P is for Practicum

10 07 2011

Teaching practice, MA TESOL at The New School

As part of a Methods course I am teaching at the moment, I am observing teachers-in-training working with especially constituted classes of ‘guinea pig’ students.

Trainers who work on CELTA or DELTA courses, or on other pre- or in-service schemes, will be familiar with the teaching practice (or practicum) set-up. The trainee teachers plan their classes collaboratively, and then take turns to teach a segment of the overall lesson. The trainer (me, in this case) takes a corner seat, mutely observes the succession of ‘teaching slots’, and then conducts a joint feedback session with the trainee teachers either immediately afterwards, or on a subsequent day.

The more I do this, the more uncomfortable I feel with the process on at least two counts. One I’ll call logistical, and the other—for want of a better term—I’ll call existential.

First: the logistics. The trainer’s role, as silent, impassive observer, noting every move,  and delivering the feedback retrospectively, seems to run counter to what we now understand about skill acquisition. Cognitive learning theory has long recognised that feedback in ‘real operating conditions’—i.e. while you’re actually engaged in a task —is generally more powerful and more durable than feedback delivered after the event. More recently, a sociocultural perspective argues that skills are best learned through ‘assisted performance’, where the expert and the novice work collaboratively on a task, the former modelling and scaffolding the necessary sub-skills, and mediating the activity by means of well-placed interventions, such as commands, gestures, or gaze. In this way, and assuming an optimal state of readiness (aka the zone of proximal development) novices begin to appropriate the necessary skills, until they are capable of regulating them independently.

All this would seem to argue against the traditional practicum structure, with the trainer detached from the activity, and the feedback delivered ‘cold’. In fact, I’m finding that, on my present course, the sessions in which we ‘workshop’ lessons as a group in a micro-teaching format, with the trainees teaching their colleagues and me intervening as they do so, are both less stressful for the trainees and (I think) more productive in terms of their developmental outcomes. Here is an example of what I mean: a group has prepared a presentation of used to, and one of the team has volunteered to demonstrate it to the class.

The milling activity

Of course, micro-teaching lacks the authenticity of real classrooms, so the next step might involve taking a more interventionist role during the actual teaching practice, in the form, for example, of team-teaching, or of ‘coaching from the sidelines’, i.e. intervening more actively during the teaching practice lessons. In fact, I did this last week, gesticulating like a football coach in order to prompt the trainee who was teaching at the time to stop what he was doing and to pre-teach a question form, in advance of the milling activity that he was about to launch into. He got the hint, took the necessary steps, and the activity—I think—was all the better for it.

And now for the ‘existential’ problem, which goes much deeper. Sitting at the back of the room, or even intervening from the sidelines, I can’t help wondering what my role really is here. All these teachers I’m watching are so different, in terms of style, personality, experience, professional needs and aspirations, teaching contexts, and so on. And yet I get the sense I am trying to shoehorn them into a way of teaching that is very much ‘one-size-fits-all’.

Thinking back, I realise, uncomfortably, that, over the years that I have been working with teachers-in-training, my intentions as a trainer have always been more prescriptive than I would have admitted at the time. Initially, as a fairly inexperienced Director of Studies, these intentions took the form of wanting to turn my newly-trained teachers into clones of myself: “Do it like this (because this is the way I do it)”. Then, as a CELTA trainer, it was all about getting the trainees to teach in the way that the ‘method’ dictated. Of course, we used to deny that there was a ‘CELTA method’. It was all about eclecticism, surely. Looking back, I now realise that, if the CELTA course offered a range of methodological choices, this range was in fact fairly limited. Or even, very limited, given the way that a small set of global coursebooks determined (and still determine) the prevailing approach.

When I became an in-service trainer, working on DELTA courses, I paid lip-service to the notion that it was professional teacher development that should drive the agenda, and hence encouraged my trainees to look beyond the narrow confines of their CELTA ‘method’, to experiment, to reflect, and to adapt their teaching to their specific contexts. This, of course, ignored the fact that DELTA is an externally examined course, with a very clearly specified syllabus and success criteria – and, moreover, that the teachers are still using (and therefore are still constrained by) the same coursebooks.

Now, as I sit and watch and take notes I realise at least two things:

1. Whatever I say and do, these teachers will change only to the extent that their own beliefs, values, self-image, personality, previous experience etc will allow them; and

2. Whatever change that they do make, they will likely revert to their ‘default’ setting as soon as my back is turned. The teacher who is the entertainer, or the lecturer, or the football coach, or the social worker, will always be the entertainer, lecturer, football coach, etc.

Hence, all I can hope to do is help them become the best (= most effective, but also the most fulfilled) teacher that they themselves can possibly be – irrespective of how I myself teach, or whatever method is the flavour of the month, or whatever materials they happen to be using, or whatever context they happen to be teaching in.

And how do I do this?  Probably not by sitting at the back of the room and taking notes.

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77 responses

10 07 2011
Luan

Empathy. It’s a spectrum that separates good teachers from the bad. I sometimes meet people who get hacked off with ESL teaching. This is because have began to lose respect for the learner. Teachers who fail to give their best in every class, forget to follow the principles from their training and don’t bother to improve themselves professionally have forgotten the reason why their students are learning the language. And importantly, they have forgotten how much the learners have sacrificed to learn it. That’s when your game slips – when the priority becomes yourself over other people. This is when the teacher-learner relationship ceases to be a truly equitable one.

I have frequently said that the emotional role of teachers is more important than their technical skills. Teaching is so much governed by personality that it’s hard to quantify it as a science. Language teaching, as with all skills, certainly has to be more technical than the traditional subjects. But the fact remains that we need to learn from people we can identify with and admire. The great teacher, and indeed the great communicator, finds common ground and relates language, ideas and material back to the learner. This touches our inner feelings and resonates with us. That is why we pay good actors so much – because we need people we can relate to in order to give meaning to our lives.

10 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Good point, Luan, and this chimes with my own observation of the teachers I am working with at the moment. Although the teaching sometimes makes me (visibly) twitch, I have to concede that the way they are with the learners is just fantastic – caring, interested, courteous, supportive… When all is said and done, the bottom-line seems to be, as you put it, the degree of empathy that they achieve.

11 07 2011
Annette Zammit

I just joined twitter and this was the first post I read – how very interesting! Your comments about teachers’ beliefs certainly resonated with me. I have found that when I try to ‘instill’ good teaching ‘methods’ without bothering to find out what the teachers themselves believe or think about teaching does not really meet with success.

I too come from the celta /delta school of thought but more and more I realise that these courses do not really take into account the reality of the (often difficult) contexts in which they actually have to teach where it may be well nigh impossible for them to implement – or even see the relationship between what they’re told in the courses and what / how they’re expected to teach within their school constraints . I think it’s high time that these courses start addressing these very important issues.

12 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for your comment, Annette. I agree that a basic starting point in any training is to establish where the trainees ARE – in terms of their self-image, their previous experience and their expectations. There are a number of useful ways of doing this, including asking them to complete the metaphor frame: “Teaching is like ______ because ________”

As for the CELTA & DELTA becoming more context sensitive, I am sure that those who administer these courses would be in agreement, but it is up to individual centres to adjust to the local needs of their trainees. Since many of these trainess are just ‘passing through’ this is quite a challenge.

10 07 2011
Rob

Another great post, Scott!

As you’ve implied, sitting in repose seems less than ideally suited to afford learning opportunities in the ZPD. Short of texting with trainees during the lesson – Has that ever happened? – how does a trainer best interact with an already nervous trainee without bruising egos or mollycoddling? That’ll take getting to know the teachers in training (some of whom might already BE teachers) and building rapport, which is where I think those ‘workshops’ might come in handy as a ‘safe’ place to experiment and receive feedback.

We shouldn’t forget, in light of your final remark about people falling back on ‘default’ behavior and personality types, that, at least initially, most trainees are focused on how to pass the course, hopefully with an ‘A’, and then find a job. That is not to say they don’t want to learn or are not enthusiastic about teaching, but it reminds us that we are working within a paradigm that does not itself encourage ZPD learning but rather carrot-and-stick learning. So What do (should) I do? and How did I do? become significant questions at the outset.

Imagine if we encouraged people to discover their particular talent, or genius, and, assuming they had a gift for teaching, we then had more experienced guides to share stories, ask intelligent questions, and interact with their pupils (Can I use that word?) in a healthy, appropriately challenging way. I know many trainers and tutors who do just that, but they are often swimming against the current.

In a nutshell, Scott, I think your logistical concern stems from the existential one. Others might think just the opposite, and I look forward to more comments.

