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Collaboration as a key teaching skill

Teaching English is about much more than just what goes on in the classroom. As professionals, it goes beyond what we can do as individuals and is truly one of those professions that are done best when done with fellow colleagues. Collaboration is a competence that takes teachers to the next level, so we’ll explore who we could collaborate with to make our students’ learning experience more impactful and meaningful. 

Collaborate with colleagues

Collaboration with colleagues brings about a plethora of benefits for the teachers involved, so let’s identify just a few of the possible ways you could get started or continue collaborating with fellow teachers. 

  • Professional learning network: These range from international associations to groups of teachers in a small rural public school. In these groups, you can be in charge of your own professional development, explore your interests, stay up to date with what’s going on in the teaching world, ask a friend for feedback, and even brainstorm with your colleagues to fine-tune ideas and teaching strategies. 
  • Online: Especially with the current state of the world, online communities have become more important than ever. They are connecting teachers from around the world, who despite the differences between their students, educational contexts, and curriculum are all going through a similar situation as they shift to remote teaching. It has truly become a safe space to ask questions, engage and collaborate with others and at the end of the day to not feel alone! 

Our ELT Thinkers make part of a WhatsApp group where we do just this. Here are a few examples of how we collaborate daily.

ELT Thinkers collaborate

Collaborate with students 

Although we mostly consider collaboration to be with colleagues, we can also put into practice our collaboration skills with our students. We could do this in two ways. 

TEACHER-STUDENT COLLABORATIONS

Here are a few ideas when teachers collaborate with students. 

  • Encourage and praise students by reminding them how they’ve managed to achieve their goals, not only which ones they’ve achieved. 
  • Keep students in the loop and be realistic with the lesson aims. 
  • With your students decide on topics of interest that can help them not only learn English but expand their knowledge on particular topics.
STUDENT -STUDENT COLLABORATIONS

We should also promote collaboration among students, as two of our ELT Thinkers mention here: 

  • Share and co-write texts of a previously agreed literature genre and topic, as a means to help students increase awareness of the subtleties involved in writing and for overall improvement of writing skills. Register and English proficiency level should be carefully considered. Andres Roa
  • Pairing students up to write a story to develop experiences, events, and/or characters. We guide them through the exercise by writing questions or prompts for them to discuss and elaborate. We have questions that cover the setting of the story, the plot of the story, and the development of the story. For example: What is the setting? In other words, when and where does the story take place? Use the five senses (smell, touch, see, taste, feel) to describe it. – Rodrigo Mejía

Collaborate with communities 

We can also take our collaborations outside of the classroom and extend them to other people within our community who can share their own experiences and knowledge. Through these connections, you could integrate language with culture, help students expand their knowledge on everyday topics, as well as promote lifelong learning to your students and the people in your community. 

Are you interested in becoming a more collaborative teacher? Check out our 14-day ELT Collab Challenge!

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Tatiana

Gómez Ramírez
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An overview of teacher collaboration

Abstract

One of the most important roles in education is that of the teacher; that role that has not been easily removed from the field as it migrates into the self-pace / self-teaching world of technology. Hence, teachers are called to share experiences to improve their practices as these practices may vary in contexts and may account for greater growth for other peers. This endeavor is not to be taken lightly and without proper care since it requires some guidance to be deemed successful. This paper explores the importance of such information-sharing in aims of improving teachers’ practices and provides some guidelines to apply for teacher collaborative development to work properly.

Uno de los roles más importantes en la educación, es aquel del docente; ese rol que no ha podido ser removido fácilmente mientras el campo educativo migra a la auto enseñanza y el mundo de la tecnología. Así pues, los docentes están llamados a compartir sus experiencias en pro de la mejora de sus prácticas, las cuales varían de acuerdo con el contexto donde se aplican. Este trabajo no puede ser tomado a la ligera y sin el cuidado y guía que requiere para ser exitoso. Este artículo explora la importancia de compartir experiencias docentes; adicionalmente, provee algunas guías para compartir estas experiencias de manera exitosa.

Key words: Professional development, teacher collaboration, teacher skills.

 


 

Relevance of teacher professional development

Language learning, more than a process, is a full enterprise. There are many parties that foregather for the purpose of achieving a constant refinement of the learning process. One of the parties or stakeholders involved in the procedure, and one of the most meaningful for the whole operation, is the one of teachers. According to Hattie (2003 in Mora-Ruano et al. 2019) “teacher quality alone accounts for 30% of the variance in student performance.” (P.1) and thus, in the learning process outcome itself.

Accordingly, professional development has become an important topic of discussion in education and the continuous hunt for such development among teachers channeled the efforts towards strategies like teacher collaboration which, according to Mora-Ruano et al. (2019), is “acknowledged […] as a core element for the professional development of the school and its members” to the point where “many official policies and education reforms around the world plead for more collaborative practices among teachers.” (p.2)

The endeavor of improving teachers’ skills has led the community on to reflective strategies such as self-efficacy (Bandura 1982) or action research itself (Lewin, 1952) which, according to Grushka et al. (2005), “increased respect for teaching craft knowledge” (p.1); although, in many cases, the goodwill of these actions become fruitless when they turn into “token observations focused on minor technical aspects of their teaching.” (Ibid). Hence the importance of focusing on achieving effective professional development strategies for teachers instead of new ways of exerting control over their actions.

Shaping collaboration

Dellicarpini (2014) defines collaboration as “activities where teachers work together in some way to achieve some end result with the goal of enhanced student Outcomes.” and describes it as a spectrum of possibilities that move between the “formal Collaboration” orchestrated by the administration and based on a fixed structure and the “informal Collaboration” defined as “teachers sharing information about students that they teach, the materials that they use, or strategies that have worked for them.” (p. 131)

The definition of collaboration has changed and teacher development has moved from the outdated view where they were “bombard[ed] with externally imposed methods and techniques through crash teacher training courses (Ostovar-Namaghi & Sheikhahmadi, 2016, P. 199) to a new method where teachers “now collaborate and learn from each other’s experience” (Ibid). However, for this strategy to work, it is necessary to consider several requirements pointed out by Friend and Cook (1992, in Dellicarpini 2014):

    1. It must be voluntary in nature.
    2. It includes parity or equal standing among the participants.
    3. It requires that participants share a goal.
    4. It requires that participants share responsibility for decisions and outcomes.
    5. It includes shared accountability.
    6. It requires participants to willingly share resources that include not only materials but time, expertise, commitment, support of colleagues, and other resources.
    7. It is emergent: As participants engage in successful collaborative contexts, their skills and positive beliefs are enhanced, therefore making their collaborative experiences more successful.

(Dellicarpini, 2014, p. 131)

According to Hargreaves (1998 in Forte & Flores, 2014) “collaboration may take different forms such as team teaching, collaborative planning, peer coaching, mentoring, professional dialogue and collaborative action research.” (p.92) Once the basic requirements are fulfilled, the next step would be to choose a strategy that meets the needs and goals of the collaboration according to the context. A good start could be the six types of co-teaching defined by Cook and Friend (1995 in Graziano & Navarrete, 2012, p.110) “one teaches, one observe”, “one teaches, one assists”, “station teaching”, “Parallel Teaching”, “alternative teaching” and “ team teaching”.

The aforementioned types of co-teaching allow for a greater diversity of collaboration practices; according to the level of experience, confidence, expectation, and enthusiasm of the participant teachers; however, still depending on the goodwill, persuasiveness, and commitment of the administrators in charge of the institutions who should create the right atmosphere for encouraging teachers to take a leap of faith and decide to become part of a professional development community.

