IATEFL 2012: Incorporating coaching into ELT

Saw Oliver Beaumont speaking this morning about how language teachers can develop their coaching skills – leading students towards their goals.  Here’s how it went…

Opens with discussion in pairs over what we think the pictures on the whiteboard illustrate (presumably, language coaching!).

Image 1 – shows a tangled road with the coachee at the start looking puzzled/lost. Coach has to help coachee navigate this and show them a way through it to their goal.

Image 2 – coach elicits coachee’s future identity (what do they want to have changed into in the future?)

Image 3 – coach prompts and pushes coachee, giving him/her the tools necessary to achieve that future identity

Image 4 – shows building blocks and coachee climbing up them bit by bit (achieving the future identity/skills they identified earlier)

What is coaching?

In his school, it initially meant 15 mins 1-2-1 (student, teacher) once a week.  BUT this was quite separate from the students’ lessons.  He started asking, what are some aspects of coaching we can use in the classroom?

A definition:

“Coaching is the practice of supporting an individual through the process of achieving a specific personal of professional result. Coaching is facilitating in style; that is the coach mainly asks questions and challenges the coachee to find answers from within him/herself based on their values, preferences and unique perspective.”

Quote from Bonny Norton on PowerPoint slides:

“Every time we speak, we are negotiating and renegotiating our sense of self in relation to the larger social world and reorganising that relationship across time and space.  The only way a student will be truly invested in the learning process is if they see the relevance to their future identity.”

SO: COACHING EXPLOITS THIS FUTURE IDENTITY.  It does this through positive visualisation (i.e. picturing yourself when you have achieved the objective – how you’ll feel, what you’ll be able to do, etc. – creating a very distinct image, a reference point which will help the student to continue towards their goal.)

But are we doing this enough in the English language classroom?

Oliver shows us a video with one student and we consider what questions the coach asks, when we as language teachers tend to STOP asking questions, and how the learner in this video reacts.

Questions the coach asked in the video:

Eventually, what’s the endgame, what would be the ultimate goal?

Tell me, how would that feel?

How will your life have changed?

Discussion from the group suggests that we as teachers would typically stop after the first question – “So why are you here?” “I need to do the IELTS.” “OK, let’s pop you in the IELTS class and off you go.”

Suggestion of how we could expand this: “So why do you want do to the IELTS?  Oh, to do a master’s?  Why do you want to do that?  Ah, to get a better job in your country – OK, and what kind of jobs?  What do you want to be ultimately?  Where do you want to go with that?”

Suggested prompts for positive visualisation:

What’s your goal?

Where do you want to be in a year’s time?

Describe how that will feel.

What will you be able to do that you couldn’t do before?

What new opportunities will you have?

Imagine a situation in which you are using that skill – describe it.

We need a shift in thought.  At the moment, we label students as “motivated” or “a good student/language learner”.  Maybe we should ask more WHY they are this way or under what conditions they are a good language learner.

One option for practically implementing positive visualisation:

Alan Fine’s G.R.O.W. model – goal, reality, obstacles/options, and will (concrete steps, sub-goals to reach main goal).

Oliver shows us another video of a student being interviewed by a coach to consider who initiates each step of this GROW model in their interaction.  Coach asks questions like “imagine you’ve passed the IELTS – what will you be able to do?”

In this particular video clip:

G – coach initiates

R – coachee initiates

O – coachee initiates

W – coach initiates (but coachee negotiates a bit, too)

This interaction shows how the coach might top-and-tail the process.  The coachee is probably aware of his current strengths and weaknesses, but the coach’s role is to guide them as to how to progress from this towards their goal.

Ending to this video is important: coach sets a concrete goal (watch 2 videos); coachee says “I’ll do it.”  This negotiation of what work the student is going to do and a promise on his part to do it, is key.

Note: this doesn’t have to be a one-to-one tutorial.  It could be a mingle activity!  It could be done in pairs, written up for homework, etc.  The point is, these principles can easily be applied to the classroom.

An example: a student says “when I speak, I make lots of mistakes because I don’t have time to think”; teacher and student (and other students?) suggest one concrete thing they can do in the next week; they come back next week and report back on what happened.  Much more tangible – engages the students in discussion over their progress.

Another practical idea: create “SIGs” (in the IATEFL sense) within the class.  e.g. you have 3 students who struggle with pron, 3 who struggle with grammar, 3 who want to speak more fluently.  They set steps and report back each week to the rest.

Some links:

Coaching blog: http://learnercoachingelt.wordpress.com

Bonny Norton’s plenary: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2009/sessions/63/plenary-session-bonny-norton

YouTube video on how coaching works: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY75MQte4RU

My overall verdict: A great session with some useful practical ideas to take away and try out.  Can’t wait!

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About Laura Patsko

Senior ELT Research Manager for a major publisher. Alter egos: English language teacher, language learner, teacher trainer, linguist. Not necessarily in that order.

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