Lisa B's Design Narrative: Weekend Teacher Training Course
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27 March 2014
I am a teacher trainer for a company providing weekend training courses for prospective EFL teachers.
Two different weekend courses are run by the company; a 'standard' and an 'advanced' course. I had previously observed another trainer running a standard course, and had been provided with reasonably detailed trainer's notes as well; enabling me to apprehend the general design of the course, and to write my own sessions to fit within that framework.
However, almost no information was given about the 'advanced' course, other than a timetable for the weekend course, with a very basic description of the input sessions, and a handout designed for the trainee teachers comprising a number of student activities.
The courses run in a hotel conference room, and are usually attended by between 8-16 trainees at any one time. The majority of trainees attending the 'advanced' course have previously attended the 'standard' course, but this is not guaranteed.
The standard course focuses on general EFL teaching techniques and theories - trainees are introduced to classroom managment techniques, lesson plan structures, and a variety of activities to practise both language systems and skills. On the other hand, the advanced course timetable shows that the focus is on 4 different types of learner: Business students, Young learners, One-to-one students and Advanced learners. From this, I deduced that the aim of the advanced course was to provide the trainees with some information about the various types of learners they might meet, and to demonstrate a range of activities and techniques which might be useful with these learners, while facilitating discussion about the challenges and motivations inherent with each type of learner.
Trainees who attend these courses are usually looking to gain a qualification that will enable them to travel abroad and teach English. Some trainees are employed in the UK state school system and are coming to gain insight into teaching EAL children within the schools. All trainees who attend the course have high expectations of the course and its ability to make them better teachers. However, we are constrained by both time and resources - a 2 day course with roughly 7-8 hours of input sessions can only scratch the surface of EFL teaching. Teaching practice is included, which is great, but the 'guinea-pig students' are actually the other trainees, which obviously can't provide the authentic experience of teaching non-native speakers through English.
My task was to design a course, and write input sessions based on the very little information I had as to what the company's and the trainees' expectations of the course were. I also wanted to ensure that the course was as useful and engaging for the trainees as possible.
To that end, I started with my course aims, which were as follows:
- To familiarise trainees with the advantages and challenges of 4 common types of learner: Business, Young, 1-2-1, and Advanced
- To demonstrate a range of activities and techniques which could be used by trainees when teaching these learners
- To encourage reflection and discussion on learning and teaching; including learning styles, lesson planning, support, rapport, teacher persona
- To raise trainees' awareness of some of the more complex grammatical and lexical areas that higher level learners will be dealing with, and how to cope when your students know more about English grammar than you do.
- To allow trainees the opportunity to put some of this theory into practice by setting up relevant teaching practice slots, and encouraging feedback from self and peers, as well as providing them with constructive criticism and praise myself.
- To ensure that all sessions showcased a wide-range of teaching techniques and good teaching practice to act as a model for trainees.
Success would be rather subjective, but measured by:
- Trainees' engagement and levels of interest in input sessions and activities
- Trainees' ability to put at least some of the theory and techniques from the input sessions into practice in their teaching practice slots
- Trainees' ability to reflect critically on their own and peers' teaching practice, with reference to the theory and techniques from the input sessions.
- My own (very subjective) feelings about the overall efficacy and success of the course.
- Post-course feedback from the trainees
My actions took place in two parts: planning and delivery.
In accordance with the rough outline I had been given I designed 4 input sessions, each focusing on a different kind of learner. I wrote learning aims for each individual session as a starting point, linking them to the overall course aims and to the course content. I ensured that each session included a discussion on the advantages and challenges of that particular type of learner, and the opportunity for trainees to share experiences, ideas and ask questions. Each session also included a demonstration of a range of activities suitable for use with that type of learner, a brainstorming session to come up with further activities and materials which could be used in the classroom setting, and a reflection on how (some of) the activities related to our understanding of teaching and learning. I also aimed to vary interaction patterns and type of activity to keep the trainees interested and moving around as much as possible, since the weekend courses are quite long and intensive all around.
As is my usual practice, I over-planned, both intentionally and un-intentionally. I always plan extra, or optional, activities when designing a course (or even just planning a lesson) so that I can evaluate as I go along, and choose the best activity for that particular group of trainees. It means that I never have to worry about running out of materials or activities.
