(No. 12)



Teaching Language and Literacy in Vernacular Situations:
Participant Evaluation of an In-Service Teachers' Workshop

Dennis R. Craig
Education & Research Associates Ltd.
P.O. Box 1641
Kingston 8, Jamaica

In the Commonwealth Caribbean, as in most places where the everyday speech is an English-based pidgin or creole-influenced vernacular, the problem of teaching English language and literacy in schools is well known. (e.g. Reinecke 1935; Aarons (ed.) 1974; Edwards 1979; Craig 1976, 1990, 1998).

Undoubtedly, the problem has to be viewed against the fact that the English language itself is undergoing constant change, while at the same time increasing its spread as a world language. (e.g. Widdowson 1994; Rooney (ed.) 1999). Concurrently, the growth of liberalism in contemporary times has led most societies to be more accepting of local English-based varieties that deviate from hitherto assumed norms. The result has been that in societies such as those of the Commonwealth Caribbean, variation or deviation from traditional English has itself become a norm. (Youssef 1991, 1996). Questions consequently arise as to whether the everyday speech, although its pidgin or creole roots are English-based, can at all be regarded as a form of English. (e.g. Shields-Brodber 1997; Rickards 1995; Patrick 1997; Devonish 1986).

There are other facts however, against which the problem also has to be viewed. These other facts are of an educational nature. Preceding the nineteen-fifties, schools in most vernacular situations tended to follow largely traditional practices based on prescriptive grammar, phonics, and rote-learning in their teaching of standard language and literacy. Then followed a relatively brief period in the nineteen-sixties extending into the early seventies when many of the shortcomings of traditional practices in language and literacy teaching were recognised, and teaching was modified under the influence of structural linguistics. These changes had some effect on the teaching of standard language and literacy in vernacular situations. (e.g. Shuy (ed.) 1964; Craig 1969; Wolfram 1970; Aarons (ed.) 1974; Edwards 1979).

The latter changes and their effect on language education in vernacular situations however, were in most cases short-lived. From about the mid nineteen-seventies until relatively recently, communicative and whole-language approaches to language and literacy teaching, harmonising with the already-mentioned world-wide growth of liberalism, became fashionable. This development led, in many vernacular situations, not only to a completion of the abandonment of the earlier traditional approaches, but also to an abandonment or severe dilution of the later structural-linguistic approaches, based on contrastive analyses of the learner's first language and the new language to be learned. Moreover, in many vernacular situations where only the most traditional practices had persisted, the abandonment of those practices merely left a vacuum and much uncertainty about what best to do in language and literacy education. (e.g. Craig 1999, Chapters 2 & 4(2); Smith 1999).

Most recently however, and paradoxically, there has been another development since the nineteen-nineties. This consists of a growing world-wide recognition that the best policy in language education is not to go wholesale for any one method or approach. The best policy is to select strategies that are effective, and that satisfy the specific needs of learners, irrespective of the language-teaching approach in which those strategies historically originated. (e.g. Richards 1990; Kumaravadivelu 1994; Fotos 1994; Celce-Murcia (et al.) 1997).

What this means is that, for the most effective teaching of language and literacy, teachers in vernacular situations must have a knowledge base that enables them to be eclectic. They are best advised to make accurate assessments of specific student needs, and to provide for the satisfaction of those needs by making appropriate selection from a relatively wide range of procedures. These procedures may, among other things, include the following:

  • consciousness raising and motivational strategies (e.g. Sharwood-Smith 1981; Schmidt 1990);

  • strategies for the development of language awareness (e.g., Fairclough (ed.) 1992);

  • strategies for using the vernacular as a bridge to new language learning (e.g. Simpkins et al. 1981);

  • direct teaching based on contrastive analyses (e.g. Lado 1964; Gower et al. 1983);

  • communicative interaction (e.g. Krashen 1982, et al. 1984);

  • immersion procedures (e.g. Genese 1988);

  • exploitation of individual learning styles (e.g. O'Malley et al. 1990; Oxford 1990; Green et al. 1995; Ely et al. 1996).

In the situation outlined above, and especially in light of the continuing inadequate proficiency of the educational output in standard language and literacy, teachers in training and in service in the Commonwealth Caribbean need programmes that will do the following:

(1) Create or improve in teachers an understanding of the local language situation, and its influence on language education in schools.

(2) Develop in teachers an orientation to language and literacy teaching which will be guided by their understanding under (1) preceding.

