The Teacher Trainer Diaries – A year of workshops – Part 3

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

In the final part of this group of posts, I’ll look at Term 3’s workshops and share my thoughts on how everything worked out – the good and the bad!

Term 3 – Integrated skills and exploiting materials 

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 3 programme characteristics

This term’s workshops were focused on developing teachers’ abilities to exploit ready-made materials as well as introducing them to more learner-centred/deep-end approaches to language teaching (TBLT and CLIL). There were a number of reasons for this:

  • Teachers had commented many times throughout the year that they didn’t feel ‘comfortable’ moving away from the course book, but at the same time they felt that the course books we were using were ‘missing something’.
  • As we had covered the more standard methods and approaches to language teaching at the start of the year, I wanted to introduce TBLT and CLIL, in the hope that teachers might see value in these approaches and may include facets of each in their practice.
  • It was felt that TBLT and CLIL were great approaches to cover whilst focusing on exploiting materials as they often go hand-in-hand. This was my thought process beforehand; however, as I’ll get to later, this turned out to much more problematic than expected.
  • Teachers had commented that they wanted more hands-on experience with Cambridge exam materials, especially regarding using them in class (not only for exams).
  • One of the teachers had as his development focus for Term 3 teaching exam strategies to learners. It was felt that by looking at exam materials and how they can be exploited, we would also be able to ‘naturally’ look at what exam strategies teachers would use.

Here you will find the programme overview. This term we decided that we would not have any extra, optional tasks as teachers simply were not doing them.

Workshops Content 
W 1 – Integrated-skills approaches to language teaching In this workshop, teachers: 
– were introduced into popular Integrated-skills approaches within ELT (CLIL and TBLT )
– carried out a jigsaw reading regarding integrated skills
– discussed the advantages and disadvantages of ISAs
– discussed if and how systems can be integrated into ISA lessons
– reflected on current classes and discussed how to make a principled choice on which systems/skills to prioritise based on learners’ needs
W 2 – Exploiting YL coursebook materials In this workshop, teachers:
– were given a number of tasks from YL course books
– were asked to identify the task aims, instructions etc. 
– were tasked with exploiting the tasks so that they take on an integrated-skills approach. 
W 3 – Exploiting exam tasks In this workshop, teachers:
– were given a number of upper main suite exam tasks,
– were asked to identify the task aims, instructions, strategies learners can use, etc. 
– were tasked with exploiting the tasks so that they take on an integrated-skills approach as well as bringing exam strategies into focus
W 4 – Team planning of ISA lesson In this workshop, teachers: 
– chose from a list of course books, exam tasks, etc. and designed an integrated-skills approach lesson 
– completed the procedure for the lesson, including stage aims, interaction patterns, etc. 
– reviewed each other’s lesson plan, formulating questions and hypothesising on the rationale
Term 3 Programme overview

How did it go?

My own thoughts

Overall, there were many positives about term three’s workshops. I know that teachers got heavily involved in discussions around TBLT methodology – CLIL was sort of left to the side – and how to exploit exam and course book materials. Teachers commented that they really enjoyed the sessions, so that in one sense made me feel good about what we were doing. Furthermore, as teachers needed to work together to produce a plan at the end of the ‘programme’, they had a chance to interact and see how others would go about planning a lesson sequence. I felt that this was quite beneficial to the less-experience teachers in the group. I was also very happy with how much of a mediating role I played. Yes, there were times when I had to present some information, but this was largely done through jigsaw reading and plenary discussions. The remainder of the sessions, I stood back and ‘let the sessions unfold’ whilst guiding teachers where necessary.

This being said, however, I do feel that there were many parts of the programme that missed the mark, so to speak.

  • Whilst teachers did say that they wanted more experience with exploiting materials, they didn’t actually state that they wanted more experience with TBLT or CLIL. In this sense, perhaps the workshops were more top-down than bottom-up. Having said this, teachers did enjoy them, were able to take away a lot from the workshops, and TBLT especially is an approach to language teaching that is evidence-based and, in my opinion, should be brought to teachers to experiment with. Perhaps it would be have been more beneficial, however, at the start of the year, following the workshop on planning paradigms.
  • We didn’t start from teachers’ values, attitudes and beliefs (VABs). Rather, it was straight into the theory and practice behind exploiting materials, TBLT and CLIL. Wright and Bolitho (2007) write that any session or programme really needs to start from teachers’ VABs as this way they connect theory to practice, have an understanding of where they are, and are more susceptible to change as they have grounded themselves in their own experience. I feel that the first workshop really needed to explore teachers’ experiences with exploiting materials and working with more learner-centred approaches to language teaching.
  • Perhaps we bit off way more than we could chew. TBLT alone could have been a great focus for the term. Or exploiting materials. Combining both these and CLIL was far too much.
  • CLIL was sort of ignored by everybody. Perhaps this was because of my own experience and like for TBLT. I guess this is an example of how a trainer’s beliefs can heavily influence everything in the programme. It is something I need to watch out for when planning next year’s sessions.

