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EL European Union: Making Progress In Poland

As the country sees an increase in the numbers of international students at its universities, Anna Rogalewicz-Galucka describes some innovative developments with Polish ELT. As everything changes around us, English language teaching does not remain static either. In Poland we have seen several new developments.

The live lessons that feature at the Iatefl Poland conferences are a unique opportunity for teachers to observe their colleagues (including some well-known teacher trainers) teaching groups of students. Visiting skilled colleagues as a means to improve our own skills is hardly a new idea – all kinds of professionals use classroom observation as a way to learn more and more deeply about their craft. Professional educators have been doing so for years. We hope that this form of workshop will become more and more popular among presenters and conference participants, not only in Poland.

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Students during the annual conference for English Teachers at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

Non-native teachers who do not feel comfortable with their own command of English can attend advanced lessons aimed at developing their language. Our conference has been the first teachers’ gathering to offer language development sessions for language teachers and to invite real students to live lessons.

If you look at the discussions online by people teaching English to young learners at Polish state schools, the most common topic is looking for materials to work with. The reason is that in 2014 the government introduced reforms – coursebooks are supplied by schools free of charge and are reusable. That means pupils borrow their coursebooks from the library for the whole school year and return them for other students to use next year. The coursebook is supposed to last three years.

As much as parents like the idea of not having to pay for coursebooks, the new rules present many challenges, especially for teachers. The main thing is that students are no longer allowed to write in the student books, which were adapted by the publishers. So for a gap-fill exercise there are no blanks but black blocks instead, so students are not able to write there. Instead they jot down the answers in their notebooks. There are resources available online but again most of them are not interactive at all. It is just like looking at a pdf file on your computer and not even being able to print it. The students have to do the digitally presented tasks in their notebooks.

Experienced teachers know how to work without a coursebook, but newly qualified teachers and those used to lessons following a regular coursebook are finding the reforms challenging and often frustrating. They were thrown into the deep end without any training provided upfront. Many started making their own materials, or printing worksheets from online sources.

There have been many interesting developments in the area of language teaching on the tertiary level of Polish education. Students finishing secondary school generally come to university with much better general English competence than in the past, so university language centres have modified their offer to meet the changed needs of students. That is why ESP has become the main focus of language education at the university level. Thanks to this new emphasis, students gain crucial language skills to make them more competitive in the jobs market, as knowledge of ESP is appreciated by employers.

At the same time the number of international students joining Polish universities is growing. This situation is good for our universities as they slowly become truly cross-cultural. Because of this university language centres have gained the new task of supporting teaching staff as far as professional language competences are concerned. At the same time these language centres often organise courses to help international students to bridge any gaps in their English language education, and by this enable them to take full advantage of what the universities have to offer.

The activity of Iatefl Poland also mirrors these changes, as ESP and Global Issues special interest groups have been set up, organising conferences and workshops which are a platform for experience-exchange and networking, both Polish and international.