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

Posts tagged ‘MA’

Observer guidelines: giving feedback

I just wrote these guidelines for post-observation feedback to supplement an MA assignment and feel like they’re worth sharing. What would you add/remove/change?

The aims of post-observation feedback are to:

  • boost teachers’ confidence.
  • develop teachers’ ability to reflect on their own teaching.
  • help them build on their strengths.
  • identify 2-3 key areas to focus on developing and come up with concrete ideas for how to do this.
  • deal with any questions or concerns the teacher may have.
  • explain, if necessary, any areas of methodology or terminology which may be useful for teachers in examining their future practice.

Effective observation feedback is

Timely / Prompt
The closer in time the feedback is to the observation, the better, as events will be fresher in both of your minds.

Factual and non-evaluative, describing behaviour without judgment
Feedback should clearly establish what, when, where, and how, and avoid commenting on why. It should address the actual lesson based on direct observation, rather than the assumptions and interpretations of the observer, or criticisms of the person (You’re not organized at all, are you?). It also avoids value judgments (The students were engaged in the activity. rather than That was a good activity.)

Specific
Feedback should address specific aspects of the lesson and provide clear examples of what was observed.

Balanced
Both positive and negative aspects of the lesson should be discussed, and always should always be reinforced by specific examples.

Something which can be acted upon
Action points should be based on things which the teacher can do something about, not things over which they have little or not control (e.g. Teachers can make sure late students come in quickly and quietly, but they can’t stop them from being late). Any suggestions for action points should be accompanied by discussion about how to work on these, with ideas preferably coming from the teacher rather than the observer.

A space for learning within a dialogue / Not over-directed
The observer should ask relevant questions to encourage teachers to come to their own conclusions as far as possible, rather than presenting them with the observer’s conclusions (How do you think the lesson went? Why do you think the students took a long time to complete that activity? rather than I thought that lesson was too difficult for the students. They didn’t understand the activity so couldn’t complete it.) If the teacher is talking more, they have the space to formulate and articulate ideas, process thoughts and form new understandings – they are less likely to do this if they are just listening. The more the feedback comes from teacher reflecting on their lesson, the more ownership they have over it, and the more likely they are to be able to act on it. Dialogue also reduces the danger of giving advice without fully identifying the problem.

Caring and respectful
The amount of feedback given should be limited to what the teacher can handle, rather than covering everything the observer would like to say. Equally, don’t be afraid to challenge the teacher to push their thinking. The teacher needs to know that we have their best interests at heart. Remember that the teacher’s nonverbal behaviour can be a clue as to how they feel about the lesson and the feedback, not just what they are saying.

Checked for clarity
You need to make sure that the teacher has understood the feedback you have given, and what they need to do to work on action points. Asking teachers to summarise the feedback at the end of the meeting is an opportunity for the teacher to tell you the positives from the observation as they understand them, plus what the teacher needs to do next, and for you to clarify any confusing points.

Part of a process
Emphasise that you don’t expect teachers to be able to resolve any issues you have noted instantly, and that it may take time to work on them. Request feedback on your feedback too, so that teachers see you as a learning observer and feedback giver and you demonstrate how to successfully receive feedback.

A positive experience, balancing feelings and rationality
For post-observation feedback to be successful, teachers need to trust the observer and feel comfortable receiving feedback from them. They also need to feel ready to receive feedback. If they are already feeling very stressed, anxious, angry, or in any other way negative about the situation, ask them if they would like to rearrange the feedback session for a later date. If you are not sure about how to give feedback in a particular situation, discuss it (confidentially) with somebody else first if you can. Teachers have the right to have an emotional reaction to observation feedback – their feelings should not be discounted. Equally, don’t be afraid to say how things in the lesson made you feel as an observer. Emphasise strengths and improvements made, and encourage confidence and positive thinking as much as possible. Make sure the feedback meeting ends on a positive note.

References

These guidelines are adapted from the following sources, with my own ideas added:

  • Diaz Maggioli, G. (2012) Teaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education (page 92)
  • Mann, S. and Walsh, S. (2017) Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching. London: Routledge. (page 165 and page 159-160 based on Waring 2013:104-105)
  • White, R. Hockley, A., van der Horst Jansen, J. and Laughner, M. S. (2008) From Teacher to Manager: Managing Language Teaching Organisations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (page 65-66 based on Porter 1982)
  • Wallace, S. and Gravells, J. (2005) Mentoring, 2nd edition. Exeter: Learning Matters. (pages 55, 58, 69, 70, 74).

Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho

This is part of a series of posts summarising the contents of some of the books I’ve read for the NILE MA Trainer Development module. They aren’t really intended as traditional book reviews, more as a way of reminding myself of what’s in each book and helping other people decide which ones might be useful to them.

Key details

TitleTrainer Development

Author: Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho

Publisher: Self-published

Year: 2007

Place of publication: Published online

Affiliate links: Amazon, Book Depository (I’ll get a few pennies if you use one of these!)

Other links: Lulu

What’s in it?

12 chapters:

  1. Inside a training course 1
  2. A framework for training
  3. Working with groups in training
  4. Working with participants’ experience
  5. New and shared experiences in training
  6. The awareness-raising process and its consequences
  7. Talk in training courses
  8. Creating meaning: new learning
  9. Planning for action
  10. Feedback, assessment and evaluation in training
  11. Inside a training course 2
  12. Developing as a trainer

Chapters 1 and 11 describe a training course in full, with commentaries from the authors describing the principles the courses demonstrate (they ran one of the courses each). Chapters 2 to 10 expand on these principles, including acknowledging potential problems if you follow through with them in your own courses, all drawn from the authors’ experience. Chapter 12 summarises these principles and shows how the two authors have developed and will continue to do so.

235 pages of content, including a range of activities that can be used in the training room. These often have examples of responses to the activities taken from Wright and Bolitho’s real courses. There is a focus on the processes of training, and social and affective factors trainers should consider. There are also quotes from their previous course participants throughout to support their points.

