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Designing teacher development workshops: key design principles for planning training workshops for in-service teachers (guest post)

I found Lauren Perkins’ IATEFL 2019 talk incredibly useful, and it’s already inspired changes in the way I run workshops, something I’ll be blogging about soon. Before I shared what I’d done, I asked Lauren to write this post summarising her design principles for effective in-service workshops. Thanks for agreeing to do it Lauren!

At IATEFL Liverpool 2019, I delivered a session on ‘Designing Teacher Development Workshops’. The 45-minute workshop was designed in the same way that I would design any other workshop: following a set of key design principles and including some experiential learning activities, with the intention of practising what I was preaching.

Some background: The problem with workshops

When I first read Simon Borg’s blogpost on Workshops and Teacher Change in 2016, I had just spent the previous 4 years working as a teacher trainer on workshop-based teacher development courses in Thailand. Borg highlighted the “inherent limitations of workshops”: the assumption that by simply increasing teacher awareness and knowledge, teachers will change what they do in the classroom. He argued that such sessions rarely promote teacher change. After reflecting on my own workshops, I came to agree with him. This led me to read more about workshop design, with the aim of finding out how to make workshops more effective. I found that four principles emerged, which I then matched to different activities. When I design workshops now, I try to include at least one practical activity that follows each of the four principles. I’ll go into some of the ideas behind each of the four principles and then describe in more detail the practical activities related to each principle below, but first here is a summary:

Design principles Practical activities
1.    Draw on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs – Find Someone Who- Blind needs analysis

– Brainstorming

– Pair discussion

– Needs analysis survey

– KWL grid

2.    Provide opportunities for collaboration and dialogue – Discussion tasks

– Mind-mapping

– Jigsaws

3.    Include experiential learning and teaching practice – Microteaching

– Video observation

– Demonstration

– Loop input

4.    Promote reflection, contextualisation and follow-up – Reflection questions

– Action points

– Adaptation ideas

– Peer observations

Principle 1: Draw on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs

If a workshop is for in-service practising teachers, then all participants will come to the session with prior knowledge, experience and beliefs about teaching. As Borg stresses in his blogpost, it is important to recognise this existing knowledge and experience before teachers engage with new ideas. Participants are more likely to accept new teaching concepts if their prior knowledge and experience is acknowledged.

Depending on the context of the workshop (i.e. school, conference, training centre etc.), the trainer might not know anything about participants’ backgrounds. For example, as my workshop on ‘Designing Teacher Development Workshops’ was held at an international conference, I had no idea who would be attending, what they already knew about workshop design, or their experiences of delivering workshops. It was necessary, therefore, to find out this information at the beginning of the workshop. Here are some practical activity ideas for drawing on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs:

Find Someone Who

Create a short Find Someone Who activity that includes specific descriptions about participants’ experience, knowledge and beliefs related to the content of the workshop. Participants mingle and find someone who matches each description. For example, this is the worksheet I designed for my workshop:

has delivered a workshop to teachers before, knows what 'microteaching' is, knows what 'loop input' is, thinks that workshops impact what teachers do in the classroom

Blind needs analysis

Ask all participants to close their eyes at the beginning of the workshop. Ask them a couple of questions to find out their existing knowledge or experience. e.g. “Put your hand up if you have delivered a workshop before”, “Put your hand up if you know what microteaching is”. By making the needs analysis ‘blind’, participants will hopefully feel comfortable putting their hands up and you will be able to quickly find out more about their prior experience, knowledge and beliefs.

Brainstorming

Put participants into small groups and do a quick 3-minute brainstorm on everything they know about the topic of the workshop. For example, if the workshop topic is ‘Games for young learners’, ask groups to brainstorm games they already know.

Pair discussion

Give participants two or three questions about their prior knowledge, experience and beliefs to discuss in pairs. For example, if the workshop is on ‘Using songs in the classroom’, you could ask participants to discuss the following questions:

  • Have you ever used songs in the classroom? If so, when and how?
  • How do you think songs can be used for helping students learn English?

Needs analysis survey

Write 10 needs analysis questions on strips of paper and stick them on the wall around the room. e.g. ‘How long have you been teaching?’, ‘What do you find most difficult about teaching?’ etc. Participants walk around the room on their own, read the questions and think about their own answers. Ask each participant to take one question each (if there are more than 10 teachers then put them into pairs) and ask them to survey the whole group by asking each participant the same question and noting down their answers. Participants summarise the results visually (i.e. in a chart or graph) and display them for the whole group to see in a gallery walk.

KWL grid

At the beginning of a workshop, ask participants to create a grid with three columns: what they know (K), what they want to know (W), what they have learned (L). Participants complete the first two columns and then return to the third column at the end of the workshop. (Sandy gave me this idea – thanks Sandy!) [and I learnt it from a previous IATEFL, so thanks to whoever that was!]

Principle 2: Provide opportunities for collaboration and dialogue

Teachers will not only learn about teaching from the trainer, but also (perhaps even more so) from each other. By giving workshop participants the opportunity to discuss, question and share ideas with their peers, there will be more opportunities for them to learn from each other. There is always time in a workshop for a 5-minute discussion; at the beginning to share what they know, in the middle to check their understanding, or at the end to relate the topic to their own teaching context. After all, workshops should involve audience participation in order to distinguish them from talks and presentations. Here are some ideas for making workshops more collaborative.

Discussion tasks

Ask participants to work in groups and complete simple tasks that promote discussion. For example, ask participants to rank or categorise ideas related to the workshop topic and discuss their opinions at the same time. e.g. ‘Rank the qualities of a teacher from most to least important’.

Mind-mapping

Put participants into small groups and ask them to create a mind-map of a topic. Give each participant a different role in the group to help with collaboration e.g. a ‘writer’, a ‘dictionary’, and a ‘designer’.

Jigsaws

Divide participants into groups and give each group a different text related to the workshop topic to read / summarise / brainstorm their own ideas. Regroup participants so that at least one participant from each original group is in a new group. In their new groups, participants take it in turns to share what they have read / summarised / brainstormed to other group members. [Here’s how to set up a jigsaw activity if you’re not sure how to do it.]

