“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
Those were some of the words used to describe fluency (for this post, I shall stick to speaking fluency) in our last month’s COP meet while discussing Zoltán Dörnyei’s (2013: 161) chapter, ‘Communicative Language Teaching in the twenty-first century: the ‘Principled Communicative Approach’.
I’ll come back to Dörnyei shortly, but I would like to mention here that the first-ever ‘definition’ I had read about ‘fluency’ was by Scott Thornbury in his ‘An A-Z of ELT’ (2006: 2), ‘the ability to be communicative in real-life situations’ It is simple, to the point. However, complications arise when you try to quantify ‘the ability to be communicative’, which, to be honest, has led me to write this post.
Of course, before I could share my two cents, I had to do my due diligence. Thanks to James Chamberlain (one of our community members), I ventured on the herculean task of reading through Scott’s ‘F is for Fluency’ post and the 94 comments that ensued. Someone would have mined a bitcoin faster than me reading through those 94 stimulating thoughts.
One of the comments that resonated with me was Carol Goodey’s, “For me, fluency means that they don’t have to think. They don’t consciously think about which article they need or how to form the tense they want. They just speak and convey their message, and whatever ‘errors’ they make don’t get in the way.” I could relate to this more because that’s what I notice myself doing (or not doing 🤓) when I am involved in a ‘fluent’ conversation with my in-laws in Thai.
I also enjoyed reading Eion Higgins’ comment, where he highlights the etymology of the word ‘fluent’, which comes from the Latin ‘fluentem’, from the verb ‘fluere’ meaning “to flow”. In other words, a ‘fluent’ speaker’s speech ‘flows’.
Going back to the complication of quantifying ‘fluency’, Scott in his response to one of the comments, simplified it well when he highlighted Chambers 1997 research summary suggesting that the significant factors determining ‘fluency’ are:
the frequency of pauses rather than the length
the length of run (the number of syllables between pauses)
the place of the pauses in an utterance
the transfer (or not) of pausing pattern from L1 to L2.
However, it was, once again, Scott who brought home the idea of language being a social construct when he responded politely to a rather aggressive comment. Scott wrote,
“…, I think I agree that fluency is not some internalised attribute of the mind but is an interpersonal phenomenon, in which mutual familiarity (with each other’s idiomaticity) may play an important part…”
To my mind, ‘fluency’ in real-life communication would involve a listener. Hence, I see a strong relationship between fluency and comprehension. From my experience, I could easily gauge if my Thai is ‘flowing’ by observing the strain my in-laws are under while trying to comprehend me. I could crudely quantify ‘fluency’ as ‘the higher the strain on the listener, the lower the speaker’s fluency and vice versa.’
James articulated it better,
“Fluency is best measured by the interlocutor’s effort needed to comprehend what is being said; the lesser their effort to comprehend the greater the fluency.”
He went on to shed further light on Scott’ idea of ‘mutual familiarity’. He believes, and I completely agree, that the relationship between the speaker and the listener would play a significant role. For example, siblings in their communication might come across as extremely fluent to each other than to an outsider or an observer. Ironically, I am much more fluent in Thai while communicating with my in-laws than with my wife 🤣
Ruthie Iida (another community member) clarified the concept further by comparing speaking fluency with driving fluency,
‘… the ones who move and weave in and out of traffic really skilfully without even trying or look like they are not even trying, that’s like driving fluency…and they are in harmony with the rest of the roads.”
Love the analogy, Ruth. 😎
How do we develop learners’ speaking fluency?
Coming back to Dörnyei, he categorises fluency under ‘skills learning theory’ and outlines three stages that could lead to the achievement of ‘fluency’.
Interestingly, Dörnyei draws a parallel between the above stages and an infamous methodology. Can you guess which one? PPPerhaps you need a hint. 😜
Here are some of my classroom practices and principles to develop speaking fluency.
engage in small talk at the beginning of a lesson
plan and implement fluency focused activities (avoid correcting grammatical inaccuracies at the end)
prime learners by providing a structure for speaking and the essential language required for an activity
provide time for planning
do task repetition (nothing beats this activity in building fluency)
take care of affective factors before anything else (an anxious and/or an insecure learner would never be able to speak fluently)
create affordances for intrinsic motivation (autonomy, competence and relatedness)
know that fluency comes before accuracy
The way I see it, a fluent and meaningful speaker is much more desirable than an accurate and dysfluent one; listeners are much more accommodative to the former.