Rob

10 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Rob, for that (characteristically) thoughtful and eloquent comment. Yes, the backwash effect of wanting to get an A grade, and hence needing to know which hoops to jump through, is invidious, but inevitable, in schemes like CELTA, DELTA etc. On my own course here at the New School, the teaching practice component of the Methods course is not assessed, which has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, the teachers are free to do what they want, so long as it is jointly negotiated wih their group. Hence, they can take the kind of risks that – perhaps – candidates on a CELTA might be unwilling to take. (We are experimenting with the use of translation in the beginners class, for example, where all the students are Spanish-speakers).

On the negative side, they may well wonder why so much investment of time and energy is not rewarded on the course in the form of grades. All I can say is they they will be rewarded in heaven…

No, that’s not entirely true: their experience in the teaching practice classes feeds into a synthesising portfolio project they present at the end, where they gather the threads together and reflect on what they have learned. As I constantly remind them, it is not their teaching that is being evaluated, but their capacity to learn from their experience.

This in turn helps clarify my role, where the agenda for TP feedback is (or ought to be) – not ‘What did I do wrong?’ – but ‘What did I learn?’

10 07 2011
Naomi Epstein

I see what you mean.
When I have student teachers with in my clasroom I have found that combinations of co-teaching are most effective. Sometimes I am less active but am following the lesson and send an approving nod or throw out a comment of something to explain further now. Sometimes we teach in a manner that resembles turn-taking.
in the past I would only comment after the lesson was over and that was less effective.

An important post, thank you!

10 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Naomi.

I love the idea of ‘the approving nod’! It makes me wonder if we couldn’t negotiate a set of ‘signs’ that the trainer – or co-teacher – can use in order to nudge the trainee in the right direction – the sort of gestures that (I assume) football coaches use and which are easily recognised by their players.

11 07 2011
Nevine H.

Many trainees become confused and lose their train of thought when the trainer reacts , makes gestures or signs. I feel that it also makes them believe less in themselves if they feel they can’t manage on their own. In fact, it’s very much like learning to drive, it’s only when you drive the car on your own that you start mastering driving. I find that in peer teaching the other trainees are the ones who hint discretely when a word is mispelt for example, and this is useful to the trainee teacher without embarassing or demoralizing him or her. Definitely feedback should not be ‘cold’ or destructive. And like the ‘empathy’ of the teacher for the learner, so too the rapport between the trainer and the trainee. Moreover, self reflection is a very effective tool in teacher development, and this would be lost if the trainer butted in to redirect the trainee.

What I encourage in training is experimentation. I show the basic framework but I am always receptive to innovative attempts by the trainees. This eventually helps them to develop their own style in teaching while not forsaking some basic elements.

12 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

I agree, Nevine, that ‘in flight’ directions from the trainer might be distracting, and this would need to be negotiated. As I said above, work-shopping lessons in a training session with my trainees gets them used to the idea of ‘coaching from the sidelines’. Are the musicians in an orchestra distracted by the conductor’s gestures? No, because they are trained to rely on them.

As for the driving metaphor, I think it can be used equally validly to argue the point that learning to teach is NOT about being put in front of a class and told to get on with it. Learning to drive usually goes through a long stage of mediated instruction before the rookie driver is let loose on the road.

10 07 2011
Alex Rotatori

Well said! At last!!!

10 07 2011
profesorbaker

Hi Scott,

This is a very relevant post for me. As an English Department Coordinator. I have observed some excellent teachers teaching this year.

After reminding myself that the teachers I work with had achieved some very great results the past year (100% pass rate on PET exam, 85% pass rate on FCE exam, ranked number 32 in Chile – National Test of English) I resolutely made it my business to identify what the teachers were doing right.

Although the teachers differ in teaching strengths, I found one thing in common about all teachers. They all had great interpersonal relationships with their students. It was clearly evident that both teachers and students genuinely liked working with each other.

This realization led me to change my approach to doing teacher observations. I’ve stopped being passive, (fly on the wall) quietly sitting and taking notes which later be summed up into a cold, post-teaching, “Hamburger Feedback Session” ( First, 1 positive aspect, next, 2 negative points, finally, 1 positive point).

I am now free to be the person you describe in this post: (coach on the sidelines) active, intervening in the moment (rather than waiting for later), and giving some of my personal attention to any student who otherwise would not have had the benefit of personal attention I am able to provide.

Now, here’s the question I ask myself: Is this the best way to observe experienced teachers? The answer is “Yes”, for the one teacher, and “No”, for the other teacher.

The bottom line is that if I can adapt my observation to benefit the teacher, then the ultimate beneficiary will be the student. If that means being “a fly on the wall” for the one teacher and a “coach on the sidelines” for the other, I am comfortable with my role.

Finally, thank you for another great post Scott. I appreciate very much the opportunity to learn that you make available through freely sharing your thoughts and vast experience on your blog.

Cheers,
Thomas

10 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thank YOU Thomas. That’s a very good point about modulating your approach according to the specific style, needs, and personality of the individual teachers. One problem about intervening from the sidelines is that, arguably, some trainees will experience a ‘loss of face’ in front of their students (and colleagues, if present). When I intervened in the milling activity last week, I knew that the teacher in question would not be fazed. Moreover, having done a number of ‘master class’ type workshops in the methodology sessions, where I had constantly intervened n the micro-teaching, I was reckoning that these traineess were more or less used to it. As for the TP students themselves, they already know that the situation is a training one, so I doubt it would surprise them greatly to see the trainer ‘conducting’ from the sidelines. Indeed, they may well appreciate it.

10 07 2011
mrdarkbloomkbloom

Thanks, Scott.

I remember being asked for the CELTA why I had decided to enrol – and as a pretty new in-service teacher – what I wanted to improve about my burgeoning teaching skills.
In retrospect, I realize it wouldn’t have made a difference what answers I had given. The syllabus and course schedule was already set.

I was never asked such questions when starting the DELTA, but once again it wouldn’t have made much difference what answers I gave. The course is fixed and everybody has to learn the same things – supposedly in the same order.

Now, naturally the CELTA is basically designed for pre-service teachers (though I remember half my class were actually in-service) so perhaps a lot of people attending don’t yet have a clear idea of how they want to proceed or even what kind of teacher they are, but why does the DELTA have to be so rigid and pre-packaged?

10 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Fair point, David. I have to be a little protective of the DELTA scheme, since I trained on it for so long, and point out that there is a fair amount of wiggle room, within the externally imposed criteria, for centres to turn the course into primarily a developmental one – if they want to. But it’s been a while since I taught on it, so maybe should yield the floor to current trainers and trainees?

10 07 2011
Qjames

Scott, very interesting post.

Your mention of assessment and when to do it , reminds me of the timeless debate over accuracy and fluency and whether to stop the speaker to correct or not. I am assuming that the same cognitive theories would support intervention for accuracy. While considering this over my early morning coffee, I was challenged by it as I stand on the fluency side of the teaching divide and would generally encourage the learner to speak and then ‘correct’ afterwards. However, after some short reflection I recognised that, non-verbal signals play a considerable part in my interactions with learners during their ‘turns’. So, I intervene to a greater extent than I had previously realised. Thanks for being the spark for my insight and all before 07.20 in the morning!

With regard to your observations about methods and CELTA (or as I knew it TEFLA -my own training experience rooted in the direct method and CLT). It is true that teacher training is method dominated and perhaps this adherence to method is just part of the process of discovery as a teacher/trainer. In order to develop what some describe as intuition or what Prabhu (1990) would call ‘plausibility’, and Kumaravadivelu (2006?) ‘particularity, practicality and possibility’, we need to have passed through the potentially restrictive methods stage in order to have a framework from which to proceed beyond into the Elysian fields of No Materials, Dogme, eclecticism etc. One hopes that despite the enduring characteristics of the ‘entertainer’ or ‘lecturer’ trainee, we all develop other qualities and sensibilities, such as empathy (ref: Luan’s comment above) and become the effective and fulfilled teachers that you would wish for your trainees. You can show them the direction, the rest is up to them, but a natural reaction is to want to look after your chicks and teach them what you know.

10 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for that very articulate comment – or two comments, really. Let me address the first point now: yes, you’re absolutely right that there is more than an analogy between the development of teaching skills and the development of fluency. Within both a ‘cognitive skill learning’ paradigm and a Vygotskian, sociocultural one, the timing and manner of the ‘better other’s’ interventions are crucial – for the development of any skill, whether playing an instrument, driving, or learning a language. Or learning to teach. In my original post, space didn’t allow me to cite Keith Johnson’s seminal article, Mistake Correction (ELT Journal, 1988), where I first encountered the notion of ‘feedback in real operating conditions’. Johnson extrapolates from his own experience of learning to gallop a horse, and argues that well-timed feedback is probably as effective, if not more effective, than pre-emptive explanations, aka teaching.

