Supporting colleagues around the world: what do UK English teachers think of the PRELIM project?
This year's PRELIM project may be over, but that doesn't mean the learning and the benefits have stopped.
Teachers of English in 40 countries – and the UK – are still reflecting on what they learned from the second PRELIM (Partnered remote language improvement project), and in some cases still support each other on WhatsApp and other platforms. The projects – funded by the British Council - partnered 35 accredited language centres with 40 English Teacher Associations around the world to build teacher confidence in classrooms of all types.
What do the UK teachers who led each of the 40 projects think about how it went? We talked to Ellie Prime of Hilderstone College, which partnered with Palestine, Farhan Quraishi of Speak Up London which worked with Montenegro and Joanna Thorpe of IH Bristol which partnered with Angola. Only IH Bristol had previous experience of the scheme.
What they did
Hilderstone College/ Palestine
Ellie Prime: "It was helpful to be partnered with a group which had done it before. They wanted as much time as possible to develop speaking so we did a 12-week course. I had reservations about this but we did a good job on retention and from 140 people starting 80-something got a certificate. They all taught English in government schools.
"They were much more advanced than we expected, from B1 to C1, and their language level was so good that after week one I wondered what we were going to teach them.
So we worked on confidence building, and giving the opportunity to speak around different topics. We had 10 Zoom groups with one for principals, and five WhatsApp groups. We also did a light sprinkling of practical things for teaching and the homework was to use the activities we did in the sessions in class."
Speak Up London/Montenegro
Farhan Quraishi: "The first time I read a PRELIM email properly I thought it sounded fantastic, really exciting, so I went back and read them all in detail. We were partnered with the wonderful country of Montenegro and never in a million years did I think I would do any trade or partnership anywhere like that so it was a fantastic project. As it was our first PRELIM project we were nervous going in but the team at NILE did a fantastic job supporting us. They said it's a symbiotic relationship between you and your learners, built on negotiation and that builds the foundation, you will both come to the table trying to find what is best for both parties.
"It was an opportunity for us to explore creative ways to develop a programme for learners and professionals who are time-restricted and quite simply overworked like most teachers, and engaging and valuable for them."
IH Bristol/ Angola
Joanna Thorpe: "We partnered with Cuba last time, Angola this time and in terms of organisation and challenges, this was a lot easier. The teachers we worked with ranged from lower secondary to university so there was a broad range of contexts and the English ability varied widely. We split the cohort according to English level and then focused on teaching strategies which would be applicable across the different levels.
"The project was confidence to teach English and our main metrics were confidence in their own abilities and confidence to teach in English. We talked a lot about classroom language and basic techniques to give them more confidence to apply them in the classroom.
"We worked via Zoom, with hour-long synchronous weekly sessions and asynchronous elements on WhatsApp where we would post prompts and tasks and encourage everyone to discuss and share ideas with each other. It ran for ten weeks, with two tutors and 57 participants. The participants themselves were incredibly enthusiastic to be getting lessons with a UK partner and have access to CPD needs analysis and information. We were told that English teachers in Angola suffer from a lack of training – a third hadn't had any teacher training at all – and accessing materials and professional development is sparse so just the option to participate was really exciting for a lot of them and then engagement level was high. They were enthusiastic and sending us teaching questions all the time."
What they got out of it
Ellie Prime: "We talked a lot about culture. The teachers wanted everyone to know about Palestinian culture and were keen to show us Palestine. There were teachers from different regions, Gaza and the West Bank, and it was very interesting. There was a teacher from the West Bank in my group who explained how different things were to Gaza. One of the biggest things I took away was that because of the occupation you can't just travel to the next town because of border checks."
Farhan Quraishi: "We found it was as valuable as us to them. We mastered the arts of the learner management system, Microsoft Teams and for the first time delivered lessons on WhatsApp."
Joanna Thorpe: "It's stimulating to be part of something like this when people are discussion professional issues in WhatsApp and the conversation is going back and forth – it's really special.
"In terms of our metrics their confidence level to teach in English in the classroom definitely increased as did their awareness of different communicative activities. One of the main takeaways we were really keen on was to make sure the WhatsApp groups were sustainable so hopefully developing a community of practice within that group so that teachers continue to collaborate and learn from each other. So though our involvement in the project has finished that framework is still there for the teachers to learn with each other. Someone sent a message the other day asking about discipline in the classroom and there's ongoing platform for them to learn from each other.
Ellie Prime: "I genuinely loved it. On a personal level it was exciting to manage the project, but then it was also very inspiring to see what these teachers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It gave them space to talk, build confidence, meet others in the same situation and recognised they are not alone. And there was the cultural exchange we did with local students who got to hear people's experiences of living in a war zone."
"It was really wonderful: I have nothing but good things to say. We were lucky to get an English Teachers Association partner where we felt we could make a real difference. Palestine has a lot of hard times and it was good to do something positive."
Farhan Quraishi: "We got feedback saying 'It is a pity the course has finished. It was a wonderful experience.' For us PRELIM also enabled us to offer online hours to teachers – it was a great experience and helped us keep people employed, even if not to make tons of money. I'd encourage everyone to apply for PRELIM 3 if it comes up."
Joanna Thorpe: "It's been a wonderful experience for us. We learned quite a lot from PRELIM last year and this year we learned about the possibilities of asynchronous work with the group. We've got the students to do pronunciation and speaking tasks at home and send that via voice notes and that's one thing we are bringing back into our standard ELT provision. We applied that learning to other projects we are working on.
"It was really nice. In terms of our workload a couple of hours teaching a week isn't that much compared to other classes but because it's completely bespoke that was interesting because we could tailor it specifically to all the things they told us they wanted in the needs analysis. It was something you really looked forward to every week."
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