Teacher Education Circle (2)

This blog post has been waiting a LONG time to be written! The second meeting of the Teacher Education Circle was well before Christmas… Better late than never!

So, sometime before Christmas, there was the second meeting of the teacher education scholarship circle at the ELTC in the University of Sheffield. Prior to that, I had of course been reading Language Teacher Education by Jon Roberts, in particular the opening section in which different approaches to teacher education were explored. Here is my summary from my much-neglected ELT book challenge (yet another post waiting to be written…!) :

[…]it considers the behaviourist approach, where trainees are expected to follow a particular model of teaching, with no deviation, so that learning to teach is an exercise in imitation; the humanistic approach where change is enabled rather than directed by other people, giving the trainee more control; the constructivist approach, which draws on Kolb’s theory of experiential learning and draws on a trainee/learner’s existent knowledge and experience, so they are no longer a blank slate but somebody who brings something of value to the table; and finally a socialisation approach, where as well as the trainee’s own experience and background, influences on the trainee are also taken into consideration e.g. the school, the community, the education policies in play etc.

So, 4 approaches:

  • behaviourist
  • humanistic
  • constructivist
  • socialisation

Fast forward again to the Teacher Education Circle. We started by considering some approaches to teacher education (as planned at the end of the first meeting, hence my reading around the subject) and since that point I have been planning to compare my notes from the Jon Roberts book with the handouts from the circle. Finally, here goes!

The handouts were taken from Training Foreign Language Teachers. A Reflective Approach, published in 1991. The Jon Roberts book was published in 1998, so fairly close together in the great scheme of things. I haven’t read the book so this is what I have gleaned from the diagrams on the handout and our discussion. Feel free to jump in and disagree in the comments!

Wallace offers 3 “Models of Professional Education”:

  • the craft model
  • the applied science model
  • the reflective model

The craft model has a lot in common with the PPP approach to teaching grammar. You study with someone experienced, who instructs you and demonstrates how it is done, after which you practice a lot and in due course you become competent.

The applied science model starts from scientific knowledge, which is applied and refined by experts, then once refined it is passed on to student teachers, who practice it and in due course become competent. There is another loop in the diagram of “periodic up-dating in-service”, so presumably teachers receive more input from experts at various points which is then also practiced and also contributes to greater competence.

The reflective model draws on both received knowledge (content dictated by what is considered to be necessary for a member of the profession to be able to do) and experiential knowledge (also called “knowledge in action”, gained through experience) and there is a repeated cycle of practice and reflection which leads to professional competence.

We agreed that current training methods draw on a mixture of these. Take the CELTA for example. You study with an experienced practitioner, you receive input (based on current knowledge of how languages are taught and learnt, mediated by an experienced practitioner), you practice, you’re encouraged to reflect on your practice, and so on.

I would say the craft model and the applied science model both have elements of Roberts’s behaviourist approach in them, as the experienced practitioner provides the teaching model in the craft model and the embodiment in practice of the scientific knowledge in the applied science model, and the route to competence is likely to involve a good bit of imitation of those models. The reflective model, on the other hand, is more like the constructivist approach, in that previous knowledge/experience are acknowledged rather than the student teacher being an empty sheet of paper and reflection on experience is part of the learning process.

I suppose the humanistic approach could become an element in any of the models, if trainees are given more control over the learning process.

Based on the name of the book, we can guess which model Wallace champions!

After we had discussed these approaches, we started to develop a model for a teacher mentoring system at the ELTC (which we had come up with as an idea in the previous meeting). It was really interesting to be involved in this, to have input into the development of something new. Watch this space!

The next meeting is on the 18th Feb, so I have at least managed to write up the last one BEFORE the date of the next one! Win. Be interesting to see what comes up next. Meanwhile, I have recently read an article called “Writing for publication as a tool in teacher development” (Rathert, S. and Okan, Z. (2015), published in the ELTJ Vol. 69(4), pp.363-372) which was interesting, and have a set of three articles about getting into teacher training which I plan to read as soon as I finish preparing the session I will be doing at Leeds Beckett University tomorrow, for the Multimedia and Independent Learning module.

Never a shortage of things to do! (Or blog posts to write…I will keep chipping away at the backlog whenever I can…)

The teacher education circle

Yesterday I attended the Teacher Education scholarship circle. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but this was how it was described in the circular email: “It is aimed at anyone interested in training and development of teachers to share some development ideas and training methods.”  I joined this circle because I am interested in the area of teacher education, and becoming a CELTA trainer is on my long-term list of things to do, so I figured that whatever shape the circle took, I would learn something. In the post linked to above, I promised a write-up, so here it is!

