Thursday, 18 October 2018

“Who Decides What an Ideal Lesson is or is not?”- A conversation With Julian Bailey


Hello, it’s been a while! Thank you for hanging in here! Just a quick update of what I have been up to. I am currently working on my research paper and in addition to that, I spent the last couple of weeks preparing for the TKT- Teaching Knowledge Test (English teachers look this up) and I took the test for all 3 modules in one day! Phew! It was exhausting but totally worth it. Preparing for the test helped me put a lot of things about teaching English in perspective. TKT is quite detailed and focuses on salient aspects of the ESL classroom using English teaching standards and framework stipulated by Cambridge Assessment English, a Department of Cambridge University. On the whole, TKT helped me to really be conscious about my classroom practices.

Speaking about standards and framework, I had an interesting conversation with Julian over the weekend. Let me digress a bit with a quick introduction before I get on to the crux of our discussion.

Meet Julian Bailey

Julian is from the UK but permanently resides in Kutchan Hokkaido Japan.  He holds a 1st Class Hons. degree from Cambridge University in Education and is licensed to teach UK Primary School (Qualified Teacher Status), to teach English as a Foreign Language (Celta and Delta qualifications including the extension for Young Learners). He is a Speaking Examiner for Cambridge Young Learner Exams, Key English Test and Preliminary English Test. He also spent 2 years in Hokkaido public schools as a JET AET.
Julian and his wife Yoshiko founded and run SMiLE Niseko, a language school which provides professionally delivered English language courses based upon International best practice and methodology. This enables young people to supplement their mainstream Japanese education with 'gold standard' International certification and broaden their life opportunities. For parents, local people, retirees, or anyone with an interest and desire to communicate in English, SMiLE offers structured '4 Skills' based courses with opportunities to demonstrate and enjoy progress at your own language level and enables people to take valuable Cambridge English exams without having to leave Hokkaido. JP181 supports other schools and Universities in Sapporo with teacher development and with Cambridge English Exam Preparation.
He is passionate about people and communication. He enjoys Hokkaido in all four seasons, its birds, trees and great food. 
Note: This is a longer blog post than usual but I hope you’ll stay with me till the end.
So, during a 2-hour drive from Sapporo to Kutchan, Julian and I talked about my work and my area of research focus. Most times when I talk about what I’m doing, I get a lot of “Wow that’s amazing, that’s cool and so on” so I wasn’t prepared for what Julian said next:
“Your analysis and all is good but I don’t think it’s fair. Who decides what an ideal lesson is? How do you judge fairly by using YOUR model to apportion so and so percentage of the lesson as being communicative and so and so not communicative?”

Of course, I went into a tirade about the importance of standards and classroom observation models.  Or is there no need to observe and analyze lessons? Should we just let teachers teach as they deem fit and do their own reflection on what went right and what did not? We didn’t quite finish this talk because as natural conversions go, we digressed and began talking about something else. Anyways, being a reflective learner, I went home and thought about our discussions and sent him follow-up questions for further clarification. Find below his answers to my questions and if you have any questions concerning this, please leave them in the comment section, Julian will be reading! 

What’s your general opinion about classroom observation and analysis models?
Observing learning and teaching in classrooms is extremely important.
Observing what learning is actually taking place, as opposed to what we think might be happening or what was planned, enables teachers to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. Focusing on what isn’t working, we can consider how we might improve the effectiveness of our teaching and the learning experience. So, observing other teachers and even ourselves is profoundly important and often very revealing.
What is less clear to me at this point (though I'm keen to hear and understand the rationale), is the value of an analytical model. Can you evaluate classroom teaching and develop better teachers through a comparison with ‘model’ teaching? Surely the relevance and value of any single model of teaching to another teaching context would be highly subjective?
Teaching is a human, personal and practical activity, requiring self-awareness, sensitivity and principled decision making by professional practitioners who should continually seek to improve their own practice.
In the wide array of teaching contexts, with learners who have different priorities and needs, observation should support positive reflection of our own teaching and our own context. In that sense, we need to consider, learn about, and examine every approach, idea, and methodology that “might” improve or contribute to better learning.
If it were easy to find a single model to meet the ends of all learners in varied contexts, perhaps we could compare teaching performance against the model and then try to close the gap between the two. However, effective teaching takes many forms and is delivered in many ways. Certainly, we recognize good teaching when we see it but trying to identify exactly what makes it effective is much more elusive.
For example, broad ideas and umbrella terms like communicative methods or approaches may seek to encourage student-centered learning, ensuring learners have opportunities to practice and use language to communicate with one another as well as with the teacher. As a broad teaching principle of good practice, that idea seems highly credible. 
An analytical model might, therefore, seek to measure the proportions of STT and TTT (Student and Teacher Talking Time) and make specific recommendations as a result. i.e. talk less and provide more opportunities for students to speak. Also fine, if the teacher understands what really underlies this idea.
While a teacher may enthusiastically comply with the advice, it may not necessarily result in more or better learning unless the teacher understands “why” this is important and therefore how to implement this advice in an effective way. It may just result in a distortion of the underlying principles into, for example, TTT = bad practice / STT = good practice.
I believe teacher understanding is best achieved by setting clear expectations of ongoing or continuing professional development, not through blind obedience to one ‘possibly relevant’ model.
In Japan, a culture where the master, a guru or an expert is often followed unquestioningly, there is a danger that teachers respond to such advice or direction, without really understanding ‘why’ they need to consider, change or adapt what they are doing.
Teachers developing understanding and coming to conclusions themselves by observing peers, reading and critical reflection is what will most improve teachers and teaching standards. The internal development of an individual teacher is more important than following instructions or advice based on an arbitrary model of what good lessons look like. Classes where a teacher enthusiastically follows advice to ‘do pairwork’ for no reason other than to conform to a model may result in less effective teaching than another teacher’s principled and carefully considered decision to take a more teacher-centered approach.   
The point is not that a communicative method or any other approach is right or wrong, it’s that teachers need to understand the principles and the theory that underwrite their decisions in the classroom. They also need to take responsibility for these decisions and the learning outcomes.

