You are on page 1of 9

the School-Based Follow-up

Development Activity

Marfa Luz C. Vilches

It is sometimes difficult for in-service teacher training (INSET) courses to


achieve their expected level of impact. One reason for this is the cultural
divide that tends to exist between such courses and the typical teaching
institution. This paper describes a method for narrowing this gap that was
devised in connection with a recent ELT in-service teacher development
project in the Philippines: the School-based Follow-up Development Activity,
or SFDA. This links the INSET course and the teaching institution, so that the
course functions not just as an end in itself but also as a vehicle for stimu-
lating longer-term school-based learning. The details of how the SFDA sys-
tem works are explained, and findings concerning its effectiveness reviewed.

Inirodiuction ELT in-service teacher training (INSET) typically involves taking


teachers out of their normal teaching environment to undergo a training
course. After the course, when the teachers return to their teaching
institutions, it is usually expected that some kind of tangible change will
have taken place involving their skills, knowledge, and attitudes.1
Unfortunately, however, in much INSET, not just in ELT but in all
subject areas, this sort of outcome is often difficult to achieve. As
Rudduck (1981: 164) explains:
There is usually a tough undergrowth of cultural norms that
characterizes individual classrooms and schools, and this has to be
pushed back if an innovation is to put down roots. The coherence of an
existing set of norms is not easy to displace, and it would be unrealistic
to expect that new ideas alone, however exciting they may seem during
the course where they are communicated, will be sufficient to carry the
would-be innovator through into radically new modes of action.
One way in which this problem can be tackled is to ensure that the
INSET course is structured so that it provides teachers not only with
new teaching ideas but also with guidance to support their subsequent
attempts to put them into practice. As Rudduck (ibid.) also says:
. . . if substantial development or change in the permanent system is
the aim of the short course, then course members must leave the
course with at least a framework for action and a sufficient
understanding of the principles that inform it to enable them to
continue the task of building it and critically reviewing it when they
126 ELT Journal Volume 54/2 April 2000 Oxford University Press 2000
are back amid the everyday pressures of their own schools and
classrooms.
This paper tries to throw light on what a follow-up system of the kind
Rudduck outlines might look like in practice. Our ideas stem mainly
from a recent ELT INSET project located within the state secondary
school sector2, but we feel that the principles involved are relevant to a
wide variety of ELT settings.

The basic Miles (1964: 454) likens the short INSET course to a 'cultural island'.
geography Building on this metaphor, the basic geography of the typical INSET
situation can be pictured as in Figure 1 below.3
Figure 1:
Linking the Seminar
Island and the
School Land
^<;

^?:
MS
ajujtat IfflBfflffllf:-::-:-:-:
BHBr nmmift*-,:-:-:-:-:
y y
Sea of Teacher </ -' - xijQ:::^:::::::::::::-
Learning )::::

Seminar
Island School
Land

As the palm tree and the shining sun are intended to indicate, the
Seminar Island tends to have something of a 'holiday resort' atmo-
sphere, even though the teachers are working hard. This occurs because
there is a release from the normal pressures and routines of the
workplace, as represented in the diagram by the cloudy, rainy, and
windy weather conditions in School Land.
The seminar climate is beneficial, as it provides the teachers with
refreshment, opportunities for reflection, a chance to adopt new
perspectives, and so on. However, once they have acclimatized to the
seminar atmosphere, those same teachers often find it difficult to cross
back over the intervening 'Sea of Teacher Learning' and successfully
apply the ideas they studied in the seminar within the different cultural
norms of the school environment.

