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

Posts tagged ‘teacher training’

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This style of evaluative observation is not only outdated but also ill-conceived.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.

Working with new teachers (three things for IH)

Regular followers of this blog may have noticed I’ve been writing and talking a lot about working with new teachers, particularly over the last year. In the last month, International House have shared three of the things I have produced on this theme.

The first is ‘From survival to thriving: how to help new teachers‘, a 30-minute talk as part of the 10th International House Teachers Online Conference on 18th May 2018:

In the talk I suggested a range of different ways that managers and trainers can support teachers as they take their first steps in their careers. I based it roughly around an extended version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’m not going to share the slides separately, as I don’t think they’ll tell you much by themselves, so you’ll just have to watch the presentation! 🙂 You can watch all of the other sessions from the day here and there was also a parallel Modern Language Conference, with sessions on teaching Arabic, Italian, Russian, French and Spanish.

The second is part of my series for the IH Journal, published in Issue 44, entitled ‘Working with new teachers: the things they say’. It’s the first of two parts (the next one will be in the autumn edition) where I list some of the typical comments I hear from new teachers at our school, and the things that I normally say in response. It’s written for both new teachers themselves and the people who work with them. Again, I’d recommend reading the whole journal, as it really showcases the diversity of knowledge within International House.

The final thing is another video, recording at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers Conference in January this year, and published this week.

This one is aimed directly at new teachers, and gives 3 minutes’ worth of tips to help them out.

If you’re a new teacher, I hope you enjoy your time in this amazing career. If you’re working with new teachers, I hope there are some useful reminders here for you. 🙂

IATEFL 2018: The talks I missed

Here’s a selection of nuggets of information from talks which I didn’t manage to attend during this year’s conference but did get bits out of via Twitter. They are loosely categorised to help you find your way around. Thanks to everyone who shared what they were watching! I’ve included videos if they’re available, as I hope to watch them at some point myself.

Looking after ourselves and our students

The talk I most wanted to go and see unfortunately clashed with a meeting I had, but I’m happy to say it was recorded. This tweet says it all:

Phil Longwell used his talk to describe the findings of research he has done over the past year about the mental health of English language teachers. You can read about his findings here. The recording is here:

He also did a 10-minute interview for the IATEFL YouTube channel:

I’ve now added both of these links to my collection of Useful links on Mental Health in ELT. Here’s one of my favourite pictures from the conference too 🙂

James Taylor, Sandy Millin, Phil Longwell

Me with James and Phil

Jen Dobson spoke about online safety for primary learners. As part of it, she shared this advert which should promote a lot of discussion:

Teacher training

Jason Anderson asked what impact CELTA has on the classroom practice of experienced teachers. The full talk is available here:

Jason’s CAP framework was referred to in (I think!) Judith G Hudson’s talk ‘Helping teachers understand and use different lesson frameworks:

It is explained in more detail in this article and this handout.

Karin Krummenacher suggested an alternative way of approaching CELTA input sessions, starting with a needs analysis and encouraging trainees to go to the sessions they need, creating a flexible timetable. This is an interesting idea, though another person pointed out it could prove quite challenging if some trainees feel like they are made to go to more sessions than others.

Video in Language Teacher Education is a project I’d like to explore further, particularly since we’ve been introducing video observation into our school this year. You can get a taster by watching the videos on their website.

As a polyglot myself (I think I can say that!), Scott Thornbury‘s talk on hyperpolyglots and what we can learn from them would have been interesting. Here are three tweets from it:

This slide from Simon Brewster’s talk made me smile:

Here are some other tweets from the same talk:

Alastair Douglas spoke on why observation is such a key part of teacher training and on how we should rethink observation tasks. You can watch Alastair’s full talk on the Teaching English British Council page.

