What better way to start a new year than to go back to the principles that guide our practice?
Those of you who have worked on the pre-sessional at CELFS will know that we have a set of such principles, and will remember that I open most CPD sessions by asking you to recall them – so why should a blog be different? Can you remember our principles?
At this point many of you will have quickly scanned the text to find my map at the end of the introduction, or surveyed my headings to find the answers. You will be disappointed. This is not an academic essay so I do not intend to follow the conventions of that genre. I do believe in both clarity of purpose and engaging an audience, though, so I will lay out for you here what I intend to do in this blog. I will attempt to explain how each principle applies to our practice without naming that principle. You can see how many you have identified by the end.
As a learning community, we would expect that all of us will be starting this year in a different place (professionally not geographically) than we were this time last year. CELFS prides itself on the fact that even during a busy pre-sessional we take time to share ideas and talk about the scholarship of teaching and learning as it applies to EAP. Just as teachers love to see a change in their students, so those who observe the teaching each year enjoy seeing a change in the teachers as they grow in confidence and professionalism. We also hope that returning teachers see how the pre-sessional course itself evolves each year in response to experience, research, and feedback.
The spelling of this second principle is important – it is all about loops (those of you who have worked with me for any length of time will know that I love looping!) The use of one particular letter changes this principle from a process of merely thinking about an experience, to considering how we are having, or have had, an impact on that experience – and doing something about it. It is here that it is inextricably linked to the first principle. I would argue that without principle 2, principle 1 does not happen.
I always contrast this third principle with anarchy. There has to be an overall framework within which we are all willing to work – in our case the programme learning outcomes as reflected in the assessment system. In order to ensure that teaching and learning are aligned to assessment we hand our teachers packs of materials, but we expect our teachers to take a certain amount of responsibility for adapting these materials to the needs of the particular cohort of students in front of them. We also provide an induction, teachers’ notes and this set of principles to guide them in their choices. In the same way, our teachers expect their students to take a certain amount of responsibility for their learning – but ideally they scaffold that learning in the appropriate way for each learner, rather than leaving them to figure it all out alone.
This fourth principle is also about not being alone. We encourage our teachers and our learners to work together in order to achieve better things. Teachers can often be very isolated once that classroom door is closed, so it is good to drop into other classrooms to see how other teachers are dealing with the same puzzles you are facing. Together we can improve our practice and ultimately the student experience. We hope to make more time for peer observations in the future.
This fifth principle is not just about sharing assessment criteria with teachers and students from the start so that they have clear goals and standards of performance to work towards. It is also about sharing the rationales for what we do. Teachers should be made aware of why a course has been designed in a certain way; materials writers should explain the thinking behind their choice of activities; teachers should share the intended learning outcomes of a class and the reasons why students are being asked to work in a certain way. Being required to make these things explicit to others ensures that we are clear about them ourselves. It all comes back to examining our principles.
While we expect our students to be able to apply what they have learnt with us to their future studies, it is an added bonus if our teachers are able to take our principles and disseminate them in a new professional context. This happened in 2016 and I agreed that the CELFS principles be used in another institution – with the source properly cited of course!
So how many did you get?
If you are missing any of the principles, then take a look at this year’s PS job advertisement as they are listed there (principle 3 in practice). In response to this blog, you might like to suggest any additional guiding principles that you think should be added to our set (principle 4 resulting in principle 1). You could also think about how you would score this text with the CELFS criteria for organisation – is it coherent?
I use the acronym DRACTT to recall the principles and this guided my organisation – so it makes sense to me! But does my reader share my logic? No, so I am probably guilty of a lack of principle 5 in my coherence. What about cohesion? The paragraphs have unity but is my fishbone broken? Yes, but as I said in my opening paragraph – I intended to break rules in order to have an effect on my reader, so does the fishbone analogy even apply to this blog?
I think that is probably enough clues and I hope all those principles are now fresh in your minds.
See how you can apply them in your practice this year and what a difference it makes (principle 2) For those of you who want to know more about fishbones in EAP, then you will have to come and spend a summer with us on the CELFS pre-sessional!