Teachers sit together in a training session in Lang Son

When teachers are exposed to radically new methodology during training, they can often be reluctant to try it out in their own classrooms.  They might feel that the trainers don’t understand their classrooms and contexts, and that methods being taught will never work with such a large/mixed ability/low level class. 

British Council trainers working in Lang Son, in the far north-east of Vietnam have taken a novel approach to motivating and inspiring teachers – they’ve stepped into the secondary teachers’ classrooms and taught demonstration classes, with the teachers’ actual students, using communicative methodology and (as the trainers don’t speak much Vietnamese) no L1.

These lessons increase the trainers’ credibility with the teachers by clearly illustrating that:

  • learner-centred approaches can be applied in large classes
  • English can be taught without the use of Vietnamese

And most importantly:

  • when students are given the opportunity to communicate and interact with each other in English, the language comes alive and student participation is increased.

Trainer, Davide Greene confirms the success of this approach: 

"We can see some evidence that when we plan activities that are more student-centred, the students are doing more of the work. The students are producing more language or they’re interacting with each other and using English with one another."

Training in Lang Son province has taken a two-pronged approach, with some teachers taking the Methodology course and a second group taking a Language Development & Methodology course based on British Council’s ‘English for Teaching’. These teachers are amongst the 54% of English teachers in the province who haven’t met the language standards set by the Ministry of Education and Training, that all secondary teachers of English need a B2 level of English based on the CEFR.

Apart from poor language skills, another barrier to effective teaching in Lang Son has been a fixed mind-set where teachers believe that they must systematically work through the book, page by page, in order to achieve the learning outcomes, set out in the national curriculum. Despite support from English Language Teaching Specialists from within the local Department of Education and Training, changing this rigid way of thinking has been a real challenge. However, gradually, British Council Trainer, Marius Jackson’s mantra of ‘think differently’ has affected change. 

Bui Van Phuc, a teacher from the Ethnic Minority Boarding School reflected the view of many of the teachers who took part in the training:

"I feel like a new person after this course. We have changed a lot, especially our way of thinking. This course has given us a more comprehensive view as we will need to think differently and operate differently to make our lessons and class activities more interesting and appealing to students."

These sentiments are supported by evidence collected during monitoring and evaluation where a group of teachers were observed in their local schools prior to the training, and again after the training. Each observed lesson focused on planning the lesson, managing the lesson and teaching the lesson.

Teachers demonstrated clear improvements in all criteria including a 43% increase in using English appropriate to the level of the learners; a 67% increase in applying appropriate techniques for introducing and practicing new language; a 52% increasing checking learners’ understanding and provide appropriate feedback; and a 73% increase in providing learners with the opportunity to use English for authentic communication.

During the end of course observations, overall the teachers provided good spoken models of English for the students and students seemed comfortable with this level of exposure to English in the classroom. Most students show a willingness to speak but it is important that further opportunities are provided for them to do this.  

You can read more about the monitoring and evaluation results.

For more information about this project, please contact:

  • Rebecca Hales, Senior Training Consultant, Rebecca.halesATbritishcouncil.org.vn
  • or Nga Le, Business Development Manager, Nga.leATbritishcouncil.org.vn
Teachers in Vietnam participate in one of their training sessions
Teachers in Nam Dinh learn about a more learner-centred style of teaching
Teachers practise a mingle activity together
Teachers in Bac Giang practise a mingle activity together

Bringing learner-centred approaches to the classrooms of Vietnam

Teachers in Nam Dinh, Vietnam, stepped out of their comfort zones and put down their coursebooks to bring a more learner-centred style of teaching into their classroom.  

"I understand the idea of clear learning outcomes. It is not necessary to be a slave to the coursebook. I use fewer activities."

The teachers spent 60 hours learning about and practising learner-centred approaches, using the British Council’s Teaching for Success materials.  The training also took the teachers back into their classrooms where they were observed, and observed others teaching.

Some of the most successful elements of the training were practical in nature.  Observed by the teachers, the trainers entered local classrooms to teach classes of up to 50 students at a time. Some teachers were dismissive of learner-centred approaches, stating they were worried about losing control, but they were then shown real-life examples of learner-centred classes, in their own classrooms, with positive results. Most students were enthusiastic, engaged and willing to think outside the box.  While the demonstration lessons did not always go according to plan, this provided the basis for useful analysis and discussions back in the training room, giving teachers the chance to think about how activities could be adapted to work in their specific contexts. 

To help develop their reflective practice, to better evaluate their own lessons in future, the teachers were also observed in real classroom situations by the British Council trainers and their peers. 

By the end of the training the teachers showed real changes in their approaches to teaching English.  Some teachers had been observed prior to the training and they were observed again a few months afterwards.  They were also interviewed to provide further insight into the extent to which their teaching had changed.

The results from these observations and interviews were overwhelmingly positive. Prior to the training most of the teachers would work mechanically through all the activities in the coursebook, providing very few opportunities for learners to use the language communicatively. After the training the teachers showed great willingness to branch away from the coursebooks, taking a more considered approach to staging their lessons to ensure that clear learning outcomes were met.

"My students really like the change in my teaching. I apply some steps before teaching speaking so they feel more confident. I need this change."

Focusing on teachers’ needs in Bac Giang

Teachers from the mountainous Bac Giang province, in the north-east of Vietnam, are now making their large English classes more fun and active for their students.  They are also including a stronger focus on pronunciation and speaking, all thanks to a recent continuing processional development programme developed especially for them by the British Council Vietnam.  Many of these teachers and their students are from five ethnic minority groups living in this province.  

Phan Thi Trinh, Primary English Teacher told us: “I was lucky to take part in the training. We used to write things on the board for students to copy them down. Now they have a lot more fun, they can play as they learn, they can sing as they learn. I really love the new methodology, it engages the children better and it makes me feel younger as I enjoy the fun in the classroom.

Prior to the training the trainers carried out a thorough needs-analysis and baseline study with the teachers to ensure the training was 100% focussed on the needs of the teachers.  The training was then developed, based on the British Council’s Teaching for Success approach, and included face-to-face training, teaching demonstrations, teaching observations and mentoring support.  The inclusion of peer observations ensured that teachers were fully engaged and invested in the process. 

The training addressed some typical difficulties that the teachers in Bac Giang province face, which included a lack of engaging activities, overcrowded classrooms, and the teachers' pronunciation issues. The teachers were provided with techniques, materials and ideas to make their lessons more engaging and to help motivate their students. 

After the training an interactive learning community was set-up online to allow teachers to share resources, ideas and best practice with their colleagues.  This also helps to foster the idea that learning and developing is an ongoing process with the teachers continuing to develop and become even more confident in their teaching practice over time.

The pilot training programme, which reached 430 primary and 106 secondary English teachers over eight months, was organized in collaboration with Bac Giang Department of Education and Training.    

The partnership with the British Council has helped empower our teachers in terms of language skills and methodology. It has also significantly improved the quality of English teaching and learning in our schools, contributing to the government’s Project 2020 in overhauling the teaching and learning of foreign languages in Vietnam” - Phan Thi Thu Ha, Bac Giang Department of Education and Training.

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