Do you think having standards and models for judging a lesson has a positive or negative effect on teachers and students?
I’d probably avoid the term “judging” which implies a subjective, expert judgment about the teaching or learner performance but certainly, the idea of standards-based assessment has great value. It depends, however, who is the assessing and to what extent their standards can be deemed credible and worthy of the teacher or learner’s attention. Critically reviewed, classroom relevant, professionally developed standards are of great interest to me.
Standards are why I introduced Cambridge Exams for learners in my school despite it being difficult, expensive and time-consuming to do that in Japan. I know as assessment tools they are rigorously designed and scrutinized by teachers and learners globally, they reflect real-world teaching and learning challenges. I also trust standards like Celta or TKT when employing teachers. Are these easy standards for people to meet or to prepare for? No. Are they the most valuable markers of teacher or learner progression? I believe so.
I have experienced standards-based assessment of my own teaching through Cambridge Celta (in 1993!), Celta YL ext. and Delta. These standards were clear, carefully-considered and have been used by teaching professionals in many contexts over several decades. The criteria for marking my performance felt very challenging to meet but it was also fair and relevant to my daily classroom.
Those standards had a hugely positive effect on my teaching and based on their CEFR scale progression, on student learning. I still ask myself questions like, “at the end of my lesson, were students able to do X or Y as I set out or described in my main aim today?” If I claim the answer is yes, what actual evidence do I have of that? That deeply internalized questioning has been trained into me as a teaching professional through standards like Celta and Delta. This has made me a much more reflective teacher.  
So, standards are important for teachers and learners but not just any standards. Who developed the standards and who gets to review and critically assess their value? Who ensures they are reliable, valid, have a positive impact on learning and that they can be practically applied in classrooms across the world. Developing meaningful standards is a major collaborative responsibility requiring global resources, time and ongoing scrutiny.

In your opinion what’s the best/ideal way to decide what is good about a lesson? In other words, as a teacher trainer how do you “Judge” your trainees’ lessons? If so how do you do this?
In informal day to day support and ongoing development for teachers, I observe teaching, learners and learning outcomes, I make detailed notes and refer to that data just as a computer model might. I try to use those observations to support and engage with teachers positively and to develop their awareness of what was more successful and less successful. I don't tend to grade or judge a lesson or decide whether it was a pass or fail (as formal training like Celta would) but I do try to stimulate the teacher’s interest in how we might apply a range of techniques, methods or approaches to help teachers improve the quality of their classroom practice.
I try to identify priorities for the individual professional development rather than focus on “good lessons are like this”. For example, today I talked to one teacher about improving her highlighting technique and another teacher about visually modeling linking of contracted words. Small, fine tuning adjustments in the process of developing as a teacher to ultimately enable better learning.
If these things don’t help though, as they may not, we’ll identify that in an action research led classroom, not continue out of some sort of deference to me as a trainer or an arbitrary model of good teaching. Teaching is a never-ending process of self-reflection. If parents, governments, even academics are disappointed by the idea we can’t make teaching more “product” like they need to find a less complex, less people-centered profession and consider industry. There is no product manual or instruction booklet to ensure effective teaching and learning.
Hope that makes sense and very happy to be challenged ; )
I’m off to listen to more experienced, more advanced teachers than me express ideas that I hope will challenge me this Sunday (Oxford Day, Tokyo) I will also go to IATEFL next April in the hope of updating my own knowledge, practice and to reflect on what we do with thousands of global EFL teachers. I can’t do this all the time like anyone else but all teachers (and especially those who profess some expertise) need to ensure they challenge themselves, invest in their own practice and expose themselves to everything that “might work”.
Julian

Endnote: Julian and his team are doing an awesome job and making radical changes and contributions to English language teaching and learning in Elementary schools in Kutchan. I was privileged to see some of the classes. If I am permitted I might share on another blog post. 

Thank you for getting to this point. If you are still here, type "I DID IT!" in the comment section and I will send you a very useful teaching resource.


またね!




Photo Credit
Image 1: Google images
Image 2: Julian Bailey


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