Silvana Richardson and Gabriel Diaz Maggioli described ‘Inspired professional development’. You can watch their full talk here:

Here’s one tweet from the talk as a taster:

Katherine Martinkovich summarized their talk here, along with a selection of other related ones she saw. You can read their full whitepaper on the Cambridge website. Having now watched the talk, I’m going to look at the CPD I’m involved in and see how we can make it more sustained, as this seemed to be the glaring omission from most of what I’m doing.

In the classroom

If you’d like to examine your use of Teacher Talking Time, here are some aspects you might consider, courtesy of Stephen Reilly:

Thanks to Liam for clarifying that PPBP is Pose, Pause, Bounce and Pounce – there seem to be two alternatives: PPPB or PPBP.

Here’s an idea for Use of English activities from Stuart Vinnie’s talk…

…and another for cloze answers…

There are lots more ideas like this on the Cambridge Practice Makes Perfect site.

Gareth Davies, a.k.a. Gareth the Storyteller, asked whether English lessons are fairytales in disguise. You can get a taste of his storytelling here, in a 1-minute clip which is perfect for the classroom.

You can watch Zoltan Dornyei’s talk on how to create safe speaking environments here. You can also read a summary of his talk here, written by Jessica Mackay. It also seems silly not to advertise my ebook, Richer Speaking, at this point, since it includes lots of ways to extend and adapt speaking activities. 🙂

Edmund Dudley was talking about motivating teenagers to write, and promoting the new ETpedia Teenagers book [Amazon affiliate link] which was recently published.

His slides are available here – I’m already thinking about which teachers I can pass them on to at school!

Another talk connected to writing includes the phrase ‘sentence energy’, which sounds intriguing. That was Sarah Blair’s presentation on ‘Teaching writing visually, which you can watch on the TeachingEnglish IATEFL 2018 page, or get to directly here.

Working with language

Jade Blue had some interesting ideas for using learner-generated visuals to conceptualise language. I know this image isn’t perfect, but it gives you the idea I think. Definitely something I’d like to find out more about, and nicely complementing David Connolly‘s presentation.

Kerstin Okubo described how to help academic English students build their vocabulary for spoken production, not just for comprehension:

I’m not sure exactly which talk this was from, apart from that it was part of the Materials Writing SIG showcase on Wednesday 11th April, but it looks like it could be useful for working out how good a particular vocabulary activity is:

Being critical

Here’s one way to promote inclusivity and a critical approach to materials use by students. I think it was from the talk entitled ‘Incorporating diversity: best practices for materials and/or the classroom’ by Ana Carolina Lopes:

John Hughes discussed critical thinking and higher order thinking skills for lower levels.

Finally, Brita Fernandez Schmidt gave a plenary called ‘Knowledge is power: access to education for marginalised women’ which generated a lot of conversation. You can watch it here.

 

What else do you think I missed?

IATEFL 2018: Management, teacher training and development

I started off the IATEFL Brighton 2018 conference at the joint Pre-Conference Event (PCE) run by the Leadership and Management (LAMSIG) and Teacher Development (TDSIG) Special Interest Groups. I have already summarized what I learnt that day, but have included more detailed information from the sessions here, interspersed with ideas from the main conference, hence the combination of topics in the title of this post. This is by far the longest of my IATEFL posts this year, but I couldn’t work out how to separate the streams, so apologies in advance. I hope it’s worth it! 🙂

The #LAMTDSIG PCE was the first time I heard what became one of this year’s conference buzzwords for me: culture. Many speakers mentioned the importance of creating and maintaining a culture of CPD (continuous professional development) within their school.

How can we create a culture of CPD?

The first was Liam Tyrrell, who reminded us that the shared ideas, values and direction that make up the culture of a workplace or team are important. They are what lead to success. Organisational culture is the number one predictor of development outcomes and improved classroom effectiveness, according to Matthew A. Kraft in his 2014 paper with John Papay entitled ‘Can professional environments in schools promote teacher development?