Principle 3: Include experiential learning and teaching practice

There are clear similarities between teacher-learners in the training room and learners in the classroom. As Tessa Woodward points out in her book Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training [Amazon affiliate link], teacher development activities should “capitalise on the parallels between trainees and students”. During workshops, we should let participants experience the same processes they are supposed to use in their own classrooms. This will make it more likely that they will transfer what they have learned from a training context to a teaching context.

Even if there isn’t enough time for teaching practice in a short 45-minute workshop, there should be time for a quick demonstration of a classroom activity related to the topic of the workshop. If you’ve ever been a participant in one of my workshops, you’ll know I’m a big fan of loop input activities. Although such activities in the training room can get a bit tiresome (and a bit too ‘meta’), some workshop topics just lend themselves to loop input. It would be a shame, for example, to deliver a workshop on Task-Based Learning without any tasks! Here are some practical ideas for including experiential learning and teaching practice in workshops:

Microteaching

Participants practise teaching in a roleplay-type activity in which some participants are teachers and some are students. For example, if the topic of the workshop is ‘Giving instructions’, participants could practise setting up an activity in groups of five: one participant is the ‘teacher’ and four participants are the ‘students’.

Video observation

Show participants a short video clip of a teacher in the classroom. For example, if the workshop is on ‘Storytelling’, ask participants to watch a video of a teacher telling a story in the classroom and make notes on the storytelling techniques he/she uses.

Demonstrations

Ask participants to pretend to be students and demonstrate an activity. For example, for a workshop on ‘Communicative activities’, you might want to demonstrate a ‘running dictation’ activity using texts that you would also use with a class of students.

Loop input

Participants do an activity in the same way as described in the ‘demonstration’ above, but with the content and the process aligned. For example, to make the ‘running dictation’ a loop input activity (rather than a demonstration), use texts that describe ‘how to do a running dictation activity’ instead of texts that you would use with a class of students. 

Principle 4: Promote reflection, contextualisation and follow-up

Another way to encourage participants to transfer ideas from the workshop to their own teaching context is to promote reflection and follow up. Workshops should help teachers to reflect on their practice and relate the content of the workshop to their own context. By including a follow-up activity for teachers to complete when they are back in their classrooms, we can encourage them to put ideas into practice. In this way, teachers are less likely to go back to their classrooms and forget everything that they have learned in the workshop. Here are some ways of promoting reflection and follow-up: 

Reflection questions

Give participants two or three questions to reflect on at the end of an activity or workshop. For example, after a ‘running dictation’ activity, write the following questions on the board:

  • Did you enjoy the activity? Why (not)?
  • Could you do this activity with your students?
  • How could you adapt this activity?

Action points

Ask participants to choose one activity from the workshop to try with their students when they go back to their classrooms. Ask them to specify which activity, how they will adapt it, when they will try it and who they will try it with.

Adaptation ideas

After each workshop activity, always ask participants to brainstorm how the activity can be adapted for their teaching context. For example, ask participants how to adapt the activity for large classes / low-level learners / different topics etc.

Peer observations

Encourage participants to set up a peer observation, ideally with a co-worker who also attended the workshop. Having someone else observe their teaching will make them more accountable for completing their action points and will encourage post-workshop reflection.

Reflection

To conclude the workshop on workshops, of course there had to be some reflection.

I asked the participants to think about their training contexts and discuss these questions:

  • Could you incorporate any of the practical ideas into your context?
  • How could you adapt these ideas for your training context?
  • Decide on one action point.

Thanks to everyone who came to my session. I would love to hear from you if you have tried out any of these practical ideas in your own workshops. If you have your own ideas on how to design effective workshops, please share them here.

References and further reading

Borg, S. 2016. ‘Workshops and Teacher Change’. Simon Borg’s blog. http://simon-borg.co.uk/workshops-and-teacher-change/

Graves, K. 2009. ‘The Curriculum of Second Language Teacher Education’ in Burns, A. and   Richards, J. (eds.) The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]

Hayes, D. 1995. ‘In-service teacher development: some basic principles’. ELT Journal 49/3

Woodward, T. 1991. Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training: Loop Input and Other Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]

Woodward, T. 2003. Loop input. ELT Journal 57/3. https://academic.oup.com/eltj/article-pdf/57/3/301/1187562/570301.pdf

Lauren Perkins is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, currently based in London. Most of her teaching and training experience has been in Thailand, but she has also worked with teachers in Myanmar, Indonesia, Palestine, Rwanda and Bangladesh. Her interests are in classroom interaction and materials-light teaching. Follow her on twitter @Lperkinselt.

TP Interrupted: The Role of the Trainer in CELTA Teaching Practice (guest post)

Amy Blanchard guest posts on my blog again… 🙂

On 11th January 2019 I gave a 30 minute presentation at the International House Academic Managers and Trainers conference called TP Interrupted: The Role of the Trainer in CELTA Teaching Practice. I wanted to share my recent experiments with intervening in TP, clarifying what I mean by intervention; how I’ve been doing it and why. I also discussed potential problems and solutions, and gave my tips on things to consider before trying it yourself. Here’s a summary of what I said.

What

When I started asking other trainers about intervening in TP the first thing that came up was correcting trainees’ language, or information about language. That is not the focus of this talk, though it certainly is my policy that I don’t let trainees teach incorrect language; it’s not fair on students and it can have a negative impact on the following trainees.

I’ve always worked on courses where I was able to check the language analysis first to anticipate misunderstandings of the target language, so usually any inaccuracies in TP are related to incidental language that comes up. Generally, I will indicate to the trainee that something is wrong, and help them to clarify.

However, what I began experimenting with last year was intervening for different reasons, looking more at classroom management issues like positioning, instructions, pace, speed of speech, board work and even concept checking.

How

Gestures

Gestures can be a discreet way of signalling to the trainee that they need to monitor; that an activity could be done in pairs; that they should add a word to the board; reduce speed of speech; pace etc.

