Teacher training seminars in Leh, Ladakh: September 2009

Barbara Porter, our teacher trainer, has recently returned from Ladakh, where she has run a couple of very successful seminars for local teachers. The first was for primary level teachers and the second, for secondary teachers. The aim of our teacher training programme is to develop long-term inprovements in the standard of English teaching in the schools we help.

These seminars follow on from the seminars held in Kalimpong and Sikkim in February 2007.

This is an edited version of Barbara’s report:-

Participants

Primary Course

13 teachers:

Lamdon Main School, Leh: 3

Lamdon Branch Schools: 9

Government school: 1

Secondary Course

12 teachers

Lamdon Main School, Leh: 3

Lamdon Branch Schools: 7

Siddhartha High School Stok: 1

New Millennium School, Leh: 1

Language Improvement project.

This involved the teachers working in small groups studying a topic related to culture in Scotland. Each group received a small dossier of information including: written material, pictures and a taped interview of someone talking about some aspect of the topic (i.e. friends of mine that I interviewed or asked to send a tape.) Topics were: Education; Care for the Elderly; Health Issues; Traditional Clothing/Costume; Food Production; Traditional Food; Traditional Music & Song.

As a reasonable level of English was required for these projects in their current form, I decided to limit using these projects to the secondary course. I did successfully use the material for Traditional Music & Song with the Primary group however. Doing it with the whole group meant that I was better able to offer the extra guidance required.

Using the material provided, each group had to produce:

  1. A talk on the topic to be given to the rest of the group at the end of the week.
  2. A poster or something similar to illustrate the talk if appropriate.
  3. A letter and/or taped talk to be taken back to the people in Scotland who had written or spoken on the topic in the dossier.

The idea was to provide participants with a challenging and integrated project that provided practice in all the skills. I asked the participants to comment on the project at the end of their end-of-course questionnaires.

It proved to be highly successful and much enjoyed by all the participants. All said that they had found it informative, interesting and challenging. One of the key features of its success in my opinion was the fact that the dossiers included real opinions from real people that they were able to respond to directly. I have brought the letters and tapes home with me and will encourage the folk involved to send a short response. Finally some of the less confident speakers told me that they had found it a useful experience to have to give a talk to their peers.

Teaching Approach

It is a key feature of the course that the teachers participate in the activities. It is made clear from the outset that they are required to act in 2 different roles:

  1. As if they were students in their own classes.
  2. As themselves, teachers of English.

The course therefore often consists of teachers working as ‘students’ followed by time for reflection and comment as teachers talk about what they have just done, what is being shown and how it would fit into their own class context.

A key element of the course is for the teacher participants to be constantly aware of:

  1. What they are doing.
  2. How they are doing it.
  3. Why they are doing it.

One aim of the course is to raise their awareness of these three things in their own teaching. They were constantly encouraged to assess these same elements in everything I did and to learn from how and why I was doing things, as much as from what the actual content was. The feedback from some of the participants shows that this was indeed an important feature of the course.

Modifications for next time.

  1. Perhaps include some more grammar-related activities.
  2. Further work on the language improvement project to provide material for a wider range of language ability.

Feedback

This was overwhelmingly positive. Most negative comments related to there not being enough time for the course. There were some requests for things that had not been included but also recognition that not everything can be squeezed into 6 days.

Feedback Summary

Primary Course

Excellent

Very Good

Quite Good

Bad

Course Content

12

1

0

0

Teaching methods

12

1

0

0

Secondary Course


Excellent

Very Good

Quite Good

Bad

Course Content

7

5

0

0

Teaching methods

10

2

0

0

Facilities

These were excellent. The school couldn’t have done more to make things as easy as possible for me. I was given the Kindergarten Hall to work in which was large, light and airy with a large blackboard. There was space at the front with chairs and 4 desks and at least half of the room was spare at the back for activities, games and songs that required moving about. There were also mats which enables discussions to take place sitting in a circle.

Constraints for Teachers

On the first day teacher participants conduct a survey asking each other about their teaching experience and school situations. In addition they are asked firstly about the things they enjoy and secondly the things they find difficult about teaching. This is useful information for me. In particular I always make time towards the end of the course for a whole group discussion of the difficulties that teachers have identified so that all can pool their experience and ideas. Key points that usually arise are:

  1. The challenge of mixed ability classes.
  2. The challenge of very large classes.
  3. Control and motivation of students.
  4. Constraints imposed by the school syllabus and examination system.
  5. Pressures and constraints imposed by parents.

With regard to points 1-3, I aim to address these in a variety of ways throughout the course.

With regard to points 4 7 5, these do have implications regarding the implementation of the ideas and activities put forward during the course. It is something I keep constantly in mind when designing the course and take pains to ensure that there is a balance between exposing the teachers to new ideas, methods and approaches and trying to ensure that what is included can realistically be integrated into their existing syllabus. For it to be fully effective it does require a degree of flexibility (and bravery!) on the part of the teacher as well as support form the Principal of the schools involved. I discussed this with Eshey. As he pointed out, the bottom line is the exam results. Parents will support anything that does not adversely affect these. It is also a question of good communication. Things that will help increase the effectiveness of these courses are:

  1. Understanding and interest of school Principals in the course and its aims.
  2. Support for participating teachers in implementing the ideas and sharing them with colleagues. Support needs to be both academic (interest in and discussion of the ideas) and practical, i.e. making space and time available for this.
  3. Where necessary/appropriate ensuring good communication with parents about the aims and objectives of English teaching within a school.

School Visits

I was glad to be able to visit the Lamdon Branch Schools at Thiksey and Shey after the courses were finished.

Library provision

While I was at Lamdon School, I was taken to see the Secondary Section Library which has a good airy room and a fair selection of books. There is currently no Primary Section Library. I discuss with (the principal of the Lamdon Secondary School) the possibility of a room being made available for this with shelving and a part time (at least) librarian. He said that there are plans for this. I explained that once these were in place I would do my best, in partnership with a couple of Primary Schools in the UK, to arrange for the donation of a supply of books to be sent out to the school. I would also try to arrange something similar in conjunction with 2 high schools in London that I have contact with, to have a further supply of fiction sent out to the secondary section library.

We also discussed the possibility of these resources being shared with the Branch Schools. For example a box of books could be sent out to a Branch School to be returned and the contents changed every 3 months.

Finally, I gave one of the 2 books that I had with me (700 Activities for the Classroom) to the Lamdon Schools for their use. It is currently with the Nubra Valley Schools.

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HELP is rare for an organisation offering volunteer teaching in that it puts the needs of the local people before the desires of the western person wanting ‘the experience’.
Alastair SkeffingtonSaraswatimata Yumahangma English School