Just before I end this, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Scott, for the ‘F is for Fluency’ post, and the rest of the contributors to the post, because without them this post would have felt incomplete.
Arnold. J. and Murphey, T. (2013) Meaningful Action: Earl Stevick’s influence on language teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 10: 161-171
Thornbury, S. (2006) An A-Z of ELT; A Dictionary of Terms and Concepts, Macmillian Books for Teachers
The CLT approach to teaching, which I learned in my pre-service teacher training, focuses on learners’ participation in meaningful interaction in (often simulated) communicative scenarios. Discussions, information-gap activities, games and unscripted contextual role-plays are some of the prominent features of the approach.
The keyword above, for me, is ‘meaningful’. In a language learning context, what constitutes ‘meaning’?
According to Earl Stevick (1976: 47), meaning ‘refers to what difference participation in a given activity … makes to an individual, relative to his or her entire range of drives and needs.’
‘If what we do has meaning and is relevant to our goals and needs, this will lead us to make a greater effort.’ (2013: 1)
When I began teaching, I could claim my activities to be ‘meaningful’ as long as they were fun, and/or were done in a context, and/or clarified meaning or form or pronunciation of the target language, and/or scaffolded language and, most importantly, displayed evidence that my learners are in the process or have achieved the lesson objectives, set in stone by me before the lesson.
Unfortunately, it took me a few years to come across Williams’ (1994: 77), ‘Language belongs to a person’s whole social being; it is part of one’s identity and is used to convey this identity to other people. The learning of a foreign language involves far more than simply learning skills, or a system of rules, or a grammar; it involves an alteration in self-image.’
In other words, lesson aims/objectives which are restricted to linguistic analyses lack depth. We should vie for deeper aims, ‘which can lead to learning experiences that have the potential to change lives and lead to truly enjoyable learning’ Murphey (1998).
If focusing on enhancing fluency and/or accuracy in the specified target language of the lesson isn’t ‘meaningful‘ enough then on what grounds shall I justify my activities as ‘meaningful‘? Well, thanks to Raths’ criteria (1971), Nunan’s hypotheses (2013) and the members of my community of practice, especially James Chamberlain who initiated this idea, I have been able to come up with a subjective list.
Below are a couple of sample activities I had asked my learner from a one-on-one course to complete. This learner is planning to take the IELTS in the next few months to apply for Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree (EMJMD) programme. Apart from IELTS, one of her goals, she shared during the visualisation activity, is to be able to communicate with New Yorkers (she plans to go there at the end of this year) confidently; without searching for words. She religiously follows Moya Mawhinney and a couple of other YouTubers. Photography is one of her favourite pastimes. She has over 60k followers on Twitter, i.e., 60K more than I.
Activity 1: Create a vlog of your upcoming weekend plan to explore Chinatown
Activity 2: Tweet your experience at the photobook workshop you are attending this weekend
Here is an activity from a course I am facilitating for six young Thai Paralympians, who are scheduled to travel to the USA (for the first time in their lives) to participate in a training camp. Three of them can’t read English, so you could say they are almost absolute beginners.
Activity 3: Introduce your role model
Of course, I won’t be able to tick all ‘Yeses’ for all my activities but the list serves as a guide in planning ‘meaningful‘ activities.
These justifications reflect my teaching methodology and personal value system. In other words, each of us could create our own checklist. What would you include in yours?
Stevick, E.W. (1976) Memory, Meaning and Method: Some Psychological Perspectives on Language Learning, Boston: Heinle & Heinle
Arnold. J. and Murphey, T. (2013) Meaningful Action: Earl Stevick’s influence on language teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Williams, M. (1994) ‘Motivation in foreign and second language learning: an interactive perspective’, Educational and Child Psychology, 11: 77-84
Murphey, T. (1998) Language Hungry, Tokyo: MacMillan LanguageHouse. New end (2006) Innsbruck: Helbling Languages
Raths, J. (1971) ‘Teaching without specific objectives’, Educational Leadership, 28:7, pp. 714-720
Nunan, D. (2013) ‘Chapter 7: Listening to and learning from our learners’, Meaningful Action: Earl Stevick’s influence on language teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
In this post for Rachel’s blog site, I had planned to take the Thai proficiency test at the end of last year, which I did last month, and the scores are out. Please don’t get fooled by the word ‘advanced’ on the score card, the CEFR equivalent would be a B2/B2+.