Liam detailed four questions he asked when aiming to change the culture at his school:

  • What does it look like when the culture is changed?
    If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how do you know the steps you need to take to get there? What is the pathway for teachers and the organisation? Small success will carry your organisation.
  • Who are the silent majority?
    Run down the list of names of people in your staffroom. The ones you come to last, or not at all (!) are the ones you probably need to shine a spotlight on. Find out about their successes and encourage them to share them. By amplifying them, other teachers can learn from them too. (Liam credits this idea to @nikkitau from TESOL France last year.)
  • What options can you give to people?
    The trick is not to have everyone doing the same thing (one size fits all), but to have everyone do SOMETHING!
  • How can you get recruitment right?
    Make sure people you recruit know what kind of culture they’re coming into, and that they’re comfortable with that. A team is a delicate balance, and every person entering or leaving it can change the balance, and with it, the culture. Is it better to recruit NQTs who see what you do as norm? Or experienced teachers who can mentor and drive change? Who will be able to create and sustain change?

(Side note: Clare Magee (see below) mentioned that during their recruitment process, they include a description of key challenges in the job, to ensure teachers know what they might be faced with. She also said that whenever possible, they try to recruit two people at the same time so that they’re going through the processes of joining the school together, and can empathise with each other.)

Finally, Liam emphasised that change takes time, and that half of the stuff you try is probably going to fail. This echoes one of my favourite ever things I’ve heard at an IATEFL conference: you have to kiss a few frogs to find the one that’s for you.

 

I am lucky that I inherited a healthy culture of CPD at the school I currently work for, and ‘all’ I have to do as Director of Studies is maintain and develop it, but if you don’t already have that a CPD culture at your school, Liam’s questions and the ideas below could help you to move towards one.

 

As part of the main conference, Oliver Beaumont and Duncan Jameson also described how to create a culture of CPD, using the metaphor of a garden. You have to create the right conditions if you want things to grow there. They centred it around three key words:

  • Engage: if teachers aren’t engaged, they won’t be interested. Show them how CPD can help them, and how it fits in with the school’s vision. Creating the right environment also helps, for example a classroom with posters from previous CPD sessions. Carve out time where CPD is a priority: if you value it, teachers will too.
  • Energise: give autonomy and ownership, and encourage collaboration.
  • Empower: ensure there is meaningful action to follow the session, so they can put what they have learnt into action immediately. If you include feedback and coaching in the sessions, a lot more of what they have learnt will stick.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

Creating a welcoming culture

Patrick Huang described a transgender candidate’s experience of a CELTA course, with important points for the inclusion of all candidates who might be part of potentially vulnerable populations, and regarding culture changes which may need to take place to allow this. He noticed that there might be something different with this particular candidate due to the combination of a typically male first name and female second name – the example he gave was ‘Robin Jane’. Because of this, he asked the candidate to speak to him about their experience and to share what could have improved it. The main things Patrick learned were:

Safety should be key. Candidates should not be forced to disclose whether they are transgender/non-binary. For example, on the entry form, have an option for ‘Other’ in gender, not just male/female. Forcing candidates to select from a closed list of options could also have legal applications on a form if they have to sign something saying they did not knowingly give false information.

A pre-course meeting could include the question ‘Anything else you would like to tell me about yourself?’ rather than anything more direct, like ‘I notice that you…’ Again, this means candidates are not forced to disclose if they are not comfortable doing so.

Toilet facilities should be available for everyone. Consider converting an existing bathroom by changing the signing, for example to ‘Toilets for everyone’.

Pronouns should be used as indicated by the candidate. (If this is something you’d like to find out more about, I would highly recommend the BBC Word of Mouth episode ‘Language and gender identity’.)

For relationships and safety, consider introducing a code of conduct. Discuss these things with staff and candidates, preferably before you have transgender students on your course, so that they are aware of how they can help candidates feel safe. Make sure that this policy is adapted to the needs of individual candidates. There should be buy-in from the community, with the option to opt out if they really can’t cope with the situation.

Teacher-centred CPD

Another buzzword I noticed was bottom-up, with many of the speakers I saw talking about the need to move away from CPD which is imposed on teachers by management from above, and instead to create the structures for teachers to be able to work more independently on areas which they want to prioritise. As a couple of people said, ‘one size fits all’ fits noone.

