We’d like to sketch out here our thinking while going about the initial work of unplugging our course.
We posed ourselves the question: “if we could create an initial language teacher training certificate course from scratch, how would we define an “A-grade” teacher?”. It didn’t take long before we had the following list
(you might call them the Seven Blessed Virtues of ELT – as opposed to the Seven Deadly Sins of ELT, but more of that later…):
- ability to create meaningful and simple reasons for learners to listen to the teacher or each other;
- ability to create meaningful reasons for learners to speak to the teacher or to each other;
- ability to listen to and notice interesting use of language from students while maintaining normal interaction with learners;
- ability to present examples of learner language on the whiteboard in a way which makes their linguistic features apparent to learners;
- ability to ask straightforward questions to learners about these language examples to encourage reformulation or variation;
- ability to create simple but effective ways of putting such language back to work on the fly in class;
- ability to reflect on their learners’ language use in one lesson and select useful areas for closer study in a future lesson.
After we had this shortlist, we set about redesigning our course. In a later post, we’ll describe the course design process in more detail. At this stage, what is interesting is that, after we had finished, we noticed that we had been working with some unspoken yet shared principles running in the background. After talking this over, these principles could be expressed thus:
- if it’s important to us in a teacher, it comes early in the course as a discussion;
- if it’s a familiar skill from “real life” that has application in the language classroom, it comes early in the course as a discussion;
- if it’s likely to require a lot of getting used to doing, it comes early in the course as a discussion;
- if it’s a standard ELT technique alien to “real life (e.g. repetition drilling). it always gets initially talked about within the context of a real lesson that the trainees have observed;
- if it’s a common framework for a type of lesson (reading, listening, language focus etc.), it never gets discussed before the trainees have observed their tutors teaching such a lesson with the Teaching Practice students that the trainees are themselves working with;
- If it’s something that has practical application in the classroom, it should be rehearsed in input sessions prior to being field-tested in Teaching Practice;
- If it seems to need handouts or other transmission-style-enabling tools, rework it until you don’t need the handouts any more;
- If illustrative materials are needed or useful, make sure they are real examples (e.g. real course-books instead of copies from a unit; real student writing examples, real examples of learner language perhaps collected by the trainees themselves etc.)
- if it seems to stand alone as a topic or session, look more closely until links with other ideas and events in the course become apparent;
- If a session doesn’t surprise you as a tutor, you’ve been on auto-pilot.
These principles were not formulated prior to the design process; far more, they emerged and crystallised during and as a result of the design process. We were both struck by how powerfully they had influenced our thinking and collaboration during the work of stripping our first week down and refitting it. In this way, the design process was a perfect illustration of principle number ten in action.
Hopefully, this gives a clear picture of the thinking behind the course design process. In our next post, we’ll describe the actual design meeting and the shock we felt at watching a course write itself.