Teaching with interactive stories | Teacher training materials

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Attribution:  Pratham Books | Illustrator: Priya Kuriyan | CC BY 4.0

Here’s the next set of materials I wrote on an ITDI course called Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. For this assignment, we were asked to create activities around an authentic text. I decided to use an open-access children’s book from Pratham Book’s Storyweaver (what a brilliant resource!). I ended up designing loop input-ish materials for teachers that integrate interactive storytelling techniques with raising their awareness of the third conditional (if you take a look at the book, you’ll see why).

I had a bit of a think about whether a children’s book from an organisation that promotes literacy is authentic. I think it is for the target audience – lower primary teachers. I’ve included a rationale for this on the last page.

Here’s how the handout is organised:

  • Participant handout (pp. 1-2)
  • Trainer notes (p. 3)
  • Overview (p. 4-5) – this was something Katherine asked us to put in and includes background information on the text and the tasks.

The book – It’s All the Cat’s Fault – is available in more than 58 languages ranging from Telugu and Punjabi to Serbian and Khmer. So you could easily make the materials work within your own context if the teachers you’re training would benefit from reading the book in their L1.

I’ve got a multilingual activity using a book from Storyweaver in the pipeline incorporating at least five or more Indian languages (English, Marathi, Konkani, Kannada and Hindi) so do watch out for that.

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Context analysis practice: the hidden paradigm in contemporary ELT | IATEFL 2017 session summary

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It’s a real pity Jason Alexander’s session at IATEFL 2017 wasn’t recorded. I’m grateful to Silvana Richardson whose tweets gave me a bit of a window into what he presented. His Context Analysis Practice (CAP) model truly validates what teacher trainers, particularly on the CELTA, have been using as a basic framework for lesson planning. During my CELTA tutor-in-training program, one of the trainees, asked me what she should write under approach on her top sheet. I was genuinely puzzled because the lesson shape wasn’t really PPP, nor was it text-based and I now have a label for it.

It also makes sense to explicitly call attention to context especially within the CELTA given the primacy of establishing a meaningful communicative context within the assessment criteria.

I’m not sure what Anderson’s take on the dominance of extensive text contexts was but I reckon the texts are far too long. It really throws new teachers off track.  Texts are but one way to explore language in context and when used, they really ought to be quite short.

And I agree that consciously or unconsciously, we have been endorsing this model on teacher training courses

Anderson seemed to have suggested an optional additional stage ‘evaluation’ but apparently went on to state that four stage models tend not to catch on.

It’s worth exploring whether CAP is truly effective. Do we recommend it to trainees because it makes sense from a language teaching and learning perspective or because it’s relatively easier to plan and teach?

Interesting to note the variations with the CAP model: Context Practice Analysis (CPA), Context Analysis Task (CAT), Checking, Analysis Practice (ChAP). It seems like Anderson has identified how we’ve been deluding ourselves into thinking that we are teaching lessons using TBL or test-teach-test, when really it’s much closer to what he’s described here.

I once worked with a new teacher who suggested that all the fancy names for lesson shapes I was teaching her were redundant because in practice they seemed to reflect a similar type of lesson. I started to defend the theory when I suddenly realised that she sort of right.

I wonder to what extent CAP will fly on pre-service courses. Given that it essentially describes the current situation, there ought not to be too much resistance to incorporating it but the wheels of teacher training tend to turn slowly.

Although Anderson’s presentation isn’t available, he’s got a handout on his site from an earlier session which summarises the same content. 

Teacher training | An interview with Meena Sridharan

All the theories will start making sense only after some gruelling days out in the sticks.

Meena Sridharan is a teacher trainer who works extensively on large scale education projects in India. In this interview, we chatted about her experiences on the field and discussed some advice for developing teacher training skills.

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1. Tell us a bit about your background.

I grew up with a passion for English and history and all my degrees are in English Literature. There was a Linguistics and Phonology component in the course at University which I detested those days. It’s ironic that my work is only to do with English language teaching now.

During my post-graduate years, we had a mandatory social service requirement and I opted to teach English to bus conductors. I enjoyed that a lot, and one day, when I heard a couple of conductors speaking in English on a bus, felt really happy. To my uninformed teenage mind, this seemed to be a matter of course. It never occurred to me then that this was something I could do, and find rewarding, nor did it occur to me that I was actually listening to a demonstration of effective practice.

