Monthly Archives: September 2016

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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Is social media the place for science?

As we set the stage for the India debut of FameLab, world’s biggest science communication competition that brings together science enthusiasts onto a common platform, our guest blogger Subhra Priyadarshini shares her thoughts on talking science on social media.

FameLab: The world's biggest science communication competition

FameLab: The world’s biggest science communication competition

Years back, when I made the switch from reporting science for the mainstream media (newspapers, magazines, news agencies) to an online medium Nature India, I was inundated with questions from well-meaning peers. Must I renounce the glamour of the printed word to embrace the vastness and click-or-miss anonymity of the cyber world? Doesn’t a story in black and white with the morning cuppa have a more lasting impact than one on an android phone or tablet on the go? Concerned colleagues advised helpfully: online is the future, yes, but the romance of print will never fade. And one science journalist of repute gave me a clear disapproval: ‘You are going to blog and tweet too? That’s not journalism!’

Having swum in online waters and having passionately peeped into the crevices, I am happy to report I have survived. And blogged and tweeted my head-off too. Which is one of the points of this blog series – what has the journey been like, should scientists and science journalists blog and use social media to communicate science, and where is this enormous information explosion in science communication headed for?

Before I get into these mind-boggling details, I have to admit: If there were no science bloggers and tweeps, science would not be as glamorous and widespread as it has become in the last few years. Hats off to this informed, funny, adorable and quirky brood which has made life on the internet worth living.

So why blog? The evidence is clear: science sections in newspapers are shrinking. Television wakes up to science only during a nuclear disaster, a satellite lift-off or a Higgs boson. There are very few widely read science magazines simply because they do not make great commerce. Science coverage in mainstream Indian media, like many other issues of merit, has traditionally been minimal, primarily because of advertorial pressures and the space crunch.

The obvious SOS route: go online. Report, comment, give opinion, analyse or put all that together and just blog. Or if you are the cryptic type: use the 140-character route to tweetdom.

Next up: Part II: Why are scientists taking to the blogosphere?

By Subhra Priyadarshini, British Chevening fellow 2006-07 and Editor, Nature India
This post was first published in Current Science, and has been edited to suit the blog format.

Want to build your skills in science communication and get a chance to represent India at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK? Apply for #FameLabIndia.

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#MeetTheTeacher – Shailaja Mani

This Monday we bring you one of our wittiest and most spontaneous Teachers of English from our Chennai English Language Centre as she talks about her days as a student, a new word she learnt and much more!

Premila Lowe, Teacher of English at British Council, Chennai

Shailaja Mani

Priyanka (PC): Let’s start with an anecdote! Can you tell us an interesting anecdote that you recall from your days as a student?

Shailaja (SM): I remember not doing my Maths homework and having to sit on the floor outside the classroom to finish it. It was easier to finish it in groups and we missed the lesson for the day which meant we couldn’t do our homework the following day either! The only problem was we got caught one day when the principal, Sister Agnes, came around on her rounds. I think we did all our homework perfectly after that day!

PC: Why did you become a Teacher of English?

SM: I’ve always loved teaching. I think it’s what us Apha-types do when our families stop listening to us! We find a bunch of unsuspecting people who can’t escape our clutches and unleash our teacher-self on them!

PC: What are students at the British Council like?

SM: A mixed bag, as students everywhere are.

PC: We have a lot of students asking us how they can improve their speaking skills. What is your advice to them?

SM: Take risks! To master a language you must use it.

PC: Have you learnt a new word recently? Tell us about it.

SM: Yes! A student at the intermediate level used this word in class- Sprezzatura: it means doing something with a studied nonchalance that makes it look effortless.

PC: If you got a chance to go #BacktoSchool as a student, what is the one thing that you would like to learn and unlearn?

SM: I would like to forget that I ever had to learn something called Calculus! I would love to learn at least two more languages- Italian/ Spanish and Arabic!

By Priyanka Chandan, Marketing Manager, English Language Centre, Chennai.

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#MeetTheTeacher – Premila Lowe

For your Monday of #MeetTheTeacher, Priyanka Chandan, Marketing Manager, Chennai caught up with the oldest, yet the youngest Teacher of English at our Chennai English language centre.

Premila Lowe, Teacher of English at British Council, Chennai

Premila Lowe

Here are five questions with Premila to get to know her better!

