This is a blog for teachers interested in teacher education, teacher training and development, teaching and learning and related topics. We will be inviting a variety of people to share their experiences on a regular basis – so keep coming back!.
The latest post is by Galina an ITI DELTA student working in Samara, Russia. She describes the three-day ITI Master Classes held at her University. Liz and I had a wonderful time and thank Galina for inviting us and also writing it up for our blog.
I have written the first two posts to get the ball rolling. My first post is about ‘whole person learning’ and explains my personal philosophy that learning should utilise the whole person in terms of stimulating the mind, body and emotions.
My second post is also personal and describes my experiences over the last two years facing cancer. Like staring down from a precipice, confronting our fragile mortality is terrifying, and yet, at the same time by confronting the inevitable, it provides a unique opportunity to perceive from a new and sharper perspective and to learn valuable lessons about the nature of learning and life.
We are conducting a series of workshops to explore Applied Theatre and how these techniques and activities are relevant to Teacher Development.
In the workshops we experience and practice first-hand drama activities and develop skills that are used by Applied Theatre facilitators working in variuous fields of therapy and education.
We are exploring the questions:
To what extent can teaching be described as an art?
What sort of artistic training is required for successful practice?
How can Applied Theatre inform Teacher Development?
In the workshops we are creating a piece of drama that we will present to an audience at ITI on June 4th at 18.00. The drama will depict our interpretation of the challenges faced by a teacher and invite the audience to offer solutions.
We all know that Istanbul has a plethora of activities for foreigners. Whether it’s concerts, stand-up shows, spoken word events, or even trivia nights! It’s pretty hard to be bored in Istanbul. But what about the little ones that tag along for the ride?
One of the biggest concerns amongst foreigners who have relocated here is their children. Will they be able to fit in without knowing the language? Will they feel comfortable and make new friends? How do I get them to engage with other children?
What if we told you there is a place where they can meet new friends, develop new skills, and even get some footing in the performing arts!
Speech Bubbles School of Performing Arts does just that. Your child will have the opportunity to mingle with creative children and learn dancing, singing, and acting from one of Istanbul’s oldest foreigner-run organizations.
Speech Bubbles has been on the scene in Istanbul for over 30 years, providing entertainment for children and adults alike. In 2013, Speech Bubbles gathered its most creative members and asked them to go on a challenging journey – to teach children performing arts.
Since then, the children of Speech Bubbles School of Performing Arts have performed breathtaking plays such as Robin Hood, A Christmas Carol, School of Rock, and much much more! Other than the wonderful performances, the kids build a relationship with each other that lasts a lifetime!
Let’s face it, our children are tired of staring at screens through this pandemic and are itching for something new and exciting. So give your kid a chance to let out their inner creativity and enroll them in Speech Bubbles School of Performing Arts.
It will raise your child’s confidence, help them develop friendships, and as a plus you can take videos of them performing cute dances and use them to embarrass them at family gatherings. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Registration for the new semester starting January 8th is open right now. This March, Speech Bubbles School of Performing Arts will be putting on a performance of the beloved musical Grease and they are looking for creative children to join their cast!
For more information on Speech Bubbles, how to join their activities, and upcoming performances, please visit: https://speechbubbles.site/
The first ever documentary film series about training to be an ELT teacher
Please support our documentary film series about training to be a teacher by registering your email on our web site
Do you remember your initial teacher training course and your first lessons? We all have vivid memories of our first lessons as a teacher. They may be horrific or thrilling but they are unforgettable!
It was the greatest opportunity in my life – Maryam
Amazing experience!! – Kiran
I think it was one of the best experiences of learning that a teacher can have. – Abdulrazzak
I am a teacher and teacher trainer. Like you, I am passionate about teaching and learning. Indeed, I have devoted my life to helping teachers develop both skills for the classroom and skills for life. We know our role is vital. We inspire learning and transform lives. However, people outside teaching often fail to understand and appreciate the challenging and demanding work we do.
We are making a documentary film series showing the real experiences of following a teacher training course. No camera has ever witnessed an ELT training course and this documentary film for the first time reveals the physical demands, mental challenges, and emotional turmoil that teachers face.
Our mission is to raise the status of ELT teaching worldwide and to increase awareness of effective teaching skills. We aim to achieve this by stimulating grassroots discussion, galvanise the support of teachers and encourage teacher development.
I know you are passionate about teaching and teacher development too.
My heart was pumping feverishly, and my head was light and giddy as I stepped off the plane in Tripoli, Libya on the 10th September 1980 just two days short of my 21st Birthday. I was met with a draft of hot dessert heat, the unfamiliar smells of dust, eucalyptus trees and stale urine that I later came to recognise as the scent of Africa. Only weeks before I had been self-effacingly responding to interview questions in a small bedroom in the Regents Palace Hotel, Piccadilly London.
“No, I do not have any previous teaching experience”.
“Yes. I am only twenty years old. I just graduated from University this year”.
“Well, I did teach my sister how to ride a bicycle and friends at university how to play contract whist”.
“Yes, of course I understand you are looking for someone who is older and with more teaching experience”. I smiled shyly at the polite demure figure of the Libyan Director of the Institute and avoided the cool gaze of the flamboyant Irish Director of Studies who tossed back his blonde hair letting out a sigh of dismissal. Charles Patrick I soon discovered had a veracious penchant for young Arab boys who seemed to permanently populate his flat in various stages of undress. I know this because he invited me to his flat the evening after my arrival, supposedly to celebrate my 21st birthday, but I suspect he had more salacious intentions.
Why had my father responded to this job advertisement? Surely he must know that to be an English Language Teacher you need qualifications and experience? I left the interview chastened and deflated, yet a few weeks later I was embarking from the plane in Libya to start my new career as an English language teacher.
