Article notes: The consequences of INSET – Martin Lamb

I read a lot of articles, and, more often that not, I write loads of notes all over them and then write a summary of sorts in my handy notebook. I will continue to do this, but I thought I’d also start writing up my ‘article notes’ here so that I can share my thoughts with all of you lovely people. Just so you all know, these notes are not meant to be anything too ‘technical’ or academic – rather they are my own, personal thoughts about things I read. I welcome feedback and your comments as well!

The first of these ‘article notes’ is focused on Martin Lamb’s (1995) The consequences of INSET. I started reading this because it is on the NILE Trainer Development (MATD) module reading list, and I’m slowly working my way through it (there are loads of books and articles).

Summary and notes

You can find Lamb’s article here.

Lamb’s article looks at an evaluation he did of his own short INSET course one year on. In short, he found that teacher beliefs and experiences with teaching and learning affected teacher uptake – mainly negatively. He later recommends that INSET courses should start with an examination of teacher beliefs, and work from these of long-term change is desired.

He wrote about teacher ‘reactions’ to the ideas on the course, and I think these themselves could be useful tools/classifications to keep in mind when evaluating programmes and courses. These were:

  • No uptake
  • Confusion: In essence, teachers heard the ideas, but then didn’t understand them enough to be able to implement them.
  • Labelling: Teachers take names for ideas from the session and apply them to something in their teaching practice.
  • Appropriation: Teachers take an idea from the course and use it to justify a change in their teaching practice following the course. In the article, Lamb speaks about how the course made clear that some L1 use could be useful in class, and how one teacher took this on-board, but used it to justify giving all instruction in L1, and removing almost all oral work.
  • Assimilation: Ideas are taken into the teacher’s practice ‘wholesale’
  • Adaptation and rejection: Teachers try out the ideas for their purposes and not the trainers, and see that they need to be changed or an inappropriate for their purposes.
  • Engagement: Teachers gradually accommodate new ideas into their practice and belief structures.
Points from article My thoughts
Any INSEET course which is seriously concern with long-term change in teachers’ practice will have to take these beliefs into account. (p.72) Definitely agree. I feel that this is something I struggled to grasp within my first few years of training teachers. More often than not, I looked for the ‘ideas’ or ‘good practices’ sessions to give, with little attention given to teachers’ Values, attitudes, beliefs and expectations (VABEs). To be honest, one of the big ‘moments’ for me was reading Wright and Bolitho’s Trainer Development, which heavily emphasised this.
But even more [significant were] the mental parameters within which they conceptualised the teaching and learning process, and which had determined how they had interpreted the ideas during and after the course. (p.73) So basically, there is a difference between trainer expectations of uptake and teacher uptake. Much like the learning that takes place in classrooms, especially regarding so called ‘grammar teaching’.
This analysis showed that the interaction of ‘research theory’ – the ideas present on the course – and the personal theories of participants, sometimes had quiet unexpected results. (p.73) I’ve read elsewhere, and seen in my own training how ‘powerful’ personal teaching theories are. I have no doubt that anything at odds with a teacher’s personal theory is likely to be met with resistance and, if lasting ‘impact’ is to be achieved, a lot of work will be required. Who, however, is to do the work is a very interesting question.
The approach adopted to encourage the teachers to change their practice was essentially rational-empirical. In the belief that people are rational beings and that a change will be adopted once evidence has been produced to show that it will benefit those whom it affects. (p.74) He references Kennedy (1987) here, and I had never heard of this rational-empirical ‘approach’ or attitude for the programme before, but it makes sense. In essence, this ‘approach’ holds the expectation that once evidence of ‘worth’ is presented, teachers will change their beliefs around a certain aspect of teaching. I already know that the article is going to say that this is not the case with teacher training (well, for much of training anyway).
Evaluating the course a year later, I realised that without any baseline description of the teachers’ views and behaviour from the time of the course would not be able to make unequivocal assertions about the way the participants had changed or not. (p.74) This in my mind shows the true power and perhaps importance of INSET development programmes (not short courses as in the article). This ‘evidence’ can be built up and then used throughout the year to help the teacher see where and how they have improved/changed (or not). Thinking about short courses in general, I wonder if it is possible/feasible to collect some of this data (e.g., having participants voluntarily send in videos or recordings of their teaching, materials, etc.)?
Where participants claimed to have adopted ideas from the course in their teaching, I tried to elicit as much practical detail as possible to guard against the understandable tendency to assure me, their former course tutor, that my work had had considerable impact and benefit. (p.74) What’s this bias called? The Halo effect bias? Sponsor bias? Social desirability bias? Will have to take a look and come back to this because I can’t seem to find an exact answer online.
The brute fact of the matter is that all the participants had forgotten most of the information and ideas that they had previously been exposed to. (p.75) Thus there is a strong rationale to avoid, or at least limit, those ‘bulk lesson idea’ sessions, or courses that are not coupled with some kind of teaching practice that aims to reinforce the concepts presented. Again, this is where INSET ‘programmes’, when run well, can really benefit teachers.
…, there were also cases where teachers mentioned ideas that had been remembered but never well enough understood to affect their teaching in any way. (p.75)Again, a strong rationale for following up on ideas, concepts, etc. presented. As trainers, we often forget what it is like to be moving through the teaching ‘proficiency’ framework, or what is was like to become ‘good’ at a teaching skill. We also can’t be guaranteed about what we expect to be uptake to actually be teacher uptake.
