Competency of Teachers and Methodology

Resources and methods for teaching and learning New Testament Greek.
Barry Hofstetter
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Re: John, Luke or Paul

Post by Barry Hofstetter » August 30th, 2014, 10:32 am

Stephen Hughes wrote: Actually composition in "Greek" is not very difficult, but getting the Greek to have even the slightest hint of being idiomatic while expressing complex meanings is a task that I am still finding daunting. I've said before, that my working hypothesis for the next eight of these ten years is that I will appreciate the GNT better if I can myself write at the standard of the work I am reading. All the way through my education in childhood and adolescence I had been writing at a level not too dissimilar to the level that I was reading - until meeting Chaucer and other early modern works. There are so many choices in composition, and that process of choice is tending to contextualise the language that I am reading within that lingusitic choice that the authour could be assumed to have gone through in writing. The difference between the spoken and written forms of expression in my own English seems to be that writing is more deliberative - involving more choice.
This post was of particular interest to me, because it is largely where I am at the moment (more on that below). If I understand what you are saying above, you are correct. When I took Greek prose composition in grad school, the instructor noted that he could often tell what Greek authors the students had been reading the most, because our compositions tended to mimic the style and lexical usages of those authors. He told me mine always reminded him of the NT... :? The way to get around this is to read widely so that one has as great a command of the language as possible. You want to get to a point where you are no longer simply imitating authors, but actually generating composition from your broader knowledge of the language.
Stephen Hughes wrote:This is a little idealistic. Not everybody teaching is good at the language they teach.
That's not really the point. Currently, I teach Latin in a world languages department, which is quite common these days in American schools. Of my colleagues, the French teacher is Israeli, and fluent both in Hebrew and French. There are three Spanish teachers -- one is American, but was educated in Madrid, the other is a Latina from Peru. The third is as American as apple pie and not nearly as accomplished in her use of the language as the other two. Yet her students still reach the upper levels reasonably well prepared to move on in the language. This is in part the case because we have minimum standards in terms of what we look for in our teachers, as well as set goals and standards that need to be accomplished in the classroom.
Stephen Hughes wrote:I understand the point being made that methodologically speaking there is a problem in the way Greek is being taught (as an (optional) adjunct to courses in exegesis), but I would like to add the dimension of comparative teacher competencies, that may somewhat blur the starkness of the disparity being presented.

The absolute minimum for a high school language teacher in NSW would be a 3 year sequence in a foreign language, followed by a 1 year teacher training diploma. To teach a second language would only require a 1 year study of the second or subsequent language. Ergo, there exists a broad spectrum of competencies among foreign language teachers.

What level of competency in the target language can a student who learns from slightly competent teacher using a book and AV material? Perhaps enough to pass whatever exams are required and a little more besides.
The variables in this are pretty wide, I should think. First of all, Randall and I are not talking about this sort of range of competency. We are talking about a system in which there is very little real competency at all. In the kind of educational environment in which most modern language instruction takes place, of course there will be different levels of competency among teachers, both in terms of their knowledge of the language and in terms of their teaching skills. There will also be great variety among the students, in terms of motivation, in terms of learning ability, in terms of goals. Spanish is probably the most taught second language in American schools. Very few of the students who take Spanish will go on to study at the university level and and do anything professional with the language. What we want to provide for them, however, is the foundation and opportunity to do so if they should wish to continue learning the language, either formally or informally. We make them as competent as possible with the strictures and variables just mentioned.
Stephen Hughes wrote:With a decline in teacher competencies the teacher's ability to express themself is probably the first thing to go from the classroom / learning experience. Without the ability to check student output, one or both of two things tends to happen. The first is that tasks become more closed - having a more formulaic structure - and have a single correct answer which is easy for the teacher to indentify. The other thing is that instruction must necessarily take place in the students first language (or perhaps in a bastardised / badly made up version of the target language).
Using Spanish again as my example, there are programs and curricula which can offset this. Our Spanish teachers use a program which is interactive, largely online, and which helps the students greatly. A competent teacher can sail with this at flank speed and accomplish great things. A more limited teacher may at least move the students forward sufficiently that that a more competent teachers later have something to work with.
Stephen Hughes wrote:There is nothing shocking about what we find in the way Greek is taught. If a teacher doesn't know the language, they teach grammar. If they can't create examples extemporaneously they need to stick rigidly to examples in textbooks and treat the written form of the language - especially in works of literature - as something unchangeable.