I was up all night tossing and turning before my first day of teaching. Basically I was in a blind panic, a rabbit frozen in a car’s headlights, every nightmarish scenario flashed through my thoughts and I had no strategies to combat them. I entered the classroom petrified and I have blocked out all memories of that first disastrous lesson except the recollection of my hands shaking so violently that I could not write on the blackboard. I slumped into the staff room trembling and exhausted, determined that I had made a terrible error in accepting this job and resolute that I had to escape this bedlam. I believed my career was over before it had really begun! I was liberated from my dilemma in the most bizarre manner.
Charles Patrick, stormed into the staff room with a look of horror on his face and proceeded to strut around the coffee table smoking furiously and loudly murmuring: “He’s mad! Completely mad! He’s going eyeball to eye ball with the learners and ranting yes / no questions at them. They are scared witless”.
Suddenly Charles twirled around in dramatic fashion as if he had been struck with inspiration and rounding on me screeching: “You saw him. You observed him yesterday. What did you think?” I knew he was referring to David. He had just been observing David’s lesson because students had complained yesterday. I had pleaded with Charles not to teach on the first day and he had arranged for me to observe David who was only marginally older than me and claimed to have had some teaching experience.
The staff room fell silent. Everyone was waiting for my answer.
“I thought he was…”
I was being asked to evaluate a teacher and a lesson having only just taught one undoubtedly awful lesson myself. All eyes were on me, everyone was waiting for me to provide judgement. I felt like the Emperor in the amphitheatre deciding the fate of a gladiator.
“I thought the lesson was…. Fine”. I eventually stammered.
And that was my introduction to the world of ELT. The only training I received was a one hour lesson observation conducted by a paranoid schizophrenic and then after only one hour’s teaching experience I was being asked my professional opinion on the same colleague’s competence as a teacher. I had gone from incompetent novice to a teacher whose opinion counted in an instant.
David suddenly became the focus of everyone’s attention. He walked into the staff room and stood on the coffee table with his arms stretched out as if crucified. “I am the Messiah. You cannot hurt me. I have come to save you all.” He was clearly barmy. How could I not have realised!
We managed to get David to a psychiatrist. He kept his arms outstretched as he stood on his chair answering the bemused Pakistani doctor’s questions. He was admitted to the notorious Psychiatric wing of the prison hospital in Tripoli and I never saw my mentor again.
My introduction to teaching was harrowing. I have since dedicated my career to helping others so that they do not enter the profession unprepared and untrained. No one should be thrown into the deep end. Teaching is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding and training and development is essential to avoid excessive stress and burnout.
A career in “TEFL” has traditionally been frowned upon. Now in my 60s people no longer ask: “When are you going to get a proper job?” but the view that TEFL is something you do for travel, adventure and to gain life experience before settling down to a more established career persists. I have now determined to make a documentary film to put the record straight and portray the life of a TEFL teacher for the demanding and strenuous job that it is. The documentary is dedicated to all the ELT teachers and trainers and the incredible work they do. This documentary is our story. It must be told.
If you would like to help with this project, please contact me. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
How do we learn languages? In this video I explore this question by looking at approaches to language learning in the past. Do we learn a second language inductively as we learn our mother tongue or is it deductive as we learn mathematics at school?
What has an overview of historical approaches got to do with what we do in the classroom today? Well, lots – we all have unconscious beliefs and they shape our methodology and these beliefs have evolved historically.
People study languages (linguistics), learning (psychology, second language acquisition research) and come up with ideas about what we should be doing in classrooms.
In this video webinar, we look at the main approaches:
1. Grammar translation
2. Direct method
3. Cognitive code
4. Communicative language teaching
One of the biggest names running through CLT is Krashen. What are his main ideas (his 5 hypotheses)?
How can we use creative thinking and drama in the language classroom?
I am going to describe 6 drama activities that encourage creative thinking and utilise the learners’ imagination. Drama typically takes place in face to face settings as it involves movement and interaction but these activities can work online using breakout rooms where learners can interact and work together. Although they are originally drama activities, they can be adapted to the language classroom.
What is creative thinking?
Along with critical thinking, creative thinking has become a buzzword as it is one of the ‘so called’ 21st century skills. When we consult Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive processes, ‘creating’ is the highest order of thinking followed by evaluating and then analysing which are more critical thinking skills. The lowest order of thinking is ‘remembering’. What kind of thinking do we encourage in the classroom? Certainly, when I was a learner learning Latin at school there was a heavy emphasis on memorization and this emphasis on memorising information still has a strong influence on learning today. However learning is more effective when it activates higher order thinking so we need to encourage critical thinking skills and more importantly creative thinking.
We can divide higher order thinking into convergent thinking and divergent thinking. Convergent thinking is typically critical thinking, in other words analysing and evaluating. We encourage this thinking in the classroom when we do matching tasks, problem solving, gap filling activities. Convergent thinking activities are epitomised by having one correct answer. We can contrast this with divergent thinking.
Divergent thinking is when learners create and generate their own ideas and their own language. They use their imagination and there is no one correct answer. There can be many answers. I think in most classrooms convergent thinking is dominant. Why is this? One reason may be that divergent thinking is unpredictable and for a teacher this involves risk taking because it is not easy to plan a lesson where the language the learners produce is generated by themselves. It makes it more unpredictable. However, it is learner generated creative language that generates much richer and more memorable learning.
