Two lessons we could learn from EFL teacher training

It was my very first EFL trainers who inspired me to become a teacher educator. I remember very clearly, sitting in a dingy basement room in International House, Budapest, being asked to interview my neighbour and then report back to the group and thinking “I want to do their job”. My trainers’ credibility was evident, as was their enjoyment of their job. It was not long after that I had a second revelation – I was being taught to teach by undertaking the sorts of activities I would then be using with my learners. We learned about listening comprehension by listening to two trainee teachers discussing listening comprehension. We were introduced to running dictations by doing a running dictation about running dictations etc etc Now this is known, or used to be known as loop input, explained very clearly here,

and is a highly effective way of helping trainees to bridge the gap between their experiences as learners and their practice as teachers. After first training up as a CELTA trainer and then becoming involved in generic teacher education, I was shocked that my colleagues didn’t use this technique as a matter of course and did my best to use it wherever possible. Today, reading this article, has set me thinking about why we don’t do more of this in generic teacher education. Up to a point, I think we do. Certainly a key ethos of my own teacher ed team is to “practice what we preach”, to be role models for our learners at all times, including a wide range of activity and experience as well as creative use of technology. But can we do more, so that loop input becomes the norm? 

Thinking about the forthcoming unit on assessment, mini whiteboards, traffic light cards and physical warmers are an obvious way to consolidate key features of Assessment for learning. The tension seems to occur due to that perennial issue of content coverage. It would be great to spend half an hour debating the use of debates in teaching practice, but what I really need my learners to debate is e.g. process vs product curriculum models. Perhaps I’m just tired of sounding like a broken record: How could you use or adapt that activity for use within your subject specialism? It would be nice if I could feel sure that all my learners were automatically applying their own experiences to their practice, but I wonder if they could be doing so more effectively. 

The other lesson I think we could learn from EFL teacher training is from their rigorous training up programme. In my case, I had to shadow an experienced trainer for the duration of a CELTA course, gradually moving from observer to trainer, being observed myself at all times and compiling a portfolio of evidence and reflections. This was extremely hard work, but paid off in bucket loads, with the added motivation of receiving accreditation from Cambridge ESOL. Teacher education in the lifelong learning sector relies on informal mentoring and training up systems like this, but would benefit I feel, from a more formalised process and outcomes. 

More research needed into both aspects of this issue. PhD anyone?