Stop and Intervene

Some of the others are difficult to correct with gestures alone, and this was where I started intervening a bit more, actually stopping the class and giving instructions, or asking the trainee questions. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding them to follow their lesson plan and let students check in pairs, or encouraging them to use a CCQ [concept checking question] they’d prepared.

Here’s a clearer example from TP 2. I was observing a nervous trainee with no teaching experience. She muttered some vague instructions (to ‘have a look at the handout’) to one student at the side of the room and started to distribute handouts. I could see the students looking at each other, confused, and knew this would have a detrimental effect on the rest of the lesson. I asked her to stop, take back the handout, stand in the centre where all students could see her, show the handout and clearly indicate which activity to look at, and tell the class what to do.

Why

I haven’t found that much written about the tutor’s role in TP. The debate about whether to intervene or not gets a couple of lines in Thornbury’s CELTA course trainers’ manual [affiliate link]. He says “it can be argued that learning any new skill is best achieved by collaboration with a more experienced other”.

Something I feel strongly about is that CELTA is a training course and we need to be training, not just testing.

If we want to help our trainees do more, they need support. Could intervention and coaching from the side-lines be the scaffolding trainees need to achieve more?

I’m wondering if giving feedback to trainees can be equated with the feedback we give our students; consider on the spot vs delayed feedback. Could a combination be best practice?

Perhaps intervening in TP makes it more memorable – certainly the look on my trainee’s face when I told her to stop what she was doing showed that it wasn’t an experience she’d forget in a hurry. Importantly, it allows us to give information at the moment the trainee needs it, rather than after an hour or two hours, or even later on some courses. How useful is it to say to someone “two hours ago you stood slightly in the wrong place; try to avoid that next time”.

It’s the difference between show and tell – trainees can clearly see what you mean, and they can see impact on lesson, rather than everything being hypothetical.

It makes the ideas you’ve been talking about in input or feedback sessions more concrete, and you can demonstrate to trainees what you really mean, in their context. Importantly, it offers opportunities for improvement within the lesson.

Correcting my trainee on her instructions near the start of lesson led to better instructions for her next activity. She clearly remembered what I said, went back to the middle of the room, showed the handout and gave clear instructions, addressing the whole class.

But – what did she think of it? In preparation for my talk, I emailed a few trainees from the summer courses and asked for some feedback: Do you remember me intervening in your TP? Please comment on how it made you feel, and why it was/wasn’t effective.

I found your interventions positive and effective as I was very green and did need reminding of certain things.

It made me feel more confident after because I know those adjustments in teaching were helping students learn in a more effective way. Getting in-class feedback and recommendations was very helpful to me especially because it was in the moment as opposed to post-lesson.

Potential problems (and solutions)

Ambiguous gestures can be confusing and distracting; and my advice here would be agree the signals beforehand. Be aware of how much information you are trying to give, and how overloaded trainees already are. Keep it simple and make sure you reinforce it again in feedback/input etc.

Is it too prescriptive? This is a general worry of mine on the CELTA; I don’t want to impose my teaching style on new teachers. Stick to the basics, focus on classroom management and allow them to follow your instructions in their own style (within reason!)

Trainees may react badly. This is always a danger with giving any type of feedback. A large part of a trainer’s job is being intuitive to the way people react to feedback – if they are not going to react well to this approach, don’t try it.

Things to consider

Manage expectations: (of trainees and students)

If you interrupt with no warning, of course this will freak trainees out. But if they know that it’s a possibility – or even a policy – and they are prepared for it and understand the intention behind it, it will be much less alarming. As for the TP students, there may be some concern that the trainer’s intervention will cause a loss of face in front of the students, so again, it’s important that the students know the situation: that they are trainee teachers on a training course. In my experience, TP students are usually grateful for the intervention!

Personality types: Be sensitive / Ask

As with all feedback, some people take it better than others. I always say a large part of my job is managing people’s egos and giving feedback in the way that’s most acceptable to them and that they’re most receptive to. On the spot feedback is obviously no different. Use your intuition: if they’re clearly having a bad day, it might be better not to. The other option is one we use with our students: ask them how they feel about on the spot correction; if they want it or not.

Balance

Again, as with our students, you need to strike the right balance – you obviously don’t want to “correct” everything as it would be demotivating and stop the flow of the lesson.

Discuss interventions in group feedback

It’s vital that all trainees understand why you intervened – this is something that can be elicited in feedback, as well as its impact on the lesson/learners etc.

Written feedback reflects action points

If you intervene to improve a trainees positioning/monitoring/instructions etc. that should still go down as an action point in your written feedback. They need to prove they can do it successfully without intervention in later TPs.

Withdraw support as the course progresses

I intervene less and less (hopefully you find you won’t need to!) – perhaps a little again at the changeover of groups but really nothing by TP5 unless they are trying out a new technique etc.

Questions to discuss

I asked the trainers that came to my talk at the IH AMT conference to discuss two questions, and I’d encourage the same discussion here too:

  1. What’s your experience with intervention in TP?
  2. Do you agree with it or feel it should be avoided? Why?

I hope these discussions do continue and I’d love to hear from anyone who has experimented with this approach in TP or who has any questions about it. We’ve discussed this and similar topics on #CELTAchat which happens on Twitter on the first Monday of every month at 7pm UK time. You can find summaries of our chats on the CELTAchat blog.

Amy Blanchard

Amy Blanchard was an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET programme in Japan and completed a voyage with Peace Boat before moving to Spain to work for International House. She has just taken a new job leading the CELTA programme and teaching English for Academic Purposes at a British university. She is particularly fond of whiteboard work.

Delta conversations: Jenni

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Jenni started teaching in Poland in 2014 following a CELTA from British Council Krakow. She moved back to the UK two years later as she found love during her Christmas holiday back home. She then spent time teaching in language schools and summer schools in the UK. In 2018, she completed her Delta and currently works as an online tutor and course developer. She enjoys an #eltwhiteboard and tweets @jennifoggteach.

