March 1995 — Volume 1, Number 3
Remote ELT Training: Client-Centeredness as a Bridge from Theory to Practice
John W. Bagnole
Neil J. Anderson
In a dynamic, internationalizing world, TEFL trainers and institutions in English speaking countries can still make significant and relevant contributions to the training of ELT teachers, teacher trainers, and trainer trainers professionally engaged in a wide range of teaching and training environments. Mindful of these diverse local teaching/learning “cultures,” the article aims at presenting a generic training model implemented for the past six years which has proven effective in structuring off-site (i.e., remote) training programs of short duration (3-8 weeks). The model can be adapted for use by other institutions. With a keen eye to client-centeredness, the Remote Training Institution Blueprint suggests that participants in these training programs, often experienced trainers and teachers themselves, can contribute substantially to the creation of effective off-site, client-centered training programs which integrate theory and practice through professional development courses and a final project which blends process and product. According to this definition, it is the host training institution in the U.S., U.K., or other country which is ‘remote,’ i.e., removed from the site where the trainees will eventually return to take up their duties. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of RTIB training are examined. The article examines a componential format for linking theory to practice, while raising a secondary question about the true nature of expertise.
Background: The Climate
Perhaps more than at any other time in history, English as a Foreign Language teaching and training are caught up in the flux of international events: the fallout of political eruptions in the form of popular uprisings, liberations, democratization movements, and increased international and multinational economic developments throughout the world. The range of politico-economic repercussions is matched by the unprecedented and challenging new array of teaching and training situations. These situations test the resourcefulness of trainers intent on linking theory to practice, [-1-] or, perhaps more aptly, on informing their theories from the everyday realities and cultural expertise of participants in their training programs.
At the professional level, these events have also resulted in the increased international movement of ELT trainers for various purposes: to undertake consultancies, to participate in publishers’ workshops, to attend conferences, to take up long term development projects and short term training assignments for foreign governments, or to undertake in-house training for domestic and international corporations around the world. In short, the seeming inexorable blossoming of English (or Englishes) into the world’s language of choice in a space-age of communications and technology, has thrust ELT professionals into the forefront of activities beyond the traditional walls of schools and campuses, beyond, in fact, their own national frontiers. The rapid spread of English and its impact, both positive and negative, have been lost on few, least of all those speaking on behalf of the so-called “developing world”:
English has acquired unprecedented sociological and ideological dimensions. It is now well-recognized that in linguistic history no language has touched the lives of so many people, in so many cultures and continents, in so many functional roles, with so much prestige, as has the English language since the 1930s. And, equally important, across cultures, English has been successful in creating a class of people who have greater intellectual power in multiple spheres of language use than has been held by any language before, not by Sanskrit during its heyday, not by Latin during its grip on Europe, and not by French during the peak of the colonial period….[I]t is the developing world in which the English language has become one of the most vital tools of ideological and social change, and at the same time an object of intense controversy. (Kachru, 1990, p. 205)
Furthermore, the spread of English as a vital linguistic ‘currency’ has not been cheap in terms of dollars or pounds, deutschemarks or rupees. In fact, the blurring of ELT as a profession and a business in a rapidly internationalizing world has become a subject of discussion (Pugsley, 1991). Not surprisingly, the form and substance of recent ELT literature is increasingly couched in the terms of business, politics, and internationalism: “A client-centred approach to teacher development” (Nunan, 1989); “The rise and call of academic management” (Pugsley, 1991); Management in English language teaching (White, Martin, Stimson, & Hodge, 1991); “Managing the diffusion and implementation of innovation in TESOL” (White, 1989); “Internationalism and our ‘strenuous’ family” (Ashworth, 1991); “English for Specific Purposes: International in scope, specific in purpose” (Johns and Dudley-Evans, 1991). [-2-]
The Training DilemmaConspicuous by its absence from the aforementioned list of activities involving ELT teachers and trainers in transnational professional movement is the role of international training programs which remove participantsELT teachers, teacher trainers, and trainer trainersfrom their own countries and transport them to the U.K., the U.S., Canada, or other remote sites for training, i.e., the training site is remote or removed from the actual place where the participants will ultimately apply their training. In many cases, this flies in the face of rational economic arguments, which would normally suggest the dispatching of a small number of trainers to a particular country for an extended period of time, where the “experts” would have access to both a larger number of trainees and, more importantly perhaps, the target training situation itself.
Few ELT trainers who have worked abroad would question the need to have in-depth information about the teaching/learning “culture” in which their participant trainees operate. To this end, in-country training allows external trainers the opportunity not only to interact with their participants to find out about the trainees’ own students, their classroom situations, materials in use, and so on, but it also provides the occasion for invaluable first-hand observations of and participation in the quotidian and interconnected complexities of the system in which the trainees operate, the “spider’s web” that Roger Bowers (1983) has referred to in discussing the initiation of change through personnel or any other of a number of factors. Though operating within an alien system is often frustrating, it is highly educational and informative for external trainers. While they may have difficulty in fulfilling stated goals and objectives, they will have a better sense of what needs to be done and, theoretically, how to go about doing it. (See Holliday, 1994, passim.)
Even more problematic, however, is the creation of relevant, short-term training programs on the trainers’ home soil, where the trainers do not have access to the first hand systemic information of the kind just referred to. If the teaching/learning culture cannot be replicated, one might well ask, “Why bother at all? Aren’t training centers simply ‘feathering their own nests,’ presenting basically irrelevant or inappropriate information to trainees and then shunting them back to a set of fundamentally insurmountable constraints, totally removed from the ideal situations set out in irrelevant courses and idealized teacher training materials?” A dilemma arises, however, since funding is often available through diverse agencies (governmental, philanthropic, and private) for participant training in the U.S., U.K., and other countries. How can maximum benefit be derived from these funds? This question begs further queries: [-3-]
- What role(s) can Remote Training Institutions (RTIs) play in TEFL training programs, particularly for developing countries?
- What format can be used to link theory and practice in such circumstances?
- What is the true nature of expertise? Is it really possible to incorporate “client-centred training” into remote programs of this sort?
The first question has been discussed in a previous article, where among other conclusions, it was felt that:
More important than its role as a purveyor of its own expertise, RTIs can serve as a catalyst for channeling participant expertise into off-site TEFL training programs. This would require a shift in many programs (so-called educational and training activities) in which there is a donor-recipient, expert-novice, have-have-not, north-south, or some other polarizing relationship; it would mean that the participants are now treated as equals. The participants are given appropriate time, facilities, and responsibilities for presenting and sharing their expertise with their compeers: compatriots and host nationals alike. (Bagnole, 1991, p. 5)
In poignant response to question 2, this present attempt focuses on a particular programmatic design, dubbed “the RTI Blueprint,” or RTIB , which enables participant trainees, who are in many cases seasoned trainers themselves (1) to satisfy their own and their sponsors’ desire for a blend of theory and practice, (2) to experience ample opportunity to demonstrate their own informed expertise, (3) to participate in a sufficient variety of format types which can appeal to different learning styles, and (4) to ensure-by means of a culminating project which goes beyond mere process-that the participants emerge with an objectified product geared to their own situational needs, personal interests, and professional skills.
The suggested framework is in keeping with Ramani’s proposal for having teachers inform themselves through personal introspective theorizing and conceptualization based on their own classroom practice, in considerable opposition to top-down theories of what is right and just (Ramani, 1987). This introspective process can be undertaken, in a concerted manner, at all training levels including trainer training, a level where the RTIB has proven successful.
