IATEFL Belfast 2022: Work it out for yourselves – tasks to promote trainee agency when planning lessons – Melissa Lamb and Marie Willoughby

Mel and Ri are trainers at IH London.

This talk has come out of three or four years of working on flipped CELTA and Delta courses. All of the input happens on a platform at home, but planning and input happens in the school / online.

Planning workshops are one aspect of their flipped courses.

How do we help trainees plan?

  • How do you usually help trainees with their lesson planning?
  • What is your goal in this? Do you feel you usually achieve this goal?

As Ri said, it’s often a quite unsatisfying process for both trainees and trainers. We’re helping them with that lesson in that moment with that question.

What is a planning workshop?

When they first started doing this, it felt like supervised lesson planning, but for longer. Over time, they realised that the goal of this kind of workshop was actually To develop independent strategies for planning which trainees can use in the course and beyond. It gives them a way to find their own answers.

The strategies come from their experience of typical trainee puzzles which occur during the planning process. How do I…?

Strategy 1: working with a critical friend

What’s the role of a critical friend?

  • Questioning the assumptions made and seeing if they know why they’re doing it
  • Being someone other than the trainers to bounce ideas off
  • Giving support and reassurance

The role of being a critical friend needs to be set up with the trainees. You need to give them permission to probe, not just rubber stamp so they don’t feel they just have to say Yes, that’s great.

When we practised being a critical friend in a lesson planning workshop during the session, at the beginning we had no idea what we were doing but after a few minutes we worked out what questions we wanted to ask. We explored the areas connected to the lesson we thought might be important. When we had a question we couldn’t answer, we could bring it back to the tutor, who might ask us ‘What are the advantages of this approach? The disadvantages? Puzzle it out together and come back to me.’ The trainer might need to monitor and prompt the critical friend for more questioning, rather than making statements – see if you can explore it with them, rather than telling them what to do.

What trainees said about being a critical friend

Reflection questions for trainees

The first half of the workshop: give them a task like the one above.

The second half of the workshop: a reflection on the process and the strategy usage for lesson planning.

Here’s an example of the reflection prompts following the critical friend task:

  • List 4 questions or prompts you can ask learners in feedback.
  • List 3 ways that doing the task yourself helped you understand what will happen in the lesson.
  • List 2 things you got from doing the task with a critical friend.
  • Note down the most important thing you need to do when you’re planning your next lesson if you have this puzzle again.

They help trainees to realise there are other experts in the room, and they make the strategy explicit. During the feedback process, more questions come out about the task itself or about the strategy, and the trainers often find they do some input at this point.

Planning workshop structure

In week one of a CELTA course, they might all be working on the same strategy. In week two, they might be working on different strategies because they’re mastering different areas e.g. What do I put on the board? I don’t know how long this will take. I don’t understand this grammar.

The QR code has a link to a Google Doc with about 10 planning strategies and typical reflection questions. The url is http://tinyurl.com/3bmt8cur

Design your own strategy

Jo Stansfield and I came up with this:

Another group’s strategy was connected to pre-teaching vocabulary.

As a trainer, thinking about the strategy and the steps is the planning for the workshop.


Planning workshops like these:

  • Are more concrete than traditional planning sessions
  • Work on both the immediate needs of the CPs but also their long-term teacher practice
  • Encourage teachers to participate in a community of practice
  • Empower trainees to resolve their own puzzles
  • Allow trainees more agency when planning

Answers to questions

Being a critical friend seems difficult, so how do you support trainees in this role? Reassure trainees that they’re allowed to ask questions and are expected to ask questions, and that they don’t have to have all of the answers

How are critical friends assigned? They’re normally in pairs discussing the next day’s lesson. One person teaching today, one tomorrow work together. They change who they’re working with across the course.

If there’s a mismatch, can work with groups of 3. Have the trainee step in to demonstrate what might happen, but leave them with questions to puzzle over together. ‘Why don’t you write a list of situations when correction might happen, and decide what correction might happen in each situation?’

Trainees still come to the trainer to ask questions, but generally they work with each more. Ri said she felt like she was under less pressure during the course, and it feels much more satisfying.

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