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.

Education for sustainability and the MFL classroom

Jennifer is a current MSc Education student at the Graduate School of Education. She is a languages teacher with a PGCE from KCL and has taught French and Spanish in the UK and French in Peru. In this post she argues for the inclusion of ‘Education for Sustainability’ in the languages classroom.

As a French and Spanish teacher I have long felt that education, and specifically Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) education, can and should be a force for positive change. Recent work on education and sustainability, as part of my Master’s study at the University of Bristol, has led me to believe that education for sustainability should have a place within the UK’s MFL curricula at secondary level. Here, I tell you why and consider some of the practicalities.

Education for sustainable development vs. education for sustainability

Jickling’s Why I don’t want my children to be educated for sustainable development (1992) rejects the idea of education for sustainable development (ESD), highlighting the ‘paucity of precision’ in the term sustainable development and pointing to the inconsistencies that some people see in juxtaposing the terms development and sustainable. It also problematizes the idea of educating for anything, stating that ‘the prescription of a particular outlook is repugnant to the development of autonomous thinking’. In recognition that ESD aligns with a development-centered view of the world as opposed to leaving room in which to debate issues such as whether development and sustainability are compatible, I am not advocating for the inclusion of ESD in the UK’s MFL curricula. However, I do not agree with Jickling’s claim that education should not be for anything; I feel it would be naïve to claim that secondary school teachers do not have some idea of how we hope our pupils will respond to certain issues. It is for this reason that I would advocate for the UK’s MFL curricula to include education for sustainability, defined by Wade in Journey’s around Education for Sustainability (2008) as ‘education helping to bring [sustainability] about’.

The importance of education for sustainability

Whilst it is true that ‘teachers know that their job is primarily to teach students how to think, not what to think’ (Jickling 2000), I feel it is important to acknowledge that all decisions regarding school curricula are a result of value judgments on the part of teachers. Our choice of subject material (if not prescribed by a manager or exam board) is certainly based on our own interests and worldviews, whether we acknowledge this or not. My argument for the inclusion of education for sustainability in the MFL GCSE and A-Level curricula is based on a desire to see young people consider environmental issues, and I believe that this is reasonable, provided room is left to ‘enable students to debate, evaluate, and judge for themselves the relative merits of contesting positions’ (Jickling 1992). After all, covering education for sustainability within the curriculum will lead to pupils who are knowledgeable enough to consider the issues facing our world and, ultimately, act upon them.

Education for sustainability in the MFL classroom

It is quite easy to move from a conviction that education for sustainability is positive, to a conviction that it should be incorporated into MFL curricula in the UK. I view MFL lessons as not just a place to learn the language studied, but a window into different countries or cultures. For me, reading about the Sahel drought in French, for example, or Spanish approaches to recycling, enables pupils to engage with environmental issues beyond their immediate experience and to actively think about the interconnectedness of the world. It is my belief that education can, and should, expand pupils’ horizons and create agents of change and that’s why I argue education for sustainability should have a place in the UK’s MFL curricula.

Example word cloud for use with students (created with

The practicalities of integrating education for sustainability into MFL teaching

So, if we accept that education for sustainability should be integrated into the UK’s MFL curricula, we must consider how. Currently environmental topics feature on the GCSE and A-Level syllabi of all main exam boards, providing space and time for the inclusion of education for sustainability in the classroom. The challenge facing MFL teachers is how environmental issues can be covered in a way that involves reflection on the state of the world as opposed to mere learning of vocabulary. For me, this is a challenge that can be met through careful planning, the use of authentic texts, videos and audio files to introduce new perspectives through the target language, and leaving space for pupil discussion.

Jickling, B. (1992). Viewpoint: Why I don’t want my children to be educated for sustainable development. The Journal of Environmental Education, 23(4), 5-8
Jickling, B. (2000). A future for sustainability? Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, 123, 467–476
Parker, J. and Wade, R. eds., (2008) Journeys around Education for Sustainability, London: Education for Sustainability Programme London South Bank University

Diversity in the Field: Masters Roundtable

EventCIRE Masters Dissertation Roundtable.  21 October 2016, 12.00 PM – 21 October 2016, 1.30 PM Room 1.20. 35 Berkeley Square, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1JA

At the recent CIRE Masters Dissertation Roundtable session, five Masters students exemplified the diversity found within the field of international and comparative education as they presented research submitted towards completion of their degrees. Representing five countries of origin (China, Dominican Republic, Malawi, the United Kingdom, and the United States), varying research methods (including desk studies, interviews, and action research), and even styles of presentation, they delivered their work to an audience of classmates and current postgraduate students, and faculty from CIRE and the Graduate School of Education. Despite this diversity, the speakers were bound by a common theme that each mentioned as an influence in their work, the advice of CIRE Professor Michael Crossley: “Context matters.”


Here, current Masters student Hannah Walsh  presents her reactions and commentary on the presentations.

The recent Masters Dissertation Roundtable event gave current students an engaging insight into the range and scope of research projects undertaken by last year’s cohort of students.

I was particularly interested by Betty Wisiki’s presentation on her research: ‘An exploratory analysis of the experiences of Deaf students in accessing higher education in UK universities.’

As a part-time Masters student, I am also working this year to coordinate a new outreach project, Bristol Classics Hub, for the Classics Department at the University of Bristol. This hub is designed to support state schools in introducing and developing their provision of classical subjects. A particular focus of my work on this project is to encourage the growth of Classics in state schools which have a high proportion of students from low socio-economic groups.

Betty’s discussion of the issues facing deaf students in higher education was therefore both challenging and surprising, in that it highlighted the extent to which deaf students are often underrepresented in the WP agenda. Her presentation has prompted me to consider how the outreach project that I am working on could provide more targeted and specific support to deaf or disabled students who may wish to access classical subjects.


Bowen, Laura, and Felipe pictured during the question panel.

The five speakers featured at the event included:

Bowen Xu: Globalisation and its impact on Chinese Higher Education Development: Opportunities, Challenges and Dilemmas.

Betty Wisiki: An exploratory analysis of the experiences of Deaf students in accessing higher education in UK universities.

Felipe Hernandez: An exploratory study on the “I am Me: Strong, Capable, and Peaceful” Summer Program: A pilot intervention program designed to strengthen self-esteem and perceived efficacy.

Laura Hankin: PREVENTing Critical Thinking: A study into the impact of the statutory Prevent duty 2015 on the development of critical thinking in young people in schools in England.

Nidia Aviles Nunez: Bridging the educational achievement gap in public school students of the Dominican Republic.

If you would like to contact the researchers individually, please contact Jane Nebe, CIRE Research Assistant.