Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Archive for the ‘Teacher Training’ Category

A wonderful week in Aktobe

A week ago I was finishing my first experience as a freelance teacher trainer and my first visit to Kazakhstan, and what a week it was!

Aktobe collage - top left = blackboard with Sandy's name and dates of her visit, top right = teachers using Quizlet Live, bottom left = teapot and bowls, plus food, bottom right = Sheraton hotel and sculpture

Thanks to my wonderful hosts at Darina Linguo Centre in Aktobe, I was able to spend 3.5 days working with a large group of passionate teachers. We had sessions on the basics of teaching reading and listening, various aspects of classroom management, and different websites that teachers could use with their students and to improve their own English.

With 35-40 people in each session, they were by far the biggest groups I’ve ever worked with. This tested my classroom management abilities, helping me to realise how much I’ve improved in this area since I became a CELTA trainer. They were also very understanding when I inevitably started to lose my voice, and quickly went out of their way to get me a supply of honey to help it to last.

The evenings were particularly good. Every night they had arranged things for me to do so that I could get to know the city and experience real Kazakh culture. I had a tour of the city, a trip to a spa in the countryside, a meal with the directors, and best of all, an evening at a family home. That night I took part in a traditional Kazakh welcome ceremony, learnt about many other traditions (the first steps ceremony for babies, weddings, and traditional cribs) and realised how important food and drink is for the traditional Kazakh way of life.

Demonstrating how a baby can be strapped into a traditional Kazakh crib

I have never felt so welcomed as I did in Aktobe. It was quite overwhelming at times, and the memories will remain with me for many years. Thank you to everyone at Darina, and I hope I’ll return at some point soon!

The Professional Life Cycles of Teachers (Tessa Woodward)

I’ve heard about this talk from the 2013 IH Director of Studies conference many times, so when YouTube suggested it to me this evening, I finally decided to watch it. I’m glad I did.

In this 52-minute talk, Tessa describes a framework based largely on work by Michael Huberman describing teachers’ impressions of the different stages of our professional life cycle. It was full of fascinating quotes from teachers, many of which rang true with stages I have been through or people who I have worked with.

When searching for a link to Huberman’s work, I also came across this IH Journal article by Ron White on Teachers’ Professional Life Cycles, which covers some of the same ground as Tessa’s talk, although I’m not sure if it pre- or post-dates the presentation.

On a completely different note, it was also a pleasure to see a presentation which doesn’t rely on PowerPoint, and it inspires me to have a go at a different presentation style for at least one talk over the next year. I do it sometimes on CELTA, but have always used PowerPoint for conferences and seminars.

It would be good to know whether you think this kind of framework has practical applications, or whether it’s just something that’s interesting to be aware of.

Rethinking reflection in initial teacher training (guest post)

So I want you to tell me what you think went well, what you think didn’t go so well and what you would do differently next time…

Sound familiar? If you’re a teacher trainer, academic manager or even just a teacher who has been through a training course, then the above is probably burned into your brain and has become a mantra. In initial teacher training, at least in my experience, these three points form the start of the post-lesson discussion. And the reason? Reflection.

Most teachers, I hope, would agree that reflection is a useful, maybe even vital, tool for professional development as it helps us dig into what we truly believe in order to then subject it to scrutiny, with the final goal being improved practice. The question I ask myself, though, is would someone on an initial training course (CELTA/CertTESOL) see things the same way? Do they see it as a route to professional competence or merely another hoop to jump through to satisfy the tutor on the other side of the table? Are the reflections that follow the prompts a genuine attempt to understand what just happened to them in the previous 45 minutes? Or strategic responses to tell the tutor what they want to hear? Or even in some cases an attempt to rescue a failing grade by showing real awareness of their class? Only one person in the room truly knows the answer to that question, but, again, from my experience I’ve had reason to believe that required reflection in such stressful circumstances doesn’t always lead to genuine reflection and may in fact be counter-productive.

I struggled with this dilemma for a long time. I came to the conclusion that forced reflection will always be unreliable, so can you engage the trainees in genuine reflection during teaching practice?

The answer…? you can’t. At least, not all of them. Genuine reflection has to come from a place of genuine desire for development and if we’re honest, we have to admit to ourselves that that’s not where the majority of our future teachers are coming from.

In the end, the solution was a simple one: to teach the trainees the benefits of reflection for future development and more importantly how to go about it. This way if they are truly invested in their future development, the tutor can allow the time and space for reflection in feedback. However, for those not interested in future development and more concerned with the certificate they need to secure their visa to work abroad, there’s no need to make them squirm or to elicit the same strategic responses that waste the tutor’s time, their time and the time of their co-trainees.

In response, I’ve created a series of activities designed to lead the trainees through the reflective process and to provide a framework to guide reflection for those interested. This was incorporated into an input session during week 1 of a four-week course.

Stage 1 – Identifying reflection as a rigorous mental process

The session starts with a look at the stages of a reflective process and trainees organise them into what they feel is a logical order. The aim is to lead trainees away from the notion that reflection is simply looking back and highlight the importance of seeking to name the issue and, more importantly, to devise hypotheses for future action. As a kinaesthetic problem-solving activity it tends to generate a lot of discussion too.

I use this process taken from Rodgers (2002:851) which is a summary of John Dewey. However, the exact process isn’t so important. What’s more important is that there is a framework to guide the trainees.

  1. An experience is required to trigger some sort of reflective thought.
  2. The teacher seeks to interpret the experience.
  3. The teacher seeks to name the problem.
  4. The teacher seeks explanations for the problem and general questions are created.
  5. A concrete hypothesis is developed.
  6. The hypothesis is tested.

Stage 2 – Reframing classroom events

In this stage trainees consider typical classroom “problems” and seek to find potential reasons, encouraging them to think deeper than their initial knee-jerk reactions in the classroom. Once they’ve made a list of reasons they spend some time in groups discussing possible ways of addressing each of them in the classroom, which helps to encourage the hypothesis forming described in the stage 1.

The students spoke too much L1!

They got all the answers wrong to the grammar activity

Stage 3 – Categorising reflection

In this stage I get trainees to look at real reflections taken from recorded feedback meetings (these could also be written by the trainer) to highlight the different angles we can reflect from. They spend some time reading them and then categorise them according to what the teacher is talking about. For this I use four categories inspired by Zeichner and Liston (1985).

  1. Reflection which simply recounts the events of the lesson with no real analysis of them.
  2. Reflection which focuses on what worked and didn’t work and how they could address it.
  3. Reflection which focuses on why the teachers chose to do certain things in the lesson and what they hoped to achieve.
  4. Reflection which moves beyond the lesson and questions larger curricular issues.

There is typically a lot of grey areas here, which is good to generate discussion, and leads to the creation of questions to ask themselves to elicit each type of reflection. This has been identified by the trainees as a very important stage.

Stage 4 – Analysing beliefs about teaching

Using the reflections from the previous stage, trainees discuss what the teacher’s beliefs about teaching may be and then compare them to their own beliefs and discuss how aligned they are with how they think languages are learned. This stage should bring the reflective process to a logical conclusion and encourage more critical reflection.

Results

Since introducing this session on the course, feedback has changed. It no longer starts with the holy trinity of feedback questions from earlier, but instead begins with something much simpler: “How do you feel about the lesson today?” Those invested in their own development reflect; not always in useful ways, but as with any skill it takes practice. Those interested in their grade often respond with “How do you feel about it?” or more commonly “Did I pass?” and that’s ok.

References

Rodgers, C. (2002) ‘Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking’ The Teachers College Record Vol. 104, no. 4, pp. 842-866.

Zeichner, K. M., & Liston, D. (1985) ‘Varieties of discourse in supervisory conferences’ Teaching and Teacher Education Vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 155-174

About the author

Dan Baines has been teaching English since 2004 and been involved in some form of teacher development since finishing his DELTA in 2008.  He currently works for the British Council in Prague and as a freelance Trinity CertTESOL and DipTESOL tutor.

Dan Baines

Alternatives to the Friday afternoon seminar

For the last few months I’ve been considering different ways of offering professional development to teachers within a school. To that end, here is a collection of alternatives/supplements to weekly seminars in no particular order. 

Lesson jamming: get together with a group of people for a couple of hours, take a prompt and come up with a lesson plan or two, which you can then take away and use. Read more about it (the penultimate section of the post) and an example.

Examining principles: consider your beliefs about what happens in the classroom and the materials you use in more depth, perhaps using some of the activities shared by Jill Hadfield in her IATEFL 2015 talk (the second section of the post)

Debate: take a controversial subject in ELT, and have a debate about it, perhaps encouraging teachers to find out more about it before the time. Potential topics could be the use of course books or whether testing is useful.

Webinars: watch a webinar together, then discuss it. Find some here to start you off.

Reading methodology books: but not alone! You could try something like Lizzie Pinard’s ELT Book Challenge or start a reading group as Gemma Lunn did. And it doesn’t have to be books, it could be blogs too.

Using ideas from one of these books about professional development

Action research projects: running workshops on how to identify areas of teaching to research and/or how to make the most of peer observation (or here), sending people off to do their projects, then bringing them back to report on their progress and share their results. Read about examples of projects.

Project-based professional development: as proposed by Mike Harrison, with the idea that teachers do a series of things related to a particular area they would like to investigate. I think it could be seen as a variant on action research.

Reflective practice group: encourage teachers to share reflections on their teaching regularly. Here’s an example from Korea.

Sharing is caring: as an extension, teachers could bring along their current problems in the classroom and the group can brainstorm solutions. This could also lead into more in-depth action research.

Critical incidents: “A critical incident is any unplanned event that occurs during class.” (Farrell in the Jan 2008 ELT Journal) Share an example of a critical incident and discuss different ways of responding to it.

Activity swap-shop: every teacher/four or five teachers bring along activities and share them with the group. They should take about ten minutes, and probably involve a demonstration followed by reflection on which groups it might (not) work with and why.

Video observation: watch part of a lesson together and discuss it.

CPD and a cup of tea: as run at IH Palermo, with teachers working in small groups to discuss various questions related to teaching, with the hot drink of their choice. 🙂

Open Space: a kind of mini conference, as seen at bigger events like IATEFL conference

Scholarship circles: as run at Sheffield University, consisting of a series of teacher-led groups focussing on different areas, as chosen by the teachers involved. You can join in with as many circles as you like.

Professional development groups: a suggestion from Josh Round where teachers take control of their own development.

Exploiting materials: brainstorming as many ideas as you can based on particular materials through the use of post-it notes.

Bite-size reflection: Anthony Gaughan and Phil Wade have put together a free e-book containing twenty 5-minute reflective ideas.

Abstract art on a classroom wall

Working through the maze of professional development (From ELTpics by Carmen Arias Blázquez, used under a CC 3.0 license)

Let me know if you try out any of these ideas or if you have any to add to the list. 

Update

Zhenya Polosotova shared five different types of reflective sessions on her blog back in December 2013.

 

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