(Interactive) Lectures in Teacher Training

by Zhenya

January is the time of New Year resolutions and goal-setting for many. Even though I am not a fan of the ‘formal’ processes as such, I like to think of something new in my professional development (if not set some specific objectives to myself, then at least speculate on what theme, or aspect I would like to focus more in the coming year).

As you might already know from my older post here or here, I like various types of input sessions for teachers on training courses.

I also like reading about how others approach and vary ‘traditional’ PD sessions, so Sandy Millin’s post is an excellent example of how many more ideas can be added.

One type of sessions I have never tried in class is a lecture. Yes, I have never given a lecture in my life (well, maybe just one, when I was a student and out teacher asked us to practice in turns). I was reminded about this type of input twice in the last couple of months: first, Molly Worthen’s article made me re-consider the concept of lectures I had: she writes about helping students/participants develop focused thinking, the habit to listen, the skill of note-taking. I became very eager to take a lecture course myself!

The second urge to explore the topic more came from the curriculum review/revision project I have been involved in the last months. I was going though several teacher training university courses and working on their content (making the materials more teacher educator and student teacher- friendly) and noticed that the most frequently mentioned type of input was ‘Interactive Lecture’ with a Power Point Presentation and/or handouts for the audience. I started to think how the word ‘Interactive’ changed my attitude to ‘Lecture’, and decide to read a bit more on the topic.

I found this resource very useful and practical: it breaks creation/planning for a lecture into several stages, starting from deciding on a learning task, then choosing an engagement trigger, and finally selecting an activity/technique from a nice list that follows. The ones I already tried in other session types include ‘Think-pair-share’ (or ‘buzz group’ activity) and Question of the Day – but there are many more to explore and try out from this article (including this link leading to 36 more formats!)

Little Train

Thinking about lectures, I returned to my notes on Trainer Development book by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho. Together with the authors, I am pondering about this question: ‘In your context, is the emphasis on theory or practice in training?’ Instead of ‘your context’ I could say ‘the context of the training’, of course. I am suddenly wondering if the formats of intensive teacher training courses that are offered in so many parts of the world the idea of ‘meeting participants where they are’ might be sometimes ignored. I mean, oftentimes, listening to a lecture and taking notes is the most comfortable (and expected!) way of learning for teachers on a course. At the same time, lecture, or talk, would not necessarily be a part of the training I have been running, for example. Of course, we can say that stepping out of the comfort zone is useful (and I agree!), and that the short time of the course does not allows a longer ‘warmer’ in terms of the format and level of comfort for the audience. Oh, and that the task is to show the alternative (and more effective/successful/modern, etc.) ways of teaching. Yes, yes and yes. And yet, I am thinking if the fact that I have never tried lecturing (and therefore do not have such a skill/confidence myself) eliminates even the very thought of a lecture from my training courses? I am starting to see that it is probably my comfort zone that supports this belief (and so me thinking of myself, not the participants?)

The other big question (again, inspired/reminded by the Trainer Development book) is about the role, the value of trainer talk in the sessions for teachers. Is a Talk similar to, or different from, a Lecture? Is the difference only semantic? Is one more positive, more welcome in class than the other? Does the word ‘Interactive’ bring more difference, or more similarity (or more confusion)? Would starting from a familiar mode bring a real ice-breaker sooner and win teachers’ trust for the remaining time on the course?

I also came across this post by Karen Greenhaus explaining her views on the difference between lecture and talk. It partially confirms my own understanding of the difference (shared in another post here): a talk is less formal and more personal, and the lecture is more ‘official’ and academic.

Talk describes what you are doing, or have done, in relation to theory or practice or may show on materials or products. Its content is relevant to the participants who work outside your local context.

Lecture is an oral presentation intended to present information or teach people about a particular subject, for example by a university or college teacher. (my personal understanding is that a talk is less formal and more reflective and a lecture is more formal/academic and brings more ‘official’ data and sources, etc.)

[Note to self: the types of conference presentations can also be the types of input sessions — sorry for stating the obvious!]

What are your thoughts about the role of a talk, or a lecture in an ELT training program? Have you experienced it as a participant, or done that as a trainer? What other thoughts on this do you have?

Thank you for reading! 🙂