Category Archives: Teacher education and development

Collaboration in the classroom: a learner’s road to success

Blog banner_Collaboration in the Classroom

Author: Ashlesha Rodrigues Dsouza

‘I speak, you listen!  I order, you obey!’ Teaching has come a long way from this doctrine, and teaching styles have changed immensely. All for good reason. We speak now of collaboration and interactive learning. We speak of 21st century skills and preparing learners for the future—building social skills, developing effective communication, critical thinking, and problem solving. It is all very exciting, but what does this really mean for our students in the Indian context? How do we hone these skills in our language classrooms?

A good start is ‘Collaboration’. Empowering our learners with the skills essential to work together. In the words of Henry Ford above ‘If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.’

Collaboration involves deciding goals together with others, sharing responsibilities, and working together to achieve more than could be achieved by an individual on their own. (Barfield, 2016)

Where do we start?

There are a variety of strategies to introduce collaborative learning experiences in the classroom. The simplest of these being whole-class discussions, group work and pair work. Students work together, share different perspectives, and listen to the thoughts and opinions of their peers. All of these processes ‘discussion, clarification, and evaluation of other’s ideas’ facilitate learning.

Project-based learning is another interesting way to engage students in collaborative learning. Besides being a welcome break from the usual classroom routine, project work also promotes autonomous learning. It provides students’ with the opportunity to think out of the box and devise solutions to real-world problems.

With the dawn of the digital age, several apps and websites have surfaced to help students collaborate on digital platforms inside and outside the classroom. Padlet is great for collaborative brainstorming; Edmodo is a good learning management platform where students can continue classroom discussions, download handouts, and submit assignments. Google Drive lets you edit and share documents and spreadsheets online and is a useful tool for student collaboration.

Easier said than done!

Although collaboration is effective for student learning, we cannot simply put students into groups and pairs and expect them to work productively.  Students will only be able to work together if they have learned how to do so. They also need the relevant oracy skills to express themselves during the activity. (Littleton and Mercer, 2013)

More often than not, stronger learners take the lead during collaborative tasks and steer the discussion as they deem fit. Weaker learners may shy away from sharing or simply nod in agreement, defeating the purpose of a collaborative activity.

How do we work our way around these challenges? It all boils down to effective set up.

Get it right

Setting up the task appropriately is key to the success of collaborative work.

  1. Discuss objectives: We need to tell students why they are being asked to work together and convince them of the value and benefits of collaborative work for learning.
  2. Set ground rules: Get the students to put together a set of rules that they need to follow during collaborative activities, e.g. Everyone must share, listening is key, respect everyone’s opinions, agree/disagree politely.
  3. Establish goals: State a clear aim for each collaborative task and let students know what they need to achieve together within a given time frame.
  4. Create moderately sized groups: A group of 4-5 students is ideal for active participation.
  5. Introduce talking points: Give students specific points for discussion and encourage exploratory talk around these points.
  6. Monitor carefully: Monitoring is key to ensure students are on-task and engaged. It is essential to check that there is a positive learning environment.

Moreover, we as teachers must model what we expect in a collaborative classroom—listening patiently, paraphrasing appropriately, questioning politely, and artfully negotiating. The way we talk to our students has a strong influence on their attitude and conduct during group work.

Encourage exploratory talk in class where students critically but constructively discuss ideas. Value diversity, build trust, promote open communication, and watch these trickle down to your students during collaborative tasks. More importantly, praise and appreciate students’ efforts at every step of the way to bolster this positive learning environment.

Don’t take our word for it

Lev Vygotsky (1978) stated that cognitive development stems from social interactions within the zone of proximal development (See figure below). In simple terms, two heads are better than one! According to Vygotsky, the Zone of Proximal Development is the area where the most sensitive instruction or guidance should be given. This will allow the child to develop higher order thinking skills that they can then use on their own. Interaction with peers is said to be an effective way of developing skills and strategies, and Vygotsky recommends that teachers use cooperative learning exercises in order that less competent children develop with help from more skilful peers.

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Figure: Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

There is a marked difference between what a child can achieve independently and what a child can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner. Students are said to learn better through guided learning as they co-construct knowledge with their peers in pairs or groups.

Why not try it out and see the difference in your classroom? Empower your students to collaborate and simultaneously hone their life skills—critical thinking, questioning, negotiating, problem-solving, compromising, and decision making. Get them up and ready to face the world!