Jenni Fogg

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I did an ‘intensive’ Delta, where the course runs over 15 weeks and the modules are completed concurrently. At Leeds Beckett (formerly Leeds Metropolitan) University, you work towards completing an internal qualification – a Postgraduate Certificate in English Language Teaching and Professional Practice, which prepares you for your Delta and counts towards it (the internal LSAs are part of both qualifications).

You prepare for the Module 1 exam through a series of workshops and homework tasks as well as taking a full Delta-style exam in exam conditions. This counts towards your PG Cert. and acts as a Delta mock.

The module 2 preparation included weekly sessions with advice on writing LSAs and background essays. The work you submit becomes part of your portfolio for both Leeds Beckett and Cambridge.

In module 3, there were deadlines throughout the semester for each section, with the view that the whole piece of work is completed within 15 weeks. We then gave a 15-minute presentation on our specialism. This was interesting as we got to learn about other specialisms and could see how people approached them in different ways.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I really wanted to do a course quickly as I found that teaching positions in the UK were generally low-paid and there was little chance of promotion without a Delta. I was already living in Leeds, within walking distance of the university, and was teaching part-time in a local language school, which meant I could teach my own class for the LSAs. It made sense to take this route. I also found the PG Cert. attractive, as it meant I could put this on my CV while I was still waiting for the results of the Delta.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

I really enjoyed reading more about SLA [Second Language Acquisition] and feel I benefited from the further reading in general; this is something I couldn’t find time to do before the course. It also made me a more reflective teacher and I now take time to consider why I have planned and structured a lesson in a certain way. I also really enjoyed all the opportunities to observe my peers and teachers online. This was a great way to discover effective new ways to teach.

The intensive nature of the course meant that we bonded quickly as a class and I made several close friends. It also gave me confidence to become more present in the ELT community on Twitter.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

It was absolutely exhausting. Doing the course in 15 weeks whilst teaching at the same time was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It meant very early starts and late nights with every waking minute focused on reading, writing or lesson planning. The deadlines across different modules often fell on the same day too. It required insane organisation!

Also, because I wasn’t working full-time, I didn’t earn a lot of money throughout the course. I had to manage my money carefully (but really didn’t have much opportunity to spend it!).

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

From starting the course to achieving all three module certificates took 11 months. The course took place from the end of September to the start of January. We sat the exam and submitted Module 3 in June and then had to wait for the results. As we received our PG Cert. soon after the start of the year, we could put this on our CV in the meantime, which meant I managed to get a Director of Studies job in time for the summer, despite not having my Delta results yet.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

If you choose to do the Delta this way, you will need to become an organisation master. I used Evernote for general to-do lists, storing my notes, saving useful websites and making sure each notepad was correctly-titled and saved in the right place. I also printed an A3 calendar where I wrote all my deadlines down and what work I needed to do each day. Deadlines tended to creep up on me so I needed an easy reference to see where I was up to.

I tried to use my weekends effectively, spending most of one day in the library, and spending the other day relaxing, cleaning, seeing family and doing some bulk cooking for the week. Thankfully, my lovely boyfriend cooked a lot during the course, which stopped me from getting scurvy.

I would also recommend doing as much work as possible before the course starts, both doing some preliminary reading from a Delta reading list (there are lots online) as well as reading about how other people approached it – this is a good place to start!

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

In this intensive course, it was a lot. I turned on my laptop to start working between 6-7am and finished around 10-11pm. We had lessons at the university from 12-5pm on Mondays and Fridays and I taught in the afternoons on the other three days of the week. I don’t want to work the number of hours out!

Learner-centred observations of teachers (Guest Post)

Christian Tiplady asked me if he could share his ideas for shifting the focus of official observations with the readers of this blog. I think you’ll agree that they are minor tweaks that could make a big difference.

Why do we focus on the behaviour of teachers during ‘official’ classroom observations? Is there an alternative way that is more in line with current thinking on learner-centred approaches?

So many institutions, including ones where I have worked, still cling to the idea that teachers need to be evaluated for quality assurance and that the best way to do this is with a formal observation, often compartmentalised and homogenised, taking the form of an hour-long observation by a senior member of staff. The observer uses a standardised feedback form with variables by which the teacher’s lesson is graded, and then leads feedback analysing what went well or badly. Oftentimes this observation takes place only infrequently, perhaps once a year, and there is often no follow-up to assess observation outcomes.

This style of evaluative observation is not only outdated but also ill-conceived. It assumes that the activity of ‘teaching’ can be rated, and that this can be done with the kind of standardised grading to which we have grown accustomed. In order to have much value at all any assessment of teaching needs to be thought through carefully. It needs to be done over a longer period with more frequent observations to avoid a ‘snapshot’ view and therefore the danger of misguided evaluation. Feedback needs to be cyclical and iterative in nature and co-constructed with the teacher as part of a reflective process to ensure that the teacher is on board with continuing development.

But there is a much more important point to be made here, which is that to focus on what the teacher is or isn’t doing in a classroom (and to rate that) is surely at best irrelevant and at worst dangerous if this is without explicit reference to the world of the learner. My contention is that we still do this way out of pure habit, and that at least in part, this undoubtedly comes from vestiges of ingrained beliefs that still linger, even if as teachers we know these things to be untrue.

Firstly, the status quo derives from the mistaken belief that teaching equals learning. However in reality we know that the teaching is only part of the equation and that learners will learn in their own way and at their own rate. As Freeman reminds us “teachers are influential in classroom learning but that does not mean they cause it to happen.” (Freeman, 2006; 254). Indeed we can teach what we might consider to be the best lesson, only to note that in terms of the learning it did not have the impact that was desired. Or conversely we can teach a lesson which at first sight did not go to plan or very ‘well’ in practice, but where there was nonetheless significant learning.

