Last time, we looked at a few basic elements that pertain to the English curriculum at your school, such as materials, time, and history of the program at your school. This time, we are going to look at something even more important: the teachers themselves.
Teachers are fundamental to the entire curriculum, regardless of time and material available to them, so it’s really important to open up the dialogue about what they think, what they do, and what they need.
One way of opening up this dialogue is by using a questionnaire. In creating your questionnaire, think about aspects relating to didactics, knowledge, lesson organization, and assessment. Also, think about aspects that relate to the school’s vision and ambition. For instance, if the school is a Montessori or Dalton school, aspects relating to how well children can work independently or cooperatively might be included on your list. Below is an example of a questionnaire.
This sample is meant as a start, to help you get inspired for writing your own questions. Each school has its own points of focus, so you’ll need to create questions that reflect that. Handy hint: if you want more inspiration in this area, handy search terms are “checklist good EFL lesson” or “what makes a good EFL lesson”. Once there, you’ll find all sorts of blogs and sites offering questions worth thinking about.
In designing your questionnaire, it’s important to allow for degrees of opinion and anonymity in supplying answers to these questions. Remember, you’re looking for points to improve upon, so it’s really important that people feel the space to be honest instead of only providing socially acceptable answers. Allowing for an anonymous response is a good way to achieve this.
Also, allow space for open answers. That way, your fellow teachers will be able to explain why they gave certain answers. For instance, when a teacher says “I disagree with ….” perhaps he would like to explain why he says that.
Once you’ve designed your questionnaire, put it aside for a day or two, and come back to it later with a fresh pair of eyes. Put it along this checklist, and be critical! Take the time to refine your questions, add one or two when needed, but also to remove questions that don’t work well.
- Does each question only cover one topic? (question 3 of the sample given clearly does not do this)
- Is each question concrete and clear, or is there space for ambiguity?
- Is the questionnaire too long? It is too short?
- Do the questions relate to teacher skills, knowledge, and school vision?
- Is there space for open input?
Once you’ve gotten everyone’s anonymous responses, it’s time to tally up the numbers. In order to do this, you simply tally, per question, the number of responses per possibility. Here is an illustration of a quick tally:
As you can see, this tally only shows general tendencies among the teachers, highlighting points that might make for some interesting follow-up discussions. In looking at the data like this, it allows any follow-up dialogue to be open and non-personal, and everyone can have a role in addressing the issues at a team level without feeling personally called out.
Begin by describing what you see. For instance, no-one claims to (re-)design lessons to make the learning tasks more authentic. Few use extra materials for the weaker or stronger children. The group plan is not always used as the basis for the lessons. These are simply factual descriptions of what you see, without labelling anything as “good” or “bad”. Your observations will form the basis for any follow-up discussion with your colleagues.
In thinking about these points, it’s important to find out why this is the way it is. For instance, teachers do not (re-)design lessons to make the learning tasks more authentic. Does the material used already makes the learning tasks authentic? Or is this perhaps something that teachers didn’t think about before? Do they want more authentic tasks? Also, is authenticity of learning tasks considered important? Also important, did they understand the question correctly?
Again, it must be stressed that any dialogue about the outcomes of the questionnaire must take place in an open and safe manner.
Talk about these questions with others at your school and make a note of your findings. As you do this, also note any problems that need to be addressed, along with any ideas that people give for tackling these issues.
Next time, we will look at the issues of assessment of learning, and how to move towards the next step of creating points of action.