The Teacher Trainer Diaries – A year of workshops – Part 1

The 2020/2021 academic year is coming to a close – one month left. For trainers this means an end to workshops, perhaps finishing off final observations, reflecting on mentoring sessions, looking at final action points for teachers, discussing SMART goals, planning next year’s development programme, etc. A load of things really. I’d like to take a moment, though, to reflect on this year’s workshops we’ve done in academy, look at some things I think we got right and some things we can improve for next year.

2020/2021 Overview

So, this year we did things a little differently in the planning of the teacher training and development programme. As most of you know, in June 2020 I completed the Cambridge Train the Trainer course. This was a great beginner trainer course as it gave me a good overview of training and helped me understand where I need to go a little deeper, do more research and rethink some things. One of them was looking a development programme characteristics and why these should be defined and understood.

With all the new information I garnered from the course, I set out to create a workshop programme that aimed to be effective, relevant to teachers and to the academy. Together with my DoS, we opted for a modular approach – each term was viewed similar to a module on a course with a common theme linking the workshops. All of the ‘modules’ were breadth-focused, i.e. going over a number of different topics related to one area – not going too deep into any one topic – and they covered three main areas: planning, Cambridge exams and integrating skills/exploiting materials.

Term 1 – Effective lesson planning

Course type Drip feed Breadth or depth Breadth
Coherent or standalone? Coherent theme, standalone sessionsGeneral or specific group and needs Specific group, general needs
Process or productBoth, more product Open or closed syllabusClosed 
Term 1 programme characteristics

You can see the characteristics of the first term’s programme above – I found this a little difficult to do before I thought of the sessions. I suppose, much like course planning for syllabi, it is a mixture of both thinking about the aims, the topics and materials all at once. It did get easier as the year went on.

The theme for this term was effective lesson planning. Why? Well, the rationale was two-fold:

  1. By encouraging good planning practices, it was hoped that teachers would think about planning in more detail. I need to clarify that our purpose was not to encourage teachers to create detailed lesson plans for every lesson; rather, it was to show them various areas that can be planned for a taken into account, e.g. preempting issues that might come up in the lesson. In essence, we were trying to build teachers’ declarative knowledge with the hope that through planning and reflection this knowledge would move / begin to move through to the beginning stages of procedural knowledge.
  2. As many of the teachers were new to the academy as well as the industry, it was hoped that these sessions would introduce the formal observation lesson planning documents in a way that was not intimidating. This was done so that when teachers had to prepare, plan and execute their formal observation, they were not taken by surprise.

As well as workshops, we decided to include various self-study tasks that teachers could choose to complete before the sessions – in essence, preparatory tasks. These did not go as well as planned, but I will get into that later.

Below is the overview of the terms’ workshops and self-study tasks.

Workshops (W) and Self-study tasks (SS) Content 
SS 1 – Pre-course In this task, teachers will:
– complete a quiz regarding certain terminology used in lesson planning.
-They will also answer some questions aimed at shedding light on teachers’ opinions regarding lesson planning. 
W1 – Planning 101  In this workshop, teachers will: 
– Discuss what effective planning is
– Discuss why we plan and why we do not plan 
– Discuss what constitutes a good lesson aim 
– Look at a number of lesson outlines and decide on appropriate aims
– Identify what the good and bad points about pre-written aims 
– Be given certain formulas they can use to consistently write good lesson aims 
– Be introduced to the lesson planning template used in the academy
SS 2 – Pre-reading In this task, teachers will read about and answer a number of questions on the following paradigms: Test-Teach-Test, Present-Practice-Produce, Context-Analysis-Practice.
W2 – Planning paradigms In this workshop, teaching will: 
– Be introduced to the following lesson structure paradigms: TTT, PPP, and CAP
– Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these paradigms and when/where they might be used 
– Plan a short sequence of activities using these paradigms
– Discuss staging and stage aims
– Discuss certain ‘starting points’ for lessons 
SS 3 – Pre-reading In this task, teachers will look at a number of lesson plans and identify the main features that they have in common. They will then be asked why they think these features are present. 
W3 – The extra (necessary) detailsIn this lesson, teachers will: 
– Discuss their points of view on the necessary parts of a lesson plan
– Look at and discuss in more detail the following sections: Class profile, Anticipated problems and solutions, Language analysis, Materials, and Timetable fit
– Complete a mock lesson plan with missing information 
SS 4 – Reflective task: Anticipated problems and solutions In this task, teachers will complete an anticipated problems and solutions section for one of their lessons. Following this lesson, they will then reflect on what happened during the lesson and if any other the mentioned problems arose (or any others). 
W4 – Planning: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In this workshop, teachers will: 
– Discuss what they have learnt so far about lesson planning and how their views have or have not changed.
– Look at the evaluation criteria used for evaluating lesson plans 
– Analyse three lesson plans, identifying planning paradigms used
– Assess three lessons plans using evaluation criteria
SS 5 – Formal observation plan In this task, teachers will plan their lesson for the formal observation that will take place over the following two weeks. 

How did it go?

So when reflecting on and reviewing development programmes, it is important to get a number of perspectives. The perspectives we collected looked at were:

  1. My own thoughts on teachers’ reactions to sessions and how they implemented some of the ideas (as evidenced in their planning, observations and mentoring sessions)
  2. The teachers’ thoughts on the relevance and usefulness of the workshops
  3. The DoS’ thoughts on the relevance and usefulness of the workshops

My own thoughts

Overall, I believe the sessions went well. Teachers were largely unaware of many of the aspects of planning that we went over, one reason being that none of the teachers had been observed teaching in a developmental manner. In terms of which session they found most useful, I would say, from their reactions and level of participation, the planning paradigms session. Why? Well, it helped them see lessons from a more logical perspective – helping them piece together the puzzle.

Something that did not go so well was the self-study sessions. These were not compulsory – I felt that teachers had enough on their plates and did not want to make development a bore or a chore. However, the tasks were there to support those teachers that wanted them. A number of teachers completed some of the tasks, but they were largely untouched. Also, looking at the lasting effects of the planning paradigms session (in terms 2 and 3), I would say that while this session raised awareness of lesson planning ideas and starting points, teachers still feel compelled to follow the course book and the methodology that is provided. I do not think there was enough connection between the session and teachers’ concrete experiences regarding planning their own classes.

Taking a look at observations, it was clear that the workshops provided plenty of support with understanding the formal observation document and it needs to be completed. Overall, teachers were able to complete the plans generally well, even including phonemic script and detailed anticipated problems and solutions (I’ve found many teachers struggle at this – even experienced ones!). However, planning the procedure was still something that teachers found a little difficult. None of the teachers utilised any of the planning paradigms in their pure forms, although they did take away some of the ideas, which I thought was good. I was not expecting teachers to leave the sessions and use solely those planning paradigms; rather, I wanted them to leave and see that there are approaches to planning that are logical and can support teachers in their planning, often making things a little easier to conceptualise.

If we view planning as a skill, then we can think of skill learning as being important. At the beginning stages of learning any new skill, precise and explicit actions needs to be taken for teachers to be able to start to use these skills effectively. What we were aiming for was for teachers to be guided in making these precise actions so that when it comes to planning their own lessons and formal observations, they were much better prepared. I feel we partially succeeded at that.

My own thoughts on how I ran the sessions

Another aspect I looked back at was how I ran the session. I had created a number of slides and materials to go with the workshop – I used both my own materials as well as pilfering activities from Craig Thaine’s, Teacher Training Essentials. We ran these session online, so we used Zoom and break-out rooms for collaboration, which worked quite well. When we were in the main room I found my role was quite instructive, however I encouraged participation from everyone. The first workshop we spent the majority of the time in plenary, but the remainder were the opposite, with the majority of time spent in break-out rooms and my role being facilitative.

As this year was our first full year online, I had another goal with the sessions: providing examples of how to effectively use digital tools. Each of the sessions saw teachers interact with tools such as Padlet, Fligrid, YouTube and Kahoot. I think this was done really well and I believe this had some degree of positive backwash – teachers did come and ask where to access the digital tools and how they could be used. Only one of the teachers, however, decided to focus his termly SMART goal on developing his understanding of digital tools.

There is one aspect that I do not think we speak about enough as trainers and that is the nerves before running sessions. I still get nervous now, but much less than I used to. I found that I was a little nervous before each of the sessions in this term, but because I had spent a good deal of time planning and preparing the sessions, I felt that they would go well. I did feel quite good when I got quite a lot of positive feedback from teachers. One thing I would like to do next year, however, is get feedback from teachers on individual sessions. This way I would get much more directed feedback and can change the individual sessions more effectively.

Teachers’ feedback

In getting teachers’ feedback, we sent out an end-of-term questionnaire. The development programme section had five questions, with three being rated using a five-point Likert Scale and two being open-ended. The questions and feedback was as follows:

QuestionResults
How relevant did you find the first term’s workshops?66.7% Relevant, 33.3% Very relevant
How happy are you with the level of support provided regarding workshops, observations and mentoring?100% Very happy
How effective do you believe the first term’s development programme has been at helping you develop as a teacher?66.7% Effective, 33.3% Very effective
How can the development programme be improved? No responses
What suggestions do you have for future workshops?How to mark exams
Term 1 Development Programme Evaluation (Teachers)

So, overall quite positive – however on reflection perhaps the questions could have been more reflection-focused as well as evaluative. An idea might have been to include questions such as:

  • How have you implemented the ideas from the workshops?
  • What was the most useful part/idea of the workshops? Why do you think this?

To be fair, however, in our mentoring sessions we did discuss this. Teachers were very open to discussing their thoughts and how they had implemented (or not) the ideas discussed in the sessions.

DoS’ Feedback

My DoS, Patrick, took part in all of the sessions as a participant. Now, Patrick is currently taking on the Trinity DipTESOL, so he is fairly knowledgeable regarding much of the theory surrounding planning, so his feedback was very welcomed. He said that the sessions were relevant to both the teachers and himself and that he thought they went well. Overall he viewed the workshops as beneficial to teachers.

Overall strengths and weaknesses

So, looking at the feedback collected, the teachers’ observations and comments during mentoring sessions, I would say that this term’s workshops were generally successful. Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses now:

Strengths:

  • The workshops were relevant to teachers, both from a pedagogical and administrative perspective.
  • Teachers found the sessions useful and were able to take away ideas that they were able to implement in their planning (which was evidenced to some degree).
  • The teachers’ planning for the formal observation was very good considering teachers had never been observed developmentally previously and had never had to complete a formal observation planning document.

Weaknesses

  • Whilst the sessions were a mixture of theory and practice, there were not enough opportunities for teachers to be involved in concrete learning experiences combined with reflection, which would have created a greater likelihood of uptake.
  • Sessions ran quite smoothly, but some of the activities were perhaps a little disjointed from teachers’ classes. That is, there was room for more connection between teachers’ actual classes and the theory.
  • The self-study session were largely untouched by teachers.
  • The final session was not that useful as teachers briefly looked at the plan and over the observer’s document – it seemed fairly self-explanatory. I do not think teachers gained much from the session. This time could have been used more effectively.

Improvements

If I were to run this ‘module’ of workshops again, I would change a number of things:

  • I would remove self-study tasks – I would consider trying to ensure that in our mentoring session we make stronger connections between the workshops and classes through questioning.
  • I would put ‘lesson shapes and paradigms’ first and make it more reflective, i.e. get teachers to think about lessons they have taught and why they were structured the way they were. From there, other paradigms could be introduced and teachers could ‘re-mould’ the lessons they spoke about using those paradigms.
  • When looking at the other sections of the lesson plan, I would use one of the lessons teachers spoke about in the paradigms lesson and get them to plan around that lesson, rather than a lesson that I have prepared.
  • I do not think the final session was that useful as observations in the academy are developmental as opposed to being assessment-focused. With this in mind, I would change this for an actual team planning session in which teachers get to choose a level, materials, etc. and plan a lesson using the formal observation criteria. From here, this lesson could be the lesson they use for the formal observation.
  • I would include more reflection questions in the end-of-term questionnaire.

Final thoughts

Term 1 was a good term development-wise – we had mentoring, workshops, observations, and peer observations. I was very happy, overall. The workshops themselves certainly could have been run differently – but this is the benefit of hindsight. I do think this module will be used again in the next few years as new teachers come into the academy or teacher decide they would like to focus on planning more. When this occurs, I will ensure to make the necessary changes.

We are not finished yet, however. Over the next few weeks I will be releasing more parts to this group of posts, focusing on terms 2, 3 and external workshops. In the meantime, let me know what you think? What would you have done differently? What did you like? Is there anything you can steal? Or perhaps you have some suggestions? Feel free to get in touch via the comments section or the contact page.

6 Comments

  1. I personally found this post very useful. The feedback from your DoS and teachers was really positive, well done 🙂 I think you’re right about adding reflective questions. Perhaps something specific like : what was your key takeaway and why? Thanks for sharing, Jim 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Jim,
    It’s fascinating to see how you approached these workshops and the way that you did the evaluation afterwards. I was never very good at evaluating our CPD programme at IH Bydgoszcz, and it was something I always wanted to find out more about. What have you read to help you to plan evaluation? Do you know about this approach to CPD? https://www.cambridge.org/elt/blog/2018/04/17/iatefl-inspired-professional-development/
    I was also interested to see that you seem to do development observations but formal plans. I wonder how compatible to two of those are. We stopped using formal plans for our observations fairly soon after I arrived at the school because I felt like it led to performances rather than lessons, and massively increased the stress and time demands on teachers. My feeling was that it was more useful to help teachers work on the plans they used day-to-day in their lessons, and make them more useful. What do you think?
    Looking forward to the other instalments in this series.
    Sandy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comments, Sandy!

      In terms of what I’ve read, really I’ve only looked at course evaluation in general (e.g. Graves) and things that we covered briefly on the Cambridge Train the Trainers course, namely the fact that we need to evaluate things to see if they are working (we didn’t really going into any models regarding evaluating development courses). I am sure that there are many points regarding evaluation that I am missing, but I think it’s a good start.

      And this talk by Richardson and Diaz is great! I watched it some time ago and it made me really think about how we run development and some of the things we can change, one of those being observations. We carry out formal observations at the start of the year, and this year we did in Term 2 as well but now we have shifted to ‘focused observations’ in which teachers choose a focus that links to their termly SMART goal. We also try and link their peer observation with this as well. I completely agree that the formal observation model leads to performances – I’ve even had teachers blatantly admit they were just doing something because I was there. So I much prefer the focused observation approach. This being said, I do think the formal observation can be useful at the start of the year or with new teachers as it pushes them to look at the more formal aspects of teaching and making explicit their decisions. Our focused observations are very much informal in the sense that teachers provide a summary paragraph of what they’d like to do in the class, a paragraph on what they have been working on, and a paragraph on why they chose their focus. So in this sense it doesn’t really push them to make explicit their thoughts and planning processes beforehand. I suppose what we could do is keep the focus part but, like you have done, work with teachers to co-produce a plan for the observation, but make it a plan that is somewhat similar to the ones they might write for their day-to-day lessons (which varies a lot from teacher to teacher!).

      As I am writing this I have a million little thoughts going through my mind. Should we even have observations? Why are formal observation necessary? Are my teachers able to identify their needs? How much of a hand do I need to give in planning? But I think this is part of the journey through teacher training. Much like teaching, I am now starting to build up a more explicit set of beliefs and principles around teacher training. The more I read, speak with other trainers, and train teachers, the more I find that this list is constantly evolving, especially regarding observation!

      Not sure if I have answered your question at all! Your comments certainly have made me think!

      I published Part 2 a little while back, and Part 3 should not be far off. Would love to hear your thoughts for those as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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