(3) Acquaint teachers with the salient, though varying perspectives and approaches that have influenced language and literacy teaching in contemporary times.

(4) Equip teachers to select relevant principles from the perspectives and approaches under (3) preceding, so as to provide for the specific language-education needs of vernacular speakers.

(5) Improve the capacity of teachers to apply the selected principles for a more effective teaching of language and literacy at primary, inadequately achieving post-primary, or secondary levels.

(6) Provide language and literacy teachers with tools that may increase their ability to be constructive in improving existing syllabuses and schemes of work in their schools.

These six things that need to be done constitute the most necessary goals for preparing teachers of language and literacy in the Caribbean. A programme to achieve these goals is detailed in the text: Teaching Language and Literacy: Policies and Procedures for Vernacular Situations (Craig 1999). The use of that text in Caribbean teachers' colleges is contributing towards ensuring that intending teachers are adequately prepared for the task that awaits them in the field. But the achievement of the stated six goals would hardly affect the total language education situation, if that achievement involved only the new teachers graduating from training institutions and becoming employed in the schools each year. The main reasons for this are well known: new teachers do not have the authority that would influence colleagues in the system; and in any case numbers of new teachers are too small an incremental proportion of the total to make a significant difference. (An argument to the latter effect may be seen, for example, in World Bank 1993).

What would undoubtedly have a significant impact on the existing unsatisfactory situation however, are in-service programmes that are concurrent with the use of the text-book in the teachers' colleges, and that have the same six stated goals. However, Ministries of Education face significant problems in mounting in-service training programmes that are comprehensive and sustained enough to be effective. One of the main problems in Commonwealth Caribbean countries has been that of inadequate financial resources. But ever since the nineteen-sixties, that problem has been somewhat alleviated by relatively frequent in-service, educational improvement projects funded by external donor foundations, or by international agencies which have included USAID, CIDA, and the World Bank. When the quantity of such projects over the years is considered however, it is surprising that the quality of primary and secondary education for the majority of Caribbean children remains disturbingly low. (as is illustrated, for example, in data presented in: World Bank 1993, OECS 1991, Craig 1998.)

There could be several reasons, which cannot be considered here, why in-service educational improvement programmes in the Commonwealth Caribbean have not had a more significant and lasting impact. In the field of language education, one of the reasons is that the goals of in-service programmes have not often combined essential understandings, practical insights, and resource materials in a comprehensive and coherent package, as in the six goals and the relevant textbook stated above. In the context of present-day advances in information technology, the ideal mode of delivering such a package would be a computer-based interactive programme. However, that mode of programme delivery is not yet available in the local situation. With this in mind, a proposal was made to Commonwealth Caribbean ministries of education for, in each case, a single, short in-service teachers' workshop in which the "working document" for each participant would be the relevant textbook.

The proposed duration of a workshop was three eight-hour days, a time-span that might not normally be considered adequate for achieving such a comprehensive set of stated goals. However, that time-span happens to be one that, for many reasons, would be convenient to most ministries. And a rationale of the proposal was that a comprehensive working document in the hands of each participant would:

  • make it possible for a relatively large amount of information to be effectively communicated, and noted as being stored and available for convenient and easy retrieval;

  • minimise the necessary quantity of workshop contact; and

  • maximise the likelihood of a persisting impact after the workshop.

The Ministry of Education of the Government of Grenada accepted such a proposal, and arranged for a relevant workshop to be held on February 21-23, 2001. Grenada is noteworthy as a Commonwealth Caribbean country that has been in the forefront of concern for the language education problems of its school population. Kephart (1984) for example, describes community interest in his attempt to use Grenadian Creole in the teaching of reading; and Devonish (1986) discusses at length the innovative and rational language policies of the then Government. Within the stated goals of the 2001 workshop now under discussion, there is a concern for the local heritage of language that was recognised as being consistent with previous emphases in Grenada. This concern is illustrated, for example, in the outline of a programme: "The Vernacular in Our Lives: A Programme for Maintaining the Home Language and Culture, and Strengthening the Language Awareness of Pupils" (pages 274-76 of Craig 1999). This programme however, is only a part of a larger complex that has a direct and strong focus on the development of proficiency in standard-language and literacy. This larger complex constitutes the workshop programme.