The framework also strives to incorporate the principles of “client-centered” teacher development sketched out by Nunan (1989). [-4-] Within this framework, the targeted content and methodology of the program are negotiable, emerging in final form as the fruit of some dialogue undertaken in close consultation with the participants themselves. The principles, a fructuous “squeezing” of theory from practice, make an ideal starting point for designing programs whose clientele are disposed to active participation and whose provenance may change over time. It is believed that the experiences described in this article further confirm ideas proposed by Nunan (1989).
The Training Model: Other Theoretical Considerations
The model consists of the following components: Topics in Applied Linguistics, Relating ‘Topics in Applied Linguistics,’ additional academic courses designed to meet the specific needs of the clientele, and a final project. Also included are social and cultural activities.
The blueprint centers on the Topics in Applied Linguistics component. All participants meet each day for the Topicslecture. While in many programs the primary purpose would be to provide a variety of current theoretical issues related to the needs of the participants, here the topic provides a pivotal function where top-down and bottom-up processes merge, thus beginning the building process from theory to practice (see Nunan, 1989). A new topic is introduced each day, providing a current perspective on the research related to that topic. Participant input is crucial in terms of topic selection. This component provides a point of departure for eliciting information from the participants about their teaching and training situations. Current periodicals, as well as current professional publications can serve as a source of reading material. In addition to lecturing, the presentation format for TAL ought to include small group work, pair work and discussion.
The next component is Relating ‘Topics in Applied Linguistics.’ For this component, it is suggested that the participants be divided into two or more tracks (e.g., teachers and teacher trainers or ESL teachers and EFL teachers). Based on the topic presented during the TAL section, the Relating ‘Topics’ components takes the participant-informed “theory” and continues to build the bridge to practice. The topic is evaluated in terms of the advantages and disadvantages of the theory(ies) for the participants’ environments and their own specific needs. For example, following a topic on “teaching reading,” participants in the teacher track could discuss the implications of current reading theories for their teaching situations, while trainers could relate current theories to their in-service programs.
With the Topics in Applied Linguistics and Relating ‘Topics in Applied Linguistics’ courses as a base, a project workshop is designed and carried out by the participants to encourage them to continue building a bridge from theory to practice. The project, [-5-] which brings together trainers and teachers in a series of workshops, culminates in the writing and development of authentic materials and the design, planning and implementation of a training workshop to introduce those materials. The workshop project should be discussed and the design thought out during the early weeks of the training program; incorporating a scheduled series of meetings for this purpose is recommended as a means of support and formative guidance and review. During the final week of the course, time is provided for the participants to collaborate on their projects. These projects are designed to be useful to the participants at their home institutions. For example, teachers may develop a set of materials to improve their learners’ oral communication skills and then present the materials during the project week. The trainers could videotape the presentation made by the teachers and then discuss how they could use the video and other materials to train teachers at their home institutions to develop similar materials on their own.
The Training Model: An Analysis of Implementation
The training model outlined above has been applied to a number of different programs for a period of six years at Ohio University, with sponsored educators from Egypt, South Africa, Namibia, West Africa and Brazil. In addition, independent participants have joined some of these programs, representing countries as diverse as Austria, Bangladesh, Curacao, Japan, Pakistan, Taiwan, and Yugoslavia.
A reading of feedback based on first hand observation of the programs, staff evaluations, sponsor evaluations and the participants’ own evaluations reveals a very high degree of satisfaction in meeting both the sponsor-specified goals and the participants’ individual professional agenda. Topics in Applied Linguistics
In practical terms, the pivotal Topics in Applied Linguistics component has served its purpose well. The format seems to be truly “participant-informed” in that the participants not only “inform” their trainers but each other as well. This happens since local situations vary tremendously even though they may (superficially) appear to be quite similar. For example, it might be expected that teachers holding the same rank in schools of equal status in one region of a country might share the same duties, responsibilities, power, and respect. This is not always the case depending on the personality, motivation, and ambition of the institution’s governing head; the drive, experience, and motivation of individual teachers, who may acquire unofficial “master” teacher status and responsibilities; the relatively privileged status of some school districts or individual schools; and, as Prabhu (1992) believes, individual class dynamics. Through participant discussion during [-6-] TAL sessions, it has become clear that the same participant-informed benefits are obtained at the trainer level also.