Secondly it comes from the implicit assumption that teaching behaviours can be classified and evaluated and that ‘more’ or ‘less’ of that thing is better. For example, typically ‘student talking time’ is inevitably valued within today’s language teaching, where a premium is placed on communication, and ‘teacher talking time’ should be reduced at all costs. In reality, purposeful teacher talk can be very useful as part of the learning process and in some lessons it may be vital.

Another example is the use of the English in the classroom versus the use of the student’s L1. The former has conventionally been highly valued (probably to encourage an element of immersion), whilst the latter i.e. the use of L1, has been relegated to the fringes with infrequent activities such as ‘translate these sentences into your own language’ given for homework, but with little real acknowledgement that use of L1 in the learning process can be extremely useful.

Although such thinking has increasingly been challenged over recent years, it still tends to be pervasive in the realm of teacher observations. We continue to focus on what the teacher should and should not do in the classroom (theories on this will likely come and go), and judge things by our own semi-conscious ideas of what is right and wrong. More importantly, by taking our eyes off the ball, we often miss the real action i.e. we neglect the impact (or lack of it) of the lesson on the learner. A typical example might be the types of praise given for a communicative speaking activity, which a teacher organised well and the learners dutifully performed with high levels of talking time, but which had little intrinsic value in terms of developing the learners or engaging them in meaningful expression.

By focusing on the behaviours of teachers in the classroom, we are also reinforcing a model that is teacher-centred and are thus potentially affecting teachers’ beliefs and behaviour. If we (learners, teachers, teacher trainers, managers etc.) desire lessons to be learner-centred then surely we need to promote that in everything we do, including the observations of teachers. Evidently, the main thing that is useful to focus on is learning and the learning process for the learner. In short, we need to rethink our observations of teachers to refocus on how teachers may best facilitate this learning.

So how do we do this? Assuming we still have to follow an institutionalised system of official observations, (which I still think can be reclaimed for the good), these can be redesigned with an onus on the learners with surprisingly minor structural adjustments, but with a fairly radical shift in our philosophy.

First of all, the usual observation template can be changed to make all criteria more learner-centred. Criteria such as ‘relevant learner outcomes established in conjunction with the learners’ and ‘lesson managed in a way that promoted achievement of lesson outcomes’ can be included to promote learner-centredness. The emphasis of wording is all-important; thus a criterion such as ‘use of English in the classroom’ can be amended to ‘English/L1 used appropriately for learner needs’ and ‘teacher talking time’ can be amended to ‘learner talking time suitable for learner needs’. These changes may seem somewhat pedantic, but in my experience such small adjustments can promote a major shift in the thinking of both the observer and the observed teacher alike. For instance, the phrasing of the latter criterion on learner talking time intrinsically leads both parties to ask themselves questions such as: ‘What was witnessed in terms of learner talking time?’ ‘Was the learner talking time appropriate in amount, form and quality at various stages of the lesson, as well as overall in the lesson? If not, why not?’ ‘Did the amount, form and quality of learner talking time mean the aims of the lesson were achieved for the learner? If not, why not?Clearly this change of emphasis might necessitate some ongoing training for both teachers and observers of lessons, but is nonetheless quite possible.

Secondly, the observer needs to truly focus on the learner – on their reactions, behaviour and likely learning – during the observed lesson. Often the observer sits at the back of the classroom to watch the teacher but cannot see the students’ faces or reactions. What the teacher does in terms of facilitation is important, but how the learner responds and whether they demonstrate that they are learning is of ultimate importance. Therefore the observer should try to ‘climb into the learners’ skin’ and see it from their perspective. The simplest act of the observer positioning their chair to the side of the classroom, to see the learners’ faces, how they react, and what they are doing, can make a huge difference to the observer’s understanding of the effects of the lesson on the learners and their learning.

Thirdly, the information gathered by the observer should ideally be backed up with further evidence to reduce subjectivity, preferably in the form of a video recording. Silvana Richardson (2014) has done some interesting work in this area, which she calls ‘evidence-based observation’. Software is also available which allows the observer to annotate the recorded video with questions and comments for the teacher, thereby facilitating a feedback process focusing on the learner, though it’s not always particularly easy to access.

Finally, however much the observer and the observed teacher try to adopt the mindset of the learner, and back it up with evidence, they can never claim to know the thoughts of the learner. The learners’ voice therefore needs to be included within observation feedback for any lesson or series of lessons. Thus the observation process should seek to include feedback from the learners, for example, their assessment of how engaging the lesson has been and how successful they think the lesson has been in terms of their learning. This can be factored into evaluative feedback as long as the process is handled sensitively.

Any additional comments learners have on the lesson(s) are also vitally important to inform the feedback process and can change the evaluation of a lesson significantly if they happen to disagree with what the observer and/or the teacher believe. When experimenting with this approach, I observed a lesson where I thought the learner might have been overloaded with the amount of topics that she was asked to speak about. However, in her feedback the learner maintained that that the amount of topics was at about the optimum level for her. This first-hand vantage point significantly changed my perception of the lesson.

In most institutions, how often does the observer of a lesson really solicit the opinions of the learners as part of the observation process? I would suggest very seldom. By contrast, including the learners’ voice in the observation feedback implicitly encourages the teacher to engage with learner feedback in the same way. Reframing the observation in terms of the learners not only allows a more relevant learner-centred perspective but also models good practice for the teacher as part of wider classroom culture.

Can this focus on the learner be equally beneficial as a basis for peer observations? Absolutely, yes! In fact gathering information on the learners provides an excellent focus and helps to avoid any evaluative critique of teaching, which many teachers may have come to habitually expect as the ‘default model’. So whilst evaluative observations look set to stay, let’s at least focus on what matters, namely the learners.

References

Freeman, D. Teaching and Learning in Gieve S. and Miller, I. (2006) ‘The Age of Reformin Understanding the Language Classroom. Basingstoke: Pelgrave-Macmillan.