The grammar-translation method of teaching is decried often here, but I thing that if the teacher is competent in the language, then grammar and a degree of translation is a useful way to teach. Non-competent teachers are like non-competent drivers, who drive up other people's insurance premiums. Grammatical explanations, some translation exercises within the context of language instruction is a normal part of foreign and second language teaching.
My sediments exactly, said the geologist. If you are familiar with the Latin Best Practices group, you will know that the true believers eschew practically every form grammatical instruction that they can, to the point where they believe that teaching grammar is practically the unforgivable sin. But most modern language teachers (and every curriculum I have ever seen) teach grammar right along with TPRS and CI...
Stephen Hughes wrote:Another point is dictionaries. Besides the fact that producing dictionaries in the rest of the language learning world that contain only the words in one literary work are virtually unheard of, most foreign language learners do not pore over dictionaries like students of Greek do. Vocabulary is generally presented in word-webs, synonym/antonym pairs or groups, and with simple definitions in the target language. There isn't the sort of quest for the most perfect English word to be able to understand the target language, that one finds in Biblical Greek. Basically, if one does not know the efficacy of a word, one needs to rely on its dictionary meaning.
That's where you start -- simple definitions on which you build as your competency in the language increases. NT Greek dictionaries serve a particular purpose for a particular community, whereas dictionaries and lexicons and in other fields usually don't address a particular area, but try to hit it as broadly as possible knowing that specialists will learn the peculiarities of their language of their own specialty. So as with the discipline of exegesis, NT lexicons are peculiar to the field. I think, however, that an argument can be made for them considering the synchronic nature of the texts and the development of the language from earlier periods to the point where the study begins. There are sufficient differences overall that justify such a lexicon (as also for the Classical periods and the Patristic/Byzantine).
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N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Competency of Teachers and Methodology

Post by Stephen Hughes » August 30th, 2014, 10:44 am

Wes Wood wrote:
cwconrad wrote:Theoretically, I think that's true. In some parts of the world, however, degrees and certifications are too readily manipulated politically and don't necessarily reflect real competence. That said, however, I'd still rather have professional standards in play than not.
I can't speak for all U.S. States, but most State Education Boards in the Southeast only require a language proficiency test for an endorsement to teach many modern foreign languages. (This is the minimum standard once a teaching license has been issued. They will also accept 24 college credit hours in the target language.) The standards are even lower for ancient languages where there is no listening or composition component at all. When compared to Stephen's example of certification requirements in NSW, this is quite low.

I know of a few people that have taught languages at this level who had not achieved limited working proficiency.
Let me append a little about declining competency over time.

For what I have seen happening is that teachers gradually lose their own proficiency - that they may have had at graduation - and their knowledge can come to conform to the teaching material that they are given to use. The emphasis can change from familiarity with the language to familiarity with the particular approach, story characters and context that they teach. This is particularly true of primary school and kindergarten level teachers, who only deal with the language at an age appropriate level.
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Wes Wood
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Teacher Decline