Earlier in the day yesterday, a few hours before the meeting, an email went round saying that  “The first theme for discussion will be ‘Teacher Training v Teacher Development’ – what’s the difference?”. 10 of us turned up. This difference was one of the topics treated in the IH tutor training course I did that started around this time last year. I spent the bike ride into work pondering the difference, initially feeling it as one of those things where you know it is different but pinning it down is more difficult. On my bike ride I came up with:

  • training is finite, development is infinite.
  • training is done to you, you do development.
  • training is a short burst of something with a very specific goal, development is more of a journey.

10 of us turned up at the circle and we split into two groups of 5 to discuss the difference, followed by “half-assed dribble feedback” (or was it “drivel”? One of the teachers, who is a teacher trainer, was saying that he dislikes the whole putting people i.e. students or trainees, into groups to see what they come up with and then doing some “half-assed dribble/drivel feedback” where nothing is really added. Though we all seemed to agree that as part of a test-teach-test kind of approach/task-based approach, it can work really well, provided the teacher/trainer does add value in subsequent stages. Certainly, in our case, for example, a more senior member of the group did provide some of the definitions from the literature in the follow-up discussion.)

Here are some of the distinctions that were discussed:

  • training has a structure imposed by a course/syllabus (so something external), development is structured by the individual (but has the danger of lacking any structure and becoming unwieldy)
  • the motivation for training tends to be extrinsic (a qualification, a work requirement, a better salary) while the motivation for development tends to be intrinsic (to learn!)
  • that there can be overlap: a workshop could be training for the receivers and developmental for the deliverer.
  • being trained feels different to being developed.

This last one I found interesting. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about development as being something that somebody else does to you (as evidenced by my bike ride thoughts). Perhaps it’s just semantics though, as of course the concept of being helped to develop is something with which I am fortunate enough to be very familiar!

Something else that came up in discussion, particularly in reference to “scholarship time” (hours that are timetabled and paid, specifically for development): the difficulty of knowing what to do with that time. It is only for full-time members of staff, so this is not something I have to had to grapple with personally (yet! I live in hope!), but it was very interesting to hear from people who do. It was put forward that it can be daunting to face this time and know what to do with it, in terms of “I want to develop but I’m not sure what to do or where to start”. It was recognised that not everybody wants to aim towards management (i.e. follow that linear route)  – which is certainly the case for me, no thanks! – but that in terms of salary, if you don’t go up that ladder, then you cannot earn more, because of how the pay structure works. Somebody mentioned that the question that is uppermost in their minds when doing something is “why am I doing this?” and described for example the situation of needing to do a particular qualification in order to stay in a job. The idea of a mentoring system was also suggested, where more experienced teachers would be available to help less experienced teachers approach their development.

There are several things that interested me within the discussion described in the above paragraph.