Many years later, I taught English language and conversation skills in Japan. There again, I just did it for fun, and to make enough money to put me through Japanese language school.

2. How did you get into teacher training? 

It was by accident. I had been teaching for over fifteen years all across the country. After I came back from Japan, I diversified into teaching Japanese concurrently with English at some very reputed management schools. I dabbled in some French language teaching very desultorily as well.

A friend was roping in large numbers of teachers and trainers for an assessment activity and I joined the crowd. That is where I interacted with a huge cross-section of ELT teachers and trainers, and was fascinated by the stories they were exchanging. This led to me thinking about revamping my technique, unlearning my previous teaching style, and taking a language teaching qualification.

The next step was a stint training a small bunch of teachers, and almost immediately after, a training program for the first in a series of large scale education projects. I got thrown in at the deep end, and learnt to swim the hard way.

3. What does teacher training involve and who do you generally train? 

Teacher training is a very broad term and doesn’t reflect the more complex parameters of the job.

If you look at it superficially, it means delivering modules or specific training materials over a specific period to a group of teachers. This could mean skilling them up in various aspects of language, or customising the course to meet their specific, pre-determined needs. The length could vary from two weeks to two years. This is just the top layer. If you peeled away the veneer, you would find that it involves many more levels of skills and empathy.

I train teachers across levels – primary, secondary, tertiary, of all ages. Though the bulk of my work is with the government sector, I am involved with other organisations and schools where I train smaller cohorts of teachers. I like to keep in touch with classroom teaching, so there are instances where I might take on an assignment to just teach children. This comes as a refreshing break from training.

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4. What do you enjoy most about working with government school teachers? 

Their enthusiasm and passion, and their humility. They are not jaded. When you see the conditions in which some of them work, they are truly heroes. They are strong on theories about learner centred teaching and can spout Chomsky and Vygotsky at you, but when they find that some techniques can actually be made to work in the classroom, and succeed, there is a child-like wonder and transparency in their response.

There is no gainsaying the fact that some, I would say about 40% of them, are cynical and are in the job just for the financial security it offers. It can get very discouraging while observing such teachers. Nevertheless, the majority are enthusiastic, and handle their students with passion, and sensitivity. Their reactions and responses can be startlingly acute and quite liberal.

The challenges these people face in their classroom environments may seem almost insurmountable when viewed through the lens of an urban educationist. There is no consistent electricity supply in most states, and not very good Internet connectivity. Sometimes, when introducing digital tools and resources, I can feel the resignation emanating from them as I speak. Their technical skills vary from being very competent to not having even an e-mail ID or access to a computer.

I remember some years ago, before smart phones came to rule our lives, how a group of teachers from the far reaches of a rural district formed a motorbike pool and would take turns every weekend travelling about seventy-five kilometres to the nearest town and a cyber parlour to access the internet. They informed me through their very first e-mail sent from that location!

I have a great regard for the Head Teachers I meet. They are really outstanding but embattled men and mostly women, who are beset with problems of every nature and yet manage to sail through the day with ease. They deftly manage teachers, students, irate parents, authorities, and the constant flow of visitors and observers and keep smiling.

I have learnt a lot from just watching them at work.

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5. What are the challenges of working in this context? 

The challenges are numerous, and as I have said earlier, are outweighed largely by the motivation demonstrated by a majority of the teachers.

The lack of motivation and cynicism displayed by the nay-sayers is a major challenge. One has to keep the energy level up, and get them all involved. There are inherent challenges of mindset and societal norms. We have to work around these with some discernment and not hurt their sensibilities. (Grouping, for example, can be a big hurdle).

Sometimes it takes a couple of days of training to make them even start to rethink their attitudes, beginning with just having to get up off their chairs and stand in a circle for a simple ice-breaking activity. Resistance to change is the greatest roadblock. Convincing them to implement change is the consequent roadblock.

Lack of infrastructure and facilities are a given almost everywhere, but each new situation just adds to the experience and learning. It ceases to be a challenge once you know how to innovate.