Comprehensive list of resources for trainers (a little out-of-date now, as the book was published in 2007, but a lot is still relevant)

No index, and the typos are somewhat distracting at times, especially in chapter 11. One or two diagrams are missing and page numbers are sometimes incorrect when referencing other parts of the book.

What I found useful/thought-provoking/myself saying ‘yes!’ to

(These could be concepts, ideas or descriptions. Please note that quotes are obviously decontextualised here, and for the full effect you should read the book. Bold and italics are from the original source, not mine.)

The focus on starting from where the trainees are:

We have to be prepared to start where they are and to make the journey of professional learning with them, hand in hand, rather than starting from where we are, exhorting them to come over and join us and follow us. (p225)

We believe that the participants themselves are the preferred starting point in training courses. They come to courses with experience. They also possess a system of beliefs, attitudes and values about teaching and learning, and about how people relate to each other in a variety of contexts. They also come with expectations. We believe that it is imperative that a course begins with an exploration of all these elements, in any order that seems appropriate to the group in question. (p4)

Work from existing to new knowledge and constructs. (p16)

Training means change, and change isn’t easy:

Even if participants volunteer for courses (as opposed to being ‘selected’), they do not, as a rule, come looking for change. Or they might be unaware of the need to change in order to accommodate new knowledge or skills. (p107)

By involving them [participants] in activity to experience new ways of teaching and learning, we may invite irritation, anger, fear or silence. Reactions are more often than not defensive, no matter how well intentioned or motivated a group might be. (p108)

The unknown is frightening, possibly overwhelming. (p107)

As well as being uncertain, unable to make decisions, believing contradictory ideas, holding opposing positions, we are also ‘fragile’. We want the new awareness to go away. Its consequences scare us. (p107) [I’ve realised this myself over the past couple of years, and have therefore been more forgiving of trainees/new teachers when they’re stressed, and have been able to stay calmer myself when helping them.]

Talk is an important part of this process (Chapter 7):

We need to move away from a transmission approach to training towards a more participatory one. (p122) [This is something we’ve been trying at school over the past 6 months or so, based on an instinct of mine and my colleagues but without really knowing why or how to do it – this book helps! We’ve had good results so far.]

Change is unlikely unless we make our principles public. (p78)

The role of talk in the processing of ideas is pivotal, and the generous allocation of time allowed for focused discussion of issues is crucial. (p8)

…with the trainer’s role being one of facilitator and summariser:

We often find that, in the excitement of open discussion, so many ideas are reverberating around the training room that no-one can see the wood for the trees. Our responsibility in this case is to pull things together, to pick out and highlight key themes from the discussion so that a set of priorities emerges for the group to focus on. (p123)

True learning and development are about something deeper:

The real confrontation on any training course is between each individual participant and herself. The sense participants make of a course is essentially derived from the degree to which they are prepared to explore their own thinking and to relate it to their own context in the light of wider trends and findings. (p98)

The challenge for us, as tutors, is to provoke and promote the kind of thinking and conceptualisation which reaches the level of values and beliefs, and which involves participants in a principled reappraisal of their practices. (p227)

…and it takes time:

Our experience is that professional learning cannot be hurried if it is to be valuable and that time spent on follow-up procedures […] is an investment in depth and quality of learning. (p89)

People change and develop in unpredictable ways; the messages in a course component may take years to digest, and it may only be 5 years after a programme that real summative feedback can be given, usually by the participant to us. (p188)

This also means it’s worth following up on a course six months or so after it’s finished [I’m going to try this with the course I’m currently running]:

Many will not really know what the course means to them until long after it is over, and they have had time to digest all the ‘lessons’ they have learned and to try out their ideas in practice. (p177)

It gives us more useful balanced feedback than we could ever get through reviewing the course formally on the final day. (p177)

Emotions are integral to training, but rarely acknowledged as such:

When a trainee learns how to teach she makes a huge personal and emotional investment in the process, which is very close to our being or essence. (p106)

We believe that in the initial stages of reflection, participants need to ‘unload’ their feelings about an experience before proceeding to describing or reconstructing it. (p26)

The emotional side of being a trainer is one that poses us some of the greatest challenges in our own development and learning. (p61-62)

We would contend that one of the key development areas for us as trainers is in understanding the world of the emotions. (p106) [I think this is important for managers too.]

It’s important to be careful with our words and work on our interpersonal skills:

Participants are often at their most vulnerable in one-to-one sessions (especially after the high level of emotional investment in an observed lesson or an individual presentation in the training room). (p226)

[When we feel frustrated, often due to our expectations of participants] An ill-chosen comment in such circumstances can have a negative effect that is difficult to ‘undo’ later. (p228)

Some of our participants may not even be fully aware that they are ‘censoring’ their own contributions, since the avoidance of self-disclosure or public self-doubt may be so ingrained in their ways of behaving. (p71)

Listening is a key part of this, but it needs work:

A commitment to listening attentively to a participant as they make a contribution is not easy. (p119)

We have, on occasion, sat in with participants as they attempt to resolve a problem. It demands intense patience and we find ourselves having to resist the temptation to offer solutions. (p56)

Group formation and group disbanding are both really important, shouldn’t be rushed, and should involve the trainer where possible (p36, p180):

When things have gone wrong in a training group, and we wish to diagnose the problem, we find that this is a good place to start – to ask whether or not we have done enough facilitation of the ‘getting to know you’ process. While we can attempt repair, we have often, to our cost, found that it is difficult ever to achieve this fully. The learning experience suffers as a consequence. (p49) [Definitely something I’ve experienced with a couple of English classes, and to a lesser extent on training courses.]