  • When I heard about “scholarship time”, my immediate reaction was, “Wow! That’s so cool! Having actual timetabled time for development stuff AND being paid for it!” And, as I mentioned here, I found the whole concept very teacher empowering. It didn’t occur to me to wonder what I would do with that time if I were a full-time member of staff. (I just thought that I’d have more time for all the development things I am used to doing in my own time!) Now, I wonder if all those things would count/be acceptable use of the time. Or, if some would and some wouldn’t, which would/wouldn’t and why? So, for example, my current materials writing work with Macmillan, where I am editing my ELTon materials to make them suitable for publication on Onestopenglish; now finished but I’ve put in a lot of hours of my own time into my journal article and book chapter, both of which are due out soon-ish (the journal article I believe early next year and the book chapter when the publication process is completed!); participating in #eltchat and #eltchinwag (which are like scholarship circles in themselves, only with a regularly changing focus!); blogging (both this blog and the one I co-manage with Sandy, Independent English); writing my column for the IH journal (not anymore, of course, as I no longer work at IH!); the corpus linguistics MOOC run by Lancaster University (which I am currently studying on); reading ELT-related literature; reflecting on, and making materials for, my learner autonomy projects (I would have been thrilled to have some time allocated to that when I was at IH!); certificate training courses like the IH certificate in teaching YL and the IH Tutor Training certificate that I did while at IHPA. (Having time timetabled for those, rather than it filling up the majority of my free time for the duration, would have been amazing too!); preparing IATEFL talks/online conference talks or webinars; watching webinars and talks online… and so on.
  • As is clear from the above point, being unsure what to do next hasn’t really been a problem for me! However, looking back over my career thus far, I can see that I HAVE had mentors even though I have never participated in a mentoring scheme. My CELTA tutors Beth and Cilla: I stayed in touch with them after the end of my CELTA, and emailing them telling them about my teaching was a rudimentary form of reflection that would later become more developed in other ways (e.g. Delta, M.A., blogging), in that I would think about what I did and tell them, from time to time. And they would respond, which I would learn more from. My M.A. tutors Heather, Naeema and Ivor: while doing my Delta/M.A. ELT, I learnt *how* to develop. Obviously from the Delta it came through the PDA (Personal Development Assignment) and the EP (Experimental Practice) parts of Module 2. From the M.A., though, I learnt how to do research, how to write up research, how to present research, how to write materials, how to write a journal article. And these are all things I’ve since used and will continue to use. (They are also things that I think would be really invaluable as INSETT sessions, as well as the usual “how to teach pronunciation” and “how to use technology x” type sessions.) Of course all these tutors as much as anything have been a source of encouragement and support, which has been invaluable. However, colleagues can be an equally valuable resource in helping one to develop. Sandy Millin springs to mind here. I met her through Twitter and have learnt a huge amount from her. Seeing her develop has also provided inspiration for my own development. Currently we also collaborate over at Independent English, as mentioned earlier. Additionally, I suppose I have been very opportunistic – seen opportunities to use the skills I mentioned above and gone for it. With the “there’s nothing to lose” mindset. I wonder if perhaps people are put off trying things because they think they aren’t/won’t be good enough? I think the learning and development comes through the trying, regardless of the outcome.
  • “Why am I doing this?” Well, I don’t want to be a manager (that may change but for now that is my feeling!), the teaching salary offered at the ELTC is plenty good enough for me (of course as a non-full-time teacher, the downside is lack of hours but hopefully they will grow in number!). I suppose partly it’s to make myself more employable (who doesn’t want some job security!) but a large part of it is also joy of learning and trying new things, cheesy as it sounds. I do really enjoy learning – reading, discussing, attending events like conferences, and challenging myself. It is also joy of creativity. Writing (materials or articles or blog posts) is an outlet for creativity for me, as is taking what I learn and finding ways to use it in the classroom then seeing what happens and building on that, all of which I love. As for attending and speaking at conferences: as well as all the learning, it’s so much fun! And all of this just also happens to be developmental too – bonus! Be this all as it may, what struck me is that I hadn’t really questioned this before the teacher raised the “Why” question. I had just accepted it as an enjoyable interesting part of my teaching career. (Have you asked “why” before? What answers did you find?)

Next session (in a month’s time I think it was) we are going to look at different models of development, which sounds like it should be very interesting. Meanwhile, flitting through my mind is the question “Was I/am I being developed or Was I/am I developing?” and also the question “How can I help other teachers in their developmental journey?”, rather than taking it for granted that it’s as straightforward for everyone else as it has been for me. (Mind you, I do think I have been extraordinarily lucky every step of my career so far!) I suppose this blog has been one way of helping, for example all the Delta posts I have written – I wonder if I could do anything else with it in the vein of helping people develop. Mind you, Sandy’s IH column would be a great place for anyone wanting development ideas, so maybe I could signpost my colleagues towards that, for starters. (And any of you out there looking for ideas, I suggest you have a look too!) I have actually thought of another possible way, but can’t go into that here and now. If the channel I am pursuing for it doesn’t work, then perhaps it will become a blog project too though! 🙂

In conclusion, what a fascinating 45 minutes the circle was! (Although of course if you add on the bike ride and the length of time I’ve spent reflecting on what we spoke about since, 45 minutes is just the beginning…) Which also brings to mind my belief that a huge part of teacher development is motivation, and maintaining motivation. (Oh dear, don’t get me started on talking about motivation or this post will never end..!) Suffice to say, yesterday has certainly been a good injection of motivation for me.  I’m looking forward to the next session and wondering what I will achieve in the mean time. For now, though, editing ELTons materials beckons…

IATEFL 2015 21st Century Teacher Education: the knowledge and expertise we need to teach with digital technologies – David Coulson

Teacher education time!

David Coulson is from Brighton, the University of Sussex and Brighton. 20 years ago he did a BA in modern languages and recently finished an MA in media-assisted language teaching. (Hadn’t made the connection between this talk and having met him yesterday until he stood at the front! Shows how good I am with names…)

Teachers, if given confidence and left to work together, will be able to create. That is what we do. We are in an important time at the moment – a tipping point. David’s children use mobile phones and have a great aptitude for this, proficient but not in an educational way. But the devices have a great capacity for being used in an educational way. On the other hand, he lived on a farm with some horses, a goat, two dogs and two children, in Portugal, for 15 years. From that, he learnt to have a go at things, to try. This is what we have to do with technology. We have to not be afraid to have a go at using tools. Sometimes there is a culture of fear around using these tools. It’s a really crucial time for using tools at the moment. We have to have the knowledge to be able to react to any tool that comes out and be able to understand if we can use it or why we would want to use it, for education. The right reactions are essential.