6. How would you rate training vis-à-vis teaching?

This could be a topic for a thesis. Anyway, just to talk through the bare bones of the comparison:

  • Well, they both require the same basic qualities of energy, passion, motivation and stamina, and of course intensive preparation. However, many trainers tend to blur the lines between training and teaching. They tend to deviate into teaching, while trying to exemplify concepts.
  • I think we need to remember, as trainers, that we are teaching adults who come with a set of fossilised practices which you are going to be enhancing, changing or challenging. Their schemata will have to be consolidated by practice in the training room.
  • A teacher clarifies content and concepts to the student. She doesn’t need to explain the principles behind her technique, as they are implicit.
  • A trainer has to deal with teachers who come with a bank of knowledge and experience. Hence the trainer needs to respect that knowledge, but at the same time consciously articulate the principles of the technique or concepts. The trainer’s task is therefore far more demanding. You become an agent of change and that sets you at a disadvantage to begin with.

7. What professional development advice would you offer to Indian education professionals who aspire to facilitate teacher training in state or institutional contexts? 

  • Read up on national and state level education policies and the curricula of various states.
  • Be familiar with their academic patterns.
  • Be prepared to feel frustrated and helpless.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be prepared to relearn your so-painstakingly acquired academic knowledge and adapt to totally different contexts.
  • All the theories will start making sense only after some gruelling days out in the sticks.

Be excited about what you do always and never lose sight of the ultimate outcome. Motivation is contagious. If you have it, you infect your learners.

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One of the little perks of doing teacher training on government projects is that you get to see unexplored parts of the country like these 2500 year old Jain Caves in the Samanar Hills, a stone’s throw from a venue that I trained at.

If you have questions for Meena, please put them into the comments section and I’ll pass them on to her. 

Activities for exploring learning outcomes | Teacher training

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Have you taught materials that included a section at the beginning of a unit or module that looked like this?

By the end of this session, you will have:

  • considered perceptions towards developing reading skills
  • explored the different sub-skills involved in reading
  • considered how you can best develop and practise reading skills with your learners.

How do you tackle learning outcomes? Be honest. Do you signpost them on the board? Do you make your learners read them silently or aloud? Or perhaps you skip them entirely. I’m often guilty of all three. And yet there is evidence that getting learners to explore outcomes explicitly may enable them to better anticipate lesson content, be focused, and retain information more effectively. I also like the idea that they promote a sense of transparency in the learning contract between the instructor and his or her students.

I’m currently facilitating a six day teacher training course for the BC’s English Partnerships initiative and my participants (who are Master Trainers) and I are trying out different activities for exploring learning outcomes that they in turn could use when they train teachers across the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

1. Underline all nouns

Pre: Ask Ss to individually read the learning outcomes for the module and underline all the nouns. Pair share to see if they identified the same nouns as their partner. Poll to identify which key words Ss consider important.

Post: Ask Ss to revisit outcomes. Now that they have experienced the module, would they want to add any nouns to the learning outcomes?

2. Underline all verbs 

Pre: Ask Ss to individually read the learning outcomes for the module and underline all the verbs. Pair share to see if they identified the same verbs as their partner. Take whole class feedback on what sort of activities they might do based on the verbs they underlined.

Post: Ask Ss to revisit outcomes. Now that they have experienced the module, would they want to change any of the verbs in the learning outcomes?

3. Ranking 

Pre: Ask Ss to read the learning outcomes for the module and rank the objectives (1, 2, 3) from most important to least important. Group share to check if they prioritized objectives in a similar way. Poll to find out which objective was ranked as most important.

Post: Ask Ss to revisit outcomes. Now that they have experienced the module, would they want to change the ranking they had assigned to the learning outcomes?

4. Familiarity index

Pre: Draw a horizontal line on the board. On one side, write “not familiar”, on the other side, “very familiar”, and in the middle “familiar”. Ask Ss to draw this scale or index under the section on learning outcomes. Ask them to number the outcomes and place them on the scale based on how familiar they are with the contents of the outcomes. Check my doodle at the end of this post.

Post: Ask Ss to revisit outcomes. Now that they have experienced the module, would it make sense for them to change where they placed the outcomes on the index?

5. Phases of the moon

Pre: On the board, draw three phases of the moon (three empty circles; shade a crescent into the first, a half moon into the second and a nearly full moon into the last). Label them ‘challenging’, ‘moderate’ or ‘easy’ from crescent to full moon. Ask Ss to read the outcomes and decide how easy or difficult it might be to apply that outcome (in the classroom in the case of teacher training). They should draw the phase of the moon per the key on the board next to the outcome. Check my doodle at the end of this post.