These differences often come as a surprise to many participants, especially those hailing from large countries, such as Egypt and South Africa, characterized by diverse, often polarized, social, cultural, and political situations. In fact, in final evaluations, many participants have pointed to what they learned from their countrymen as being among the chief benefits of these programs. (In the case of South Africa, e.g., some participants, chiefly in Afrikaans-speaking areas, felt they were very much involved in EFL type situations, much to the surprise of others in predominantly English-speaking locales who viewed themselves clearly as ESL teachers.) Without the conscious attempt to bring out individual differences and the depth of diversity within their own country-in a sense de-mythologizing the notion of “situational unity”it is unlikely that the participants would have ha= d so productive an experience. After all, the participants tend not to cluster in the same way on their home turf, where professional gatherings tend to be institutionally, locally, or regionally organized, and ‘controlled’ by known groups of politically enfranchised, status quo bureaucrats.
In instances where participant groups have come from different countries, the TAL format has proven to be equally beneficial in allowing participants to learn more about diverse teaching/learning environments. The participants clearly become more well-rounded through this kind of international cross-fertilization, often contributing constructively through their own fresh insights.
A second major benefit emerges by having teachers and trainers exchange perspectives resulting from their different professional duties and responsibilities. For example, trainers and teachers may differ on their priorities relating to materials. Although both sets of professionals ultimately want the best outcome from materials, i.e., increased language proficiency for the pupils, the trainers may be out of touch with the daily needs, preferences, and criticisms of the materials on the part of the teachers. The teachers, likewise, may be focused only on their own classroom situations and constraints, with little understanding of the duties, responsibilities, workload, and (usually limited) resources available to trainers. The daily modularized topic format allows for considerable flexibility in the TAL sessions: guest lecturers can be invited for specialized presentations and sessions can be juggled and reordered as required. The first year the course was run as part of the RTIB, the lecturer presenting the course frequently departed from his prearranged syllabus, renegotiating with the participants the next day’s topic. Relating ‘Topics in Applied Linguistics’
Where TAL is basically issue-oriented with current theories and participant-informed tasks providing the content and parameters, [-7-] the Relating ‘Topics in Applied Linguistics’ component provides the vehicle for addressing, head-on, the individual participant’s role in resolving problems, or, at least, in moving towards some active method of coping with the issues. A smooth transition between the two sub-components, TAL and RTAL, is achieved by having the TAL lecturer instruct one of the follow-up RTAL sections, with other RTAL sections led by trainers who also attend the TAL sessions.
The plenary group breaks into smaller sections, tracked along whatever lines have been worked out at the on-set, e.g., trainers/teachers, curriculum specialists/supervisory personnel, ESL/EFL teachers, or teacher trainers/trainer trainers. Where personnel have some overlapping responsibilities or interests, priorities can be set by sponsors or, more beneficially, the participants select their own track. In practical terms, it is preferable for sponsors and participants to work out well in advance of arrival at the RTI individual assignments to specialized tracks. In fact, such decisions could actually be used as a basis of selection from which to begin. Independent trainees, the best judge of what their needs are, will know which track is most appropriate for them to follow.
