A few weeks ago, Rachel had published a post sharing her first DELTA input session reflection, which dealt with ‘teaching reading’ and urged readers to share their thoughts.Someday, I am going to watch her live, in-action, and observe her make magic in the classroom but until then I make do with writing comments on her posts, which is part of my professional development. In thiscomment, I had highlighted that none of my learners, barring one; all young adults in their mid or late 20s, are interested in reading long-form texts like blogs or books. Hence, one of my primary aims, which Stevick would call ‘a deep aim’, is to inculcate the desire to read more.
Before I could chart a path to the desired aim, I had to ponder over the reasons for my learners’ dislike or sheer ignorance of reading longer forms of texts. Of course, they do read texts (subtitles, keywords, carousel posts, posters and a few more) posted on social media platforms. They sometimes even take the pain of reading the post caption and, if the content is really engaging, they might go as far as reading some of the comments posted. But beyond that, you are expecting a bit too much.
Here are three of my yet-to-be-completely-successful attempts to mitigate the issues highlighted above.
Make them curious
This is something I know quite a few teachers do with their young learners; an MFL teacher brought the characters of a story book alive by sharing just about enough for kids to get to the edge of their seats and listen. I remember a Thai teacher (teaching Thai) inviting a musician to the class, who along with the teacher sang the story from this book while playing guitar.
One of my learners has to regularly share complex data with her team by creating visual infographics. I introduced her to some of Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s work and she got curious. To my great satisfaction, we have now reached the third chapter of Knaflic’s ‘Storytelling with Data’ and she isn’t bored yet, in fact, she is eager to reach chapter 4.
Help them notice
Underhill taught me the value of making ‘… the inner moves of learning more visible,’. The other day, upon asking, my learner explained to me how she was coping with the complexity of the language in the book (Dealing with Difficult People by Rob Lilley) we are currently reading; the author has used dry humour, local slangs and excessive words. She told me she usually skips words which don’t add to the central idea of the text and was willing to take the risk of adding meaning to words or texts from her limited understanding. The fact that she gets to discuss the chapter with me over the call has boosted her appetite to take risks. This also helps her not disrupt her flow while reading a chapter.
Another vital component is urging learners to articulate how reading something is benefitting them as a person; not just a language learner. The same learner during the same conversation had confessed she is now able to read more than mere two pages at one go without feeling drowsy. She went on to add she is now able to focus more on things; apparently, her level of concentration while indulged in any task has increased. During this entire reflection process, she saw a direct positive correlation between her reading habit and her ability to focus.
Make it active
Not one learner, except the exam-prep pupils, so far, has included improving reading proficiency as part of their goals when they started with me. Hence, simply asking them to start reading in their spare time would have landed on deaf ears. One way to get around that was to bring the text alive during our interactions.
Currently, I am involved only in one-on-one online teaching, which I divide between Zoom sessions and Line (similar to WhatsApp) calls.We utilise a lot of these Line calls to discuss our takeaways (I too read the book), from the set of pages we pre-determine to read, express disagreement and/or clarify doubts. This urges them to interact with the text and provides an impetus to sustain their new habit. Here are some activities I use to coalesce the text (book/blogpost) into the overall scheme of improving language proficiency;
I mentioned earlier these are yet to be completely successful because I still have a couple of learners who just won’t dare pick up a book no matter how convinced they are of the benefits. One of them once innocently confessed and summed up the hesitation, ‘Girish, I know reading is good but I know myself more.’
One of the ways I try to inculcate the habit of reading among my learners is to choose a book that is highly relevant for their career or education in the present and read it along with them. We do this by participating in 15 to 20-minute telephonic discussions on a chapter or a section of a chapter where we share our takeaways as well as raise questions.
‘Stop Talking, Start Influencing’ wasn’t my first choice for this learner who works at a prominent social media company as a small & medium business account manager. I had heard about Jonas Berger’s ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch on’; hence went to my local library to borrow, but, unfortunately, found out it was ‘on loan’ for the next 10 days. So, I unwisely decided to go to the section this book is usually placed in to sift through the rows of books in the desperate desire to find an alternative.
To my credit, I did manage to cherry pick a book, but now that I sit and write this post you would realise it has very little to do with social media account management, which means the said learner never read this book. Coincidentally, the learner, while window shopping at a downtown mall, came across a book fair and found the book recommended to her, months ago, by one of her friends. What luck!