Priyanka Chandan (PC): Let’s start with an anecdote! Can you tell us an interesting anecdote that you recall from your days as a student?

Premila Lowe (PL): Something that I would always remember was the way I learnt to speak  English in school. It was long, long ago, when English was the sole medium of instruction and communication in Chennai schools. It was compulsory for us to speak in English on the campus. We actually had teachers going around the premises during breaks to ensure that we spoke only in English. God forbid if we didn’t, as we got knocked on our knuckles with their rulers. As they said, “Practice makes perfect” – it sure did!

PC: Why did you become a Teacher of English?

PL: I’ve always loved teaching and have been a teacher / trainer in all the professions I have been in. Added to that, a passion for teaching English overtook the challenge of being part of the Corporate World. Hence, the move to teaching English.

PC: What are students at the British Council like?

PL: Students at British Council are a lovely, mixed bunch – some eager to learn, some forced to be there, some just to be there with their peers. All of them ultimately benefit from the courses here, simply because of the way we teachers interact with them, encourage and support them. We become their best friends by the end of the course.

PC: We have a lot of students asking us how they can improve their speaking skills. What is your advice to them?

PL: One of many would be to speak to people in  English, irrespective of errors in grammar and vocabulary. This will help them gain confidence, as a lot of students don’t speak because they are afraid of being laughed at. Once they have a conversation with someone else, they should ask the other person to correct any errors they find.

PC: Have you learnt a new word recently? Tell us about it.

PL: Oh yes! I came across quite a few new words that were added to the dictionary to celebrate the author Roald Dahl’s 100th birth anniversary. One of them is “Dahlesque” which means something that resembles or is characteristic of Dahl’s works.

PC: If you got a chance to go #BacktoSchool as a student, what is the one thing that you would like to learn and unlearn?

PL: If I had a chance to go back to school as a student, one thing that I would like to learn is to pursue my interest in theatre, as opportunities those days were few. There is nothing that I would like to unlearn, as life in school and the learning gained were the greatest experiences ever.

By Priyanka Chandan

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#MeetTheTeacher – Ananya Banerjee

For your Monday of #MeetTheTeacher, we have today Ananya Banerjee, Teacher of English at our Kolkata English language centre. Ananya also contributes to our English in India Facebook page, and you will see a lot more of her this September.


Here are five questions with Ananya to get to know her better!

Shivangi Gupta (SG): Why did you become a Teacher of English?

Ananya Banerjee (AB): I’ve always been fascinated with the English language and the impact it can have in a spoken or written conversation. My love for books have been instrumental in making me fall in love with the English language which eventually lead me to do the CELTA and become a teacher.

SG: What is one thing that you like most about your job? And what do you like least?

AB: I love the mix of students that I get each batch. My students have ranged from retired professionals to children as young as seven years. I’ve had students from across the country and even from outside India from all walks of life. Each of them is strongly motivated and their enthusiasm is contagious!

SG: What are students at the British Council like?

AB: They’re highly motivated learners and are goal oriented. They believe in the power of the English language and as a teacher, I learn from them as well!

SG: If there was one study tip that you could give to your students, what would it be? 

AB: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes! Making mistakes is part of the entire learning process and will only help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Also, read, read and read! The more widely you read, you will pick up the nuances of the language better.

SG: Complete the sentence, “If I wasn’t a teacher, I’d be…” 

AB: “…a writer or a journalist.”

So tell us about your favourite teacher this Monday on our English in India Facebook page using the hashtag #MeetTheTeacher!


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Four English apps you need to download today!

Are you vying for a promotion? Or you want to do well in your exams? Whatever your reason may be, if you want to learn English, your mobile phone can be your personal tutor! All you need to do is to download these British Council apps.

Mobile appsLearnEnglish Audio & Video Long commute to work or university? Podcasts are the perfect way to beat your commute blues as you learn. This British Council app features podcasts and videos on interesting topics such as famous stories and poems, UK food and culture as well as everyday life situations. A moving audio-script and pitch control in this app help you with listening and understanding the podcasts. These podcasts come with comprehension questions, a tape-script and glossary.

Johnny Grammar’s Word Challenge Are you super competitive? Then this app is for you! Beat the clock and answer as many spelling, vocabulary and grammar questions as you can in this 60-second quiz! Earn Grammar Guru, Word Wizard and Supreme Speller badges by completing all levels. Beat your score to earn the ultimate Johnny’s Gold badge!

