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The Road to Enlightenment is Paved with Mirrors (and Journals)

November 12, 2011

I’ve spent today reading a range of wonderfully inspiring and thought-provoking blog posts from the likes of Jeremy Harmer  and Dale Coulter on reflection, action research and development. These posts come at a time when I have been slowly beginning to build a picture of what I want to work on in my professional life as a teacher/teacher trainer next. Amongst all of the hundreds of things I want to focus on, I’ve come to rest on the idea of control in the classroom and also its existence in my role as a teacher trainer.

This is a new role for me (I’m working on my second course as a Celta tutor as we speak) and so, just as I did when I began teaching, I want to do some action research to help me see how I can increase my effectiveness as a trainer. Action research, active professional development and reflection (both formal and informal) have mean that I’ve learnt so much since first stepping into the classroom in 2007.

Here’s a quick overview of a few of the ways I’ve gone about this:

One of the first things I did once I finished my Celta and began teaching was start to systematically observe my colleagues, who I found were all so inspiring and taught me so much. I remember seeing one colleague use the smallest bit of a coursebook to create a whole 90 minute lesson from. I saw another teacher do a writing lesson using reported speech and nothing but the board and some coloured paper. I was amazed at how little material they used, but how much they seemed to cover in their lessons. I guess this was where my unplugged seed was planted (if only I’d been wise enough back then to nurture it!).

I love learning by reading, and so I soon started to borrow books from my DOS  and other colleagues. Often these were linguistics books by David Crystal and other such writers, because I was thoroughly interested in language for language’s sake. This gave me even more desire to develop my language awareness and ability to share my passion with those I taught. I was often overwhelmed by some of the books, not really having any idea what they were about, but forcing myself to read them anyway. I remember one train journey when I was in battle with a book on contemporary linguistics and my brain literally kept shutting off and putting me to sleep. Not my finest hour as a linguist, but I do still have that book on my bookshelf!

By the time I began studying for the Delta in March 2010, I had developed a huge interest in classroom methodology, which was lucky, as I had to spend a lot of time reading and writing about such things for my Professional Development Assignment and the Module One exams. During those 9 months of Delta-ing, I immersed myself in the process of analysing, observing, reflecting, journalling, reading and attempting to change. My approach to teaching changed dramatically over the course of the Delta, and not through learning more about the noun phrase (although that certainly helps too), but through attacking all the issues I had been ignoring or glossing over with a smile and a laugh. As I am sure some of the people who know me would tell you, I am certainly someone to face a challenge head on and not let myself get away with shying away from a weakness. The Delta gave me the last push I needed to look in the mirror and begin fixing all the things I’d been letting slide.

What next?

So, now I am here today at yet another point in my career when I want to tackle head-on some issues that are niggling away at me. Namely, control and the way it manifests itself in my role as a teacher trainer. I am to be materials-light. Can I also be control-light?

The first questions I want to answer are:

  1. How do I actually take control of trainees in relation to teaching practice?? 
  2. What results in my doing this and doing it in this way? 
  3. What changes can I make to this approach to increase my effectiveness as a teacher trainer? 
This is my plan so far for trying to answer these questions:
  1. Keep a journal on teaching practice, preparation and feedback, ensuring that I record the way I deal differently with the different trainees and how this is a reflection of their input and previous lessons. 
  2. Ask my trainees to write to me/discuss with them the notion of control and how they think it has affected them throughout the course.
I hope to be able to get started on this over the final two weeks of the current course, then I have about 6 weeks until the next one begins in January in which to read up on this area and hopefully get a better grounding in what I am aiming to find out.
So my question to you is:
Can you help me with any research tips you’ve used in your development, or can you recommend any useful reading material for me to get my nose stuck into on the aspect of control? I’d really appreciate some help here.
Thanks for reading, and I hope to be able to share the results of this research with you in the future! 
10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2011 10:07 pm

    Can’t recommend anything specific on control but really recommend the book The courage to teach by Parker J Palmer. Talk about reflection!

  2. November 14, 2011 11:33 am

    Hi Jem, I know how much I learned on the Delta, so can appreciate your comments. One method (?) I like is “structured dogme”, so I have a small amount of material, but make use of every opportunity to allow talking in pairs. The screen-capture video of me teaching is contrived – it’s not a real lesson, but the principle is the same, little bit of input followed by opportunities to talk. I think both are equally valuable, the input provides the stimulus, and the questions allow students to relate it to their own lives. It’s controlled, but as long as they’re benefiting from their talking, I’m happy to let them do so.

    • November 14, 2011 11:50 am

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your comment. I think you describe what a lot of teachers have started to do rather than “full-Dogme”, and I think it’s great. It’s all about the space we leave in the lessons and how our students fill them that makes the difference.

      I now want to be able to do that in my training too, but of course still keep my trainees on target for the grades they are capable of. I guess this is where I have been lucky teaching in a place that doesn’t require syllabuses and strict assessment, because I have been able to find my feet with an unplugged approach. Translating that to the Celta course is another thing altogether, when I HAVE to meet criteria and can’t use the trainees as guinea pigs.

      I look forward to learning what I can over the upcoming months.

  3. November 14, 2011 11:40 am

    Anthony has written lately about reflection in action. I think this is an important part of an action research project. How can you pinpoint appropriate moments in your teacher practice sessions in which to try out your ideas from action research? Off the top of my head, you could try a self-diagnostic to get a better idea of where you want to be more control-ligh:

    1. take a teacher practice session (sorry not too knowledgeable about the terminology). And approach it like you would normally.

    2. Take in a piece of paper and make a note of the points in the lesson/session which you feel could be improved. Don’t think about why or how at this point.

    3. After the lesson, take each note and think about the situation at the time (like classroom snapshots). Pass these onto your trainees and Initiate a dialogue either orally or through their diaries about the these points. Ask their opinions etc.

    4. Identify your actions in those moments and why you would like to change them. Link them to the your practices/aims for action research.

    5. Once identified, brainstorm how you could go about these differently. Take these information check points into the next lesson with you as a reminder. Repeat the process and reflect on your progress.

    Epp, hope that was helpful and not just a load of waffle.


    • November 14, 2011 11:55 am

      Morning Dale!

      Thanks so much for this, I think you are right – a diagnostic is the place to start.
      This morning I have drafted a template of some points to consider over the next two weeks of the course. I am going to fill it in for each TP session they teach. Each of these has a corresponding prep and feedback session, and these are the areas I wish to analyse.

      I love the idea of using this to open a dialogue, thanks. I think I will get them to write me notes about this (which I have already done a little bit) and then I can see where I am at the moment and move from there. I wish I had started this at the beginning of this course, rather than half way through, as our next one isn’t until January. Gives me plenty of time to read up on it all though, I guess.

      I am really interested to see how I control the diffferent candidates in different ways depending on their attitude, ability and achievements.

      Lots to think about…

      Thanks for your support.

  4. November 14, 2011 12:59 pm

    Hi Jem,

    That sounds very organised. Are you going to blog about the action research as it develops?

    I like the idea of writing notes, it’s quick and efficient. Are you thinking of providing prompts for feedback or asking trainees to write whatever they think?


    • November 14, 2011 11:37 pm

      I think I will have to blog about it, just to make sure I know where I am. I think a new page on will be needed for that.

      I reckon I will use this group as a test group, see what gets the best reaction. So far, I have noticed that, unless I actually set it as work to do, nothing gets done. Maybe it will be something I can talk to them about in feedback and then record (maybe literally) the discussion.

      I have already learnt something today from just filling in the first sections of my template thingy.

      Right, I shouldn’t be thinking about this now.
      Bed time.


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