As they say, ‘No knowledge is a waste.’, and because I was curious I did end up borrowing Horvath’s STSI. Boy, am I glad I did! To express the extent of my gladness, I think this book is going to become one of the main features of our future teacher development programs. Yes, you read that right; this book is for teachers (among others).
What is astonishing to me now is that the book does exactly what it says, ‘start influencing’, right from the moment you lay your eyes on it. Let me share how it unconsciously influenced my decision in singling it out.
*I don’t usually sift through rows of books by analysing their spines rather I go through their front covers.
Here are my top THREE reasons that make this book an influential read, especially, if you are a teacher
1. ‘…you experience the book.’ – Dr. Todd Rose
In every chapter, the author backs up his insight not just through science but also by demonstrating it through different activities. If the book cover wasn’t a good enough example, try this.
Plug in your earphones and listen to any podcast episode you haven’t before
Either continue reading this post or pick up a book and start reading a page you haven’t before
Your goal is to simultaneously understand both the words coming from the podcast speaker and the text you are reading.
It is humanly impossible to do both. You could do the same experiment by listening to a presenter and reading a presentation slide with dense text. Sorry, but you will have to let go of one to understand the other.This is because there is only one passageway (the Broca/Wernicke network – don’t I sound like a neuroscientist? 🤓) and it can allow only one stream of information pass through it at any one point of time. However, like me, if you push back by stating, ‘but I can listen to music and read simultaneously or listen to a podcast and read a text message?’. Well, all I would say is ‘Read the book.’
By the end of the book, the author makes you experience Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve theory and effectiveness of retrieval practice.
2. Accessible language and simplified concepts
This reminds me of Einstein’s quote, ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’ Horvath’s use of easy-to-understand language with relevant images and practical examples makes this book accessible to teachers. You don’t need to have any prior knowledge or a science background to comprehend the concepts presented in the book.To illustrate my point, in chapter 11 ‘Stress’, Horvath dexterously demystifies the neural activity between the Hippocampus and Amygdala and its physical as well mental impact when we experience stress by creating an analogous story using characters we all know and understand i.e. a dense forest, a castle, seeds, etc. Wish, science was this interesting at school. 😞
3. Explains the why and the how of learning
I bet, if you are a teacher, you have experienced this. A learner is valiantly trying to recall a word recently learnt but isn’t able to and just when you provide a clue specific to the context that word was learnt in and voilà!Well, my friend, let me put my neuroscientist glasses on and tell you, this is called the PPA (parahippocampal place area) processing. The PPA, a small area located at the base of the hippocampus, constantly encodes and embeds all the information associated with the information being processed. Hence, in this case, everything associated with the word being recalled, was processed by the PPA when the word was first encountered by the learner.
Thanks to the book I now understand the science behind some of the lesson planning stages and techniques I learnt during my CELTA (activate schema, elicit prior knowledge, vary tasks, delay or spot error correct, etc.).
You could dig deeper into the concepts, if you like, by reading through some of the listed references in the book.
Stop Talking, Start Learning by Jared Cooney Horvath
Let me say this right off the bat, the inspiration for writing a blogpost on a podcast I recently listened to comes from reading Rachel Tsateri’s highly practical summary-blogpost of Gabriel Diaz Maggioli’s conversation with Graham Stanley on Teacher Talk Radio.
The practice of articulating our thoughts on a topic and sharing it with others, in my opinion, is one of the most profound ways to consolidate our comprehension on the topic and boost multiple linguistic as well as non-linguistic sub-skills. I might be blowing my own trumpet here, but my learners often engage in similar activities, where they summarise, or get into a group discussion, or share their written or verbal perspectives on a specific piece of content.
In this post, I would like to share what I have gathered from listening and reading Dr Amol Padwad’s thoughts on teacher motivation, where he finely coalesces Daniel Pink’s theory of motivation and Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with three broadly categorised stages of a teacher’s career; entry level, early stage and advanced career.
Dr. Padwad, who doesn’t really need an introduction, is a professor and director for Centre for English Language Education at Ambedkar University in Delhi.Here is a link to his complete bio. It was this episode of the TEFL Training Institute’s podcast, aired on 14th November, which led me to explore his work in the area of teacher motivation.
In his paper, Dr Padwad encourages readers to view teacher motivation as a dynamic phenomenon which is affected by various factors at different stages of a teacher’s career. Below, I have tried to pictorially represent an overly-simplified gist of his paper.
