I love reading about teacher training, not simply because I am a trainer, but also because I enjoy reading about how other trainers, often far more experienced than myself, would do things or what recommendations they might give. I recently picked up John Hughes A Practical Introduction to Teaching Training in ELT when Pavilion had their summer sale on (thank you, Pavilion!), and have been really eager to get stuck into it and see what thoughts, opinions, ideas, etc. John Hughes has. I’ll do my best to cover the major elements of the book here as well as my thoughts on who should read this book and why.
A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT is a book that all soon-to-be or newly appointed trainers are going to find useful – one of those book you’ll keep at your side. It takes the reader through all of the major aspects of teacher training in just-the-right-amount of detail – not too much, but not too little either. It offers plenty of practical insights, workshops ideas and reflective questions to really get your thinking about how you might successfully get involved with teacher training, deliver top-notch sessions or run teachers through the observation process.
- Training is very much like teaching: Hughes makes the point that training is indeed very similar to teaching, and many of the skills one learns/develops as a teacher are going to be useful in a teacher training position. Hughes makes comparisons between three teacher roles (facilitator, expert and model) and highlights how these roles have very similar realisations in training. What I liked about this section was that the facilitator role was highlighted as being perhaps the most important, but not the only role that trainers need to take on. In fact, trainers often steer away from the expert role – in which we provide input, advice, etc. – but there may in fact be many times when teachers not only need but want the expert to tell them what to do. Throughout the book, Hughes talks about both INSET and pre-service courses, and he does write about how certain roles and types of training are more applicable to specific courses (e.g. the expert role may more used more on pre-service courses such as Celta or CertTESOL).
- Training is not something teachers should jump into quickly: Right from the get-go, Hughes warns teachers about the dangers of moving into training too quickly (see quote). He framed it in a way that stated that teachers often show signs of being potential trainers early on (being keen to do workshops, sharing ideas, etc.), but that this keen-ness is not enough – experience with teaching is necessary before moving into training if one wants to be an effective trainer.
“As a final word or warning, don’t skip too quickly from teaching into training; make sure you have a wide range of experience of teaching English before launching yourself as a trainer.”Hughes, 2015, p.17
- There are plenty of training ideas to get you started – you don’t have to think of everything yourself: One of the major points of this book is showing the reader that while moving into training may be a scary thing at first, there really is quite a lot of ‘stuff’ out there from which to draw on when creating sessions. Hughes even puts forward a number of ‘models’ to help junior trainers start to piece together training sessions:
- What, Why, How: Hughes presents a pyramid with three questions. At the top, but taking up the least space, is the question What is it? – what the session is about, basically. Below this with more space, but not the most, is the question Why is it important?. Below this, and taking up the most space is How can I apply it? (with reference to how can teachers apply what they are getting from session to their practice). Without going into too much detail, Hughes writes that looking at training sessions with these questions in mind can be useful as it ensures that nothing is left out.
- Methods and approaches: Hughes writes that training sessions can even take on a form similar to that of modern teaching methods and approaches such as PPP, ESA or TBLT.
What I liked
- Covers pretty much all the major factors: This book is really well-written in that it covers all the big areas of teacher training, including observations and providing feedback. It does not go into too much detail, looking at more advanced models or learning or motivation; however, it does what it says it’s going to – it provides an introduction.
- Packed full of ideas: Much of what was in the book I felt really comfortably with as I have experience or worked in contexts in which most of the development ‘tools’ from the book have been used. This being said, there was an abundance of ideas, many of which I hadn’t seen before. Some of them include:
- Full workshop sessions: It has a number of really interesting workshop sessions, complete with timings, notes, etc. One that I found interesting was the training plan on correcting learner errors (p. 26).
- Peer teaching and teacher-observers: One of the activities mentioned gets teachers to carry out a small activity with peers (e.g. teach people how to do something you can do). In the ‘lesson’ there are peer teachers and peer observers. The peer observers get the chance to observe, while the others participate. I thought this was a great way to introduce peer observation in general as well as raising awareness of how difficult observation can be.
- Using boardgames: Another activity type that I had never thought to use in sessions is using boardgames. It makes a lot of sense, though. They can be created with as many questions as you want, and these can focus on the topic of the workshop.
- Provides clear explanations of important activity types: The book presents quite a number of activity and observation types. Hughes could have simply given a brief intro to each of them; however, he wrote quite a lot about each as well as provided some examples for some of the more intricate ones such as loop input (some great activities presented in this section as well!).
- Plenty of reflective tasks: For those of you that read my reviews, you know I like reflective tasks in books. This book does not disappoint, with plenty of thinking questions littered throughout.
- It starts from small to big: So the book looks at what it means to be a trainer, how to get into training, etc. Then it moves into training sessions, preparing for sessions, observations, feedback, and then developing programmes. I felt the layout and organisation of the book was clear and linked nicely. I also liked the addition of the last chapter, Managing teacher training, as it has some nice ideas on how to gather information on teachers’ interests and wants regarding workshops.
- Focuses on all training contexts: Hughes makes clear from the very beginning that there is more than one training context. He talks about pre-service, in-service, external courses, etc., but he also talks about doing all of these on-line, something which I have not read before. I felt that this was very much in touch with recent changes in ELT (and the world) and will support trainers who need to run sessions online.