Do you think EFL teacher education or education in general will be the same in 10 years time?

David feels this is particularly a time of change, more so than say 10 years ago.

We discussed and here are some audience ideas:

  • change of mindset in using technology
  • change of role in teacher education e.g. not “the technology input session” but integrated into the bigger picture (mine)

David tried to find out what the required knowledge and expertise required to be an effective teacher and where technology fits into this. He did interviews with experts in the field of education and and technology, and investigate the integration of technology into teacher education.

At the moment, technology is “normalised”, common in everyday interactions. According to the Economist, by 2020, 80% of the population will have a super computer in their pockets. Technology is offering new opportunities for us but also new problems and concerns. We need to learn when, where and how we are using it. We have an abundance of technology but all of our rules and what we do are built on scarcity. In a time of scarcity, you take whatever you can. In a time of abundance you have to be able to select.

David had a “ZX81” – you wait for half an hour to load up, but you get to 25 minutes and it wouldn’t work and you have to go back to the beginning again…!

A Wicked Problem

Trying to find out the knowledge and expertise that teachers have is a wicked problem, really difficult. David quotes Amy Tsui as saying it’s not just a matter of skill or competency alone but a combination of different things – knowledge bases, processes of pedagogical reasoning, skills of teaching and beliefs.

image1-2

There should be no pure Technical knowledge, pedagogical knowledge or content knowledge, standing on their own, they need to intersect, we need to be working in the middle area. And they all need to be situated, exist within a context.

Technical skills are not particularly important as new technologies are easier and easier to use. But selectivity – selecting which technologies to use – is very important. A trainee will copy what they see. Loop training is useful. Technology needs to be integrated into the class. They should be taught to use the best tool for the right purpose at any given moment, from the abundance of tools on offer.

The best sort of transformation happens under the radar. The main problem is a lack of confidence in the technology amongst trainers, which is transmitted to the trainees. It’s a fear of losing control, their relevance in the classroom, of being taken over by technology. However, a teacher’s ability to step back and allow students to have some control of the lesson may well be the way forward in the 21st century.

Interview conclusions:

image2-1

Teachers must look at the why underpinning the use of technology. The role of the teacher is not diminished but repositioned. It’s not a threat but an opportunity.

21st Century skills

  • creativity and innovation in use of technology
  • critical thinking and problem-solving
  • collaboration and teamwork
  • flexibility and lifelong learning

Same skills as ever, but within the context of technology. So that the role of the teacher and student are reimagined, with the teacher as a guide, and the student more active.

Solutions for teacher training

  • use communities of practice, where people work together with a common learning goal
  • expert-novice teacher mentoring e.g. expert teachers with novices who are technologically advanced
  • flipped classroom – trainees and teacher educators learn how to use a piece of technology in their own time outside the classroom and share their ideas and experience within the framework of the session

The idea of this talk was to make us think “Why am I using this? What am I using it for? What alternatives do I have?” – this is the way to face the abundance of technology and be selective.

Another really interesting talk. 🙂

Write-up of Andrew Walkley’s BELTA webinar: Language-focused teacher development

This afternoon, I have had the pleasure of attending a fantastic webinar presented by Andrew Walkley, one half of the popular Dellar-Walkley duo whose project Lexical Lab you might be aware of. 

Andrew delivering an awesome webinar!

Andrew delivering an awesome webinar!

The focus of the webinar was Language-focused teacher development, looking at the way we deal with vocabulary in class and what we need to be doing outside class in order for this to become more effective. I took notes as we went along, so here they are, slightly edited to make them more comprehensible…

  • First we were asked to put groups of four words into order of their frequency.
  • Then we were asked to make examples for a set of seven words and a structure (the past continuous).

Andrew went on to explain that within the CLT era, we have seen some particular types of approaches emerge, that are language rich and responsive – TBL, Lexical Approach, Dogme, Demand High…

  • In TBL, if there is breakdown in communication, this is where learning is supposed to happen, the teacher facilitating this learning.
  • In Dogme, maybe some further practice together will be done too.
  • With Demand High teaching (which concept he said sparked this talk), there was a complaint that a lot of teaching taking place where you move from task to task but without much actual teaching happening. The teacher needed to be stronger in saying ‘no, this is wrong’ or pushing individual students and teaching them in the moments where they are struggling. A lot of Scrivener’s solutions were technical, technique-type things, e.g. the teacher pretends not to understand what the student is saying, thereby forcing them to explain why what they were were saying was right.

