Thoughts on “Beyond loop input” at #IATEFL

I had the great pleasure of meeting Gabriel Diaz Maggioli at The KOTESOL International Conference in 2013 and I thoroughly enjoyed his session on “Teacher education at the crossroads: The role of theory and practice. At the  KOTESOL IC in 2014 I unfortunately did not have a chance to see him present because we were presenting at (around) the same time in different strands/rooms at the pre-conference workshops. So when I was deciding which session(s) from IATEFL 2016 to blog about my choice was clear. His talk, “Beyond loop input: teacher training and development outside the box” jumped out at me. You can see the whole talk here. It was an interesting and enjoyable talk and I recommend it. I will not do it justice but I will intersperse some of my own ideas.

I think one reason (aside from the presenter) I was interested in this talk is because of the topic. I am often a sucker for “beyond” anything and in this case it is all the more interesting because I quite like loop input as a teacher trainer. Here by the way is a nice write up on Loop Input for those who might be unfamiliar or interested in a refresher.

Gabriel Diaz Maggioli (hereafter GDM) started his talk by “confessing” that he is a teacher educator and a teacher trainer. Interesting to note the distinction being made here between these terms. He also talks about how becoming a trainer/educator was a turning point for him because it made him as reflective as he could be. This certainly matches with my experience. He then states the important thought of how training and education can impact not only the lives of trainees but also their students, who are mostly “invisible” to the teacher trainer. Speaking from personal experience as a trainer I can say that at times when I considered the future learning of the students I’d never see it was a big motivation to do my best. I think the future students of trainees are all-too-often forgotten because they are invisible to the trainer.

GDM states his affection for and belief in loop input and says that is has been important and helpful for many trainers. He then suggests that the world has changed and maybe there is room for new ideas. Talking about the changing world and changing profile of trainees GDM wonders, “How can I make sure that what I am doing through my careful planning (and my years of experience) … is the best for my trainees?” This sounds like a great place to start. He says that this question always leads us to two variables, which are content and process. He suggests what might be missing, then, is the question of identity.

Next, GDM details different approaches to teacher education (including the classical approach and a process approach that included some awareness raising). He mentions these around the 11 minute mark of the talk before talking about Tessa Woodward and Loop Input.

Bringing it back to the population and profile of trainees, GDM wonders what percentage of them have never studied a foreign language (suggesting this is a very low %).He then dares to question the “foreign language lesson” on the CELTA wondering if it still makes sense in light of the trainees and their experiences. I personally would say that there is still room for this type of thing because the idea is highlighting specific techniques and strategies that perhaps trainees have not seen before and can thus use the experience to reflect on. I’d also suggest that this sort of thing makes sure that trainees have a baseline of experiences to go from. GDM wonders if all this loop input has actually produced more reflective teachers.

GDM offers some high (and deserved) praise to Jerry Gebhard and mentions four kinds of awareness raising activities Gebhard talked about for training. They are microteaching, observation, investigative projects, and humanistic activities. You might be thinking that (just like GDM says) the second two are not as common or widely known as the first two. GDM says these are powerful choices for providing trainees with tools, talents and dispositions needed to succeed in the field.

GDM goes on to suggest that trainees can be provided with real data so as to aid their reflection. He includes tasks that might be useful as well. These sources and tasks can be seen below.

data and tasks GDM

GDM calls into question the depth of attainment achieved from these tasks, however. He says it is not enough. He says part of the issue might be that we are still tied to a language teacher perspective in our teacher education programs.

He then goes on to detail a fun activity for classroom management where trainees have to keep bouncing balloons up in the air while walking around the classroom (in something of a metaphor for classroom management in that teachers always have to focus on many things.) GDM says that he likes and believes in this activity but wonders how much time to devote to it and wonders how much experience is really needed. As a side note, I thought this was a great moment in the talk. He talked about an activity he likes and does but still expressed his reservations about it. This was great stuff and seemed to me to be a nice window into the thought process of a reflective teacher educator.