Richardson, S. (2014). Evidence-based observation – tips and tools. British Council webinar: http://britishcouncil.adobeconnect.com/p8slnclkd8e/

About the author

Christian Tiplady

Christian Tiplady
BSc (Hons), Trinity Cert. TESOL, PGDip TESOL, MA TESOL

Christian is a freelance teacher trainer based in the UK. He has worked in both EFL and Modern Foreign Languages (MFLs) sectors for over 25 years, teaching, teacher training and managing in private language schools, NGOs and government organisations. Most recently he served as Pedagogy Manager at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office organising CPD for tutors who teach MFLs to diplomatic staff. He has set up TrinityTESOL and Cambridge CELTA courses and is currently a CELTA tutor and assessor. He specialises in the creation of CPD programmes, developmental observations and feedback. Christian currently produces the teachers’ podcast Developod for the IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG).

Contact Christian at: christian.tiplady@outlook.com

Change or die trying: Introducing differentiation on initial teacher training courses (guest post)

Unfortunately I couldn’t attend Karin Krummenacher’s IATEFL 2018 presentation on providing differentiation on initial teacher training courses like the Cambridge CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this kind of course, they generally last four weeks full-time, including workshop-style input sessions, observation of experienced teachers and peers, and (crucially) six or more hours of observed teaching and feedback from tutors. There are as many kinds of four week course as there are tutors, and no two are exactly the same as long as they meet the criteria of Cambridge or Trinity, but one thing that is extremely rare is differentiation for the trainees. Karin has kindly agreed to write up her presentation as a guest post, so we can all find out more about how this might be possible.

To differentiate and challenge our students based on their prior knowledge and current abilities is something we teach our trainees in pre- and in-service teacher training courses. At diploma level it becomes a key criterion and there is tons of literature about it. And then many of us trainers go on and make trainees with outstanding language awareness sit through over half a dozen basic grammar input sessions throughout a 4-week TEFL course in which they will learn close to nothing, most likely receive no differentiated tasks and might be asked not to reply to the next question because we already know they know. I would not be particularly impressed with a trainee handling a strong student in a lesson like this and I get more and more annoyed by us trainers doing it.

And while the reasons are obvious to a degree (that’s the course they signed up for), I don’t think they are good enough to keep doing what we’re doing the way we are doing it. Once upon a time, when the CELTA still had a different name, the groups of trainees were homogenous and what the course taught them was, in a way, revolutionary and useful. Nowadays, trainees identifying as non-native English speakers outnumber trainees that identify as native English speakers on the majority of courses. Our one “strong student” has become half the class by now and we still tell them to only answer when prompted instead of questioning our approach.

Jason Anderson has investigated at length how experienced teachers with MAs in pedagogy take 4-week initial training courses because Trinity Cert TESOL and CELTA have become a global seal of quality. The course is no longer what it used to be and the fact that very often it is still taught the way it was taught in the 1990s makes me picture John Haycraft, who first designed CELTA, rotating in his grave.

“CELTA has to change or die” said Hugh Dellar when I talked to him last year. He’s far from being the only one who’s unimpressed. Since the courses started they have been criticised (see, for example Anderson, Hobbs, Fergusson and Donno [behind ELT Journal paywall] and Borg [behind paywall]) and the voices have become louder and louder. I agree with all the criticism by experts and practitioners when it comes to short initial teacher training courses (ITTCs), but letting them die is not an option for me. It may be because I myself entered the profession that I now consider my career and vocation through an ITTC that I come from a place of great love and admiration for these courses and the educators who train people on them. I believe in the concept, I believe it works and I do not want it to vanish because I think we would miss out on some excellent teachers. Most experts suggest making the courses longer. However, as much as we would all like that, from an economic point of view, this makes little sense to course providers and is not the appeal it has to customers either.

I set out to find a way of differentiating on ITTCs. My colleagues laughed at me.

It’s too difficult, too much admin, too complex.

You’re already working 12 hour days. Do you really want to add to that?

If it could be done, it would have been done.

It may be a late effect of being the only female in a male clique when I was a teenager (strikingly similar to my work environment nowadays, by the way) but dare me and I’ll do it.

At least 13,000 candidates per year take the CELTA or Cert TESOL (based on numbers from Green 2004 and information requested from Trinity). That’s not even considering all the TEFL schools accredited by less rigorous organisations. And all Cambridge Assessment and Trinity College London tell us about these people is whether they identify as native or non-native English speakers. If you are a trainer, you will know that there is so much more to our trainees than that. One of the reasons why I, and many of my colleagues, love the job is that there is no group like any other, no trainee the same as the next. You can divide them by nationality or place of birth but there will be disappointingly few conclusions you can draw from this. In a single group of trainees, you can find so many different people with different motivations to take the course, different backgrounds and different aims. Some people take an ITTC because they want to change their lives, start a new career and plan on doing the diploma two years later. They’re in it for the long run. Others simply need to prove to their parents that the Eurotrip they paid for is not just drinking with people you met in a hostel. Many want to fund their travels before they return to their “real job” back home. Some want to lose their fear of public speaking. The ones that usually end up most disappointed are the English literature majors who want to spark the love for the English language in their students. It’s tough to love a language and make it your job to hear people butcher it 10 hours a day. Trainees have told me they wanted to build up their confidence or are just in it because their boyfriend wanted to do the course. Some see it as a challenge and aren’t planning on teaching a day in their life after the course. More than you would think are experienced teachers that want to go international.

A mixed group of Karin's trainees

So again, why don’t we do with our trainees what we do with our students? That is, a thorough needs analysis. The idea is to do this in two parts:

Part 1: A diagnostic test. Applicants take an online test and you feed their results into Excel. I’ve come up with a formula that will assign sessions based on performance and spit out a tailor made timetable for each trainee. Meaning the ones who answer questions on verb tenses wrong, will be assigned sessions on verb tenses. The ones who answer them right will not. All trainees will still have the same number of input sessions, just not the same ones or necessarily at the same time. Multilingual candidates will be assigned sessions on using L1 in the classroom, so they can do so deliberately and without feeling it is the wrong thing to do. Trainees that aren’t quite confident about their own proficiency will get an English for specific purposes course that really polishes their teacher language and makes them feel more confident while monolingual trainees learn a little bit of a foreign language, so they can empathise with their students. This all means we offer trainees a schedule based on their background and abilities. This is something I’m still trialling, but the diagnostic test may contain tasks such as:

  • Identify the verb tenses in the following sentences
  • Identify the parts of speech (based on a given list) in the following paragraph
  • Match the words with the correct phonemes
  • Mark the word stress in the following words
  • Match the sentences with the grammatical structure (e.g. conditionals, modals for obligation vs. speculation)

Diffentiation graphic - needs analysis on left, timetable icons in the middle (different colours), mid- and end-of-course reflection on right

Part 2: Setting aims. The teaching practice tutor will agree on personal aims with their group of trainees. This means that feedback on teaching practice will be as focused and personalised as possible. The trainer and trainee assess progress in the middle and at the end of the course.