However, it also makes it difficult for me to evaluate which are the absolutely crucial activities, and which are more or less optional extras. The nature of the course, and of the trainees' expectations means that I feel under pressure to 'impart' as much 'wisdom' as I can in the time frame, so I know that I need to avoid the temptation to over-plan, and thus to overload the trainees.
The obstacles I faced were:
- Lack of prior knowledge of the trainees (for the most part) and so a lack of information about their reasons for learning, previous experience and so on.
- The need to establish rapport with, and among, the group in order to ensure that the learning environment was as positive as could be, but within a limited time frame.
- Mixed abilities group: some had previously attended a standard course, or had other teaching experience, and so had some idea of how to plan a lesson - others did not, and lesson planning specifics were not in my remit for this course. Some trainees were non-native speakers with varying levels of competence in English. Some were confident, others diffident, and so on.
In order to pre-emptively overcome these obstacles, I allocated a generous chunk of my first session to a range of ice-breakers and team-building activities, to allow us all to get to know each other and develop rapport. It also gave me the opportunity to find out something about the various trainees' backgrounds, experiences, and expectations. I slotted it into my first input session on Business Learners, on the rationale that such activities are very often useful for Business students who may have to mingle and make small talk with other business people, and such skills can be overlooked in the focus on presentations and graphs.
Throughout the delivery of the course I was constantly taking mental notes of the trainees' abilities, strengths and weaknesses and previous experience, and using that information to help me to decide on the most useful interaction patterns. For example, when previous teaching experience was of benefit, I tried to ensure that that activity was set up as a group activity, with each group having at least one member who could contribute their experience to the discussion. As far as possible I utilised the trainees' own abilities to peer-teach, and to ensure a positive learning environment.
The results were as follows:
Trainees appeared quite engaged and interested throughout the sessions. The focus on the pros and cons of each type of learner was a rather repetitive activity. They responded particularly well to the demonstrations of activities, which were more 'fun' than some of the discussion stages, but they did all contribute well to the discussions too.
The trainees were surprisingly good at implementing the theories and techniques from the input sessions into their own teaching practice, though this may have something to do with the rather 'heavy-handed' support I provided throughout the planning session to ensure that each pair stayed on track.
The post-teaching feedback sessions were less strong. They were generally reasonable at evaluating their own lessons, but very reluctant to comment on others' lessons. I ended up leading the feedback sessions more strongly than I had anticipated needing to do.
My own feelings: My preoccupation with selecting the right interaction patterns and the best variant of each activity led to some less than optimum classroom management, where my instructions were less clear than they should have been. Quickly corrected, and should improve next time as I am clearer on the running order and interaction patterns.
Post-course feedback was actually extremely positive. The vast majority of the trainees rated the course at 8-10 out of 10 and said they found it very useful and informative. Some said they would have preferred a greater focus on lesson planning, others that they would have liked more practical activities, and yet others that they wanted to learn more grammar!
Overall, I think that the course as I designed it was quite successful. The trainees were able to demonstrate the various learning outcomes by the end of the course, and judging by their feedback the course met their expectations quite well.
There are definitely areas for improvement.
- On the first run through of the advanced course, I noticed that rapport was not nearly as strong as that on the standard courses, where we start off with both ice-breakers and a foreign language lesson, which throws the trainees in at the deep-end together, and seems to forge bonds much better and more quickly. Since I can't incorporate that into the advanced course, I decided to try to replicate the effect by introducing more team-building and trust-building activities into the intital warmers/ice-breakers session. This had a noticeable effect on the improvement of rapport within the group on the second (very recent) running of the course.
- I also need to figure out a way to improve the post-teaching feedback sessions. When I tutored on CELTA courses, the trainees all had time to reflect on their own and others' lessons before the feedback sessions, which led to better and more insightful comments all round. However, the time constraints of the course mean that I have to conduct running feedback immediately after each teaching practice, not giving time for reflection. On the next course I'm going to try out the tactic of setting a specific observation task for the trainees. It's made even more difficult by the fact that during each teaching practice, the rest are acting as the students, so observation is rather limited due to the logistics of taking part in the lesson as well.
- I would like to make the discussion of pros and cons less repetitive, but haven't come up with a good strategy for that yet.