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The CAMELTA Research Group Conference - Nov 2020

 Bottom-up approaches to practice, policy, and teacher training in English Language and Literature Teaching

Saturday, 28th November 2020

1.0 Introduction

Teaching and training ELT practitioners in Cameroon, like other low-resourced contexts, is primarily characterised by hierarchical structures that quickly breed a cycle of teaching and learning. In such a situation it becomes very challenging reversing the trend given that practitioners in such context already find comfort in the way they do things. Having experienced this and tested the value of conferences in creating awareness on the effects of such robust practices, the CAMELTA Research Group decided to conceive a conference theme that could provide further avenues for interaction on the possibilities of learning from practice. Experts in the field were invited to reflect on the theme in collaboration with practitioners and trainers in both Cameroon and Congo. This report provides the evolution of events and sheds some light on the immediate effects of the conference and reflects on the way forward.

2.1 The Pre-conference workshop

This conference intended to demonstrate the possibilities of generating pedagogical procedures, and ideas from real time classroom experiences went through two phases. In the first phase, the members of the CAMELTA Research Group met on Wednesday November 25th to brainstorm in the actual realities of Cameroonian EFL classrooms. In an early trial, the details provided by the teachers were related to generalities as in the pictures below.

Picture 1a: Group Work 1

Picture 1b: Group Work 2

The two groups made presentations of what they came out with and the characteristics  provided reveal understanding of  rather general learner characteristics. To get the participants produce a focused account of their specific learners, I wrote the title My learners and a sub-title, Good classroom behaviours or attitudes on a flip chart and on another flip chart was written, My learners with sub-title ‘Bad’ behaviours or attitudes” for them to independently write what they remembered were good  and ‘bad’ classroom behaviours of their learners. See Pictures 2a and 2b below.

Picture 2a: Accounts of Specific Learners’ good Characteristics    

Picture 2b: Accounts of Specific Learners’ ‘bad’ Characteristics  

We explored the points in the two charts and the participants all agreed on the prevalence of these characteristics in their classrooms. The participants were then split into two groups to work in two different halls to plan lessons based on their understanding of their learners. They were asked to choose from the first modules of the curriculum for the first three years of EFL secondary school classes. The reason for focusing on the above-mentioned content for this group of learners is because they had been working on worksheets for these classes in a separate project sponsored by Hornby Educational Trust ‘Decentring’ Initiative. They had acquired considerable understanding of not only exploring the school curriculum for these classes but regularly exchanged ideas in more three face-to-face meetings working on the worksheets and trying to develop local learning materials. Focusing on  the specificities of their learners,they worked in groups (with participation from pre-service teachers from the Higher Teacher Training College, ENS Yaounde) to plan lessons.

Picture 3a: Lesson planning in Group 1       

Picture 3b: Lesson planning Group 2

The lessons planned were to be taught by practicing teachers in the next two days of work and we recommended all participants post their feelings about working together and planning lessons in teams and in some of their excerpts were as follows:

NB: PST ( Pre-service teachers);               NT (Novice teacher;       EPT (experienced teachers)

PST 1: It was amazing working with a more experienced teacher. I have gathered the following: – brainstorming on the content of your lesson before you starting the planning; learners’ characteristics; the main stages of lesson planning in the CBA

NT: It is  Elisabeth. The experience today was just so awesome. I learned how to draw a practical lesson plan. That is, it was just so realistic in relation to the CBA. Also, my interaction with others in drawing the lesson plan made me to understand that teaching is really demanding and tedious. However, it was one of my experiences as i learned from others, and had new encounters. Thanks, Pls sir don’t forget to insert me in the camelta whatsapp group

PST:  From that workshop I made to understand the difference between lesson notes and lesson plan. Also i learned that it very important to do a data collection of  a lesson before drawing a lesson plan

EPT: Today’s workshop was very interesting. Planning a lesson as a team is one thing I had never experienced. Through team planning, I learnt about lesson note, a pre- prepared plan before the lesson plan proper. Secondly, I find out that, we use future verbs (will) when planning a lesson and when you’ve taught the lesson, use verbs that are measurable.(are, can).

NT: I had many useful experiences during the last seminar. Firstly, I discovered that chart facilitate understanding and improves time management in the classroom. I also discovered how as a teacher, we can used the student inability or stubborn attitude as a means of improving the learning process. Next, I discovered the CBA teaching method is improving as time evolve. This evolution makes learning more beautiful and less challenging.