Some teachers had clearly just applied a term that had picked up on the course to an activity they were doing. (p.75) I definitely feel this ‘labelling’ can work both ways. That is, teachers may genuinely be doing something ‘effective’ and not know the name for it. In these case, the course raises awareness of what these concepts are called (and potentially extra vital information). I have also encountered teachers that hear a term, label an activity that they do with this term, not fully understanding what it actually is. One that comes to mind is scaffolding.
They seemed to work well because the techniques did not compromise in practice any of the teachers’ (or students’) basic beliefs. (p.76)Lamb was referring to certain activities being assimilated ‘wholesale’ into teachers’ classroom practices. In essence, then, one take away could be that those activities, ideas, concepts that are most likely to be ‘in-line’ what what teachers already believe are going to leave the most ‘impact’, or at least gain the most traction. As a trainer, then, that is something to really consider (and I love how Lamb emphasises the learners’ beliefs here also). I also feel that there is a strong rationale for challenging teachers’ beliefs, although it needs to be done in a careful manner, firstly having established agendas and teachers’ own beliefs regarding a certain topic. Wright and Bolitho’s book had loads of ideas for this.
Often ideas had been implemented in a way designed to satisfy [the teachers’] basic concerns rather than the ones assumed by the INSET instructors, with the result that new and unexpected problems were created. (p.76)So, identifying these concerns is extremely important before the course planning starts! Not always, possible, granted, but certainly where possible it should be done. I think this is where induction week for ‘academies’ is really important, as well as ensuring that teachers’ concerns, needs and wants are really taken on board when planning development programmes, workshops, etc.
Yet the fact is that the teachers simply did not perceive the same problems in large classes as we instructors had done. (p.77) This reminds me of the call to have more ‘local’ trainers developed, so that their experience can be combined with the external trainer’s experience – and through these ‘levels of experience’, courses can be delivered more effectively. Well, at least with the needs and expectations of the teachers’ and learners’ taken more into account.
The way many teachers implemented group work was inevitably different from how the INSET instructors envisaged it, because they adapted it to try and solve their problems. (p.77) Another point to add to the rationale for understanding teacher needs and wants, and incorporating them into the programme as much as possible. I’ve never taught on an external ‘course’ before, but I imagine this must be difficult. I have ran plenty of external workshops as the ‘professional’, but with these after the first few that I did with already prepared materials, I came to the conclusion that I was missing something – the teachers’ input. It was very difficult for us to get this information before the sessions, so I started to include an opening VABEs stage for all my workshops, and I found that these helped me draw teachers’ opinions out whilst at the same time telling me how I could ‘modify’ the session to meet their needs. Not perfect, but it was something.
The last category of reaction, however, may in the long run prove more beneficial. This is where teachers engage with new ideas and gradually accommodate them them in within their own belief structures by making adjustments in their own thinking. It may be a long process, having little immediate practice [effect]. [There] may even be a temporary decline in performance as the teacher tries out new procedures in an uncertain way… The first stage on this long road to accommodation involves doubting aspects of one’s current practice or beliefs. (p.77-78) This is awesome. And it something, now that I think about it, that is essential in any training programme (surely?). Giving teachers time and space to practise, and ‘get wrong’ certain activities. This is our job, as trainers, in my mind – to help them in this process of stepping out of their comfort zone, giving them feedback, and helping guide them to a new understanding.
At the same time, though, he retains former practices and concerns that seem to contradict new beliefs. (p.78)Thus, as trainers, one of our roles is to help teachers identify mismatches between their beliefs and their teaching practices. Touching on cognitive dissonance here.
For hangover-free INSET, though, it will be necessary to moderate input itself, especially that distilled wisdom -‘research theory’ or ‘received knowledge’ – of a culture alien to many classroom teachers in the UK as well as overseas […] “Model of teacher education which depend on knowledge transmission, or ‘input-output’ models of teacher education, are essentially ineffective”. (p.79) Here Lamb is referencing Freeman (1991). And, bam! Look at that – if a course or programme follows predominantly a transmission model, it is ineffective. I would go so far as to say that many courses, regardless is they follow a transmission model or not, without appropriate follow up, connection to practice, and support are going to not be termed ‘effective’. I think this highlights, though, that we as trainers should resist the urge to simply transmit all the knowledge we want teachers to possess.
The focus of the short INSET course, where experience teachers already have well-developed mental construct of teaching, should be the teachers’ beliefs themselves. (p.79) Great. This is a way of working with experienced teachers. Now, this needs to be in-built into the programme so that workshops, etc. can effectively be differentiated.
This being the case, there is a strong argument for beginning INSET with awareness-raising activities, where participants confront their own routine practice and the values it is intended to serve. […] instead of tutors recommending ready-made solutions for predetermined problems, it should be the participants themselves who, on the basis of this expanded awareness of their own practice, determine the specific area of teaching they wish to develop, and formulate their own agenda for change in the classroom. (p.79)We like to talk about learner autonomy a lot, but often forget teacher autonomy. As an experienced teacher, I would welcome this element of ‘buy-in’. As a trainer, I can see the appeal – if teachers buy in to the development area, then they are more likely to push themselves (as opposed to the trainer pushing).

