Tagged: teacher education

Unplugged Radio Episode 6 – The Whites Of Their Eyes

Hello! Welcome to Teacher Training Unplugged Radio – my name is Anthony Gaughan.

(if you can’t see the podcast player above, click this link for the audio.)

There has been quite a long gap between episodes as Christmas and New Year got in the way. I had to do something to convince Father Christmas that I had been a good boy, however, so In the run-up to Christmas, I collaborated with Phil Wade and co-authored a short eBook on 5-minute self-reflection activities for teachers, which was a lot of fun and which you can get for free.

Now that we are well past the season to be jolly, I find myself back in the Hanseatic North of Germany, doing my day-job of working on Celta courses.

I’m working with a talented, thoughtful and enthusiastic group of beginning teachers at the moment, and they are making my job very easy in lots of ways.

We have just spent the past week getting to know the language learners who have signed up to participate in the Teaching Practice classes, and over the past few days, my trainees have dreamed up, designed and delivered some great lessons.

These lessons have focused on offering the students opportunities to listen to, or read, personal stories that the trainees were willing to share.

The teachers told stories ranging from losing a bunny out of a moving vehicle on the freeway, or seeing the Real Santa Claus doing his rounds, to the exquisite suffering brought on by not heeding a culinary warning.

This prompted the students to share wonderful stories of their own, my favorite being a childhood memory of a puppy running off with the Christmas goose.

No bunnies or puppies were harmed in the making of these lessons, by the way.

Though I’m afraid a goose was.

While I was watching these lessons, and while much was going well and was enjoyable to observe, I couldn’t help but notice something very small going on that was sometimes having quite a big impact on proceedings.

When I say “I saw something going on”, what I really ought to say is “I saw something not going on”, or at least, not when it really mattered.

Things are looking up

Let me take you into an imaginary classroom to show you what I mean.

Picture this: we are observing a teacher make the transition from their lead-in or warmer stage to the first of their listening tasks. It’s a simple, classic global understanding (or “gist”) type reason for listening, and it’s written on a handout that the teacher is about to give to the students. The teacher has checked in with the students and listened to what they got out of the warm-up task, and they decide now is the time to make the move to their story.

The teacher looks to their left, checks their notes, picks up their handouts, and starts to give their instruction. To save time, they get up, and start passing round their material, doing each student the courtesy of handing it to him or her personally. While the teacher is doing this, they continue to give their instruction, taking great care to pass out one handout to each student, and negotiating the crowded back end of the room, squeezing between the class table and their observing colleagues and me.

They get to the front of the room again and settle into starting their story. There is a mild disquiet in the room, and one of the less demure of the students gets the teacher’s attention and asks “what is it we should do?”

Now, you may be thinking: “if the teacher had only given the instruction before handing out the material, this would never have happened!”

And perhaps you are right.

It’s just that I have also seen the same outcome when materials followed instructions, so there must be something even more basic going on.

Or, as I say, not going on.

What was the teacher spending most of the time not looking at?

That’s right: the students.

“Keep an eye on the class” – but not for the reason you think

Eye contact is hugely important for all kinds of reasons in the classroom. Apart from helping in relationship building, which is important in itself, what I am noticing more and more is that were eye contact is lacking, class management problems increase.

When teachers give instructions without looking their students in the eye at the outset, and without maintaining this reasonably during the instruction-giving, then it makes no difference how otherwise clear, concise, comprehensive and concise the instruction was – students often don’t understand, or their attention was elsewhere and they missed it.

When teachers give instructions after getting everyone’s attention – and after they know that they have gotten everyone’s attention because they can see the group looking back at them – then even a sub-optimal instruction can do the job.

The importance of eye contact may be so obvious to those of you listening that you might think it is bizarre for me to make such a point of it.

But it is precisely because it is so obvious that it’s worth being reminded about.

Because when you are already heavily taxed by engaging in a new activity, managing a raft of paperwork and other strange artifacts like board-pens, with half a dozen people watching your every move in silence, insufficiently hidden behind the students you are determined not to let down or embarrass yourself in front of, then your ability to look out into the world and stare it in the face diminishes very quickly.

The unavoidable self-absorption of the novice – whether it be the novice teacher or the novice driver – leads to shortsightedness of very particular kinds.

For the driver, it starts with a difficulty to see much beyond the dashboard. Over time, peripheral vision opens up and something approaching safe, observant driving can occur.

For the teacher, it starts with a difficulty to lift our eyes from our lesson plan notes or other paperwork, and look the people with whom we are working in the eye. Over time, this channel of communication opens up and something approaching genuine, open communication can occur.

But given the importance of not only seeing the other people in the room, but really looking at them, what can we do in the mean time to help speed up the developmental process?

A second’s glance

One thing we can do is do one thing at a time – literally. The observed classroom is a very pressurized environment whatever we try to do to alleviate it, but precisely for this reason we need to focus on what we are doing, not on what is going on at the back of the room with our colleagues.

One way of doing this is to become willing to pay the price in time for focus.

Accept that each single step we take in the classroom may require our total focus and then give it that focus for the moment it requires.

So if we need to consult our notes, we consult our notes.

If the notes tell us to gather our task sheets and tell the students what to do next, we gather our task sheets.

Then we look up. And we make eye contact with the class.

And we move on from there.

That’s it for now on Teacher Training Unplugged Radio. If you liked what you heard, please share it, like it and leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. For now, this is Anthony Gaughan, saying thank you for listening, and see you next time.

Celta Hamburg Podcast Episode 2

I just made a short podcast for my current Celta trainees up here in Hamburg, where I talk a bit about our general approach to training, teacher talk, language grading, task-setting, work management (less generally interesting unless you are on the course) and tips for passing the Focus on the Learner assignment (these tips may be generally useful for anyone).  It was recorded for a very select audience (you eight people know who you are!), but perhaps it’s interesting for anyone who likes reading my posts.

00:00 – introduction
01:27 – Using problems to drive learning
05:25 – teacher talk, keeping instructions simple, and task before text
11:50 – workload management and tips for passing the FoL first time
14:23 – closing

I’d be interested to hear what you think if you give this a listen (especially about whether you would like an audio version to accompany any future blogposts), so drop me a line if you do!

ELTChat Summary: what makes a good teacher trainer? (26 September 2012 9pm GMT)

This is a summary of an ELTChat for the benefit of the #ELTChat community

What do you get when you pose a question like this to a bunch of committed teachers and teacher trainers? Before anything else happens, you get an argument about definition of terms.

 09:01pm @victorhugor: What’s the difference between teacher trainer and teacher educator?

Marisa Constantinides found this link to a discussion of the distinction between Teacher training and teacher education (from his classic Aspects of Language Teaching).

The basic distinction that teacher training tended to occur more in a pre-service setting (hereafter: PRESET) whereas teacher education tended to happen more at in-service (hereafter: INSET) level was queried but not seriously disputed by most participants.

However, as the chat went on, it became clear that this “false dichotomy” (as I called it) led, once accepted, to some fairly radical statements about the nature of teacher training.

Continue reading

Parachute training for teachers

Parachute jumper descending on cloudy day
Photo taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/horiavarlan/5247691488/ by hora varian, used under a CC Attribution licence, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Have you ever learnt to sky-dive?

If you have, you may recall receiving this instruction…

“Immediately after you pull the rip cord, shout out at the top of your lungs ONE THOUSAND, TWO THOUSAND, THREE THOUSAND – CHECK!!!!

When you shout CHECK!, tilt your head back and look above your head.

If you see your parachute canopy opening, relax and enjoy the ride.

If you don’t, reach for your reserve rip cord and pull it.


If you see your parachute canopy opening, relax and enjoy the ride.

If you don’t, relax anyway, because it will all be over before you know it.”

Macabre as the punchline is, there is actually a great deal of sense in this short lesson – both for novice sky-divers and for teachers of all levels of experience.

Continue reading

Question: should I write a book or not?

Someone recently messaged me to encourage me to publish a book of low-resource ideas for initial language teacher training.

I think I would like to write such a book (when I get the time, that is!), but I would hate to do it if the world doesn’t seem to want something like that with the Teacher Training Unplugged twist.

