In the vastness of China the physical landscape changes from north to south and east to west. In standard education, until recently, the English teaching landscape remained unchanged with teacher-centred choral repetition everywhere. Changes in the landscape have become evident over the last 20 years with awareness of alternative approaches to English teaching permeating the consciousness of teachers at all levels of the education system. The way in which these ‘new’ communicative approaches are understood and applied varies from province to province and classroom to classroom, reinforcing the need for thorough pre-project needs analysis before any training can take place.
A lesson that we learnt from a recent methodology training project for primary school teachers in Guangdong, Southern China, was that a standard needs analysis can uncover so much more than just ‘needs’. During our meetings, questionnaires, focus groups, classroom observations and discussions meetings we uncovered opportunities as well as needs.
Discussions with students and teachers, and observations of classroom practice provided us with the chance to identify the needs of teachers in the classroom. These diagnostic observations formed the content of the first stage of the project which saw two trainers deliver a week of intensive face to face methodology training to 80 teachers. Training included sessions on building communicative tasks from the textbook, creating information exchanges and setting meaningful homework. After the week of training, teachers then had about a month to put elements of the training into practice in their classes.
The second stage of this extensive model project was a series of classroom observations with 20 classes observed over two weeks. Each observation was attended by the British Council trainer and seven other teachers from the project, allowing all 80 trainees to be involved in the observation process, either as observer or observee. We saw some exciting examples of project teachers confidently approaching the planning and implementation of Communicative Language lessons.
Each observer was provided with an observation focus tool which required them to work in pairs to discuss and deliver feedback to the colleagues they were watching. This inclusive model of classroom observation and feedback was informed by our discussions with the local teaching researcher during the period of needs analysis. We used the group observer arrangement that the teachers were familiar with, and from that tried to develop a more inclusive and inductive form of group feedback based upon the already familiar model. The result of this approach was that every observer was encouraged and supported to offer their own opinions and experiences and therefore reflect upon their own teaching practice.
This project has left teachers with greater confidence in their implementation of communicative approaches to teaching. We have introduced a more inductive and reflective approach to lesson observation and we have learned again to appreciate the value of the needs analysis as a wonderful opportunity to guide our teacher training.
Participants have also been inspired to use different teaching ideas and techniques after learning them in the training and reflecting on them during practice and shared their feelings about the training:
The trainers are brilliant, engaging and interesting to listen to. The training course provided us practical knowledge which we can put into practice in the future.
The training not only gave us ideas on teaching techniques, but also the ways we can think. We learned ‘how to fish’.
I really enjoyed the classroom observations and the follow-up discussion session. It is beneficial for me.
By Adam Jameson