The Teacher Trainer Diaries – A year of workshops – Part 2

To see the first part of this group of posts, click here.

In this part, I will look at term two’s workshops, the rationale behind them, and my reflections on how they all went.

Term 2 – Working with Cambridge English exams

Course type Drip feed Breadth or depth Breadth 
Coherent or standalone Coherent theme, standalone sessions Process or product Both, more product 
Open or closed syllabus Closed General or specific group and needs Specific group, Specific needs 
Term 2 programme characteristics

This term’s workshops were focused on developing teachers’ understanding of Cambridge English exams. Again, there a number of reasons why we chose to do this:

  • We are a Cambridge English exam preparation centre, so our teachers need to understand Cambridge exams if they are to effectively teach and prepare learners for the exams.
  • Teacher had asked for workshops that focused on exam marking. In this way, we felt that we were both meeting the teachers’ needs and wants as well as the academy’s.
  • Exam moderation is extremely important as every one interprets criteria differently. With this in mind, we wanted to develop teachers’ understanding of how to assess using the criteria as well as help teachers get an understanding of what the criteria actually means to them as the group as a whole. This type of moderation is often referred to as consensus moderation, and, in essence, it takes a socio-cultural approach to the creation of meaning.
  • Building on the last point, many of the teachers were new to Cambridge exams, especially Young Learner exams, and so the term one exam results were extremely ‘varied’, for lack of a better word. What does this mean in more ‘pedagogical’ terms? Well, it means that our inter-rater reliability was actually fairly low – one teacher was more likely to mark a learners speaking, for example, in a vastly different way (points-wise) than another. This obviously has many negatives, and so we felt that it was important to address this issue.

Below you will find the general overview of the sessions. I did include self-study sessions but removed them at the last moment as I was sure that teachers would not use them. Now that I look back on it, perhaps it could be a good idea to create an internal Moodle and have the tasks there for those teachers that do want to delve a little deeper.

Workshops (W)  Content 
W 1 – YL Speaking and Writing – Assessing and preparing for the test In this workshop, teachers will: 
– Cover in detail the speaking assessment criteria for the YL exam suite 
– Cover some practical ideas and activities to help prepare learners for the speaking test 
– Collectively grade a YL speaking
– Cover in detail the writing assessment criteria for the Movers and Flyers exams
– Cover some practical ideas and activities to help prepare learners for the writing test tasks
– Collectively grade a YL writing
W 2 – YL Listening, Reading and Writing – Preparing for the tests In this workshop, teachers will:
– Cover some ideas regarding how to prepare students for the Listening, Reading and Writing tasks.
W 3 – B2 First and B2 First for Schools Speaking In this workshop, teachers will: 
– Cover in detail the format of the B2 First/First for Schools Speaking test
– Cover the assessment criteria for the test and the similarities between it and the criteria for A2 Key, B1 Preliminary and C1 Advanced  
– Look at some activities that can be used to teach the speaking exam and its criteria in class 
– Collectively assess a B2 speaking
W 4 – B2 First and B2 First for Schools Writing SeminarIn this workshop, teachers will: 
– Cover in detail the format of the B2 First/First for schools writing test
– Cover the assessment criteria for the test and the similarities between it and the criteria for A2 Key, B1 Preliminary and C1 Advanced 
– Look at some activities that can be used to teach the writing exam and its criteria in class
– Collectively assess a B2 writing

How did it go?

My own thoughts

I think that term two’s workshops were very successful in that they got teachers to really focus on the exam criteria and what it means for learners. We spent a good deal of time looking at how certain criteria for YL exams can be interpreted, and there were many ‘ah, ok’ moments from teachers, which I thought was great. These were mainly centred around their reactions to finding out that they had been marking lower-level writings and speakings far too harshly, generally only with a focus on accuracy.

This being said, I do feel we missed something. Firstly, we did not actually get to do all the collective assessments, i.e. assessing something together. I would have liked to have spent more time on this and really getting teachers to discuss why they would give this learner a 4/5, for example. Furthermore, there are many other aspects of exam moderation that I feel we could have incorporated in this term’s workshops. When we speak about exam moderation, Klenowski & Wyatt-Smith (2013) put forward that there are three knowledge areas that teachers need to develop: knowledge of the content that needs to be assessed, knowledge of the criteria that is used, and experience in assessment. I feel we looked at criteria briefly and experience a little. There are many other types of workshops that can help teachers develop in these other areas – some of which I will present in another post (I have something very interesting coming!).

In summary, I feel that we did ok in getting teachers to reflect on how they were using the criteria and the ideas they were using for teaching the exam; however, I feel we missed the mark with really getting learners to construct knowledge collaboratively and really build a thorough understanding of all knowledge areas related to assessment. Of course, we only have so many sessions, but still I feel that for next year this set of workshops will need to be changed.

My own thoughts on how I ran the sessions

Term two’s sessions were ran online, and it was great to see much smoother sessions. Teachers were very confident in Zoom, after having taught there for a term, and I felt that I could use a few more digital tools without being ‘too much’.

I exploited already published exam material from Cambridge University Press and Cambridge Assessment materials, both print and video. I would have liked to spend more time on getting teachers to be ‘learners’ and building an understanding of what it feels like to carry out the activities, but we were fairly limited on time. For this reason, I opted for general overviews given by teachers (e.g. what is the purpose of this activity).

Much of the sessions were spent in groups, working through the assessment of learner work, so you could say that my role was facilitative. I did, however, lead the session in a more hands-on manner at the start, trying to get teachers to focus on the exam activities and criteria in a more explicit manner. The one thing that I did not do, and I wish I had, was get teachers to really think about their principles and assumptions regarding assessment and the activities we are using (e.g. is backwash good?). This is another thing I would change when running this set of workshops in the future.

Teachers’ feedback

QuestionResults 
How relevant did you find the second term’s workshops?100% 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 second term’s development programme has been at helping you develop as a teacher?100% Very effective
How can the development programme be improved? Making the session in-person, rather than online  
What suggestions do you have for future workshops?More exam writing marking workshops; classroom management
Term 2 Development Programme Evaluation (Teachers) 

Overall, very positive. As you can see, I had not changed the questions to include more reflection ones. This is why I should have done these blog posts at the end of the term!

DoS’ feedback

Patrick was quite happy with the sessions, especially as they helped teachers develop their understanding of something that we as an academy as supposed to be experts on.

Overall strengths and weaknesses

Strengths:

  • We were able to meet teachers’ needs and wants – in this sense, the workshops were very relevant to teachers.
  • The workshops were very relevant to the school’s and learners’ needs and wants. Most higher-level learners are preparing to take these exams, and many of our lower-level learners have expressed interest, although most will not take the exam. At the end of the day, exams are our ‘bread and butter’ and if we are going to teach them, then we need to do it well. I feel that these workshops certainly aided in this.
  • Teachers built a much clearer understanding of the exam criteria and how they might mark more in-line with this criteria. It was great to see teachers comments after the sessions, engaging in discussions regarding what mark to give for a writing, etc. If anything, I feel that we created a space for teachers to really want to share their opinions regarding assessment and criteria, and made it easier for them to open up about their doubts.

Weaknesses:

  • Not enough time was spent on collaboratively assessing work
  • There were many knowledge areas that were left untouched, when perhaps we should have included them
  • I did not really get teachers to think about their own principles underling why they are marking the way they are. Rather we went to the criteria and then, almost prescriptively, let them know that everyone was a little off. I think that if I had connected it more to their own principles and then introduced the criteria, perhaps it would have been more beneficial.

Improvements

  • Allow for more time for other knowledge areas. Yes, it is important to understand the criteria, but it is also important to understand how learners carry out the tasks, what strategies they use, etc. It is also important for teachers to be able to bring their own ‘old’ marked assessments in to reflect on that in light of their new knowledge.
  • The sessions need to connect more with teachers’ principles and underlying beliefs. From a purely ‘training’ perspective, we cannot hope to create great change in teachers if the training is not connected to the teachers themselves. By getting teachers to really make explicit their beliefs and assumptions, we can help them see where there may be differences in what they believe and what they actually do.
  • I tried to get a good range of the exams in as we were limited for time. However, perhaps it could be better to ask teachers which exam they would like to focus on (e.g. A2 Key), and we could make all the sessions based around that – go deeper with that level.

Final thoughts

In general, I was quite happy with term two’s workshops, even if I have identified numerous weaknesses that need to be addressed. It was a good starting point and it did create change within the teachers (I can still see the changes now); however, with the proposed changes I feel that we can make this set of workshops even more effective.

As usual, I would love to know your thoughts! So, please comment or get in touch 🙂

References

Klenowski, V., & Wyatt-Smith, C. M. (2013). Assessment for Education: Standards, judgement and moderation. London: Sage.

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