That’s ok to a point, but Andrew felt that it wasn’t the real reason why the teaching wasn’t happening.  He has been interested in the Lexical Approach since its publication 20 years ago now, he has also been aware of the expectations of thinking about language and dealing with language that are advocated in LA are high. He recognises that it is difficult.

Andrew then introduced us to a book, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It deals with the difficulty for experts in employing their expertise. This is because of the need for fast, in the moment, spontaneous thinking, where rather than think clearly about certain aspects of thinking, we replace a kind of logical thought with heuristics i.e. a generalised idea of something.

This brought us back to the task we did at the start.

Andrew showed us the answers to the frequency question:

Screenshot of the answers to the frequency quiz

Screenshot of the answers to the frequency quiz

Then he asked whether the corpus frequency answer (biased towards written) is reflective of the bias in native speaker natural use? His feeling is that often we overestimate certain frequencies of words and underestimate others. In the spoken corpus, arise and beard come at a similar level. Many students are interested in academic and professional lives in English, where they may not be using the language all the time in the workplace or study in Britain etc, but the resources they use may be in English, so a word like ‘arise’ would have a higher frequency and value.

As for the activity of making examples: our tendency is to produce examples like the ones we produced, but sometimes these aren’t actually the most common uses or even the way we use the language. Of this type of example, they may be one in a thousand in the corpus. E.g. She is a Christian. So… how is Christian really used? Andrew confessed that he might struggle with some of these words, in terms of making examples. E.g. whereby, arise, in terms of. Some of these are more difficult to think of examples from. They don’t fit into that simple x is y pattern. They require more complex sentences:

Screenshot from the webinar

Screenshot of Andrew’s examples from the webinar

It’s difficult to think of these kind of examples on the spot, Andrew explained, the Daniel Kahneman book offering some very clear reasons as to why. This is to do with biases that overtake logical thought. Our tendency would be to put words like blonde, banana etc. higher up because we know we can think of examples for these more easily than arise or whereby. If we think about the number of different contexts that we use banana or arise, then it becomes clear that arise would occur in academic texts, meetings, and several more possible contexts than the word banana or beard. Similarly serious vs. fun, there are a wider number of things that can be serious than there are fun things. As I understood it, this is availability bias, one of three factors that affect our choice:

  • availability bias
  • representational bias
  • priming

Apparently words also have a representational bias, e.g. x is y, x does y, doctor has a white coat etc. So the examples and explanations that come to mind are often of that nature.

Finally, priming: In English language teaching, this is quite strong. E.g. I was having a bath when the phone rang.

  • Because of what we’ve learnt before and what we’ve seen in coursebooks before, we think of certain examples and contexts, and we don’t see the wider context we could use.
  • Sometimes when we are trying to hear what students are saying, and trying to correct them, often what we are primed to notice is basic grammar, typical grammar that we have taught before. So, we will commonly notice the present perfect used incorrectly or missed third person ‘s’ and these we look to correct.

Andrew explained that this is problematic in terms of these responsive methodologies. There is too big a cognitive load for any teacher trying to use these methods.

When you are in class, e.g. with TBL you are catering for individuals and have to do many things, which he went on to describe:

  • You have to hear the student first, which is already difficult possibility due to layout and noise levels.
  • You have to understand what they want to say/write, recognise the error/gap in their language, and give the ‘correct’ example (” because sometimes what we want to be doing is extend ss knowledge, e.g. where they use a particular word where another less frequent use works better)
  • You then have to explain or check why one is correct and the other isn’t, if we are talking in terms of TBL and Dogme, then extra examples of new language are necessary, and for Dogme also further ‘spontaneous’ practice.
  • Finally you need to remember it in order to revise and recycle it at a later date.

That’s a lot to expect. And multiplied by all individual students with individual needs. So, instead, Andrew said, we fall back on examples given before, or focus on relatively infrequent words and give simplified examples which don’t necessarily reflect enough of how those words are used. Yet if you are a believer in a more lexical approach to teaching, one of the most important things is giving good examples of how language is used.

