Developing the professional practice of beginner second language teachers involves developing their capacity to teach a second language communicatively. In order to do this successfully beginner teachers need to understand, among other key aspects of communicative language pedagogy, how to teach grammar within a communicative approach. Often student teachers will have experienced a more traditional approach to second language teaching in their own schooling which will have involved a key focus on the explicit teaching of grammar in decontextualised exercises. The emphasis will have been on learning the grammar of the language in isolation with little emphasis on how grammar links to communication. With this extensive apprenticeship of observation, learning how the teaching of grammar fits into a communicative approach to second language teaching can be understood as a key threshold concept in the initial education of second language teachers. In my experience as a teacher educator I have found this aspect of the education of second language teachers to be one of the most challenging and troublesome concepts for beginner teachers.
This study will analyse reflections from 50 student teachers (completed in the years 2000 to 2011) on how their understanding of teaching grammar communicatively has developed over the course of the Post-graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). Each year as part of their assessment they complete a project on their teaching of either French, German, Irish, Spanish or Italian and included in this is a short reflection on how their understanding of this threshold concept has developed over the course of the PGDE programme. A particular focus will be on the triggers both theoretical and pratical which helped developed their understanding of teaching grammar communicatively. The interplay of theory, practice and reflection will be explored with a view to understanding how a threshold concept develops uniquely in the minds and teaching practices of individual beginner teachers.