Drama and language level
Teachers sometimes say to me, ‘I can’t use drama because my learners are a very low level and they cannot generate their own language or their own ideas’. This first activity is for low level learners with very basic language. For example: ‘my name is,’ ‘I am from …,’ ‘I am a teacher’. Typically in a course book names, nationalities and jobs may be introduced through a context where we have some photographs and a matching activity.
This is an example of a problem solving activity where we have to match the questions and the responses based on the pictures. However, as with many convergent thinking activities, although we have photos of Aaron and Maya, there is no engagement with them and there is no learner language generation. The questions and responses are provided and the task is to match them (a problem solving analytical thinking task but there is no actual language practice).
It is easy to create a language practise activity using divergent thinking exploiting the learners’ imagination and creativity simply by asking the learners to create a character using these questions as prompts.
Then we can put the learners into pairs and they can ask and answer questions based on the character that they have created. For example:
What is your name?
My name is Bond. James Bond.
Where you from?
I am from the United Kingdom
And what is your job?
I am a secret agent 007.
So the learners could take a character from fiction or they may create a character from their imagination.
What is your name?
My name is Igor Milasovic.
Where you from?
I’m from Russia.
What is your job?
I am mafia boss.
You will notice that the learners when they respond to the questions will start using a different accent, body language, posture and gestures and you could encourage them to use props like a hat or an umbrella or put on a moustache to help them create a new character and stimulate their imagination.
The next activity is visualisation. This is not a drama technique per se but it is a useful way of encouraging the learners to use their imagination. We can start by stimulating interest by using photographs and we tell them that the characters that they have created in the previous activity are going to go on a holiday.
The teacher will say: ‘Okay we’re going to go on holiday in our imagination. We are going to visualise our character on holiday. I want you to close your eyes and imagine you are your character, and you are on holiday. Experience the holiday in your imagination’. The teacher will ask the learners to respond visually, using their imagination to prompts. ‘Imagine you are walking down the street. What do you see? Can you describe the buildings? The people? What’s happening? Listen. What can you hear? Can you describe the sounds? The smells? How does it feel?’ and so on. The learners can go to the hotel, describe the hotel. They can think about what they do. They can think about people who may be with them on holiday. Describe who they are with. Then you bring them back from the holiday visualisation and put them into pairs or groups (in the breakout rooms if it is online) and get them to describe their holiday to each other.
Improvised Role Play
Now we have created a character and we have sent the character on holiday. We have prepared enough material to conduct an improvisation role play. Role plays are very useful for developing speaking skills. In order to develop learners’ oral fluency, they need plenty of practise speaking in a free and improvised manner. If the role play is not set up effectively it can lead to frustration and chaos but when set up efficiently it provides a dynamic engaging, creative learning opportunity. In order to set up an improvised role play learners need to know:
Who are they in the role play
Where are they
What are they doing and why.
We can tell the learners that they are on a train. They are in character and they’re going to meet another character on the train. They need to introduce themselves and talk about the holiday that they have just been on. In order to get the learners engaged, you might want them to have suitcases or imagine umbrellas, hats and they start by walking down the train corridor and sitting down maybe putting the suitcase on the rack and then they start their improvised role play. A feature of role plays, is that the first-time learners do it will not be so effective because they are struggling to find words and they lack fluency. However, if you change the pairs and get them to do the same role play again it will improve and by the third time the role play will be considerably more fluent and effective. You may think that repeating the role play will be boring for the learners but because they are changing their partner it means that each new role play is a new experience. The responses they get from their new partner will not be the same as their previous partner. Although the role play structure, content, characters and phrases means they will be repeating similar things, there is an element of improvisation and creativity each time they do the role play.
The next activity is called hot seating. In a drama class you have the learners sitting in a circle and you ask one learner to go into the middle of the circle and to adopt an attitude (for example – look sad) and then the other learners will be asked to write questions for that person. You can use a learner, or you can use a photograph. This is a photograph I have chosen of a young boy crying. After asking the learners to write four questions they would like to ask the little boy, in pairs or groups you get them to compare the questions and choose which ones they think they would like to ask. You will notice that some of the questions will be lower order thinking: ‘Is he crying?’ Some of them will be higher order critical thinking: ‘Why is he crying?’
Then you will ask the learners in pairs or groups to ask the questions and the boy (one of your learners) replies in character. This is an effective way to stimulate questions and creative thinking and lead into an improvised speaking activity.
The next activity is called ‘thought tracking’. The teacher can start with a photograph of an interesting scene. For example here is a picture related to the theme of corporal punishment. I chose this because it links to the character of the boy crying and how he was punished by his mother. The learners look at the photograph and then create a frozen image (tableau) so one learner can be the mother, another the boy, the sister and the father. The teacher now asks them to think about what they are saying or thinking in this scene. Then the teacher or one of the learners can tap each of the characters in turn on the shoulder and they verbalise what they are thinking or what they are saying in the scene. This can be extended to a short sketch or dramatised scene. This activity allows learners to generate their own language and to engage with the thoughts and actions of characters in a certain context. It develops listening skills as well as speaking skills.
It is important to choose scenes that are relevant to the learners life and not to be afraid of choosing topics that may be controversial or get the learners emotionally involved. Personalization is a great motivator and typically drama has been used to address issues that are personal and complex. Augusto Baol the famous Brazilian dramatist created a concept called Forum Theatre to tackle social issues. It is used to address and resolve issues such as peer pressure, conflict resolution, bullying, drug / child abuse etc. Obviously you don’t want to make the topics very depressing and upsetting but also if there are issues that the learners are facing then it’s probably cathartic to address some of those issues depending on the age and maturity of your learners.
This leads us into the next activity which is called ‘the conscience alley’. In this activity you give the learners an ethical question for example if we continue in the same theme the question could be: ‘should corporal punishment be illegal?’ Put the learners standing in two lines facing each other and one side agrees with corporal and the other side disagrees and think that the mother shouldn’t hit the boy and Corporal punishment should be illegal. One of the learners can be the mother and you ask them to walk down the line of learners through the conscience alley and the learners whisper their opinions to the mother as she walks down. When the mother reaches the end of the conscience alley she can decide which side she thinks won the debate and the reasons why she chose that side.
The Mantle of Expert
The final drama activity that encourages both critical thinking and language learning development is ‘The Mantle of the Expert’. This is essentially a simulation where the learners take on the role of experts. Examples include the model UN or a children’s parliament or when the children become the teachers for the day. The aim is to investigate topics that are relevant so for example:- climate change, the environment, human or animal rights, recycling etc. It provides a way of leading into project work and allows the learners to discuss real life challenges. It provides a context for problem solving and decision making and provides opportunities for engagement and dialogue in the target language. The teacher sets up the context by adopting a role. If we use the same theme as the previous activities thinking about corporal punishment and how to punish children when they misbehave, then the teacher walks into the classroom and says: ‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to welcome you all to this meeting. It’s great to see so many expert psychologists here today. As you are all very aware we are experiencing a pandemic and children are locked down in their houses. They cannot go out to play and this of course has led to boredom frustration. Parents are finding it difficult to keep their children engaged and motivated and very often this has led to misbehaviour by children. Here at the Institute of Psychology we’re getting a lot of inquiries from parents about how to cope. Our job ladies and gentlemen as child psychologists is to provide some advice and suggestions for parents which is why we have called this meeting today. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to put you into groups to discuss this issue and to see if in your group you can come up with a list of maybe five to six suggestions that parents can adopt that will help them through this difficult situation’.
Adopting ‘a teacher in role’ is a way of setting up a project which can lead to reading, listening, and speaking practice. It is good to choose a topic that the learners have some previous knowledge about or something that they are studying in other classes like history or geography.
Drama in general and the specific activities I have described, promote creative thinking and activate learners’ imagination. Drama encourages divergent thinking as it frees the learners to create their own characters, settings, roles and language. Divergent thinking allows for learners to generate their own ideas and language and as a result provides rich opportunities for receptive and productive skills development through activities that are creative, open ended and encourage learner centered interaction.
Praise is identifying behaviour or progress and signalling approval. Everybody likes to be acknowledged in a positive way and people like to get positive feedback. So praise is essentially positive feedback to the learners acknowledging and approving their work or progress. Praise can come from the teacher, other learners or even self praise.
Why is praise important?
Praise can change expectations so learners can be encouraged to try harder, be more persistent and seek challenges it’s a very good way of building a positive atmosphere.
So how do we give praise?
There are three types of praise: one is personal praise where you’re praising the individual learner or group – ‘ohh well done Arzu you are fantastic,’ or group praise ‘well done you guys you’re awesome’. This kind of praise is not particularly effective because it’s too general. It’s praising people for being there and it doesn’t raise expectations. Indeed, if praise is not earned it can have a negative effect as it lowers expectations as the learner thinks – ‘yes I am fantastic, this is easy for me, I don’t need to try very hard and still the teacher says I am awesome’.
Praise needs to be more specific so learners know what they are being praised for so it could be effort based – it was a difficult reading with lots of new words but you stayed focussed – well done you you tried really hard but not ability based ‘you’re really good at reading’ because that doesn’t motivate learners to develop.
Praise can be behaviour specific – ‘Thank you Ahmet for cleaning the board, sitting quietly, helping you partner, you answered that question really well you included lots of ideas in your answer, you spoke for a minute and you used a lot of the new words we studied’.
so praise needs to be either effort based or behaviour specific and in this way we can increase motivation and raise expectations.
we need to be careful that we’re not praising inappropriately so we don’t want to praise behaviour that we expect we want to praise behaviour which is beyond our expectations.
If we praise too often the praise loses its value.
Who can give praise?
Usually we envisage the teacher giving praise, but learners can be encouraged to praise each other and self praise is possible.
Class or group praise.
This can be done publicly and spontaneously after an activity as a feedback stage. It can be done orally with phrases such as: ‘Well done. You spoke well in the role play and you used the expressions you learned today. I am really pleased’. Or the teacher can show their appreciation with facial gestures (smiles of encouragement) or other gestures such as thumbs up, high fives. When a group has performed well, the teacher can ask other groups to applaud or after a productive day the teacher can ask everyone to clap: ‘Great work today. Let’s give ourselves a clap’ or ‘ give everyone in your group a pat on the back’.
Praise can be reinforced visually using a praise graphic or visual – it can be a ladder where you could have all the learners visually represented
-bees for example moving towards the hive
or butterflies moving towards a flower
When a learner makes special effort or behaves in a praiseworthy manner their butterfly moves to the flower.
You need to be careful that these methods are only used for praise –
some teachers use this visual image as a way of disciplining learners as well. So you move up the ladder to the flower when you’re behaviour is praiseworthy but then they move you down the ladder as a form of discipline when the learner is misbehaving, but in my opinion this is a mistake because there are some learners who actually want attention and they seek attention above anything else
so moving down the ladder or up the ladder
is not so important what they really want to be doing is to be noticed by the teacher and moving somewhere
so actually by moving them down the ladder you’re just giving them the attention they crave
which is the opposite of what you want. I just use the praise ladder visual to reward behaviour or work that is praiseworthy.
Teachers need to be careful as too much loud public praise can be ‘showy’ and create class competition. For example –
Many teachers when giving feedback will say ‘okay how how many got all the answers right?’ and students put up their hands. ‘Oh well done Luigi you got all the answers right okay who got one wrong two wrong’ etc
Now if you’re a learner who’s got more than two or three wrong you publicly admit your failure so this isn’t praise. This is a deficit model of feedback showing you that there is only one correct answer and even though you may have tried hard – you failed – so this isn’t increasing effort or encouraging learners.
More effective is to give an answer key and let individual learners check their own answers or each other’s answers in pairs and this encourages peer feedback and self-praise.
Private praise to individual learners is usually more powerful than public praise so if we go up to a learner and have eye contact, smile at them give them encouragement through our facial gestures and maybe privately whisper: okay that was that was a very good essay etc
Praise needs to be earned so you need to feel that you’re worthy of the praise and the praise is sincere and authentic praise. Some teachers use stars or other visual rewards.
Individual message can be written to the learner in their learning journals or a learning diary. saying okay yesterday I notice you did this.
Learners can be encouraged to praise each other. Learners can be given opportunities to comment on each other’s work in peer feedback.
Similarly learners can be given opportunities to reflect on their learning at the end of the lesson: what did you learn today? Or use the ‘can do’ statements to reflect on their progress. This is a form of self-appraisal
This shows learners important principles about your teaching philosophy.
Praise can change expectations so learners can be encouraged to try harder, be more persistent and seek challenges. It is a very good way of building a positive atmosphere.
Praise needs to be either effort based or behaviour specific and in this way can increase motivation and raise expectations.
Praise needs to be earned, so you need to feel that you are worthy of the praise and the praise is sincere and authentic.
To summarise the key points of giving praise
Praise can be public or private, spontaneous or delayed,
We can use facial gestures, gestures, high fives, thumbs up, clapping etc as well as oral praise.
Public praise can be reinforced visually with a praise graphic or stars
Private praise can be delayed and given on ‘hotcards’ or in the learners’ learning diary.
The teacher can encourage peer praise after group or pair work by using answer keys.
Learners can be encouraged to self-reflect using ‘can do’ statements.
Rapport is all about building a positive classroom dynamic. Rapport is the connexion between the teacher and the learners and also the learners and other learners.
In life there are some people who we get on with – there is a positive chemistry
and others who we respond to negatively.
This is also true with classes: There are some classes where there is a positive energy and group dynamic – the teacher feels energised by the learners and the learners feel energised by each other.
Why is rapport important?
It is easy to recognise a group with a positive rapport – the learners and teacher maintain eye contact for longer periods, the body language is positive, learners interact with each other and there is a ‘buzz’ of excitement and expectation. When there is a positive classroom dynamic and a good rapport between the teacher and the learners and the learners amongst themselves, we hear excited voices, laughter and learners who are engaged in the lesson. This is when learning can really happen and indeed learning happens naturally and is joyful and fun.
And then there are other groups where the atmosphere is negative and energy is drained from the teacher and the learners. There is no connexion, minimal eye contact and a lack of focus and in these circumstances learning is very difficult.
So how do we build rapport?
Particularly how do we build rapport online where there is no physical connexion between the participants.
There are some things that we can do to help build rapport and these need to happen in the very first lesson. The first lesson is when the teacher can start establishing connections with the learners and create the learning atmosphere and culture. The learners will be at their most responsive and enthusiastic in the first lesson.
A key way to initially establish rapport is through eye contact with all the learners – obviously this is easier online where you can see the learners and they can see you as the teacher. You need to tell learners to turn on their camera. If a learner is sitting in the zoom room for example and you can’t see them then it’s very difficult to build a connection – you don’t know what they’re doing or even if they’re there – so establish eye contact and smile at the beginning of the lesson obviously in a face to face classroom you can get learners to sit or stand in a circle so that everybody can see each other and then it’s a good idea to have an ice breaker and warmer activity that also can reinforce the eye contact.
The other very important factor in building rapport is acknowledging all the learners and not leaving anyone out – everyone needs to feel involved and contributing to the group in the first few minutes of the first lesson. This is why learning and using the learners’ names is important – your name is kind of your label – it’s your identity and if your name is spoken by the teacher or the other learners that introduces you and establishes you in the group – if you have an opportunity to state your name and introduce yourself to the group – you have contributed. If you are teaching online make sure all the learners have their names on the screen by the name they want to be known by in the lessons.
A Warmer Activity
There are a number of warmer activities that you can do to establish rapport and build a good group dynamic that involve names particularly in the first lesson.
A simple activity that I like is the ball game and essentially it’s basically the teacher saying – ‘okay what’s this?
‘Yes it’s a ball. What colour is it? Yes it is red Kristina – not green Mehmet. Are you colour blind?’
In a face to face class you can use a real ball but an imaginary ball works fine online – even in a face to face class an imaginary ball is actually more effective in many ways because learners don’t drop it and they don’t need to catch it and an imaginary ball can change colour and shape.
‘Okay so what I’m going to do is – I’m going to throw the red ball to you I want you to catch it say your name then throw it to another student and then fold your arms. Is that difficult? No? But I also want you to remember who you throw the ball to and their name. OK?’ Then I throw the ball to a learner and we start the game.
So this is just a very quick way of getting all the students to introduce themselves to the group and say their name. The reason why people fold their arms is so you can see when everyone has caught the ball and said their name.
Next you tell the students that they have to throw the ball again but in exactly the same order – this time they have to say the name of the learner they are throwing the ball to. This becomes a little more challenging as learners have to remember two things. Often once I have done this with a red ball we can introduce different coloured balls and they go round the group in a different order until we have 3 or 4 different coloured balls all in the air at once. This activity works with a smallish group of 6 – 10 learners but larger than this can get chaotic and it is better to do it in groups in BORs.
