This year I joined IATEFL and chose TTEdSIG as my special interest group (SIG). Apart from there being a whole load of new acronyms to learn, there are also a lot of benefits from being part of IATEFL and specific SIGs, one being a discount to the pre-conference event (PCE). In these PCEs, SIGs have guest speakers that speak about something related to the focus of the SIG – TTEdSIG being focused on teacher training and education. This year’s PCE had three great speakers: Penny Ur, Russel Stannard and Sue Garton. What follows here are my notes from the sessions and some of my rambling thoughts.
Penny Ur – In-service training
Penny’s talk focused on in-service training and the importance of input, reflection and discussion. She mentioned that top-down input has received a bit of a bad name, but for many wrong reasons. At the end of the day, teachers need input regarding topics, ideas, etc. that they don’t know or are less aware of.
Types of input
- Oral: This is perhaps the most natural types of input and necessary. However, it needs to be made available to teachers and not prescribed, so to speak. That is, we can show teachers something but we shouldn’t say this is what you have to do. What follows are some of the areas that we can provide oral input for:
- Research and theory: Teachers often don’t have time to read research (or the know-how). It is here that we trainers act as mediators between them and the research, drawing out insights and presenting them for teachers to pick and choose.
- Narratives: Penny stressed the value of presenting teachers with personal stories or stories from other teachers and trainers.
- Practical ideas: Teaches are, as Penny put it, ‘thirsty for ideas’. Give them these ideas!
- Recipes: Provide teachers with recipes for lessons from which they can learn from then adapt and modify as they like.
- Print and online resources: A logical choice and widely available, although not always entirely accessible to teachers.
- The teachers themselves!
- Narratives: Teachers can share their successes, failures, surprises, dilemmas, controversies, etc.
- Insights: Teachers can share their discoveries, experiences, what they’ve read, advice, reflections, etc.
- Practical ideas: Teachers themselves have loads of ideas to share.
Penny stressed the need for teachers to reflect on any or all types of input and connect it to teachers’ own practice. Reflection can take many forms:
These are probably in order in terms of involvement, with silent be generally something quick and almost reflexive, whereas collaborative may be more drawn out and involves more engagement.
Personal conclusions – what have I learnt?
This is the question that teachers should have in their minds at the end of workshops or training sessions. They need to be able to come away with a conclusions, and they need to be able to see what effect it will have. Helping teachers reach these conclusions can be difficult, but some ways include:
- Have teachers write an on-going journal that is completed at the end of every session
- Teachers write up their own reflective essays
- Teachers complete some other written task
This picture shows all of these aspects of teacher training sessions and how they connect.
Russel Stannard – Technologies that can impact on teacher training
Russel’s talk focused on a number of digital tools that trainers can use to save time:
- Vocaroo: A great tool for providing oral feedback summaries to individual teachers to groups of teachers
- Padlet: We looked at how we can create oral summaries for Padlets rather than replying to every teacher comment.
- Google Docs: Russel stressed that Google Docs can be used effectively when set up right. He showed us a page which could be shared with teachers and they complete a task. Then the trainer could provide feedback.
- Screencast-o-matic: A great tool for recording what is on your screen and your voice when creating presentations or providing feedback to teachers. This also had the brilliant functionality of being able to upload directly to YouTube.
- E-portfolios: Probably the most interesting part of the talk was Russel’s idea of e-portfolios. He was talking about ‘courses’ and not in-service development programmes; however, I feel that they could be very useful if all teachers were on board. Basically, teachers set up their own e-portfolio using Google Sites. Then throughout the year/course, they upload their work onto the site and this is then assessed at the end of the year/course.
Panel – What are the needs of advanced teacher trainers?
This was a really interesting panel to watch. The question was presented and there were four speakers who responded: Penny Ur, Briony Beaven, Sue Garton and Bahar Gün. I’ve compiled some of their thoughts here:
- Penny stressed the need to define what an advanced teacher trainer is. She also made the point that trainers need to constantly stay up-to-date with research and the like. Basically, advanced teacher trainers need space to find and read new research and then mediate the transmission of this information to teachers.