An outline of the complete workshop programme is given in the Appendix below. From the Appendix, it can be seen that the complete programme provided for three sessions per working day, with each session allowing for a lecture-discussion, a related group activity, and opportunity for questioning and clarification. The lecture-discussions and group activities were concerned not only with the already-mentioned language-teaching principles and approaches as they apply in vernacular situations, but with essential aspects of the "content" that teachers of vernacular-speaking learners would need to use. The latter essential aspects of content, together with other helpful information, are an important part of the workshop document which refers to them as "syllabus resources", as can be seen in Appendix.

The Grenada ministry invited 40 persons to attend the workshop. These persons were all well-experienced, senior teachers who could offer guidance to others in the education Grenada ministry invited 40 persons to attend the workshop. These persons were all well-experienced, senior teachers who could offer guidance to others in the education At the very beginning of the workshop, each participant had been given a list of the six goals earlier stated above as objectives of the workshop. Participants had then been alerted that an evaluation of the achievement of these objectives would be requested. At the end of the final session of the workshop, some participants had to leave early, but 30 of them remained and completed an evaluative questionnaire. The evaluative questionnaire asked each participant to rate the achievement of each objective on a 5-point scale, where 5 indicated the highest, and 1 the lowest rating. The results of this evaluation are given on the page following this.

From the evaluation results, it is obvious that participants felt that each of the six goals of the workshop was very highly achieved (in all cases, achievement was rated as 4+ out of a highest possible rating of 5). Detailed scrutiny of each of the six goals would show that, in each case the target was to improve or to create in participants some capacity or other that is important for the teaching of language and literacy. The high achievement rating of the workshop programme therefore indicates the extent to which participants felt that they personally, in each case, had been improved as teachers. Only the future performance of participants can show whether their assess-ment of their own improvement at this point in time is justified. But it would seem that educational systems can do no better than to spread as quickly as possible and as widely as possible this recognition among teachers that, within themselves, the six stated goals have been achieved.

The evaluation results also show however, that participants themselves recognise that not all of the stated goals have an equal likelihood of being realised in actual practice. For example, it is obviously easier for persons to understand sets of facts taken by themselves, than to understand those facts as well as to acquire skills of applying those facts in practice. Participants' recognition of this is probably reflected in the indication that goal number 1, which concerns factual under-standing of the local language situation has the highest of all total achievement ratings (144), while goal number 5, which concerns the practical implementation of teaching procedures, has the lowest total achievement rating (127). Participants obviously recognise the different levels of difficulty that is entailed in the achievement of individual goals.

Twenty-one of the thirty participants in the evaluation gave optional comments at the end. Apart from being generally commendatory, these comments indicated that some participants felt that:

  • The Workshop was 'timely', and satisfied an urgent need;

  • The 3-day duration of the Workshop was too short;

  • Opportunities for actual demonstrations of teaching would have been beneficial.

A recognition by participants that is related to the preceding is probably to be seen in the optional comments that came from 21 of the 30 evaluators. These comments, as mentioned at the end of the evaluation results, indicated that while participants were highly commenda-tory, they would have liked a longer workshop with opportunities for demonstration and practice of teaching procedures. The latter are justifiable desires on the part of participants. However, the satisfaction of such desires depend on what ministries of education find it most expedient to do.




Lecture/Discussion 1 (1 hour)
Topic: The Language Situation

Content: (1) Vernacular and official language (2) Creole and Mesolect (3) Varieties and official standards (4) Local standards in relation to Internationally Accepted English (5) The vernacular and the linguistic content of English teaching

Group Activity 1 (1 hour)
Consideration (in work groups) of Syllabus Resources (SR) #1 and #2 in the Working Document. Review of a number of questions in Chapter 1 of the Working Document relevant to the content of the Lecture/Discussion. Detailed attention (in work groups) to the following two questions: "How would you categorise the English-based vernacular with which you are most familiar, - as a Creole, Mesolect or Dialect? Explain why you say as you do"; "Consider the language (speech and writing) of school children you know. How does it compare with the examples cited in SR-1?"

Lecture/Discussion 2 (1 hour)
Part A: Clarification of questions, if any, that arise out of Group Activity 1.

Part B Topic: Learners' Needs and the Components of School Programmes

Content: (1) Continuity in cognitive growth (2) The development and use of language awareness (3) The orientation of teaching and learning (4) Classroom procedures that implement the orientation (5) The components of school programmes.

Group Activity 2 (1 hour) Review (in work groups) of questions relevant to the lecture/discussion in Chapter 3 of the Working Document.

In work groups, listing of essential components and important activities within each component of a language and literacy programme, taking local conditions into consideration.