10 07 2011
J.J. Sunset

Piggybacking on the coach metaphor:

What is it that makes an extraordinary coach? Extraordinary coaches used to be extraordinary players? Can’t become a great coach without graduating from coaching school? Do players think their coach is extraordinary?

Extending the metaphor into the world of professional soccer, more analogies keep popping up between the game and teacher training:
Guardiola or Mourinho? Coaches wearing sweaters or suits on the sidelines? Players and their game instinct or players and their tactics rigor?

10 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Haha, J.J. Naturally, I aspire to be the Pep Guardiola of the Practicum! But you raise a serioius point – what can we learn about training, team-building, stress reduction etc, from other disciplines, including sports?

10 07 2011
Anthony Gaughan

Thank you, Scott: this is the post that I have been struggling to write and now I don’t have to anymore, as you have pinned down my precise problem with practicum and backwash caused by examination structures (such as, but not restricted to, Celta and Delta).

You won’t be at all surprised to hear that my colleague in Berlin, Dominic Braham, isn’t shy about employing exactly the kind of “point of need” input and feedback during TP classes that you consider. I have long wondered why, although this was such a noticeable part of my “apprenticeship of observation” with him, it is something that I have always been reticent to use myself up to now. Of course, the reason is clear: my tacit view of the role of the observer is still that of the “seen but not heard” variety, with all the implications for roles, power relationships and authority which perhaps come with it. Uncomfortable to realise this, but important.

And it is something I would like to experiment with in changing. On reflection, I cannot see any reason why such interventions would contravene either the Celta syllabus or the Administration Handbook. There are no prohibitions or instructions for how a tutor should operate in the observation classroom in terms of intervention and co-operation. In other words, if this is a practice which tutors aren’t employing, the qualification framework is not the cause. Therefore, it can be changed and still fulfill professional requirements. I feel a change in the air. Thank you.

10 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Anthony: as a practising – and innovative – trainer, your input on this issue is particularly valuable.First of all, I’m happy that you made the connection with the ‘point of need’ pedagogy that was originally associated with a process approach to teaching writing, and which, as I argued in this blog post, captures something of the dogme philosophy. Likewise, as I noted earler, I’ve always been partial to a style of teaching which I have characterised as ‘intervening without interrupting’, or ‘leading from behind’, where the teacher enlists conversational strategies of backchannelling, re-phrasing, asking for claritication, repeating etc in order to scaffold the learner’s emergent fluency. It follows that a similar kind of co-construction might work in teaching practice. And, to extend the analogy, as the noivice teacher becomes more confident and more fluent (in their teaching routines), the support can be selectively withdrawn. Nor does the support need to come from a trainer: has anyone experimented with pairing off trainees to team-teach together?

10 07 2011
Valeria Benevolo Franca

Hi Scott,
Thanks for a great start to a Sunday morning.

I would agree that there are both existential and logistical problems concerning the question of lesson observation and feedback for training/development purposes. On a Celta (like) course I would refrain from intervening mid lesson to support a teacher as there are several “face” issues (and a question of respect for class teacher and students as well) we need to consider, but the idea of using non-verbal signals to “coach by the sidelines” is really helpful. As in your own example, I can’t really see the point of allowing a teacher to step into a tricky teaching situation just because they may, in their nervousness, have forgotten a crucial element of the lesson which prepares learners for the next learning moment.(Maybe I’m being overly influenced by these TV medical shows, but I hardly think that Medical interns are allowed to do things wrong then to be given feedback such as, “So where do you think you could have done things differently….”.)

I’ve increasingly found that microteaching moments within a workshop context are really useful for teachers. Thinking particularly of when we’re focusing on the development of crucial teaching strategies and skills (such as showing that with young learners we don’t give instructions per se but rather model), I tend to prefer to adopt a “guided participation” approach to the training. This allows for trainer intervention during teacher demonstration (I really like the Masterclass analogy), but also assumes that other teachers within the workshop group may also be experts ready to jump in and guide. So the trainer also needs to accept that his/her role is a flexible one. This does help build a learning environment where ZPD can emerge. Yet I also need to accept that different teaching styles will emerge, which is great, and that learners/teachers will pick up what they are ready to pick up – that’s what happens when we’re less prescriptive.

Now you mentioned some teachers feeling awkward about the sideline coaching: I don’t think we will always be able to cater for all learning needs and styles. But as long as we ensure teachers can voice their opinions and we can accommodate this as far as possible, it’s the best we can do.

Really good post to consider and will share with all our Deltees – might be a great way to find out if we are being too limiting….

10 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Valeria. I have to admit that I am very excited about the workshopping we’ve been doing on the Mehods course this month. In one session we jointly ‘re-scripted’ one trainee’s presentation of ‘used to’ to turn it from being entirely chalk-and-talk and rule-based, to being entirely interactive and situation-based, all in the space of 20 minutes. Even better, the sequence was filmed, and, assuming the relevant consent is given, I might make this available on YouTube. While I wouldn’t claim it is a masterclass, it really makes fascinating viewing,

11 07 2011
Jessica Mackay

Isn’t the use of video an effective compromise between ‘point-of-need’ training and post-hoc feedback? If the trainer used a stimulated recall protocol, the trainee could explain and/or justify their choices, as Neil comments below, but at the same time actively re-live the key moments, both good and bad, of the lesson as an observer.

Having been lucky enough to do the Dip (showing my age) with two of the best trainers it’s possible to have :) I felt that the experience was entirely transformative. For me, it was a process of deconstruction as I was forced to reconsider some of my previously-held beliefs. It also allowed me to reappraise my own practice in light of observation of my peers, something I’d not had the opportunity to do before then.

11 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Jessica. Yes,I think that video would be an excellent compromise, and in fact Johnson mentions this in his article on mistake correction, way back in 1988, when the technology was a lot more clumsy than it is now. He writes that, “Learners need to see for themselves what has gone wrong, in the operating conditions under which they went wrong. There are various ways of achieving this. My leaning forward on the horse is brought home best when I see a video of myself doing it. As a second best, it is useful to see others making the same mistake in the same conditions; and where other learners are not available, teachers often provide the information by mimicking the learner to indicate what is being done wrong.’Monitoring yourself in difficult learning conditions’ suggests putting classroom language on tape or video ” (p. 93).

If you recall, Jessica, on the Diploma course, we had you trainees audio recording and analysing stretches of your own classroom talk – an assignment that you yourself accomplished memorably. (Oops, now I’ve given the game away! ;-) )

27 11 2011
Tom

Hi Scott,
Apologies for the all too familiar greeting, but it feels like I’ve known you for decades…
I was just wondering whether you have managed to post that film you’ve mentioned in this post. I have been googling in vain…
Thank you, and all the best!
Tom

10 07 2011
Willy C Cardoso

this is a recurrent issue isn’t it? I remember your T for Teacher Training yielding similar discussions.

I really think that teaching practice with observation and followed by feedback is still a model based too much on ‘knowledge transmission’, i.e. from experts to novices. And that neglects each trainee’s previous learning experience, cultural background, professional history, and social milieu in which s/he is or will be part of when in the profession. These are rich sources and integral components of the learning and development of new teachers and as such should form the base of pre-service training (or any kind of training for what it’s worth).

Karen E. Johnson puts it nicely: “The professional education of teachers is, at its core, about teachers as learners of teaching. And if the learning of teaching constitutes the central mission of L2 teacher education, then as a field we must articulate an epistemological stance that enables us to justify the content, structure, and processes that constitute L2 teacher education”. (2009: 2)

I couldn’t agree more. Throughout many of my critical analyses of things ELT, I often see the absence of this epistemological stance which in my opinion contributes to the shallowness and somehow discredit of many teacher development activities. This is very important to me and it’s the main reason I’m still reluctant to take a TEFL diploma. I don’t want to be trained in a way that is not congruent with what I believe is meaningful teacher learning. On the other hand, many people seem to be happy with the way things are, so… (I don’t know…)

anyway, it’s weird that you usually write about things I’m investigating. ;-) using sociocultural theory in order to understand (pre-service) teacher learning is exactly the topic of my MA assignment which I should be writing right now.