We see it as a major task of the trainer to provide the conditions for the group to explore this experience [the collective experience of the group], to share their diversity and to establish points of commonality. (p113)

Trust and honesty are the basis of effective communication in groups, and are built progressively (and not without difficulty) through activities which promote disclosure. […] Disclosure can help to build mutual respect, and enable members to cope with the inevitable conflicts and disputes that characterise a working group. (p112)

Mutual trust cannot be taken for granted. (p36)

Add destabilisation and uncertainty to the group process, where people are struggling to establish identities and relationships, with perhaps undeveloped communication skills, and the training room is an even more stressful environment. (p107-108)

Thinking questions can be added to the end of written summaries of discussions and prompt further reflection. (p102-103)

‘Suitcases’ are a good way to start and/or end courses (mentioned on p44-45 and on p181, plus in an article we received when we were in Norwich)

Activity grids and ‘degridding’ (mentioned in chapter 5) can be used to go deeper into activities done in the training room. [Something I’m learning to do more consistently.]

It is necessary to go beyond the activities themselves and to ‘excavate’ them to uncover the principles which lie behind them. (p90)

In order for meaning to be derived from any activity, structured and, if necessary, guided reflection need to take place. (p25)

Better to explore activities in depth and to gain insights that are generative than to attempt to cover too much and spread ourselves to thinly. (p90)

All of this reading I’m doing is worth it!

Professional reading has a vital part to play in teacher and trainer development. It is an opportunity to be alone with ideas, to make connections, to find support, to open horizons, to excite, to inspire, to consolidate and to help gain ownership of ideas. (p156)

Part of the process of training should be to enable participants to select and add to their bookshelf titles which they find useful. (p155)

…but it’s vital that theory is connected to participants’ experience whenever possible:

We have found that completely abstract ideas on training and training processes mean little to participants without the concrete reference point of personal history or shared experience in the training room. (p29)

Experienced teachers and trainers have often well-developed and well-thought-out personal theories on teaching, learning, people and so on. These personal theories inform action and reaction. They are usually developed, maintained and used unconsciously. (p144)

Training that explicitly draws upon participants’ personal theories and the capacity to theorise is likely to be perceived as more ‘relevant’ by participants. […] A specific time when we can do this is when exploring training or teaching experiences. (p144-5)

Assessment on training courses should be as practical as possible, reflecting things they need to do in their professional lives (Amen!) and should be based on clear(ly communicated) criteria. (Chapter 10)

Assignments should have professional face validity. (p175)

We believe that the basis of a developmental assessment and evaluation system is the effective communication of intents, purposes, process and outcomes. (p173)

For training to be truly effective, it’s important for trainees to do some form of action planning at the end of their courses, both to summarise what they have learnt and to prepare for the transition (back) to their workplaces. (Chapter 9) [I’ve tried this for the first time on the course I’m running at the moment for participants leaving after one week, and I think it worked pretty well.]

Our aim is always to try to pace our courses in such a way as to allow time and opportunity for participants to plan for this [their return to teaching or training] towards the end of their course by bringing together the ideas they have accumulated and putting them into some kind of organised framework for implementation on their return to work. (p158)

There is no guarantee that transfer will take place, that participants will change and develop, and adopt new principles, and put them into practice. (p168)

We can easily forget the strains on a course participant whose worldview has been disturbed to the point that they are still in flux when the course is finishing. (p168)

They will benefit if they can go back to work not only with renewed vigour and zeal, but with usable materials and plans, and a clear notion of what they might achieve. (p172)

The authors demonstrate a continued desire to learn and be challenged, including in public: [something I hope I share!]

Our knowledge and expertise will always be incomplete. (p1)

We have to remain flexible in order to respond to these twists and turns, and it is from the surprises and unexpected turnings that we learn and develop. (p231)

[Going public] Both of us speak regularly at conferences and participate in other professional activity in publishing, examining and consultancy. In all these endeavours we find our principles challenged, open to the scrutiny of our colleagues and we value this immensely. (p233)

The act of articulating one’s thought processes is a valuable way of clarifying why we take certain courses of action. (p141)

Once we take the decision to involve training participants in an open discussion of training issues, to interact as a learning community, to acknowledge the resources for learning available in a group, and to set out deliberately to understand and work with the social and emotional world of trainees, we create a challenging agenda for all concerned. (p63)

Questions I still have

To what extent could a transmission approach work on pre-service courses? Especially if they really are pre-service and don’t include experienced teachers!

Why has it taken me so long to realise that group dynamics are such a key part of teacher and training?! Really need to find the time to read Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield, which I’ve dipped into before, but never gone through completely. [Amazon affiliate link]

General comment

I really liked this book, and often found myself agreeing with points made about social and emotional aspects of training. I liked the way that the two courses described were for teacher trainers, so there was a kind of meta aspect in two of the chapters. All of the activities described as part of those courses could be adapted for other training contexts. There was a real sense of the authors’ voices, and what it would be like to be trained by them. I also liked the exploratory nature of the book, with the recognition that they are not ‘finished’ as trainers and still have things to learn.

Trainer Development – a NILE course

I’ve just finished two weeks at NILE in Norwich where I completed the face-to-face component of the MA Trainer Development module. It can also be attended as a stand-alone course, without the MA.

The course consisted of three sessions a day of input covering a wide range of topics including:

  • working with teachers’ beliefs
  • input and process options for sessions
  • planning different course types
  • course design
  • mentoring
  • evaluating published training materials
  • observation and feedback

Our group of six had two trainers who shared the sessions between them. I was particularly impressed at how seamlessly the sessions fed into each other, something I hope to achieve if I’m co-training in the future. Briony and Simon were very receptive to our needs and requests, and were able to adapt sessions and the course as a whole to meet them. They are very knowledgeable about teacher training, particularly in terms of where to find extra resources to explore areas further. They also practise what they preach: I think I learnt as much from observing them in action as I did from the actual input itself, especially regarding techniques and activities for reflection on sessions and the course as a whole.

The course was well-paced, and allowed plenty of space for discussion and reflection on the concepts we were learning. It was a great chance to learn from the experience of the others in the room, and to think about my own training in the past and future, both as a participant and trainer. Towards the end of the course we had a chance to try out what we’d learnt by micro-training, putting together 40-minute workshops for our colleagues.