So, this is the big issue with these methodologies. Ironically, often, somebody who doesn’t like coursebooks will give examples that have been seen in one before! Coursebook writers are similarly primed. You come up with examples which afterwards you think ‘what was I thinking? Nobody would ever say that!‘. If you believe that exemplifying natural use is important than you need to also think outside the class. Inside the class it is too difficult due to cognitive load. It may also be that to become a better non-course book user, we need to become better coursebook users and writers!

The more we focus on different words and how we might exemplify them and ask questions about them, and think about spontaneous practices for them, the more we will get better at doing it spontaneously. Kahen (of the above-mentioned book) suggests the example of chess players who basically learn lots and lots and lots of moves. It takes all those hours of practice in order to become spontaneous in the context of a chess match. We may not have so much time to prepare in our lives but it’s an ongoing process so if we work at it incrementally, we’ll get better at it.

In terms of training and development, however, most focus is grammatical, rather than lexis. Grammar rules into which we slot the words. Andrew doesn’t particularly agree with this. At this stage in the talk, he outlined some potential issues for teacher development:

  • In terms of the planning, on training courses and post-qualification, planning focuses on activities: thinking of activities to help practice bits of grammar or vocabulary in the course book. Whereas we should think a lot more about the lexis and the questions we are going to ask about it etc. in the planning.
  • Judgement of lessons in observations shouldn’t based on fulfilling aims as it goes agains the idea of being responsive to students. So we need to think about how we think about language AND expectations of what a good lesson is.
  • Teacher development tends to focus on learning new techniques. E.g. Demand High. Frustrating because it is more techniques, other ways of doing somehting. Wehreas I feel we need to focus more on actual language.

Andrew put forward some alternatives:

Frequency training

  • Macmillan dictionary: game to decide if it is three star, two star or one star words. (Different frequencies) Once you realise that something is frequent, thinking about why it’s frequent and as a consequence thinking about the kind of examples you might give to reflect that frequency.
  • The compleat lexical tutor: I missed this explanation!
  • Phrasal English.org: Uses the BNC. Put in a word or two, request exact word or same lemma. E.g. inc plural, past participle form included. Gives a rough count and a concordance. (Like wordandphrase.info, I think?)  May be skewed by names. E.g. Christian. But still gives an idea. You might just take this as a staffroom thing, e.g. reading something or taking a collocation. Have competitions who thinks something is more common than something else. E.g. ambitious plan vs ambitious scheme. Then find out. To help us think about frequencies.

Exploiting vocabulary exercises

Essentially a lot of vocabulary activities focus on single words. Increasingly, now, you also get collocation exercises, matching two words to make a collocation. You might even have whole sentence exercises e.g. gap fills, little dialogues matching question and response. We need to think about slightly different ways of using these.

  • In a single word exercise, we should think about what collocations to elicit from students about these words and questions to ask about the vocabulary. Not just meaning focused but usage focused.
  • With collocation exercises, now we need to think beyond the collocation and think about the collocates of the collocations e.g. example sentences and dialogues, or a story to tell?
  • And then if you think about the whole sentence exercises, ask questions to get students reuse grammar and chunks, and other vocabulary that isn’t the focus but can be exploited.

Take for e.g. a ‘Which is the odd one out?’ exercise

The temptation is to say the non-odd words out are the same. But are they? And what do the students get apart from adding re-? Instead think about how we can use these words more. What collocations can go with these words?

  • Is what we reconstruct the same as what we rebuild?
  • Is what we reconsider the same as what we reexamine?
  • E.g. we can rebuild a relationship but we don’t reconstruct or remake it. We reexamine the evidence but we don’t rethink the evidence. We might rewrite an essay but not reword it. We might reword something shorter like an answer. We remake a film but we don’t rebuild it.

These are the kinds of things we want to be able to tell our students. We need precise examples. Going back to supermarkets, we might overestimate its frequency, quite often we don’t say I’m going to the supermarket, we say I’m going to Tescos or Carrefour. Perhaps these are better examples for our students in some ways.

Take for e.g. a collocations exercise

We need to think about:

  • What works with these collocations e.g. swimming pool and swimming trunks. Fishing rod and fishing gear. After you have matched them up, possibly with a picture thrown in, what next? Need to know how to use them!
  • A second question you might ask is who would you say it to, when would you say it, why would you say it? Think of how they might work in a dialogue. Sometimes the compound gets split up. E.g. see you on the track in half an hour. (Running track) Or swimming pool. Let’s go swimming. Ok see you at the pool in 15 mins.

Andrew suggests that we need to spend more time thinking about this aspect of language rather than on activities, in our planning.

