Comment on Scott Thornbury’s ‘P is for Practicum’ post

11 07 2011

I think the key aspect of the learning process, particularly when we are discussing learning how to teach, is that the learner learns through understanding the processes (Go Delpha!).

For this reason your suggestion, Scott, for in-lesson intervention makes me twitch. Such intervention is surely the purest form of ‘do what I want you to do’ since there is no opportunity for negotiation or elicitation of why one way of doing something is better than the other (unless you stop the lessons and have a timeout (to keep the coaching metaphor alive) and keep the students waiting while the head coach / trainer and the quarterback / teacher debate the next play / the next step? However, in post-lesson feedback you can have such negotiation and elicitation (albeit relying on memory) and luckily include other impartial observers (fellow trainees) in the debate. Just as a coach does most of his coaching during the week, not on Saturday / Sunday during the game.

And surely post-course regression to type will happen however we train? After all, personality and individual style / talent are still the majority influences on how we teach (and play sports). What we as trainers aspire to do is to give trainees a methodologically sound basis / playbook from which to grow. Which is why Celta and Delta use criteria to focus teaching practice which allow plenty of room for individual styles and levels of empathy, but look to encourage sound foundations within the classroom (Messi and Rooney are very different styles of footballer but they both still have to abide by the rules of the game if they want to win).

Which brings us back to the key debate – what are the rules of ELT? Although Cambridge in their wisdom do a pretty decent job of describing sound classroom techniques, this is a debate which is timeless of course and is perhaps why we’re not paid quite as well as teachers and trainers as football players / coaches are?

Scott Thornbury (05:30:39) :

Thanks, Neil for your (dissenting) comment. I take your point that ‘coaching from the sidelines’ sounds as about as prescriptive as you can be, but see my comments to Delpha above. To use another analogy, if you were a driving instructor and you saw that your charge was about to drive off a cliff, wouldn’t you grab the wheel?

Besides, I don’t think that the practicum is so sacrosanct that it can’t be turned into a kind of Brechtian rehearsal space – where all contending voices (including the students’) are heard and attended to. Wouldn’t it be interesting to conduct TP a bit like reality TV, where the ‘audience’ (i.e. the students) are periodically canvassed as to their opinion of what’s going on?

tevezito (04:26:46) :

Thanks for the reply Scott. I think your further analogy is a little unfair, since you would probably hit the brakes long before your charge gets anywhere near cliffs, and in the Celta context, as soon as candidates start unlearning the students I would step in. However, most of the time they are not making drastic mistakes, but just making misinformed decisions based on lack of knowledge / experience, or simply forgetting what they meant to do next.

We may also be talking about quite different contexts of course. In your practicums there is no assessment, and perhaps not much pre-lesson support? Certainly in the first week or two of Celta we give detailed pre-lesson support in the form of TP notes and so any ‘driving of the cliff’ the candidates attempt to do is only mildly irritating to the students but eye-openingly instructive to the trainee candidates.

As for the reality TV angle, i’ve always thought a Celta course would make for brilliant reality TV. It’s just a shame Cambridge wouldn’t allow anyone outside of the course in to film it, not to mention that fact that real life is much more entertaining than reality TV.

Scott Thornbury (20:02:43) :

Hi Neil,

Yes, point well made about pre-lesson support. In the current program I’m working on I am the only instructor/tutor, so the TP groups don’t get a lot of help with planning. In fact, they get sweet f… a…! We’re trying to remedy that in this next course, whereby interns will provide some planning support to the trainees. I agree, this could make a big difference to the need to intervene during the TP itself.

Scott C (12:18:53) :

One of my most common questions to myself: Why don’t teachers want to be observed, peer observe and team teach? They are fantastic ways of learning. Far better than being told, “Use exercise 32 from Vocab’ Games and Activities…it worked for me”. There must be a strong case for looking at not only the ways in which practicum help us to learn about teaching, as mentioned in depth above, but also consider the long-term effects it often has on teachers’ perceptions of what other teachers can do for us in our classrooms. Having someone else share your classroom should be a relished experience (don’t we all feel lonely when we shut the door!?), not something to be avoided for fear of being “assessed”.

Scott Thornbury (13:00:06) :

Fair point, Scott. I agree with you that the opportunity to share one’s teaching – whether by team teaching or observation – is virtually essential in any model of teacher development, but we shouldn’t underestimate the potential threat to face that is involved. Classrooms are unpredictable, inherently unstable environments, and none of us is completely sure that we will always be able to manage the unexpected. (I know! I team-taught a class a couple of months ago with 80 other teachers watching, and my heart was in my mouth!)

tevezito (04:39:35) :

‘Having someone else share your classroom should be a relished experience…’

This, big time. One of the biggest sadnesses about our wonderful profession is the stress and anxiety that can be caused by someone mentioning the dreaded O word, but why ever should this be?

If it is caused by the current format of CELTA course observations then I’ll change my way of working tomorrow, but my suspicions tell me otherwise. Certainly the relationship and trust between observer and observed is crucial to the success of the observation and perhaps it’s easier to garner this trust as a Celta / Practicum tutor than it is a the DoS of a novice teacher? Or does it completely depend on the individuals involved in individual contexts?




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