Sunday, February 23, 2014

Remote Teaching, Distance Learning, Team Teaching or Blended Learning?

Some time ago, I was asked to be a feature speaker at TEC14, the Teacher Education Conference taking place at the moment in Hyderabad, India. My presentation is after lunch (06.30 in Montevideo), and I will be presenting virtually. Because of this, the organisers asked me to make a recording of the presentation in case the connection fails, so here it is:

Remote Teaching, Distance Learning, Team Teaching or Blended Learning? from Graham Stanley

Due to a lack of of qualified and experienced teachers in Uruguay, English is being taught in primary classes all across the country via video conferencing, using teachers from elsewhere (including Argentina, the Philippines and Mexico). Because there are two teachers, a classroom teacher (CT) and a remote (RT), a new type of methodology is being developed that combines elements of distance learning, team teaching and blended learning, but which also requires a unique approach. 

Read more about the Plan Ceibal English project here

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Plan Ceibal English lesson plans

One of the ways the Plan Ceibal English programme is able to work is through the use of a specially-written lesson plan that allows the (generally non-English speaking) classroom teacher (CT) to follow what the remote teacher (RT, the English teacher) is teaching in Lesson A, and also that allows her to carry out the practice activities in the follow-up lessons B & C, when she is alone with the children.

As Jeremy Harmer mentioned after his visit and observation of a remote class:

The English lessons in Plan Ceibal look (as far as I can see) pretty much like most Young Learner English lessons. They include monsters and songs, basic grammatical patterns, the sort of vocabulary you'll find in most general English coursebooks, and scripts (with quite a lot of Spanish thrown in) to guide the distance teacher.
Objectives slide from the Week 1 lesson plan
The lesson plans are similar to the kind of lesson scripts you can find in some published course-books. They indicate (in some detail) what the teacher should do in each part of the lesson

There are actually two versions of each scripted lesson plan, one in English and one is Spanish. The Spanish version allows the classroom teacher to understand exactly what to expect to happen during the remote (class A) lesson and what they need to do to practise in the follow-up (classes B & C) lessons.
This seems to be working well. The survey of classroom teachers that was undertaken last year (650 out of a total of 985 CTs responded) showed that 65% of the CTs used the lesson plans almost always for classes B & C. 33% said they used them sometimes, and only 2-3% stated they never or almost never used them. It's also great to see that 98% of the CTs evaluated the digital materials of the programme positively. 

The lesson plans were (and are still) being written by a team of writers based in Argentina, led by Cristina Banfi and Silvia Rettaroli, and it is thanks to their hard work and those of their colleagues that they are working so well.

You can learn more about how these materials were developed by reading the paper 'ELT through videoconferencing in primary schools in Uruguay: first steps' by Dario Banegas (2013), who was the former project manager on the programme. In this paper, he talks about the importance of the weekly cycle of coordination (between the CT & RT), the lessons A, B & C and the ongoing evaluation and adjustments. The lesson plans have also been written to tie in with the Uruguayan primary curriculum. As Banegas states:-

The authors (Banfi and Rettaroli, 2012) drew on curricular content to teach English and established curricular and procedural bridges with the Uruguayan primary school curriculum. The course authors justified the adopted approach on the necessity to encourage language use related to learners' experience of the world and their formal education trajectories. This led to developing lessons which responded to learners' interests and context.

In a future blog post, I'll be looking at one of these lesson plans in detail.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Training for Ceibal English classroom teachers

Claudia from Plan Ceibal addressing classroom teachers in Artigas
In preparation for the next expansion of the Plan Ceibal English project (we are going to be moving from teaching 1,000 classes a week to 2,000 from March/April 2014), we have started a series of orientation courses for classroom teachers.

The first of these took place in the north-west of Uruguay, in Rivera and Artigas (see picture left), near the border with Brasil.

One thing that's special about this project is that the classroom teachers who take part in the project are all volunteers. They are not forced to join and participate in the primary English programme. Fortunately, there have been no shortage of classroom teachers willing to join so far, and the project has benefited from word-of-mouth from participating classroom teachers and the overwhelming positive feedback from kids and parents.

The orientation course format used to be two days, but has been reduced to one day because it was felt that this is sufficient as an introduction for the teachers. The course has been supplemented with an excellent 12-hour online self-access course (specially developed for the project by the consultants-e) that classroom teachers do before the teaching starts.
Gabriel from Eureka giving a remote lesson to classroom teachers

Because very few of the Uruguayan classroom teachers speak English, both the online course and the orientation course are delivered in Spanish. The programme of the orientation course starts with an introduction to the project and then the 100 or so classroom teachers are split into two and receive input sessions on Learning a Second Language (see presentation below), the Role of the Classroom Teacher and Remote Teacher, LearnEnglish Pathways (the online self-access English course written by the British Council that all of the classroom teachers are obliged to follow).

There is a demonstration lesson held via video conference so the teachers get a clear idea of their role during a remote lesson (what we call Lesson A) and this is followed up by an example of the practice lessons (Lessons B & C) that the classroom teacher does on their own. They are able to do this because of scripted lesson plans that detail the activities they need to do in class. They are supported in this task by the remote teacher during a weekly coordination session, that we recommend takes place in real time (via Skype or using the VC equipment). The Lesson Plans of the project, specially written by a team of writers in Argentina are also presented (see presentation below)

The orientation courses continue every week in different parts of Uruguay (Montevideo, Rivera, Artigas, Salto, Paysandu) throughout February and March. When classes start again in March/April, primary schools in all departments of Uruguay will be covered by the project. The expansion planned for 2015 is expected to be the final expansion, and the plan is to reach all primary schools in the country (give or take some rural schools where the fibre-optic cable does not reach) - an estimated 4,500 classes per week.

Read more blog posts about Plan Ceibal English here.