Implementing language supportive pedagogy in teacher education: An ongoing CIRE research project

by Dr Angeline Barrett

The Language Supportive and Teaching and Textbooks (LSTT) in Tanzania is a collaboration between the University of Bristol, University of Dodoma and St. John’s University, Tanzania.  Now in its second phase, the main focus of the project is introducing language supportive pedagogies into secondary teacher education.  At Bristol, the project is led by Angeline Barrett, director of CIRE. Dave Bainton is a Research Fellow on the project.

Language in education in Tanzania

Like many postcolonial countries, Tanzania has a policy of using both an African language and English as medium of instruction in public education. Six years of primary education is delivered through the medium of Kiswahili. Kiswahili originated from coastal areas of East Africa and is not the lingua franca in metropolitan centres in Tanzania. Secondary education is only available in the medium of English. Students making the transition to secondary education, particularly those living in remote, rural or disadvantaged communities, have had very little exposure to English. The majority do not have the level of proficiency assumed by the syllabus (Barrett, Mtana, Osaki, & Rubagumya, 2014). Yet, when we analysed textbooks available on the market in 2013, we found many use long sentences and obscure vocabulary. Textbooks that have come onto the market since then are easier to read, in part due attention LSTT has drawn to the issue.

LSTT phase 1: developing language supportive materials

Between 2013 and 2016, we collaborated with the Tanzania Institute of Education to develop three prototype textbooks for first year of secondary education. The books incorporated features commonly found in modern foreign language textbooks into science, mathematics and English textbooks. These included English-to-Kiswahili; keeping sentences short and simple; images that support interpretation of the text; structured support for reading, writing and speaking in English; and attention to socio-cultural relevance for socioeconomically disadvantaged learners.

Evaluation of the textbooks in 16 schools found that teachers adopted one language supportive strategy quite readily – group discussion. Working in small groups, students discuss new ideas in their ‘thinking language’. This was usually Kiswahili, Kiswahili mixed with ‘broken English’ or Kiswahili mixed with a local language. The purpose of the discussion is to produce a formal scientific statement in English, which they write down and/or present to the class. This transformed the classroom climate. Within six to eight weeks, students who were initially reluctant to talk in class or to researchers in any language, gained the confidence to discuss their ideas and presenting in front of the class in English. Before and after assessments showed improved ability to write about science in English and an expanded academic vocabulary in English (Barrett & Bainton, 2016).

LSTT book pagePage from LSTT textbook

These findings sit alongside those of a sister project in Rwanda, led by Prof. Leon Tikly, which developed prototype language supportive textbooks for learners transitioning into English medium education following three years of education in Kinyarwanda. The Language Supportive Textbooks and Pedagogy (LAST) project found that children in schools using the textbooks scored on average 16% more in tests than their peers in control schools (Milligan, Clegg, & Tikly, 2016).

There are still challenges, however. Science teachers struggled to understand the language learning objectives or indeed the language demand of their subjects. Language teachers, however, understood the books’ objectives immediately and were often willing to support their colleagues. Science and mathematics teachers struggled to maintain pace when using interactive strategies, and so could not deliver content within the available time.

LSTT phase 2: integrating language supportive pedagogy into teacher education

The university-based textbook authors and researchers in Phase 1 were all teacher educators. It made sense, therefore, in Phase 2, to try putting language supportive pedagogy (LSP) into practice within teacher education programmes. So far, language supportive practices have been introduced into subject methodology (pedagogy) courses in the two Tanzania partner universities and in three teachers’ colleges. We are implementing this using an adapted version of lesson study. It involves collegial professional learning, collaboration between language and science specialists and peer observation.

At the end of October, I travelled to Tanzania to see how the teacher education component of the project was progressing and visited two of the teachers’ colleges – Butimba and Mpwapwa. The two colleges had started integrating both the theory and practice of language supportive pedagogy into their teaching. As with the schools in phase 1, the use of the discussion was the element of LSP taken up most readily, with benefits for student engagement, confidence to speak in English and an affirmative classroom climate. Tutors were devising and sharing creative ways to create space for discussion without sacrificing pace. This included strategies such as ‘think, pair, share’ and allocating different discussion questions to different groups. These are being implemented in large classes (60 – 240 students).  Language specialists were present in the classroom and gave explicit feedback on sentence structure and pronunciation; in the classrooms, a supportive climate was established within which mistakes were tolerated. This led to improved accuracy in use of English and, crucially, students gaining practice in English. At the University of Dodoma, tutors had also supported student teachers to implement language supportive pedagogies during their period of teaching practice in schools.


Angeline with tutors at Butimba Teachers College

The project is having a positive impact on teacher education already. Around 3000 student teachers are being introduced to the theory and practice of language supportive pedagogy and observations from teaching practice suggest that with quite modest support, they are then able to implement this within their own teaching. New collegial partnerships have been forged between science and language specialists within and across teacher education institutions. Through these, teacher educators are inspired and supported to innovate, try out and critically review new strategies. However, as we start a second cycle of lesson study collaboration in the two universities, we can also identify areas where we could improve practice further. Some points that I observed during the travels are:Use of group discussion needs to be supported with concise conclusions from tutors that clearly articulate key learning points;

  • Discussions are often oriented towards extracting theoretical information from a text. There is scope to make more use of collaborative learning for contextualised problem-solving;
  • More detailed and explicit content on secondary school students’ language proficiencies needs to be developed;
  • Student teachers need to be equipped with strategies for supporting secondary school students to read and write as well speak in English; and
  • There is potential within the project to develop and share teaching and learning resources that enable each of the above.

Implications for policy

Tanzania is currently at a crossroads, with the option of switching to Kiswahili medium education all the way through or remaining with the current policy. The purpose of the LSTT is to find ways to improve implementation of the policy as it is now being interpreted and implemented and not to explore other policy options. In phase one, we found a way forward for improving English medium of education. But it is one that is demanding of teacher expertise and depends on learning materials being placed in the hands of learners. Implementation requires careful planning and investment, including significant revision of the syllabus. Nothing in our research supports switching language of instruction midway through young people’s schooling career.


Barrett, A. M., & Bainton, D. (2016). Re-interpreting relevant learning: an evaluative framework for secondary education in a global language. Comparative Education, 52(3), 392-407. doi:10.1080/03050068.2016.1185271

Barrett, A. M., Mtana, N., Osaki, K., & Rubagumya, C. (2014). Language Supportive Teaching and Textbooks: Baseline Study Report. Bristol: LSTT.

Milligan, E. M. A., Clegg, J., & Tikly, L. (2016). Exploring the potential for language supportive learning in English Medium Instruction: A Rwandan case study. Comparative Education, 52(3).


We are grateful to the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE), which has and continues to fund this research.

Angeline M. Barrett is the Principal Investigator of the LSTT project and Director of CIRE. She has 17 years’ experience of research into improving the quality of primary and secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa.