Welcome to our new series of blog posts!

This time we’ll be featuring the speakers who will be presenting as part of the TD SIG Day on Day 3 of IATEFL, Monday the 13th of April.

Our first featured speaker is Karen Waterston. Karen has been teaching for 25 years and has been involved in teacher development for the last 10 years in Libya, Qatar, Mongolia, the UK and now Thailand. She spent 4 years on the Thai/Burma border with refugee and migrant pre- and in- service teachers and is currently based in a small, rural Thai school working on a whole school approach to blending international and Thai education systems.  Karen is interested in low resource, large class teaching and she also does materials writing for British Council courses on teacher development in low resource contexts.

We are so very proud to have Karen as part of our SIG Day this year. Her session is called Interactive Observation – an alternative training approach. In the meantimehere is her blog post for you to get to know her a little more.

Karen Waterston:

A long time ago, while studying for my Master’s, I read an article which talked about the ‘Island mentality’ of teacher training. Travelling away from the classroom to an ‘island’ where training takes place in a holiday type environment. Much of the learning is then lost on the way back to the classroom. This article influenced my thinking greatly and I started to look for ways that development in the classroom could be longer lasting. My mantra has become ‘change the practice and the belief will follow’ and over the years, I have found this to bring about a change in teaching practice. Practice followed by theory.

For the last 8 years I’ve been working with teachers in Mongolia, Libya, Qatar and now Thailand, 4 years with Burmese migrant and refugee teachers and more recently with Thai primary teachers. Based in the schools over an extended period of time, I work with teachers in the classroom, their own environments.

Initially I worked with English teachers, this being my background and training but soon was drawn into the stimulating world of subject teachers. As such I have had to take a long look at the generic skills that underpin effective teaching in order to offer something valuable to subject teachers.

A lot of the techniques experienced teachers use are almost second nature, such as walking around the classroom, writing on the board with regular glances to the learners. I remember an early session with pre-service teachers where I realized they had never written on a board before. Soon we were all standing to the side of the board, writing a few words then, almost like a dance, twisting backwards to look at the class then back to the board.

Analysing my own teaching in order to break it down into manageable parts for other teachers has been an interesting process. When did I learn to have eyes in the back of my head, be able to read upside down, know which questions to ask, hear an error from a distant student in a noisy class or know from a student’s face they don’t quite get it despite assurance of comprehension?

I have mainly worked with new teachers and those with limited experience in more student focused lessons.

I have also mainly worked in under resourced environments and therefore I have been lucky. Limited resources make for easy choices. Creativity comes to the fore when there are only a few bits of paper, students and a board.

The results of working out generic skills coupled with a lack of material has enabled me to get to the bare essentials of effective teaching. For me, it essentially boils down to the relinquishing of central, teacher control. Once a teacher is able to take a step back in the classroom, a lot of elements fall into place. Students can work together undisturbed, the teacher is confident to provide tasks enabling student collaboration, the teacher isn’t afraid of the unknown such as unscripted questions, unplanned moments in class and the teacher can start to notice the students. This is not to say that the teacher is not in control, far from it, the teacher is guiding the lesson in a planned way but allowing the students the freedom to learn on their own. Getting to this stage of course takes time and needs to be done in small, incremental steps.

The steps I take are to begin from the starting point of the teacher and add small incremental changes to their current practice. For example, choral drilling. Very often done as whole class, they can become monotonous but are important in maintaining the appearance of teacher control. Adding choral drills such as front half/back half, higher/lower voice, slower/faster, boys/girls, is within the teacher’s comfort zone but adding a little variety and therefore more memorable. Following this I get the teacher to walk up and down in the classroom a set number of times during the lesson – again manageable for the teacher and makes a huge difference to sitting behind the teacher’s table. We then move onto thumbs up/down for T/F answers to questions which traditionally are either the teacher saying the answers or only a few shouting out the answers. A small but significant change beginning to shift some tiny amount of control away from the teacher and onto the students.

I have put together a powerpoint of the steps I used while working with Burmese/Karen migrant and refugee teachers on the Thai/Burma border which I am more than willing to share with any interested teachers/trainers.

Thanks and see you at IATEFL