Once again, the session format is intended to be varied and flexible. Different staff trainers have utilized different combinations of familiar (and in some cases not-so-familiar) activity types: group and pair work; “fish-bowls,” round-tables and other discussion formats; participant presentations, including case-studies; various problem-solving tasks; materials analysis; critical incidents activities; chart/training pad/poster work; and so on. The emphasis is on cognitive activity, which ultimately moves the participants toward a better-informed and more confident sense of what they can realistically contribute to resolving issues which have percolated down from the earlier TAL session. In some cases, staff trainers need only utilize a workshop format which passes the reins to the participants themselves. If these sessions are to have a lasting impact, there are two other essential ingredients: (1) the training sessions must, themselves, be interestingly and soundly constructed so as to provide visible, “hands-on,” demonstrations of good training technique and (2) each RTAL session should explicitly require the participants to relate elements of their own activities to training sessions they might participate in back home. This could take the form of a brief discussion near the end of the session or it could involve more lengthy training program design tasks for those actually charged with the planning and implementation of in-service or other training programs at home. This does not mean that the participants are expected to replicate the new activities; it means, rather, that they would benefit from a reconsideration of what they normally do, which, for better or worse, might either reconfirm their existing approaches and [-8-] techniques or lead to some self-motivated, experientially-induced change. In either case, they will probably be better, more confident trainers.
Additional Academic Courses
In addition to the tracked RTAL course, the trainees take courses agreed upon with the sponsoring agency or presented, in the case of “independents,” as the institute’s course of study. Obviously, there is considerable flexibility depending on the needs and interests of the participants and their sponsors, and the resources and capabilities of the RTI itself. Furthermore the number of contact hours and extra-curricular activities, require careful negotiation between sponsor and RTI.
Final Workshop Project
The culminating activity in the RTIB is the final week’s project. In practice there has been greater participant satisfaction when, in the weeks prior to the final week, the trainees have had designated periods for brain-storming, reading about, and thinking through the project they would like to undertake. In most cases, participants, have opted for group projects, working with colleagues who seemed to share similar teaching appointments or training responsibilities. On the other hand, individual and pair projects have also proven fruitful, although here they have tended to be more theoretical or peripheral to = ELT. In past projects, the trainees (many experienced trainers themselves) have been enthusiastic about participating in the planning and design of the projects, with resident staff serving primarily as facilitators. The trainees are requested to do the following:
- agree on an overall set of guidelines (dealing with objectives, work-load, product requirements, evaluation, etc.),
- propose various projects,
- select a project,
- establish the group’s timetable for the week,
- up-date the institute director daily,
- meet as required,
- do the assigned work, and
- present the finished project to the institute’s participants and staff at the end of the week.
In practice, all of the above have proven to be reasonable demands with sufficient accountability to satisfy program administrators, participants, and their sponsors. Where sponsors require that the participants undertake a series of presentations back home to provide a “multiplier effect,” there are, no doubt, additional beneficiaries. By allowing an individual or group option, [-9-] the institute can cater to both those who prefer the relative anonymity and support of a group experience as well as those who are keen on addressing a personal or institutional agenda.
Rewarding results have emerged from combined teacher/trainer groups in which the teachers have developed supplementary materials for textbooks in use and the trainers have designed in-service training programs centered on the presentation of the newly created materials. In this case, it is useful to have the trainers’ workshops presented with other group participants serving as the audience. Videotaping the whole proceedings can be instructive in a number of ways: the trainers and teachers can have copies made for professional use back home; the videos can be utilized as a source of data which can be analyzed by teacher trainers and trainer trainers in the participants’ home country; the sponsors have a record (along with master copies of the projects) of the kinds of activities that they have spent their funds on; and the RTI will have a record of the culminating activity of the program, which can be used the following year as part of the project orientation.
Though projects vary in quality, all participants seem to benefit from the process aspect of the endeavor, even when, as in some cases, it may lead to a conclusion that “It is difficult to work with a group.” This point was poignantly driven home in a “fishbowl” analysis undertaken by a South African group at the end of their project. Mindful of the pre-democratization political dynamics of that country, it is noteworthy that while some participants felt that the activity was extremely valuable in preparing for a new multi-racial collegialism sure to come in the future, others found it difficult to work with the competing agenda of the group, revealing, perhaps, residual politico-cultural obstacles. The “bottom-line” is that the project mechanism has neatly melded process and product into an exciting, practical, and generally well-received experiential learning opportunity. By having the instructional staff serving as facilitators, advisors, administrative “whips,” and resource personnel, the projects complete the bridging process begun in TAL and spanning both RTAL and the other academic components.
