? / How much time can they afford to spend?
The CEFR defines language proficiency at six levels arranged in three bands: 
  1. A1 and A2 ( Basic User) 
  2. B1 and B2 ( Independent User) 
  3. C1 and C2 ( Proficient User) 
Therof, we can use these comon reference levels as a starting point for : 
  • The elaboration of language syllabuses and curriculum guidelines 
  • The design of learning materials and activities 
  • The assessment of learning outcomes 
Scales and References : 

There are levels : the framework is underpinned and illustrated by the descriptor scales ( the global scales, 15 scales describing competences, 41 scales describing activities and over 1000 can do statements in the portfolio) and other resources ( a self-assessment grid, a range of rating grids, a table of domains of use, a taxonomy of competences and tasks) 
      The global scale is : 
  • All positive 
  • In a sequence ( Reception ------- Production -------- Interaction ------- Mediation
  • Can be reduced or extended 
  • Can be "Tunisified"
Charcteristics of can do descriptors: 
  1. Positiveness : descriptors should be formulated using positive descriptions of what the learners are able to do, negatively worded descriptions tend to be demotivating and more difficult to scale.
  2. Definiteness: Descriptors should describe concrete tasks and / or concrete degrees of skills in performing tasks.
  3. Clarity: descriptors should be transparent and non-technical- written in very simple syntax, comprehensible without explanation, usable without training. 
  4. Brevity: descriptors should be short.
  5. Independence: descriptors should stand on their own, their interpretation should not depend on other descriptors. 
System Requirements: 
  •  Comprehensive: It covers a full range of possible knowledge, skills and uses/ it covers all dimensions on which proficiency is described / Needs a range of reference points on which progress can be calibrated.
  • Transparent: Clearly formulated/ explicit/ readily comprehensible.
  • Coherent: with harmonious relation between uses:  identification of needs, determination of objectives, definition of content, selection or creation of material, establishment of teaching and learning programs, teaching and learning methods employed, evaluation,testing and assessment .
  • Multi-purpose: Usable for a full variety of purposes 
  • Flexible: Adaptable for different circumstances
  • Open: capable of extension and refinement 
  • Dynamic: continuous evolution.
  • User-friendly ( readily understandable) 
  • Non-dogmatic ( apply it to any teaching method) 
  • To pedagogy: - to promote learner autonomy ; by stimulating reflection on Content and Process of learning ( My priority is .... help me my teacher overcome my weakness...) by assigning central role to self-assessment. 
  • To curricula : It is often felt as an additional effort not related to curriculum.
  • To assessment: CEFR opens possibility to bring curriculum pedagogy and assessment into closer interaction.
How can the CEFR be used? 

  1. As a basis for curriculum development : It provides a common basis for setting targets for all languages that all the stakeholders can understand and relate to. It also sets signposts for the different steps to competence and  defines cut off points for different levels of language needed. Hence, it is a more multi-faceted description. 
  2. As a basis for designing syllabi : The scales and descriptors can generate content for specific languages, eg B.C Equals. 
Does the CEFR impose a methodology? 
  • The CEFR emphasizes learners'  "communicative needs"- everyday life, exchanging information...
  • The CEFR urges teachers to base language teaching and learning "on the needs, motivations, characteristics and resources of learners and defining worthwhile and realistic objectives as explicitly as possible." 
     To end this post, this is not the end because I believe much 
effort  has to be devoted to put the CEFR to the test from the part 
of everyone, including stakeholders, teachers, trainers, inspectors, 
curriculum designers , etc.. But above all teachers have to have the 
final say in the applicability of the CEFR and by sharing 
experiences, we can certainly learn from each other. To be positive, 
let us try it and see what are the repercussions of its application on 
our teaching and on the learners.