Guest Post: My Training Bag

Background: If you read this blog more or less regularly, you remember how #liveninguptheprocesschallenge started with this earlier post of mine.

So far several bloggers joined me in sharing what they bring to class:

Introduction: Today, I am very excited to host the very first guest post on this blog! Kate Cook is my colleague and friend, an English teacher and teacher trainer, curriculum designer, passionate traveller, salsa dancer, hiker and walker, swimmer and coffee drinker.

Kate and I first met on a PCELT training course in Lebanon several years ago, and immediately started noticing the little things brought to our input sessions and demonstration lessons. As any successful co-training experience, that course involved lots of walks and dinners together, where we were reflecting on the days in the classroom and exchanging ideas and experiences. The idea to start this thread was conceived in one of those conversation, for which I am grateful to Kate. So… the floor is hers!

I’m just getting ready to leave for a training trip to Sri Lanka. To be honest I don’t know a huge amount about the context yet, except that I’ll be working with trainee teachers in a national teacher training college. Here are a few things I’ll be putting in my bag.

Attention getter. These little bells work well as a gentle way to signal for attention. I just give them a little shake and there is immediate silence (well, that’s the theory). Actually they are usually quite effective in getting teachers to stop what they are doing and shift their focus back to me.

I’ve experimented recently with call and response, such as ‘Ready to rock…..Ready to roll’ or ’Hocus pocus…..Everybody focus!’ and while these are fun, for me there is something a little counterintuitive about making a lot of noise as a signal for silence, so I think I’ll be going back to the bells.

Popsicle/lollipop sticks. I LOVE these little sticks. I usually ask participants to write their name on a stick on day 1 and then after that use them to establish random groups and sometimes to assign seating (put sticks on tables or even on individual chairs). I also use them to nominate speakers during the feedback stage of an activity – but only when participants have already had the chance to compare or share ideas in pairs or groups – I don’t want to put anyone unnecessarily on the spot. I find they really help to even out participation and prevent one or two people dominating.

Quotes. I always arrive with a stack of quotes (20-30) on coloured A4 paper. The way I use them varies. I often put them up on the walls before the course begins so people have something to look at and think about as soon as they arrive. Occasionally I use them as a first-day activity and let each everyone choose one quote that ‘speaks’ to them. They can then share their ideas in pairs, groups or in a mingle and finally post ‘their’ quote on the wall. I may refer to a particularly relevant quote during a session or wrap up a session by asking participants to find a quote which they feel relates to the content of the session. Sometimes I don’t refer to them at all, and just allow the conversations around them develop more organically.

Brain-breaks. I just discovered these this year and am now a total convert. Brain-breaks are short mental or physical breaks to help participants stay focused and engaged. It can be something as simple as asking participants to ‘high five’ everyone at their table, going through a very simple, short series of yoga stretches, or doing the actions to the ‘Chicken Song’ (quite a favourite with Thai teachers). Many of the physical brain-breaks are most easily understood from watching a demonstration on YouTube.

Coins. I used to travel with dice for board games. However, most ELT or training games are to promote discussion and I found that using dice sometimes led to a very swift journey around the board. Now I more often ask participants to flip coins (heads = 1 and tails = 2). I have also realised that it’s actually quite hard to get dice in some countries, and so it is perhaps more useful to model using something more easily available.

The Magic of Metaphor: 77 Stories for Teachers, Trainers and Thinkers by Nick Owen. I bought this book a couple of years ago and now I often pack it in my training bag. I think stories, metaphors and analogies can make learning memorable, and I love that they are open to multiple interpretations so each person can decide for themselves how they feel it may (or may not) relate to their own context.

A fish. I find that encouraging participants to observe practice teaching classes objectively and describe what actually happened, as opposed to what they think might have happened, is quite a challenge. I often use Agassiz Fish Story to introduce the topic of observation (if you don’t know it, just google…great story!). My fish then becomes a concrete reminder of the importance of careful, objective, detailed observation. Later in the course it is sometimes enough for me to hold up the fish or say ‘think of the fish’ to remind participants to include as much detail as possible in their observation notes.

Thank you very much for the great post Kate, and good luck in your new training adventures!

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict
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4 Responses to Guest Post: My Training Bag

  1. Sandy Millin says:

    Thanks for writing this Kate, and for introducing the story of the fish – I hadn’t come across that before. I’d be interested to know how you use the story in more detail on your courses.


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Sandy
      Thank you for the comment: I am posting on behalf of Kate, and confirm what she is saying as someone observing one of such sessions! 🙂

      Kate: Here are some quick thoughts on the reply to the question.

      I usually give a few questions for discussion: How you do think the student in the story felt? What do you think he learned from this experience? Then ask the participants what this story suggests about observing lessons in practice teaching (or in peer observations at school, depending on the context of the programme)
      Answers often include comments such as:
      at first you don’t look very carefully and you see very little;
      the more you look the more you see;
      it becomes more fruitful with time and practice;
      it is a skill you have to develop;
      it’s important to look at the details;
      describe what you see, what it actually there (not what you think is there).

      Of course, there is no ‘right’ answer here, but I find that most groups I’ve worked with really come up with some very relevant points.

      Kate (and Zhenya)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Livening Up the Process | Wednesday Seminars

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