Since getting into teacher training, I’ve long been interested in the theory-praxis gap. How is it that what we preach as trainers doesn’t always match what we practise? How should things be and how are they really? My first three-hour class gives me food for thought in terms of planning and needs analysis.
Planning – how it should be:
I have 20 years ELT experience. I’m a teacher trainer. I spend a lot of my time marking and coaching people through course design assignments for Delta Module 3. Many of these are specialised on exam classes and/or young learners. I have, then, dozens of examples of well-considered course plans, needs analysis tools and ideas for materials at my disposal. I have pages and pages of insights into my current class demographic, their general needs and the implications for course design. I’ve taught CAE classes many times before. I’ve taught teens before, though not quite so many times. Planning my one lesson of the day should take me no time at all. At the very least, especially if I stop to consider my hourly rate, it should be less than the amount of time it takes to teach the lesson.
Day one planning – in practice:
While I’ve got a long to-do list and plenty of things to be getting on with, I have no other deadlines pressing that day so I spend all of it planning my one lesson.
Shit expands to fill the space provided.
Needs Analysis – in theory:
I need to do a thorough analysis of learner preferences, motivation for taking the course, familiarity with the exam, degree of learner autonomy etc. Most likely this will take the form of a questionnaire. Those that feature in course planning assignments I mark can run to 3 or 4 pages. These can be supplemented with interviews with other stakeholders – parents, teachers, future spouses etc.
Needs Analysis – in practice:
I use a single A4 page table to find out their interests. I’ve ripped this off from Kyle Dugan (see Dynamite ELT) who kindly shared with me a course plan for a CAE listening course . The reason I went for this is that it lends itself well to a pairwork activity – they completed the first column individually and discussed with their partners. Then they were regrouped, swapped papers and were interviewed by their new partner who filled in the ‘details’ column. Here’s an extract from one:
This is the only ‘formal’ needs analysis I did in the first class. The most important thing for me in this first class was to get to know the students, to remember their names and who they are as individuals. Apart from serving as a data collection activity, the added advantage of this peer needs analysis was that it allowed for rapport building between the students (some of whom had previously met but some who had not) and for me to gauge how they performed in terms of spoken interaction. They enjoyed the activity and I realise that this is also an over-riding concern I have. I don’t want the class to be boring.
Info I get:
- their interests and concerns
Info I don’t get:
- why they’re taking the exam
- how familiar they are with the exam
- which papers cause most anxiety
- what their expectations of my course are in terms of content, exam tasks, homework etc.
Apart from this task, we spent the class doing some diagnostic listening work (I’d recorded friends and family talking about their reasons for learning various languages) in order to bring out a kind of future-selves angle on why they’re learning English. The listening worked fine, but they weren’t very able to imagine or articulate clearly their own reasons for learning English. Maybe I needed a more-structured activity for this.
What I was happiest with:
- Getting through the three hours without a mutiny exploding
What I want to get better at:
- Planning in less time
- Always having a warmer – they drifted in at different times and I had to delay getting started