Understanding CEFR

Damira AbdullaevaDamira Abdullaeva is looking into some facts about Common European Framework of Reference in foreign language teaching, learning and assessment.


My name is Damira Abdullaeva, I am teaching at a secondary school #240 (Tashkent, Uzbekistan) and I have been learning about the Common European Framework of Reference with my colleagues. I am writing this article because I would like to share my thoughts on theoretical and practical aspects of CEFR with other teachers.

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) has been adopted in our country in 2012 and later the National Educational Standards of Foreign Language teaching and learning were calibrated accordingly. Why we need CEFR is because it directs our teaching and learning to master a foreign language to be successful in the new era of globalization in education, science, economy, politics and social life. Education is becoming global and both students and teachers are able to pursue further education and academic careers throughout the world.

The English language taught in the past was highly theoretical focusing on grammar structures, i.e. cramming proverbial irregular verbs. However, it is necessary to teach students to use the language knowledge appropriately focusing on all the skills required for effective communication. This is where CEFR comes in handy, as it is the most widely used set of foreign language educational standards throughout the world that give the guidance of what to teach and how teaching can be organized.
Looking at the history of the CEFR for languages, as a document it was developed in 2001 by a Council of Europe (a political party) to promote transparency and coherence in teaching and learning modern languages in Europe. But the actual work started back in 1971. So if you can imagine, CEFR is 44 years old and has undergone many “life experiences and it has travelled a lot”. CEFR is the result of work of thousands of teachers and researchers who established detailed description of language proficiency at different levels. The Framework was officially published in almost 40 languages across Europe and beyond. Teachers from many countries use CEFR as a reliable way to compare curricula, the assessment and the qualifications.
I hope that the information above gives some basic information and ideas about CEFR and now it is time to look at the standards from the practical perspective. It is obvious that the National Standards (they have been calibrated towards CEFR) should be used as a guiding document that will encompass teaching and learning in the classrooms in all corners of our country. First, it is important that teachers are given access to the standards as a document and they familiarise themselves with the content. There are many ways how a teacher can use the document, for example to design assessment such as tests or course works, to work on a curriculum and syllabus, to consider learning and teaching materials. But what is in focus of this article is the principle of alignment in teaching and learning which if not followed may result in ineffectiveness and meaningfulness of your work. This principle dictates that learning that happens in the classroom must be aligned with the required standard.
In essence, the standard is a collection of clearly written learning aims and outcomes that students must achieve and demonstrate by end of a certain period of study. Let’s try to look at the example of B1 reading comprehension rubric. The standard says that a student should be able to read straightforward factual texts on subjects related to the field and interest with satisfactory level of comprehension. This statement can and should be transformed into the set of more detailed statements that should be made clear and measurable for the classroom use of teachers and students. Every lesson planning should start with this exercise. By the way, it is important to mention that students will benefit a lot if they are introduced to the learning aims and outcomes. You can write learning outcomes in a very simple language on the board and explain to students what will be the results of their study. If you do it on a constant basis, your students will get used to be more disciplined and more concentrated on what will happen during the class. This is called the principle of transparency and in many books on teaching you will find this recommendation as the characteristic of effective teaching. So, when you formulate the learning outcomes for the class that you will teach, it helps you to choose the right materials and the format of teaching. Let’s try to work with the statement from above (see in bold).
Here are the learning outcomes that can be formulated from this aim. (Please note that the outcomes may be different for different contexts depending on what has been studied before, level of students language expertise and other factors.

Learning outcome 1. Students will be able to read the text with up to 20 percent of unknown vocabulary of no more than 200 words (about 4 paragraphs).

Learning outcome 2. Students will be able to understand the overall meaning of the text about their interest without using the dictionary.

Learning outcome 3. Students will be able to discuss the text with the group and express their own opinions.

When the outcomes are articulated, it is time to choose the material that must be aligned towards the outcomes. A text can come from the core text book or these days many teachers use internet or other supplementary materials to search for the reading resources. Note that the text should meet the requirements from the learning outcome one and you cannot exceed the length or the number of unknown vocabulary. It is important to remember that a pre-reading activity should be planned to introduce the unknown vocabulary.
To achieve learning outcome two students may be given tasks about the text that will encourage them to understand the meaning from the context and students will be taught how to avoid using dictionary.
To properly plan teaching for the learning outcome three a teacher should involve students in discussions or other interactive activities, debates, for example, that will require students to express their opinions about the text through authentic communication.
This is how the standard can help to align the learning outcomes with the learning that happens in the classroom.
This is just one example of how to use the standards and I want to continue sharing the practical suggestions in the next volume. Please write to me to share your impressions of (1) how useful you find this article and (2) to ask your questions that can help me shape my further exploration.

Taken from ALT FL №1 2015

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