10 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi, Willy – I am very pleased to hear that you are investigating the application of sociocultural theory to teacher education, as this is where there seems to be a significant area of mismatch between classroom practice (where SCT has reconfigured the way we talk about – and think about – teaching: witness the exponential increase in the use of the terms scaffolding and ZPD) and the training context, where the reigning paradigm seems still to be the more cogntiive, Dewey-inspired, one of experience and reflection. I don’t think that the two models are incompatible, but I think we perhaps need to re-consider how the experiential component could be managed to allow a degree of mediation by a better-other, so that the whole experiential cycle is construed as a less solitary process and a more social one.

Keep me posted regarding your investigations – perhap via your blog, Willy.

10 07 2011
Delpha

Scott,

Do you think that you would have become the person you are today had you not begun your teaching career at the end of a period of audiolingualism (oh, those lovely drills that you mastered) and at the beginning of the communicative movement? Reflecting back, do you think that the dissatisfaction and criticisms proposed by the communicative movement shaped your beliefs? And what of humanistic teaching approaches? Perhaps your career was born at such a critical time that you have become the influential person you are today – and to be so lucky to be helping others on their path of discovery…

Any guru will tell you that in order to come to any real understanding, you must first persist in your folly. This requires discipline. You most hold your mind to some kind of belief or habit until you become clear and aware that those beliefs and habits are not consistant with reality.

Novice teachers may not understand what makes experts “twitch”. Scott, wouldn’t you agree that letting your trainee muck it up and then asking him why he thinks the activity was unsuccessful would have been more revealing. I mean more revealing than just coaching him rather pre-emptively from the side lines to do it correctly right away – giving him little time to consider the impact of such a choice? He might not have understood *why* you were telling him to do that. Perhaps in failing he would have come to the conclusion that he should have pre-taught the question form by himself posthumously, with a little nudging from his trainer?

Thinking of my own path, I have to say it started with *dissatisfaction* with the way my classes were going. I was unprincipled and had no idea of method. My first form of teacher training was the DELTA (I skipped CELTA), which was rough going because I had been teaching for 19 months. I learned through observation of my trainers (they used loop input) and peers and then I translated what I saw into those meticulously designed lesson plans DELTA demands. I was obsessed with the idea that EVERYTHING I did in the classroom had to have a rationale. An underlying assumption of WHY my learners needed this, and anticipating what they were going to need was my mantra. This obsession earned me a distinction in the practicum component. But what it really did is made me stick to a set of principles and behave in a very pragmatic way. This discipline made it much easier to observe what was, or was not successful. When what I thought they would need proved to be false, I was keenly aware because I had cognitively presupposed it. I set myself up to *notice*. The practice and preparation ahead of time (meticulous lesson planning) had reduced my cognitive load during my performance (teaching) and made it possible for me to make better decisions when I needed to change directions because something WASN’T working. I also developed some classroom routines (automaticity). In short, all this discipline made it possible for me to monitor my own performance (a sort of metacognitive awareness if you will). Now I can walk into a classroom, and from time to time, give lessons without previously planning them…just working with what is.

I think teachers need methods/training schemes/trainers/lesson plans/practicums (or what have you) for nothing other than help in setting up a good science experiment, observing it play out and then asking the right questions after the experiment has been conducted. To realize that the source of our dissatisfaction and failings might be happening as a result of our own making (and not some extraneous phenomenon) is….enlightening – and par for the course, part of becoming an expert teacher.

10 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Delpha – thanks for your thoughtful comment: I can’t argue that my own personal professional trajectory has largely been a process of experimentation, of ‘trial-and-error’, of re-thinking my position when things don’t work out as expected, and of embracing new ‘theories of practice’ when the old theories no longer serve their purpose. And I agree that a certain amount of ‘learning from one’s mistakes’ is intrinsic to the ‘learning teaching’ process. However, I’m not sure that this is always the most time-efficient model of learning, especially in the concentrated span of a one-month or two-month training program. That’s why I see a role for some (judicious) interventions – just as we language teachers don’t leave the language learning process entirely up to chance, but intervene (tactfully) at all stages of the process, e.g. by preselecting what to teach, and giving feedback, both immediate and delayed. If learning were purely experiential, there would be no need for teachers – or for trainers – at all!

10 07 2011
Lu Bodeman

A very interesting post, which leaves me wondering …

I am about to embark on the Distance DELTA course, as of September. Having been a teacher for over 20 years, I am wondering what kind of a syllabus we will need to follow, and how following this will change my performance as a teacher. Although I am aware of where I need to improve, and am always willing to learn, I can’t help but to wonder whether the course will expect us to “fit the mold” or whether we will work towards enhancing our practice. I hope the latter is true. Guess I’ll have to wait a bit and see.

Thanks so much for this post, Scott.

11 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Lu .. do the DELTA by all means: you won’t regret it. It’s still one of the best modes of in-service teacher development available. But keep your critical faculties well-tuned, and make sure you have a copy of An A – Z ;-)

11 07 2011
Neil McMahon

I think the key aspect of the learning process, particularly when we are discussing learning how to teach, is that the learner learns through understanding the processes (Go Delpha!).

For this reason your suggestion, Scott, for in-lesson intervention makes me twitch. Such intervention is surely the purest form of ‘do what I want you to do’ since there is no opportunity for negotiation or elicitation of why one way of doing something is better than the other (unless you stop the lessons and have a timeout (to keep the coaching metaphor alive) and keep the students waiting while the head coach / trainer and the quarterback / teacher debate the next play / the next step? However, in post-lesson feedback you can have such negotiation and elicitation (albeit relying on memory) and luckily include other impartial observers (fellow trainees) in the debate. Just as a coach does most of his coaching during the week, not on Saturday / Sunday during the game.

And surely post-course regression to type will happen however we train? After all, personality and individual style / talent are still the majority influences on how we teach (and play sports). What we as trainers aspire to do is to give trainees a methodologically sound basis / playbook from which to grow. Which is why Celta and Delta use criteria to focus teaching practice which allow plenty of room for individual styles and levels of empathy, but look to encourage sound foundations within the classroom (Messi and Rooney are very different styles of footballer but they both still have to abide by the rules of the game if they want to win).

Which brings us back to the key debate – what are the rules of ELT? Although Cambridge in their wisdom do a pretty decent job of describing sound classroom techniques, this is a debate which is timeless of course and is perhaps why we’re not paid quite as well as teachers and trainers as football players / coaches are?

11 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Neil for your (dissenting) comment. I take your point that ‘coaching from the sidelines’ sounds as about as prescriptive as you can be, but see my comments to Delpha above. To use another analogy, if you were a driving instructor and you saw that your charge was about to drive off a cliff, wouldn’t you grab the wheel?

Besides, I don’t think that the practicum is so sacrosanct that it can’t be turned into a kind of Brechtian rehearsal space – where all contending voices (including the students’) are heard and attended to. Wouldn’t it be interesting to conduct TP a bit like reality TV, where the ‘audience’ (i.e. the students) are periodically canvassed as to their opinion of what’s going on?

11 07 2011
Declan Cooley

Continuing with theatre model, on the CELTA courses I train on we often use the actor metaphor when training by saying to trainees that it’s useful to “script” instructions and hold the lesson plan in their hand as they teach, as would “an actor learning their role”.

As for intervention, in the world of theatre and opera, the role of prompt(er) exists and it seems natural to offer a struggling performer the cue they need to continue without breaking the flow.

Three signalling techniques I’ve tried have been (in order of explicitness)
(a) whispered prompt “monitor now !”/ “that student needs your help””the ss don’t have the correct handout !” (b) hand held cue-cards (as in a TV studio) and (c) kind of coded sign language (T-shape with hands for “time-up”/ two hands talking to each other puppet style for “pairwork”/ helicopter finger gesture for “increase the pace” / tapping watch to indicate “running out of time”) (d) a muffled cough.

The more explicit ones might be used at the start of the course (or lesson) with a kind of sliding scale of assistance with perhaps just a look) by the end. When letting trainees know I will signal in this manner, I clearly state that they can choose to ignore the signal if they think they have a good reason for doing so. One also builds an intuition for when a trainee will be receptive to such an intervention and how many interventions can be made and at what rate of frequency to be of optimal benefit in the moment. A way to avoid the sense of imposition of the teacher on their choices is to have their plan in front of the trainer – prompting them to do things they have actually planned to do for themselves – this is what I feel trainees appreciate most (and is the kind of thing they say was useful).

On the non-interventionist side, often it is instructive to have a trainee do something that will not really work well so that the drawbacks can be made plainly visible to all (these are not real patients – more like a simulation – so no real planes will crash).

