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Developing teacher learning: Latin American Regional School

Cayo Coco - Cuba

13-24 August 2001 - Telma Gimenez


  1. Introduction
  2. Programme
  3. Plans of action
  4. Evaluation
  5. Follow up
  6. Applying principles to the Latin American Regional School
  7. Recommendations


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:

  • To familiarise participants with current views on teacher development and methodologies employed both at in-service and pre-service levels;
  • To explore objectives and ways in which teacher development can be carried out in the Latin American context;
  • To examine materials and activities employed in teacher development programmes;
  • To enable participants to exchange information about teacher development experiences in Latin America and plan for networking and continuing professional development.

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.

2. Programme

Monday 13
The morning started with introductions, ice-breakers and participants´expectations and contributions. Initially many of them were thinking as language teachers, and suggested topics like phonetics, grammar, ESP, error correction, drama, large classes, motivation, etc. After reflecting on the course objectives a second round of expectations generated a more refined list geared towards teacher development. In the afternoon a plenary session on approaches to teacher education led to group work on the distinction between training and development, as well as the differences between being a language teacher and being a teacher "developer".

Tuesday 14
The participants presented their metaphors on teaching and teaching teachers, followed by a discussion on skills and knowledge necessary for language teachers, based on the reading assigned the previous day. The intention was to gradually move them from a "language teacher" perspective to a teacher developer one. Implications of the models presented by Wallace (1991) were drawn. The afternoon continued with a discussion on Change. In smaller groups, participants had to discuss recommendations about the process of change. A tentative programme for the first week was presented based on their expectations.

Wednesday 15
First a round up of the discussions held by the groups the previous day. A role play on change and its effects was used as a means to get participants to discuss the elements of resistance. Considering that one of the goals was to enable participants to create spaces for common action, a session on ELT in Latin America was planned. They had to think about two recent changes in their countries and whether they were resisted or accepted and why. One of the conclusions was that the educational reforms across Latin America are imposing new demands on teachers, who are overworked and have few resources to accomplish their goals.

Thursday 16
The groups presented their reports on their countries and were then regrouped according to their areas of interest to think about ways of staying connected. There was little input besides the means of communication used, although two of the groups mentioned their interest in exchanging materials and information about the curricula for teacher education in different countries, especially teaching practice activities. ELTECs was introduced and the possibilities for joint projects/bids. New members were listed. APLIAL was also mentioned but seemed to generate little interest.
Co-operative learning was the methodology adopted throughout the course and in this session the participants had a chance to think conceptually about it. The session was followed by an introduction to action research, as one possible way of solving classroom problems.

Friday 17
The whole morning was dedicated to finishing up the activity on action research, which involved a discussion on its feasibility and usefulness. The evaluation of the week was preceded by a explanation of what a Regional School is and the logical flow adopted during the week: from a broader perspective on teacher development to more specific topics. The afternoon was dedicated to Special Interest Groups and the participants could choose from: language awareness (Maria Cass and Cecilia Robles), classroom observation (Mary Jane Abrahams), critical thinking (Miguel Alvarez), materials design (Alonso Gaxiola), reflective teaching (Telma Gimenez). The sessions would be repeated on Monday so that participants would be able to attend two special interest groups.
In the evening, a dinner offered by the British Council brought together the invited Cuban speakers, tutors and the participants.

Saturday 18
The following invited Cuban speakers gave plenary talks, enabling the participants to get a better view of the current status of ELT in that country:

  1. Prof. Dolores Corona Camaraza, PhD - ELT Consultant, Ministry of Higher Education of Cuba "Challenges and Achievements in EFL Teaching in Cuban Universities"
  2. Prof. Sergio Font, Head of Department of English, Pedagogical University "E.J. Varona" "Teaching in the light of the Communicative Approach"
  3. Prof. Julio Macias, PhD, EFL Teacher, Faculty of Foreign Languages, Univ. of Havana "ELT and Technology"
  4. Prof. Sonia Fernandez, EFL Teacher, Pedagogical University "E.J. Varona" "An English Course on Television: The Story Behind the Cameras"

A discussion about varieties of English generated a suggestion that copies of the Hornby Advanced Dictionary could be sent to the Cuban university libraries.

Monday 20
The week started with a revision of expectations vis a vis what had already been accomplished and the remaining concerns. Instructions for the project work were given. The participants had to design a teacher development programme (in-service or pre-service) for a "fair display"and be ready to evaluate their colleagues´projects. The morning programme continued with a session on teacher trainers´roles, and a discussion circle, in which five provocative statements were put to the group that had to react to them. The intention was to check understandings on what had happened so far in the course. In the afternoon four Special Interest Groups were offered: classroom observation, reflective teaching, language awareness and multiple intelligences (Alonso Gaxiola and Cecília Robles) which was a new SIG, considering that there was not much interest in materials design. The large classes group did not attract interest for this offering (it would be repeated Tuesday).