If you’re interested in reading about some of the concepts we discussed on the course, these are the blog posts I wrote as I went along:

To complete the requirements for the MA module, I now need to write three assignments in the next six months. This is not required if you attend it as a stand-alone course. I will continue to receive support for this from one of our trainers on the face-to-face course – I like the fact that I won’t just be interacting with a name on an email address, but somebody who I’ve got to know and who knows me.

For anyone who would like to find out more about becoming a teacher trainer or developing their knowledge of training-related theory, I’d highly recommend the two-week NILE Trainer Development course, whether or not you want to do an MA with them. They also offer a range of other face-to-face courses, mostly in the summer, and online courses which run all year.

Teaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning by Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts summarising the contents of some of the books I’ve read for the NILE MA Trainer Development module. It’s not really intended as a traditional book review, more as a way of reminding myself of what’s in each book and helping other people decide which ones might be useful to them.

Key details

TitleTeaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning

Author: Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Education

Year: 2012

Place of publication: Lanham, Maryland

Affiliate links: Amazon, Book Depository

What’s in it?

8 chapters:

  1. Becoming a Teacher of Teachers [ToT]
  2. Views of Teacher Knowledge
  3. The ToT’s “Tool” kit
  4. Designing Lessons, Courses and Materials
  5. Assessment Of and For Teacher Learning
  6. Observation of Teaching and Learning
  7. Teaching Teachers Online [I didn’t read this chapter, as it’s not currently relevant to me]
  8. Sustaining Professional Learning

Each chapter starts with a quote, a list of objectives, and a few questions for the reader to think about, plus space to write notes to answer them. It ends with a conclusion summarising what was covered in the chapter.

At the back, there’s one task file per unit, including a way to ‘Act on it!’ (though these don’t seem to be referred to in the rest of the book)

Introduction plus 151 pages of content, 12 of tasks

Comprehensive index and bibliography

What I found useful/thought-provoking

(These could be concepts, ideas or descriptions. I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book or do a search to find out more details.)

Traditions in teacher learning (pp. 8-14):

  • Look and Learn
  • Read and Learn
  • Think and Learn
  • Participate and Learn

Four domains of foreign-language teacher’s knowledge (p28):

  • Language and Culture
  • Pedagogy and Assessment
  • Professionalism
  • Adaptive Expertise
    ‘Adaptive Expertise’ is “the teacher’s process of enacting the other domains in real-life contexts and reflecting on the impact of his [sic.] actions.” It “allows them to effect positive changes in their situation, with the aim of improving their students’ learning opportunities.” “It uses the other types of knowledge to prompt changes in current pedagogy.” (all p28)

The range of ways in which teacher learning can be scaffolded, including through assessment. (whole book, but particularly chapter 3)

The idea that knowledge, skills and dispositions (not sure exactly what the latter are?) can be divided into (p63):

  • essential
  • relevant as support to the essential
  • interesting

…and this implies different approaches to assessment. You can use this to help you decide what to include in courses/sessions.

The ‘Question Exploration Guide’ to help you determine what areas might be useful to explore in a training course. (p65)

The example rubric for discussion board participation in an online course (p72) and assessment criteria for a course and the written assignments on it (p76)

Two different sample rubrics for ‘Teacher’s Use of the Foreign Language’, one analytic/task-specific, and the other holistic/task-specific (pp. 88-89)

The charactistics of constructive formative feedback (p92) and the steps of the CARE model for delivering it (p93), the latter based on Noddings (1984)

List of possible foci for classroom observation (p105, adapted from Diaz Maggioli 2004:86)

The most accessible breakdown I have yet seen of Heron’s six-category intervention analysis (pp. 112-113)

Questions I still have

How do you identify desired results if teachers/other stakeholders aren’t clear about what they want a particular training course to achieve? You can obviously make these decisions yourself, but it’s better to have stakeholder involvement. In that case, how flexible can/should your course be and to what extent is this determined by context? (pp. 57-61)

What might constitute acceptable evidence of ‘expert performance’ on in-service courses? I feel this is much easier to identify for new(er) teachers, or where there are clear teaching standards to be achieved such as on the MA TESOL course that was referred to through the book. (pp. 57-61)

Which of the ideas from this book would transfer from the MA TESOL context to the private language school context and which wouldn’t?

General comment

I think it’s mostly aimed at trainers on MA TESOL courses, rather than trainers in general, and a lot of the descriptions are geared towards “aspiring teachers”. It’s therefore not always relevant to me as I work at a private language school and train teachers on CELTA or other short INSETT [In-service Teacher Training] courses.

Generally very readable, though I had to re-read some of the theoretical sections a few times to get my head around them (not sure if I actually did or not!) Definitely ideas in here which I’ll be coming back to.

Helping teachers to reflect

Reflection is one of the areas of professional development which I’m most interested in, to the extent that I’ve written two books to try and help teachers and trainers to reflect when they don’t have any face-to-face support where they work. Yesterday we had a 90-minute session with ideas for helping teachers to reflect, as part of the NILE MA Trainer Development course.

Reflection doesn’t work

I’ve tried to get teachers to reflect in my sessions. I’m a bit disappointed with the results. To be honest, I’m not really sure how to get them to think. Help!

Here’s a list of questions I came up with to ask this trainer, supplemented with ideas from my partner in the group:

  • What techniques have you tried so far?
  • When did you use them?/At what point(s) in the sessions?
  • Are your trainees ready to reflect? (both in terms of experience of teaching and of reflection i.e. do they know how to do it?)
  • How do you model reflection for them?
  • You said you were a bit disappointed with the results. What kind of results would you like to see?
  • How much time do you give them for reflection activities?
  • How concrete or abstract is the reflection? i.e. Is it based on concrete events or abstract ideas?
  • How personal is it? Do they have to ‘expose’ their beliefs/their classrooms/their ideas in any way?
  • What kind of questions are you using? i.e. Open? Closed? Leading? Hypothetical?
  • What’s the balance of listening to speaking in the reflective activities?
  • How active is the reflection?
  • How consistent/patient were you with setting up reflection? Did you persevere with it?