Once learners are familiar with the ball game, it can be extended so that you’re not only just saying your name you’re adding some other information about yourself – where you live / your favourite food etc or it could be made into a game where the ball can change shape – catch a small ball and throw a big ball – or each learner has to catch it in a different way – with their shoulder or mouth (or change the ball into a bag / or glass and this adds an element of creativity and fun).
Obviously the idea of throwing a ball can be extended to other teaching contexts and you can use it in other lessons so instead of throwing a ball you could be throwing an animal or an object or a verb or basically anything and it’s a way of recycling vocabulary.
Starting your online lesson like this shows learners important principles about your teaching philosophy.
It shows learners -They need to be active, engaged and participate; Lessons can be fun; They need to interact and work together collaboratively; They will be listened to and included in the group; They are trusted to work autonomously in pairs and groups.
Important to convey your principles in the first lesson when learners are at their most engaged and receptive.
To summarise the key points of building rapport
Make eye contact with all the learners and smile encouragingly
Start with an ice breaker to engage all the learners
Learn and use all the learners’ names
No one must be left out
Establishing rapport and building a positive group dynamic starts in the first lesson.
As a teacher trainer this is a question that preoccupies me on a daily basis. Moreover I am not alone in this enquiry, indeed a major area of research has been to examine the impact of training on a teacher’s development. Researching the development of a teacher as a result of a training course is a challenging task. Conclusions of these studies vary from training being highly significant to almost negligible in terms of a teacher’s professional development. These discrepancies highlight the fact that measuring the impact of training is complex. The initial problem is defining ‘development’. Most studies resolve this difficulty by equating development with ‘change’. The logic proceeds along the lines that if the aim is to promote development then by definition there needs to be change. This change can be identified and potentially even measured. Studies can focus on changes in classroom behaviour (by observation), or in knowledge (tests) or, currently popular, changes in teachers’ beliefs (by questionnaire or verbal or written report).
Such studies have a number of limitations. Firstly, failure to take a longitudinal perspective of a teacher’s life and assume that change can be identified at a specific stage (for example, after a training programme). Secondly, reliance on one method of data collection and failure to triangulate information. This is a flaw as experienced teacher trainers will concur that what a teacher professes to do in an oral or written report is not always what they demonstrate when observed in the classroom and vice versa. The real question needs to reveal the nature of teacher development. Are we examining change in terms of what a teacher does, knows or believes? Until we define the nature of teacher development then the change processes may remain too deeply hidden even for the most conscientious researcher to uncover.
Journeys in Teacher Education
Describing a teachers’ development as a journey is a well trodden metaphor (Godfrey, 2011). The allegory is apt however since a central concept of a teachers’ professional development implies change, moving from one position to another as in a journey.
As a journey has a destination and a route so does teacher development. The destination is knowledge, the route is the experience we need to obtain the knowledge. Teacher development is a life long journey and a commitment to development and change.
In my experience many teachers when they set out on this journey innocently perceive it as a well trodden path with the route clearly signposted and the staging posts marked. However this is rarely the case and it is often only by getting lost and having to cope with chaos that we really learn from experience. We learn more about the jungle by hacking through it on foot than reading about it in a book.
Before we can embark on our journey of teacher development, we need to consider what kind of journey are we on. What kind of landscape are we travelling through? How are we travelling? When considering the nature of teaching: Is teaching best described as a job (performing routine and repetitive tasks)? A career (life-long involvement and developing expertise with experience)? A profession (social responsibility and professional identity)? Or perhaps a vocation (personal significance and autonomy)? For most experienced teachers their perspective of their role may engage all of these characterisations. How teachers view their role and indeed how society at large views the role of a teacher is influenced by perceptions of the nature of knowledge (epistemology) and how knowledge is conveyed to learners.
So we can view a teacher’s role from a variety of perspectives and these ‘levels of perception’ are important when researching the nature of a teacher and teacher learning. This distinction is rarely acknowledged as most research studies on teacher learning are locked into an epistemological stance that sees teaching from one perspective only. Teachers’ roles are categorised into concepts of teachers as technicians, reflective practitioners or transformative intellectuals. These are not mutually exclusive categories but represent a cline as teaching involves elements of routine task and behaviours at one end, to reflective thinking and effecting personal and social change at the other.
These levels of perception are mirrored historically in English language teaching where there has been an evolution from behaviorism and a focus on techniques, practices and methods through to learner centered approaches concerned more with the learner and affective factors. These changes in perception are influenced by psychology and second language acquisition research. They alter our perceptions of the landscape and the route we need to take on our teacher’s developmental journey. .
Empiricists vs Rationalists
There is a vast quantity of literature describing a teacher’s professional development but also little consensus and considerable confusion. This confusion appears to be largely caused by the shifting epistemological perspectives in which the focus of enquiry has targeted different features of teacher learning. Prior to 1975 the dominant research paradigm concerned the relationship between the teachers’ classroom behaviour, students’ classroom behaviour, and student achievement. This research model, advocated by Empiricists, focuses on teacher behaviour and observable outcomes of empirical observation. This was followed by a Rationalist domain of enquiry known as ‘teacher cognition’ studying what teachers know and think. This vast volume of research data enables applied linguists to boldly claim that now they have an understanding of how teachers conceive of what they do: what they know about language teaching, how they think about their classroom practice, and how that knowledge and those thinking processes are learned through teacher development and informal experience on the job.