Useful links:

Core skills – how they apply to real life and why they are essential for students.

https://connecting-classrooms.britishcouncil.org/develop-skills/online-courses/introduction-core-skills

Exploring Creativity and Imagination in the classroom – learning app

www.britishcouncil.in/teach/resources-for-teachers/exploring-creativity-imagination-game

Grouping techniques

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/grouping-students

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/group-work-v-whole-class-activities

Project-based learning techniques

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/tbl-pbl-two-learner-centred-approaches

Bibliography:

Barfield, Andy (2016) Collaboration, ELT Journal, 70 (2), 222–224

Littleton, Karen and Mercer, Neil (2013). Interthinking: Putting Talk to Work. London: Routledge.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Assessment for learning in action in the classroom

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Author: Michelle Bambawale

Formative assessment or assessment for learning is a familiar term in education. Most teachers know the theory but struggle with the practice. I felt the same, till I took this Assessment for Learning Masters’ class, and experienced it firsthand.

For the first class, we had to read an article (Black, 2009) on formative assessment and were encouraged to posit our own theory. I did my homework, thought I had understood the concept and was ready for the teacher to explain it to us in class. Much to my surprise, she put us in groups and told us to discuss our ideas with each other, compare notes and see if we agreed or disagreed. I did not want to listen to what my peers thought! I just wanted to listen to what the teacher had to say. I wasn’t ready for either autonomy or peer learning.

Activating students as instructional resources for one another and activating students as owners of their own learning

I tried to ask the teacher questions directly, she guided me through the process of taking control of my own learning and peer learning, she asked questions like: ’What does your group think?’, ’Have you asked your peers?’ ’What do you think?’ I was required to redirect my attention to the group and construct my own learning based on the reading and the discussion. I felt very frustrated after this first class and hoped things would change, and we would be back to a lecture format. They did not.

For the next class, the reading was quite challenging, hence I really hoped the teacher would explain, it was on the power of feedback (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). She used a jigsaw reading in the classroom for us to discuss and understand the article. Left with no option and no teacher teaching, I decided to focus and slowly realised that I was learning from my peers.

Eliciting evidence of learners’ achievement

After about four classes, we were given an assignment to write a short paper on what we thought assessment for learning was and how we could use it. I had to push myself to reflect on the class and analyse the ideas and strategies used and how they had been effective. I was beginning to develop my own ideas, beliefs and theory on assessment for learning. I was learning from my peers and through self-reflection.

Providing feedback that moves learning forward

Over the course we worked on goal setting using the following steps:

  1. Setting personal goals: this was an individual activity as everyone was at a different place in their learning and also had different goals for themselves.
  2. Finding strategies to reach our goals: for me, these included reading related research papers, watching videos and discussing with my peers.
  3. Providing support: the teacher used several techniques like wait time, pair and share, and exit slips.
  4. Providing feedback which was timely, focused and precise and deepening learning by asking probing questions and suggesting readings.
  5. Reflecting on progress to develop self-assessment skills.

On reflection, I realised our teacher had used all the strategies for formative assessment in action in the classroom and I had learnt them through experience. I encourage you to do the same: reflect on your own teaching practice and try these strategies in your classroom. Empowering learners to take control of their own learning will enable them to do better and feel better about their own learning, just like I did!

Useful links:

Some ideas for self and peer assessment in the language classroom www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/jvl-narasimha-rao/self-assessment-peer-assessment

Easy assessment for learning ideas you can use

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/assessment-learning-activities-0

More ideas on Assessment for Learning

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/assessment-learning

Read how to run a jigsaw reading in your English classroom www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/jigsaw-reading

Watch Dylan Wiliam elaborate on the five strategies discussed here in this blog, from his book Embedded Formative Assessment

www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3HRvFsZHoo

Read Black and Wiliam’s original research paper ’Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment‘ to understand how assessment for learning can work in the classroom.

www.rdc.udel.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/InsideBlackBox.pdf

Bibliography:

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Solution Tree Press. Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007, March). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112.

Black, P. a. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability (formerly: Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education).

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Conferences for professional development

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Authors: Amy Lightfoot, Adi Rajan and Deepali Dharmaraj

Conferences are a great way to collaborate, learn from peers and meet colleagues from across the globe. It is also an opportunity to present your own research and learning thus sharing with others. IATEFL (the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) conference, held annually, is one such example that brings teachers from across the globe together. It’s a key event in the professional development calendars of many teaching professionals and an opportunity to attend or present at the IATEFL conference can be a significant career milestone.

This year’s conference was held in Liverpool in the first week of April and had over 500 talks, workshops and sessions over a four-day period. Around 3000 delegates from over 100 countries met and shared ideas through these scheduled sessions as well as social events such as quizzes and pecha kucha presentations organised in the evenings. A popular exhibition takes place alongside the conference, giving delegates an opportunity to engage with ELT publications and institutions. The exhibition is also the venue for the IATEFL Careers Fair and a series of pop-up presentations on topics ranging from becoming a freelancer to presenting at IATEFL for the first time.

There has been a clear evolution in the IATEFL conference in the last decade, becoming more diverse and inclusive. This is evidenced by the election of the association’s first president from Africa – Dr Harry Kuchah Kuchah from Cameroon. As he recently posted on Twitter, ‘IATEFL is increasingly inclusive to teachers working in the global south [and this] is something to celebrate. I’m definitely interested in pushing this on because it’s been long overdue and very few thought it was a problem’.

This inclusivity has two key effects: first, it enables teachers from diverse contexts to benefit from the professional development on offer at the conference and through its Special Interest Groups. Second, it provides opportunities for teachers to network with peers from around the world, potentially establishing collaboration between their students as well.

We’d like to recommend some talks from the conference if you weren’t able to attend:

Teacher empowerment: leaving the twilight zone by Paula Rebolledo

This insightful plenary drew on research from general education literature to demonstrate a link between empowered teachers, effective teaching and learning outcomes. Rebolledo explored six dimensions that play a role in empowerment: impact, professional growth, autonomy, self-efficacy, status and decision making. Within this framework, she reiterated the importance of teachers making their own decisions about their professional development and encouraged institutions and associations to go beyond talking about empowerment, to practising it in meaningful ways.

British Council: Is English teaching inclusive? Do we practise what we preach?

Inclusion was one of the recurring themes at the conference this year and the British Council’s signature event explored an integrated approach to inclusive practices through policy, educational culture and classroom practice. The speakers at this event included Maha Khochen-Bagshaw, Varinder Unlu, Fiona Robertson and David Crabtree who presented best practices from different contexts and prompted an engaging participatory discussion with the audience on the possibilities and challenges of adopting inclusive practices.

Developing teachers and enabling reform and internationalisation in higher education

ocus on teacher development has always been an important part of the IATEFL conference and this year was no different. Of interest to professionals who work in teacher education was a talk by Zhanna Sevastianova from the British Council in Ukraine and Simon Borg who explored findings from a five-year teacher development programme at 32 Ukrainian universities. They identified practical ways of enhancing the teaching of English as a Medium Instruction (EMI) and English for Specific Purposes (ESP) at the tertiary level.

Future directions in ELT: where are we headed?

Finally, the concluding plenary featured an Indian speaker, Amol Padwad. This talk was by a panel of speakers from different contexts and areas of expertise and Dr Padwad was joined by Mercedes Viola who specialises in inclusive practices, Katherine Bilsborough who is a materials writer and Evan Frendo who is one of the joint coordinators of the IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group. These four speakers looked at the future of ELT from very different perspectives. Dr Padwad spoke about the English teacher of the future, suggesting he or she would still be a human being and probably a non-native speaker who is multi-skilled and navigates technology effectively.

Useful links

 

Plantation Primary photo (002)Photo: The South Asia IATEFL delegation visits Plantation Primary

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The criticality of critical thinking in the classroom

written by Girish Mulani and Soumen Das Choudhury, Freelance Training Consultants, British Council 

Why do we have brakes in a car? Take a moment and try to answer the question before you read further.

Here are some answers from a class of teenagers:
To stop the car.
To slow it down.
To prevent accidents.

Were these some of your answers? All of them are correct but one may surprise you: So that you can drive fast!

When explored further, this unusual answer responds to another question: What is the real purpose of a car: to drive it or to stop it? And that’s how critical thinking works.

Identified as a 21st century skill, critical thinking can be defined as the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you. [1] In other words, it is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analysing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. [2]

Often closely associated with problem solving, these skills promote self-directed thinking that produces new and innovative ideas and that solves problems. They are also about reflecting critically on learning experiences and processes, and about making effective decisions. [2]

The process of critical thinking

Critical thinking can be divided into seven stages:
1. Formulate the question clearly and precisely.
2. Identify the purpose, reasons, goals and objectives of what needs doing or answering.
3. Gather information, facts, data, evidence, experiences about the problem from various sources.
4. It’s also a good idea to get different points of view.
5. Distinguish between facts and assumptions / opinions.
6. Analyse and try to find similarities between similar incidents in the past.
7. Conclude and decide on the actions to be taken or opinion to be formed

Critical thinking in the classroom

Very often as teachers, we feel the pressure to know all the answers and to have all the solutions. However, in our experience of being teachers and teacher educators, this has been the most liberating aspect of our practice. When we focus on developing the curiosity of learners to explore and question, it’s not up to us to have all the answers – it’s up to them! We delivered a workshop at the recent ELTAI conference where we demonstrated just how this could be done. Using ‘fake news’ as our topic, we showed teachers how simple learner training can help young people today discern the reliability of all the information that is thrown at them on a daily basis.

These questions can help teachers be more purposeful in promoting critical thinking with their learners:

  • How am I directing learners in the classrooms to think beyond the obvious?
  • What should I do to hone their skills to think beyond the textbook?
  • How can I adapt the syllabus to promote critical thinking?
  • And am I, in fact, asking questions to make them think at all? If yes, what are those questions?

 Resources

  • Improve your own critical thinking skills by doing free Sudoku puzzles. You can pause, print, clear, modify difficulty level and ask, ‘How am I doing?’ in the middle of the puzzle.
  • Encourage your learners to create their own stories based on current events or topics using StoryboardThat.
  • The Critical Thinking Workbook, available as a free download, helps you and your students develop mindful communication and problem-solving skills with exciting games and activities. As a paid support, there is also a teacher’s workbook.
  • For teachers, watch this sample lesson on encouraging critical thinking with the help of the map of the world.
  • For a paid course, Business Result, published by Oxford University Press, comes with interesting case studies at the end of each unit. Except for beginners, there is  one for each level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
  • Preparing charts on a given topic, using song lyrics for subjective interpretation, giving project work, analysing simple situations and showcasing practical aspects of them, brainstorming ideas, reflecting at the end of a lesson on what was learnt and more importantly how it was learnt are some of the ways to promote critical thinking in the classroom.  
  • Watch this creative lesson, Learning to be a superhero, which develops critical thinking.  

 Additional references:

[1] dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/critical-thinking

[2] The Foundation for Critical Thinking at www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766. Last accessed on 21 November 2018.

[2] schoolsonline.britishcouncil.org/international-learning/core-skills Last accessed on 21 November 2018.

 

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Technology for teachers: from awareness to integration

By Adi Rajan, Project Coordinator, British Council, India

How do you feel about using technology for teaching and your professional development? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Does it depend what day, which learners, what technology it is?

For those of us who are digital immigrants, integrating information and communication technology (ICT) into our teaching practice and using technology for our own professional development can seem either an impossible challenge or perhaps a distraction from ‘real teaching’. This is especially true when we are confronted with the skills our students, who are often digital natives, demonstrate with new technology, along with what might seem to be an unhealthy obsession with screens. On the other hand, using technology offers exciting opportunities to improve our teaching and new routes to professional development.

The digital landscape we find ourselves in is vast. Where do we start and what path should we follow to make the process of developing ourselves with technology manageable and meaningful within our teaching contexts? The professional practice of ‘Integrating ICT’ on the British Council’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Framework for teachers gives us a handy map for exploring this digital world across four different stages of development.

1.       Awareness

Setting off on a digital journey requires us to develop an awareness of what’s out there. The Internet is full of resources for professional development and classroom teaching. From blogs to e-books and webinars to online courses, you should be able to find something that meets your specific needs.

2.       Understanding

Before launching into active participation, it’s a good idea to observe interactions and gradually develop an understanding of how communication takes place in these forums. Another way of building your digital confidence is through participation in online conferences. These are hosted regularly by the British Council and teaching associations including IATEFL, OLLReN and the Virtual Round Table.

You can also sign up for a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) – for example on the FutureLearn platform – and join thousands who are learning online in a flexible but collaborative way. If you’re looking for a more personal experience, enroll in an e-moderated course. These are like MOOCs but tend to be on a smaller scale with more opportunities for completing assignments and getting feedback from a tutor. Examples include the British Council’s tutored courses on special educational needs and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).

3.       Engagement

Now it’s time to start producing your own digital content. For instance, if you’ve been reading and becoming inspired by blogs written by other teachers, why not start your own teaching blog? My own experience with writing an ELT blog  has been extremely enriching. Blogging has made me a more reflective teacher and given me opportunities to build deep connections with teachers from around the world.

You can also use online tools to design a presentation or document on a topic that interests you or explores some insights from the classroom. To make this a richer experience, you could work with peers using an online collaborative tool. The next step is sharing this work with colleagues on social media which will enable you to contribute productively to online communities of practice.

4.       Integration

Finally, you are ready to showcase your digital experiences and help other teachers complete their development journey. Identify opportunities for giving a webinar presentation or try to organise your own. This will help you consolidate a range of technology-enabled skills and provide valuable insights to others. You can also become more actively involved by coordinating and organising events such as hosting a Twitter chat or a webinar.

The digital world that perhaps seemed so unfamiliar at first is that one that you will hopefully come to see as a source of comfort and strength, as you draw on the global connections you build to overcome challenges and achieve your professional development goals. In time, you may even begin to recognise that this technology-driven world that you initially felt you didn’t belong to, was in fact yours all along!

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Try our new Technology for Teachers series which includes easy-to-use two-page guides some tools that explored in this blog. We’ll be sharing new guides every week over the next couple of months.


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“Teaching hardly matters, learning does”

Written by Amy Lightfoot – Assistant Director (Academic), Schools, English and Skills  

I’ve shamelessly stolen the title of this blog from Jim Scrivener, whose presentation I attended at the recent IATEFL* conference in Brighton. I’m not sure I entirely agree – good teaching clearly supports effective learning – but the sentiment interests me, not least because it seems to sum up one of the emerging themes of the conference this year: English language teachers need to remember what is truly important about the work that we do and not let ourselves get distracted by all the various trappings of the multi-million dollar industry that has grown up around ELT**.

In my experience, most conferences can be boiled down into a few key messages for participants to take away. I don’t think these are always planned or intentional – although the existence of a conference theme can help give them some direction – but instead the current collective consciousness of the profession often seems to emerge during the course of the event. Of course, these are subjective to a large extent, but conversations with others suggest at least some commonality. These themes aren’t shaped only by fads or trends within the profession, but also by the way the world is changing around us. Technology is an obvious example – many recent conferences have reflected on (and usually championed) the integration of technology into our teaching. But this year at IATEFL it was interesting to note people questioning the its role. As its use gathers pace, do we need to consider going back to basics and ensure that we are controlling the use of digital tools, rather than the other way round?

Similarly, there were questions raised around the publishing industry and whether it has lost sight of its true purpose. According to the hugely popular plenary speaker Dorothy Zemach, many publishers are focusing too much on making money and retaining their market share rather than ensuring the quality of their products and capitalising on the creativity of experienced ELT writers. She called upon teachers to be more discerning in their choice of course book and to question the motives when offered multiple wraparound elements for free which might actually just distract from effective classroom teaching and learning. Dorothy also questioned whether a one size fits all global approach to product development was really helpful, beyond the reduction in costs this provides for publishers. This was highlighted again in Barry O’Sullivan’s entertaining plenary, where he called for assessments to be made more localised and personalised to individual needs and context.

Brita Fernandez Schmidt from Women for Women International had a strong message for delegates about the purpose and power of English and education more generally: women supported by this organisation in countries including Nigeria, Iraq and Afghanistan have escaped poverty, violence and damaging ingrained social norms as a result of educational interventions. English has considerable power to enable positive change by generating hope and opportunity for a better life and as English language teachers we have the capacity to be agents of that change. To paraphrase Spider-Man, we mustn’t forget the great responsibility that comes with that power.

To return to Jim Scrivener’s statement, it is true that learning matters most of all, not only for our students but also for teachers. Attending conferences supports teacher learning – and hopefully as a result of that, their learners – not just because of the content and ideas shared in each session but also the learning that takes place on the sidelines. Networking with colleagues and meeting new ones is key, as is critically reflecting on the messages and themes that bubble under the surface, taking shape only as the conference develops.

What conferences are you attending this year? Our new conference calendar might help you to decide. If you know of others we should include, please let us know.

A selection of the best sessions from IATEFL 2018 are available to view online here.

Representatives from British Council India’s delegation to IATEFL (L-R): Amy Lightfoot; Nagesh Lohare; Urvi Shah; Radhika Gholkar; Ashok Chavan; Nisar Shaikh.

Representatives from British Council India’s delegation to IATEFL (L-R): Amy Lightfoot; Nagesh Lohare; Urvi Shah; Radhika Gholkar; Ashok Chavan; Nisar Shaikh.

*IATEFL: International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language

**ELT: English language teaching

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English and Employability Skills for Higher Education Students in Andhra Pradesh

How we equipped 1800+ teachers to deliver the learner programme on the Andhra Pradesh Higher Education English Communication Skills Project.

The ten-day teacher training programme was delivered over three phases with 112 Master Trainers training more than 1800 teachers.

The training aimed to equip teachers with the required facilitation skills so that they can deliver a blended learner course focusing on employability skills and based around LearnEnglish Select effectively to the students. The ten-day teacher training programme focused on introducing communicative teaching strategies and methods, learner-centred techniques such as elicitation, collaborative learning activities that develop speaking, reading and writing skills of learners. Another key element of the training was to familiarise the teachers with the learner course materials.

The training capitalised on teachers’ general pedagogic knowledge (such as classroom management skills), and contextual knowledge of students’ social context and integrated teaching demonstrations where the teachers experienced taking part in a lesson using the ideas from the input they had received. The teachers then took part in microteaching where they practised facilitating a lesson using ideas they had been exposed to in the input and practical demonstration sessions. This was then followed by a reflection stage, where the teachers discussed and reflected on ways of using or adapting the ideas from the training into their own classrooms in their own contexts.

Teachers gave extremely positive feedback in the monitoring and evaluation activities conducted during the first two phases of the training. Teachers credited the acquisition of learner-centred methods for the classroom to the training and stated that these are essential to make the classroom more interactive for the students. Teachers also acknowledged that the training had a positive impact on their English ability and microteaching sessions allowed them to practise learner-centred methods and strategies in a no-risk environment and get valuable feedback from their peers and the Master Trainer.

When the teachers were asked about applying learning in the classroom and how they would achieve this, one of the teachers responded:

‘By adopting the strategies, methods and techniques such as reflecting on my own teaching skills and practices, shifting from a teacher-led approach to a learner centred one, reducing teacher talk time, conducting activities including warmers, using instruction checking questions, effective and relevant teaching aids and most of all giving due priority to L-S-R-W skills.’

During observation of training sessions, it seemed that a gradual shift from a traditional approach was taking place. This was evident in teachers’ feedback in focus group discussions as the majority stated that ‘learner-centred activities develop critical thinking skills, communication skills and social skills. They encourage alternative methods of assessments and help students transfer the skills to the real world and promote intrinsic motivation to learn.’

Teachers have now received a wide range of input related to using learner-centred methods in the classroom. We would like to invite teachers to continue building on skills and knowledge acquired in the training and embrace continuing professional development; Please visit https://www.britishcouncil.in/teach/continuing-professional-development for more details.

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A diverse classroom: the ideal laboratory for developing global citizens

Written by Manisha Dak – Academic Manager, Schools, English and Skills (North India)

Indian classrooms are among the most diverse in the world, with students from different cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds. While many teachers find this diversity challenging to deal with, others consider this an opportunity to enable learners to work collaboratively and develop understanding of the world outside their own sphere of existence. The world is a global village, more so since the advent of internet, and the key purpose of education necessarily needs to shift to preparing global citizens who can live in harmony with others.

This was the theme of the 4th International ELT@I conference organised by the Jaipur ELT@I chapter with support from the British Council: English in Multicultural Classrooms – Perspectives, Prospects, Possibilities. The theme immediately struck a chord with me and I’m sure with many other conference attendees as it was an excellent opportunity to explore the unexplored and listen to various perspectives around teaching English in multicultural classrooms.

The conference included plenary talks by eminent speakers and workshops and presentations by enthusiastic professionals. From the idea of teachers taking initiatives to organise themselves and creating opportunities to learn from each other shared by retired Professor Shreesh Chaudhary, to the need for promoting resilience among teachers and learners using mindfulness activities proposed by Dr Bradley Horn, the plenary talks truly reflected the need of the hour. ‘Any group of people that is thrown together will face conflict and difficulties at some point, so what is important is that group members are able to look at that conflict and come back from it to be able to cope with future stressors more effectively, ’ emphasised Dr Horn in his talk.

Another useful way to make the most of potentially conflicting cultures present in the classroom, as suggested by Amy Lightfoot, is by finding ways to ‘celebrate this diversity.’ Why not encourage teachers and learners to draw on the linguistic, socio-economic and cultural diversity and treat it as a resource in the process of English language teaching and learning? This would enable teachers to help deal with growing concerns around erosion of cultures and identities while also being one step forward in the direction of preparing learners to be global citizens.

‘Changing words, changing minds’ from Dr Rajni Badlani’s talk was another highlight of the day. Dr Badlani advocated using and encouraging learners to use more positive words, for example, saying I need to understand more about your culture instead of I don’t understand your culture or I think differently instead of I don’t agree with you can change the way your brain works and the way people respond to one another, leading to more positive outcomes. This was a useful tip not just for the classroom but for day-to-day life as well. After all, despite the old adage ‘sticks and stones…,’ the words we use can have a profound effect on people’s beliefs and attitudes about themselves and others.

The three roles of teachers that emerged from various presentations and workshops in this context were that of an educator, facilitator and learner. The teacher can not only become a source of information about different cultures – both national and international – but also facilitate multicultural interactions and show genuine interest in learning about learners’ cultural backgrounds.

The workshops and presentations left attendees with a greater understanding of the issues relating to multicultural classrooms and a plethora of ideas they could take back to use in their contexts. Careful and deliberate planning and the integration of simple activities can turn the challenge of diversity into a huge advantage and aid the teaching and learning of English, along with other subjects. It’s important for teachers to establish early on that ‘different’ does not equal ‘bad’.

Some of the practical tips to exploit and promote cultural diversity in classrooms include:

  • personalising learning
  • giving equal importance to all learners, regardless of their background
  • adding storybooks from different cultures to the school/class library
  • avoiding stories that include only male or female characters, or stereotypes
  • organising multicultural interactions and sharing through group work and projects
  • being aware of possible cultural conflicts among learners and monitoring them closely to avoid clashes
  • choosing related topics for writing tasks and encouraging peer editing to spread cultural awareness
  • publishing learners’ work as a class magazine, celebrating the diversity in the school
  • conducting a culture quiz at the beginning of the year
  • allowing learners to discuss a speaking task in their first language prior to doing it in English, to build confidence and remove anxiety related to deciding what to talk about.

Overall, the two days spent at the conference led to a lot of sharing and reflection. If the attending teachers can put to use their understanding and ideas gained from the conference effectively in their classrooms, and share these ideas with their colleagues, it is truly possible that classrooms can become ideal laboratories to help learners become global citizens.

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Teachers, research and evidence: a happy marriage?

Written by Amy Lightfoot, Assistant Director – Academic, English for Education Systems, British Council India

Do teachers make enough use of evidence to inform their classroom practice? This was a key underlying theme of the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) conference, held earlier this year in Glasgow. It’s a growing topic of conversation in education circles generally, including English language teaching. Some excellent initiatives are underway to try to promote more informed teaching in the classroom. For example, ELT Research Bites aims to present research findings related to ELT in an accessible and ‘easily digestible’ way. The relatively new Chartered College of Teaching in the UK has made access to the EBSCO research database a cornerstone of teacher and associate membership. The inaugural issue of their journal series focused on impact and evidence. 

But what do we mean when we talk about ‘research’ and ‘evidence’? For some, the word ‘research’ has negative connotations; it might suggest an outsider view on what is taking place on the ground, or it might be assumed to be impenetrable or inaccessible – aimed at other people, not at me. But research in the broadest sense can be defined simply as asking questions and looking for possible answers or explanations. In other words, research is the process through which we look for evidence which can support (or refute) decisions about what to do in the classroom.

Evidence can come from a wide range of sources. These include external sources considered to be particularly trustworthy, such as peer-reviewed academic journals, but arguably just as useful are reflections from fellow teachers on what seems to be working (or not) in their classrooms perhaps via blogs or shared more informally. With all of this externally-sourced evidence, John Hattie suggests that the individual teacher still needs to be the final judge of its relevance and applicability to their own context. What works (or doesn’t) for one individual or group of individuals is never fully guaranteed to work for another when we’re talking about the social sciences, regardless of how robust the data is.

With this in mind, there is a growing movement within education communities around the world to encourage teachers to undertake research for themselves, within their own classroom settings. Again, in its simplest form this involves the framing of questions (or a question) and seeking answers. This approach is being actively promoted through a network of professionals working in English language teaching who have established the International Festival of Teacher Research in ELT. This aims to bring together details of events happening around the world and highlight the benefits of and approaches to teachers undertaking research. So far, affiliated events have been held in Turkey, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, online through the TESOL Electronic Village and in India, with over 1,500 participating education professionals globally.

Most recently, the All India Network of English Teachers organised a two day conference in Nagpur, central India, to provide a platform for teachers across the country to share the results of their small scale, classroom-based research. A key feature of the event was a series of presentations by teachers and teacher educators who have been participating as mentors in British Council India’s Aptis Action Research Mentoring Scheme (AARMS). AARMS seeks to develop a network of 14 mentors, working directly with two of the leaders in the ELT teacher research field – Dr Richard Smith from the University of Warwick and Dr Amol Padwad of AINET. The mentors work with more than 80 teachers across India to develop their skills in conducting relevant, classroom-based research related to English language teaching. This Nagpur conference was closely followed by a four day workshop at Gauhati University, also supported by the British Council and the IATEFL Teacher Development SIG, with Dr Smith and Dr Padwad introducing the principles and practices of exploratory action research to 30 teachers and teacher educators.

The benefits of classroom research shared through these conference events and from those involved in the AARMS scheme are clear. External research is all very well, but teachers’ reflecting on their own practice, setting their own research questions and actively seeking the answers is the surest way to improve classroom teaching in a way that is contextualised to and appropriate for individual learners’ needs. Martyn Hammersley from The Open University has talked about ‘the privileging of research evidence over evidence from other sources, especially professional experience’: there is no doubt that the former is important, but teachers need to take ownership of the research process and actively find evidence that applies directly to their own classroom.

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Explorations: Teaching and Learning English in India

India has a long tradition of educational research dating back to the pre-independence period which has included the foundation and development of national and state agencies including the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERT). However, as David Graddol (2010: 98), for example, has pointed out, the results of this research have not always reached the wider world and India may have been under-represented in the international academic community. British Council India places considerable emphasis on encouraging and supporting educational research and a key strand of that work, for a number of years, was the English Language Teaching Partnerships (ELTReP) Award programme.

The ELTRePs programme ran from 2012 to 2016, with the aim of facilitating high quality, innovative research to benefit the learning and teaching of English in India and to improve the access of ELT policy makers and professionals from India, the United Kingdom and the global ELT community to that research. Researchers on this programme have been supported in undertaking explorations in a wide range of contexts. All writers are practitioners in the field of English language teaching and learning in India, whether teachers, lecturers, educational department personnel or in other roles that involve day-to-day contact with the teaching and learning of English.

Our new publication series Explorations: Teaching and Learning English in India brings together thirty three papers which are describe the research undertaken, and present findings and recommendations which we hope will be of benefit to a wider audience. The papers are presented in a series of eleven issues, each containing three papers and each addressing one of the professional practices detailed in the British Council framework for continuing professional development. Topics include a focus on understanding learners, managing resources and the use of information technology, assessing learners, taking responsibility for continuing professional development and using inclusive and multilingual approaches. Each paper reflects the creativity, detailed awareness of context and practical suggestions of the wide range of writers, from different backgrounds and working in different situations. They present results which in each case are innovative and thought-provoking. The papers deal in different ways with the teaching and learning of English in India today and offer suggestions on how to meet these challenges.

Twenty-two of the papers have been edited by Professor Brian Tomlinson, Honorary Visiting Professor, University of Liverpool, TESOL Professor, Anaheim University. A further eleven papers were edited by Andy Keedwell, Senior Academic Manager, British Council India. Both editors worked in collaboration with the writers themselves.

Issue 1 looks at the professional practice of understanding learners and in particular the needs of students, especially for future employability. Barasha Borah makes suggestions on how a more communicative, task-based approach can be used to develop students’ speaking skills for students in secondary schools. Seemita Mohanty looks at ways in which the motivation and self-confidence of young people can be increased. Sutapa Chakravarty investigates how a range of multiple intelligences can be addressed inside and outside the primary school.

We hope you enjoy Explorations: Teaching and Learning English in India Issue 1 and find it helpful for the context you work in.

Issue 2 will be released in August 2017.

Reference:
Graddol, D. (2010) English next India: the future of English in India. London: British Council.

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