Next GDM talks about some procedures that can be used in training rooms (per Ellis 1985).

gdm activities

He also mentions that teaching is an enormously complex skill and that learning how to teach is not a linear process. He then mentioned the impact our previous learning can have on our teaching. I think maybe he takes it a step too far by saying he can tell how a student-teacher has learned based on how they teach. I think there must be some room for teachers rejecting the way they were taught and using their apprenticeship of observation to teach differently. Anyway, I am picking nits here since he makes a great point about the need for teachers to know that the reason they are doing something is because they were taught this way (if that is the case). I think this is supremely important so that teachers can move along and make different choices if they wish. He suggests we need to deal with “the ghosts behind the classroom.”

The next point is about the knowledge of L2 required to unpack methodology textbooks as well as to help students with English questions. He also relates this to the changing profile of trainees (I think suggesting they are at lower English levels in the past which might not be true everywhere).  He also talks about the need for teachers to understand the culture and context they are teaching in. Also potentially overlooked aspects on training courses? He then adds the all important pedagogical knowledge which serves to remind me of all the balls teachers have in the air at any time and how challenging it can be to help prepare teachers for this reality.

A quote  which  speaks for itself that I will just leave out there for readers to consider:
“If there is something that we know for sure about English language teaching it is that there is no best method and there will never be.”

GDM makes a great point that many of ideas in teacher training (and indeed his references for this talk) come from the 80s and early 90s. He laments that “It seems like the profession has not advanced beyond the tried and tested and even though the old-time procedures are good and solid we have new problems to grapple with.” Amen. He then mentions changes in demographics and budgets and the world.

He next mentions his previous work at The New School creating programs for design students and how “design theory” influenced his thinking. The question for him became, “How can I use a design theory to do teacher training?” Designers work to understand what the situation and then observe how people manage themselves in that situation (and this includes extensive research through talking to numerous people). The designers match what people say with what they can observe and eventually try to empathizes with the user. Interestingly, the moment the designer empathizes with the user is when the design process actually starts. The first step after beginning in earnest is to imagine and brainstorm (where the sky is the limit, there are no filters, and quantity is prioritized over quality). The second step is prioritize and synthesize while the last step was synergize (which is pooling together all the resources to see what the group came up with). This opens a lot of different ways to handle the issue. After selecting the best or most suitable idea we can then move on to designing the solution. This is not quite enough because it needs to be tried out (which entails trying to prove you have solved that problem). Even after trying it out the process is not entirely complete. You might be able to guess the missing step. It appears at the top of this chart.

design 2

GDM then details his foray into using the design mind-frame for teacher education. He employed this with both on and offline classes and didn’t notice any differences in terms of how it went over. He talked about how tools and tasks were important for him as he tried to help his students prepare for teaching. He mentioned that instead of lectures or readings he started out by posing a problem or question to his students. He then talked about a process that helped students learn about reflection (as just one example of course content) and what it might mean for them and their teaching (and even lives). The process looked liked this:

gdm process

One of the tasks for the student-teachers was to “catch yourselves thinking” which sounds interesting to me. Some artifacts the students worked with (in addition to their own journals) was journals from previous students as well as journals from students of English. The student-teachers were guided with a reflective cycle to follow. “The idea was that in their interaction with their peers, and looking at the different stories and contributions, they synergized, they pooled all that knowledge.” Students took this knowledge and created little workshops on things like “strategies that I use to reflect” or “moments when I catch myself thinking.”

GDM notes that the teacher educator was just “lurking” and facilitating the process (and making sure the discussions stayed on track) while all of this was happening. The students were creating tasks for themselves and their peers, including “Pit Stop Tasks,” which were quick tasks focused on looking back in order to look forward. The idea is to bring the learning to the forefront so that the concepts and ideas can be used in the future.

The talk finished with the benefits (including trainee motivation and output) of design theory as students became more engrossed in the process. It is interesting to note that students who participated in this pointed to the connection between theory and practice as a key thing that was learned.  As I hope is clear I enjoyed this talk and found both thoughtful and full of food for thought. It made me wonder if employing design theory is just one example of teacher educators using the metaphors and ideas from other fields and if there might be many more that teacher educators are not yet engaged with.

GDM concluded with a nice quote from a design theorist and I shall do the same.

gdm conclusion

 

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