The diagnostic test can be redone as a summative test at the end of the course. Together with the achievements of their personal aims, this will then be the starting point for professional development. This is something really important that in my experience is not done at the moment or not done enough. Partially, this is down to the way ITTCs are sold. The marketing says that you are a teacher and ready to go out in the world after 4 weeks. And people take that at face value. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change and stands in contrast to the fact that these courses were never meant to provide a standalone solution to teacher training. But what we can do is equip our trainees better and make them more reflective beginner practitioners. They will benefit tremendously from having a better understanding of where they stand and what their strengths and weaknesses are. And to get our marketing teams on board, it is a unique opportunity to advertise our programmes beyond teacher training, like workshops, online courses, diplomas or in-service training.

Finding out what our trainees need is the first step. The obvious question is, how can we give it to them? Not every centre has the capacity to entirely revamp their course and I’m not saying that’s necessary, but I believe we could get a little more creative and offer more differentiated input sessions. That would mean though, that we wave goodbye to input sessions being mainly delivered face-to-face. I have thought of different ideas on how to deliver input and have come up with different puzzle pieces that can be combined as needed.

Jigsaw pieces with these things written on them: Action research, observation tasks, peer teaching, boot camps, flipped inputs, Q and As, online/face2face, specific pre-course tasks

Whether trainees get tailored pre-course tasks, attend very intensive sessions on linguistic systems, such as grammar, in so called boot camps, benefit from Q and A sessions with tutors or teach each other in designated peer teaching slots, whatever works best in your context will be the right thing to start differentiating. This can be a slow addition to the course over several months and does not have to be all at once. Maybe some sessions can be added to the regular timetable, others delivered through online learning. Common needs could be addressed through video summaries. It will depend on the groups’ needs and the resources, tutors and space available. For most centres, a mix will be the right way to go.

In this way, timetables for trainees could become more varied and trainees would get more personalised content that better prepares them for the challenges they will face. It would free up timetables for more interesting content. Instead of teaching basic phonemes, these would be learned independently, and class time can be spent on how to teach phonology to students, the really interesting stuff.

Obviously, there would be some flexibility required from accreditation bodies. The Unknown Foreign Language in its current form could no longer be part of the assessment on Trinity Cert TESOL courses. And while CELTA has a very flexible syllabus, centres would benefit from being encouraged to make more use of it. At the same time, this could be an exclusive opportunity to promote more professionalism in initial teacher training and remind customers that these are in fact level 5 qualifications on the UK Qualifications and Credit Framework and therefore have an academic aspiration.

Overall, the idea is to take our trainees’ backgrounds and goals into consideration more. No matter how small we start, these initial courses need to change or die trying.

About the author

Karin Krummenacher

Karin Krummenacher is a freelance teacher trainer on Trinity Cert and Dip TESOL courses, researcher and international conference speaker. She holds Cambridge Delta and is currently working towards an M.Ed. TESOL, researching the role of ITTCs and their implications for professionalism in the industry. This article is based on her IATEFL talk from April 2018 for which Jason Anderson, Hugh Dellar and Ben Beaumont were invaluable sounding boards. She has recently started blogging at thekarincluster.wordpress.com. Give Karin a shout at karin.krummenacher@gmail.com or on Twitter @thekarincluster.

Delta conversations: Jo

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Jo Gillespie

Jo got her BA way back in 1994 in Christchurch, NZ, with a double major in Linguistics and Education, knowing that she wanted to teach English. After gaining the Trinity CertTESOL, she began teaching in Christchurch at various English schools. Although she changed careers a couple of times, she always knew that teaching ESL was what she wanted to do, so finally in 1999, she took courage and left for a year’s teaching in the Czech Republic. While travelling, she met her husband, who is Italian, so moved to Italy, where she has been living and teaching ever since. She began the Delta in 2010, and finally completed Module 3 in 2016. After six years as a primary school teacher in a small international school, she has just moved to a DoS role at a local English school (and has started a blog about it), while maintaining a part time role as primary coordinator at the primary school. She’s about to begin an MA in TESOL, Leadership and Management.

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules? 

I did the Delta part time, and all three modules were done through International House Accademia Britannica in Rome. I did them in order and think that was very helpful, as it moved from the theory to the practical, and then putting it all together in Module 3.

Module 1 was blended online. There was also an online-only option, but I wanted to meet the people with whom I was studying. We were divided into study groups in a WikiSpaces classroom and met face-to-face on a Friday for input sessions about theory. We studied mock exam questions and prepared for the exam itself.

Module 2 was again part time and blended, with the face-to-face sessions on Fridays. We had input sessions in the morning, and then teaching in the afternoons. We worked in TP groups both online and at the centre.

A face-to-face course was also arranged for Module 3, which I attended, always part-time and always on a Friday. We looked at each part of the extended assignment, and began to draft our Extended Assignment (EA). However, after the course finished, it took me another 3 or 4 years to get my EA completed and submitted (oops).

