For the more astute amongst you, you will notice that I have gone straight from TE Circle 1 and TE Circle 2 to TE Circle 4. This was deliberate rather than a slip – I sadly missed TE Circle 3 because I (not so sadly!) had already gone off on Easter holiday when it happened (it had been supposed to happen a couple of weeks earlier than it did but was delayed due to illness). This post is, as ever, slightly delayed – TE Circle 4 actually took place on Thursday 21st April 2016. Somehow it now seems to be already May. Not sure how that happened…!
I arrived a little late because I was teaching a class when it started – fortunately that class took place in the same general location as the meeting so I was able to get to it swiftly after. Normally I am a good twenty minutes away (door to door, using the bike) over on a different site. Nevertheless, it was a interesting meeting so I’m glad I was able to make some of it!
Work has continued apace on the “Teaching Advisory Service (TAS)” – an idea thought of and developed during and in between TE Circles. It is now ready to be trialled, which is rather exciting! Teachers will have the possibility to do various developmental activities, facilitated by a mentor. So, for example, a teacher could simply observe a colleague for 10-30 minutes and the mentor would facilitate by covering their class for the duration of this. Other options include:
- team-teaching with a mentor
- finding materials with a mentor
- bouncing ideas for lesson plans/observations off a mentor
- being observed by a mentor, with positive feedback/skill development in mind
- discussion of classroom issues, teaching methods or personal goals with a mentor
Everything done within this service would be confidential rather than part of a management-led formal process. The trialling process will take place during the rest of this term and then it will be evaluated and tweaked, based on feedback from participants in the trial (mentors and teachers alike) to then be rolled out fully next academic year – if it is successful. It will be interesting to see what happens. I quite fancy the team-teaching option, personally. Team teaching is not something I’ve done a lot of. In fact, I don’t think I’ve done any since my first job in Lampung, where it was part of the induction process.
In TE Circle 4, we also discussed a framework and some slides that had been brought back from IATEFL talks relating to them. One of these was a British Council framework for CPD:
One of the talks was the Cambridge English Signature Event (Observations and Reflections – Tensions between best practice and reality), available to watch on the IATEFL 2016 online page and on my list (that I am steadily working my way through) of post-IATEFL catching up to be done!
We discussed other frameworks we were aware of, for example the BALEAP one which is specifically aimed at teachers of EAP (see here). This brought up the issue of how the frameworks are used and how teacher educators can help teachers use them. There is the question of whether teachers are institutionally obliged to use them, whether there is assessment of that. So, for example, in the research part of the university there is a framework that researchers get judged against and in order to get funding they have to demonstrate that they are worth that funding according to that framework. A sort of quality assurance. We are accredited to BALEAP and British Council so we are inspected by them, according to their frameworks. Then, apparently there is a framework that will be brought into use by universities for teaching staff but what is yet unknown is how they will be used. It could turn into an OFSTED for universities potentially. Perhaps helping teachers to use the frameworks (rather than have the frameworks used on them so to speak) is something the Teaching Advisory Service could also do.
The question of reflection also came up, in relation to the above talk. It was suggested that if reflection is required then it needs to be taught/trained as it doesn’t come naturally to everybody. Indeed, some people are actively opposed to doing it.
In my opinion one of the issue that arises with requiring it is that it is difficult to do at the drop of a hat and some things take longer to reflect on effectively than others. I think requiring it to be done within a certain time frame and with a particular outcome, e.g. as part of a training course between teaching a lesson and getting feedback on it, makes it another box to tick/hoop to jump through, and so there is a shift from genuine reflection/evaluation to something more contrived to produce the desired outcome. Yet, is this a problem? You learn how to reflect and evaluate by doing it, then perhaps once you have finished with the hoops, it can shift back towards being something more genuine and developmental. Then, every so often (e.g. with formal observations), you (may) have to prove that you can still do it! So maybe, then, in training courses, rather than getting rid of the reflective element, there needs to be more focus on how to reflect effectively, and on helping people learn how that is for them (as everyone’s process is a bit different) rather than treating it as a box ticking exercise where if you don’t do x, y or z in your post-lesson reflection you will fail that teaching practice. Otherwise you might end up trying to get square pegs into round holes.
During the TE circle I was asked who I think of as my audience when I write reflectively on this blog. Magnificent as ever when put on the spot I responded with the greatly insightful…”errrm my readers?” Thinking about it, I don’t write with a particular audience in mind, other than “people who are interested in ELT, from whatever perspective” – teachers, teacher trainers, DoS’s, publishers, whoever you are you, whatever you do, you are welcome to read what I write of course! I figure that just as I enjoy other peoples’ blog posts, there are people out there who get something out of reading mine!
My blog is busier some days than others. During IATEFL it is particularly busy, of course – in April I had 6,293 visitors and 12, 940 views. This is where they were from:
These were the top ten countries:
Less anonymously, I know Sandy Millin reads my blog posts (she comments on them and shares them) as do Rachel Daw and Naomi Epstein. (Hi guys! 🙂 ) To give a collective term to these three and others, my PLN (personal learning network) aka the people I interact with online via Twitter, my blog and their blogs. Some people read some posts, some people read other posts. 884 poor sods get an email every time I publish something! Audience aside, I think the act of communicating something to someone else, in speaking or in writing, but particularly in writing, requires a deeper processing of that something than keeping it to yourself/just thinking about it. It forces you to make those thoughts more coherent. I’m really glad that the folk on Twitter/#ELTChat encouraged me to start blogging moreorless 5 years ago now, happy to have been part of an online teaching community for that long and long may it continue.
Back to TE Circle, our attention was drawn to a free sample chapter from Jack Richards’ book Key issues in Language Teaching, published by Cambridge. It was the chapter on professional development. On my to-do list still is a review of this book and the Cambridge Bookshelf app as they let me have a free copy in exchange for doing that. Fortunately they have been patient and their patience is soon to be rewarded! Watch this space…
The circle came to an end, and as usual I felt privileged to be able to take part in the discussion and learnt a lot from it, but also felt rather out of my depth as everyone else there was about a gazillion times more experience than me(!). I hope I can attend the next one and look forward to seeing what happens with the advisory service. You can be sure that if I do manage to try out the team teaching thing, there will be a blog post in it!