Post by Wes Wood » August 30th, 2014, 12:22 pm

Stephen Hughes wrote: For what I have seen happening is that teachers gradually lose their own proficiency - that they may have had at graduation - and their knowledge can come to conform to the teaching material that they are given to use. The emphasis can change from familiarity with the language to familiarity with the particular approach, story characters and context that they teach. This is particularly true of primary school and kindergarten level teachers, who only deal with the language at an age appropriate level.
I don't think that I misunderstood you. I was specifically responding to the licensing standards you mentioned. I am impressed by the fact that the teachers are generally as knowledgable as you have further stated and are involved in instruction at the primary level.
While completing my master's degree in education, I remember reading a 2008 report for the Center of Applied Linguistics that concluded that only 15% of public elementary schools in the U.S. offered foreign language instruction. While I will admit that this research is rather dated and that I believe the percentages have increased slightly since I was working on my master's degree, I am confident that the situation has not improved dramatically. My own personal experiences will be colored by the fact that I am from an extremely rural area with little diversity. None of the public schools in the counties surrounding mine offer anything but Spanish or French. My personal curiosity makes me wonder what the average mastery level is for foreign language teachers in public schools across the U.S., but again this is off topic.
Barry Hofstetter wrote: Using Spanish again as my example, there are programs and curricula which can offset this. Our Spanish teachers use a program which is interactive, largely online, and which helps the students greatly. A competent teacher can sail with this at flank speed and accomplish great things. A more limited teacher may at least move the students forward sufficiently that that a more competent teachers later have something to work with.
The cost of technology to use programs like these is prohibitive in many areas. Many districts do not have the resources to acquire computers for each student or to afford to license or purchase quality programs. This is without addressing how difficult it still is to acquire high speed internet and broadband in many places in the United States. Without these resources and a knowledgeable and creative teacher, the best a student can hope for is a decent textbook. I personally know teachers who have been fired for trying to use modern language learning techniques including immersion.
These considerations are what fuel my interest in the competence of foreign language instructors at this level. More succinctly stated: Without technology how proficient in a language would a teacher have to be to prepare students for success using a foreign language and what methods could be used if, for whatever reason, immersion is not an option?
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Competency of Teachers and Methodology

Post by Stephen Hughes » August 30th, 2014, 12:55 pm

Let me be upfront and speak a little of my mind: to a large degree, students learn despite ouur teaching.

We are really only guessing at the way learning happens and abstracting the nature of the language in our teaching.

Learning is something different again. It has more to do with the emotional attachment and trust that one person feels for the other rather than the well structured contexts and neat patterns that we present. The basic question a student poses for the teacher is, "Can this person in front of me adequately express what I want to say in what they are telling me I should say?". If they feel that can happen, language to language learning takes place. To learn a second mother tongue, you need to feel that someone understands you on a comparable level that as a child you felt your mother did.

It happens rarely in a "dead" language. But despite everything it does happen. Trust is the key to lowering the learning defences.
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Competency of Teachers and Methodology

Post by Stephen Hughes » August 30th, 2014, 11:34 pm

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
Stephen Hughes wrote: Actually composition in "Greek" is not very difficult, but getting the Greek to have even the slightest hint of being idiomatic while expressing complex meanings is a task that I am still finding daunting. I've said before, that my working hypothesis for the next eight of these ten years is that I will appreciate the GNT better if I can myself write at the standard of the work I am reading. All the way through my education in childhood and adolescence I had been writing at a level not too dissimilar to the level that I was reading - until meeting Chaucer and other early modern works. There are so many choices in composition, and that process of choice is tending to contextualise the language that I am reading within that lingusitic choice that the authour could be assumed to have gone through in writing. The difference between the spoken and written forms of expression in my own English seems to be that writing is more deliberative - involving more choice.
This post was of particular interest to me, because it is largely where I am at the moment (more on that below). If I understand what you are saying above, you are correct. When I took Greek prose composition in grad school, the instructor noted that he could often tell what Greek authors the students had been reading the most, because our compositions tended to mimic the style and lexical usages of those authors. He told me mine always reminded him of the NT... :? The way to get around this is to read widely so that one has as great a command of the language as possible. You want to get to a point where you are no longer simply imitating authors, but actually generating composition from your broader knowledge of the language.

The more I look at that speech by Lysias (that you may have noticed hovering around on the forum for the last little while), the less promising it looks as a model / direct aide for beginning composition. Active reading, and recognising structres is a start for composition. However, as Luke, Acts, some of Paul and Hebrews do, Lysias combines or builds the structures together with skill and creativity. The range of structures used and the possible combinations of structures within an authour are a mark of style and part of what tends to differentiate one authour from another. My quandary is that presenting composition from that sort of text, then, would not be presenting Lysias, but rather my own distillation of Lysias into his component structures. We'll see how that pans out in due course.