This confident assertion can only be offered from a convergent oriented research paradigm that perceives the journey of teacher development as consisting of one route and one destination. There is an underlying reductionist assumption that there are static generalisations and truths to be uncovered from the research data. I argue that we also need to consider a third possibility of a more dynamic, divergent approach to teacher learning and development that views individual teacher’s behaviour and thoughts as being influenced by a set of ‘beliefs’ that are personal, dynamic and often subconscious and these internalized perceptions, beliefs and feelings relate to who one is in the world. In other words we need to accept that there may be many routes and destinations on the teacher development journey.
All three paradigms, focusing alternately on what teachers do, think and feel are all components of the developmental journey. They represent three ‘learning journeys’ that although they can operate separately, they are inextricably linked.
The question we need to address is: what is the destination? What knowledge does a teacher need? Malderez and Bodoczky (1999) identify three levels for describing a teacher’s knowledge. They depict the relationship visually using the metaphor of an iceberg.
Above the water level of the iceberg there are the observable behaviours of what happens in the classroom. There are a number of approaches in the literature focussing on investigating teachers’ practical classroom knowledge. One approach takes teachers knowledge as personal, practical and tacit knowledge developed in the course of engaging in the act of teaching and responding to the context of the situation. However this knowledge is not always easily accessible to the conscious mind as ‘we know more than we can tell’ (Polyani, 1967). Teachers with experience act in the cassroom in a certain way but can be hard pushed to explain why they responded in certain ways. There is a distinction between a teacher’s tacit knowledge and formalised knowledge that can be disseminated. Schon (1983) proposed that what teachers do in the classroom can be defined as ‘knowing in action’, that is, practice reveals a knowing that does not stem from intellectual operation. In other words knowing how to teach does not depend on formalised knowledge (as medicine and law). Expert mathematicians may not be the best mathematics teachers and effective language teachers may not have much knowledge of linguistics. Hence the distinction between what teachers do in the classroom (practice) and what they know (theory) has generated contrasting opinions. Are the actions of an effective teacher more attuned to the arts, where there is valuing of the individual, the particular, the local, the intuitive, the imaginative: or to science, where there is valuing of the general, the systematic, the objective, the publicly shared?
In the 1980s cognitive learning theories shifted research to questions under the water level of the iceberg to examine what teachers know, how they use this knowledge and what impact their decisions have on practice. Deeper under the surface are beliefs. Beliefs, it is claimed, greatly influence teaching, are unconscious, deep rooted and hard to change. Even deeper into the depths of the iceberg we have teachers’ feelings and attitudes to teaching. Attitude is a way of thinking that inclines one to feel and behave in certain ways. It is influenced by factors such as status, level of pay, political structure of the school and other social forces. Positive and negative attitudes to teaching will change, as indeed the social context in which the teachers operate and find meanings will change.
In order to conceptualise a teacher’s development as a metaphorical journey, we need to frame the journey into three ‘learning worlds’.
1. The Applied World: Classroom teaching (procedure and techniques) and the teacher’s visible behaviours are the physical manifestations on the journey.
2. The Cognitive World: Teaching design and knowledge and the teacher’s mental ideas and concepts are the route. The symbolic journey is cognitive and non observable.
3. The Spiritual World: The final element is the teacher’s inner responses (how they make sense of the journey in terms of individual feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values. The changes in the traveller’s feelings, moods, thoughts and attitudes to the journey are not identifiable to the external observer but nevertheless these are the changes that determines the traveller’s sense of self, her identity and in terms of the traveller’s development, the changes that should interest us the most.
Typically research into a teacher’s developmental journey has focussed on specific features of the journey, predominantly either focusing on the applied world and the observable phenomena or the symbolic journey and the learning processes or the real or imagined impressions of the teacher as they go on their journey. however, in reality all these world are interacting and interlocking – all essential features of the same journey.
The role of the trainer.
What is the role of training in the developmental journey?
If teaching is at its roots the acquisition of pedagogic skills and these skills are acquired primarily through classroom experience , then what role, we can ask, does a training course have on a teachers’ development?
Focus on techniques: Is training about providing a recipe of skills?
One answer is to view a training course as a transmission process where the trainer demonstrates a recipe of techniques for trainee teachers to practise. The analogy is the guide in the jungle demonstrating techniques for climbing a rock face, building a shelter, navigating by the stars. Indeed, this logic is applied to more rigid teaching approaches (i.e. Audiolingualism) that attempt to make teaching (and learning) languages (and by extension teacher training) formulaic and ‘teacher proof’. This conception of training only makes sense if the teaching context is stable. However no learners or groups of learners respond in an uniform manner. Teaching, as a social practice, is constituted through communication and coordinated action: it depends on the often unpredictable ways in which learners act and respond to the actions of others. One could argue of course that one method of reducing the unpredictability of teaching is to restrict the number of possible actions and activities in classrooms. McDonald’s fast food chains provide a parallel analogy. The limited number of items on the menu and the global uniformity of both the preparation of the food and the layout and working procedures of the staff restrict the number of different activities available to staff and customers. This makes the experience of ordering a ‘Big Mac’ the same all over the world irrespective of local language and cuisine. We can envisage a ‘Big Mac’ manual to ELT teaching. Many classroom actions are habitual in nature, the patterns of action can be acquired in training and practised until highly proficient through experience.
What happens though when the tried and trusted techniques fail? Pedagogy is more than the relationship between action and consequences. This is particularly self-evident in teaching when the same lesson taught to different groups invariably has a variety of outcomes (a world apart from the standardised Big Mac). There is an intersubjectivity between the worlds of action, mind and self. When the lesson starts going pear shaped, we need to call on the world of reflective skills and critical thinking.
Focus on theory: Is training a form of brainwashing?