Teachers’ feedback

This term I included a new list of questions for teachers. I have summarised their answers here:

How relevant did you find the third 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 third term’s development programme has been at helping you develop as a teacher?66.7% Very effective
33% Effective
Standard Likert Scale questions
What are the biggest takeaways for you this term and this year? That is, what can you take away from this year and say that this is what I learnt, discovered, understood, etc.?
Gained a lot of knowledge
Become better at reflection
Been able to identify new, relevant goals
Better able to incorporate exam materials in class
The lesson planning sessions helped me conceptualise lessons more effectively
How can the development programme be improved?
Create an online file in which we can all have access to the materials we create and use in the sessions.
What suggestions do you have for future workshops?
Everything as much as possible!
Working with higher-level classes
Exam marking
Integrating skills with Young Learner classes
Open-ended questions and answers (summary)

DoS’ feedback

Patrick commented that he was happy with sessions, although perhaps the group dynamics and size made planning together a little difficult. Regarding what he took away from it, he said that he was pushed to make explicit his knowledge regarding learner-centred methodologies, as well as bring much of what he was learning on the DipTESOL into the planning sessions, which he found useful.

Overall strengths and weaknesses

Strengths:

  • Was somewhat based on teachers’ wants and needs. Certainly not entirely, but it was reactive to their comments from term 2.
  • Covered quite a lot in the time that we had. We prioritised exploiting materials and TBLT, which teachers enjoyed.
  • Teachers had plenty of time to explore their thoughts regarding planning a lesson sequence. They also got to share many ideas and get ‘online’ feedback from their peers.
  • Teachers were able to produce something that they could use in their class. They did use their lessons and all commented that the classes went quite well.
  • Teachers came away with a much clearer understanding of how certain materials could be exploited to be more learner-centered. Teachers commented that they felt more comfortable exploiting their course books also.
  • Teachers took their participatory roles seriously, contributing a lot where they needed to. In terms of my role, I was happy with the mediating role that I took on.

Weaknesses

  • Too much in too little time. We really needed to focus only on one of the areas and really develop it as much as we could. The consequences of this were that we really didn’t focus much on CLIL or some of the other areas.
  • Too little connection to teachers’ VABs. We need to start from here and build up teachers’ understanding of where they are so that they can see where they might like to change. This dialogue is the most important part of starting a programme.
  • Could have been more bottom-up in terms of determining the workshop focuses. Yes, teachers did comment on how they wanted to become more confident in exploiting materials , but perhaps I could have dug deeper and found out more of their interests so that I could integrate these with exploiting materials.
  • Three is a crowd. On one of the days, we had a group of three planning a lesson. There were simply too many opinions going around and they weren’t actually able to complete the whole sequence. On the days where we had two, teachers felt more comfortable and were able to produce ‘more’.

Improvements

So, taking everything I have written into considerations, these are my action points, so to speak, for improving the programme and my approach to training:

  • Start from VABs. Always.
  • Ensure to really take into account teachers’ wants and needs.
  • Be careful of how much influence I have over the sessions and the opinions in the sessions.
  • With team planning sessions, ensure that there are no more than two to a group.
  • Don’t try to include too many aspects in a programme. Prioritise and remember to work from teachers’ VABs, expectations and experiences!

Final thoughts

Overall, this term has been a big learning curve. I tried many new things, got some really constructive feedback, and feel that I have learnt much more about myself as a trainer. I know that this term was far from perfect, but I am glad that I’ve made these little mistakes here and there as they have really helped me see where I can improve. You might be thinking that I being overly negative, but I assure you I am not. The programme was certainly successful in that teachers got a lot out of it, but I feel that it was unsuccessful as my planning was off. I look forward, however, to building on this and making next year’s sessions even more successful!

Please let me know your thoughts! If you have made any planning mistakes with sessions, I would love to hear how you reflected on these and got better. Feel free to comment in get in touch via email 🙂

References

Wright, T. & Bolitho, R. (2007). Trainer Development. Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho.

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