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Thoughts and reflections

What’s my teaching perspective?

I’m going to cheat a little in this post, essentially because I don’t want to be writing it twice. I’m doing an e-moderation skills course this semester, run by the Croatian Academic and Research Network (CARNet). If it hadn’t been for these guys (I did a similar course on instructional design three years ago), I’m not sure if my notion of online learning today would extend beyond – oh, that’s when you talk to the teacher on Skype, right?

As part of the e-moderation course we keep a journal and are asked to reflect occasionally on a variety of topics. Recently we read Pratt’s article on teaching perspectives, completed the TPI (Teaching Perspectives Inventory) and shared our thoughts on the results with the others in the group. Well, that was the idea anyway, only I didn’t get around to doing this yet, partly because I’m doing more writing in Croatian in this course than I’ve done in a while and it’s exhausting. Then it occurred to me that I could blog about my results here and link the post to my journal – it’s supposed to be in Croatian (hence the reference to cheating in the opening sentence), but hopefully that won’t matter too much.

So, teaching perspectives. I must say, what with all the talk on Twitter and ELT blogs about evidence-based learning and Russell Mayne’s talk at IATEFL – which, incidentally, made me feel better about having once spent €30 on a book about NLP in an attempt to understand why a competitor had apparently snagged 90% of the corporate clients in town, and then never getting past page 10 – I spent more time than I usually would looking for papers casting doubt on the validity of the research behind the TPI, but was unable to find any. If you know otherwise, I trust you’ll let me know.

According to the research described in greater detail here, there are five different teaching perspectives: transmission, apprenticeship, developmental, nurturing and social reform. More about each perspective can be found here. Every teacher possesses all five, but to varying degrees and this is also likely to differ not only with learners and teaching contexts, but as you grow as a teacher over time. I first took it three years ago and my results were different, though not dramatically. That makes sense, as my beliefs about teaching haven’t changed much in the meantime, but I imagine it could be quite the opposite for novice teachers.

It takes about 10-15 minutes to complete the 45-item questionnaire. Results are likely to be more accurate if you focus on a certain group of learners as you progress through the questions. You should be able to see the results instantly, but I got mine in a few hours (8 copies as a result of hitting submit a little too often in frustration). They will look more or less like this.

My TPI results
My TPI results

When I took the TPI the first time around I can’t remember which group of learners I had in mind, but it certainly wasn’t those in an online environment because I didn’t teach online then. This time I focused on my blended writing skills course at tertiary level. My dominant perspective was again the nurturing one, this time followed closely by apprenticeship. Social reform is by far my least dominant perspective (recessive, according to the results). I scored an equal number of points on the transmission and developmental perspectives.

This is pretty much in line with what I was expecting. Having a dominant social reform perspective conjures up images of Mr. Keating, and the entire classroom standing on their desks. That’s not me. Maybe this comes from years of teaching adults? I was a little surprised that I apparently find the transmission perspective no less important than the developmental one, probably because in the tertiary context I view it as embodied in lecturing and I like to think I do as little as possible of that. On the whole, I’m quite happy with nurturing being my dominant perspective, although this has made me think whether it might be more appropriate if I worked with younger learners. On the other hand, I have a hunch quite a few EFL teachers could find this to be their dominant perspective.

The results also include sub-scores for your beliefs on learning and teaching, intentions (what you try to accomplish in teaching) and actions (what you actually do when you teach). Together these add up to your individual perspective scores and could be useful in pointing out irregularities. For instance, my nurturing score is 43 (beliefs 15 + intentions 14 + actions 14). If the sub-scores are more than 2 points apart, you are encouraged to reflect on why this might be. The authors suggest job constraints, philosophical inconsistencies and non-clarity about developmental expectations as possible reasons.

My sub-scores are mostly within the two-point range, except in the developmental perspective where I have 14 points for intentions, as opposed to 11 and 10 for beliefs and actions. I’m not really sure what to make of this, except note that it would make more sense if there was a discrepancy between actions on the one hand, and beliefs and intentions on the other. Then it would be a simple case of not walking the walk, but with these sub-scores there is almost no difference between what I believe about teaching and what I do in class. If anything, the scores would seem to suggest that I eventually scale down my plans when I start teaching – maybe I realize they are overly ambitious? I hadn’t thought about this.

The final step in reflecting on your results suggests comparing them with those of others in your professional sector, so if anyone in ELT feels like having a go (or has had a go already), I’d be very interested in seeing the outcome!