Today we launched the Advanced Planning Hub project, with our first face-to-face gathering over at Casa Thomas Jefferson – Sudoeste Branch. This was an idea I had after analyzing the results of a recent survey I carried out with our Advanced level teachers. The purpose of the survey was to foster some reflection on the work developed throughout our first year using Viewpoint (Cambridge University Press) with our Upper-Intermediate level students. This was also a way to get feedback from our teachers as to how they evaluate the effectiveness of the material, as well as identify possible issues or difficulties that may have come up during these two semesters. The overall result of the survey was very positive. Acceptance of the newly adopted material is very high among our Advanced teachers, and we all know that’s key for successful teaching and learning in any course.
There was one aspect that called our attention in the survey results. Apparently, a few teachers had been having some difficulty planning and delivering the Conversation Strategy lessons (lessons C in Viewpoint) in a way that would be more meaningful for their students. It is worth mentioning here that the majority of our upper-intermediate and advanced student population is made up of teenagers, which makes our reality very peculiar, since most, if not all of the EFL/ESL materials available at this level target older learners (young adults and adults). Teachers felt that the way these lessons are structured sometimes yields quite mechanical responses from students. Therefore, we needed to find ways of making these lessons more meaningful, fostering more authentic communication in class. That’s when the idea of the Hub first occurred to me. As course supervisor, I’d been not only teaching with the material, but I had also been talking to teachers about it, as well as observing a number of classes. I knew that there were teachers who had been planning and delivering highly engaging, effective Conversation Strategy lessons, for example. What I needed to do was get those teachers who’d been struggling together with those who had been having all sorts of great ideas for those lessons, and let the magic of sharing work its wonders. And so it was that at 10:00 am today, we had a beautiful collection of thirty eight teachers (that’s about 40% of the total number of Advanced level teachers this semester, so wow!) eager to share their wonderful ideas with each other.
For our F2F gathering today, I had put together a workspace within our school wiki – The Advanced Planning Hub – a place for teachers to share their lesson plans (lesson goals, step-by-step procedures, and supporting materials) and also find help when they have run out of ideas. So this morning, I showed them our new workspace. Our Hub gathering began with two of our teachers, Diana do Amaral and Cristina Bolissian, sharing/presenting a lesson plan of their own, which they had sent me the previous week and which had been shared on the Hub workspace. After that, teachers worked in smaller groups, sitting in round tables spread in the room, and engaged in very productive lesson-planning dynamics. They organized themselves into the different levels they are teaching this semester and went about feeding our Hub with great lesson plans.
Time flew by, and it was already 11:30 am when I interrupted their busy work. I asked if anyone would like to share something they had learned during that time spent together with their fellow teachers. Some of them volunteered to share all kinds of tips, ranging from handling technology in the classroom (like using the class software and configuring the right screen definition for it to work properly) to actual methodological aspects, such as asking more challenging questions to engage students, and how the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs may help us do that. After that, it was time to go, but not before getting a small token of appreciation from their supervisor – ahem, yours truly – in appreciation for the fact that each one of these educators had chosen to spend two hours of a lovely friday morning planning lessons together, having a good time together, and showing that they care for their own professional development and for each person sitting next to them.
This post goes to all of the people who helped this idea fly today. Hopefully, this was the first of many Hub gatherings to come!
Here’s to caring and sharing!