Bridging the gap: To solve this problem, as Rudduck (op. cit.) indicates, a follow-up
the SFDA system system is needed: in other words, a 'bridge' has to be constructed,
linking the Seminar Island and the School Land. Such a device can help

From seminar to school: bridging the inset gap 127


teachers to capitalize further on ideas from the seminar by connecting it
to a programme of school-based teacher learning.
In the Philippines English Language Teaching (PELT) project, we have
put this model into practice in the form of what we call the 'School-based
Follow-up Development Activity' (or 'SFDA' for short). In this system,
before the teachers leave the project INSET course, they prepare
Action Plans (see the Appendix for an example) for carrying out a
small-scale 'action research' project (see e.g. Hopkins (1985), Nunan
(1990), Thome and Qiang (1996)) based on one of the ideas they have
been studying. Once settled back in their schools, they execute their
plans, under the supervision of their school 'ELT managers' (e.g. Heads
of Department). This process is also supported by a follow-up workshop,
conducted jointly by the seminar trainers and the ELT managers. What
the SFDA involves as a whole is summarized in Figure 2.
Figure 2: The School-
based Follow-up
Development Activity
(SFDA) model

Trainer conducts
Orientation Teacher follow-up
to SFDA and implements workshops,
Seminar preparation Action Plan, in in collaboration
Island of Action consultation with with ELT managers^:
Plan ELT manager
School
Land

Each of the callouts in Figure 2 corresponds to one of the three main


components in the SFDA system, i.e. Orientation, Execution, and After-
care. The main features of each of these elements are outlined below.

Orientation As indicated, the SFDA process begins with an Orientation stage. This
takes place in the last part of the project INSET course, after the other
work on developing teaching ideas has been completed, and occupies
several days. In this component, the teachers are first of all provided
with an extensive introduction to the workings of the SFDA system as a
whole. In particular, they are encouraged to reflect on the differences
between what the SFDA involves and other forms of 'follow-up' with
which they may be familiar (such as the 'echo' seminar, which is the local
term for a form of cascade training). They are also asked to think
carefully at this stage about the kinds of problems they are likely to
encounter when carrying out the SFDA, and (so as to conclude on a
more positive note) what the potential benefits are likely to be.
128 Alan Waters and Maria Luz C. Vilches
The teachers then choose an aspect of a topic from the earlier part of the
seminar as the focus for their SFDA Action Plans. Their choices are
carefully checked to make sure that they are accurately worded and not
too ambitious (in our experience teachers tend to over-estimate the
scope of what it is actually feasible for them to do).
This stage is followed by a sizeable block of work devoted to preparing
drafts of their action research data-gathering instruments. The teachers
will use these while they execute their Action Plans in order to collect
information about the effectiveness of their teaching. They are
administered twice (see the Appendix, Stages 1 and 2), first of all to
gather baseline data, (information about how the teacher's current
approach to the area of teaching under focus is viewed), and then to
gather 'impact' data, (information about how the 'experimental'
lessonin which the teacher tries out the seminar ideasis viewed).
The research design is triangulated, and so the instruments comprise (a)
a teacher's log or diary, (b) a learners' questionnaire, and (c) an
observer's checksheet.
In the PELT project, it has been important to spend sufficient time
during the seminar on developing drafts of these instruments, because
the teachers have usually lacked training and experience in this area, or
are only used to the rather different kind of instruments used for
assessment purposes by their ELT managers. This work therefore
focuses first of all on identifying the main indicators, in terms of
teaching-learning behaviours, for each of the teaching areas under
consideration. The teachers are then guided in using this information to
develop appropriate versions of each of the instruments. This involves
thinking carefully about aspects of their design, such as how to record
the presence or absence of the desired behaviours, which types of
teaching-learning behaviours might be difficult for learners to con-
ceptualize, how the instruments can be worded as clearly as possible,
and so on.
Another major part of the Orientation phase is concerned with
'partnership observation' (Rudduck and Sigsworth (1985)), the main
method used in the SFDA for handling observation of teachers' teaching
performance. In this approach, the observer acts as a source of objective,
descriptive information about the teacher's teaching, rather than as a
judge or advice-giver, in order to encourage reflection on the part of the
teacher, and thus deepen the teacher-learning process. In the PELT
project, we have found it necessary to carefully orient the teachers to
this system, since the majority of them are likely to be familiar only with
observation techniques of the more subjective, evaluatory kind. The
work done in this phase thus includes (a) analysing transcripts of a range
of sample dialogues between teachers and observers, in order to clarify
which one approximates most closely to the partnership observation
model, (b) discussion of partnership observation strategies, and
(c) partnership observation role-playing.

