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Communicative Language Teaching and Classroom Dynamics for Primary and Middle School Teachers: West India Regional School
 

Karjat

16-25 March 2001

Introduction

The British Council - A S Hornby Regional School from 16-25 March 2001 was organised at Dr Modi's Health Resort in Karjat. Our partners were the publishers Ratna Sagar Private Limited. This was the third Regional School in India following the ones in Kolkata and Chennai. The purpose of these Regional Schools in India was to provide professional development for teachers at all levels. This idea was heartily welcomed by all the British Council offices in India and has proved to be very valuable.

The title of the Regional School was Communicative Language Teaching and Classroom Dynamics for Primary and Middle School Teachers.

Objectives

By the end of the Regional School the participants

  • will be able to reflect on their own teaching in the light of the ideas from the course
  • be more aware of the importance of reflection as a way of supporting their own professional development
  • understand what is meant by "communicative language teaching" and its potential for promoting children's language learning
  • be able to identify ways of making their own teaching more communicative
  • be able to design / adapt and try out communicative activities and materials for use in their own classroom
  • be able to identify ways of monitoring / assessing whether expected children's learning outcomes have been achieved
  • identify possible obstacles to implementation of the ideas learned and solutions to overcome these.

The overall aim of the Regional School was to encourage participants' professional development. The focus was on communicative language teaching and classroom dynamics for the primary classroom. This was for children between the ages of 6-9. Once the Regional School started we had to adjust the programme so as to cater for the fact that many participants worked with older children as well as indicated below.

The first two days of the programme laid the foundation for the Regional School. It raised participantsí awareness about the characteristics and abilities which children bring with them to the classroom and the kind of conditions needed to build on these and support their learning. It also introduced them to the characteristics of a communicative approach to language teaching and learning and the nature of active learning. The rest of the programme focused on specific aspects of language teaching and learning such as the development of oral skills, the development of reading and writing skills, grammar, classroom management and assessment of learning. However a special session was introduced to help participants to integrate the four skills during the teaching programme. (See appendix A of Regional School schedule).

The professional development aspect of the programme was explicitly dealt with through a daily feedback activity where participants reflected on aspects of the day's programme. The focus each day was slightly different. Each morning the tutors gave "feedback on the feedback" which allowed specific issues to be dealt with, clarified the development aspect of the reflection to be highlighted. The participants' feedback was displayed each day for everyone to read.

The daily feedback enabled tutors to adjust the programme to meet needs and concerns experienced or to further clarify concepts that were not fully grasped.

A library of books and magazines was set up for the participants and this was much appreciated and made use of in the evenings. The exhibition Word Play was also set up and thoroughly enjoyed by many.

Participants

We had thirty participants who came from all over India and one from Nepal as our partners, Ratna Sagar had invited teachers from schools where their books are being used. Of these thirty, four were self-financed. Unfortunately, after the second day one of the participants dropped out due to bad health.

They were a heterogeneous group in terms of their institutional roles and levels of teaching. For example of the twenty-nine one was a principal and four were supervisors. Of the group, five taught at secondary levels. The rest of the participants either taught children in standards 1-5 or had been sent by their school to learn more about teaching at this level.

The participants were highly motivated and participated very actively in the Regional School which created a very stimulating learning environment.

Feedback from participants

Informal feedback was collected from participants on a daily basis but a formal questionnaire was administered at the end. Participants were asked to comment on the venue, accommodation, food and workshop organisation, the resource persons and the topics. A majority of participants rated these aspects as excellent.

When asked to comment on what they liked best about the Regional School, the aspects which accrued most frequently in responses were:

  • the resource persons
  • teaching ideas/ activities
  • organisation
  • opportunities to try things out
  • interaction and sharing with participants
  • atmosphere

With regard to things they liked least, most participants reported that there was nothing they disliked. The most frequently mentioned aspect was that the duration was too long (eight participants) Participants seemed unanimous that the Regional Schools were a good idea because:

  • they allowed the exchange of ideas among teachers
  • gave many teachers the chance to learn and develop professionally
  • helped to promote CLT

Some felt that the British Council was the only organisation, which could run this kind of programme effectively.

Participants were asked if they would try out any ideas from the Regional School when they returned to their schools. All of them stated that they planned to try out ideas. The topics which were mentioned most frequently included : trying out reading and writing activities in groups, story telling, use of shared reading / Big Books, grammar games.

Their suggestions for improving the Regional School were varied but included the following : reduce the length, include additional topics e.g. poetry, teaching spelling, slow learners, more opportunities for designing materials and presenting these to their peers. One person suggested the need for less demonstration of activities and another that the venue should be less secluded.

Tutor comments on Regional School

In general, we felt that the Regional School was a great success and that our overall objectives were largely achieved. The participants' feedback, both formal and informal was extremely positive.

We were responsive to the daily feedback and adjusted the programme to take account of specific needs or concerns expressed. This paid off in terms of participantsí feelings of satisfaction. It meant that even teachers of older learners could see how communicative methods could be applied at higher levels. Conversely, teachers of older learners also gained insights into the early stages of language learning.

We were particularly pleased to note in the final presentations that participants were beginning to make sense of new concepts and apply them in the adaptation and design of activities.

Some of the key ideas gained by participants included the understanding that teachers' and children's purpose might be different and that creating meaningful purpose for doing activities helps to motivate children to participate. There was a growing awareness of the need to be clear about their objectives in using activities, that the teaching method itself was activity based and that activities were not just "add - on" extras to teaching the "text". There was also an emerging awareness of the need to respond to children's actual performance (spoken, written) rather that what the teacher felt they should have done.

There was a marked attitudinal change from Day 5 onwards in terms of participants' gradual awareness that they could teach "texts", grammar and other aspects of their textbooks in a more interactive manner and ways in which they actually could do it in their own classrooms.

We felt that participants worked together well as a group, participated enthusiastically and gained new insights and confidence to try out the new ideas.
In the words of one participant

"After a training session, I usually go back home with a feeling of inadequacy. After this programme, I feel more confident about my own abilities"

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