  • Think about the kind of questions we ask about vocabulary. Can we generate language around target words? E.g. What might you ask if someone is carrying a lot of gear? Can I help you? Oooh where are you off to?
The questions we could ask

Screenshot of the questions Andrew says we could ask

  • Thinking about these kind of questions on the spot is quite difficult, you need to think about them beforehand to be able to ask them on the spot.

More complex sentence examples show more of how language works, so students see more examples of grammar in use.

  • Rather than x is y. (She is a Christian vs As a Christian, I think we should look for non-violent solutions = As a x, I think we should y.
  • Who was the guy with the beard? I haven’t seen him before = who was the guy with…the blonde hair, sitting next to you… etc. I haven’t seen him before.
  • Through vocabulary, we can ask simple quick questions to review grammar. E.g. When the paramedics arrived, his heart had stopped beating but they got it going again and then rushed to the hospital. –> Draw attention to the past perfect, when you get something going again, why/where else do we rush to?
Things to think about

Screenshot of the questions that Andrew suggests we ask

There are lots of these kinds of patterns we could draw attention to, that are useful and interesting little patterns that students could use but don’t make it into coursebooks. You have to have thought about the example before, but once you have thought about it in planning before, in the context of a text or language focus etc. it makes it available to use spontaneously in response to students in the future.

Andrew then told us about one aspect of his and Hugh Dellar’s Lexical lab:  you can send in a completed exercise and Andrew/Hugh will suggest questions/chunks relating to it and invite suggestions from others too.

Other tips from Andrew:

  • Think about what the students might want to say in the speaking exercises you plan to set up. It may mean either doing the task yourself, or with a teacher partner, and seeing what comes up.
  • Get teachers to record their answers. Notice the language that is repeated or could be useful for the students to do the task. Often there is a disconnect between grammar practice and single word practice and the task we set which requires a more complex use of language and may include a variety of things we haven’t thought about.

Ongoing questions to ask to promote teacher development:

Questions to help us develop!

Questions that Andrew recommends asking to promote development!

The first two questions require genuine interaction in the classroom, where rich language can be found. The third is important as what is new? A new combination? New phrases around known words? Because often the grammar or word is known, but the language around it isn’t. The fourth encourages you to reflect on the questions you ask and improve them for next time. The last question is based on the idea that we do get better at dealing with language if we write material. Ideally do it with someone else, get someone else to look at it. This encourages you to be critical and think about language in use and how students might want to use it.

Being able to answer language questions and being able to ask questions about language in this way is not a natural thing but a little bit like relearning the language and a process that needs to be ongoing along with your students. You need to practice it.

Language-focused TD is like language learning: it never stops! 

Thinking about the wider context of language use. We need to think beyond the obvious. Maybe students won’t use the banana example because they go to the shops themselves and don’t have anyone to ask to buy bananas for them! Whereas the words we thought less common might have more possible contexts of use and so be more common than we thought.

In response to concerns that this approach may become too teacher-centred, Andrew responded: talking about language and giving examples is student centred, as it is what the students want to say and need to hear in order to be able to say them better. Teacher talk: needs to be for the students’ benefit. It is also important to use generative, slightly open questions. Students might make jokes in response to them. E.g. Why would you want to reconstruct someone’s face? Because they are plug-ugly vs. after an accident.

I found this webinar absolutely fascinating. It reminds me of my last observation where I think basically my DoS was recommending that I do this. I.e. that I plan my vocabulary focus more, because of it being difficult to respond effectively on the hoof, and I think the intention was in this vein. Having watched this webinar, I now have a much clearer idea of how to go about that than I did previously. Am looking forward to implementing this and gradually developing in this area. 

It was my first time to see Andrew speak and I have to admit to now very much looking forward to hopefully attending his talk at IATEFL! 

Thank you very much, Andrew, for a really valuable hour and a bit! And thank you, BELTA, for hosting him!

Cecilia Lemos – Making lesson observation a teacher’s best friend, not the enemy

Stepping from focus on teaching to focus on professional development for a spell, I decided to attend the lovely Cecilia’s talk on making lesson observations something to really benefit from rather than a threat and shudder process…

Making lesson observation a teacher’s best friend, not the enemy

Cecilia started by introducing herself – always interesting to learn more about the person behind the speaker 🙂 Ceci certainly has lots of varied experience.

Motivation, the problem, a possible solution and the different forms it could take, is the form the talk will take… Ceci’s ideas will be implemented next semester, but she has tried it with some volunteer teachers so we will hear about that.