- Briony showed the results of a survey that she carried out in which she asked trainers what they would do with two-weeks paid leave (they were told they could do anything, develop, rest, etc.). There were three general areas that came up: Practical training needs, cognitive needs and affective needs. In short, many trainers said they would do courses or would like to have more time to go over certain bits of research. Some said that they would speak with other trainers, some said they would rest. My impression was that there was no real specific need, but that every trainer is a little different and will need something different at different times in their career.
- Sue emphasised that all trainers are different and that perhaps the best way to develop and attend to their needs is for them to engage in the investigation of their own practice. She mentioned that perhaps there is no such thing as best practice as this implied that everything is external, i.e. we forget the individual practice (she emphasise, however, that there is GOOD practice). She then went on to look at praxis as theory building and mentioned three types of investigation that involved various levels of engagement:
- Reflecting on practice: This is something that most trainers do, and this is great! This involves looking back on what occurred in sessions and programmes and seeing what could be done better or what could be improved. This is lowest level of involvement.
- Exploratory practice: Getting our hands dirty and trying out new things in our own contexts. In essence, we take something from theory and research and we try to use it in our training, perhaps making adjustments here and there. This is the ‘middle-ground’ of involvement.
- Action research: This, Sue states, is the most involved investigation of practice. Action research for trainers means looking at our context, identifying a problem, question or hypothesis, and then going about finding an answer or solution to this. Why is it so involved? Well, because it is largely academic, takes a lot of time, and needs to be done well for it to be effective.
- Bahar emphasised the importance of avoiding trainer burn-out, and to look for opportunities for growth. In her words, ‘Keep moving forward’. She spoke about a number of phenomenons that she misses and thinks are great development opportunities for trainers:
- Reverse mentoring: When a less experienced teacher provides, almost inadvertently, advice to a more experienced teacher. Bahar mentioned that this happened to her in the pandemic with the move to online teaching.
- Corridor coaching. the training that happens in the staffroom, basically. When you pass that colleague and speak about an idea you had, or you ask them for an idea to teach a specific language point. These are great opportunities for development and to gauge what teachers want.
Sue Garton – Materials in pre-service teacher education
Sue’s talk was focused on the concept of developing teachers’ awareness of materials, right from the outset, i.e. on pre-service courses such as Celta or CertTESOL. Her rationale was that for the majority of their teaching careers, most teachers will use some kind of course book.
Sue presented a lot of information from research that had been carried out focusing on the use of course books. Some of the insights include:
- Most teachers have not been taught how to evaluate course books
- Teachers may fall back on the default mode after time, which may not match what certain training has be pushing for
- External constraints affect materials use (e.g. micro- and macro-institutional factors)
- New teachers may not feel confident with adapting materials (I also think this is true of experienced teachers!)
- Teacher beliefs regarding SLA affects materials use
As trainers, we can helps address a number of areas: experience, cognition and theory of language learning. It is important for us to help teachers really understand how they view the course book, and Sue presented a number of ways in which this could be done.
- Metaphors: Ask teachers to select between a list of metaphors, e.g. The course book is a tool, syllabus, guide, etc.
- Sentence stems: The course book is… or I view the course book as…
At the end the day, no matter what way you use, it is important that teachers are able to make explicit their views on course books.
Another thing that Sue mentioned was to look at the hidden curriculum, i.e. analyse from a number of different perspectives and see if the course book is appropriate. Sue was talking about a research task her university students carry out, but I think it is very useful for directors and trainers as well. Some of the areas you could focus on:
- Teacher and learner roles
- Higher-order thinking
In between each of the sessions, there were a number of ‘reflective’ and follow-on tasks that were carried out on Google Jamboard. We also got to split into breakout rooms to discuss our ideas (I would have loved to have done this more). It was really interesting to hear the thoughts of the speakers and other attendees as well as think on how all this connects to my own context. All in all a great day.