What would you add to my list?

Reflection on short courses

We also read an article from English Teaching Professional Issue 55 March 2008 (pp57-59) called ‘Time for reflection‘ by Sue Leather and Radmila Popovic. I’m afraid you’ll need to be a subscriber to read the whole thing. It talks about “the importance of reflection on short training courses and how to structure and support it.” There are two ideas in the article which I particularly like.

The first is timetabling 30-60 minutes into the daily schedule of the course for reflection, either at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day. It should be timetabled as ‘reflection’ and not part of another session.

The other idea is including a notebook as part of the course, which will become the participant’s journal. It will be private unless they choose to share it, and could be used for free writing, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in English or not.

Has anybody tried either of these two ideas? Did they work for your trainees/context?

The consequences of INSET (Martin Lamb)

For homework last night we read The consequences of INSET, an ELT Journal article from 1995 by Martin Lamb (Volume 49 Issue 1, pp72-79). I’m really sorry to keep sharing articles which are hidden behind paywalls 😦 but hopefully my very short summary will give you the general idea. This article was a real eye-opener for me, and I hope you get to read the original at some point!

Abstract

Teachers attending short INSET courses are usually exposed to a great amount of new information and ideas. While this can be exciting at the time, the after-effects may be less salutary. This article describes one particular INSET course and the reactions of the participating teachers one year later. It suggests that very few of this ideas presented on the course were taken up in the way anticipated by the tutors, mainly due to the mediating effects of the participants’ own beliefs about teaching and learning. Any INSET course which is seriously concerned with long-term change in teachers’ practice will have to take these beliefs into account.

Before reading this article, I knew that training that I do is not always taken wholesale into the classroom and incorporated into teachers’ practice – if anyone could manage that, it would be a miracle! But I suspected there were three states for any given activity/theory/idea I might present:

  • No uptake
  • Confusion
  • Complete uptake

How wrong I was! In fact, according to a study done by Lamb there are lots of different ways that ideas from courses can be taken up. Interviewing and observing teachers one year after a 2-week, 25-hour course, Lamb found “seven different ways in which participants had reacted, consciously or unconsciously, to ideas presented on the course” (p75):

  • No update
  • Confusion
  • Labelling (applying a term to an activity they were already doing)
  • Appropriation (justifying changes in teaching not anticipated by the tutors)
  • Assimilation (transferring techniques without necessarily understanding the rationale)
  • Adaptation and rejection
  • Engagement

In short, very few of the ideas from the training were actually incorporated into the practice of the participants, although they had responded positively to the course.

As a result, Lamb highlights the importance of making participants aware of their routine practice and the values [beliefs] behind it. He also reminds us that participants should decide which areas to develop and “formulate their own agenda for change” (p79).

For me, it’s another example of the importance of including an examination of teacher beliefs in training courses, something which I rarely remember being included in any of the training I have done or delivered (!) but will definitely be adding to my training!

Using taxonomies to order workshop activities

We looked at two different taxonomies you could use when planning workshops, in a session on the NILE Trainer Development course today.

The first was proposed by Rod Ellis in a 1986 ELT Journal article called Activities and procedures for teacher training. It lists 10 different kinds of task for teachers on training courses, arranged loosely from less to more cognitively/linguistically demanding:

  1. Listing
  2. Rearranging
  3. Comparing
  4. Ranking
  5. Selecting
  6. Adding/Completing
  7. Adapting
  8. Preparing
  9. Evaluating
  10. Improving

We also looked at Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Anderson and Krathwohl), again from ‘easier’ to ‘more difficult’:

  • Remembering
  • Understanding
  • Applying
  • Analysing
  • Evaluating
  • Creating

With a coursebook page as a prompt, we used these taxonomies to come up with 6 teacher training tasks laddered from easier to harder, with the caveat that the taxonomies are guidelines, not straitjackets.

The aim my partner and I chose for our imagined group of middle school teachers was ‘to learn how to adapt coursebooks to increase student engagement’. The 6 tasks we came up with were:

  1. List ways you already know to engage students with a coursebook page. (Listing/Remembering)
  2. Categories those methods in some way, e.g. heads up/down, stirrers/settlers, individual/pair/group activities. (Rearranging)
  3. Read this blogpost – what else can you add to your categories? [On reflection, that should probably be something like ‘Choose one thing to add to each category.’ as otherwise it could be overwhelming!] (Adding)
  4. Which of the activities on your list would/wouldn’t work with your students? What would you change? (Analysing/Evaluating)
  5. In pairs, plan your own lesson based on the coursebook page. (Preparing/Creating)
  6. Look at another pair’s lesson plan. Decide what works and what you could improve. (Evaluating/Improving)

Feel free to try out this session with your teachers. I’d be interested to know how it goes 🙂

Uncovering teachers’ beliefs

Teachers often talk about what and how, but often don’t say why or why not.

That was a quote from a session on teacher beliefs (the why/why not of what we do) on the NILE Trainer Development course today. We talked about various ways of uncovering beliefs, and I’ve thought of one more. What would you add?

  • Have 2-3 statements connected to beliefs teachers could discuss at the beginning of a session.
  • Say a statement – they stand to the left or right depending on whether they agree or disagree, or somewhere in the middle if they prefer.
  • Have statements which trainees tick/cross/modify.
  • Create short case studies with some kind of dilemma – each ‘solution’ is valid, but discussing them can show up beliefs.
  • Drawing pictures (based on the ‘images for teaching’ IATEFL session from Birmingham 2016)

 

Making input processes explicit

Today on the NILE trainer development course we read an article by Briony Beaven about how to make trainees aware of all of the different methods of input that we use on a course, as well as the variety of interaction patterns and activity types we use. She suggested using a poster at the end of each session with a tick list that can build up over the course. Trainees are often not able to notice input processes because they are so focused on the content of sessions. The poster draws explicit attention to input processes and will hopefully help trainees to vary their own input, activities and interaction patterns in their lessons. The original article appeared in English Teaching professional issue 74, in May 2011 and includes examples of such a poster. We’ve started using one for our course too.