The part that caught my attention was when, during the podcast, Dr Padwad shares practical implications of his paper on writing CPD policies at schools. He affirms that there should be a shared understanding,collective development and periodic reviews of the CPD policies. Moreover, he advises against an overarching definition of CPD, as individual teachers have their own trajectory of development. What is essential is a clarity of roles and responsibilities for all involved. The trickiest part would be collaboratively designing a mechanism which allows teachers to demonstrate their progress or achievements that integrate with the schools’ goals and vision.
Here is some of Dr Padwad’s advice for organisations who genuinely intend to support their teachers’ professional development.
I can’t help but notice the seamless support and transition from one stage to another. Hopefully, the above table would guide us in designing our CPD policies at EngVictus in the near future.
“Actions speak louder than words.” Not sure if I totally agree with the statement though there is some truth in it, which I would like to explore in a teacher training context.
My first post in this series received a favourable comment from the Director of NILE and later Rachel; my blogpost writing inspiration, honoured me by mentioning my blogpost in one of her LinkedIn posts. I boasted about both the acts to my wife, who thinks I behave worse than kids when excited. These two small but highly empowering gestures(or actions) led me to ponder over the positive influence such actions by teachers/trainers/people you respect and/or admire can have on teacher trainees. What practical and tangible actions of mine would lead to a similar release of dopamine among my trainees?
Before I share some of my ideas on ‘Supportive Trainer Action’, let me highlight what I have learnt about Supportive Trainer Talk (STT). A succinct definition that I gathered from the course and reading others is ‘talk which intends to support a teacher’s construction of knowledge or thinking’.However thanks to Simon Smith and Martyn Clarke’s recorded interaction as a part of input in the unit, I find the following (paraphrased) description encapsulating the soul of STT better “a ‘talk’ when used as a tool, which is culturally and socially mediated, to help participants achieve a higher level of cognition could be termed as quality supportive trainer talk.”
If you would like to read more on the practical application of STT, you must read Rachel’s reflection on her STT, which has been published in the Teacher Trainer Journal 2022 ; you can read her blog right here.
Coming back to dopamine release , applying the principles of quality supportive talk, actions that are strategically implemented, which are socially as well as culturally mediated, to boost teacher trainees’ confidence and probably lead to a positive ripple effect among other trainees could be termed as ‘Supportive Trainer Action’. Here are some of my practical suggestions on ‘Supportive Trainer Action’:
Tagging teachers on my social media posts (work account) to highlight what I have learnt from them or share any outstanding work on a particular training day
Commenting on any (social media) posts of theirs (trainees) relevant to the course we are on
Appreciating teachers genuinely via the chat box or on the board (in a physical classroom setting)
Using leaderboards to regularly highlight the top scorers (assigning points for completing asynchronous tasks and bonus points for any outstanding work)
Writing a blogpost after every training to felicitate and to remind the achievements of the trainees as a group
I am quite convinced, as a trainer, I could do much more than restrict my support to talk. To leave with an overarching thought, a supportive trainer fosters learning for living and not just a certificate.
Have you experienced a difference in the effectiveness of your delivery of the same lesson facilitated the second time around? It could be an hour or a couple of days or months after your first delivery. From my experience, we are usually in a much better position when facilitating it the second time. Of course, the lesson might turn out worse than the first time due to other factors but I am assuming we would still be better placed delivering it as the second one than the first. There are some obvious reasons; we have experienced the challenges foreseen play out in reality, we have noticed what does or doesn’t excite the learners, we have an opportunity to avoid any mistakes made the first time and importantly we might have upgraded, however infinitesimally, our skills and/or knowledge in between those two lessons.
This isn’t restricted to delivering lessons. God forbid, if we had to redo our PRESETs, I am quite certain we would be in a much better position to absorb, critique and reflect on the course content and its delivery.This is one of my top reasons for writing these blogposts, as I go through the comment threads, the course material and the supplementary articles of the NILE TD course I recently completed. So, this comes as no surprise that an activity on the course which I understood as fun, information-exchanging and rapport-building might have been designed with a much deeper goal in mind or probably it is Alan Maley’s article that affords me a fresh pair of glasses to view the said activity. I will come back to the course activity shortly but first, let me share with you my understanding of the article.
I am referring to Maley’s 2019 adapted version of his own paper ‘The teacher’s sense of plausibility re-visited’ published in 2016. His aim behind writing the paper was ‘to give substance to Prabu’s (1987) concept of the “teacher’s sense of plausibility”. That is to say, explore the way teachers develop professionally and personally by building a personal theory of teaching action based upon their own accumulated experiences – and reflection on them (ibid.). In the paper, Maley reflects on his life; right from childhood, and the key influencers, divided into five strands ‘places, personalities, ideas, publication and critical moments’, that have directed his ‘own continuing development of a personal ‘theory’ of teaching’(ibid.). Let me give you a glimpse of what he is talking about.
