Recently I had the chance to spend some time with John Miles, who has over 30 years experience in Education Management in TOEFL. John runs Canterbury Language Training, a small, beautiful academy dedicated to Residential Immersion courses for professional people.
It was a joy to exchange opinions, views and experiences & I found we shared many visions of how our sector needs to progress.
Technology plays its part, and I’ll come to that later. However, it cannot be understated how important it is to construct a dedicated team of training professionals and to KEEP them. Our training organisations are communities on many levels. We are communities of teachers, students and of our clients. It is as communities that we thrive and, with a strong shared sense of community, John & I had the chance to swap notes on some of the issues facing all institutions in our sector right now.
The place for technology
Every learning institution is different and the way it needs to incorporate technology in its processes is going to vary according to the needs of teacher, students and logistics. Let’s take the issue of Inter-Active Whiteboards (IWB’s). They are a must have in primary secondary education now. Just a note here: if you do invest in IWB’s, please remember to train your staff in how to optimise their use in the classroom. It is a tragedy when IWB’s are purchased and left as a white elephant in the corner of the classroom because resources are not dedicated to training teachers how to incorporate their use into their teaching practice. I’ve cited him before, but no-one better than Pete Sharma on this subject, and his 400 tips for using IWB’s .
An IWB is a great resource, but we all have to be careful with costs at the moment, and before you shell out 1800€ on acquiring one, just be clear on whether or not it is the best use of your budget.
In the case of CLT, John explained to me that they considered acquiring IWB’s, but eventually opted for large flat screen TV’s with internet access instead. The TV’s are wall mounted at the right height and are relatively discreet so they don’t dominate the classroom. They add an extra dimension to the learning experience, allowing teachers to incorporate online materials to blend video, listenings and articles from the Internet, mostly related to what’s really going on in the world now.
There is so much quality material that can be accessed online now, and with a bit of forward planning and imagination, teachers can use their creativity to find short bursts of footage, audio &/or video. This is unlikely to be used to present new language, but is perfect for contextualising activities in the real world. By taking the focus away from books, printed materials & whiteboard for a moment, and engaging students visually and orally, the dynamic is kept lively.
Whenever you select an activity, be it video, audio or simply images, please keep in mind what its pedagogical purpose is. If it cannot be clearly defined: don’t use it. Turning on the screen should never be a lazy fallback option. There must be a reason for it. Maybe it is to put into practice new language; it could be to explore vocabulary, a summarising exercise, a springboard for debate, an exercise in analysing the past, predicting what happens next. The list is endless. The point is, if the teacher is not clear what the objective is when s/he turns the screen on, you can be sure the students will not be either.
Flipping the Classroom
Buzzword of the moment! Don’t be scared to hand the remote control unit to the students asking them to bring the content into the classroom. It could be to present their home city, as a simple example. Something more complex might involve research and presentation of something more specific. The point is to let them chose the content. This personalises context and allows students to take responsibility for their own role in the learning process.
Small is Beautiful
My company works in the corporate sector, mostly delivering In Company Training. We often do not get to control the resources available to our teachers in the classroom, as what is available in the clients’ training rooms is often beyond our control. John Miles’ Training Centre in Canterbury, however, delivers training on the premises. It is a relatively small school in terms of size, but a huge one in terms of quality and eye for detail. In this case, small really is beautiful. Good luck to John and his excellent staff for the year ahead. It was a pleasure to meet you all.