Currently the country of Kazakhstan, once part of the former USSR, is the only nation of the former union, thus far, to create special schools for the gifted and talented student population.
These schools select and cater to the development of the nation’s future intellectual capital. To this end, the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS), are implementing international ‘Best Practices,’ along with experienced international English-speaking teachers, to ramp up student academic achievement levels and increase the number of students entering Nazarbayev University. I write this chapter to share our experiences which will hopefully enrich yours.
Kazakhstan is unique in its attempts to transition from a bilingual teaching and learning environment, to English as First Language. A major goal of the reform is to substantially increase the number of students who are able to attend Nazarbayev University, over previous years, where the language of instruction is in English. The six (6) international teachers at NIS Semey are from the United States, England and Canada.
At the beginning of the year, diagnostic tests were conducted to determine the linguistic ability, learning styles and math and science abilities of the students, so the proper strategies could be selected and applied by the team for all encompassing school support. Some of the most heavily employed strategies included:
- Individual student and group support
- EFL for IELTS
- ESP concept learning (biology, chemistry and math)
- Professional Development Workshops for NIS and local teachers, as well as the school management team
- Differentiated with emphasis on tasks and outcomes
- Modeling Good Teaching Practices
- English speaking clubs (topic-driven, e.g. Business Purposes)
- Web Design Club
- Writing competitions
- Plays (Pygmalion)
- African Week and Women’s Day (International dimension)
- Local language dimension with emphasis to other curriculum areas
- Project Based Learning
- Genotype and phenotype (local dimension)
- Textual math and application of statistics to explain select terminology (median, mean, range, etc.)
- ESL strategies (subject specific, e.g. lab report writing)
- Application of Bloom’s Taxonomy (especially evaluating and creating categories)
- Lesson Planning and Team-teaching in the higher grades (Kazakh/English, Russian/English, ESL English)
- Cooperative Learning Techniques (peer teaching, Jeopardy subject competitions)
- Critical Thinking (as a separate subject as well as subject-specific application of principles)
- Olympiad preparation (Competitions),
- Test-taking skills (online and paper, Study skills and Time Management skills) Graphic Organizers and Concept Maps
- SET and SAT Preparation
- Future Scientists Club
- Recycle Club
- Chess Club
- French Club
The international team carefully observed and noted the needs of both students and teachers, against the goals of the reform, and in agreement with the school’s administrative staff
and parents, employed best practice strategies deemed appropriate for this cultural and educational milieu and whose effectiveness could be measured and monitored. Careful monitoring and analysis of student achievement indicated when a change in a particular or several strategies may be needed. At several times during the year, the frequency of individual and group language practice increased, both in time and frequency. Memorization of vocabulary as a strategy was not emphasized, but rather understanding vocabulary in associative and demonstrative contexts, as most of the students are visual learners.
The team teaching strategy was heavily employed in all eight senior classes (half Kazakh and half Russian speaking), where the local teachers initially delivered the major concepts and ideas in the native language of the students. This was followed by high-ordered thinking questions and application activities from the international teachers. Team- teaching, as a pedagogical practice, is well documented in educational literature as an effective teaching strategy, especially for older students, transitioning to another language of instruction. Additionally, this strategy afforded the local teachers to more readily acquire greater contextual English terminology and observe a different teaching style. Also, it allowed the international teachers to observe local teacher practices and incorporate some of the local practices into their teaching style, and as a bonus, acquire Kazakh and Russian scientific terminology.
Two examples of tracking student progress against the strategies employed are shown below. This year, 2011- 2012, 100% percent of the students who took the SET biology exam passed. The January, 2012 baseline results demonstrated that the pedagogical strategies being employed were working, as the students were within 5 points of the passing SET grade. By March 2012, the class average was well above the passing SET grade by more than 20 points. The SET results, especially in biology, demonstrated that the strategies employed, worked effectively for this group of students.
Graph 1 of Table Data 1
Another measure of gauging the effect of having an English-speaking international teaching team in a school is to measure how rapidly students improve their English ability in the four IELTS categories of reading, writing, speaking and listening, against the baseline. The data in table 2 shows a 2.5 average gain (composite score) within the first three months of school. The next three baselines showed a less rapid rise in score, but an increase nonetheless. Students will continue taking IELTS exams to measure the improvement in their mastery of English and achieve the scores they desire, past the required passing score of 5.5. Several students are now preparing to take the SAT exams, which offer another level of academic challenge and rigor in English.
Additional strategies employed when appropriate:
Word Banks, Self-assessments, Projects
Brain Teasers Summarizing, and Note-taking Summaries,
Exit Slips Visual Aids Scaffolding,
Ticket out the Door Modeling Sequencing,
Gaps Mnemonics Transparencies,
Jumbled Summaries Read Aloud Word Associates
Listing Analogy Film Clips,
Matching Acronyms Pairs Worksheets,
Pop Quiz Cause-and-Effect Clustering, and
Hands-on Read Aloud Collaborative Learning
SET – Subject Entrance Test Brain
SAT – Scholastic Aptitude Test
ESP – English for Specific Purposes
ESL – English as a Second
EFL – English as a First Language
Loniece Wesbee Ningo is a biology teacher in the Nazarbayev Intellectual School in Semey, Kazakhstan in Central Asia. She also works on the chemistry
curriculum for the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools.
Read more about English as First Language