As a consequence of the town Maley grew up in, his score on a crucial standardised test at age 11, his parents’ achievements as students and the help he received from the two headmasters between the age of 11 and 16, which in turn got him scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge universities, following were the beliefs (personal theory) he formed:
A profound distrust of and disrespect for standardised testing.
A belief that teachers can be agents of transformation.
A belief that, if you are reasonably intelligent, hard work will get you a long way.
Without some luck, it is difficult to succeed.
It was humbling to notice the evolution of Maley’s beliefs as he progressed in his career. It was in the late 70s, after two decades of teaching around the world, did he get convinced that the ‘best kind of teaching is responding to learners’ needs, not forcing a preconceived package on them. So teachers need to ‘get out of the light’ and let learners learn (ibid.). I take his constant reflection on his beliefs as a warning to not build a static personal theory of teaching.
To me, this is a compelling exercise to deep dive into our highly subjective journey influencing our understanding of the word ‘teaching’ and in turn ‘learning’. It could be a powerful tool to extract our deep-rooted beliefs. Thinking back to my PRESET, I can only imagine what reading this article, at the time, would have done to my teaching and learning notions, and how exchanging the influences leading up to our choices of pursuing teaching professionally with fellow trainees could have coloured my approach to TPs. I can’t help but reiterate one of Maley’s concluding thoughts, ‘Regular group sharing and discussion of individual senses of plausibility can be highly rewarding as part of a teacher training programme.’ (ibid.)
Coming back to the course activity I referred to earlier. In unit 3.1 of the course, we were asked to chart our journey of teaching leading up to the present, and post it on a common thread. It was fascinating to read my fellow trainees’ posts; not so surprisingly most of us hadn’t started our careers as teachers. Observing the diversity in our paths and the influencers; from family members to opportunities, was a CPD in itself. I would love to take this activity to my next teaching education course and probably extract more mileage out of it by facilitating discussions on the participants’ personal histories of teaching or leading up to pursuing teaching. Here are some discussion questions that come to my mind:
1. Looking back to your initial days of teaching, what do you notice about yourself? Has anything changed? (INSET) / Looking back to your early childhood, what do you notice about your understanding of ‘teaching’? Has anything changed? (PRESET)
2. Are there any common patterns and/or distinct differences between your and your colleagues’ journeys?
3. What title would you give to each of your stepping stones?
4. What do you think is the purpose of this activity?
Would you like to add one? I’d love to read it.
It would be befitting to end with Maley’s concluding remark where he quotes Young’s comment in his study proposal (2016), ‘Very few previous studies in applied linguistics have addressed the synergy between the personal history of teachers and learners and the discourse of language learning in the classroom …
Maley, A. (2016) The teacher’s sense of plausibility re-visited, Indonesian JELT, Vol. 11, Number 1, pp 1-29
Maley, A. (2019) Introduction, ‘Developing expertise through experience: Ideas for continuing professional development, British Council,Part 1: 4-20 (You can download a copy via this link)
NILE TD (2022); Activity 3.1 Who and What have influenced your professional development?
Prabhu, NS. (1987) Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Young, R (2016 – ongoing project) History in Person: Moments of language teaching in the personal histories of teachers. Wuhan: Central China Normal University.
An effective way to master new knowledge is to articulate it in a way that others can comprehend. In this series of blogposts, I am going to try and articulate some of my top takeaways and queries from the recently completed Trainer Development course with NILE. In fact, this gives me a strong reason to revisit the course and see if I can notice something which I didn’t earlier.Though first, I must extend my humble gratitude to the British Council for offering this course as part of our professional development.
In this post, I am going to share:
my goals for the course,
my thoughts on unit 2 ‘How do teachers learn…’ and
my next endeavour or challenge.
Let me introduce my fellow trainees: we were 8 of us.
This probably was one of the highlights of the course. The diversity of our contexts helped expand my perspectives on the course topics.
I had three specific goals for the course;
Learn about how teachers learn;
Learn how to plan, design and evaluate a teacher education (TE) course;
Get a certificate of distinction, as I have never received one in my entire teaching career.
I believe stating the goals at the beginning helped me pursue them actively. I knew right from the start which of the two assignments I was going to opt for.