Conclusion

Having reviewed the importance of teachers for education and for the learning process, it is fundamental to acknowledge the relevance of professional development not only for teachers as individuals but for a whole institution. It is not uncommon to find teacher training institutions encouraging teachers (especially those who are still under training) to carry out action research. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best ways for teachers to develop professionally;  collaboration and coteaching should be a great starting point for those who do not feel ready to jump into action research but desire to start the path of professional growth. Once again, it is advisable for administrators to ponder on the optimal conditions suggested in this paper, so they can successfully provide their teams with an environment that invites teachers to collaborate. 

Bibliography
Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37(2), 122–147. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.37.2.122
DelliCarpini, M. (2014). Modeling collaboration for ESL teacher candidates. The New Educator, 10(2), 129-144.
Forte, A. M., & Flores, M. A. (2014). Teacher collaboration and professional development in the workplace: A study of Portuguese teachers. European Journal of Teacher Education, 37(1), 91-105.
Graziano, K. J., & Navarrete, L. A. (2012). Co-teaching in a teacher education classroom: Collaboration, compromise, and creativity. Issues in Teacher Education, 21(1), 109-126.
Grushka, K., McLeod, J. H., & Reynolds, R. (2005). Reflecting upon reflection: Theory and practice in one Australian university teacher education program. Reflective Practice, 6(2), 239-246.
Lewin, K. (1951). Field Theory in Social Science, a publication of the Research Center for Group Dynamics, University of Michigan.
Mora-Ruano, J. G., Heine, J. H., & Gebhardt, M. (2019). Does teacher collaboration improve student achievement? analysis of the German PISA 2012 sample. In Frontiers in Education (Vol. 4, p. 85). Frontiers.
Ostovar-Nameghi, S. A., & Sheikhahmadi, M. (2016). From Teacher Isolation to Teacher Collaboration: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Findings. English Language Teaching, 9(5), 197-205.
Hernan-Dario-Franco-Goez

Hernán Darío

Franco Góez
Gonzalo-Calle-Velez

Gonzalo

Calle Vélez
Teaching with stations

Social Endeavor Updates: Teaching with stations in a digital learning environment

In the distance, both teachers and students are still looking for ways to innovate teaching and connect with their learning communities, now more than ever. At ELT Think Tank, we believe in working with learning communities to come up with educational strategies that can motivate and engage students. As part of our social engagement, ELT Think Tank has been supporting a local rural public school since the beginning of 2019, and despite the current pandemic, we have been trying to find new ways to continue supporting the children’s learning process. 

After brainstorming with the English teacher from the school, we came up with the idea of creating a digital learning environment with learning stations. We’ll be documenting every step of the process in our upcoming short articles such as the set up , the students’ reaction, overall engagement, as well as  the impact on the community. This is a small-scale project that we hope helps students to connect more with the language as well as promote autonomous learning skills. 

We’ve decided to set up our digital learning stations focused on vocabulary enhancement by cross-referencing it with the school’s curriculum. The content will be updated monthly in what we are calling cycles. The stations were set up in the following way:

  • Learning Station

Students will find videos and other input to learn the assigned vocabulary for each cycle. These videos will help them to understand not only the vocabulary but basic commonly used phrases when using the target vocabulary. 

  • Practice Station

We’ve partnered with Cool English and are integrating their interactive games into our digital learning environment. These games allow students to recognize, practice, and learn new vocabulary in a fun and interactive way. We have divided this learning process into five stages: engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate.  

  • On my own Station

In this station, students can enhance their language learning by practicing other skills like reading and listening, according to their preferred skills or practice. 

  • Teacher Help Station 

Here students will find a forum where they can write questions about what they’ve been learning and get responses from their teacher or one of our volunteers. 

  • Learn together Station 

We want to promote collaborative learning spaces, so in this space, students will be able to share their explanations of the topics covered in that topic to explain to their classmates. 

Once students have access, they will be able to join in at any time from any device and participate in the different activities at their own pace and in any order they like. 

We will continue to document our progress and hope you will tag along for the ride! 

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Tatiana

Gómez-Ramírez