This post is part of a series on Scaffolding PD in Uzbekistan as part of the English Speaking Nation Secondary Teacher Training (ESN) Program. You can read an overview of the program here. The goal of the ESN program is to bring communicative classroom methods to 15,000 English teachers in Uzbekistan. In hopes of achieving this goal, the TESOL Core Certificate ProgramTM (TCCP) was given by foreign language professionals to selected English teachers. Having outreach and education programming is only half of the task; in addition, the methods must be applicable to Uzbekistan classrooms.
After the completion of the TCCP courses, teachers were required to participate in a 20-hour practicum, supervised by English language coaches, putting the theory from the coursework into action. To support the transition of best practices to the classroom, English language coaches scaffolded the teaching practicum with the Uzbek teachers through classroom observations, modeling of teaching, and reflective feedback. Following, we highlight some of the unique challenges—and some solutions—encountered while coaching the practicum.
Navigating the Culture Gap
For a successful practicum, proper cross-cultural understanding and integration between the trainers and Uzbek teachers was a must. As the Uzbek teachers transitioned into more communicative, learner-centered practices in their classrooms, certain cultural differences and expectations needed to be navigated:
- Feedback Process: There were feedback sessions after each classroom observation involving multiple teachers in attendance in addition to the coach. This was due to the requirement that teachers view at least 10 hours of their peers’ classes. Scaffolding the feedback process using the PQP (Praise, Question, Polish) was helpful, as the structure allowed teachers to voice areas of strength and places to improve. Without PQP, peer teachers in certain regions in Uzbekistan, like the Fergana Valley, would often only offer praise as a nod to the local focus on congeniality; in other regions, teachers could be overly harsh with each other. PQP provided a scaffold and a process that allowed teachers to do constructive and encouraging peer observation; teachers can continue to use this process after the coaches leave.
- Mistake-Safe Environment: As part of the aforementioned collectivistic society, Uzbek teachers generally accept the endorsed authority and status associated with higher professional rankings. This creates an orderly course and classroom environment; however, as TCCP promotes interactive learning, coaches encouraged teachers to act as facilitators only, creating an environment in which teachers felt comfortable to make mistakes. Teachers were encouraged to create a similar environment in their own classrooms. Coaches actively advocated for teachers to allow students to speak freely without interruption for error correction when focusing on communication and meaning. Different types of feedback (formative vs. summative) were modeled to reduce the affective filter.
- Accounting for Gender Role Expectations: Uzbekistan is a low gender egalitarian society, overall. Men are supposed to be assertive, while women—modest. In these societies, few women find themselves in positions of authority. However, due to the cultural influence of the Soviet Union, women in Uzbekistan are comparably assertive in some manners: This is particularly true in the sphere of education. Despite this, there are still strong gender role expectations. For example, during the TCCP and subsequently in the practicum, classroom activities requiring less physical contact were promoted.
Moving From Theory to Practice: When Methodology Comes to Life
As theories and best practices from TCCP were transitioned into the classroom by the teachers, coaches encountered some common challenges. Coaching provided an important scaffold for contextualizing new learning.
- Meeting Lesson Objectives: Many teachers loved all the games and activities TCCP promoted and how they engaged students, but this sometimes went overboard. Some lessons observed during the practicum were only energizers and ultimately did not serve in meeting the objectives. Through coaching, a recalibrated approach to lesson planning was often required, balancing content delivery with fun, ensuring meeting of the lesson objectives. Through scaffolding, it was assured that each activity had an educational purpose in the lesson.
- Gradual Release of Responsibility: Teachers found it difficult to adjust to a gradual release of responsibility. Being always in control as a teacher is an expectation in the Uzbek classroom. If pair work did not go perfectly, the teacher might turn the activity into “call and response” or interrupt students and finish their sentences. Through coaching, further conversations about wait time and allowing activities to be “messy” helped. During the practicum, teachers were encouraged to keep trying the new methods, knowing that change takes time and is gradual. Coaches gave ongoing feedback and led teacher reflection to support the process.
Teachers were pleased that, after implementing some of the methodology learned in the TCCP, English became a favorite class!
Teacher development courses are condensed sources of information that can exist in a vacuum. Scaffolding practicum through coaching, observations, and feedback sessions helped focus on individualizing TCCP content for specific school settings. Teachers felt supported and were encouraged by the newfound enthusiasm from their students, fellow teachers, and administrators. Teachers also reported falling in love with their own jobs all over again.
Supporting Cascading Professional Development
Following the practicum completion, teachers prepared to share their learning with their peers. You can read more about how cascading professional development was scaffolded in the next blog post.