Very glad to have the opportunity to make this all explicit as it is one of those practices that emerges by itself and is hard to explain why /when one is doing it. Putting it in a SCT contruct helps think more systemically about the technique – thank you.

http://tinyurl.com/62moj9n

11 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks you, Declan – that’s incredibly useful. The point about having the teacher’s plan available is a very good one, and I hadn’t really appreciated how useful this could be, as a kind of ‘script’ – the trainer’s role being analogous to the prompt in a theatre.

From a SCT point of view, the plan is a tool which helps the trainee teacher regulate their newly emergent skills: I often make a point of saying to trainees that there is no face lost if they stop everything in order to consult the plan. In fact, interestingly enough, the teacher whose milling activity threatened to bomb because he hadn’t pre-taught the questions admitted afterwards that this had been in his plan, and he’d simply forgotten, so he appreciated the heads-up (as they call it here!)

16 07 2011
tevezito

Thanks for the reply Scott. I think your further analogy is a little unfair, since you would probably hit the brakes long before your charge gets anywhere near cliffs, and in the Celta context, as soon as candidates start unlearning the students I would step in. However, most of the time they are not making drastic mistakes, but just making misinformed decisions based on lack of knowledge / experience, or simply forgetting what they meant to do next.

We may also be talking about quite different contexts of course. In your practicums there is no assessment, and perhaps not much pre-lesson support? Certainly in the first week or two of Celta we give detailed pre-lesson support in the form of TP notes and so any ‘driving of the cliff’ the candidates attempt to do is only mildly irritating to the students but eye-openingly instructive to the trainee candidates.

As for the reality TV angle, i’ve always thought a Celta course would make for brilliant reality TV. It’s just a shame Cambridge wouldn’t allow anyone outside of the course in to film it, not to mention that fact that real life is much more entertaining than reality TV.

16 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Neil, (if it indeed be thee!)

Yes, point well made about pre-lesson support. In the current program I’m working on I am the only instructor/tutor, so the TP groups don’t get a lot of help with planning. In fact, they get sweet f… a…! We’re trying to remedy that in this next course, whereby interns will provide some planning support to the trainees. I agree, this could make a big difference to the need to intervene during the TP itself.

11 07 2011
Gareth Knight

Hi Scott,

Like the description. My thinking developed along similar lines. I concluded that instead of refereeing teachers we trainers need to encourage them to reflect on their own practice (Michael J. Wallace 1991) in a cooperative way (Julian Edge 2002). This sees trainers taking the role of ‘reflective listener’ as the teachers themselves formulate objectives and plans of action based on their own perceived needs.

Observing the teacher in the classroom is done for the purpose of helping the teacher reflect on what was and was not successful in following out the teacher’s plans or achieving the teacher’s objectives. The ‘reflective listener’ is not entirely passive and should point out inconsistencies in the teacher’s thoughts and actions in addition to inconsistency with current TEFL thinking, but only if it helps the teacher clarify their own thinking in regard to their own objective or plan.

Only by engaging in a self-determined reflection-practice cycle, can the teacher really start to examine and evaluate their own beliefs about themselves, their learners and learning. Without such thought, the teacher will, as you put it, “return to their ‘default’ setting as soon as my back is turned”. Sitting at the back of a room taking notes has value if done to aid the reflection. However, the criteria for observation must be set by the teacher, through cooperation with a listener, and not by a trainer or an organisation bent on global standardisation of practice.

Cheers,

Gareth

11 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Gareth, for that comment. Yes, I agree that the trainer’s role as ‘reflective listener’, in order to help ‘scaffold’ the trainee’s own post-lesson thoughts, is very useful, and entirely consistent with a socio-cultural perspective. So, I guess the trainer is scaffolding two processs: 1. the novice teacher’s emergent teaching skills, and 2. the novice teacher’s ability to regulate their own development.

Wow, I’ve never really framed it like that before. This is a good example of peer-to-peer co-construction of meaning! Thanks, again, Gareth.

11 07 2011
Alan Tait

Thanks Scott and guests for a thought-provoking discussion.

Though I’ve had a lot less experience of teacher training than many of you, I’ve always smelt something fishy about passive observation + cold feedback, Let me ask a question, rather, regarding CELTA and DELTA course requirements:

How would you write a new CELTA course?

11 07 2011
Stuart Rubenstein

Team-teaching is one of the great underused tools. The dynamic forces the two teachers to remove themselves from star position in the classroom and genuinely turns them into two more learners in the room. It works well for two trainees with equal experience to explore together what they should or could do in different situations. It is also great for two experienced teachers to try this instead of peer observations. It’s so much better to “have a go” in real time rather than go through a post-lesson feedback session.
And I can still remember an amazing experience back in 1988… only a few months into my teaching career I had the chance to team teach with someone who had many flying hours behind him. I learned more in that week than on any course or from any feedback.

11 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

….only a few months into my teaching career I had the chance to team teach with someone who had many flying hours behind him. I learned more in that week than on any course or from any feedback.

This is music to my ears, Stuart, and would tend to argue for a radically different model of teacher preparation. Thanks for that.

13 07 2011
Ted O'Neill

I’ve been lucky enough to team teach at several phases–each different and each rewarding. None of them were particularly intentional or well planned, but they still were beneficial.

I started on the JET Program with no classroom experience whatsoever and had to “team teach”. In actuality, that tended to be helping experienced teachers, doing what they told me do, and getting bailed out when I ran into trouble. All good experience for a total novice. I got to watch dozens of teachers and see what worked and what didn’t. In particular, as many people have noted above, I could see the kinds of relationships teachers established with students.

Much later, after an MA and a few years of teaching, I was thrown into teaching a bunch of classes for high school students doing after school extra English classes at a university. Basically, it was extra work that had to be assigned to somebody, so the extension school manager just punted and assigned it to everyone as a group. We’d have three or four teachers in a room trying to work together or at least stay out of each others way. We all had very different personalities and styles, so it was a bit chaotic, but it was at least good for us. I’m not sure the same could be said for the students.

Skip forward–for several years I had a kind of team-teaching in an EAP course at another university. This was probably the closest to actual planned team-teaching. There was a coordinated curriculum designed by the group of teachers who taught the courses. There weren’t enough computer rooms so we’d double up–two teachers and 50 students in one room for writing instruction. We had to negotiate the lessons, plan accordingly, and had plenty of time to watch each other. Learning to share a course with someone you disagree with can be quite instructive! But, in the best case, working with a very quiet teacher who was always extremely economical with words, attention, or instruction taught me quite a lot about my own work. All because there were only a few large computer rooms.

Imagine if more of that had been thought out ahead of time…

13 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Ted, for that first-hand experience of team-teaching. The ‘learning-by-apprenticheship’ model (as you describe it in your JET scheme experience) has always been a powerful one, it seems to me, and has been partly revived in the form of ‘mentoring’. In many teacher training programs in mainstream education, it seems that some form of mentoring/apprenticeship/assistant-teaching/internship is the norm. Why does it not happen so much in our own field – or have I missed something?

11 07 2011
darridge

If we want to see groups of learners jointly constructing ‘knowledge’ in the classroom, and if we want to see teachers demystifying what goes on in the class, and if we want to see teachers allowing learners to help have a say in the curriculum and what happens in the class, then we have to allow that to happen when training teachers too.

Having an observer sit back and watch with a critical eye everything that goes on is saying that there is a fount of knowledge you are being measured against – a deficit model of learning, not a constructionist one. It would be small surprise that a teacher who ‘learnt’ this way would then go and teach that way.

That’s why i find your comment “2. Whatever change that they do make, they will likely revert to their ‘default’ setting as soon as my back is turned. The teacher who is the entertainer, or the lecturer, or the football coach, or the social worker, will always be the entertainer, lecturer, football coach, etc.” interesting. The quote i always heard was “you teach how you were taught”.

Dewey pointed out that if we want education for democracy, there needs to be democracy in education. If we want construction of knowledge in the language classroom, there needs to be construction of knowledge in the teacher training room.

12 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

“If we want construction of knowledge in the language classroom, there needs to be construction of knowledge in the teacher training room”.

I’m not sure I can add to this, Darridge – you have put it so succinctly. It’s nice to be reminded that Dewey (who co-founded the place where I work, incidentally), is still relevant, a century on.

12 07 2011
nicola

I have been training on Trinity Cert and Dip courses for some years now and can identify with all the points you make Scott. The question I am asking myself is how we intervene usefully.