References

Freeman, D. (1991). ‘Language Teacher Education, Emerging, Discourse, and Change in Classroom Practice’. Plenary address at the 1st International Conference on Teacher Education in Second Language, City University of Hong Kong.

Kennedy, C. (1987). ‘Innovating for a change: teacher development and innovation’. ELT Journal 41/3:163-70.

Lamb, M. (1995). The consequences of INSET. ELT Journal 49/1:72-80.

6 Comments

  1. Rachel Tsateri says:

    “We like to talk about learner autonomy a lot, but often forget teacher autonomy.” Well said, Jim! Really enjoyed reading this blogpost, thanks for writing and sharing. The TD course was an eye opener when it comes to teacher autonomy so, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it very much. Not sure if this answers any of your questions but what I proposed for evaluating impact of the course was 1)unseen observations, 2)completing a record of classroom experiments which you can find here: https://teflzoneracheltsateri.wordpress.com/2021/07/05/nile-matd-part-6/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Rachel! I remember reading your post, but I read it again now – really insightful. Makes me super excited for the MATD.

      In terms of unseen observations, I remember trying this about 3 years ago with a staff of 30 teachers. I would say that, overall, about 6 took it seriously. This being said, the development programme that I had created that year followed more of a transmission model as opposed to a transformative. So, looking back I can see that teachers weren’t set up and supported enough. I would like yo try these again, but perhaps in Term 3 next academic year. I think all teachers can do these, although perhaps they are more suited to more experienced and ‘reflective’ teachers. What do you think?

      Also, I love the idea of completing the record chart. We included this in our programme this year in two of the terms, although with mixed results. The focuses were on, 1, motivational strategies and, 2, oral corrective feedback techniques. Some teachers were fully on board with it, and as the programme was much more transformative in its approach, I saw impact, both in terms of teacher awareness and ‘commitment’ to change and also in observations. Interestingly, teachers were more open about speaking about these concepts as well.

      The downside, though, was that a number of teachers did not complete the forms and so when we came back to talk about our findings, they relied on memory. In a feedback form, one teacher wrote “I really didn’t like having homework”. So, for some it was beneficial, for others it felt like ‘more work’. I thought overall it was really positive, but some teachers needed more buy-in. In fact, I’m the 2nd one was actually optional and I had 60% of the academy do it. Interesting experiment overall.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rachel Tsateri says:

        Thanks for sharing your experience, Jim. Very useful to read how teachers responded to these processes!

        Like

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