As professionals, each of us has areas of expertise that can be shared with others. One point that is of great value in remote ELT training is that all participants can be viewed as experts in their own right. The training sessions provide the opportunity for the participants to share that expertise. During discussions in the courses, as well as during participation in the workshop project, this expertise can be harnessed and capitalized upon. Special sessions could be designed to provide the participants the opportunity to report on work that they are involved in at their [-10-] home institutions. By including a session of this nature, the institute becomes further client-centered.
In order for participants to share their expertise and to gain additional knowledge, the planning, implementation, and evaluation of an RTI needs to be client-centered and flexible in adjusting the direction of the institute to meet the needs of the participants. Other institutions may want to consider this blueprint and adapt elements to their settings.
 The range of issues is suggested by such diverse problems as the re-training of former Russian language teachers to teach English in Eastern European countries, the questioning of qualifications for some American personnel going to those countries to teach English (see Costantino, 1992), and the U.S. government’s spending of millions of dollars on English language programs in the Middle East at a time when serious budget concerns at home in the U.S. have led to cut backs in education and foreign assistance programs generally.
 For an interesting discussion of expatriot ELT input into state educational “cultures,” see A. Holliday (1994).
 Early discussions about the blueprint received input from Henry Widdowson, whose direction and help is gratefully acknowledged.
Ashworth, M. (1991). Internationalism and our “strenuous family”. TESOL Quarterly, 25:231-243.
Bagnole, J. (1991). The roles of RTIs in meeting the challenges of TEFL teacher preparation for developing countries. TESOL Teacher Education Interest Section Newsletter, 7(1):1, 4-7.
Bowers, R. (1983). Project planning and performance. In C.J. Brumfit (ed.) Language teaching projects for the Third World, ELT Documents: 16 (99-1). Oxford: Pergamon Press in association with The British Council.
Costantino. M. (1992). Checko-Slovakia restructures and takes stock. TESOL EFL Interest Section Newsletter, 12 (2):1, 7-9.
Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate Methodology and Social Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [-11-]
Johns, A. M., & Dudley-Evans, T. (1991). English for Specific Purposes: International in scope, specific in purpose.TESOL Quarterly, 25:297-314.
Kachru, B. (1990). World Englishes and Applied Linguistics. Offprint from M.A.K. Halliday, J. Gibbons, and H. Nichols (Eds.) Learning, keeping, and using language: Selected papers from the Eighth World Congress of Applied Linguistics, Sydney, 16D021 August 1987. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Co.
Nunan, D. (1989). A client-centred approach to teacher development. ELT Journal, 43:111-118.
Prabhu, N. S. (1992). The dynamics of the language lesson. TESOL Quarterly, 26:225-241.
Pugsley, J. (1991). The rise and call of academic management. ELT Journal, 45:313-319.
Ramani, E. (1987). Theorizing from the classroom. ELT Journal, 41: 3-11.
White, R. (1989). Managing the diffusion and implementation of innovations in TESOL. Paper delivered at 23rd Annual TESOL Convention. San Antonio, Texas, March 11.
White, R., Martin, M., Stimson, M., & Hodge, R. (1991). Management in English Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
About the Authors
John W. Bagnole, Academic Coordinator and lecturer at the Ohio Program of Intensive English, Ohio University, has spent 24 years in TEFL/TESL, primarily in the Middle East and Africa.
Neil J. Anderson is an Assistant Professor at Ohio University where he teaches in the Department of Linguistics. His research interests include second language reading, second language testing, and learner strategy use. Both John and Neil have been actively involved in writing funding proposals which apply the training model described in this article.
© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
Editor’s Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page in the paginated ASCII version of this article, which is the definitive edition. Please use these page numbers when citing this work.