There are lots of comments about personalizing the training experience to encourage, develop and improve different teaching styles that trainees possess (lecturer, coach, social worker…). If we are to assist their performance and avoid breaking the flow of their lesson, or them ‘losing face’, then we need to empower them in this intervention process. I also think we need to recognise our own styles as teachers (as well as trainers) and be aware of stamping our mark on someone else’s teaching style.

We should not forget the other people in the room too. This is not just a relationship and process that exists between trainee teacher and trainer, there are learners in the room. Can we ask them to ‘butt in’ usefully too?

I think, as with all communication, we are moving towards greater transparency and egalitarianism. The silent observer at the back of the room feels increasingly uncomfortable, perhpas because it is an old fashioned and out of date approach to learning, as you suggest.

Maybe through giving trainees choices as to how we can intervene would be the best solution. Whether this is a nudge, twitch, nod or jumping in teaching a language point they are stuck on.

Final question- what about experienced teachers? If they are being prepared to be examined on Delta or DipTESOL courses then I am not sure intervention is suitable or possible. Or is it?

13 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for your considered comment, Nicola. The implicaitons of involving the learenrs more in the training cycle are fascinating: has anyone done this in a structured way? (I recall running a CELTA or DELTA where the trainees were responsibile for soliciting feedback from the learners on each class, but more than that I haven’t attempted).

In terms of how you intervene, I’ve just inserted a video clip in my original post, which shows me elbowing my way into a demo lesson – but this is not the practicum, as such, but a micro-teaching workshop during a methodology session. Nevertheless, I think you get a feel for the fun that can be had!

20 07 2011
nicola

Hi Scott, Actually I did some research on learner’s role in teacher training courses earlier this year- you obviously missed the thrilling presentation I gave at iatefl on it. A couple of the ideas I came up with:
– trainees prepare questions before the lesson they would like feedback on,
– tutor’s lead a ‘tip’s session on something that came up in the lesson that day and learners give their ideas.
Again this moves towards making feedback more immediate. Hearing it straight from the horses mouth had trainees on the edge of their seats. It is a powerful tool and I think gets them thinking in a more student centred way from the start. It also helps them feel more connected to their learners- something that can be hard for trainees whooften have secondary school as their last model of education.

12 07 2011
Willy C Cardoso

anybody heard of / worked with “Lesson Study”? a model of professional development.

I read briefly about it by accident, a couple of hours ago at the library, but I didn’t note down references.

I found a brief explanation online though which should suffice for now. Here you go:

“While working on a study lesson, teachers jointly draw up a detailed plan for the lesson, which one of the teachers uses to teach the lesson in a real classroom (as other group members observe the lesson). The group then comes together to discuss their observations of the lesson. Often, the group revises the lesson, and another teacher implements it in a second classroom, while group members again look on. The group will come together again to discuss the observed instruction. Finally, the teachers produce a report of what their study lessons have taught them, particularly with respect to their research question”

Looks interesting! at a first glance I identify with the following ideas:

– it doesn’t treat TP+observation+feedback as a one-off thing which cannot in reality be improved because as far as I know trainees are not given the chance to “re-teach” a lesson. In other words, feedback remains at a theoretical level if they are not able to teach the same content/skills again after reflection.
– it really approximates theory and practice. In a CELTA course for example I believe tutor’s input sessions could be more interconnected with TPs. For example, input on Tuesday is based on what was taught/observed/fed back on Monday and as raw material for Wednesday.
– Last point is still too trainer-centered. “Lesson Study” proposes trainee-led research. So in fact they choose what to learn/improve and have genuine opportunities to self-assess.
– continuity, continuity, continuity. Less atomization I’d say.

Scott, after your famed idiom Grammar McNuggets, we could well talk about some CELTA McNuggets, such as Concept Check Questions, which might have been taken for granted and when in isolation might sound rather fabricated. But I divert.

13 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Willy – as resourceful as ever! I hadn’t heard of this, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. The model has some obvious strengths, not least the opportunity for retrial. Johnson, in the 1988 article I cited earlier, situates ‘retrial’ as a key stage in the skill-learning cycle, and adds that “it seems important that real operating conditions be present in retrial”.

Of course,the trial-and-retrial cycle does seem to assume a ready supply of teaching practice students, and I imagine the logistics of teaching a lesson and then teaching it again to another class might provide an administrative headache. Also, because of the concentrated nature of a CELTA course, or an intensive DELTA, there might smply not be the time to build in these cycles of experimentation. But I definitely think that this is a model worth a close look.

As for the “CELTA McNuggets” – lol. The vexed question as to the value of concept checking quesitons did come up in the thread on eliciting, if you can be bothered scrolling through!

13 07 2011
Declan Cooley

“Lesson Study” sounds like a very collaborative enterprise with massive amounts of potential for development of teaching skills. I think the barrier to it becoming a staple on a CELTA course is the fact that trainees are assessed on their individual ability to plan and execute the lesson – it would be hard to sort out to what extent the lesson was a product of one individual’s efforts (which is sorta the point in this LS protocol. This issue still exists on CELTA in the case of a tutor assisting a teacher since the tutor may have provided a great deal of guidance – but at least the tutor has a better sense of what the individual trainees contribution is. On the other hand, who is to say what really contributed to a CELTA trainee’s lesson outcome given all the peer observation and modelling from peers and experienced teachers as well as peer discussion in input.

CELTA training does provide some other aspects of this LS system:
a) trainees DO re-play the lesson 1) virtual replay in feedback in answer to the “tutor question, “if you were to teach this lesson again, what would you do differently ? 2) they often DO re-teach the same lesson sequence (albeit with a different text or language point

b) input sessions definitely build on experiences on the course; just yesterday at the beginning of Receptive Skills II trainees summed up their current issues with reading and listening lessons in an input session I ran ( a lack of such a link which I think is a weakness of the pre-packaged online input sessions offered by Cambridge as part of the new online CELTA)

c) trainees are very often pointed back to their personal aims they had set for a lesson and/or their action plan from tutorials to see if progress were made on these; I agree that initially trainers often set the development agenda as, at the outset of the course, trainees have not yet grown the capacity to self-assess very well – this is where a tutor can step in and act temporarily as a mirror (“reflective listener” not “fount of knowledge) to eliminate blind-spots and tunnel- or blinkered vision so that after a time the trainee has the ability to self-reflect without distortion or imbalance.

LS seems more suited to an in-service program with no assessment component – or one based on the portfolio scheme described by Scott at the New School – at least at first glance.

13 07 2011
Willy C Cardoso

Fair point(s)!

But… for me “virtual replay” by feedback session Q&A is more speculation than experience, also at this moment the tutor’s input has more power and control over trainees reflection than we’d like to admit, esp. because trainees want to pass the course so “pretending” to reflect and then agreeing with tutor/peers seem like a good way to achieve it for some people. Better to have it than nothing but still, I wouldn’t say “they DO replay”. I wouldn’t say either that they “DO re-teach” if they’re following the same sequence/ lesson structure but with different content or what have you. I think that way you’re conceptualizing teaching as following routines regardless of content (okay, maybe you’re not, sorry, but that’s the first reaction I had regarding this particular bit of your comment). But I understand because when talking about 4-week survival courses what really matters is the first-aid kit of PPP and all, so it seems easier to subordinate meaning to method.

regarding your points b) and c) I think it’s more dependable on how different tutors approach the course than on what is mandated from above, like course specs / syllabus / accreditation, etc. Is it? I don’t know really since I don’t tutor TEFL Cert, so I partially take back my point about the synchronicity between input and practicum.

Thanks, Declan!

13 07 2011
Scott C

One of my most common questions to myself: Why don’t teachers want to be observed, peer observe and team teach? They are fantastic ways of learning. Far better than being told, “Use exercise 32 from Vocab’ Games and Activities…it worked for me”. There must be a strong case for looking at not only the ways in which practicum help us to learn about teaching, as mentioned in depth above, but also consider the long-term effects it often has on teachers’ perceptions of what other teachers can do for us in our classrooms. Having someone else share your classroom should be a relished experience (don’t we all feel lonely when we shut the door!?), not something to be avoided for fear of being “assessed”.

13 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Fair point, Scott. I agree with you that the opportunity to share one’s teaching – whether by team teaching or observation – is virtually essential in any model of teacher development, but we shouldn’t underestimate the potential threat to face that is involved. Classrooms are unpredictable, inherently unstable environments, and none of us is completely sure that we will always be able to manage the unexpected. (I know! I team-taught a class a couple of months ago with 80 other teachers watching, and my heart was in my mouth!)

