IATEFL Belfast 2022: ‘Just be funny!’ Helping trainees develop rapport and engagement – Joanna Stansfield

Joanna is a trainer at IH London.

Joanna’s brother recently did a course which focused on:

  • Planning and scripting
  • Noticing language, analysing language, using language
  • Focus on delivery: emphasis and prominence: pausing, volume
  • Set-up, presentation, build to a point/outcome/result
  • Constant monitoring of response, involvement, looking for signs from the ‘audience’
  • Managing stress, performance

This was to become a stand-up comedian. This made Joanna reflect on the connections between this and teaching. Does rapport mean making people laugh? Is this how we judge the success of our lessons?

How do we – experienced teachers – create rapport?

Interaction / affective features

  • Names – learning names, using them, putting names on the board so everybody can learn them
  • Role adjustment: lack of hierarchy / barriers
  • Natural interaction and follow up questions to show care and empathy
  • Sense of humour, gentle mocking, sharing jokes, self-deprecation on the part of the teacher
  • Group dynamic: encourage students to learn about each other, vary interactions, cross-class pin-pointing to find common ground

Lesson design

  • Adapt coursebook to create relevance and connection
  • Warm-ups and lead ins
  • Language work = make reference to what SS have said, use their countries, life in London
  • Making use of their own lives e.g. photos on their phones
  • Mingles, information sharing

Why do trainees sometimes struggle with rapport?

  • Perception of the teacher role – what does a teacher actually do? They picture the teacher as being the knower in the room imparting knowledge to the learners. This can be a challenge to break down.
  • Lack of attentional resources – there are too many other things to think about. Mercer and Dornyei: ‘Getting caught up in the mechanics of teaching and forgetting about the learners in the room’
  • Devotion to the plan / wedded to the coursebook
  • Personality? Is it natural? Is it style over substance?
  • Lack of understanding of what it is, and level-appropriateness (e.g. complicated jokes at A1 level)
  • Lack of awareness of its importance – ‘my job isn’t about being funny’. ‘Rapport is important’ but we don’t necessarily say how or why.
  • Misguided application
  • Time – not enough time in the plan, prioritising language work over communicative tasks; time in our courses – do we have time to devote sessions to rapport and engagement? Balancing it with everything else we need to cover

Raising awareness of rapport and the importance of it

Joanna has been working on setting it up on day one, and creating that dynamic from the beginning of the course. They start with lots of activities to reduce stress levels at the beginning of the course. Then they reflect on what they’ve done: Do you feel there’s a good classroom atmosphere in the room now? They come up with the criteria – what did they do during the day to create this positive atmosphere?

  • Making a connection between what’s int he room and the world around them
  • Variety
  • Groupwork, pairwork
  • Small, achievable tasks
  • Activity

What’s the difference between when you walked into the room (nervous) and now (slightly less nervous!)?

Why did this help?

  • A safe space
  • Inclusive
  • Collaboration
  • Relaxes everyone
  • More open to learning
  • Level of trust in the room that might not have been there initially

This then became their criteria for developing rapport with the students. They incorporated it into observation and self-reflection tasks. They had to tick what they felt they’d achieved within the lesson.

Creating time and space: collective responsibility

It’s not just one person’s responsibility on the course. Joanna encouraged them to create learner databases. At the end of each session, the trainers would leave the classroom and the trainees would add all of the information they’d learnt about the students during that lesson. This database was added to after every TP, and over time they built up a lot of information about the students. This provided information for the Focus on the Learner assignment too.

Another way of creating time and space is unassessed practice. It’s vital in allowing the trainees to make connections with the learners without feeling under pressure. Joanna has experimented with doing it daily – 15-20 minutes of student feedback at the end of each lesson, where trainees discuss lessons and activities with the learners. They could then use this information to plan the next lesson.

I felt much more comfortable teaching them as I knew a little bit about each of them.

I saw the students as people.

By making the students the focal point, we are better able to teach to the student’s strengths. For example, getting to know your students where/when possible and incorporating their personal interests or personalising the course materials.

Trainee comments

This conversation and database happened after the lesson and before tutor feedback, which meant that tutor feedback was then driven by the learners. Not ‘Did I do OK?’ But ‘Esme didn’t understand me when I said x. Why is that?’

Putting the knowledge into practice: planning

In one input session, trainees drew the faces of the learners in the group. They looked at the topic of the lesson. They had to design ways that they could get the learners involved in that discussion. Trainees changed their perspective: teaching individuals within a group, rather than a whole group. Planning became easier rather than more difficult, as they were thinking about the people in the room.

Incorporating knowledge into the lesson plan

Joanna added a motivation and engagement section to the lesson plan. Here’s one example of what a trainee wrote:

As a logical extension of this, differentiation started to appear in the lesson plan, and trainees started to comment on how they would work with this.

Advice from trainees

This is what trainees on this course commented on at the end – ideas for building rapport. It’s quite a similar list to what the experienced teachers commented on at the start.

Summary

  • Address rapport explicitly – co-create criteria with trainees, so they all feel they can build it
  • Establish it as criteria via paperwork
  • Collective responsibility
  • Focus on the learners in feedback
  • Visualisation and differentiation
  • Discuss humour – what is it?

This all creates care, which led to investment in what they were learning, which led to more care. This group enjoyed working with these learners so much that they’ve continued volunteering to teach this group of learners.

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