As part of the #LAMTDSIG PCE, Clare Magee and Fiona Wiebusch from Australia talked about a very successful initiative which some of their teachers started, without prompting from management. They set up a Google Plus space to share 2-minute videos of ideas which make their jobs faster, better, or easier. Other people can comment on the videos too, and it often starts face-to-face discussions too. If teachers still have access after they leave the school, I think this could serve as a kind of institutional memory, and an alumni-type space, which they could still participate in if they choose too. This is probably my favourite idea from the whole conference. Once it was started, the institution ran some CPD sessions on how to create videos and how to interact politely on the platform, both in response to teacher requests.

Other ideas that Fiona and Clare described were:

  • #pdfest, one-day events organised by teachers for teachers to share their practice
  • #meetelt, Pecha Kucha events in pubs
  • #auselt, a Twitter hashtag for discussions (similar to #eltchat)
  • Pineapple charts to organise peer observation
  • A regular newsletter emailed to teachers across their organisations’ various sites
  • The Raise Your Voice choir

They suggested that it might be time to move away from the concept of change, and towards that of evolution and revolution. Hamel and Zanini (2014) say anyone can initiate change, recruit confederates, get involved and launch experiments. It’s not the leader’s job to do the process, but to build the platform. Fiona and Clare also said that in order to get all of these things working, managers should:

Give teachers time and money, and get out of the way!

 

I agree with this sentiment up to a point, but I believe that quite a lot of new teachers probably need a base level of knowledge about the teaching profession and about CPD opportunities before they can organise and run this kind of thing themselves. Most of the teachers at our school are in their first or second year of teaching. I have tried to provide the second-years with more space to direct their own development, but it has been challenging to work out and provide the amount of support that they really need to do this. It’s all well and good saying that they can develop however they want to, but if they aren’t aware of the possibilities and opportunities, it can become very directionless. This is where I think they next idea might help.

 

Josh Round and Andy Gaskins talked about Personalised Development Groups (PDGs), an idea Josh introduced in his school 3 years ago, and in Andy’s a year ago, and which has now gone through several successful cycles. Research which backs up their approach includes the Sutton Trust 2014 report on what makes great teaching. That and other reports show that effective CPD leads to great teaching, so it’s important to get the programme you offer right.

Teachers chose a first-choice or second-choice pathway, which enables them to be put into groups of 6-8 people. These pathways enable classroom-based, collaborative professional development, based on the choices of the participants, rather than the more top-down programmes traditionally offered by schools. They were based on areas that teachers had requested, or where they often needed more support. The school wanted a balance between structure and support, and autonomy.

Of course, PDGs aren’t perfect! Initially, they underestimated how long it might take teachers to come up with research questions, so they started to suggest examples within each pathway. It took time to put the scheme into place: change always takes time to be effective. There can also be problems with some members of groups not fully contributing, absence or sickness, and lack of structure – these are all problems I’ve found with a similar scheme I’ve tried to set up at my school.

Josh and Andy encourage teachers to be transparent with their students about what they’re doing – students seem to really engage with the teachers’ research. At the end of the cycle, there are feedback presentations which have become inspirational to other teachers at the school.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

 

At the #LAMTDSIG event, Ed Russell described using the idea of PDGs at his school, once he’d got over the idea that he needed to ‘do some managing’, a feeling I’ve had occasionally too! As part of this, he created a new screensaver for staffroom computers to remind teachers about the stages of the PDGs. Generally, Ed wanted to make what happened in the classroom as visible as possible so that his teachers could share their practice and learn as much as possible from each other. He said it has led to greater discussion in the staffroom, and more of a feeling of cooperation between teachers. I was pleased that he mentioned using my post of ideas for alternatives to the Friday afternoon seminar as inspiration – always good to know! Ed’s school also used ‘cooperative development’, with one teacher talking for 15 minutes while another actively listened to them, then switching roles. Another change they made was in their use of language, talking about ‘my puzzle’ rather than ‘my problem’. Ed has shared some of the resources he uses on Google Drive.