ET: The session today was quite enriching. Collaborating with colleagues to develop a lesson plan is quite interesting. From today’s experience, such collaboration opens teachers to diverse perspectives, methods and approaches of handling a single lesson.  It creates room for learning and sharing of experiences. It was wonderful working together.  When teachers work together, they develop professionally and are able to vary their approaches thanks to the different experiences sharing opportunities.

ET: I’m grateful you made me part of the seminar. It was thought provoking. It was equally. Preparing a group lesson is an effective way to plan a good lesson since teachers with different classroom experiences consider these elements before designing one lesson. It is most probable that in such a lesson, a good number of learner behaviours are taken into consideration before designing the lesson. Even though it sometimes difficult to adopt an idea because of varied suggestions, I think group lessons are the best so far.

PST: Good evening, sir!  I found today’s workshop very enlightening.  Starting from the learners’ characteristics, to their behaviours, and the lesson planning. Planning a lesson in group was also amazing, most especially as we paid particular attention to exploring the nature of learners’ behaviours when preparing a lesson.

2.2 The Conference proper

Pictures 3: Cross section of the Conference

On Saturday 28th November, the pre-service teachers presented their reports/accounts of micro-teaching, followed by narrative accounts of the lessons that were prepared in teams on Wednesday by members of the CAMELTA Research Group. The last phase of the presentations was made up of one poster, and two PowerPoint reports of teacher research by practicing teachers all mentored by Eric Ekembe.

Pictures 4: Presentations by pre-service teachers, and teacher researchers

In the panel discussion, we had a brilliant presentation from and interaction with Dr Ana Ines Salvi, Coordinator of the IATEFL ReSIG on the scope and value of teacher research. Her presentation shed light the already existing, yet unconscious teacher research in the classroom. This created a general feeling of awareness and practicing teachers participating in the event felt the urgency to build from her presentation  and find better reasons to engage in teacher research.  This created more awareness on teacher research as could be noticed in the reaction of the local conference participants and the panelists from Congo. Linda Ruas of IATEFLGIG equally made an excellent presentation on how global issues could be mainstreamed in basic English Language lessons in order to draw learner’s interest in learning English. The practical illustrations she provided simplified her presentation to the full consumption of the audience which applauded very loud. Prof Eric Dwyer of Florida International University was outstanding in his talk about the relationship between the ELT service delivery, training and professional development. He challenged the ‘expert’ position in teaching.  To him (Krashen for example) got fantastic theories, but is not the expert in the language classroom in low-resourced and other contexts. He cautioned that what we (teachers) know is what we were trained to do and what we need to know to facilitate learning is in the classroom.

Prof Tembue of the IPS of Bukuvu, Congo shared experiences on the realities of training English language teachers and the constraints they face in getting into professional development issues in DR Congo. He expressed the monolingual approach to ELT as unfit for the multilingual Congo. He regretted that the broad educational and narrow ELT stakeholders in Congo are largely unaware of teacher research, which to him is the springboard for appropriate pedagogy. This, to him will enable teachers to make informed decisions on classroom procedures and management.  Joseph Keleba shared his experience mentoring teachers conduct teacher research in DR Congo. One of his mentee gave an account of his research.  The local panelists- Prof Evangeline Seino and Dr Yvonne Ngwa of the Higher Teacher Training Colleges Bambili and Ecole Normale Superieure de Bertoua respectively shared burning issues surrounding ELT training and professional development in Cameroon. They unanimously agreed the cycle of learning that has characterized both training and teaching in real time classroom was a bigger challenge to practice and equally held the common  position that teacher research could provide a better way of getting out of this, especially in a context where policy has very limited commitment to teachers’ professional growth. Francis Vernyuy, Education programming manager for Peace Corps Cameroon developed ideas on how students can provide a greater source of learning to teachers if teachers become flexible enough to follow the natural development of events in the classrooms. He challenged teachers not to be fixed by lesson planning and learn to provide allowance for learners to determine the path of learning. They all expressed the urgent need for collaborative projects to support teachers in low-resourced contexts to carry out teacher research.