From seminar to school: bridging the inset gap 129


The partnership observer is normally another teacher of the same
professional status, rather than an ELT manager, since in the latter case
it would inevitably be difficult for both parties to avoid adopting a role
relationship based on evaluating rather than simply informing. However,
it is also important to note that the ELT managers play a major and vital
role in supervising the SFDA as a whole, since they also carry out a
summative assessment of the development of their teachers' ideas, once
their 'incubation' period is over, in order to evaluate their overall quality
(see below).
Finally, the Orientation phase concludes with a session on Action Plan
implementation issues. Here, the teachers are encouraged to think of the
detailed further preparations they will need to make in order to carry
out their Action Plans, and how they can adopt a prospective and pro-
active stance to taking them into account.

Execution As the middle box in Figure 2 indicates, in the next part of the SFDA cycle
the teachers return to their schools and begin to execute their Action Plans,
in consultation with their Heads of Department and other colleagues. This,
therefore, is the point at which the school-based part of the SFDA begins.
The following real-life example, focusing on 'The Use of Problem-solving
Activities in Teaching Grammar', illustrates what happens here. 4
As the Appendix shows, the Action Plan consists of four main stages:
Preparation
Implementation
Review
Follow-up.
In the Preparation stage, the teacher first of all discussed her plan with
her school head of department, obtaining her agreement with and
support for the work. She then developed tailor-made, triangulated
data-gathering instruments (a learners' views questionnaire, an obser-
ver's questionnaire, and a teacher's log).
These instruments were used to gather 'baseline' data about one of the
teacher's classes, with respect to the area of teaching in questionin
other words, to get a picture of what the learners in that class thought of
the existing teaching methods, what kind of teaching techniques the
teacher was using, how the teacher herself felt about the teaching, and so
on. Then, as the last task in this stage, and in the light of the findings of
the baseline data, the teacher prepared an 'experimental' lesson, i.e. one
aimed at introducing a new idea from the seminar, which in this case
involved the use of problem-solving activities for teaching grammar.
In the Implementation stage, the teacher tried out the experimental
lesson with the same class, and, using the same instruments as in the
Preparation stage, gathered 'impact' datathat is, data concerning the
views of the learners about the new teaching methods, the kinds of
teaching techniques now being used by the teacher, how the teacher felt
about the teaching, and so on.
130 Alan Waters and Maria Luz C. Vilches
In the Review stage, she first of all compared the baseline and impact
data, analysed the differences, drew conclusions about the effectiveness
or otherwise of the new teaching methods, and,finally,prepared a short
report on the outcomes.
In the Follow-up stage, she presented her findings to her head of
department, who confirmed that the level of development reached was
satisfactory. The results of the Review showed that (a) the teacher was
using the new teaching procedures, and that (b) the students, the
observer, and the teacher all thought the new techniques were generally
more effective than the previous ones. Arrangements were then made for
the teacher to share herfindingswith the rest of her colleagues and other
interested parties, as part of her school's staff development programme.
In this way, therefore, as a result of the SFDA system, the project
training process is taken to its logical conclusion, since what begins as an
'external', seminar-based form of teacher learning is transformed into a
school-based and school-owned form of school-wide staff development.
In other words, a direct link is forged between teacher learning on the
Seminar Island and in the School Land.
After-care
The final part of the SFDA process involves follow-up monitoring and
support. As indicated in the right-hand box of Figure 2, this consists of
an 'after-care' workshop which takes place during the Action Plan
execution period. This is conducted jointly by the seminar trainers and
the ELT managers, in order to ensure that there is as much 'traffic' as
possible from both sides of the SFDA bridge during the event. This
meeting also functions as an important source of feedback to the trainers
and the training management team about how well the SFDA system as
a whole is functioning, and what kind offine-tuningmight be undertaken
in order to further improve its effectiveness.