If you began your sentences in composition with Καὶ εὐθέως ... or Καὶ ἐγένετο ... then they would be telltale signs of NT influence. (Though in the later case, the Chinese phrase 发生了 Fāshēngle which can occur at the beginning of a sentence, can sometimes give rise to a literal "It happened..." in the English of some students even up to the intermediate level. For example 发生了好多事. Fāshēngle hǎoduō shì. "A lot of things happened.", is sometimes mistakenly rendered as "It happened many things". But of course, if you had have written that, that would not have been under the influence of Chinese).
Barry Hofstetter wrote:
Stephen Hughes wrote:With a decline in teacher competencies the teacher's ability to express themself is probably the first thing to go from the classroom / learning experience. Without the ability to check student output, one or both of two things tends to happen. The first is that tasks become more closed - having a more formulaic structure - and have a single correct answer which is easy for the teacher to indentify. The other thing is that instruction must necessarily take place in the students first language (or perhaps in a bastardised / badly made up version of the target language).
Using Spanish again as my example, there are programs and curricula which can offset this. Our Spanish teachers use a program which is interactive, largely online, and which helps the students greatly. A competent teacher can sail with this at flank speed and accomplish great things. A more limited teacher may at least move the students forward sufficiently that that a more competent teachers later have something to work with.
Being misunderstood or misconstrued in ever more subtle ways is an important part of learning that comes much better from a creative human being. Computer instruction is great for telling a student if they are right or wrong and for presenting material in a well-organised and interesting manner, but lacks the creative elements that misunderstandings can lead to. For example, the student wants to say, "I'm a purchaser", but actually says, "I'm a poacher". While there is software that could help the student to improve their pronunciation, only another person would ask, "Do you need to travel far to find the animals?".
Barry Hofstetter wrote:
Stephen Hughes wrote:There is nothing shocking about what we find in the way Greek is taught. If a teacher doesn't know the language, they teach grammar. If they can't create examples extemporaneously they need to stick rigidly to examples in textbooks and treat the written form of the language - especially in works of literature - as something unchangeable.

The grammar-translation method of teaching is decried often here, but I thing that if the teacher is competent in the language, then grammar and a degree of translation is a useful way to teach. Non-competent teachers are like non-competent drivers, who drive up other people's insurance premiums. Grammatical explanations, some translation exercises within the context of language instruction is a normal part of foreign and second language teaching.
My sediments exactly, said the geologist. If you are familiar with the Latin Best Practices group, you will know that the true believers eschew practically every form grammatical instruction that they can, to the point where they believe that teaching grammar is practically the unforgivable sin. But most modern language teachers (and every curriculum I have ever seen) teach grammar right along with TPRS and CI...
I think that for dissimilar languages grammar works as a series of equivalencies / transformations such as are presented at the beginning of maths exams at the upper levels. And for similar languages, grammar serves to spell out the details that need to be paid attention to. Ergo, pointing out a detail overlooked in language production or comprehension is a form of grammar teaching.
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Competency of Teachers and Methodology

Post by Stephen Hughes » August 31st, 2014, 1:25 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:Learning ... has more to do with the emotional attachment and trust that one person feels for the other rather than the well structured contexts and neat patterns that we present. The basic question a student poses for the teacher is, "Can this person in front of me adequately express what I want to say in what they are telling me I should say?". If they feel that can happen, language to language learning takes place. To learn a second mother tongue, you need to feel that someone understands you on a comparable level that as a child you felt your mother did.

It happens rarely in a "dead" language. But despite everything it does happen. Trust is the key to lowering the learning defences.
This sounds a bit vague. Let me make it more understandable (perhaps). Teaching, in regard to this aspect, is no different from two friends telling the same story. A+B talking to C. A says, "On the way here we saw five highway patrol cars." B says, "Six." A says, "Six.". There is no, "Oh yeah, how silly of me, six.", which could indicate higher order processing.

