|Developing teacher learning: Latin American Regional School|
Cayo Coco - Cuba
13-24 August 2001 - Telma Gimenez
The second edition of the Latin American Regional School took place at Hotel Tryp, Cayo Coco, Cuba, a very large resort about 600 km away from Havana, in the Ciego de Ávila province. The call for attendance was sent to the ELTeCS list on May 15, and attracted 46 participants from Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Mexico.
The six tutors were partly selected during the Second ELTeCS workshop held in Mexico City in February and finally defined by the end of June. They were from Mexico (Maria Cass, Cecilia Robles, Alonso Gaxiola, all from the University of Sinaloa - Los Mochis), Chile (Mary Jane Abrahams, Universidad Metropolitana and Universidad Católica, who had been a tutor in 2000), Cuba (Miguel Alvarez, Pedagogical University, who attended the Regional School last year as a participant) and Brazil (Telma Gimenez, Universidade Estadual de Londrina, course director, and who had been a tutor in 2000).
The British Council office in Havana arranged for the transportation and accommodation of all participants, as well as for the logistics necessary to the course, through Raul Marchena, a former participant of the Regional School held in 2000.
This year´s course had a stronger approach to teacher development as opposed to teacher training, and was aimed at professionals who are currently or will be in the near future responsible for preparing EFL teachers in the Latin American context. The objectives of the course defined beforehand were:
The evaluation at the end of the course revealed that these objectives were achieved. The level of satisfaction with the course was very high and all the participants were motivated to carry on developing themselves, as their plans of action included reporting to colleagues, organising workshops, sharing materials and ideas, continue learning more about the topics covered, introducing new ideas into their teaching, and especially interacting with each other. Some of the comments expressing the group´s enthusiasm were: "This has been an everlasting experience for most of us and I´ll try to keep it vivid in my brain and in my heart"; "This was a very good course because it was based mainly on reflection upon different issues in development programmes. Besides, we learned how to work cooperatively." "I enjoyed very much and learned a lot!", "Wish I could participate again!"
The course started with an overview of approaches to teacher education and throughout the two weeks followed a reflective mode, i.e., participants drew on their own experiences to discuss change, cooperative learning, action research, roles of teacher trainers, testing and evaluation, learning strategies, language in teacher development and materials analysis. Given the participants' diverse interests, special interest groups were offered in the following areas: language awareness, English across the curriculum, reflective teaching, materials design, multiple intelligences, latest developments in ELT, Technology in ELT, classroom observation, large classes, critical thinking. A project work in which the participants had to design an outline for a teacher development programme provided a unique opportunity to put into practice many of the concepts discussed during the course. Networking and plans of action were included in the last part of the programme. ELTeCS was introduced, as well as APLIAL, the association created as a result of the Santa Lucia Regional School.
The course was announced as one that would rely heavily on the participants´ experience either as language teachers or teacher trainers. It represented a unique opportunity for ELT professionals to share thoughts on teacher education, and develop possibilities for future networking. It was conceived from the beginning as a course geared towards the participants, in which their perceptions would be taken into account. For this reason, a process syllabus was developed, in which daily planning took into account the previous day´s activities. Although this may have represented extra effort on the part of the tutors, it proved worthwhile, given the attempt to "listen to the participants´professional voices".
Some of the differences in relation to last year were: more readings (photocopies) were assigned, a small collection of books on teacher education was available on a 24 hour loan basis (list in Appendix 2), the participants had a chance to be involved in running two activities: a report from the previous day, and lead the daily ice-breakers. The list of addresses this time also included professional interests to facilitate networking. The A S Hornby Educational Trust was much more visible, with the folders and leaflets given to the participants, as well as a more explicit acknowledgement and information about what the Trust provided. In terms of venue, there was a proper air conditioned room for the plenaries and rooms adapted into classrooms.
Due to the fact that some of the tutors had some experience as teacher trainers but were not familiar with work at this level, the course also represented the possibility of enabling them to have a better understanding of the complexity of working in a Regional School, which, in many ways, is completely different from traditional courses teachers are accustomed to attend. The fact that it followed an approach that was interactive with the participants´ understandings also represented a new challenge, since planning had to be done on a short term basis.
