Although we have just started a teacher training course here at Active, this is actually a post which I was thinking about a while ago following a conversation with a friend.
I’ve been working as a tutor at Active for a few years now and it’s interesting to see how trainees from different nationalities cope with the different aspects of the course. Often (though certainly not always), non-native speakers feel much more confident with teaching grammatical aims than their native-speaker peers. In the conversation with my friend, she mentioned how she felt that some native speaker teachers have a tendency to overwhelm learners during their explanations, perhaps by getting bogged down with metalanguage or feeling that as they now feel confident with the ins and outs of the structure, they must pass all that knowledge on to their learners.
We did some professional development in the area of Teacher Training at the end of last year as our school runs the Trinity CertTESOL and Diploma courses. These were some of the things which we identified as being necessary for a teacher trainer:
- an awareness of detail and the bigger picture
- note-taking skills
- legible handwriting
- personality management
- time management
Well, we’re into Week 2 of the Trinity Cert TESOL course here in Cádiz and trainees handed in their Unknown Language Journals yesterday. This course were treated to four hours of Korean (previous courses have been faced with Welsh, Arabic, Irish or Greek) and spent the weekend typing up their assignments, thinking about lesson aims, teaching methods and the learning experience.
Now comes the task of marking the assignments and the tutors always end up asking each other (or the UL tutor!) whether trainees have correctly identified the lesson aims. Which, more often than not, leads us to wondering whether prepositions are lexical or grammatical! This course as well though threw prefixes into the mix and so I did a bit of research and found this fabulous article on that very topic.
I’ve been musing more on our students’ response to “heads down” activities since a 10-year-old in one of my classes recently said that he doesn’t enjoy speaking activities and would prefer to do a written task from the book. He’s a strong student, although I would perhaps ‘label’ him as more of an intrapersonal learner: he’s quite quiet, will answer questions when directly asked but is more reluctant to volunteer, takes a more supportive rather than dynamic role during team games, etc.
However, I was wondering whether it’s more than just the learner’s personality which accounts for their interest in completing written tasks. Written activities are permanent and measurable: when a learner completes a written task, it’s corrected and provides the learner with a sense of achievement. On the other hand, spoken tasks are far more transient and although the teacher will no doubt be monitoring the task, it’s impossible to hear what every student says during a pair-work activity, so errors may go uncorrected.
We had a wonderful professional development session yesterday by Ceri Jones on coursebooks. It was a wonderful moment of querying the role of coursebooks in our classes and really thinking about how we use them.
We discussed what the coursebook means to us individually and the content of an ideal coursebook, looking at how our ideals compare to what the majority currently offer. Then we went on to look at a specific two-page spread and talked about how we would teach that lesson – how we would Select, Adapt and Supplement the material (a healthy dose of SAS is important for every page of the coursebook!).
At this point, Ceri introduced us to Lindsay Clandfield‘s idea of “Heads Up, Heads Down and Heads Together” as a way of categorising the interaction patterns and activity types. After the session, I was thinking further about this: about the variety within the class and, more importantly, what learners respond to. We said during the session that as EFL teachers using a communicative methodology, we instinctively aim for more “heads together” activities as these encourage STT and really get the learners using the target language. However, something that we’ve found, certainly in the extra-curricular classes we give in a local state school, is that learners respond particularly well to “heads down” activities. Younger learners who are taught in a fairly strict, structured, “heads down” environment often struggle to recognise the boundaries of a more communicative “heads together” class, leading to classroom management issues because of noise, high energy levels and over-use of L1. I wonder whether as well, because of their learning experience, they see more benefit in “heads down” activities or whether it’s simply a case of habit and expectations.
As always, it’s essential to have a balance of activities in every lesson. But also, it’s important to keep those “heads down” moments to appeal to all our learners – those intrapersonal learners probably appreciate the chance to do an activity quietly and it may perhaps be their moment to shine as well.