- Hughes is very honest: I have a favourite quotes notion page and two of them are from this book. I liked how he was honest about the realities of teacher training, especially about training programmes and observation. The two quotes are:
“Having an observer sitting in the back of a classroom can be rather like hosting a party with one person who nobody knows sitting on their own in the corner. No one speaks to this person, but every so often they are reminded of his or her slightly uncomfortable presence.”Hughes, 2015, p.99
“If you decide to implement a staff development programme, don’t be surprised if everyone doesn’t rush forward to thank you. Emotions will be mixed. New training initiatives can challenge people, upset their routine or put them in a position in which they feel threatened.”Hughes, 2015, p.148
- He advocates making observations the norm: Hughes writes that observations are stressful and so there are a few things that trainers can do to help alleviate or at a minimum reduce the stress. Some of these include: ensuring criteria is made available and is transparent; meeting before the lesson to calm nerves and run through what they plan to go through; allowing teachers to choose the lesson and focus; ensuring that peer observation is allowed throughout the programme; ensuring that nothing is left open to interpretation; and making observations the norm. The last point I think is really important, not only for teachers but for learners also (see quote below). By making observation more common (and not only evaluative or done by a DoS) we can reduce the stigma related to observations, get both teachers and learners on-board more effectively, and, finally, we can encourage teachers to get past the ‘stress’ factor of observation and start to really look at the ‘development’ factor.
“In certain contexts, it may also happen that students assume that there is something wrong with their current teacher because the lesson is being observed.”Hughes, 2015, p.100
What I didn’t like
Not too much really. The one thing that annoyed me as I was reading was that there were a few publishing errors with misspelled or incorrectly written sentences. It is a minor thing, but it annoyed me nonetheless.
One other point that perhaps could have been explored in a little more detail is course evaluation and assessing effectiveness either through observation or other instruments. This being said, this is quite an advanced aspect of teacher training and course design; as such, I don’t feel it was in the scope of the book.
Applying to practice
This is a new ‘section’ in my reviews and it’s basically a space where I can write about how I plan to apply what I have learnt from the book to my own practice (rather than speaking in general terms for you lovely people). After reading my previous reviews again, I did feel that this was something that was missing. So bear with me while I talk about me and my training for a sec 🙂
- Personal assessment: One feedback tool Hughes mentioned was personal assessment. Basically this is where the teacher/trainer agree on a set of criteria for the teacher to mark themselves on (1 – 10) after the lesson (the trainer does the same). This is something I’d like to incorporate in our post-lesson reflection document, which already has questions about the lesson, their aims, etc. Why? Well, I feel that this adds another purpose to the pre-observation chat (agreeing on what criteria for this self-assessment) and it gives more of a clearer picture for me as trainer for how the teacher felt about certain aspects.
- Questions for training interests: Near the end of the book, Hughes lays out a questionnaire of sorts that aims to collect data on teachers’ interests. Basically, there is a list of workshop sessions and teachers have a number of marks they can award (e.g. a maximum of 30). Teachers then allocate marks to the workshops they would prioritise (e.g. 10 marks for Teaching lexis, 5 marks for Teaching pronunciation, etc.). I have already adapted this and plan to use it alongside another questionnaire (one that focuses on teachers self-assessed perceptions of their abilities, similar to that of the one on ELT concourse) in induction week, to really gain an understanding of teachers’ needs and wants.
- Symbols in written feedback: Written feedback is always a little dangerous as it is hard to predict how teachers will react to what you write. I tend to give written feedback before oral feedback because it allows teachers time to ‘mull over’ what I have written and build their own understanding of what they would like to say. One idea that Hughes puts forward, though, is to include symbols that indicate your thoughts and make points clearer in terms of interpretation (alongside what you have already written). For example, if I write ‘You’re speaking with Sergio’ following by a tick, then ‘Your speaking for quite a while’ followed by an (!), it makes clear what I want to convey (tick is positive, while ! might mean pay attention) . The important thing here is to ensure that teachers understand what symbols you are going to use, as well as to include both positive and ‘improvement’ symbols.
Who should read this book?
- Junior/potential trainers: This is a GREAT introduction to teacher training. As mentioned it covers pretty much all the basics as well as some of the more ‘intricate’ and ‘delicate’ aspects. Highly recommended for junior trainers or those looking to move into teacher training.
- Senior trainers/managers: Whilst much of the information would not be new for senior trainers, there are plenty of workshop ideas and small little points to help improve certain aspects of established programmes, both INSET and pre-service.
A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT is a great addition to my shelf, and I am sure that other trainers, junior or senior, will all find value in it also. It is an easy read, doesn’t go into too many detailed models, psychology, etc. so you will fly through it, but there are plenty of insights and ideas so you will be writing down a lot of notes. As mentioned, I’ve already got some very clear ideas about how I am going to implement some of what Hughes covers; but, I wonder what you would apply? If you’ve read this book, please let me know your thoughts!
Title: A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT
Author: John Hughes
Hughes, J. (2015). A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT. Shoreham by Sea: Pavilion Publishing and Media Ltd.