So here is a bit of fun with a serious purpose: if you have a moment, please answer this simple question and I promise I’ll act (sooner or later) on the results!



If you can’t see the poll question, it is because your browser is blocking the embedded content from PollDaddy – this could happen if you use Ghostery or NoScript to protect yourself online.  Please allow PollDaddy if you want to see and answer the question.

Thanks for participating; I’m really looking forward to what you think.

What makes a lesson GREAT? Part #3

This is the third installment in a short series of posts inspired by a question posed by Mike Harrison – you can give him your own answer on the IATEFL Facebook page. To recap, I thought the following things were likely to make a lesson GREAT:

Group dynamic
Relevance to learners’ lives
Emergent language

If you like, you can catch up on what I had to say about group dynamics and relevance, or you can jump into the middle of things right here!

E for Emergent language

A simple gloss of what emergent language might be “language that comes up in the course of a lesson”. The trouble is, in an ideal world, LOTS of language comes up in a lesson, and it would be asking a bit much of a teacher or their learners to pay close attention to all of it!

Approaches to teaching which advocate the exploitation of emergent language require a teacher to select from this large data set those items which will contribute to learning – the question is, how to choose? Continue reading

What makes a lesson GREAT? Pt. 2

This is the second instalment of a series of five posts that I have started in order to expand on a short answer I gave to Mike Harrison over on the IATEFL Facebook group page in response to the question what makes a lesson GREAT?

It was the capitalisation that gave me the idea to fit my ideas on this into the letters composing the word at issue – GREAT. The first post, on Group Dynamic, you can find here. In writing it, I noticed that far from being an answer, it threw up a whole load of questions around the idea that I had blithely posted earlier.

This is one thing I love about these short professional development exchanges on the IATEFL and IATEFL SIG facebook pages, and I encourage you all to take part here and here for starters.

But onto what I thought was the second component of a GREAT lesson…

R for Relevance to learners’ lives Continue reading

What makes a lesson GREAT? Part 1 (and a postscript)

The original question on IATEFL's Facebook pageThis was the question posed by Mike Harrison on the IATEFL facebook page  recently. Considering the space constraints of commenting on a platform like that, and given my Faible for whimsical responses to serious questions, I replied thus:

My answer to mike's question

If you are familiar with acrostics, a form of poetry where the first letters in each line (or some other regular pattern) form a message, you will see what I have done here – my response to Mike’s question is hiding in plain sight.

But afterwards, amused and satisfied as I was at my minor achievement in melding pedagogy and poetry, I felt the need to expand on this collection of ideas, as I had contributed them with more than simply the intention of showing off my (questionably) witty way with words.

So lI thought I’d look at each of my criteria for what makes a lesson great in a bit more depth over the next few days. I’ll be taking them in order so let’s begin at the beginning with G for Group DynamicContinue reading

Cooking Unplugged (or: the roaring in the oven)

Recipes for Tired Teachers by Chris Sion

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about food recently. Granted, this soon after the festive excesses of the Christmas/New Year period, the last thing you may want to read about is food, but please bear with me for a while.

Recent debate over in Chia Suan Chong’s Devil’s Advocate blog series drew my attention back once more to an analogy which links teaching and food: the idea of lesson recipes.

“First, pre-heat the oven to 220°c”

The metaphor of a recipe pervades discussion of lesson structure both at pre-service level and beyond.  There was even a highly popular book based on this analogy.

Continue reading

Christmas ELT Appeal: Worst Case Scenario Survival Toolkit

Toolkit - courtesy of Wikimedia commons
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I got an email a few days ago from a teacher in Australia called Rufus. She works with teachers in parts of the world where resources that many of us take for granted can be scarce, and where others that we may occasionally get our hands on are pure pipe dream.

She asked me to contribute to some upcoming training she would be leading in Cambodia, with teachers whose local resources were limited and whose confidence in their own English proficiency may also be limited, and who may not have been fortunate enough to have received much in the way of formal teacher education in the recent past.

In particular, she asked me what I considered my essential teachers’ toolkit: what, as a teacher, I considered a bare minimum of resources with which I could imagine working effectively with groups of students more or less anywhere. Continue reading