16 07 2011
tevezito

‘Having someone else share your classroom should be a relished experience…’

This, big time. One of the biggest sadnesses about our wonderful profession is the stress and anxiety that can be caused by someone mentioning the dreaded O word, but why ever should this be?

If it is caused by the current format of CELTA course observations then I’ll change my way of working tomorrow, but my suspicions tell me otherwise. Certainly the relationship and trust between observer and observed is crucial to the success of the observation and perhaps it’s easier to garner this trust as a Celta / Practicum tutor than it is a the DoS of a novice teacher? Or does it completely depend on the individuals involved in individual contexts?

13 07 2011
Tom

Teacher development is forever ongoing, and tandem teaching is great for teacher development. I use the term tandem teaching rather than team teaching, because more than two teachers in a classroom is a crowd!

Two teachers working together can share the workload in a class by switching between leading and supporting roles. And while this is happening, they have the opportunity to observe each other and learn from each other, and become aware of strengths and weaknesses.

After the lesson, they can give each other that feedback. If this is done appropriately (it could even be done according to certain rules agreed beforehand) there is not only improvement in teaching but also confidence and trust grows between colleagues. It’s rather like peer observation, but in tandem.

13 07 2011
Scott C

I think clearly stating ‘rules’ before peer obs or team teaching are vital. And Scott, 80 people obseving you? Dare I ask why.

13 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Haha, it was part of the ‘Dogme’ event hosted by the IATEFL Teacher Development SIG. You can read about it here: http://tinyurl.com/63mb7ae

14 07 2011
Diarmuid

An area in which I am tangentially interested: I am currently trying to research a dissertation into evaluative observations for in service teachers (well, actually, I am trying NOT to be distracted from writing a dissertation into…) and it strikes me that some of the ideas I’ve had for these very different observations might also be applicable to the practicums (the practici?).

Firstly, observations are frequently viewed negatively by experienced teachers. In a number of papers, this perception has been traced back to the practicums and the hell that they represented for the teachers at the time.

Secondly, observations are widely considered to be highly disempowering. Teachers have to perform to a set of criteria into which they have had no input. This means that there may not necessarily be any deeply felt understanding. Which means that teachers can be set up to fail.

Thirdly, I wonder how strong the dialectical tension is when we try to teach somebody how to become an independent professional by directing them? I know it happens in all walks of life: football, music, theatre…) so perhaps I’m getting too far up myself here, but it does seem to be strange that by telling somebody what we think they should be doing, we are hoping to make them independent.

Fourthly…ah sod it…this would go on forever if we did this. Let’s get to the suggestion part: I wonder whether we might not be better in coaching people how to get feedback on their performances rather than giving them feedback directly. So, the trainee teacher would presumably identify the students as the prime source of feedback: how was the lesson today? What needed to improve? How does this compare with your experience of studying English in other people’s classes? How does it compare with your expectations of the class? The responses to these questions would generate reflexivity and where the trainee teacher felt it appropriate, s/he would share his/her uncertainties with the supervisor. Equally, s/he could go to the supervisor and ask the same sort of questions.

The papers on peer observation all sing its praises, although some rather more quietly than others. There seems to be some consensus that one risk of peer observations is that teachers (trainee or otherwise) might just sit themselves down and look at what is happening in front of them without knowing how to exploit it. Much like me in the Guggenheim museum. I am trying to get around that now by doing some research that aims at reaching a consensus between teachers and management (and possibly students…but probably not) about what observers should be looking for evidence of. If the teachers are involved in shaping the criteria for a successful observation, they will hopefully appreciate the thinking that lies behind it. Once the criteria are established, teachers can now go and observe each other with a set of directions for observation. They will go into the classroom and look specifically for instances of X behaviour or Y skills or Z structure – each of which they will have been instrumental in designing.

In this way, I “humbly” suggest, an approach to observation has been created that allows the teacher to take control of the direction and which encourages them to seek multiple perceptions of their teaching: from self, students, peers and supervisors. Secondly, it recognises that for change to be meaningful, it has to come from within rather than be imposed from without. Thirdly, it encourages teachers to own the observation procedures: they negotiated the criteria for successful observation and consensus is reached with management about what constitutes observable behaviour, skills, knowledge. The focus is clearly on development.

But how is one to evaluate teachers using this kind of observation? I suggest that any teacher who is meaningfully engaged in this process is on the path to professional development. They are reflecting on their teaching, in possession of multiple perspectives on their teaching, apprentices to peers and experts. In short, meaningful engagement = successful evaluation. If teachers are producing observations that were clearly thought up in the space of five minutes and which are lacking any real insight or any contribution from others, then there is a cause for concern. At this stage, the supervisor can talk to the teacher and share their view that all is not well. Parameters can be set and, if breached, then a procedure for a more conventional approach to observation can be set in motion with a judge at the back of the room looking for points to develop and points to consolidate. If this still fails to have any effect, then the supervisor sits down with the teacher and addresses perceived weaknesses. They inform the teacher that they are concerned that these might be symptomatic of a lack of competence and that they expect to see a concerted effort to improve. If that is not there at an agreed time, then there is no option than to fail the observation.

This is all a bit garbled and rushed, but I hope it makes some sort of sense. In essence, the evaluative side is considered a shoo-in for most teachers with heavy duty observation only being called for when there is a concern. This is based upon the notion that we are all capable of self-improvement but that we do need direction from time to time. However, it also acknowledges that some people are not well-suited to teaching (for whatever reason). In that case, it looks to support them before, as one book that I have read puts it, setting them free.

14 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Diarmuid, for raising this important issue, i.e. how to knock the round peg of evaluation into the square hole of observation.

The fact of the matter is that, as much as we teacher educators might deny it, evaluation will always be the elephant in the room. For a start, the power imbalance between trainer and trainee (or between DoS and teacher) will always impact on whatever messages are converyed, verbally or behaviourally (gesture, gaze, facial expression etc). I observed a teacher just yesterday, and in the feedback session, where I was trying, patiently, to reconstruct her lesson, she kept interrupting: Oh, so I did it wrong? Oh, so I failed? etc.

And, to be brutally, honest, I HAD been evaluating. You can’t help yourself. You’d have to be the Dalai Lama not to be thinking, at times, ‘that was a dumb thing to do’, or, more positively,’what a brilliant way of using fingercoding’. And, just as inevitably, these covert evaluations are almost always conveyed in how we respond, verbally and behaviourally, during and after the event, however much we might espouse a non-judgemental stance.

I’m not sure how this helps you with your research, but I had to throw it in to the ring!

14 07 2011
steph

Very late to this thread – but it’s timely as I’m embarking on my very first CELTA course here in in Basel – I’m fortunate to have Beth Grant as my main tutor :)

It’s early days yet but what we’ve been doing is designing observation tasks for the trainees to use when observing us (the tutors) teach classes. We’ve timetabled in at least an hour each day completely dedicated to “matters that arise from observations” – be it trainees observing us, each other or us observing them. I’ve just finished teaching 2 hours of TP and look forward to hearing what my trainees feedback on me is tomorrow!

(Of course this doesn’t change the fact that we observe the trainees – but at least we put ourselves in the teaching situation and dedicate time for very open discussion about what was observed of us!)

15 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Steph – good luck with your CELTA! Keep us posted re developments on the observation front! Sounds like you’re getting off to a good start.

15 07 2011
Delpha

Love the video Scott!

Learning from observing other teachers (and teacher trainers) has always been a valuable experience for me.
Thanks so much to the brave soul who agreed!

15 07 2011
steph

Hi Scott – we had a nice hour post ob chat. The trainees said they found it really useful to observe us teach. That’s the thing with trainees observing tutors – we can really make those few hours an integral part of the course.

Their main observation was how relaxed it all was. In one of their words “it was like you were just chatting to 15 people and getting them to open up and chat to you – with the grammar “somehow fitting in” They picked up on so much – but the main thing was the “role of teacher” and how very different that was compared to what they were used to.

This discussion then led to me asking them questions so they could pinpoint exactly what happened in the classroom – how was this “so different”

They are only 2 days into the CELTA and they picked up on using re-casts (without using that terminology) as a way of error correction in the chat stage, the importance of pair work, the importance of making a genuine connection with each student. the importance of positive feedback, and they’d noted down tons of emergent language. They noticed how students produced one form – and the sort of errors they made with a different form. It was really encouraging to see how trainees completely fresh onto a CELTA could pick up on so much.

I boarded up their “emergent observations” and at the end we had a list of some key factors in classroom management and working with language – all from them!

We’ve given each trainee a big fat notebook and part of each observation task is that they listen for emergent language, make notes, and report back on that in the post ob session.