Undoubtedly, while teachers need training to be grounded in classroom practice they also need the theoretical rationale. Why does this work? How should theory be conveyed in a training context? The desired outcome of the course is greater shared tacit knowledge. Many teachers demand a deductive approach (as do many learners): “Tell me what I need to know”. However a lecturing approach to theory rarely is effective as abstract ideas and processes mean little to participants without the reference point of personal experience. Indeed this theoretical indoctrination without opportunities for critical reflection or practical application is not dissimilar to a form of brainwashing.
On the other hand it is also possible to criticise more inductive approaches to training too. Constructivist theory suggests that shared tacit knowledge will be the outcome where teachers participate in activities and decision-making, have a sense of responsibility and engage in collaborative work. However most teachers would be wary of putting learners into a group with the expectation that through interaction and dialogue alone effective learning would be achieved. There are numerous mitigating factors concerning individual’s professional identity and pervasive influence of the context. A balance of guidance and discovery is required by the trainer depending on a range of factors such as depth of teaching experience and factors related to personality and self esteem.
In order for effective interaction and collaboration to exist there needs to be a culture of trust and mutual respect. Opportunities for interaction may be less significant in terms of learning and meaning construction and more important for establishing and exploring personal identity and a ‘sense of self’. There is a danger of creating superficial and contrived forms of interaction or ‘sharing for the sake of sharing’. What is needed, in other words, is a model of teacher education that acknowledges the non-causal nature of training interaction and accepts the value of personal enhancement as well as technical processes. How teachers’ feel about themselves enhances their technical, reflective and critical skills. Greater confidence means better teachers.
I can illustrate what I mean about the non-causal nature of training with an analogy. When a chef enters the kitchen to cook a meal, he can predict the outcome of the process with confidence. He prepares and mixes the ingredients, places them in the cooker and most days the outcome is similar: a trainer enters the training room with a group of teachers and can not predict the outcomes of the process in the same manner. Each group of participants will behave differently. This requires an inner security and confidence in order to appreciate that there may be a loss of clarity and control but not a loss of one’s personal identity.
We can conclude by stating that there are at least three learning journeys. The physical journey seeks to answer ‘how’ questions and involves physical action and classroom procedure. The reflective journey seeks to answer ‘what’ questions and takes us out of ourselves to consider abstractions, metaphor and generalisations. We travel this road to create meaning in a rationale objective manner. The spiritual journey seeks to answer ‘why’ questions and takes us into our inner selves to consider who we are, our spirituality, desires, identity. We travel this road to discover our subjective inner truth.
Creating our own reality.
Of course the metaphor of learning as a journey is a simplification. A teacher’s developmental journey cannot be concretized into a definable product or process: knowledge and learning are inseparable and not bound in time and space. Knowledge can enter our consciousness with blinding clarity one moment and then dissipate into wispy clouds the next. We have the ability to re-imagine, re-create and re-invent past experiences and fashion them to our desire, highlighting episodes that reverberate with our inner sense of self. Equally we create our future journeys through imagination and visualisation. We dream and fantasize. We create our learning journeys and fashion the landscape in our own reflection. We become the teacher we are through the way we engage with what we learn.
The challenge for teacher education, then, is firstly to make teachers aware of the landscape and the journeys they create for themselves and help them understand how they created their landscape and especially why. The answers to these questions lies in an exploration not only of what teachers do and think but also an exploration of who the teacher is, in other words their sense of self.
Godfrey, J. T. (2011) Journeys in Teacher Training and Education. LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing.
Malderez, A. and Bodoczky, C. (1999) Mentor Courses: a resource book for teacher trainers. Cambridge University Press.
Polyani, M. (1967) The Tacit Dimension. New York. Doubleday.
Schon, D. A. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. London: Temple Smith
‘Lockdown’ is a short film set in a zoom room during the COVID 19 pandemic. It was filmed during the lock down. The film shows two people (Adam and Eve) meeting in a virtual space. It is an allegory of the creation story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden but in this virtual space the Tree of Knowledge is represented by the internet. Despite Eve’s warnings, Adam recommits the original sin by digesting the fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge (and allowing the virtual paradise to be corrupted by the virus pandemic). The virtual space is ‘lorded over’ by the mysterious ‘Host’ and a chorus of voices. The film depicts a moral philosophy which draws on the tradition of medieval morality plays popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. It is an allegorical film in which the characters face the dilemma of a life in a lock down.
in May 2020 when we were forced into lockdown by the COVID 19 pandemic. The original play depicts two tribes meeting in Paradise and describes their attempts to live together. However, as in ‘Lock Down’, the ideal is destroyed when Adam eats from the Tree of Knowledge and the tribes have to build a wall to separate themselves from further conflict. The play was inspired by a short sketch by Luke Prodromou called ‘The Wall’. In this play the two protagonists build a wall between them as the only solution to avoid conflict only to find that the wall exacerbates their mutual suspicion and distrust of each other. The original play also refers to the ‘12 Rules for Life an antidote to chaos’, the number 1 best seller by Jordan B Peterson. The original play was inspired by Peterson’s depiction of the story of Adam and Eve. Peterson in his book provides twelve principles for living a meaningful life which were incorporated in the original stage play. The attempt to find meaning as a defence against suffering is also a theme of Lockdown.
The film is an adaption from the original stage play by Tom Godfrey called ‘Me and You and Jordan Peterson’ which our theatre Speech Bubbles was planning for performance The film is produced by Speech Bubbles. Speech Bubbles is a theatre group based in Istanbul. One of the aims of the group is to raise money for charities.
We hope to use the film ‘Lockdown’ to help raise funds for medical teams in hospitals in Istanbul. We are asking for donations to buy medical masks and other equipment to help medical staff in their work treating patients suffering from the COVID 19 pandemic. Donations to: http://www.speechbubbles.org