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New Forms of Qualification Upgrading at the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute

Svetlana Kurmaeva

E.G. Azimov and N. V. Kulibina

The framework of upgrading RSL teachers' qualifications virtually ceased to exist as part of the public education system in Russia, the CIS and the Baltic states in the 1990s. A lack of government support resulted in shrinking financing with planning in this continuous learning component terminated and the requirement mandating RSL teachers to upgrade their qualifications every five years dropped.

It is noteworthy, that the Russian Federation currently lacks uniform educational standards and regulatory acts which could, to a varying degree, regulate and coordinate the contents and forms of RSL teachers' qualification upgrading and professional retraining (except for setting the required classroom hours: 72 and 360 for qualification upgrading and no less than 500 hours for professional retraining).

Today, the world is witnessing a fundamental change in the objectives of, conditions for, and contents in teaching Russian as a second language, which necessitates creating new syllabi and curricula and new learning materials to meet today's needs.

The new educational standards and tests play a positive role in the unification of objectives and learning contents. However, it should be emphasized that many organizational issues facing the higher educational institutions remain unresolved, i.e. the attainment level of foreign students, the student/teacher ratio, the groups' unstable composition, etc.

We have been witnessed two opposite processes: one the one hand, the RSL chairs at many higher educational institutions have either been shut down or suffered dramatic faculty layoffs due to the declining foreign student enrollment. On the other hand, the students started targeting new specialities and new regions, so the educational institutions (even in such cities as Archangelsk, Vladivostok and Murmansk), which have hitherto had very few or no foreign students, need to set up departments and chairs for teaching Russian as a second language and they hire foreign language teachers and Russian school teachers for the job.

The following issues, among other, become immediately manifest: the professors are not well versed in the RSL methodology, while a lack of teaching literature is compounded by challenges in organizing the learning process. Some chairs lack scientific and methodological literature, requisite documents, etc. Hence, a growing interest displayed by the faculty, the HE institutions' leadership and other educational bodies in various forms of qualification upgrading and retraining.

In the new environment for learning and teaching Russian as a second language, an advanced framework of RSL teachers' qualification upgrading and retraining has been taking shape at Russia's leading higher education institutions over the last few years with extensive positive experience accumulated at the RUDN (See, for example, a collection of articles Traditsii i Novatsii v professionalnoy deyatelnosti prepodavatelya PKI, M., 2002).

The new system of qualification upgrading for Russian RSL teachers should be designed with due account taken of the following factors: the changed status of and incentives to study Russian, a shrinking foreign student enrollment at the higher educational institutions, emergence of new learning venues (for example, distant learning), etc. But, most importantly, it should be geared toward the teachers' actual interests, needs and capabilities.

For example, practical experience shows that very few faculty members can attend three-month courses which have been the key qualification upgrading scheme at the Lomonosov Moscow State University, the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute (PSRLI), the Russian Peoples' Friendship University (RUDN) and other learning institutions.

A unified system of qualification upgrading of Russian and foreign RSL1 teachers has been taking shape lately at the PSRLI's Qualifications Upgrading Department.

A unifying component of the advanced qualification upgrading system is, in our view, the flexible curricula, comprised of:

  • Basic courses in a Russian language teaching methodology and a description of Russian for learning purposes as well as in Russian literature and Russia's regional geography;
  • Specialized courses - covering linguistic and didactic as well as philological matters.
  • Master classes (or specialized seminars) which include demonstration classes followed by analysis and discussion.

Variable syllabi designed on the concentric circles principle are a second significant component of the unified qualification upgrading system. The PSRLI has developed new curricula and published a number of new syllabi for trainees from Russia, the CIS and the Baltic countries.

The flexible curricula and variable syllabi enable to act promptly, taking into account the needs and potentialities of specific groups of professors/trainees in terms of their professional interests (their target audience and the courses taught) as well as the time frames and venues (at the PSRLI premises or roll-out seminars in other cities) for qualification upgrading or retraining courses.

Practical experience clearly shows that short-term courses and seminars are becoming the key format for teacher qualification upgrading.