We start TP next week – and I may – if needed chip in while they are teaching…….am totally exhausted now, this feels on a par with doing the intensive DELTA at the moment, but hopefully it’s just because it’s the first time!

16 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the update, Steph. It sounds like you have used the observed lessons to set the agenda for the whole course. More than that, it sounds like the lesson you taught (where students were allowed to talk and with the grammar ‘being fitted in’) is also the way you are training, with the learning opportunities embedded in the conversation you create in the training room. The whole process sounds very coherent, participatory, and non-transmissive.

17 07 2011
Anthony Gaughan

Sounds like you have got off to a great start with your new model Celta, Steph ;-) I’m sure you are keeping good track of developments – I’d love to hear all about it sometime soon.

The notebook idea is something that I have considered but haven’t done yet – but will be stealing the idea for my next course I think (Chia in London tried it out recently too, I seem to recall). Thinking of trying Scott’s idea of journalling – encouraging a mashup of observation notes, teaching self reflection and emergent language data-collection/analysis. It’ll be anything but tidy ;-)

I think the real key to making this work is for the trainees and the tutors to work together teaching the same students: this levelling process is, for me, essential in helping the trainees open up with their ideas and in helping me keep perspective on the real, live challenges of working with the actual students in the room, not my vision of how they could be managing, but my own real assessment based on my time up front too – it breeds a certain kind of appreciation for a trainee’s efforts when you turn the tables and try to operate under the same conditions!

Weiter so! (as they say in Germany)

16 07 2011
Willy C Cardoso

hi again,

just read the whole thing that made me mention Lesson Study, here’s the lengthy reference:

Tasker, T. (2011) Teacher Learning through Lesson Study: An Activity Theoretical Approach toward Professional Development in the Czech Republic. In: Johnson, K. E. and Golombek, P.R. (Eds.), Research on Second Language Teacher Education: A Sociocultural Perspective on Professional Development. New York: Routledge

It IS very interesting. The argument that an overarching goal set by teacher-students – e.g. We would like our students to take more responsibility for their English language learning outside of class – functions as an efficient mediational tool for their development is quite convincing.

Moreover, it is great to see that it is very possible and sensible, and often more desirable, to develop even novice teachers to conceptualize language teaching and learning as a social practice instead of transmission of rules and controlled practice. This is beautifully exemplified by the goals (lesson aims) chosen by these teachers in this study; their assessment was not based on whether they could teach the ‘present perfect’ well, but on something greater that they can carry on longer in their careers which is the ability to see learning as social practice and to develop strategies and carry research on how to help learners achieve the stated aims.
From this perspective the practicum is more clearly situated in the bigger picture of what it is to be a teacher.

17 07 2011
Hanieh

I just hope other trainers in the CELTA/DELTA courses, sometimes think about what you mentioned in here and stop asking us to provide the activities and procedures in their own preferred way of teaching. The funny thing is to make it more Cambridge like, they say if you had prepared it in this way, you would have achieved your aim at this stage BETTER and then I promise to myself to say ‘yes!’ to what they say till the end of the course and get a ‘pass’ and then back to my own (standard ofcourse)way of teaching. It’s not just about the feedback really. How on earth is that possible they comment on your reflection and tell you:”what you think about yourself and your lesson is wrong!” If they are supposed to reflect instead of us, so what is the deal with this ‘reflection’ thing? Isn’t it supposed to be my teaching reflection!? I don’t know!

17 07 2011
Anthony Gaughan

You’re right, Hanieh: there is an inherent tension between asking a trainee teacher to “speak their mind” about their development and then having a tutor make an evaluation about the validity of that reflection: as if tutors were in a position to say “that trainee’s not in their right mind if they think that about their lesson!”

That said (and sidestepping the point of how right or possible it is to grade someone’s reflective stance), if a teacher articulates their principles and beliefs in a way that suggests to an informed, supportive (more) expert listener that these principles are coherent with either the listener’s perspective or observable fact, then isn’t it reasonable for the listener to point this out?

“Without contraries is no progression”
– William Blake -

24 07 2011
Mike Chick

Hello all,
Apologies for posting such a late note to this thread. However, it is a corker of a topic, with many folk referring to the use of Socio-Cultural theory as a way of looking at / better understanding Pre-service ELT education. It’s an area that I am really interested in and, to that end, would recommend the following excellent paper on just this topic:
“The zone of proximal teacher development” by Mark K. Warford.
It was published earlier this year in Teaching and Teacher Education and discusses quite a few of the points that have been made above. I think it can be accessed on this address: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0742051X10001447

Do hope it proves informative / useful.
Scott – please keep up the fab work.

24 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Mike, mejor tarde que nunca!

I really enjoyed this article, and, as you say, it picks up a number of points in the discussion above. Not least, the importance of recognising the personal/affective dimension in teacher development, and that you cannot simply implant a new model of teaching on an existing experiential base, without engaging in a dialogue with the trainee, in a way that perhaps models the reflective dialogue that will eventually allow the trainee to reguate his/her own development.

Having trainees reflect on (and write about) their own educational trajectory is a useful tool here. As Warford notes, “The preparation of a learning autobiography sets the stage for a lifetime of professional growth, offering a diagnostic of directions toward which the candidate’s affective-volitional disposition might be most profitably directed and where they might benefit from sensitive, intensive mediation from the teacher educator.…the teacher educator cannot hope to promote teacher learning without carefully calibrating the candidate’s pedagogical dispositions”.

24 07 2011
Scott Thornbury

Curiously, there’s a long piece in the NY Times today about some new initiatives in teacher education that focus on the purely technical and behavioural – how to elicit effectively etc. One of the trainee teaches is quoted as saying: “I can study Vygotsky later,”… “Right now,” she added, “my kids need to learn how to read.”

Why does the theory-practice continuum need to be so polarised??
See the full story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/education/edlife/edl-24teacher-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=todayspaper

24 07 2011
Rob

The theory-practice continuum (if it is truly a continuum) does not need to be polarized, in my view, but rather synthesized. Such polarization is to me a symptom of a cultural shift in the US away from imaginative and abstract thinking towards clinical, hyper-rational thinking. I’ve only glossed the article, but noticed how one teacher plans every day down to the minute, which is in line with the atomistic mentality that learning can and should be quantified, measured and standardized. There’s a long tradition of getting back to basics and the three R’s in American education that is carried on by the conservative and even neo-liberal politicians. We seem to favor training to education, which serves what Gee, et al. have called The New Work Order http://books.google.com/books/about/The_New_Work_Order.html?id=QSEzYevW-PMC

25 07 2011
Mike Chick

Scott – thanks for the article –here’s another scary quote from it.
“I also don’t read a ton of books about how to shoe a horse. What I do is I show up and shoe horses.”
Well, hardly an appropriate metaphor to equate with the attempt to create learning conditions for something as dynamic and complex as a class full of multifarious humans. Which is where the value of education (facilitating long term self development) comes in, surely?
Rob – training or education – this is becoming the recurring theme in UK education too, with employability (skills training) increasingly seen as the all important indicator of value in a qualification. As you point out this is, of course, a result of political ideology.
Ho hum.

15 10 2012
Chris

Hi Scott,
I realize that this post will be much later than the other posts here and I am unaware of blog etiquette, as I have rarely posted in a blog, but I wanted to contribute to this discussion.

I found your article and video extremely intriguing and have begun experimenting with “sideline coaching” in in-service training. I have only recently become comfortable doing this after having built a rapport with the teachers I am working with. In short, I have had great success. I am fortunate enough to be working with teachers whose primary concern is to improve the way they facilitate the classroom to create better learning environments. They are less concerned with losing face. Sometimes they even ask me in front of the entire class what I would recommend they do, when their plan does not pan out as they had thought. It has been fantastic!

I think many people (including you) make some great points about the value of conversations between teachers and trainers (post-lesson), and “coaching” teachers to become clones of ourselves. While my experience with this style of training is still in its infancy, I feel that suggestions can be made during a lesson using various techniques and teachers can choose what they feel is best (my teachers are not looking to get A’s or certificates – they simply want more training).

I have had conversations with teachers in the middle of their lessons (while students are doing pair/group work). At times we have stepped outside the classroom for a minute to discuss how to proceed. Other times we have had that discussion right in front of the students.

While I realize that this is not possible in all contexts and that some students paying tuition at institutions may consider the teacher less competent than they “should be” if they witness such discusses (between teacher and trainer), I believe this is an approach well worth experimenting with. I will certainly continue to do so.

So, thank you for your post!

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