The language of CPD

Ania Kolbuszewska extended the idea of the importance of language, a particular problem in her large school in Switzerland, a country where people are only prepared to take a risk if they are 100% sure of the outcome! She described her attempts to be more aware of the intercultural aspects of her job, something she had never been trained in. As she said, there is a lot of intercultural training available for students and businesspeople, but nothing specifically for managers in language schools, where we are very often working with people from other cultures who may have different expectations to our own.

In Ania’s experience, her teachers generally felt that institutions benefit from professional development, but teachers don’t really, especially if they’re not being paid for it. For some Swiss people, the status of teachers is like that of actors working as waiters until something better comes along. For others, CPD is a checklist for managers, and not something personal.

Cultural diversity in her school provides an additional problem: not everyone in her team speaks English and not everyone speaks German. She described the problems created by the fact that the term ‘CPD’ in English doesn’t have a direct equivalent in German or French, the two other languages she works with. The translations do not cover the same range of concepts, and are much more connected to training than development. Sending out emails in three languages meant that teachers who spoke more than one might compare the different versions and read into them meanings which weren’t intended. Ania therefore decided to use ‘CPD’ across all languages at the school, as well as replacing ‘workshops’ with ‘labs’, a more universal term which encompasses the idea of experimentation, not just learning. She also renamed all of the types of observation she wanted to use to make them as widely and easily understood as a possible.

The language you teach dictates the way that you teach it.

By making sure that the key terms being used were clearly defined and understood in the same way across the organisation, it has started to contribute to culture change. While Ania acknowledges that this process is top-down, she emphasises that this is to minimise problems with understanding the key concepts, in order to create the conditions for more bottom-up development further down the line.

Another change in their organisation is to have cross-language teams. Previously there were separate heads of French, German and English, but now teams are mixed. Echoing what Liam Tyrrell said (see above), these changes are a slow process, but they are gradually moving towards the CPD culture her school wants to have.

Action research

The cooperative development at Ed Russell’s school mirrors the first talk I went to in the main conference, which looked at how to help teachers come up with appropriate questions for their own action research. Paula Rebolledo and Richard Smith demonstrated a dialogue approach with a mentor to help teacher researchers come up with specific questions. When you’re listening to the potential researcher, you can guide them towards questions by noticing when they say ‘I think…’, ‘I guess…’, ‘I assume…’ For example, if they say ‘I think they enjoy it.’ ask questions like ‘What evidence do you have of that?’ If they have none, that could be one of their questions. It’s important that the listener doesn’t come up with answers, but pushes towards questions.

Potential researchers who don’t have a dialogue partner could use question frames like these:

When checking if the questions researchers come up with are suitable, you can use the slightly rephrased version of SMART:

  • Study-oriented (oriented towards the study of the situation rather than action on it)
  • Measurable
  • Accurate
  • Realistic
  • Topic-focused

If action research is something you’d like to explore further, there is a free publication written by Paula and Richard available on the British Council website: A Handbook for Exploratory Action Research. It includes everything (as far as I know!) that was covered in the talk, along with a lot more. You might also be interested in ELT Research in Action, a free ebook edited by Jessica Mackay, Marilisa Birello and Daniel Xerri, published by IATEFL in April 2018.

Supporting new teachers

A cooperative practice of a different kind is mentoring, which Alistair Roy covered in his presentation. After 12 roles in 12 years at private language schools, Alistair has had one mentor. He’s had 26 ‘mentees’, including 7 at one time (as he said, how can you mentor people properly like that?!) When asked whether they’d ever had a mentor, I think less than a quarter of the 100+ people in the room put their hand up to say yes, not including me.

