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Education

Educators brush up on teaching skills

by Grace Chan

Christina DeCoursey
lecturer and programme leader
Department of English
PolyU

Innovative master's programme brings new focus for English-language teachers and business professionals

With "language arts" modules such as drama and poetry included in the elective part of Hong Kong's New Senior Secondary (NSS) English language curriculum, there is a growing need for teachers to acquire the necessary skills to guide their pupils.

With this in mind, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) is offering the city's first master of arts programme in English language arts (MAELA).

"When the Education Bureau came out with the New Senior Secondary curriculum, many teachers were not prepared, as they'd not received formal training in teaching English language arts", says Christina DeCoursey, lecturer and programme leader, Department of English, PolyU.

The aim is to give teaching professionals the opportunity to learn new concepts in English-language and language-arts studies, such as literature, media, popular culture, drama and spoken language arts (including choral poetry reading and debating). The programme, which reflects current trends and demands on language teachers and business trainers in Hong Kong, comprises five core subjects- English literature and language arts, drama and language learning, critical language and cultural studies, oral language arts, and popular culture and English¡Xand five electives, which can be selected from a wide range of subjects related to teaching, pedagogy, professional English and English subject knowledge.

Contemporary approach

Teachers who enrol for the programme are encouraged to implement alternative teaching media and tools such as animation in their classes. "Initially, many of our students were reluctant to use computer software, but they eventually managed it. We help to build their confidence to connect with their pupils," says Dr DeCoursey.

Drama and language learning, for example, incorporates role-playing and other activities in a virtual environment. "We put our students on a director's chair and encourage them to play with costumes and characters, as well as sound effects," she explains.

They are also taught how to develop a stage play, from adapting the script to monitoring the budget. "One of our former students prepared a two-year drama plan and secured a promotion at a better school the following year," Dr DeCoursey notes. "Since language arts skills are sought after these days, this qualification can help teachers advance in their careers."

Assessments are based on presentations and fun activities such as debating projects, rather than simply on essays and exams. "Students may be asked to play the roles of former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, Queen Elizabeth or cartoon character Bugs Bunny, for example, while debating a topic," explains Dr DeCoursey. "Later on, they can transfer this approach to their own classroom situations to encourage their pupils to converse in English."

Choral poetry reciting in small groups is another of the modules and graduates emerge with knowledge of the small movements and gestures related with this language art.

Students are assisted to develop the ability to creatively use language arts skills in different teaching scenarios, Dr DeCoursey remarks. "Teachers today no longer sit behind desks all day. Rather, they try new things such as sound editing, dramatic acting or play production to aid their pupils' learning."

Addressing new trends

Class sizes are restricted to about 45 participants per year, of which half are teaching professionals and 20 per cent fresh graduates. However, with increasing demand for this postgraduate qualification, the department is considering expanding the annual intake.

In addition to Hong Kong applicants, the programme has also attracted international students from the US, UK, India, Pakistan and Italy. "Last year, for example, we had overseas teachers working in other countries join the class with the aim of keeping their skills current," says Dr DeCoursey.

Language arts skills can be applied to the business arena, too. They are particularly useful to professionals such as trainers or coaches, as well as to marketing or advertising people wanting to keep abreast of current media trends, she points out.

The MAELA programme is offered on a full- or part-time basis and can be completed in a year, although the maximum time allowed is four years. Classes mostly take place on Saturdays and weekday evenings. Most part-time students graduate within 30 months.

In addition to obtaining the MA qualification, successful graduates with 12 credits (having completed four core subjects) are awarded a postgraduate certificate and those with 18 (five core subjects and one elective) a postgraduate diploma.

Ideally, applicants should have a bachelor's degree, preferably in a related discipline. Non-native English speakers also have to meet certain English-language requirements.

One step ahead

  • New school curriculum requires updated skills from English-language teachers
  • Teachers encouraged to implement alternative teaching media and tools in class
  • New qualifications facilitate career advancement also for non-teaching professionals

Taken from Career Times 25 February 2011, A12


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