A discussion about varieties of English generated a suggestion that copies of the Hornby Advanced Dictionary could be sent to the Cuban university libraries.
3. Plans of action
The individual plans of action expressed the participants´ high level of motivation and interest in pursuing the topics covered during the course. The originals of the Cuban participants were sent to the British Council office in Havana since the Director has an interest in supporting those who need help in carrying out their plans. Grouped together the main actions and number of people willing to develop them were:
A list of those interested in joining ELTeCS (23 names) has already been sent to Renate Thummler in Mexico, for action.
The participants were asked to evaluate the course according to a series of questions. Their answers are compiled below. It was felt that some responses were carefully worded not to hurt feelings.
Question 1: Comment on the information you received before the course, the selection procedures and any other relevant aspects.
Thirty-three out of forty-five questionnaires had very positive evaluations about the amount and quantity of information received before the course. However, five mentioned the need to know more about what to bring, details about the visa, transport and information about the course. Six answers were inadequate, since they referred to the ongoing course and not before it started.
Question 2: Comment on your willingness to learn and share with others, punctuality, effort and work in groups.
Group work was considered very positive as well their willingness to share with others (40 out of 45 comments). One respondent felt that it was difficult to work in groups and several mentioned the problems of being punctual in such an environment. Although the books were available for consultation and reading, not many borrowers showed up.
Question 3: List 3 objectives you think the Regional School has achieved.
Three participants mentioned specifically the objectives defined by the course at the beginning.
Question 4: Suggestions for improvement
The pace of the sessions and the time for the activities were mentioned as the most problematic areas. Participants felt they needed more time for some of the tasks and SIGs. Individual suggestions mentioned: previous needs analysis through Internet, distribution of handouts of SIGs not attended, more access to technology (Internet, computers), clearer objectives, more objectivity on the part of the participants, participation in all SIGs, longer course, and decrease the intake of alcohol. Three participants mentioned the need for a more active team of tutors, attitudes of some tutors and that tutors should be better prepared.
Question 5: Evaluating activities, consistency and relevance, SIGs.
Forty-one participants indicated that the activities matched the objectives and that there was a consistent approach from good to excellent. 42 participants(out of 43) mentioned that the areas covered were relevant. The SIGs also had a high rate of approval, being most of the indications between good and excellent. The most attended ones were: language awareness (offered 3 times), reflective teaching (offered twice), classroom observation (offered twice), multiple intelligences (offered twice), and latest trends in ELT (offered once).
Question 6: Evaluating the tutors
In general the participants felt the team of tutors worked well, and
the asymmetries in experience did not seem to be too explicit to them,
including the fact that one tutor was rarely on her own and led just
one short session. The tutors´ knowledge, clarity of instructions, organisation
of activities and contribution to objectives were mostly rated between
good and excellent, with some tutors receiving average and poor ratings.
It was suspected that some participants avoided giving differentiated
ratings to tutors because of the fear of the consequences. Some recognised
explicitly that they felt unease about grading tutors. The scores will
be sent directly to the tutors individually.
5. Follow up
It was agreed with the British Council Director in Cuba that the Cuban
participants would receive additional support if they needed it for
carrying out their action plans. The possibility of holding a video
conference that would bring together some of the participants of Santa
Lucia and this Regional School was also discussed and there should further
liaison with the office in Havana towards that end. Follow up to the
course will be carried out through two main mechanisms: a letter the
participants wrote to themselves to be sent in February 2002, and contacts
by November 2001 to check the development of their action plans. The
course director is responsible for both contacts. The course coordinator
and one of the tutors submitted a bid to ELTECS to carry out a follow
up programme with both Santa Lucia and Cayo Coco participants. If it
is approved, this could fall under their shared responsibility.
The comments below are organised around the nine global principles, presented by Cross et al. during the Liverpool Forum and the A S Hornby Educational Trust Alumni Meeting held in Oxford August 4-8, 2001.