Tuesday 21
Testing and evaluation were the topics for this session, with a focus on process evaluation. In groups of working interests (pedagogical universities, ESP, language institutes, universities) the participants had to decide on what instruments they would use to evaluate a learning outcome defined by them. They presented their results to the group, and main conclusions were drawn, such as the difficulty of moving from a product-oriented perspective to a process one. In the afternoon the Special Interest Groups continued, with some new ones introduced, given the interest generated and the remaining concerns of the group: language awareness (Maria Cass), multiple intelligences (Alonso Gaxiola and Cecília Robles), latest developments in ELT (Telma Gimenez), English across the curriculum (Mary Jane Abrahams), large classes (Miguel Alvarez). Raul Marchena, the course coordinator also agreed to offer a SIG on Technology in ELT.

Wednesday 22
The session was about learning styles and strategies, with the participants working through a categorisation of styles and strategies that led to a discussion on the usefulness of knowing the diversity of individual styles and strategies and how teachers can cope with that diversity. The afternoon session was about Language in Teacher Development and had the purpose of discussing the role of language in education of language teachers and how the participants felt in relation to different varieties, classroom language, and objectives of the language component both at pre-service and in-service levels.

Thursday 23
The morning began with a discussion on the use of the word "training", since it had been suggested that it was not an adequate word to convey our understanding of the work with teachers. Some strong reactions to dropping it from our vocabulary were raised and the reasons for preferring development instead were reinforced. It was another chance to emphasise that teacher development is about changing frames of mind rather than shaping behaviors and that this can be done both at pre-service and in-service levels. Textbook evaluation was the next task, with the participants analysing some of the textbooks for teacher education available at the small library set up for the course.
In the afternoon the participants showed their projects and a collective evaluation elected the best project, according to the criteria previously defined.

Friday 24
Remaining questions were dealt with in this session which also included the design of a plan of action (for the next three months), a letter to themselves (to be sent in six months), and the evaluation of the course. List of addresses with the participants´interests was provided (Appendix 4).In the evening, a party was organised, books and certificates were given out. The donation of a copy of one of the titles available during the course was well received and the participants thanked the Hornby Trust for that generous gesture. The tutors also received a thank you message.

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:

  • Exchange/share ideas, methodologies and materials (25)
  • Carry out workshops, courses or meetings with other teachers (17)
  • Report to colleagues (15)
  • Change practice/include topics in their courses (14)
  • Learn more/develop better understanding of some topics (10)
  • Write papers/notes to newsletters/present papers (10)
  • Develop action research projects (8)
  • Join/advertise ELTeCs to colleagues (7)
  • Finish dissertation/start a postgraduate degree course (6)
  • Participate in events (4)
  • Reflect on one´s own practice (4)
  • Implement/improve project work (4)
  • Make list of participants´addresses + interests available to others (3)
  • Improve English across the curriculum (1)
  • Use new textbooks (1)
  • Produce materials (1)
  • Create a discussion group (1)
  • Negotiate approval of institution to introduce changes (1)

A list of those interested in joining ELTeCS (23 names) has already been sent to Renate Thummler in Mexico, for action.

4. Evaluation

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.

  • Presented updated, latest trends and approaches
  • Expanded possibilities for networking/promoted integration of participants
  • Encouraged participants to go on researching and developing themselves and others
  • Developed awareness about the need to promote changes
  • Provided plenty of opportunities for reflection
  • Developed awareness about critical thinking
  • Provided opportunities for group work and collaboration
  • Developed more tolerance towards other people´s opinions
  • Expanded points of view
  • Developed awareness of the need for self- and group evaluation
  • Allowed for sharing experiences
  • Gave sense of growth
  • Enabled language practice
  • Developed professional responsibility
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.
General comments congratulated the organisers and tutors, as well as the course co-ordinator.

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.

6. Applying principles to the Latin American Regional School

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.

    Principle 1: Identify your partners early and involve them at least as fully as they want.

    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.

7. Recommendations

Given the rich experience this Regional School has provided, some recommendations for improvement are presented:

  1. The selection of tutors has to be made well before the course starts in order to allow for a more thorough discussion on how it will be developed. Preferably, experienced tutors (about 10 years´experience as teacher trainers) should be selected, ideally one from each country in the region. The overall approach of the course must be shared by all the tutors.
  2. The tutors must have a high level of language proficiency, and share the understanding that English will be the language spoken for two weeks.
  3. A Regional School programme may be well developed by four tutors, being one from the host country, in order to stimulate sharing of expertise.
  4. Neither tutors nor participants should be allowed to bring in their partners, as this may be disruptive and harmful to a professional atmosphere.
  5. The participants should be selected according to the objectives established. Their command of the language and purposes of the course should be clear to them as well as to those selecting them.
  6. Ground rules for participation in the Regional School should be spelt out (e.g. punctuality, amount of expected work, etc.)
  7. Likewise, the chosen venue has to stimulate collegiality, punctuality and responsibility, and be comfortable to avoid disruption (this time the air conditioning could never be set to the right temperature).
  8. Attempts to encourage participation of teachers from countries like Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay and Paraguay in the next Regional School should be made.
  9. The responsibility for follow up should be clearly defined from early stages, and appropriate funding included in the budget to guarantee it happens. If this is a task to be carried out by the course director, a differentiated honorarium may be established.

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.

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