Feedback The SFDA system has been implemented annually in the PELT project
since 1996. Feedback on its effectiveness was collected during the 1996
and 1997 cycles, in the following way:
postal questionnaires to teachers and their heads of department;
structured interviews with selected teachers;
a series of workshops and discussion meetings with a cross-section of
teachers and ELT managers.5
Analysis of the results showed that, firstly, the vast majority of teachers
and Heads of Department felt that the SFDA had been very effective in
achieving its primary goalhelping the teachers to apply the seminar
teaching ideas in their schools. However, the data also showed that the
SFDA had produced a number of other important gains, as follows:
Increased overall teaching competence
In carrying out the SFDA, teachers frequently report that they also
acquire skills which help them to increase the general effectiveness of
their teaching:
From seminar to school: bridging the inset gap 131
Before I used to give the students so many exercises since they are
provided in the book, but now I try to analyse each exercise to see if it
helps the students learn and master the topic and I try to modify those
which are irrelevant to the topic discussed.
I was more critical; I have learned to be more patient. Before PELT,
I never cared whether or not I could reach my students' minds. But
with the SFDA, I started to.
Such skills can all be readily transferred beyond the immediate focus of
the SFDA to other areas of teaching, thus broadening the teachers'
overall ability to teach effectively.
Higher professional self-esteem
Teachers also say that the SFDA helps them to develop a greater
awareness of their own capabilities, contributing to an increased feeling
of professional self-worth:
Teachers are given chances to modify the suggested lessons and
activities in the textbook and dry-run or road-test them for efficiency
before they are being observed.
SFDA added some teaching skills other than my own teaching skills.
It also enabled me to give more importance to the slow learners.
SFDA made me so sure of myself. I became more confident.
Greater structure and self-direction
Teachers also say that, under the SFDA, their ability to conceptualize
their teaching tends to become more orderly and systematic, which in turn
enables their ideas to be carried forward more logically and productively:
The teaching-learning activities are more organized and effective than
without the SFDA.
Experience of managing own learning is a good lesson in learning how
to better promote other people's (e.g. learners') learning.
Improved working relations
The SFDA also helps to make teaching much more socially interactive
than is usually the case, since its success depends heavily on close and
effective collaboration with a wide range of people, e.g. ELT managers,
other colleagues, and learners. As one supervisor put it:
Attitude towards supervisors has changed much. ELT manager is no
longer considered a threat but a partner and a friend.
Or, as teachers have said:
I have learned that I am a part of the triangle and that I can give and
make suggestions to my superior; I have learned to work better with
my superior.
[I have developed a] cohesive relationship with fellow English
teachers because of constant co-ordination and collaboration during
the implementation of the SFDA. (our interpolation)

132 Alan Waters and Maria Luz C. Vilches


Taken as a whole, therefore, these findings show that the benefits of the
SFDA have actually gone much further than simply helping the teachers
to apply the teaching techniques focused on in the project seminar,
however central and vital this objective has been. They indicate that it
has also positively affected the teachers' general capacity to solve
teaching problems and get the best out of their jobs and working
environments. The SFDA has therefore helped to strengthen the impact
of training not only in terms of its immediate focus, but more widely as
well, and not only in the short-term, but also in the long-term.

Conclusion INSET courses may sometimes fail to achieve their hoped-for level of
impact. The cultural differences between the 'Seminar Island' and the
'School Land' are a major cause of this problem. One solution,
therefore, is for the seminar to become less of an end in itself, and
much more a vehicle for fostering learning by teachers within their
normal cultural milieu, i.e. the school environment. This can be achieved
by the use of a device, such as the SFDA, which connects the seminar
and the school together as closely as possible. As we have tried to show,
such a system can have a strong, positive effect on the levels of direct
and indirect impact which course-based INSET can achieve. We hope
that the principles and the practical example we have provided will also
help others, working in similar circumstances elsewhere, to successfully
bridge the INSET gap.

