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Listening to the Learners: The Role of the Learner Diary in RSA/UCLES CTEFLA Teaching Practice
by Henny Burke
- 3

Weeks three and four

Due to TP changeover the learners had a new group of teachers in the third and fourth week. I continued to plan the classes in the third week using the same criteria as I had employed in the first two weeks: using my own perception of what the trainees and learners needed and confirming or rejecting my perceptions from the information I received in feedback sessions, from the TI' logs and the learner diaries. As many learners seemed to have problems using the definite article in their learner diaries, I programmed a slot on the definite article in the third week. It seemed to confuse more than clarify: "The lesson about the definite article has been very interesting to me, but I still do not understand the rules, sometimes I could find more than one rule to fit the example or may be none, so that means I don't understand them too well." (Elena Learner Diary Day Seven Aug 18)

In the fourth week the trainees took over the timetabling themselves and began to teach 55 minutes classes. I was there to be consulted and give ideas and advice but essentially the trainees themselves took over the planning.

For me the most interesting aspect of the third and fourth week was in the changeover of TI' group. At first it seemed quite smooth: "Although the teachers have changed the way to deal the class is very similar and I have a good time doing the exercises and playing the games." (Pepa Learner Diary Day Seven Aug 18)

However, some problems did begin to creep in as some of the trainees seemed very keen on drilling. They had been doing a lot of drilling with the Beginner group they had been with and obviously enjoyed it. Not all the Upper Intermediate learners really took to it or felt they needed it: "The two new expressions we saw today were unknown to me; "It's time..." and "You'd better..." very interesting, but I think, that, to learn how to use the expressions it is better to do some exercises instead of repeat the sentences one after the other." (Elena Learner Diary Day Twelve Aug 19)

Another problem that became apparent in the last week of the course was that learners do not always want to do the activities that teachers want them to do. One of the trainees informed me in a feedback session that he had used the break to ask one of the learners why she was being negative in the class. I found this very worrying and we spent a long time discussing whether the problem was one of negativity or not.

Once again the learner diaries proved useful as in her overall evaluation the learner in question included the following: "Sometimes I was in trouble trying to defend a role in the exercise we were doing, it is almost impossible for me to do something against my ideas or principles, and in some topics I had to guess or invent a position I didn't like at all, that may mean to you that I'm not cooperating with the class, but that is not the way it is.

Regarding some complaints about not doing some of the activities you want us to do, I have to say that you must understand that we may feel uncomfortable doing them and prefer if people don't push me to do what I don't like to." (Elena Learner Diary Day Seventeen Aug 26)

Although I normally left the trainees to write back to the learners, I chose to write back to Elena myself in her diary and assure her that I felt she had always been one of the most helpful learners in the group, which she had been. I also made the following point: "Some activities that seem "great" to teachers are not so "great" for students. That's one reason why learner diaries are so good because it gives an opportunity for student and teacher to enter into a constructive dialogue about what is actually happening in the class." (Henny Day Seventeen Aug 26)

Conclusion

Effective TP syllabus design involves not only dialogue between the trainees and TP Tutor in the form of oral feedback and TI' logs, but also dialogue between the learners, trainees arid TP Tutor through the medium of the learner diary. Furthermore, involving the trainee teachers in the syllabus design by making them aware of the criteria the TI' Tutor is employing not only shows the trainees how valuable a process syllabus can be, but also provides loop input (Woodward 1991) as the trainees themselves experience what it feels like to listen to and be listened to.

References

Breen, M. 1984 "Process Syllabuses For The Language Classroom" in General English Syllabus Design, ELT Documents 118. British Council 1984 (ed. Brumfit. CI.) Pergamon Press

Budd, R. Wright, T. 1992 "Putting a Process Syllabus Into Practice" in D. Nunan (ed) Collaborative Language Learning and Teaching. Cambridge: CUP: 208-229.

Ellis, G. Sinclair. 6. 1989 "Learning To Learn English: A Course In Learner Training" Cambridge. CUP.

Thornbury, S. 1991 "Watching The Whites Of Their Eyes: The Use Of Teaching - Practice logs" El .T Journal 45/2:140-146.

University of Cambridge local Examinations Syndicate International Examinations, Certificate In The Teaching Of English As A Foreign Language To Adults. Syllabus And List Of Centres (UK and Overseas) 1990/91.

White, R. 1988 "The ELT Curriculum: Design. Innovation And Management" Oxford Basil Blackwell Ltd.

Woodward, T. 1991 "Models and Metaphors in Language Teaching: Loop Input and Other Strategies" Cambridge. CUP.

Biodata

Henny Burke is Co-Director of Studies at the British Language Centre, Madrid. Spain. She works as a teacher and a teacher trainer on inservice programmes, RSA/UCLES CTEFLA/CELTA and DTEFLA/DELTA courses. She has completed the Aston University MSc. course in Teaching English & is currently involved in coursebook writing for Cambridge University Press. Henny

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