The British Council in Havana was one of the key partners, involved since February and responsible for selecting the venue and the 30 Cuban participants. The other Council offices in Latin America may have reacted late, since fewer countries were represented. Argentina (an important country in terms of EFL) was for the second time absent, and Chile had no representative, except for one of the tutors, who had already worked as part of the tutorial team last year. The final team of tutors was defined at a late stage, although three had already been selected in February. Previous involvement hardly happened: only two tutors reacted to the call from the director to share ideas and proposals during the month of July.
Principle 2: Be open, democratic and transparent throughout
The selection of participants from Cuba was done through the local British Council office and took into account a geographical and institutional representation that would cover almost all provinces in the country. In other countries, membership to ELTeCs was an important requirement. In addition to dissemination through ELTeCS, information about future Regional Schools may reach other institutions (like teacher associations) and other countries. The selection of tutors was done partly by the course director, partly by the British Council ELT Deputy Director and Country Director Cuba, based on the potential candidates´ previous experience and willingness to learn from the experience. In the future, however, other possibilities for selecting the tutors may be taken into account (see recommendations, section 7).
Principle 3: Use the potential of the region for comparison and contrast
This was thoroughly achieved and made easier with the participation of people from various countries. It was an excellent chance to understand the Latin American reality better and under a different and shared perspective, to be critical and propose some joint plans of action. There was a deliberate inclusion of activities in the programme to encourage that.
Principle 4: Innovate and challenge stereotypes
Most of the participants were not familiar with the reflective approach and were still operating under a "role model" or "training" perspective. Their understandings were challenged. Awareness raising became an important tool in destabilising some traditional teaching beliefs leading into a more reflective approach based on collaborative work and critical thinking to carry out change.
Principle 5: Respond to and exploit the local
The first activity the participants were involved in was one about identifying and defining expectations. Based on the results tutors planned topics and activities, relying on their knowledge and expertise. All the session involved group work and encouraged them to express their views.
Principle 6: Regional School English is global English
Six participants plus a tutor came from Brazil and this was a powerful reason to use English when they were around. Spanish was the lingua franca at most other times. Some tutors were very persistent in their use of English. The participants naturally fell into using it in their presence. Everybody was aware of the need to educate better language teachers for the region. In the future, however, the inclusion of a native speaker among the tutors might prove useful in guaranteeing the use of the language.
Principle 7: Don´t just manage events: build communities
Plenty of motivation was provided to have the participants create links among them for present and future projects. Specific tasks in the programme encouraged thinking about networking. Examples of successful regional projects were given. Follow up will tell whether their own plans are carried out.
Principle 8: Think professional, not tourist
The environment was an enormous all inclusive 5 star resort. In a way, this was not very conducive and/or inducive to hard work and total involvement. Punctuality and responsibility had to be mentioned as two very desirable qualities for a course like this.
Principle 9: Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate
The tutors met everyday to evaluate and re-plan the next day´s activities. It was an excellent way of assessing the development of the course and make the necessary adjustments.
Two formal evaluations were carried out, the first one after the first week to check how expectations were being met and make the necessary adjustments, and another one at the end of the course. A final meeting was also held by the tutors who discussed the different moments of the course - some pleasant, some positive and challenging, others difficult, charged with ill-feelings and frustration.
Given the rich experience this Regional School has provided, some recommendations for improvement are presented:
This Regional School has been challenging in many ways, especially for the deliberate attempt to imprint an overall approach to be followed in all the sessions. The results so far have proved it was worthwhile. I would like to thank the Hornby Trust through Roy Cross for the confidence in my work; Michael White for being so generous and so willing to create opportunities for EFL teachers in Latin America; Raúl Marchena, for being available and willing to help 24 hours a day; Alonso Gaxiola, Cecilia Robles, Maria Cass, Mary Jane Abrahams and Miguel Alvarez for their individual contributions, and the participants, for embracing the course philosophy and making the most out of it.
© British Council. The British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for educational and cultural relations. Registered in England as a Charity. Our privacy statement.