Received March 1999

Notes Luz C. Vilches, Executive Director, ACELT,


1 Although we wish to acknowledge that such Ateneo de Manila, Loyola Heights, Quezon
instrumental outcomes are not the only measure City, Philippines, or via the WWW at
of success of INSET, project sponsors, minis- http://www.iele.lancs.ac.uk/pelt.html.
tries of education and the like frequently expect
that a relatively concrete result of this kind will
be produced. This paper has been written in References
order to attempt to address this widespread Hopkins, D. 1985. A Teacher's Guide to Class-
expectation. room Research. Milton Keynes: Open Univer-
2 The Philippines English Language Teaching sity Press.
(PELT) Project is an in-service teacher training Miles, M. 1964. 'On temporary systems' in Miles
project of the Department of Education, Culture (ed.). Innovation in Education. New York:
and Sports of the Government of the Philippines, Teachers College Press, Columbia University.
aimed at upgrading the teaching skills of second- Nunan, D. 1990. 'Action research in the language
ary school teachers of English in Regions CAR, I, classroom' in J. Richards and D. Nunan (eds.).
V, VI, VIII, IX and XI. It was supported by the Second Language Teacher Education. Cam-
Department for International Development of the bridge: Cambridge University Press.
British Government from 1995-99. Rudduck, J. 1981. 'Making the Most of the Short
3 Please note that the term 'seminar' here stands In-Service Course'. Schools Council Working
for any kind of INSET course, and, similarly, Paper 71. London: Methuen.
the term 'school' stands for any kind of teaching Rudduck, J. and A. Sigsworth. 1985. 'Partnership
institution. supervision (or Goldhammer revisited)' in
4 This SFDA was carried out by Ms Unette D. Hopkins and K. Reid (eds.). Rethinking
Bayani-Lopez, Sta. Maria Catholic School, Teacher Education. London: Croom Helm.
Iloilo City, Philippines. Thome, C. and W. Qiang. 1996. 'Action research
5 For further information, please see PELT in language teacher education'. ELT Journal
Bulletins Nos. 6 and 7, obtainable from Maria 50/3: 254-62.
From seminar to school: bridging the inset gap 133
The authors Maria Luz C. Vilches is the Executive Director of
Alan Waters is Deputy Director of the Institute for the Ateneo de Manila Center for English Language
English Language Education at Lancaster Univer- Teaching, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines,
sity, England and was the Lead Consultant for the and was the Co-ordinator of the Philippines, English
Philippines English Language Teaching Project from Language Teaching Project from 1995-9. Her
1995-9. His current main research interests are current main research interests include the use of
teacher learning processes and the application of literary texts in language teaching and the training of
ideas from management to the ELT classroom. teacher trainers.
Email: <A.Waters@lancaster.ac.uk> Email: <mvilch@admu.edu.ph>

Appendix Focus: using students' personal experiences in free communication


Sample SFDA activities
Action Plan

Stage Activity details Personnel Time frame Resources Comments/


involved (approx.) Notes
1. Preparation 1.1 Discuss SFDA Plan with Trainee, ELT Weeks 1-4 Time
ELT line manager, modify manager,
as necessary learners, and
1.2 Pilot and finalize, colleague Copies of
data-gathering instruments
instruments
1.3 Gather and analyse
baseline data for areas
of focus
1.4 Prepare experimental
lesson(s) for area of focus
2. Implementation 2.1 Try out experimental Trainee, ELT Weeks 4-5 Time
lesson(s) manager,
2.2 Gather and analyse impact learners, and Copies of
data colleague instruments
3. Review 3.1 Compare baseline and Trainee Weeks 6-8 Time
impact data
3.2 Draw main conclusions
4. Follow-up 4.1 Option A Trainee and Weeks 9-12 As above
Stages 1-3 again ELT manager
OR
4.2 Option B
4.2.1 Prepare plan for sharing
outcomes with colleagues
4.2.2 Execute plan Copies of
handouts

134 Alan Waters and Maria Luz C. Vilches