Post: Ask Ss to revisit outcomes. Now that they have experienced the module, are they in a position to see application of these outcomes as somewhat easier? Have them shade in their circles as appropriate.

 6. Prediction 

Pre: Ask Ss to read the outcomes individually and predict what might be covered in the lesson. Pair share to check predictions.

Post: Ask Ss to revisit outcomes. Were their predictions correct? Were there any additional concepts, skills or items that got covered? Which ones weren’t included?

7. Smiley face & Flowery face 

Pre: Draw a smiley face on the board. Next to it, draw a flower (ensure that it looks like an empty circle with some petals around it). Ask Ss to read the outcomes and draw a smiley face next to the outcome if they think they already know what might be covered under this outcome. If they don’t know or are unsure, ask them to draw a flower. Pair share.

Post: Ask Ss to revisit outcomes. Can they now turn their flowers into smiley faces? Is there anyone who had assigned a smiley face to an outcome but realized that there much more than what they had anticipated? Do they want to turn their smiley faces into flowers? Check my doodle at the end of this post.

8. Hide ’em

Pre: Write the title of the session on the whiteboard. Ask Ss to hide the outcomes with a piece of paper and then slide sideways to only reveal the initial verbs. Have them guess what the outcomes might be and share with a partner. Take the paper off. Were their guesses accurate?

Post: Ask Ss to revisit outcomes and check to see if the outcomes were met through the activities and tasks done in the session.

9. Secret mission 

Pre: Ask Ss to read the learning outcomes and label them A, B, C etc. Have them choose one outcome that appeals to them. Tell them that this will be their secret mission. They need to check to see if the outcome is being met through the activities and tasks that will be conducted during the session. You can have them signal this through different ways: raise their hand after an activity has been completed and let the class know OR run up to the board and place a mark in a designated space OR use coloured flags if you have some OR any other technique that you think is appropriate and won’t distract the class.

Post: Ask Ss to revisit the learning outcomes. Did they see themselves or their peers completing their secret missions for any of the activities?

10. Cloze

Pre: Write the outcomes on the whiteboard or a flipchart and gap out key words. Ask Ss to work with a partner to find the missing words. You might choose to check answers now or wait till after the session.

Post: If you chose to wait till the end of the session, ask Ss to revisit the learning outcomes and check the outcomes for themselves – they’ll probably be able to easily validate their earlier responses. Let them check with you or their peers for any that they’re unsure about.

11. On a scale of 1 – 5 

Pre: This technique works well for concepts like ICT where you can ask questions around what teachers have implemented in their classrooms. On the whiteboard, write the numbers 1 to 5 in a row. Draw an arrow under them and label one “Never” and five “Regularly” Ask participants to read the outcomes and think about whether they have used what this outcome is talking about in their own classrooms. Have them write a number between 1 and 5 next to the outcome. Pair share.

Post: Ask participants to revisit the learning outcomes. Now that they’ve experienced the session, can they change any of the numbers they assigned to the outcome?

12. Disappearing sentences 

Pre: À la Scott Thornbury, also called progressive deletion or vanishing words. Write the outcomes on the whiteboard. Ask Ss to read and commit the sentences to memory. Ask them point out key words in the outcomes. Erase these and ask Ss to recall the sentences and tell their partners. Erase some more and repeat procedure etc.

Post: Write up the words that were left on the board before you completely erased the outcomes. Ask Ss to use these as clues to recall the outcomes.

13. Cryptograms 

I used to use these a lot when I was working with a corporate. It was a good way of keeping Ss engaged when most of the Ss hadn’t arrived for the lesson. This technique requires a bit of preparation and photocopying unless you plan and include it in your printed materials or maybe you have just a couple of outcomes so you can write it up on the board or on a flipchart. Fair warning: cryptograms can take up a lot of time depending on your Ss’ level.

I usually use Discovery’s Puzzle Maker to create cryptograms. Copy-paste the sentences you want to encrypt. Choose to encrypt in the form of numbers, Greek letters or normal letters. Then, select letters you want to give away as clues (I usually give away half the vowels and less frequent letters like V and Z). Create the cryptogram, print or copy on to a slide.

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Do you have any other ideas I could add to this list?