LearnEnglish Sports World Have the Olympics hangover? Now you don’t have to wait four years for your next dose of sports! In this app you can learn hundreds of sports related words with this highly addictive hidden object and word game! Explore a beautifully illustrated sports scene to find 290 hidden sports objects. In addition to finding the objects, you will have to recognise and correctly spell them to earn medals!

LearnEnglish Grammar (UK Edition) This is our number one educational mobile app and is the best way to improve your English grammar at home, on the move, or just about anywhere! This app is designed for all learners, whether you’re a beginner or an expert! In this app you can answer over 1000 practice questions across 10 unique activity types, including fill-in-the-blanks, reordering words and labelling, to achieve better grammar accuracy.

Feeling app-tastic? Go download these apps today!

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Happy teachers’ day!

Teachers are some of the most impactful people in our lives. Some say, and I agree, that teachers hold the future in their hands!

Today we celebrate teachers; remember our favourites and even the ones we always got in trouble with. Today is Teachers’ day!


Teachers are at the front of the transformational work we do in teaching English and teacher training; I am in constant admiration of their work.

Here are excerpts from an interview with two teachers I have worked very closely with this past year.

Neenaz Ichaporia is an Academic Manager with the British Council. She started her journey with the British Council as a Teacher of English with the English Language Centres and now manages the teaching team for myEnglish, our innovative blended learning course.

Avinash Govindarajan is Teacher of English and has taught at the English Language Centres and now teaches myEnglish.

Why did you become a Teacher of English?

Neenaz Ichaporia (NI): This may sound like a cliché, but I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, as long as I can remember. I tried out other things but in my heart I knew teaching was what I wanted to do. So one day, I took some leave from my job and tried out the CELTA course. I loved it… and the rest is history.

Avinash Govindarajan (AG): I chose to teach English because I love the language and the possibilities it holds. It helps in expressing yourself and also builds better relationships if used well. I like sharing this interest with other learners and celebrate them when we’re rewarded with progress.

What is the one thing you like the most about your job?

NI: I love the feeling of satisfaction when students write to you saying that what they learned in class has been helpful to them in some way in their lives. For instance, a student from one of my speaking skills classes wrote to me saying how thrilled he was because he felt much more confident dealing with an interview and group discussion he had after the course. He also got extra credits for showing them the British Council certificate from his course and he was offered the job! This made me really happy, knowing that I helped change someone’s life for the better, even if it was in a small way.

AG: Things I like most about doing my job are the language feedback sessions with the learners in my class. Dealing with questions about English is immensely challenging and extremely rewarding (provided you know the answer!).

What are students at the British Council like?

NI: It’s been a wonderful experience teaching learners from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. I’ve taught learners from India, Burkina Faso, France, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, South Korea, Spain – the list is endless! I’ve taught adults both younger and older than I am. I’ve taught children as young as eight years old and I’ve taught teenagers as well. The one common thread between all these learners is their desire to learn English because they feel it will help them in some way or the other.

AG: They’re probably the most motivated learners I’ve encountered in my life. They are positive, open to feedback, and realistic in their expectations. There have been numerous occasions where I’ve listened to or read our learners’ work and have had a broad smile on my face. Pride in others’ achievements is a wonderful feeling to experience.

If there was one study tip that you could give to your students, what would it be?

NI: Stay positive and develop some independent learning skills. Independent learners try to find opportunities for study outside the classroom. They plan their time well and take every opportunity they get to speak the language they are trying to learn. Most importantly, they do some research to find answers to their language questions themselves, rather than always relying on someone else for support. For instance, an independent learner may use the British Council’s weekly Facebook Language Clinic to ask questions or may check the LearnEnglish website for answers.

AG: Experiment and seek feedback! One shouldn’t be afraid to try new things out while learning English. The more you try, the easier it is to recall the next time. Feedback is an essential part of this; so make sure you get feedback from a trusted source (like a teacher or a friend), otherwise you always have the internet!

Complete the sentence, “If I wasn’t a teacher, I’d be…”

NI: …a journalist (I’ve already done that) or a lawyer.

AG: …picking at a guitar string somewhere, trying to make some music.

What were your teachers like? Tell us about your favourite teacher on our English Facebook page by using the hashtag #TeachersDay.

Submitted by Shivangi Gupta
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