IATEFL CONFERENCE 2015 - What happened at Teacher Training and Education SIG - Pre-Conference Event 10 April 2015?

Exploring Trainee and Trainer Beliefs and Practices

     This Pre-Conference was held by Prof. Simon Borg for a whole day


     When trainee teachers do a course or go to a workshop, they expect to get new ideas that would help them develop their skills. They don’t expect their trainers to question their teaching beliefs or so they think. What happens is that trainers usually impose their beliefs even without feeling it.
     In the Pre-Conference (PC), Simon Borg opened this discussion saying “Do Trainee and Trainer Beliefs really matter?” He started by roughly giving a definition for “Belief” saying: ‘a belief is any idea about language teaching and learning that a trainee considers to be true.’ He then questioned “Why are Beliefs an important issue to address in teacher training?”

Discussions showed that we have to respect teachers’ beliefs because they sometimes stop as obstacles along the way of taking training seriously and applying it. On the other hand, some teachers don’t realize that the habitual behaviour they follow in class and at work is a belief in itself!! If teachers stick too much to their beliefs i.e. ways of dealing with their lessons in class, this would ‘affect the way they interpret and respond to educational innovation’. He even set the following diagrams to reflect his idea

           Simon Borg then set a number of questions for us as Trainers and asked us to discuss or rather reflect upon them
1.    What kind of trainees do you typically work with and what is the purpose of the ‘training’?
2.    What kinds of pre-existing beliefs about language teaching and learning do your trainees typically have?
3.    Is belief change an explicit goal of your work as a teacher trainer?
4.    In your work, do you create opportunities for trainees to articulate, share, examine and review their beliefs? If you do, what strategies do you use?
5.    Do you seek to ‘measure’ belief change in your trainees? If so, how?
6.    Talk about any challenges you have experienced in making a focus on beliefs part of your training.

     Concerning question number (3), Trainers said: sometimes a teacher trainer can modify his/her way of tackling a training not the goal itself. Trainees can lack certain aspects about their teaching which can affect grasping the new ideas being proposed. Many trainers said that they give their trainees a chance to express their ideas through discussions. From my point of view, we shouldn’t be focusing on the idea of making beliefs as part of our training, but rather on practically applying different ideas which can, on the long run, help trainees change their behaviour which can in turn affect their beliefs or vice versa.

      Teachers according to Simon Borg can be helped to express their beliefs through:
a.    Belief questionnaires
b.    Autobiographical accounts
c.    Reflective writing
d.    Classroom research
e.    Reading
f.     Interpretive commentaries
g.    Reciprocal interviews
h.    Observation
i.      Self-evaluation
j.      Concept maps

     Surprisingly, Borg showed us a visual method applied by a number of linguists (Kalaja, Dufva & Alanen (2013) Narrative Research in Applied Linguistics (pp. 105 – 131)) on a number of teachers in Finland where they were asked “to draw a picture of themselves giving a foreign language class in the near future”. It was a way to examine teachers’ beliefs or perspectives of a classroom teaching process.
      By the end of the day, Borg gave the attendees (most of whom were trainers) the chance to reflect on their training and behaviour towards trainee teachers: He asked them to reflect on different training tasks, compare them together and point out their advantages and drawbacks. He also asked them to think of their typical training practices and their aims. After that, he posed a number of reasons mentioned by other trainers and asked how far do these beliefs “reflect your own”?
a.    To justify interactive group tasks
b.    To justify practical illustrations
c.    To justify trainee practices
d.    To justify the avoidance of lecturing

He also provided a video link http://instep.net.nz/ that “illustrates teacher education development through the collaborative analysis of their practices and beliefs”.
     Finally, he ended stressing the importance of self-study for teacher educators in the following points:
1.    Self-study is intentional and systematic
2.    The broad purpose of self-study is to develop a clearer understanding of themselves, their practices, beliefs and experiences
3.    It is concerned with promoting change in educational practice
4.    It is most effective when it has a collaborative dimension
5.    Self-study is a powerful strategy teacher educators can use to become aware
of and examine the beliefs that underpin their work

     He also set the following diagram to reflect the importance of paying attention to teachers’ beliefs

  Summing up the day, he asked each trainer to ask himself

a.    What do I do?
b.    How do I do it?
c.    What is the goal behind that?
d.    Is it effective?
e.    If not, what are the alternatives?

Here are Simon Borg's contacts:

email: s.borg@education.leeds.ac.uk
website:  http://siimon-borg.co.uk/
Twitter:  @Simon_Borg
Blog:      http://simon-borg.co.uk/blog/