Teaching the teachers: how is PRELIM going in its second year?
The British Council-funded scheme pairing UK accredited English language teaching centres with English Teacher Associations (ETAs) all over the world is now well under way and improving teacher confidence in a variety of innovative ways.
The second PRELIM (Partnered Remote Language Improvement Project) scheme has £500,000 funding, supporting 40 ETAs which are working with 35 ELT centres.
Running the project and the online community of practice which enables participants to share issues and discuss progress is ELT teacher training organisation NILE.
An interview with Rose Aylett, freelance CELTA tutor and training consultant for NILE
Rose Aylett, working for NILE with Martyn Clarke as one of the project's two training consultants, said: "There's a lot of excitement – it's something very different for a lot of participants."
"Last year was a really sharp learning curve for everyone involved. This year, participating UK institutions have been able to tap into the knowledge and expertise of PRELIM 1 and there is a huge amount of support for each other in the community of practice (CoP). Some have very little experience in this kind of work, some are highly experienced and it's great to see this level of support. This year we're seeing more autonomy in the CoP, that institutions are getting in touch with each other a bit more proactively seeking out support and learning, We have really lively online CoP sessions where everyone comes together with big ideas and sharing. These remain a very popular feature of the support initiative."
A highly rewarding project
Rose says there is a real buzz about the project. "We've had a lot of anecdotal feedback so far which is really positive from the UK-based teaching teams and ETAs. Many teachers have found their involvement in the project highly rewarding. I've been told by one UK partner that by giving their teachers the opportunity to team-teach and share and develop resources on the project, the teachers felt this raised the quality of their lessons."
She added: "I think it's a really unique, innovative idea. I feel privileged to work on it with Martyn."
Are the projects different to the first PRELIM?
Rose said courses vary between four and 12 weeks, have between one and four cohorts and use a variety of platforms. There is a greater range in the length of the courses and sometimes more meetings depending on the numbers participating, and some projects are supporting teachers outside the target language range of A1 to B2.
"One school designed a 12-week course running for lower-level teachers and then three cohorts of three weeks each for those at higher levels, meeting the need of the ETA for everyone to take part. It was good for the ETA because at the start of the project many of the course participants weren't members of the teaching association and they hope that by the end of PRELIM, they will have joined up," she said.
"A couple of things have really jumped out at me which were really innovative. One partnership has introduced guest-speaker subject specialists as mid-course 'special interest sessions'. They've included workshops on things like legal English, special education needs, British English and British music and arts. Another partnership is hoping to do a live Q&A session between A Level politics students at a local secondary school and their teachers in Palestine."
Rose says the projects focus more strongly on methodology as well as language this year, with an additional emphasis on technology. Partners have adopted a range of different platforms for course delivery, and it is notable that Google Classrooms is much more popular this year. At their ETA partner's request, one project is specifically focused on introducing participants to using the Google suite to teach in English, with course strands that relate to English language, platform-specific functionality and pedagogy.
What different technologies are being used?
Rose says 34 of the partnerships are using Zoom, while Google Meet and Teams are also popular for the synchronous element which most projects include. WhatsApp and similar messaging technologies are also being used, as is Facebook, Moodle and Padlet.
One project is using Slack as a CoP tool and "a very supportive learning environment has evolved. The UK partner felt it was quite an achievement to get such a large number of their participants using this and supporting each other in its use even though it was new to them. It's been working really well so far. In addition to Slack, some partnerships have tried using Discord as a sharing platform and this has also been very successful."
Are there any other forms of course delivery?
"I think about 17 of the partnerships are using local facilitators and mentors to assist with the delivery of the course in country. That ranges from group representatives helping to co-ordinate the course to technological assistants supporting the running of the platform and answering questions around its use.
Some are course participants, sometimes the ETA has appointed its own members to support the project," said Rose, adding: "We also have one course which will be quite unique, where groups of teachers will congregate in two different regions for an interactive workshop delivered via Zoom, using a projector and a webcam. It's a new way of doing it, and it will meet needs in a country with particularly low connectivity and very expensive phone data."
What do the UK teachers get out of PRELIM?
"I think probably one of the positive outcomes for the teachers at UK institutions is innovation in course design, because a lot of them are developing materials for a context which is different to the one they are used to. These courses are very context-specific, tailored courses, and we've seen courses evolve a lot this year, in response to the course participants' emerging needs.
There are multiple learning outcomes across the partners, positive things for ETAs and UK institutions and course participants, so its really multifaceted. Everybody gains.
In many cases, at the beginning of the project the UK-based teachers know very little about the culture or the context of their ETA partner and about the actual teaching context of the teachers they will be working with. They have to get up to speed quickly, and that's where the expertise of their partner ETA is so important. Building a good partnership is integral to the success of the project."
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