When Alistair asked colleagues for help with how to mentor, he was just given checklists, so he started to talk to teachers about what they want from mentoring. He pointed out the amount of questions that we have on the first day of a new job, and how this is multiplied on your first ever day as a teacher, when you’re on your own in the classroom for the first time. He described the story of one new teacher who was given a checklist of things they should know soon after joining the school, and returned it with more than half of the items marked ‘I don’t know’, even though he knew they’d been given that information. This is something I’ve also wondered about in our intensive induction week model (anyone got any other ideas?!)

The whole situation was very different in his first year as a teacher at a UK state school, where he was given a mentor and an effective and useful process:

Alastair found that a lot of teachers seemed to want mentors in a similar position to them, rather than people with a lot more experience. They wanted people who could empathise with them and remember what it was like to be in their position. Josh Round also mentioned something similar at his school, where they have a buddy system for new teachers, with each being assigned a buddy who has been at the school for a little longer than them.

After 5 years, 91% of teachers who have a good mentor stay in the profession. Only 71% without a mentor do. (Institute for Educational Science) So what can managers do to support mentors? Invest money and time, support mentor and mentee, and understand what it’s like to be in their positions.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

CPD for teacher trainers

Of course, it’s not just teachers who need to develop their practice: trainers do too. This was another theme that I noticed: the desire for more systematic training for trainers.

 

Teti Dragas talked about interviews she had done with teacher trainers to find out their stories, covering how they got into training in the first place and how they have subsequently developed. Her main findings were that trainers developed through building up experience, reflecting on critical incidents, working with and talking to colleagues, and attending events like IATEFL. There was little, if any, formal training for them. Another key way that trainers improved was by listening to their trainees, especially when there was resistance to their ideas. This prompted them to think about why that resistance existed, and how to counter it. Mentoring new trainers also helped. What are important qualities of trainers according to Teti’s interviewees? Knowledge, experience, empathy, reflection and open-mindedness. You also need to give trainees time to change their practice. We also need to keep up-to-date with changes in our field, so that we can give trainees the best possible information during their courses.

If you’d like to contribute to Teti’s research, here are her questions.

 

Jo Gakonga’s presentation was based around the idea that trainers need feedback on their feedback, but that most of us never get it. To get around this, we can audio record ourselves, transcribe a minute or two of the feedback, and reflect on what we hear ourselves say and do. The presentation is available as a mini-course on her ELT Training website, and it’s something you can use for professional development within your organisations. We used the course during Jo’s talk, and I would definitely recommend it. I’m hoping to record myself giving feedback at some point before the end of this school year, having just missed our final round of observations. Jo also mentioned the article ‘RP or ‘RIP’: A critical perspective on reflective practice’, written by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh, which I plan to read at some point.

Trinity and Cambridge

Finally, here are two representatives of the main pre-service training certificates for the private language school market.

 

Ben Beaumont’s talk about the effect of washback on teacher training doesn’t really lend itself to being summarised in a paragraph. However, he did share these Trinity materials designed to help teachers improve their assessment literacy. Each video comes with a worksheet, so they could be used as part of a wider professional development programme.

 

Clare Harrison described extensive research Cambridge has done to find out what changes people want to see in the CELTA course, and what changes have already happened. You can watch the full talk here.

They noticed that the percentage of L1 and L2 speakers of English taking the course is now roughly 50/50, compared to 75/25 in 2005. There are also more and more teachers with experience taking this course, which was designed for pre-service teachers. The ICELT, which was designed for experienced teachers, has a much lower take-up. The young learner extension course and CELTYL both had such low take-up that they have ceased to exist, but there is a huge demand for YL to be added to the course, as well as other types of teaching such as 121 or ESP. As Clare said, these are probably beyond the boundaries of a course designed to last for only four weeks and to train inexperienced people to teach adults, but CELTA seems to dominate the market so much that other courses can’t get a foot in the door. Other requests were connected to the syllabus, such as having a greater focus on digital, but as Clare pointed out, this is entirely dependent on the centre, and she reminded trainers to go back to the criteria regularly to check that their course is fulfilling the needs of trainees. Fiona Price has screenshots of some of the changes in criteria on her blog. There are changes in how CELTA is being delivered too: quite a few courses now embed CELTA in an undergraduate or postgraduate programme, for example. After the talk, Clare asked people for any other ideas they may have. Audience members suggested ideas like a post-CELTA module that could provide an extra qualification (Jason Anderson said this), or post-CELTA or –Delta mentors, perhaps with the option of uploading videos of your lessons to be commented on. There was also the suggestion of recertification requirements. I feel like my ELT Playbook series could address some of these needs, so please do take a look at it if you’re interested!