In 2002, the PSRLI launched two-week courses for RSL professors of the HE institutions of Russia, the CIS and Baltic countries. A part of the qualification upgrading system, the 72-classroom-hours courses were offered in June 2002 and February 2003 attracting over 80 professors who came from RF higher educational institutions as well those from Kirghizia, Kazakhstan and the Baltic countries.

Russia's attendees came from a variety of regions: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Archangelsk, Belgorod, Voronezh, Irkutsk, Kaliningrad, Kemerovo, Kursk, Nyzhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Penza, Perm, Tula, Ulan-Ude, etc. For many, it was the first-ever qualification upgrading course, while some others had attended one ten years earlier. Many ideas and methodological approaches, well known in the Moscow HE institutions, were unfortunately entirely new for some attendees.

This is easy to explain: professional interaction has been reduced to a minimum, while the scientific and methodological literature, published on a limited scale, is hardly available. The so-called city methodological associations of teachers and the professors' regional meetings are now a thing of the past. Incidentally, it turned out to be somewhat of a challenge to compile a list of the higher educational institutions which have RSL chairs and professors. We disseminated information about our courses, but had to follow up with telephone calls, check the addresses, etc.

The program we elaborated embraces various teaching formats - lectures, master classes, roundtable discussions, meetings, etc. We sought to take into account the professors' professional interests, most topical issues in teaching and describing Russian as a foreign language, as well as current publishing policies in the RSL area.

The lectures were delivered by:

A. A. Leontiev, RAS Academician, Doctor of Psychological and Philological Sciences;
V. G. Kostomarov, RAS Academician, Doctor of Philological Sciences;
V. I. Annushkin, full professor, Doctor of Philological Sciences;
N. D. Burvikova, full professor, Doctor of Philological Sciences;
Yu. E. Prokhorov, full professor, Doctor of Pedagogical Sciences;
N. A. Mets, full professor, Candidate of Pedagogical Sciences and others.

June 2002 saw a launch of master classes - a new format of learning-process interaction in qualification upgrading. The master class is one where the trainer, in addition to explaining theoretical linguistic and didactic material, demonstrates specific methods and techniques, teaching the attendees to use them. The attendees of the seminars held at the PSRLI and roll-out qualification upgrading sessions in Russia and abroad greatly appreciated this format.

The master classes in June 2002 and February 2003 were taught by:

E.G. Azimov, full professor, Doctor of Pedagogical Sciences;
N. V. Kulibina, full professor, Doctor of Pedagogical Sciences;
E. L. Mukhanov, docent, Candidate of Philological Sciences;
L. V. Frolkina, docent, Doctor of Pedagogical Sciences and others.

The course program included meetings with S. Yu. Remizova, Candidate of Pedagogical Sciences, the editor-in-chief at the Russkii Yazyk. Kursy Publishing House and A. V. Golubeva, candidate of Philological Science, the editor-in-chief at Zlatoust. The course attendees learned about the publishing plans and new teaching, scientific and methodological literature (which was sold at the venue at the publishers' prices), made suggestions, etc.

The meeting with V. G. Kostomarov, RAS Academician and the MAPRYaL's President elicited great interest among the trainees. The discussion covered the issues of the Russian language functioning in today's world, the processes under way in Russian which we are witnessing as well as the standard-setting or reforming the language.

The trainees displayed keen interest in the RSL Modern Textbooks and Teaching Aids seminar and the roundtable discussion (held by full professor E. G. Azimov). The Institute's Methodological room, the roundtable's venue, featured an exhibition of modern literature on teaching the Russian language. The authors of the textbooks, teaching and student aids participated in the discussion - V. V. Molchalovsky (PSRLI), V. V. Dronov (RUDN), A. N. Bogomolov (Moscow State University), E. B. Avdeeva (The Bauman Technical University) and others. The participants offered their critique of the new textbooks, exchanged views on the prospects and potentialities for publishing new Russian textbooks.

