Why do teachers underestimate many students

Study: Many English teachers underestimate students

National Standard Ratings for English for 2019 found that 73 percent of middle school students and 31 percent of general secondary school students are failing to meet curriculum learning outcomes. Researchers at the Institute for English Studies at the University of Graz wondered why there is this gap in reaching the English language and whether the beliefs and practices of teachers could explain part of this difference.

Two questionnaire surveys

How do teachers rate their students 'ability to learn English, how do they rate their motivation to learn the language and the use of English in their students' everyday lives, and what are the language practices in the classroom? These were the central questions of two questionnaire surveys that were carried out under the direction of Elizabeth Erling in spring 2019 and 2020. Around 100 teachers from AHS and middle schools, the majority from Styria, took part.

"Significant differences" depending on the type of school

Although there were similarities between the results of the school types, “significant differences were found in the comparison of beliefs and teaching practices” between teachers at secondary schools and middle schools, according to the authors of the studies. The first big difference is that a large majority of high school teachers say that they think all or most of their students achieve English learning results for their school level - compared with just 30 percent of middle school teachers. The real educational standard tests would have shown a difference in learning outcomes across the two types of schools - but not as great as the one stated by the teachers.

Furthermore, high school teachers were also more positive about their students' language learning skills compared to middle school teachers, and they were more likely to believe that English helps their students develop a better sense of language. AHS teachers were significantly more likely to agree that their students enjoy learning English and that most or all are motivated to learn the language.

In addition, the more educators in both surveys believe that their students are motivated, the more they believe that the students will achieve the learning outcomes for English. "We conclude from this that positive attitudes of teachers contribute to better learning outcomes in English, and these thus vary within the two-tier education system - AHS vs. MS", summarized study director Elizabeth Erling.

High school teachers were overall more positive about their students speaking English outside of the classroom, while middle school teachers were less confident that their students use English in their free time. The majority of teachers in both types of schools also stated that they sometimes speak German in English classes, but there was a lower number among AHS teachers.

“Multilingual pedagogy” is rare

It is also interesting that the teachers of both types of schools do not believe that learning English supports German language acquisition. The use of “multilingual pedagogy” occurs rarely in both types of schools - multilingualism is therefore only used cautiously as a teaching resource, although this is suggested in both the AHS and MS curricula.

“Without a language as a basis, students fail. However, this language does not have to be German, ”emphasizes co-author Anouschka Foltz. Together with her colleagues Sandra Radinger and Melanie Wiener, who work at the Universities of Graz and Vienna, she demands a quick rethink: the promotion of language awareness has long been anchored in the curricula, but it is hardly taken into account in practice. “The children - and of course the teachers too - should recognize that multilingualism is something positive that is useful to them in school and beyond,” the scientist argues.

One “key”: improving training

For Erling, a “key” to improving the situation is the training of teachers. In seminars and workshops she works with student teachers and part-time teachers and tried to change their attitudes about the diversity and multilingualism of their students and to support them in seeing and using multilingualism as a learning resource.