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I had just completed the IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teens (IHCYLT) at the same school, and I really liked my colleagues and the tutors. As I knew that a couple of people from the YL course would be going on to do the Delta, I decided to join them. Rome is not very far from where I live (it took about an hour and a half each way), and my employer was flexible and happy to give me Fridays off to study, so it was a good fit all round. Doing it part-time also meant that it wasn’t such a financial burden, and I had enough time to dedicate to it, even though I was working almost full-time, and I had two small children. I probably put in about 2-3 hours of study each day during the week, then intensive study face-to-face. The M3 EA took a lot longer than it should have because I changed jobs between Modules 2 and 3.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Oh, so much! A much better grounding in the theory and practice of ELT. An understanding of the research that goes into the theories – and a desire to keep learning. The confidence to experiment in the classroom. The desire to conduct action research with, about, and for my students. My M3 EA was about CLIL [Content and Language Integrated Learning] with young learners – which has led to a key role in an Erasmus+ project about that very subject. The Delta has also opened doors and has led to a move into a Director of Studies position, and teacher training.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

I really don’t think there were any. It was a great balance of tasks online, and face-to-face workshops. It was intense, but doable.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I was able to combine it with work. I met people who were doing it at the same time and developed lasting relationships with them. The extended timeframe meant that I could get all the reading done (mostly).

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Get your hands on a reading list as soon as you start thinking about enrolling and start working your way through it! Make notes and mind maps about everything. Use tools like Quizlet (where there are already many Delta M1 quizzes) to help you memorise the definitions of all the terminology. Start watching teaching videos online with a critical eye, in preparation for M2. And start thinking about your EA very early.

In retrospect…

I don’t think there is much I would do differently except: study a tiny bit harder for M1; choose anything BUT a listening lesson for my final TP (the one where Cambridge is watching) – or else, use commercial materials instead of trying to make my own (ugh – lucky I passed!) I was going to say “spend less time fretting over M3” – but I chose something relatively unexplored and with hindsight, I am glad it took me as long as it did, because the end result is something of which I am very proud. I am even thinking of squeezing in another M3 EA, this time with the ELTM specialism! That’s doable, right?

Delta conversations: Jim

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Jim Fuller began his TEFL career after taking his CertTESOL in London in 2014. From there he moved to Italy and taught for three years, in which time his interest in developing further in ELT was piqued and so he began his Delta. He now lives in Almeria, Spain and works at McGinty School of English as the Head Teacher Trainer. Always looking to develop further, Jim is also currently taking his Masters in TESOL and Applied Linguistics. Jim blogs at https://spongeelt.wordpress.com/.

Jim Fuller

How did you do your Delta?

My Delta began in 2016. I was working in Bologna, Italy, and had decided that I wanted to make a career out of ELT and Delta was, in my mind, the next logical step. I took Module 1 first, followed by Module 3 and then finishing with Module 2. For Module 1, I completed a preparation course as I really had no idea what to expect – thankfully I did! And Modules 3 and 2 were both done via distance.

How did you arrange the modules? Why did you choose to do it that way?

I completed Delta this way mainly due to course timings. The Module 1 course started about four months before the exam. Then, I wasn’t able to go straight onto Module 2 because I had planned to move to Spain, so I did Module 3. Once I arrived in Spain, I took Module 2, starting in September and finishing in June of the following year.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Whoa! Big question. I believe there are two ‘main’ gains from Delta (among many). Firstly, a much more refined awareness of my teaching and how it affects learning in the classroom. Prior to Delta, I can say that I was a good teacher, but I had no idea about why I was doing something and what the possible advantages and/or disadvantages might have been. Secondly, the philosophy of reflection. Delta, especially Module 2, requires that you be reflective, and, in my opinion, it is this reflection that brings about the most change! So, it’s not enough to just be reflective whilst doing Delta… you need to continue post-Delta (Delta gets you into a good rhythm of reflective practice).

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Well, I think that even though the modules can be taken in any order, there is a clear advantage to doing them in order. When I finished Module 2 and looked back at my extended assignment for Module 3, I noticed a lot of things that I would have changed had I done Module 2 previously. That being said, a lot of the research I did for Module 3 came in handy for Module 2!

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Doing Delta via distance is somewhat daunting for some candidates because it is a long commitment. However, this time that you have enables you to trial techniques, methods, activities, etc. in class, and then reflect on them and how they could be used in either Delta or normal lessons. I would not have liked to do the intensive Delta simply because I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to experiment, research and then draw my own conclusions over an extended period of time. Each to their own, though!

What would you change if you did the Delta again?

Overall, I don’t think I would change any major points, but the one thing I would change is my knowledge of Word. You will be using Word a lot, so it’s best to make sure you know how to use it. You would be surprised by how much time you can save by learning how to have a table of contents created automatically, or how hyperlinks can make your document easier to read and navigate. Most of these I discovered at the end of my Delta – thinking about the amount of time I would have saved eats at my soul sometimes! [Sandy’s note: my preparing for the Delta page includes pages which help you to use Word more efficiently.]

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

My main tips are:
  • Start reading early, but be selective with what you read. There is so much information and interesting stuff in the books you are likely to read, and it is very easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole. Just be cognizant of the time you are spending reading certain parts of certain books. I usually preferred to read the ‘conclusions’ or ‘final comments’ sections first as these usually contained summaries of the chapters, articles, etc.
  • Clear your schedule while you are studying. You will be studying for anywhere between 10 – 25 hours a week over the course of your Delta, so the fewer distractions or unnecessary commitments you have the better.
  • Listen to your tutors. These guys have mentored and tutored candidates time and time again and they are a wealth of knowledge.
  • Speak to other candidates, both past and present. Delta automatically creates a community of practice with lots of people looking for and/or willing to give advice. There are many places you can find (or give) help – Facebook, online forums, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things. There is no one way to do Delta – this includes doing the LSAs [Module 2 assignments], etc. There is a phenomenal amount of choice allowed (sometimes the hardest thing is deciding what to do), so don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • Have fun. Delta can be arduous and tiresome at times, but you need to make time for little celebrations to ensure that you stay (relatively) sane. So, finished that background assignment? Have a glass of wine! Finished reading that chapter about cleft sentences and you’ve finally understood what the author was talking about? Sit back and relax for a bit!

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