Find out more

Katherine Martinkevich has short summaries of quite a few of these sessions, plus a few others which I didn’t attend. Gerhard Erasmus summarised the #LAMTDSIG day for the TDSIG blog.

If you’re interested in Teacher Development, you might want to investigate some of the other things TDSIG does. They have an e-bulletin (members only), a podcast and run facebook Live sessions, all of which you can find information about on their website. For managers, you can find out more about the Leadership and Management SIG here. If you’d like to join IATEFL, find out how here.

And if you made it all the way through the nearly 4000 words of this post, well done! 🙂

The things nobody teaches you

It’s observation season at IH Bydgoszcz at the moment. Some of the advice I’ve given has made me think of skills that are really useful to have as a teacher, but which we are very rarely taught, or have to pick up as we go along.

Here are my examples:

  1. Reading upside-down: really useful for monitoring to see which answers students have.
  2. Picking out individual student’s voices from the general noise (or the Cocktail party effect): key for both monitoring and assessment, if you’re assessing speaking while the whole class is working. Also, tuning in and out of multiple conversations smoothly.
  3. All the many functions of a photocopier.
  4. Sitting down, standing up, and when and why it’s useful to switch positions.

Notes:

  1. I’m a fast reader anyway, and think that this was something I may have been able to do before I became a teacher, but I’ve definitely honed this over time. I hadn’t realised that many people found it challenging until recently!
  2. Another skill I kind of had but am now much better at. The flipside of this is that I find it very hard to tune out of conversations when I’m not in a classroom, so I can join in with staffroom conversations even when I’m sitting in my office 10m away 😉 I also sometimes find it hard to focus on conversations in restaurants etc. if there’s another interesting conversation going on nearby, or I’ll flit between the two conversations. Apologies to anyone I’ve done that too!
  3. I think most people are probably shown one or two ‘magic’ things their local copier can do, but there are so many other functions that generally remain a mystery!
  4. I’m mostly thinking about small groups here, up to about 16 students. I know some schools have rules about sitting/standing, but it’s often not addressed on training courses.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/6886151367/in/photolist-buvjTH-fHQ8CT-gaRTFC

‘Teacher’s enemy’ by @pysproblem81, taken from ELTpics (but maybe our friend if we really understood it!)

So (how) did you learn these skills? How can you help other people to learn them? What else would you add to the list?

The pre-service TEFL certificate: 12 things I learned

Following in the footsteps of Matthew Noble and reblogging this…
(oh, and I learnt V3 from the Russians!) 🙂

DYNAMITE ELT

With industry veterans like Geoff Jordan, Hugh Dellar and others out there swinging their hammers at CELTA, I thought I’d take the opportunity to defend the pre-service ELT teaching certificate. Not the CELTA, mind you, but its oft-snubbed, dubiously legitimate little brother. I’m here to defend the humble TEFL certificate.

For the record, I completed a 120-hour TEFL program with 6 hours of teaching practice at the now-defunct ITC Prague (i.e. not an internet-only certificate). The instructors were Geoff Harwood and three other guys whose names I no longer remember (Geoff’s was written on my end-of-course certificate). ITC Prague (as I found out later) eventually failed as a business, but the teaching instruction these guys gave was excellent. The TEFL has had a sort of slow-drip effect on me, and some of what I learned only really struck a chord years later.

Looking back on it from 13 years…

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