The motivation

Ceci participated in a workshop on lesson observations. Yes, a whole day. You think it’s a long time, but there were a lot of ideas. She wanted to take it further. Additionally, the teacher training and observation she does in Brazil – formal observations (senior staff observe other staff for evaluation), peer observation programme (but teachers are told they have to observe some other teacher at some point and hand in an observation form). Ceci didn’t see much development coming from these, or feel that the teachers were taking very much from it. Finally, Ceci completed Delta module 2 last year and found that the type of observation, assessment and feedback made a real difference to her. She wanted to identify what it is that helps this progress to happen.

What is the problem?

  • The fear/pressure/terror/threat of being observed – by the manager/DoS/senior staff
  • How to make it truly a tool for professional development

Both formal and peer observation should be a tool for professional development. But however friendly the senior staff are or how good a rapport there is, you are still the monster in the room! When she came back from her month away doing the Delta, she observed each of her classes while the teacher taught the learners, just to get sense of everything before stepping back in as a teacher. But one of the teachers freaked out.

Possible solutions:

For summative observation (by management), when used as part of the teacher’s evaluation within the school.

  • pre-conference: sitting down together, teacher and senior staff observer, to have a talk before the observation happens. Shouldn’t be a serious, technical affair. Just establish a good rapport with the person, to set them at ease. Then talk shop. And let the teacher tell you what they want to take from it, e.g. looking out for a particular student etc. Establish particular goals.
  • if they are evaluative observations, then they should be serial. You cannot get a feel of a teacher from one lesson alone. You can’t say if the teacher manages the classroom well, or not, from one observation alone. A series of observations gives a more authentic, accurate representations.
  • Initial observation without an agenda, just sitting and watching the dynamics, to get the feel of a class – also for the students to get used to being observed.
  • Record (video or just audio) a lesson and give it to the observer – easier to forget the presence of a camera than it is an observer, in the classroom.
  • if possible, immediate post-observation reflection before feedback (a real game-changer for Ceci during the Delta) – take a notebook, go somewhere quiet for half an hour after the lesson and write. Put it all down, just write everything down with no criteria. That immediate reflection with everything so fresh makes you really think and relive the lesson and see how you could have done something differently or not. With Ceci, she already knew some of the feedback before she was given it, from this reflection. As soon as possible after, if not possible directly (in compressed timetables)

The “Buffet Table” approach to observation

You choose what you’re going to be observed on. We are still talking about the evaluative observation, done by senior management. They should say what area they want to focus on. But then the teacher should be able to choose the statements that the observer will complete. Ceci has been preparing lists of statements for this purpose. You can also find them in various books (references on last slide).

E.g. rapport with students

Possible statements:

The teacher addresses learners by name

The teacher gives equal opportunities to all learners.

etc.

The observer/management focuses on one or maximum two areas per semester. If you try to cover everything, you’re not going to really cover anything. So the teacher chooses 5 statements to be evaluated on, out of say about 20, for each area.

This is what Cecilia is trying to implement with her teachers for formal observation.

Problem:

Her biggest challenge now is to make peer observation something really valuable that contributes to development.

“From my experience, faculty, relationships and a strong sense of community prevent them from being objective and honest” (Braskamp, 2000)

Teachers are sensitive to pointing things out to each other. So everybody’s perfect. “Oh I learnt so much from your lesson” etc. But there is always room for progress – trying something different. So that you experiment and not fall into the same routines, get stuck in a rut.

Working with one aspect and one peer per term

  • If you observe the same person throughout a semester, you get a better feel for their teaching. Find a peer who is really good at something you feel you’re lacking. E.g. instructions. Observe them through a series of lessons.
  • This type of observation is primarily for the development of the observer rather than the person being observed.
  • No box-ticking forms
  • Pre-observation discussion important

Suggestion 1 for feedback:

The ladder of feedback: clarify, value, concerns, suggest.

  • You have to use all four.

Clarify: was there anything you didn’t follow, that you would like to ask the teacher about

Value: What did you find in the class that was particularly noteworth

Concerns: What questions/issues/tensions were raised

Suggestions: What changes/new things to try can you suggest?

A teacher adapted this ladder to lesson observation:

Thanks: How has observing and giving feedback enhanced your own understanding of learning?

Suggestion 2: 

Define the criteria/statements together. (E.g. using the observation checklist from EtP that Ceci is planning to adapt) :

You agree the criteria (5) in advance together; you define the scores; you put comments on it

 

Questions (paraphrased)

Q: How many per semester?

A: Anything between 3 and 5

 

Q: A whole class or sections of a class, to avoid logistical issues

A: At least 45 mins of a lesson to get a real feel for it.

 

Another very interesting talk. References are available on Ceci’s blog. http://cecilialemos.com