Professional pride

TD [Teacher Development…] stresses the importance of reflection on experience and the ongoing cumulative nature of professional pride and confidence.

Penny Ur in ‘Teacher Training, Teacher Development’ from issue 8 of the English Teaching Professional magazine

We read this article today as part of a session on the Trainer Development module at NILE (part of my MA). I really like the idea of developing professional pride and confidence in teachers I work with – I know confidence is an area I’ve definitely thought about before, but I’m not sure about professional pride. Here are my ideas so far for how to do this:

  • strength spotting
  • deserved praise
  • pointing out how they are benefitting their learners as teachers

What would you add?

Starting my MA

Today I arrived in Norwich, the first time I’ve been here.

A gateway to new places (The Ethelbert Gate, one of two entrances into Norwich Cathedral close. Fittingly, the upper chamber is now a classroom)

I’ll be here for the next two weeks for the MA Trainer Development course, the first module that I’m doing on the NILE MA in Professional Development for Language Education, or MAPDLE for short. For those who don’t know, NILE is the Norwich Institute for Language Education.

I registered for this module in March, got my approval in April, and since then have been doing lots of background reading. This has been fascinating, and has really inspired me so far, with lots of ideas swirling around in my head. It’s also confirmed some of the thinking I already had about what does and doesn’t work in teacher training. The most frustrating thing is that I have so many ideas for blogposts at the moment, and no time at all to write them!

The books I’ve read so far are [Amazon links are affiliate ones, BEBC is the Bournemouth English Book Centre]:

  • Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh (Amazon, Book Depository) – I devoured this, and got so many ideas from it – highly recommended!
  • Teaching Teachers: Processes and Practices by Angi Malderez and Martin Wedell (Amazon, Book Depository)
  • Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers by Angi Malderez and Caroline Bodóczky (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
  • Advising and Supporting Teachers by Mick Randall with Barbara Thornton (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
  • Language Teacher Education by Jon Roberts (Amazon, Book Depository)

…and two others from the reading list I read a while ago and keep recommending!

  • Professional Development for Language Teachers by Jack C. Richards and Thomas S. C. Farrell (Amazon, Book Depository)
  • A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT by John Hughes (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository) – I think this is the best basic introduction to teacher training

I have another three or four books on my shelf waiting for me to read when I get back to Poland too.

Tomorrow I start two weeks of face-to-face input as part of the blended course, and I will then have until 31st January 2020 to complete three assignments (retrieved from the MA Module -Trainer Development page):

  • A portfolio (50%) containing TWO of the following three options:
    1. A criterion-referenced evaluation of a piece of published training material in relation to a specified context.
    2. Production or analysis of an in-house developmental scheme for monitoring and/or supervision of a specified group of teachers.
    3. A piece of self-produced training material for use on an INSETT or PRESETT course in a specific context, accompanied by a rationale and evaluation.
  • A main 3,000 word assignment (50%) consisting of a fully worked out design for a short in-service or pre-service course for a specific context, including a rationale, a means of evaluation and a statement of staffing and resource provision.

I already have ideas for the two portfolio tasks, and ‘just’ need something for the course I have to create.

Why this MA?

I like the fact that I can pay for the modules as I go along, and that my Delta means that I don’t have to do the Core module. It also seems to be a very flexible course, and you can work around what’s happening in your life.

The assignments look like they will be highly practical and applicable to my job – I prefer that to lots of theory.

The blended modules mean I can spend two weeks in the summer completely focussing on the course, without having to work at the same time as taking in new information. I also get to meet the people I’m doing the course with, something I really feel I missed out on by doing the Distance Delta.

NILE has a great reputation, and I’ve heard lots of good things about the course. I’ve also found them to be really helpful so far.

But mostly, I chose this MA because of its flexibility – I think it’s possibly the most flexible MA in the world 😉 Here’s an excerpt from their FAQs:

Do I have to enrol for the whole MA programme?

Yes, you do need to enrol for the whole programme, but you enrol and pay for each module within it separately, according to your individual needs. There are then two possible exit points where you can withdraw from the programme with a ‘contained award’: a Postgraduate Certificate (after gaining 60 credits) or a Postgraduate Diploma (after gaining 120 credits). The Core module counts for 60 credits and the elective modules count for a further 30 credits each.

Feelings before the course

I was super motivated about the course, and really fired up by all the reading I’d done. Then I had two weeks’ holiday and lost my momentum 😉 …but in the few days since that finished I’ve started to get excited again.

I’m most looking forward to getting external feedback on my professional development, as most of my CPD for the last few years has been things I’ve done independently.

I’m also intrigued to find out who else will be on the course, and to learn more about where they work and who they work with.

It’s also great to be able to really focus on my CPD for two whole weeks, without worrying about anything else (apart from a little recruitment!)

Oh, and I already really like Norwich and am looking forward to exploring it more fully!

Norwich Cathedral cloisters

Watch out for more MA-related posts, though they might be a while in coming (and I still need to write my IATEFL ones too…)

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Materials writing

Following on from the excellent MaWSIG pre-conference event, I ended up going to quite a few more talks related to materials writing during the conference. Here are summaries of said talks.

Designing materials: from theory to practice? – Sonia Munro and Susan Sheehan

Sonia and Susan work on the MA TESOL at the University of Huddersfield. The course originally had only a traditional dissertation at the end of it, but they have now added the option of a more practical materials design project rather than a dissertation. Students have to create 15 hours worth of classroom materials for a specific context and do a 30-minute viva. The only course participants who now do a dissertation are those who are required to do so by external forces, such as those who are being funded by a Ministry of Education. All others opt for materials design.