Lecture/Discussion 3 (1 hour)
Part A: Clarification of questions, if any, that arise out of Group Activity 2.
Part B Topic: Perspectives and Approaches in Language Teaching

Content: A: Main approaches: (1) Mother Tongue (2) Audio-lingual (3) Situational (4) Cognitive (5) Communicative (6) Eclectic. B: Taking the vernacular into account.

Group Activity 3 (1 hour) In work groups, (A) review of a lesson plan in Chapter 4 of the Working Document, (B) construction of outline plans to implement different language-teaching goals, while using the same given subject matter.


Lecture/Discussion 4 (1 hour)
Part A: Clarification of questions, if any, that arise out of Group Activity 3.
Part B Topic: The Linguistic Content of English Teaching

Content: Exposition of essential information in the "syllabus resources" (SR) of the Working Document: (1) SR-2: Sounds & The Alphabet; (2) SR-3: Inflection Systems; (3) SR-4: Word Formation; (4) SR-5: Conventions Of Writing; (5) SR-6: The Syntax Of Noun And Verb Phrases; (6) SR-7: Purposes Of Language Use.

Group Activity 4 (1 hour)
In work groups, consideration of linguistic contrasts for direct teaching to vernacular speakers, paying special attention to the local situation. Comparison of conclusions with those in SR-8: Vernacular/English Contrasts.

Lecture/Discussion 5 (1 hour)
Part A: Clarification of questions, if any, that arise out of Group Activity 4.
Part B Topic: Direct Procedures in the Teaching and Learning of Language Forms

Content: Exposition of procedural types presented in SR-10 of the Working Document: (1) Perception/ Reception; (2) Internalisation; (3) Controlled Form-Focus; (4) Controlled Meaning-Focus; (5) Control By Initial Stimulus Only; (6) Zero Control.

Group Activity 5 (1 hour) In work groups, planning of ways in which groups of contrasts identified under Activity-4 may be treated within the varying procedures examined in the Lecture/Discussion.

Lecture/Discussion 6 (1 hour)
Part A: Clarification of questions, if any, that arise out of Group Activity 5.
Part B Topic: Teaching English to Speakers of a Related Vernacular (TESORV): General Principles With A Focus On Literacy

Content: (1) Identification of the problem; (2) Language in advance of Literacy; (3) Listening with or without Viewing, for Form and Meaning; (4) The correlation of syllabuses for the language skills; (5) An 'Augmented Language Experience Approach' (ALEA); (6) Teaching grammatical structure, speech, and the expressive aspect of writing; (7) Teaching The form-focussed aspect of Writing.

Group Activity 6 (1 hour) In work groups, construction of outline plans for correlating the teaching of different aspects of the Language Arts, at different grade levels, with the special needs of vernacular speakers in view. Review of Questions 1-3 in Chapter 5 of the Working Document.

DAY 3 Lecture/Discussion 7 (1 hour)
Part A: Clarification of questions, if any, that arise out of Group Activity 6.
Part B Topic: Specific Aspects of the Teaching Of Reading

Content: (1) The TESORV context; (2) Word recognition, phonic features, word analysis, context clues; (3) Vernacular influences on English word recognition; (4) Developing comprehension skills; (5) Detailed reading; (6) Extended reading.

Group Activity 7 (1 hour)
In work groups, outlining of programmes to improve different aspects of reading at different grade levels. Review of relevant questions in Chapter 5 of the Working Document.

Lecture/Discussion 8 (1 hour)
Part A: Clarification of questions, if any, that arise out of Group Activity 7
Part B Topic: Factors Affecting the General Form of English Programmes for Vernacular Speakers at Primary and Secondary Levels

Content: (1) A profile of the relevant pupils; (2) The necessary programme dictated by the profile; (3) Situational constraints: English Mother Tongue (EMT) and Creole-Influenced Vernacular (CIV); (4) Progression within the programme; (5) The Passive Repertoire of the learner; (6) Purpose and Language Structure; (7) The Examination.

Group Activity 8 (1 hour)
Work groups recapitulate the subject matter of the last lecture/discussion and of the preceding sessions. Work groups, according to their specialisations (primary, post-primary, or secondary), consider possible applications of the Workshop content, guided by questions in Chapters 6, 7, or 8 of the Working Document.

Group Activity 9, followed by final plenary discussion and evaluation (2 hours)
Work groups consider syllabuses and schemes of work they generally follow in their schools. Work groups discuss and report on actual or possible applications of the Workshop principles in their syllabuses and schemes. Concluding discussions.


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