Pictures 5: Some screen shots of panel discussion

Apart from the general feeling of satisfaction with the experiences shared by the presenters and various panelists, one major outcome of the conference was the increased awareness on teacher research within participants in the South. It is worth mentioning that all the local teacher trainers in the conference were unfamiliar with teacher research before the conference. Prof Tembue of DR Congo, Prof Evangeline Seino, Dr Yvone Ngwa, all of colleges of education admitted that training teachers to factor environmental issues or Global Issues in lesson planning and delivery and supporting them carry out teacher research could provide useful feedback on relevant training. All the participants expressed deep satisfaction with the event as the pre-service teachers unanimously advocated further opportunities.

3. Feedback

Fervent greetings from Bil 5, Sir. We are so grateful that you made us attend and participate in an enriching conference as that last Saturday. I am also sorry that we left without letting you know, and how you felt we can imagine. So on behalf of my friends and I , we say we are really sorry for taking such a French leave. However, we are looking forward to having you include our names in other conferences, and we do promise to be our ages next time. Stay blessed, Sir. Patience and group

4. Support

We were very previledged to receive support of 511.27290GBP from TransformELT at such a very short notice to take care of the transportation and lodging of participants from Bertoua, Bambili. After taking care of the participants we had from colleges of education out of Yaounde, were able to procure stationeries, breakfast, and modest lunch for the participants with the rest of the money. It is important to mention that apart from the money, TransformELT provided conference pens from although the pens were not delivered in time. The CAMELTA Research Group remains very indebted to TransformELT for such a rescue operation.

5. Participation

Out of the 9 panelist solicited for the event, two were absent. Marisol Guzman could not reach us for reasons beyond her Control. The Chair for the Department of English ENS Yaounde got caught up in an emergency situation and could not afford to be in the conference in time. All the other participants,  Prof Eric Dwyer from Florida International University, Dr Ana Ines Salvi of the IATEFL ReSIG, Linda Ruas of the IATEFL GISIG, Prof Tembue, Chair of the Department of English of the ISP , BUKUVO, DR Congo, Joseph Kaleba of CLASS Congo, Dr Yvone Ngwa of ENS Betoua, Prof Evamgeline Seino of ENS Bambili, Francis Vernuyuy of Peace Corps cameroon were actively present and made significant contribution. Apart from international and local panelists, we had four categories of local participants:

  1. Teacher trainers: We had teacher trainers form the colleges of education ENS Bambili and ENS Bertoua in addition to those from ENS Yaounde.
  2. Pre-service teachers: We had a massive turnout of pre-service students of the colleges of education, ENS Yaounde, two from ENS Bertuoa and two from ENS Bambili
  3. Experienced practitioners: We had 17 experienced practicing teacher in addition to the members of the CAMELTA Research Group
  4. Novice teachers: We had over 11 novice teachers from around Yaounde
  5. Teacher researcher from Congo: 1 in addition to Professor Tembue and Joseph Kaleba 

6. Challenges

Although we recorded huge success in the event, we had some hitches at the level of logistics and technology. The hall initially arranged for the conference was declared unavailable on the eve of the event despite all precise arrangements and we had to look for another hall. This affected local participation as many local teachers were already aware the conference was going to take place at the initial venue. We equally had internet breakdown during the conference midway into the conference in spite of sufficient volume of broadband and backup dispositions that were taken before the event. However, all our participants were able to make their presentations in spite of the slight technological hitches. Our original intention during the conference was to showcase local presentations in a video to be able to give an avant-gout to the panelists, but the videos were poorly recorded and could not be retrieved before the panel discussion

7. Overall Appraisal

Despite the hitches recorded, a very important victory the conference had succeeded in recording is extensive awareness on teacher research, which was largely unknown to local participants and even those in DR Congo, the need for contextualized practice, and a general feeling of satisfaction from collaborative lesson planning. Pre-service teachers who made presentations expressed utter satisfaction with the opportunities they were given to make presentations in the conference, something that traditionally belonged to ‘experts’. They felt a greater sense of achievement and requested such further opportunities.

8. Conclusion

The conference created a strong feelings of change of attitudes especially all the panelist supported the space provided for teachers to reflect in teams and plan context-fit lessons and saluted the empowerment opportunities given to pre-service teachers. Both the trainers and practitioners  felt the urgent need to engage more teachers in teacher research as a way of fully empowering them to take autonomous initiatives and decisions in their classrooms. The event succeeded in creating a new orientation on empowerment and the possibilities of learning from the realities of our classrooms, a big bottom-up approach. The local panelists, the Congo teacher research coordinator, as well as the chair of the Department of English ISP Bukuvu all requested further collaboration in supporting training institutions and practicing teachers develop bottom- up practices in both training and practice.

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