It is more than accepting someone as a prompter to supply corrections to mis-remembered information, because when it occurs in a learning situation, real and lasting improvements happen to students pronunciation and/grammar with seemingly no effort.

Allowing for cultural and individual differences, when the students stop apologising for their mistakes and just accept the other person's words as their own then there are a few moments of great progress. The sustainability of that emotional defencelessnes depends on a number of situational factors such as who else is in the learning space, the character of the student and the perceived character of the "teacher". Generally, the time when students are open to direct suggestion is around 2 or 3 seconds and no more than 20 - the time available till self-awareness and the accomapnying realisation of the externality of further new information returns. It's something like when the physical immune system is supressed so that an organ can be grafted in.
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cwconrad
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Re: Competency of Teachers and Methodology

Post by cwconrad » August 31st, 2014, 8:32 am

For what it's worth, my sense of the question raised here is that this is partly a matter of authority and partly a matter of friendship between teacher and learner. Years ago I objected to Jonathan's distinction between "Big Greeks" and "Little Greeks" because it smacks of authority as well as superior skill and experience, factors that are indeed in play in a teaching & learning relationship, but factors that balance out in ways that can be detrimental or helpful to successful learning. I think it's clear enough that the model of the authoritarian teacher and puppet student is intended to produce carbon-copies of the authoritarian teacher. My own best experiences in teaching Greek have ordinarily involved a sense that teaching and learning are a two-way street. I know that I have learned an immeasurable amount from my own students and have praised and thanked them for things that they have shown me about Greek that I didn't grasp previously. One feature of this, I think, is openness to questions without an assumption that the answer is already known, so that a recognized problem, be it the meaning of a word or the syntax of a construction, becomes a matter of shared exploration -- certainly not an occasion for a citation of traditional grammar that serves as a stop-gap discussion-ender. At any rate, it's always seemed to me that the healthier relationship between teachers and students is that of advanced learners and less-advanced learners, the lesson to be learned being "the procedure for confronting this problem when I've encountered it hitherto -- one that has worked hitherto but that may need revamping or may need to be abandoned in favor of something better.." It seems to me that there are a number of qualities of character that contribute to successful teaching and learning, and that among these are intelligence, commitment, creativity, a sense of humor, and patient endurance.
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Competency of Teachers and Methodology

Post by Stephen Hughes » September 1st, 2014, 5:20 am

The reply that I gave above about the moments of learning was in reply to a PM.
Wes Wood in a PM (Shared publicly with permission) wrote:...
I sometimes feel like there is too much focus on the ideal situations for language learning and not enough instruction or guidance on how to make the most of what is available.
...
, but why does it seem to be expected that one already has or can easily obtain the resources that, if possessed, would make additional guidance obsolete.
The point that I was making in response to Wes' comment was that no matter whether you are the teacher, the student or the self-teacher, those learning moments need to be fostered. I don't think I got that across very clearly.

Whether you have excellent, poor or no resources at all, what matters is that you find / foster the learning moments. A teacher or textbook can really only prepare you for learning. In a skill based subject like reading, that means doing it. Motivation can give you a good disposition, degree requirements can help with endurance, grammar can help you recognise significant things that you might otherwise have overlooked.

