In recent years, the use of coaching techniques in ELT has become increasingly widespread. The shift in role from teacher to coach has perhaps been prompted to some extent by the possible financial rewards it can bring, but when working in corporate settings with adult learners, establishing a coach / coachee relationship in the classroom, especially with one-to-one clients, would seem to make good pedagogical as well as commercial sense. For one thing, this kind of relationship is more palatable for managers or engineers in positions of responsibility, who are accustomed to making decisions, and it can help sidestep possible feelings of resentment at being ‘taught’ as if they were back at school. Business English teaching is often skills based and goal-oriented, which again can make the adoption of a coaching approach an attractive option.
English Teacher to Learner Coach
In their recently published e-book From English Teacher to Learner Coach (FETLC), Daniel Barber and Duncan Foord make a very convincing case for adopting coaching in ELT to develop learner motivation and autonomy. They begin by arguing that “As teachers we need to understand how people learn in the classroom context, but also how the classroom event fits into the wider picture of our learners’ language lives.” (FETLC 7%*) And the aim the authors set themselves is to give language trainers the means of making these “language lives’ much fuller by presenting techniques and activities “designed to help encourage independent learning and independent attitudes to learning; in this way, homework, self- study and practice of the language in whatever way a student can are transformed into the core of the learning process.” (FETLC 11 – 12%) As a teacher who works with time-pressured, part-time university students and corporate clients who are often unable, or unwilling to commit time to language learning beyond the classroom, many of the ideas and suggested activities in this book struck a chord. But the book also raised questions about the role technology plays in teaching.
Early in the book, the authors observe that
The challenge for learners before the 1990s was access, access to spoken and written material in particular. The challenge now for learners is choice; how to manage and navigate the plethora of opportunities, in the face of a plethora of competing distractions. How successful our students are will depend to a large extent on how well they deal with this challenge. (FETLC 7%)
If one accepts this view, then it would seem that at least part of a language teacher’s role in this digital age should involve helping learners develop, where necessary, their digital literacy, providing guidance with online and mobile resources, and pointing to content curation (e.g. Evernote) tools that enable them to exercise a greater degree of control over this “plethora of opportunities.” Reading the book led me to consider the extent to which I was fulfilling this role with my own learners and also the degree to which my use of technology conformed with a basic tenet of coaching, namely that “A coach is someone whose job is to help people learn rather than to teach them.” (FETLC 13 – 14%) The following description of one or two lessons I recently taught will hopefully go some way towards answering this question, and it may also be interesting to see how the technologies used may (or may not) have added value to the language learning experience.
The learners involved are five members of a university’s international office. They have been tasked to develop closer ties with educational institutions abroad by setting up, among other things, study abroad programmes for the university’s own students.
Naturally, their work involves face-to-face meetings, teleconference calls and correspondence using English as the lingua franca. The group has agreed to undertake a minimum of one hour’s self-study between each of the weekly 90-minute lessons. Here’s an outline of a recent series of activities the learners were involved in, together with the technology – old and new – used.
|Lesson / Self-study||Technology used|
|1||For homework, the group were set the task of creating role-plays based on their previous experience of international meetings.|
|2||The two role-plays created by the group were corrected and hard copies were given to each of the group members to act out in the lesson.|
Each role-play was discussed after the performance and was also recorded.
|3||For homework the group were set the following tasks:|
|4||In the next lesson the group members and the trainer (me) provided feedback on the role-play performances.|
Asking the group members to create their own role-plays ensured relevant and targeted language practice. It also reduced the cognitive load during the performance stage and allowed the learners to focus more on the language being used rather than the issues that came up in the discussion, as these had already been faced in real life. The series of activities provided practice for all four skills and also gave the learners the opportunity to focus on language difficulties that they were likely to have in similar situations in the future.
What of the coaching potential?
But what of the coaching potential and the value added to the learning experience by the technology? Here’s a breakdown that suggests some of the ways the technology used may have added value and facilitated an approach that fulfils some of the aims of coaching:
|Technology||Value added||Coaching potential|
|Moodle||This is an extensive course that is planned to run for at least nine months, so it makes sense to provide a stable virtual learning environment that complements the weekly face-to-face lessons and provides a platform for self-study.|
|DropVox||Recording the performances concentrated minds and embedding the recordings in the course platform allowed for peer and trainer evaluation.|
|Box.com||Making the corrected role-plays available in nicely formatted versions gave learners a sense of achievement and also demonstrates that their work is valued and taken seriously. The files can viewed online or downloaded for future reference.|
|Google Slides||Presenting the feedback on the trainer’s corrections in this way has a greater visual impact that makes the error correction activity more memorable.|
Striking a balance
In the screenshots, you may have noticed one or two other web tools used for learning purposes. One is playposit, which is a one of the growing number of tools that enable teachers to build and deliver activities based on online video. Less teacher-led and more in-line with a coaching approach is the use of Google Sheets as a platform for learners to create their own course glossary.
Though relatively easy to implement, there is, of course, a downside to the use made of technology in the activities outlined here, namely, it can be quite time-consuming. A balance needs to be achieved between the benefits and the teacher-time involved. The added time clearly needs to be taken into account when pricing training that adopts this kind of approach and if possible these benefits need to be highlighted for the sponsoring client. That said, the outlined examples do suggest that those of us wishing to achieve the aims of a coaching approach while at the same time providing training that reflects the digital age our learners operate in may need to think seriously about acquiring the requisite digital skills this entails. We may, in other words, be in need of technology coaching ourselves.
Apps to go
Here are some links and further notes for the resources and applications mentioned:
- From English Teacher to Learner Coach
Use this link for further information about this book
This content management system designed for teachers by teachers is familiar to many. It is a very powerful tool with quite a steep learning curve to negotiate if one is to use it anywhere near its full potential. However, there are many alternatives and depending on the situation other tools such as wikis, blogs or social media can also provide just the right learning environment for the learners involved.
Smartphones and tablets come with their own voice recorders, but the big advantage of this wonderfully simple app is that it integrates seamlessly with Dropbox and sends MP3 files directly to your file storage application so they’re instantly available on all your devices
Though not as well-known as Dropbox, this cloud-based file storage service has actually been around longer and offers some nice features its more popular rival does not have, for instance, the possibility of embedding individual files or folders in web pages
- Google Slides
This is one of a suite of tools Google make available to its Gmail account holders for free. Slideshows can be produced online, or PowerPoint decks can be uploaded and converted for online delivery (Here’s an example: Movies)
This is a cross-platform tool that allows you to collect and curate a wide range of content, including webpages, photos and notes. This really is a must for teachers and learners alike
This is another cross-platform application (i.e. it works well on mobile devices as well as conventional desktop computers). It allows you to create video-based content
- Meetings: Have you worked with any of these?
This is a simple example of the kind of activity that can be created using playposit.
*These percentages will vary according to the device used to read the text.