Experiential Professional Development: Promoting Communicative Language Teaching with Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound Design

Open Access
Burke, Brigid Moira
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 14, 2005
Committee Members:
  • Sandra J. Savignon, Committee Chair
  • Celeste S Kinginger, Committee Member
  • Jamie Myers, Committee Member
  • James F Nolan Jr., Committee Member
  • professional development
  • Outward Bound
  • Expeditionary learning
  • communicative language teaching
  • foreign language teaching
  • world language teaching
  • experiential education
Experiential professional development (EPD) that has been integrated into the school day in World Language (WL) classrooms creates opportunities for teachers to learn to use a communicative approach to language teaching (CLT) through experience. CLT allows students to develop functional ability in the language through communication (Savignon, 2002). This model of EPD is a ten-week learning expedition, influenced by Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound (ELOB) design (Campbell et al., 1998, Cousins 1998). The course was offered by a major U.S. university to a local public school district in spring 2004. At school, four Spanish teachers collaborated with colleagues, students and the EPD consultant to design, teach and reflect on communicative activities implemented in classroom lessons. During the EPD course, the teachers’ classes were observed everyday. Immediately following EPD, classes were observed twice a week for three weeks, and again twice a week for three weeks in September, 2004 (five months after EPD). All observations were conducted by the researcher. To better understand what happened as a result of EPD, this study asked the following research questions: 1) To what extent, if any, does EPD affect teacher understandings of CLT? 2) What are the effects of ELOB design on EPD? 3) To what extent, if any, does EPD affect curriculum design in the teachers’ classrooms? 4) How is EPD perceived by WL teachers and administrators? Analysis of multiple data (fieldwork reports and reflection papers from teachers; teacher, student, administrator questionnaires; researcher’s fieldnotes from observations and meetings) through mixed methods provide evidence that an EPD experience of this kind allows teachers to stray away from more traditional WL methods focusing on grammar and translation. EPD teachers were able to provide classroom activities that demonstrated true understanding of CLT. During EPD, classroom teachers can gain knowledge and experience on effective methods, which may be old or new, in a way that they can apply to their classroom lessons, and they get credit for it. EPD with practicing classroom teachers may help to advance reform efforts in U.S. education not only in WL classrooms, but in all classrooms.