Guidance is "obsolete" after learning has happened. The problem of the externalisation of resources is something that can be overcome. We no longer follow the fashion of memorising then understanding, and now we rely on continual sensory input (visual mostly) to provide material that we should learn. Memorisation is not the end of learning, but it provides a self-contained learning opportunity - of course it would be better if we were to live in an opportunity all around us.
cwconrad wrote:It seems to me that there are a number of qualities of character that contribute to successful teaching and learning, and that among these are intelligence, commitment, creativity, a sense of humor, and patient endurance.
My take on those qualities within the process of learning; Intelligence is the ability to hold an idea without sensory reinforcement, which can then be understood. Commitment means singularity of purpose, single-mindedness and resolution of will. Creativity is an expression of yourself into the task; most often that happens from an outsider's point of view by asking questions (TED talk by Ramsey Musallam), or sometimes more directly by personal expression. A sense of humour is the ability to look at things in new and ever changing ways, i.e. to avoid falling into a cliché-like fixed repetition of old thoughts - it is a freshness of perception often unbounded by the constraints of logic. Patient endurance entails staying at something for long enough that learning could take place - Einstein remarked that he was not intelligent, but he just stayed with things long enough to understand them.
Barry Hofstetter wrote:Randall and I are not talking about this sort of range of competency. We are talking about a system in which there is very little real competency at all.
I'm a certified and reasonable experienced ESL/EFL teacher and work in that field. I feel confident about my competency in English, and can deliver an educational product suitable for the market.

I have, however, often commented about my own feelings about how poorly I know Greek (in comparison with English). I would not be able to score very highly at all in an all round competency test like IELTS (or TOEFL). IELTS is graded from "band 1" ("non-user") to "band 9" ("expert user"). If I were to sit an IELTS type test for Greek, I estimate that I would perhaps get Listening: band 4 or 4.5 (the higher one if read in Erasmian pronunciation), Reading: band 5 or 5.5 (Low because the test would not be limited to texts similar in content to the New Testament - if the texts were limited to ones very similar to the New Testament I would estimate that I might score 7.5), Writing: 3.5 or 4 (basic competence in familiar situations), Speaking: 2 (basic short sentences and formulaic phrases).
From that same Wiki article wrote:The nine bands are described as follows:
  • 9 Expert User Has full operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.
  • 8 Very Good User Has full operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.
  • 7 Good User Has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriateness and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.
  • 6 Competent User Has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
  • 5 Modest user Has partial command of the language, coping with overall meaning in most situations, though is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in own field.
  • 4 Limited User Basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in using complex language.
  • 3 Extremely Limited User Conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations.
  • 2 Intermittent User No real communication is possible except for the most basic information using isolated words or short formulae in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs.
  • 1 Non User Essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.
  • 0 Did not attempt the test No assessable information provided at all.
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Wes Wood
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Re: Competency of Teachers and Methodology

Post by Wes Wood » September 1st, 2014, 9:31 am

Stephen Hughes wrote: A teacher or textbook can really only prepare you for learning. In a skill based subject like reading, that means doing it.
I remember vividly a paper that I wrote for one of my graduate classes in which I made a comment along these lines. It is certainly true that teaching only takes place if learning occurs. In many ways I think the term "teacher" is understood apart from its necessary requirements.
Stephen Hughes wrote: Guidance is "obsolete" after learning has happened.
Or, perhaps, when a superior resource becomes available or information that was once learned is later forgotten. I rarely go back to my introductory chemistry books for information when I can access the constants or equations I need when I can access my copy of The Handbook of Chemistry and Physics from my phone.

I did not intend to kick a hornet's nest or imply that sound advice has not been given. I was intending to say, and my clarification contained in this thread was far from helpful (I am referring to my post my PM :)), that perhaps the forum should quantify some of the suggestions that have been offered and provide a basic roadmap for success. The exhortation to read carnivorously, for example, is wonderful advice, but a novice jumping into the pool would benefit from knowing which texts would be most appropriate to start with or better to leave alone. This is true from the classical period on down. If we can direct others to where these resources can be found for free online, so much the better.
I feel that questions like the one that spawned this thread could be anticipated and dealt with more effectively by having these types of resources permanently posted in the beginner's forum. As Stephen mentioned "learning moments need to be fostered." If we can provide even an imperfect roadmap for success or save someone a touch of frustration, we might convince someone who is thinking about learning Greek to become someone who is learning Greek.
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Re: Competency of Teachers and Methodology

Post by Wes Wood » September 1st, 2014, 5:52 pm

Edit: to my post NOT my PM.

There is a large difference!
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