If you are interested to know more about The Chulalongkorn University Proficiency Test of Thai as a Foreign Language (CU-TFL) please click here. The test is considered a benchmark among non-native Thai learners, and I remember reading this comment on Tod Daniel’s (an American, expert in Thai) blogpost on the test ‘the most stressful… hours …spent during my entire Thai learning journey’.
As you may have noticed on my score card, the test offers you flexibility of testing one or more skills at a time. I have decided to take the speaking and listening skills’ test on 26 May 2022, and once again, I am targeting an ‘advanced’ score. My scores aren’t the best, but taking the test partially has encouraged me to reflect on planning the IELTS prep-course that we offer, and a couple of other takeaways.
A couple of takeaways from the test
Time-management and decision making skills
Two of the most important skills in a high stake test, which might not find a spot in a test-prep course curriculum. To give you an example, while doing the reading test, I knew right from the start, I won’t be able to attempt 50 questions reading six passages of increasing intensity. I had to be aware of how much time I could expend on one question and one passage, keeping their level of difficulty in mind. Once I had ascertained that, I had to decide which passage to skip (and guess the answers). For that I had to detail read the first para and skim read the rest to check if the text is within my range of comprehension. The decision to continue reading or skip the passage could have played a vital role in getting an ‘advanced’ score.
Interestingly, during a feedback session post a mock IELTS reading test, one of my learners had mentioned doing something similar. She had decided to skip the second passage on the test, and come back to it later if time permits. Upon investigating further, she backed her decision with two reasons. First, awareness of her own linguistic abilities and the complexity of the text as well as the questions. Second, and importantly, she had mentally calculated the higher probability of getting questions in the third passage correct.
Comprehension before sub-skills
From a high stake test with multiple tricky choices’ questions’ perspective, I find skimming ineffective if I don’t comprehend the text almost entirely; not every word. The argument that we don’t need to understand the entire text, just skim and get the overall idea doesn’t work, in my opinion, in a test scenario. I tried skim reading a challenging text during the Thai test, but it didn’t help me attempt any of the questions because I had limited understanding of the text (probably 50%) and unfortunately, there weren’t any explicit answer questions (match the words in the question sentence and the text, et voilà). All the questions had paraphrased and very close options, which made it almost impossible to guess the correct answer, so eventually, I played odd-even-odd-even-even-odd…..…
I can draw a parallel withIELTS reading texts. A learner might understand the main topic and also probably know what each para is about but unless (s)he comprehends majority* of the text, it would be difficult to accurately guess an answer.
*I don’t have any scientific data to write a number but proponents of comprehensible input (CI) would go as high as 95% comprehension.
*BTW, according to Nation and Hu’ 2000 paper, the vast majority of L2 learners learn very little from a text which is less than 95 % comprehensible without support.
Planning to bits
It is extremely crucial to have the journey to the destination planned and broken down into small bits; daily, weekly, monthly and final goal(s). My poor writing scores highlight the little amount of time I spent planning and practicing for the test.This urged me to reflect and update our IELTS-prep course structure.
How I would organise our IELTS-prep (Academic) course
Time-frame: 8 weeks
At weekends, learners:
listen to podcasts
write and/or audio record a summary and/or opinion on the topic of the podcast
complete activities designed to mitigate areas(s) of concern
participate in group calls with other learners
watch English films and/or series of their choice
if need arises, take extra live session(s) to clarify grammar topics
Most of the factual input, feedback, activities to mitigate area(s) of concern, mock tests are to be done asynchronously as a lead-up or follow-up to the live sessions.
Please feel free to share any feedback you may have to improve the plan 🙂
Marcella Hu Hsueh-chao and Paul Nation, 2000, Unknown Vocabulary Density and Reading comprehension, LALS, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand