Category Archives: Teacher education and development

#ELTHeroes interview – Atanu

Our next ELT hero is Atanu Bhattacharya – a professor of English with 16 years of teaching experience and a special interest in the use of technology in teaching. Atanu has been looking at mobile literacy practices in language education and is currently working on a book project focusing on ICT and Language Teaching. He currently works with the Centre for English Studies, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar.

 Atanu_1

1. Tell us a little about your career in English language teaching (ELT).

I started my ELT career at H M Patel Institute of English in Anand accidentally in 1988. I had taught before that in Delhi and in Arunachal Pradesh. However, the earlier forays were mostly in literature. It was at H M Patel Institute that I encountered ELT in full force for the first time. Over the years, I picked up the basic principles and methods and started teaching courses that dealt with ELT, though right from the beginning, I was interested in technology and how it could be channelled for ELT pedagogy. In 2005-06, I visited the University of Warwick as a Hornby scholar and did a course in ELT and Multimedia. That set the course for my interest in technology and ELT. During these 16 odd years, I have thus been variously engaged in material production, testing and evaluation, and garnering the resources of web-based platforms/tools in English language teaching.

2. What are the main things to consider when a teacher is planning to use ICT for the first time in his or her lessons?

I think four things are essential and they can be put into four simple wh- forms:

What: Which part of the curriculum am I going to use ICT in (if it is curriculum based)? Or, which part of the curriculum am I going to supplement with ICT? In my experience, within the Indian testing and evaluation pattern, it is always good to keep the curriculum in mind while designing ICT-based activities. In other words, carefully thinking about what ICT activities I am going to integrate within the ambit of the curriculum is important.

How: How am I going to integrate it? Will this be a part of my evaluation? Will this be blended (face to face classroom interaction along with ICT-enabled activities) or is it going to be ‘standalone’ (for example, language lab based where students are engaged in self-study)? These are questions that are essential to ask when planning to use ICT.

When: At what point of time do I need to integrate ICT? This is crucial in some contexts especially in low resource / large, heterogeneous classrooms. For instance, if I need to test domain knowledge of the students, I can quickly set up a quiz on Hot Potatoes or Flubaroo which the students can access and use. If I am thinking of a longer intervention, I may have to think of other strategies.

Why: This is the most crucial aspect. I need to have a rationale for the use of ICT. For instance, I do not need to use ICT if the same goals may be achieved in a face-to-face classroom or without the use of technology. As a teacher, therefore, I need to make a conscious decision about the gaps that may be filled through ICT. Or, for that matter, how ICT can extend the goals of my teaching and the learning potential of my learners.

3. Does using ICT actually help improve learning in the classroom? How do you know?

The evidence on this is still trickling in and the answer may not be categorically ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A lot of research claims that this does so, while large-scale studies across various contexts have shown that there may not be a direct correlation between ICT-use and learning. However, there seems to be a consensus, more or less, across most studies in this area: ICT seems to have extended the learning capabilities of the students.

My own experience of ICT with my students has been extremely positive, though, as I have said in the Indian context, the use of ICT needs to be mapped with testing and evaluation since that seems to be a controlling factor in most schools and colleges. I would also suggest that small baby steps are more helpful. Large scale changes in the curricular framework with the introduction of ICT may not be very productive as compared to slow but steady introduction in institutions.

4. How can we convince head teachers, parents and officials on the benefits of using technology in the classroom?

Possibly by demonstrating the use of ICT. As I have said before, starting a small experiment in the institution (ideally in a collaborative framework between teachers), integrating ICT with the ‘regular’ classroom teaching, could be a great starting point. For example, starting a WebQuest with students across, let’s say science, English and social science, on a given topic may be a great way to start off ICT use. It would even be better if the teachers develop it within a small research framework and write up a report/paper that could be published on a blog/e-journal/school/college magazine. That would not only show that ICT is ‘doable’ but also ‘researchable’.

5. What are the benefits of using technology in the classroom?

Firstly, it extends learning beyond the classroom. There are many mobile-based platforms and social networking sites which can do this.

Secondly, technology is all around us. In all probability, our students would have access to some sort of technology either at home or at school. ICT use in the classroom thus reduces the distance between the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ bringing in the world within the classroom.

Thirdly, I think it is sometimes wrongly assumed that ICT use would always mean using a gadget or some cutting-edge device in the classroom. One of the features of today’s ICT is what is known as, ‘information overload’. Thus, bringing ICT in the classroom does not always mean ‘using’ ICT but how to critically deal with it. This definitely helps in critical thinking skills. No one can deny the fact that this can be best used in a world of internet information with more than one million sites available for every word that you type in!

Finally, one of the key things in today’s world is ‘learning to learn’. ICT definitely helps students (and teachers) to connect with the digital world outside the classroom. The key in the 21st century, I think, is to learn how to learn. I believe that ICT can help us do that.

6. How can we make sure that learners stay focused during lessons with technology and don’t play with the technology?

‘Playfulness’ is a part of technology. I think, as teachers, we must remember that none of the platforms/applications that our students might be using were originally meant for teaching-learning purposes (except for a few that were specifically designed for educational purposes). They were meant to communicate, network, share, and play with. If, as teachers, we can keep this in mind while designing ICT-enabled tasks for the classroom, then it would go a long way in re-designing our tasks. The question over here is not whether the students would play around with technology. The question, I think, should be whether we can build in this ‘playfulness’ (which was originally the part of technology) within the specific task that I am designing. If my ICT-based task is an exact replica of what I do in a face-to-face situation in the classroom, I am afraid, it may not work too well in ICT. We often see that students are ‘hooked to’ certain sites or networks. The challenge is whether we can build in that ‘hook’ within our tasks.

7. How can teachers with only limited access to technology use ICT in their lessons (e.g. with only one laptop/mobile)?

I will, with due apologies, move into anecdotal biography here. One of my earliest forays into technology was with a desktop computer (with a slow internet connection) in a class of 40. I was teaching them writing skills and wanted to integrate technology within the classroom. This was the year 2001 and Wikipedia had just been launched. Since Wikipedia had an editing function, one of the things that I started doing was downloading articles from Wikipedia and bringing them to the class for editing. The students would then edit the article (adding, deleting or correcting information) in the class, in groups, and then I would show them how to upload it on the respective page (this was really time-consuming in those days). The students definitely felt empowered after a few sessions. Later, I realised that this sense of achievement was not because of the editing that they had done. The editing could have been done in the classroom anyway. The sense of achievement instead came from their work being published on the web, especially when they had never ‘published’ anything before this.

To cut a long story short, technology does not necessarily mean ‘cutting-edge’ or ‘speed’. It largely depends on the wh-s that I have mentioned before and, of course, going the extra mile to integrate it. A word of caution – ICT use does mean devoting extra time since setting up a task can be time consuming. However, one of the flip sides of that is that once it is set up, with minor changes and tweaking, it can be used, over an extended period of time.

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#ELTHeroes interview: Geetha Durairajan

This time in our #ELTHeroes series we’re talking to Geetha Durairajan. Geetha has been working as a Professor at the School of English Language Education, EFL University for more than 25 years. She is well known for her book titled ‘Assessing Learners: A Pedagogic Resource’. Her research interests include pedagogic evaluation and teaching English in grassroots multilingual contexts.

Geetha_2

1.Tell us a little bit about your career in ELT.

Well, what do I say?  From a where and how long perspective, all my teaching has been at CIEFL/EFLU, starting as a lecturer in 1988, moving to a readership in 2004 and a professorship in 2010, all in the same department, (testing and evaluation).  So, I have more than 25 years of experience in teaching a range of courses in ELT. I teach courses at the post graduate and research level. However, I would rather describe my career as an experiential learning curve.  From a teacher who was strict and scared, who only wanted to finish teaching what she had planned to do, I have become someone who has understood that lesson plans have to be made, only to be dropped whenever needed. I have also come to realise that although we may teach the same thing to the whole class, what each student (or teacher in my case) takes away will be very different.

My big ‘moment’ was becoming the editor of a new series of teacher education books for SAARC country teachers titled All About Language Teaching, with Cambridge University Press. I have written the first book in the series. It is called: Assessing Learners: A Pedagogic Resource.

2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘Assessing learning’?

 This would be: 

  • Listen to your students. Listen to not just what they are saying, but metaphorically speaking, to their mental processes, to their struggles in trying to communicate. So how can one listen to students’ thoughts and processes? More often than not, we assess our students when they speak to us in class.  Whenever we do this, instead of just listening to what they are saying, if we pay a little attention to their body language, their facial expressions etc. we will know a lot about who is struggling to make meaning, and who finds it very easy.
  • We do need to read a wee bit and educate ourselves about assessing learning.
  • Evaluate and assess your students from their perspectives.  Ask yourself: Where are they now? How can we help them reach where they need to go?
  • Evaluate and assess with responsibility, like a caregiver or parent, and not as a tester and examiner with power.

3. What, in your opinion, are some of the best ways teachers can provide feedback on assessment to their learners?

I think feedback has to be given using a range of ways.

  • Most importantly, feedback begins with a smile when your students have attempted something difficult.  We often fail to encourage our students and value the attempts made.
  • If assessment refers to evaluating students’ responses (whether tests, or assignments) then feedback could be oral or written.  But we have to make the time to provide systematic and constructive feedback.  We may not have the time to write individual feedback comments on all responses when we have large classes, but we can always take down notes on common problems for our reference and do a feedback class after any test or examination.
  • During teaching and even after homework, if we take down notes and share feedback in class the next day, this informed discussion will go a long way, for it will be focused and pinpointed.

4. What three top tips do you have for teachers that can help them implement continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) of learners successfully in their classrooms?

 The three top tips would be:

  • trust yourself and your judgement of your students.
  • observe them and make notes, whenever you can, of what the learners are good at and what they need more help with.
  • keep the checklists to help you focus on the aspects you need to assess,. Also try and go beyond the checklists. Every day, close your eyes for two minutes, think of your students and ask yourself: Who learnt best today? Who needed most help? Make a note of your answers based on your intuitive feeling. Use these notes to inform your future teaching.

5. If you had a choice to transform one existing practice of assessing learners in Indian school system, what would it be and why?

I would remove the ‘timed one shot writing’ of closed book examinations that make them nothing more than a memory based reproduction or rather vomiting of pre-processed knowledge.  I would make ALL examinations open book so that the shift is from mere reproduction to problem solving.  We can then begin testing and assessing higher order skills.

6. What are some of the challenges that teachers might face while assessing learners in a mixed-ability classroom? How can they overcome these challenges?

The same criteria for assessment may not be applicable to all.  We might find that the same task itself may not be applicable to all.  If this is a teacher-made test, I would advise having a variety of questions with a mix of easy and difficult, but with suggestions to students about who should attempt what.  If it’s a public examination we do not have such a choice. Similarly, when evaluating, if I know my students, I comfortably evaluate using different criteria for different students.  I will not accept basic errors in accuracy from a student who is quite good, but if some student is struggling to write, I might ignore these errors and value the attempt made.

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#ELTHeroes interview: Debbie Candy

Next in our #ELTHeroes series, we’re talking to Debbie Candy – Debbie is a freelance consultant teacher trainer, materials writer and editor based in the UK. She has been writing materials for more than ten years and has been involved in writing most of the British Council’s global teacher training courses.

Debbie Candy

1. Tell us a little bit about your career in English language teaching (ELT).
Believe it or not, 30 years ago I was a pharmaceutical research chemist who wanted to travel the world. That meant doing something that would help me to travel. Teaching seemed the obvious option. I got a job as a science teacher in an international school in Cairo. Teaching science was easy, understanding what the learners were trying to say in English was much more of a challenge. So I took the CertTEFLA and got an evening job at International House teaching children. I loved it and soon did more English teaching than science. On coming back to the UK I became a Director of Studies for Pilgrims language courses working directly with some of the great teacher trainers like Mario Rinvolucri, Bonnie Tsai and Tessa Woodward; all prolific authors. It wasn’t long before I was training teachers and writing materials.

2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘Managing resources’?
I’ve just reread the details on the professional practice Managing resources. It is very comprehensive and every element is useful.

My advice would be to try out as many ideas in as many ways as possible. Always reflect on the effectiveness of the resource. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did it help the learners to achieve the learning outcomes?
  • Was the effort put in worth it?
  • Was the way I used the resource the best or should I adapt my methodology?
  • Can I use it again, as it is, or slightly adapted?

Make sure that you make notes on the resource for next time. It might be a while before you use it again.

3. Given that teachers already have plenty to do, what top tips would you give teachers to help them to manage/create resources easily?
When we are new to teaching, I think we feel the pressure to have lots of resources for which we then spend too much time preparing. I remember those days of cutting and pasting pieces of paper well into the wee hours of the night. I do not have any of those resources now. However, all the basic ideas are in my head and I can draw on them to help me in the classroom at a moment’s notice.

My main tips would be:

  • start small and work your way up
  • reflect on everything you do, then keep the materials and use them again in a  different way
  • do not spend more time making the resource than you will use it in class.

Also … don’t reinvent the wheel! If you have something then adapt it rather than make a new one.

4. What suggestions do you have for teachers working in challenging situations where there are few or no resources?
Make full use of your most important resource: your learners. They can become the resource makers or the resource collectors in your classroom. The king of using learners to produce resources is Jon Taylor. He wrote a book called The Minimax Teacher published by Delta Publishing. Minimax stands for ‘Minimum preparation for maximum learning.’

Ask your learners to:

  • bring items in that you can build lessons around; a family photo, a treasured object or a common household item. These can all be used as the basis for stories, poems and presentations.
  • collect newspapers, magazines, recyclable materials and put them in a big box in your classroom. You can make puppets, masks, big books and other crafts that will generate an infinite amount of stories and dialogues.
  • draw or write something ready to use in the next lesson.

5. In what ways can teachers use the same resources for mixed-ability classes rather than creating resources for each level within the class?
This depends on the age of learners and what you mean by the ‘same’ resources. I believe in grading the task not always the material to a large degree but then this has some limitations. Have you heard of tiered activities? These are activities that allow a range of abilities within one group to be successful with the same text. So, for example, maybe you have a text in the course book which you need your learners to write but you think it is too difficult for many of the learners. Prepare two versions of the text. One which is a gapped text and one where some words are multiple choice. Read the text to the learners. The top third of the class will write every word, the next third will complete the gapped text and the lower third will circle the multiple choice answer. Everyone uses the same text but in a way that they are capable of achieving. You can then repeat the activity with the lowest third doing the gap fill, the middle group writing every word and the highest group doing the checking.

Another way is to use a dictogloss technique. Read the text to everyone two or three times. Every learner writes down as much as they can. Put three or four learners together and let them reconstruct the text. Each learner will have written a different part of the text and they can help each other reconstruct it, everyone contributing what they can.

6. What steps and guidelines would you suggest teachers should follow when they are writing/adapting materials for their own classrooms?

  • Be clear about the learning outcomes.
  • Ask yourself, ‘Do I really need to make a new resource?’
  • Think what you can use that will be minimum effort for maximum effective learning.
  • Remind yourself of the learning outcomes again.
  • Ask yourself what style of resource would best suit the given situation – a worksheet, a craft, a collaborative activity or maybe a role play?
  • Design the resource. Be minimalist, motivational and inclusive.
  • Try it out and ask the learners what they think.
  • Modify your resource, if needed, and share it.

7. What are some of the challenges teachers might face when they are writing/adapting materials? How can they overcome these challenges?
I think that you, the teacher, are usually the right person to adapt materials for your class. You are the person who knows the class best. However, you are not always the most skilled person at adapting or writing materials. The biggest challenge for many is where to start and what to adapt.

The question to ask always is – ‘Will this enable my learners to achieve their learning outcomes?’ If not, then adapt. Think about the simplest way to help them to achieve the learning outcomes. It may be that you don’t need a resource at all. If you do need a resource, keep it simple and think about what will motivate your learners to learn.

I also think that collaboration and sharing with other teachers and your learners is the key to great resources. We don’t do enough of it. Why would we want to spend time developing resources to then put them in a cupboard to rot? Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it far too many times. Share your efforts with others and encourage them to share their resources with you especially if you are using the same course books. Include your learners in the choice and design of resources. Be honest and tell them you are trying things out. Ask them what they thought about the resource or task.

I think that we, as teachers, sometimes see issues that are not always real. I often hear comments such as ‘my learners will not do that’ or ‘I can’t expect my learners to…’ These are barriers that teachers put in their own way. All I can say is that you’ll never know until you try.

Good luck with your materials writing. Collaboration and practice is the key.

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#ELTHeroes interview: Silvana Richardson

Silvana

Silvana Richardson is Head of Teacher Development at Bell and has worked in English language teaching for over 25 years. She holds an MA in Teacher Education, is PGCE and Delta qualified and has trained teachers all over the world. Silvana is a regular guest speaker at events such as IATEFL and a regular author for Cambridge English Teacher. Silvana is the Head of Programme Quality for the Bell Foundation , the charity that works with British schools and teacher trainers to change lives through language education.

1. Tell us a little bit about your career in ELT.
I started teaching almost 30 years ago, when I was only 18. This was because I’d known I wanted to be a teacher since I was eight years old! I started my teaching career in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I taught young learners, teenagers and adults in private language schools and in a state secondary school. I also taught Business English and ESP, and started working as a teacher educator in one of the local teacher training colleges during my time there. I then moved to the UK, where I have been living for the last 15 years, and have taught General English, ESOL to refugees and asylum seekers, and exam preparation classes. But what I like doing best is teaching teachers and teachers of teachers, so I’ve also worked as a teacher educator in initial teacher education courses, in-service programmes, diploma programmes, and an MA programme. I was Director of the Bell Delta Online and Bell Teacher Campus. I am now Head of Teacher Development at Bell, and Head of Programme Quality at the Bell Foundation, a UK-based charity that creates opportunities through language education for excluded individuals and communities. I’m also a speaker at international conferences, a quality assurance inspector and write online materials for teachers.

2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘knowing the subject’?
I think ‘knowing the subject’ is a very important aspect of being a professional teacher of English. Therefore, I would encourage teachers to work hard to develop a competent knowledge about the English language and to become proficient users of English so that they can be suitable and inspirational models for their learners.  I know from experience that improvement only comes about when we work hard.  I don’t think simply being ‘one step ahead’ of the learners in terms of knowledge of the language and language proficiency is sufficient for a professional teacher who is a subject specialist. I also believe that from knowledge comes confidence. If you want to be a confident teacher, having a good knowledge base will certainly help.

My advice would be to:

  • immerse yourself in English as much as you possibly can to different genres, registers and accents – from spontaneous dialogues, to podcasts or videos that appeal to your interests, to presentations (e.g. TED talks), advertisements, the news headlines on the radio, interviews with people whose work you like  (e.g. your favourite authors, singers, actors, campaigners, politicians, etc. on YouTube), blog posts, research articles, tweets, Facebook posts etc.  With the current developments in technology it’s never been easier to access and use such a broad range of texts in English, or cheaper!
  • never stop noticing what and how language is used in both spoken and written texts. Make sure you notice unfamiliar uses of familiar lexis, collocations – i.e. what other words tend to occur frequently with a given word and idiomatic expressionscolligation – i.e. the grammatical company that words keep. Texts don’t have to be long to include hidden language ‘gems’– sometimes you can learn new language and challenge what you know from a 140-character tweet, or a headline. Uncover frequent patterns, make hypotheses, and test them. Also, check them with appropriate sources.
  • memorise, and practise memorising. This is because Skehan has found that having a good memory is a key component of language aptitude, and Bilbrough that language learning places huge demands on memory. It therefore makes sense to train your memory well, by making sure you memorise new lexis in chunks, review new lexis frequently, test yourself, and repeat in manageable chunks.

3. In an era of information explosion and lots of online resources easily available to learners, how do you perceive the role of a teacher?
First of all, a teacher is a creator of the right conditions for learning to take place. This is still as true today as it was 1,000 years ago. Students learn when they feel safe to take risks and make mistakes, and the teacher is instrumental in developing an environment that is conducive to learning with confidence. Another fundamental task of the teacher is to challenge supportively – to give each student the right level of challenge and to have high expectations while at the same time providing (or gradually removing, as and when appropriate) the support that learners need to succeed. Equally importantly, the role of the teacher is to give students feedback on where they are in their learning, where they need to be, and how to get there. This is in-depth, personalised feedback that grading and marking software cannot currently give as far as I’m aware.

4. What three top tips do you have for non-native teachers to become successful teachers of English?

  • Don’t let an accident of birth define who you are, or how brilliant you can be. Being an outstanding teacher has nothing to do with nativeness. Just remember that if you experience self-doubt or rejection.
  • Make good use of the strengths that you have as someone who has learnt English – rather than acquired it naturally, for example: your knowledge about language; your empathy (because you’ve been a learner and you know exactly what it feels like and how hard it can be to learn a language); your capacity to predict your students’ difficulties; the fact that you are a bilingual or multilingual resource for your learners; the fact that you are a positive and possible role-model.
  • There’s a lot of accessible literature about the so-called ‘non-native English Speaking teachers’ available online. Make sure you read it. You will be surprised by how much of what is said about NESTs and NNESTs is based on ideology, prejudice and vested interests, and how research into students’ preferences tells a different story. This will hopefully boost your self-efficacy, and will also give you ideas about how to fight against discrimination in the workplace to help you play a part in creating a more equitable and fairer profession.

5.  If you had to choose one CPD activity that you found most useful for your own CPD, what would it be and why?
I’m a bit of a bookworm, so I learn a lot from reading and thinking deeply about what I read – particularly thinking about how I can apply what I read to my own context. What I like about reading is that it is a very personalised and self-directing activity – I choose what I want to read about, where and when, I set the pace, I re-read if I want to, I interact with the text by making notes, etc. I also love experimenting; putting what I have learnt by reading into practice, which is the next natural step, and then again, thinking critically about whether that experiment has worked or not, why, and how I can improve my experiment, and try again. I am slightly concerned that many teachers are too busy to read in depth, or to read the experts rather than ‘soundbites’. And while it may sound a bit old-fashioned, there really is no substitute for reading in depth to develop one’s knowledge and deepen one’s way of thinking and acting.

 

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#ELTHeroes interview: Alison Barrett

Welcome to the first in our series of interviews with our #ELTHeroes! This week we are featuring Alison Barrett – global Head of English for Education Systems at the British Council.

Alison Barret

1. Tell us a little bit about your career in ELT
I always wanted to be a journalist, but after having taught English as a volunteer in Nepal before university, I decided to do a CELTA and teach English in Japan first to see a bit more of the world.  I really loved working with children as an English teacher and I enjoyed the challenge of learning new languages and about diverse cultures, so I decided to make a career of it.  I joined the British Council in India and soon after I completed my DELTA in the UK.  I continued teaching young learners, but also taught adults at all levels and in all subjects from general English to ESP. Later I moved into teacher training. I trained as a CELTA tutor and I designed and conducted training for teachers working at the British Council and for English teachers working in government and private schools across India. At that stage I decided to do a Masters in TESOL by distance.  That was incredibly challenging to do while still working full time and looking after two children, but the Institute of Education (UK) was extremely flexible and I was able to focus my papers on specific areas of interest to our English language development and continuing professional development (CPD) work in India and South Asia. I think it’s incredibly important to stay connected to the latest research evidence and thinking in ELT, but also to stay grounded in the reality of the context. Doing an MA while still working really helped me to develop a principled and pragmatic approach. Now I am responsible for our English for Education Systems programmes globally.

2. What’s your favourite type of activity to do for your own continuing professional development – and why?
There so much you can learn outside of formal training programmes – that’s what CPD is all about!  My absolute favourite activity is using Twitter.  I follow a range of really interesting people who tweet links to research papers and studies that have direct relevance to our work in English for Education Systems.  I enjoy reading those papers, sharing them with others and discussing the implications for our work with my colleagues.  I use twitter like a living bibliography – I retweet or like tweets that I think are important and then I scroll through them later, pulling out the ones I think I need at that time. It’s also a great way to network and meet like-minded people, or to search for studies that relate to specific research questions you may have, or to follow conferences virtually. You can find me on Twitter at albarrett09.  As well as being an avid twitterer and taking formal courses, I have also joined a number of free MOOCs over the last year or so.  Have a look at the FutureLearn website for details of a range of courses on ELT, as well as courses on general education.

3. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘planning lessons and courses’?
If you don’t know where you are going you will never get there.  The lesson plan helps you to identify what your destination is, and then map out the different pathways to that destination. You shouldn’t worry if you get lost on the way, it’s important to teach the students and not the plan. If you got lost in real life you wouldn’t just keep going, but you would stop, try and work out where you took a wrong turn and then map out a new route to the same destination. The same goes for teaching. Use your plan as a prop for you in the classroom, but also to stimulate reflection afterwards, and to help you come up with a new plan. Make sure your plan is in a format that works for you.

4. What do you think is the most important quality for an English language teacher to have in order to help learners to achieve learning outcomes in the classroom?
It’s very easy to obsess about your own teaching style or to worry about whether you used a particular technique well or not.  That is important of course but not if that’s the only thing you worry about! As teachers we need to focus on the learning and ask ourselves what kind of reaction our teaching is having on the students. You can try a number of things to help you focus on them: keep a record of their progress in classroom assessments; identify one or two students and ask a colleague to observe them as you teach and see if they could grasp the key learning points of the lesson; ask the students themselves what kind of techniques they find the most useful, for example. There is some evidence to indicate that teachers who believe in their own ability or efficacy as teachers, but also believe in their students and give them an appropriate level of challenge in the classroom are more likely to help their students achieve more for themselves. Never stop learning yourself either: CPD is for life!

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#ELTHeroes interview: Amol Padwad

This week in our #ELTHeroes series we’ve been speaking to Amol Padwad. Amol teaches English in J. M. Patel College, Bhandara, Maharashtra. He is the Convener for AINET – the All India Network of English Teachers, and an ELT consultant with a special interest in teacher development.

Amol Padwad 0116-2

1) Tell us a little bit about your career in English language teaching (ELT).
I worked as a primary teacher for two years and a secondary teacher for another two years before becoming a college teacher (for over 28 years now!). I became a teacher without any teaching qualifications; it was temporary employment to support myself during my higher studies. But I quickly realized that I loved teaching and decided to make it a career. Then I went on to do my Masters in English, MPhil, PhD, PGDTE and MEd TESOL, all the while working as a teacher. I am sure that the first four years in primary and secondary schools provided me with a solid foundation in ELT and in education in general. I am fortunate that over the years I could also go through richly diverse learning as a trainer, course designer, consultant, researcher, project manager and teacher association leader.

2) What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘understanding learners’?
Understanding our learners is a way to understand ourselves too as teachers and learners. In teacher education there is a notion called ‘apprenticeship of learning,’ which implies that when we become teachers we constantly rely on our memories of our own teachers to get ideas for our teaching. I would strongly recommend recalling not only what and how our teachers did, but also recalling what we did as learners, how we felt, what we wanted and what we got. There are many insights to be gained from our own experience as learners. (However, these insights need to be weighed against the radically changed circumstances of learning and profiles of learners now!) The process of developing skills and knowledge in ‘understanding learners’ should not ignore the simple fact that our learners are human beings and treating them as ‘whole persons’ should be the bottom line of all skills and knowledge in this area.

3) By what simple techniques can I make my colleagues and learners more active in using spoken English?
Unfortunately, there are no ‘simple’ techniques which can ensure quick output. A lot of complications – emotional, linguistic, contextual and situational – are involved when we find people hesitant to speak in English. I think, apart from insufficient language, fear of speaking in English is a key reason behind such hesitation. Developing language competence is a long and laborious process. Neither the teacher, nor the learner, should waste their time running after non-existent ‘Fluent English in xx Days’ kind of solutions. Language learning takes time. But what we can and should surely do is to promote a safe and encouraging atmosphere in staff rooms and classrooms, where people will not be afraid of speaking (and making mistakes). In this connection, one specific behavioural precaution we English teachers can take is not to ‘show off’ our English, tolerate mistakes made by others and concentrate more on what they say than how they say it. Whatever may be our actual English competence, others generally tend to view us as ‘experts’ and already feel extra pressure using English in our presence. But once they see that they could communicate in their ‘poor’ English (which may not be actually poor) and nobody bothered about the wrong grammar, a lot of fear is gone!

4) In today’s dynamic work environment, how can a teacher keep herself/himself motivated for their own continuing professional development (CPD)?
There are two opposite ways this question can be approached. We may begin by assuming that teachers are originally (‘by default’) unmotivated and hence they need to be motivated. Or we may assume that teachers are by default motivated, but there are ‘dampeners’ or obstacles which work against that motivation, which need to be removed. I think the second approach is more productive and does not take a ‘deficit view’ of teacher motivation. Because, in John Holt style, I wonder ‘do teachers have any vested interest in not growing?’ And I can’t yet find any.
So, if one wants to keep oneself motivated for CPD, I would suggest exploring what those ‘dampeners’ or obstacles are which work against our original interest in professional development. Some usual suspects are apathetic environment, unsupportive administration, lack of resources, heavy workload, lack of freedom and absence of incentives or rewards for CPD. Many of these are beyond the control of an individual – we probably can’t do much about them. It will take a long time and huge efforts to change the system, which may not happen until we retire. So the options are clear – we surrender to circumstances and confess that nothing can be done, or we accept them as reality and try to find hundreds of small ways in which we can do something for our own CPD. If you look around you will find a surprisingly large number of teachers doing wonderful little things in their small individual spaces and refusing to turn into ‘educational daily-wage labourers’. Let’s look up to them for motivation!

5)  Some authorities and some teachers are very active in education. How can we make this process more inclusive and have active participation from all stakeholders?
I assume the word ‘active’ means making constructive and productive contribution to education. (Because there are authorities and teachers ‘active’ in education in many different ways!) Before we think of how to make this ‘activeness’ inclusive of other stakeholders, let’s first wonder why it does not include all (or most) authorities and teachers. Why only some authorities and teachers? Plausibly, these ‘some’ authorities and teachers are active of their own accord, active because they have some personal commitment and interest. The real challenge is how to develop an educational culture in which every teacher and authority shows such commitment and involvement. (And if authorities and teachers come, can other stakeholders be far behind?) This is a hugely complex challenge and I can’t think of any ready suggestions on how to tackle it. My hunch is that this issue of educational culture is related to the fundamental confusion our education system seems to suffer from – whether we want to run education as charity or business.

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Restructuring teacher development: experimenting with Teacher Activity Groups in Maharashtra

The newly initiated three year TEJAS project aims to assist in revolutionising the way that teacher education is delivered, experienced and supported in the state of Maharashtra. The British Council, working in partnership with Tata Trusts and the state government, will develop the English language teaching skills of 18,000 teachers in nine districts using an innovative model and leveraging technology and social media.

Writing recently in LiveMint, Anurag Behar, CEO of Azim Premji Foundation stated that in India, ‘teachers’ capacity and their effectiveness need to improve. But that will happen only with structural and systemic changes in teacher education and professional development.’ Historically, teacher education in India’s government sector has adopted a cascade model: teacher educators are trained, they deliver the training to a group of teachers and, in some cases, these teachers cascade the delivery again to a further group of teachers until the training has been ‘received’ by the entire cohort.

While there are good reasons for this type of delivery – not least the ability to reach large numbers of teachers – there are several issues which alternative models may help to address. One of the issues is that centralised training events are often one-off, with little or no follow-up once teachers return to their classrooms. Certainly teachers may gain useful skills and knowledge that they can use to improve learning in their classrooms, but there is no doubt that there is a need to amplify the continuity of professional development that this training aims to provide. The TEJAS project in Maharashtra is adopting an innovative model of Teacher Activity Groups to try to achieve this, along with developing the skills of a selected group of State Academic Resource Persons (SARPs). The SARPs will become the prime resource for the state of Maharashtra responsible for planning and executing all teacher development initiatives in English language teaching.

TEJAS coordinators are introduced to the concept of Teacher Activity Groups

TEJAS coordinators are introduced to the concept of Teacher Activity Groups

What are Teacher Activity Groups?
In this model, Teacher Activity Groups (TAGs) are semi-formal, localised teacher meetings that are initially supported by trained TAG Coordinators. The aim is for them to become largely self-facilitated by members of the established group, encouraging teachers to take the initiative for their own development. Teachers will be able to choose from a wide range of curated resources to decide the course of their own progress. It is anticipated that this more localised, needs-based and democratic approach to professional development could replace the centralised approach to teacher education previously implemented within the state.

The TAGs will be networked through the use of WhatsApp and other social media tools to help create communities of practice to share ideas, challenges and successes. This also provides a channel for new resources to be shared and for data on attendance and activities to be collected for monitoring and evaluation purposes.

How will the State Academic Resources Persons lead the TAG initiative in Maharashtra?
The initial training programme for the State Academic Resource Persons (SARPs) focused on the concept of TAGs, exploring how they will be able to support TAG coordinators in establishing them and familiarisation with social media including Twitter. The SARPs were encouraged to build their own social media footprints in order to access the wealth of knowledge and ideas that is available, with the intention that they will in turn enthuse the TAG coordinators and teachers to establish their own professional learning networks (PLNs).

The SARPs enthusiastically experienced what a real TAG meeting looks and feels like, the type of resources teachers will use and discussed the intended outcomes. In the coming months, they will be involved in developing and supporting the TAG Coordinators and working closely with the project partners to identify solutions to challenges and encourage participation by teachers. They will also develop their own English language teaching expertise and teacher education project design and management skills.

What challenges do we foresee?
To implement a change of this kind and on the scale required there are clearly a number of challenges which will need to be addressed. These include buy-in at all levels; motivation of teachers to attend; interpersonal relationships between members of the TAGs and tracking progress and impact. The TEJAS pilot offers the opportunity to explore these challenges and potential solutions, while also documenting lessons learned to inform future programmes or state initiatives which may look to adopt similar methods.

Updates from the project will be shared on a regular basis through the project website. Project activities can also be followed on Twitter using the hashtag #Tejas4Ed.

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A plethora of perspectives on English language teaching

Reflections on the third annual AINET Conference – Nagpur January 2016

AINET, the All India Network of English Teachers is an IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) Associate in India. January 2016 saw the network host the Third Annual ELT conference in TBRAN’s Mundle English School, Nagpur. The British Council supported 67 Master Trainers and administrators from various English Partnerships projects to attend the conference with participation from Bihar, Punjab, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

Chief guests and featured speakers at the event

Chief guests and featured speakers at the event

Some of the take-aways from the conference were issues raised in the keynote address by Prof. Mrs Amritavalli who spoke about dynamic text that excites learners. She also outlined Prabhu’s proposition of repetition versus recurrence in texts that facilitates language acquisition. Our own Jon Parnham (Senior Academic Manager – English Partnerships West India) delivered a plenary talk inspired by Carl Rogers featured three conditions that teachers can create to sustain the teaching-learning environment in the classroom: authenticity, acceptance and empathy.

An interesting talk by Dr. Bradley Horn (Regional English Language Officer, US Embassy) emphasised the role of ELT in US state policy. He spoke about his country’s efforts to establish mutual understanding with India through scholarships and programmes undertaken by RELO.

The parallel sessions presented focused on varied topics and interests. They ranged from effects of dopamine in teaching learning situations to the study of learners’ written errors. Motivation among teachers and learners, adapting activities in textbooks and the learner-centred classroom were also well-attended choices.

A traditional rangoli reworked to illustrate the elements of English language teaching

A traditional rangoli reworked to illustrate the elements of English language teaching

The most popular session was the panel discussion featuring learners from grades 8 and 9. The learners had a few things they wanted their teachers to know! So what did we learn from them? They want teachers to entertain them, do lots of activities, bring material that is based within the Indian context and relevant to their lives, use ICT in classrooms, make writing more interesting, let them speak more in classes and enable them to become contributing members of the society. They also felt that textbooks needed to change and English should play a bigger part in classroom dialogue. Moreover they wanted their teachers to have a good command over the language too. Phew! That is a tall order isn’t it? Will teachers be able to match such expectations?

The concluding event was an open debate over discrimination faced by teachers who do not have access to or use technology. Opinions differed greatly as is but natural. Some felt the skill of the teacher and not apps are what brings teaching and learning alive and some felt that it was inevitable that technology will eventually dominate classrooms. Issues such as accessibility and funding were also touched upon.

Personally, I was very proud to see Master Trainers (MTs) Smita Pore and Mahesh Dudhankar from our English Partnerships projects deliver talks on Enhancing reading skills through peer teaching and Mentoring and its impact on classroom teaching respectively. Moreover it was great to see them inspire other MTs who aspire to present their work at similar conferences. As Master Trainer Mr. Nand Kishore said, ‘after watching Smita present the findings, I feel that I am I just a step away … I too can do this!’

If you wish to participate in the next AINET conference, you will have to wait till 2017 as AINET has decided to hold its conference every two years. However, this gives you time to get on with your own action research in your classrooms and plan your presentation or workshop! Do take a look at the AINET website for more information about this association and to explore their resources and publications for English language teachers.

Ruchi Jain
Academic Manager, English Partnerships, East India
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ELISS – mentoring pilot project in Maharashtra

In all our teacher development work we look to ensure the sustainability of our projects once they come to an end. One exciting innovation we have introduced this year in our English Language Initiative in Secondary Schools (ELISS) for teachers in Maharashtra is a mentoring pilot project. Eighty Master Trainers were selected and trained in mentoring skills and are now mentoring 15 teachers each.

After discussions with the government on a suitable mentoring model, we sent out a call for applications from the ELISS Master Trainers to become mentors in early 2015. We received over 300 applications in total. The mentor training for the 80 individuals selected took place in May in Pune and received very positive feedback. Topics discussed in the training included the role of mentors, active listening and giving constructive feedback.

After this initial training, mentors set up meetings with Head Teachers and teachers from their local areas to introduce the project, explain the aims and objectives and discuss next steps. Since then, mentors have been working with 15 teachers each, carrying out all sorts of activities, including conducting developmental observations, holding small INSET sessions and holding 1-1 discussions.

WhatsApp has been an important aspect of this pilot project and has made it possible for mentors from all across the state to keep in touch and discuss topics around ELT, attitudes to teaching and learning and ways of supporting teachers, as well as sharing their experiences of carrying out mentoring activities with their teachers. Over the past six months the group has blossomed and bonded very well. To quote one of the mentor’s posts: ‘This group is very very nice. It has become a family. Just everyone tries to take care of each other, share everything that is a must to live a healthy life, improve teaching, some article, discussions, views and social messages.’

After the pilot ends in March 2016 we hope to scale up so that all 420 Master Trainers become mentors. To do this we need we need to learn from our experiences and continue to improve. There have been several difficult situations and challenges faced over the past six months and one thing we have learnt is the importance of good communications between everyone involved – between British Council staff, government officials, Education Officers, Heads, mentors, teachers … everyone. So far, it’s been a great learning experience and a lot of fun. It will be interesting to see how things develop over the next year.

To read about the mentoring pilot from the perspective of a mentor, take a look at Mahesh Dudhankar’s brilliant recent blog post on his experiences on the project so far.

https://maheshdudhankar.wordpress.com/reflection-on-mentoring-project/reflection/

ELISS is a four year partnership project in Maharashtra with Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA). It aims to improve the teaching skills and language confidence of 16,400 secondary level English language teachers in government schools across the state, using a variety of innovative delivery formats. 

For more information contact: jon.parnham@britishcouncil.org

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Live Webcast: Teacher Educator Conference 2015 (Main Hall)

Follow the sessions and tweet using #TEC15

Day 1: Friday 27 February

09.30 – 10.00 Inauguration by by His Excellency Shri E.S.L. Narasimhan, the Governor of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana; Sunaina Singh, Vice-Chancellor English and Foreign Languages University(EFL-U), Hyderabad; S Mohanraj, Dean, School of English Language Education, English and Foreign Languages University (EFL-U); Chris Brandwood, Director English – South Asia, British Council; Andrew McAllister British Deputy High Commissioner, Hyderabad; George Pickering, Trustee, International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL)Chair: Michael Connolly, Assistant Director, English Partnerships, British Council India
10.00 – 11.15 Keynote address: The ingredients of quality in teacher education, RodBolitho
11.45 – 12.15 Rethinking teacher motivation for professional development,Amol Padwad
12.30 – 13.00 Streaming of students: how to promote social justice and inclusivity,Jayagowri Shivakumar
14.00 – 15.00 Evaluation in teacher education programmes: a critical appraisal,Geetha Durairajan (Cambridge University Press)
15.45 – 16.40 Moving from quantity to quality – implications for teacher educationPanel: Colin Bangay (DfiD), Maya Menon (The Teacher Foundation),Lina Mukhopadhyay (EFLU) and Amol Padwad (AINET)Chair: Rittika Chanda Parruck (British Council)
16.40 – 16.50 Continuing Professional Development Framework: going global
17.00 – 18.00 Blissfully developing teacher education materials, Huma Riaz andRosie Tanner
18.15 – 19.15 Moving away from traditional methodologies in language education – thebaby has been thrown out with the bath waterChair: Chris Brandwood 

Day 2: Saturday 28 February

09.00 – 10.00 Plenary:Learning to read in India: challenges and opportunities for enhancingquality in teacher education, Rukmini Banerji
10.15 – 11.15 Frameworks – they might look dull but actually they’re really useful for all sorts of things, John Shackleton and Tim Phillips
12.00 – 13.00 Are we supporting teachers to address student diversity in the classroom? Dilemmas and solutions, Renu Singh
14.00 – 15.00 Video cameras in English language teaching, Jamie Keddie
15.30 – 16.30 Evaluating the quality of teacher education programmes – whatworks?Panel: David Hayes (Brock University, Canada), Rama Mathew (DelhiUniversity), John Simpson (British Council), Renu Singh (Young LivesIndia),Chair: Sara Pierson (British Council)

Day 3: Sunday 1 March

09.00 – 10.00 Plenary: A fine balance: English language teacher education in21st-century India, Alison Barrett
10.15 – 11.15 Towards understanding teacher motivation for professional development, Krishna K Dixit 
12.00 – 13.00 Reviewing and improving quality in large-scale teacher education anddevelopment programmes, Sara Pierson and Duncan Wilson 
14.00 – 14.30 Curriculum change and innovation: insiders’ perspectives, RavinarayanChakrakodi
14.45 – 15.45 Plenary: Teacher education and quality assurance, Paul Gunashekar
15.45 – 16.15 Main Hall Valedictory

Download the Teacher Educator Conference 2014 paper publication – Innovation in English Language Teacher Education: http://t.co/BxFK6mKYum

 

 

 

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