Why did they choose to offer this alternative? Feedback on the dissertation module was not as positive as for other modules on the MA, with participants complaining that they couldn’t collect the necessary data from their students over the summer. Materials design doesn’t just help those who are creating materials; it also helps teachers to be more critical when choosing materials for their students.

The viva allows participants to show the theoretical underpinnings of their materials, but Sonia and Susan noticed that there was a huge range in the ability of course participants to do this. Tomlinson (2003) mentions that many established writers start with intuition based on their own experience in the classroom, but MA students don’t have that luxury and must demonstrate that they have clear reasons for their materials design. In the viva, they have to present their materials and demonstrate the theory behind them, then participate in a discussion building on this. Some participants could do this easily, but others were unable to demonstrate any awareness of theory at all. To be successful, they need to:

  • Draw on a wide range of sources, not just readings suggested by tutors;
  • Demonstrate critical engagement with theories and sources;
  • Show a clear relationship between theory and practice, demonstrating they understand this;
  • Analyse materials that are typically used in their context and use these as a springboard for their own materials;
  • Notice the good points and limitations of the materials they use as a reference;
  • Show an awareness of their context: What are the constraints? Are these materials appropriate?

These are the main problems their MA students had in the viva:

  • Only citing a narrow range of authors.
  • Not referring to SLA (second language acquisition) theorists.
  • Sticking to authors writing about materials design only.
  • Not referring to authors specific to their context (e.g. EAP).
  • Not mentioning issues like Global English or English as a Lingua Franca.
  • Conflating literature and theory and not going deeply enough into the theory.
  • Not demonstrating enough criticality: for example by comparing authors or mentioning the weaknesses of the research. Being quite superficial.

To increase the students’ engagement with theory, Susan and Sonia would like to:

  • Make the use of theory more explicit and show students how to find theory more usefully.
  • Emphasise that theory is the core of the module.
  • Stop students from getting lost in the aesthetics of the materials – they tend to spend too long on this and not enough time on the theory.
  • Train students to do better literature searches.

I haven’t done an MA yet, but would like to at some point in the future, so I think this will come in very useful when I get to that stage.

Frameworks for creativity in materials design – Jill Hadfield

I’ve been connected to Jill on facebook for a while, and she’s been able to help me out a couple of times, so I went to this talk to be able to meet her in person for the first time. It gave me lots of ideas for potential workshops in the future, and furthered my understanding of some of the principles behind materials design, following on from the talk above. It’s also encouraged me to consider in more depth the principles I believe in/follow/use (What’s the right verb?!) when designing materials, teaching, and training.

When Jill was writing her latest book, Motivating Learning [affiliate link], with Zoltan Dörnyei, she started keeping a reflective journal to help her uncover the principles behind her own writing. She then analysed her journal and categorised her comments to try to find underlying patterns. She was motivated to do this by theorists who posited that materials writers tend to rely on intuition rather than theory, but as she said “We do have principles, but we’re too busy writing materials!”

Jill divided up the principles from her journal into two areas: framing principles and core energies. Framing principles ask questions like ‘What makes good materials?’ Here are some of Jill’s examples:

They are a kind of limit, and you shouldn’t include anything which does not adhere to one or more of these principles. In contrast, core energies suffuse your work. They are the underlying themes of your materials, which resurface again and again, but may not be obvious in every activity. In Jill’s journal, these were Affect, Creativity and Play. The example Jill gave to show the difference between the two types of principle was that she believes all activities should be communicative (framing principle), but that there are times when activities should be cognitive, logical or serious depending on the aim (which could be seen as contradicting some of her core energies).

In analysing her journal, Jill realised that she wrote most when she was dealing with problems, and very little when the writing was going smoothly. She seemed to have a lot of tacit principles underlying her writing. Here are some of them:

  • Does this activity fulfil the aim in the best possible way?
  • Is the staging in the best logical sequence?
  • Does staging scaffold the students by providing achievable steps?
  • Are the groupings appropriate to the task and do they provide variety and balance of interaction?

She also noticed a system of checks and balances that stopped her forward progress at times. These included trying out the materials by putting herself in the position of the teacher (imagining), the student (trying out), or the writer explaining the materials to the teacher (dialoguing). Through this process, she sometimes discovered that her activities didn’t do what she wanted them to, which meant she had to rethink them.

Once she has finished writing, Jill uses checklists based on questions formulated from her principles. These help her to ensure quality, coverage (a range of activity types/interaction patterns etc) and analyse covert syllabuses (a hidden agenda). Covert syllabuses can be positive, for example by promoting rapport within the group through activities focussing on dynamics and groupwork, or negative, such as those implied by the kind of images that might be chosen to illustrate a course book (see Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones’ talk at the MaWSIG PCE).

Jill shared lots of possible tasks which you could do to examine your own priniciples, or which could be used as the basis for workshops. Here are just a few examples:

  • Pyramid discussion, where participants first detail their own principles relating to materials design, then compare them with others.
  • Look at the principles you have related to classroom practice and consider them in more depth. Which of them are supported by research? Which of them do not seem to have theoretical support? Why do you think this is?
  • Give participants a range of different activities from published materials, chosen to demonstrate a range of writing styles. Analyse how much they like doing the activity, how often they create similar activities and how much they like creating that kind of activity.
  • Analyse the principles you have come up with in more depth. What are the potential advantages and drawbacks of having these as principles? Can these principles be justified by theory and classroom practice? What questions should you ask yourself about being driven by personal preference in your writing?
  • Dialoguing: participants work in pairs, with one as the classroom teacher and the other as the materials writer. The writer must justify their design decisions to the teacher. Record the conversation, play it back, and see if there are any decisions the writer wants to rethink.
  • Imagining: go through the activity step-by-step, as if you’re using it in class. Record yourself talking through the process, then listen back and analyse it critically. Is there anything you would change?
  • Trying out: put yourself in the students’ shoes. Record your interactions. Listen back and ask yourself questions. For example: Did the activity produce the language required? Did it produce enough of it? Was it engaging? Did everyone have equal turns?
  • Spoken protocols: participants design an activity and verbalise their decisions as they make them. Record this and listen back, with participants trying to verbalise what unspoken design principles are influencing these decisions.
  • Take an activity you have designed and try altering one element, for example, changing it from a pair to a group task. What effect does this have?
  • Develop your own checklists based on the principles you have uncovered. Use them!

Uncovering culture – Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones

When Ben and Ceri started teaching, cultural content in coursebooks looked very different. It tended to reflect and/or reinforce cultural stereotypes, drawing on students’ prior knowledge of the world. There was a lot of pop anthropology or negative etiquette, ‘othering’ the cultures discussed by distancing students from it: ‘They do it like this, not like you do.’ It also reinforced the idea that everyone in a country acts in the same way: ‘Americans eat fast food’. Subliminal cultural content was also common, for example in the choice of images used.

Ceri and Ben wanted to move from this global, stereotypical image of culture, making it more relevant to the students’ lives, combining the global and the local to make it ‘glocal’. For example, rather than an article describing food of the world, including McDonalds as the food of the USA, you could:

  • Compare menus served by McDonalds in different countries.
  • Question what junk and healthy food really is.
  • Look at the designs of McDonalds restaurants, and how they differ around the world, for example the McCafé.
  • Find local news articles featuring McDonalds.

Continuing the food theme, try exploiting these food flags, designed for the Sydney Food Festival. Each image showcases food typical of that country. Students can identify the food, then decide whether they think it really does represent the country. Finally, they create a flag for their own country and other students discuss whether it’s truly representative.

Food-Flags

Image from peacechild.org

‘Breaking’ stereotypes in this way can be a very productive exercise in the classroom. Something similar can be done with postcards too: do they reflect true experiences of what it is like to be in the country?

Ben and Ceri have written various course books together. The most recent are the Eyes Open series, written for secondary school students and published by Cambridge University Press. They have used ideas to exploit culture throughout, and showed examples like this one during their presentation.

There is a move away from stereotypes, showing a more multicultural view of Britain. Texts also have links to the outside world, so that the restaurant mentioned is a real place which students can visit the website of if they want to.

You need to build a bridge between the materials on the page and the lives of the students. One way to do this is to have the voices of ‘insiders’, rather than ‘outsiders’, talking about their own cultures. The example Ben and Ceri gave was a video about dabbawallas in India, leading on to a discussion of whether this system would work in the students’ own countries: What kind of food would they include in the boxes? Who would cook it?

Another avenue for uncovering culture is to emphasise the trans-cultural flow of ideas, rather than separating out cultures artificially. One way to do this is through YouTube videos and the associated comments, like those by Bethany Mota, who often shares videos about food. The ‘unboxing‘ meme is a productive one, and this video of an American opening a pizza in Korea gives lots of language students could draw on to make their own video, making the connection to their own lives and culture.

Here is an abridged version of Ben and Ceri’s slides.

Can a picture tell a thousand words? – Hugh Dellar

You might think that this metaphor is as old as the hills, but according to Hugh’s research, it was actually coined about a century ago by an advertiser in the USA trying to sell advertising space on the side of trams! Hugh decided to continue this theme by advertising too, in this case the new edition of Outcomes, which he co-wrote with Andrew Walkley. 🙂

Hugh’s attitude to the use of images in materials has developed over his writing career. Originally he thought they were just a way of breaking up the page, and that the focus should be on language, because this is what students learn from. When his publisher changed and he was asked to incorporate more National Geographic content into his materials he was initially reluctant, associating them with doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms and pain! He also highlighted the fact that although many of their images are beautiful, they aren’t necessarily great for generating language. They say 1000 words, so you don’t have to. Instead, he finds images which have the potential to ‘bring 1000 words into being’ much more useful.

So what are the functions of the image in the ELT classroom?

  • To illustrate the meaning of lexis. Learners can label things, but it’s not great for longer phrases.
  • To test whether students have remembered lexis. This is great for nouns, but not so good for things which are more abstract.
  • Decoration.
  • Prompts for grammar drills. Hugh mentioned ‘English for voyeurs’, which is true whenever you use images to practise the present continuous!
  • To check receptive understanding (e.g. choose the picture which shows…)
  • To set the scene.
  • To generate language and ideas.
  • To generate discussion, stories, opinions, etc.

The last three are the ones which are the most fruitful, but they require a certain type of image, preferably with some kind of ambiguity or something unstated.

In Outcomes, the picture above is used to introduce a unit on business. One of the discussion points is why there are no women shown. It then leads on to a unit about business, including making phone calls.

The same principles which apply to images could also be used for videos. Again, just because it’s on YouTube, doesn’t make it interesting. There is no guarantee that the language in the video is intelligible, appropriate for the level of your students, or will ever be used by them again. Once you’ve found a suitable video, you still have to write the materials to go with it too! This is where video content accompanying coursebooks comes in. In Outcomes, video is exploited in a variety of ways, not just for traditional comprehension tasks. It’s also a way of improving students listening skills by analysing small chunks of language, and then attempting to reproduce them to experiment with their pronunciation.

You can watch the whole 30-minute presentation on YouTube.

MAWSIG Open Forum

The Materials Writing SIG has gone from strength to strength since it started a couple of years ago. At the open forum, they updated us on what has been happening over the last year and their plans for the next year, including MaWSIG May, a series of webinars which happened very successfully last year and which they would like to repeat. They also held a raffle, and this happened 🙂

In summary

All of these talks have given me a strong incentive to examine the principles behind materials design in more depth, which is something I hope to do if and when I ever get round to doing an MA! I really like the idea of the Anglia Ruskin course, which focuses heavily on materials design, but unfortunately it’s only available face-to-face and I can’t afford it at the moment. One day…

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