In February 2003, we made an attempt to include demonstration lessons taught by the Institute's faculty members in the training program. Unfortunately this failed to work out as intended, primarily due to the action's wrong timing: during the first week of the term with some trainees still to arrive and some groups just about to start classes. It is worth mentioning that some demonstration lessons failed to get a positive assessment. Possibly, if the professors had met with the trainees before the demonstration classes to elaborate on the audience's profile, the classes' aims, etc., this would have eliminated a part of the trainees' questions.

The courses were followed by awarding state-standard Certificates and a wrap-up discussion. At the final meeting - with Yu. E. Prokhorov, the Institute's Rector, and N. D. Burvikova, the Vice Rector for Studies and Research, among the attendees - the trainees offered their critique of and suggestions for arranging the short-term qualification upgrading.

1. It makes sense to screen the applicants and stream the trainees on the basis of their RSL teaching experience, professional interests, etc. For there were beginner faculty as well as those with many years of experience at that particular course.


For individuals who want to study at our qualification upgrading courses: A seminar for teachers with long RSL-teaching experience, teaching process administrators, etc. will be offered in June 2003.

February 2004 - Courses for Russian teachers with up to 5 years of practical experience will be offered.

We recommend foreign language teachers willing to obtain specialization Russian as a foreign language and its teaching methodology to enroll at our professional retraining courses (September- October 2003 and February-April 2004).

2. The trainees should be allowed to select the lectures and master classes.


At the June 2002 seminar, we allowed the trainees to choose courses in order to take into account their interests, to the highest degree possible and at the same time to enable them to meet more professors from our Institute. The trainees sharply criticized this practice pointing out that they wanted to attend ALL courses: in their view, the need to select classes created confusion and turmoil, for they had to rush from one classroom to another in order to hear and learn everything).

3. There is a need to prepare the trainees for comprehension of the complicated lectures with extensive information, since some trainees are not familiar with these issues (for example, modern theory of exercises or speech pragmatism). For this purpose to make more extensive use of handouts, visual aids and give recommended literature lists in advance.

4. The purely theoretical lectures should be discontinued as, from the trainees' standpoint, they are not a requisite component of such studies. Courses, lectures, master classes and seminars primarily covering specific training issues should be included in the short-term qualification upgrading.

5. To organize demonstration classes taught exclusively by the best professors, for some trainees are not interested in watching standard classes taught by traditional methodology.

The trainees identified, in the wrap-up discussion and the questionnaires, the methodology areas of most interest to them:

  • Teaching Russian as a foreign language to children and RSL children's textbooks;
  • Methodology of teaching groups composed of students with different attainment levels, etc.,
  • Integrated teaching of regional geography and the language and some other areas.

They asked for special attention to be paid to the administration of the foreign students' training process: curricula, syllabi, calculation of the professors' workload, administration of supervision, organization of individual and extra-mural activities, etc. The HE institutions frequently set up their own norms of work with foreigners, which do not always reflect the true time and effort put in by the RSL professors or fail to take into account the specifics of such work.

It is noteworthy, that the organizers encountered challenges as well: some trainees' participation in class work was insufficient. For example, the attempts to actively engage the trainees in the roundtable discussions and certain master classes failed. The answers to the course performance questionnaires were, in many cases, rather scant.

One more challenge was the trainees' varying training level - from beginner assistants to chair heads with extensive experience. The organizers attempted to do a preliminary screening and stream them along different paths in terms of timelines and training contents but failed due to a both objective and subjective reasons.

The course organizers will strive to take into account all the above comments and suggestions in organizing the subsequent courses to be offered this June.

The enrollment to the short-term PSRLI approved by the RF Ministry for Education will hopefully be increased in 2004. This will enable the Institute to accept more non-fee-paying professors from Russia's public higher educational institutions.

Overall, the program was appreciated and many kind words went - at the final session and the questionnaire responses - to the lecturers, professors who taught the master classes and the course organizers.

We are grateful to all the participants to the first two short-term courses held in June 2002 and February 2003, which expressed their kind appreciation of our efforts, and wish to repeat the sentence we came across in one of the questionnaires: "Thank you for the pleasure of being with you!"

1 Obrazovatelnye uslugi FPK gGosIRYa im. Pushkina, Moscow, 2002.

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