Unit 2 starts with a question I hadn’t thought about before.
What is the difference between teacher training (TT) and teacher development (TD)?
We were asked to read Penny Ur’s (1996) ‘Teacher training, teacher development‘ article before sharing our two bits on the question. Here are some ‘Over-simplified’ (ibid.) differences between the two.
I hadn’t considered the distinction before this, but if I could add, I would say, all TTs could form a part of TD, though TD may happen without a formal TT.To be honest, at the end of the day, TD is a highly subjective and personal journey. As a trainer, you may provide immaculate training but the development part rests within the trainee.
However, another trainee on the course countered well, ‘How can you develop something which you don’t have yet?’ So, technically speaking, you ought to be a (certified) teacher before any teacher development could take place; you can’t put the cart before the horse. True, though, I would still argue there are a few who come across as if they were born to be teachers hence TT for them is as good as developing their skills. I have encountered a couple of such great teachers myself.
What stood out for me in the article was Ur’s concluding para where she urges to not concern with“the difference(s) between the two, but rather their integration. We need to evolve a model which combines the best of both in order to design optimally effective professional courses, both initial and continuing” (ibid.).
What would such a course look like?
Nicky Hockly’s “Modelling and ‘cognitive apprenticeship’ in teacher education” (2000: 54/2) article came close to answering that. She outlines some of the findings from Hunt’s (1996) experimentation with an extensive ‘Model-based approach’ to pre-service teacher training, where trainees receive input in the form of a 45-60 minute model lesson by the trainer. In other words, trainees experience model lessons as EFL learners, which is followed by some form of analysis.Later, trainees get to teach under the supervision of a tutor.
It doesn’t sound very different from what I experienced at CELTA but there is an acute difference; CELTA has a linear syllabus. It is based on the presupposition that ‘…through mastery of discrete aspects of skills and knowledge, teachers will improve their effectiveness in the classroom’ (Freeman, 1989: 39).It takes ‘a fragmented view of teaching.’ (ibid.) It is similar to the idea that to learn a language we need to memorise words and then bring them together with other memorised words with our knowledge of grammar rules.
While on the other hand, Hunt uses what he calls the ‘cyclic, holistic’ syllabus, (1996: 35). Here you are‘starting with a holistic, whole lesson approach and working down to a more atomistic, discrete item approach later in the course’ (ibid.). What he means is that trainees get to observe and experience a model lesson in its entirety and later they are asked to analyse what they observed and why a certain stage/activity was conducted the way it was, etc. Trainer follows it up with a discussion on the observations made by the trainees so that by the end of the session, trainees have collectively analysed and personally mediated take-aways.
Hunt highlights quite a few advantages of such an approach but there are two I completely agree with. Firstly, it views learning as
“…not a step-by-step building block activity-it is organic, a process that requires time for recycling and assimilation.”
‘A holistic, cyclic approach in [input] mirrors the reality of the ELT classroom.’
However, I would be curious to find out how genuinely were the trainees in Hunt’s experiments able to reflect on their experience as ‘EFL learners’?
Something else I found my PRESET falling short on was discussions on aspects that go ‘beyond and beneath’ the surface level of a classroom. I can’t help being reminded of Stevick’s profound insight, and what many experts have realised ‘that a major variable in successful learning lies in a zone beyond both the topic being learned and the teaching method employed, and that it has to do with the relationship with oneself and with others’ (Underhill 2013: 205). Have a look at Underhill’s version of a ‘fully functional teacher’ (ibid.)
Wouldn’t designing a teacher education course which
responds to Ur’s urge,
takes into account Stevick’s (and others’) profound insight,
caters to Underhill’s three domains of expertise and
has ‘whole person’ development as an overarching goal
be a challenge worth taking up? Or am I being too naive?
Penny, U. (1998) Distinctions & Dichotomies; Teacher Training Teacher Development, English Teaching Professional Pavilion Publishing and Media Ltd (Issue 8, p21).
Hockly, N. (2000) ELT Journal Volume 54/2 April 2000, Oxford UniversityPress
Hunt, R. (1996) ‘Going round in circles: a cyclic, holistic approach to CTEFLA timetabling’. Priorities in Initial Teacher Training, Certificate Conference Report, UCLES.
Freeman, D. (1989) ‘Teacher training, development and decision making: a model of teaching and related strategies for language teacher education’. TESOL Quarterly 23/1: 27-45.
Underhill, A. (2013) Meaningful Action: Earl Stevick’s influence on language teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 13: 205-207